Startup Principle: So What to Bulldozers, Blenders and Browsers have in common?
(Guest Contributor: Mayur Ekbot, Director, New Products at SaaS startup Capillary Technologies. His views expressed on this blog are personal)
It's one of the favorite topics of discussion within the tech product community: Should we build a self-serve product?
To answer this question, let’s take a look around and see what is happening in other industries. Take an example: fast moving consumer durables. Say a Blender + Mixer + Grinder. It comes with a specific purpose (eg. grind the ingredients together to make chutney), has a user interface (speed buttons or a dial) and offers limited customization (blender, mixer, grinder) on a fixed “platform”. It can do anything as long as it is limited to blending, mixing or grinding something. It is a product. Till date, I have not seen anyone from the manufacturing company assisting people to use it on a daily basis. (“You just pour the ingredients in the jar, we will do the rest. Do you want a coarse blend or fine paste?” Nope.) . Have a look around and see the products in your house. Air-conditioner, Refrigerator, Geyser, Vacuum Cleaner, Faucets; nothing comes with a “managed service”.
Let’s look at the automobile industry. Do you ever get a “car specialist” with a car because the car you bought is just too complicated to use? Too low tech? OK.
What about the laptop you purchased? Did the iPhone you buy come with an Apple genius? Does your bank have a human operating ATM to give you cash? One might ask: “These are consumer products. They are designed to be user-friendly. What about B2B?”.
But Bulldozers, Power Drills, Chainsaws, Printing Machines, Commercial vehicles all are used by someone who does not work for the manufacturer.
Now take a look at some of the good software products. From a junior analyst to the CEO, everyone knows how to use at least one email client, one office suite, and one browser. This is irrespective of whether they work in the tech industry. You may have a product which can be only used by someone who already has a prior understanding of the subject matter. E.g. IDE. You may need to train him a little. But the once it is done, your user should always be able to use it unsupervised.
In summary: Your product should always be self-serve for the target user. And it's dangerous to conflate customer support ("account management") with product capability.
If it is not, then it is not a product. A self-serve product can be built if you a) know who your user is b) 'productize' it enough. How to get there is a separate discussion.