Lesson 1 in Product Building: Innovation and Differentiation

It was a bone crushing time for the company and a morale crushing time for the employees. It happened nearly 20 years ago at a tech company I worked for. We were caught in the perfect storm.

Bad News

The dot com bubble had busted. Technology spending had plummeted.

The company was mandated to restate its earnings because of accounting issues. It went overnight from a highly profitable company to a loss making company. (Something called incorrect revenue recognition practices… look it up.. )

More Bad News

US regulators fined the company and forced the executives to fork out their individual gains. Investor filed lawsuits for misleading them. The company borrowed to pay the investors cash and fines.

Rock Bottom?

The stock crashed from over $1000 to under $5. Wall Street Journal and the local newspapers wrote about the debacle and many started writing off the company. We went through a series of layoffs and reduced strength to one third of what it was.

This was a couple of years after I had taken over as a product manager. It was my first stint as a product manager.

Damage Control

To help maintain our customer base, I started reaching out to key customers. The calls were under the guise of checking up and understanding their product related issues.

To date, I remember what a Director of IT at a large pharma company said to me: “KP, I know you guys are worried. We have read the press too. Frankly, you are the only product that can do what we want. We hope you survive because we are not taking our business elsewhere. Simply can’t.”

I learnt the value of true innovation and differentiation that day. This is how customers look at great products.

Could you say that about your product? Are you trying to build a product like that?

Would love to hear your thoughts.