Product Development and the Role of the CEO —

The question shouldn’t be “what is our product?” but rather “what is the problem that clients are faced with.” The moment you’re asking what features should or shouldn’t be added to the product, you’ve lost sight of the problem. The goal of the start-up should be to fit like a jigsaw into the needs of the client. There are large enterprises with capital and barriers to entry created specifically to keep start-ups out because the world doesn’t want start-up companies. A new venture must go to market needing to fill the gap in the client’s world and be able to move to fit that gap as it changes. To continually fill that gap, you must stay problem-centric and not product-centric, even when the product is still very underdeveloped. The company’s path and vision of problem solving should be clear enough that the customer can understand it and see the next solution that has yet to be built.

Upon entering an industry with a product, the founder must quickly develop a shaping view of the sector. The CEO is not to be the “salesman-in-chief”; the role is to say “here’s my view of how this industry will play out. My software WILL be a service, here’s what you can do to embrace this inevitability.” This disruptive view will help customers shake up incumbency amongst their current service suppliers.

This shaping view will also give you great insight into the competitive landscape which is never static, but rather a moving game-board in which competitors are constantly maneuvering. By having a clear understanding of the problem the product will solve, a good CEO can keep a clear view as to where the threats to his/her business lie, prevent being blindsided by competitors, as well as understanding which critical deals that if lost, will give oxygen to the competition. Competitors cannot be allowed to breathe.

An example: The Contingent Worker Problem, as viewed by Fieldglass —

Fieldglass presented their shaping view as the following: “there will be a platform that helps you manage your contingent worker problem, and it’s not the platform the industry is using. Don’t waste time and effort building your own platform; we have raised $38 million dollars already to do just that. We’re here to play.”

Employees, as they relate to the firm, exist within three concentric circles: full-time employees, time-based employees engaged by the hour, day, or week, and deliverable based employees, such as a consulting team that is paid to complete tasks. The struggle for firms in managing their human capital is that most organizations focus primarily on the first circle of full-time employees, while largely lacking awareness of the second and third circles’ needs. Fieldglass ultimately became successful due to its ability to communicate to clients this contingent worker problem.