Today I enjoyed an SVASE Startup-U SF discussion on product roadmaps. The guest speaker and facilitator of the discussion was Eric Walczykowski from Deloitte Ventures. Eric explained to us that his role at Deloitte Ventures would require him to speak at various engagements. In order to find an interesting topic relevant to entrepreneurs, Eric conducted a survey to CEO’s of venture backed startups to determine their top five goals for 2007. The number one goal was product roadmaps, thus he is here today to speak about the topic.
Three classic mistakes that entrepreneurs make while developing product roadmaps include:
- Trying to do it themselves.
- Not talking to potential customers.
- Boiling the ocean.
Eric recommends that if you have no experience in developing a roadmap, find someone who specializes in that area of expertise. You can waste a lot of time trying to figure it out by yourself through trial and error. Eric recounted a situation where he was brought in as an interim executive. The first thing he did was find someone who could help him with a product roadmap. He found someone who had great references and a track record of three successful product roadmap outcomes.
Designing a product roadmap has nothing to do with investors. Many entrepreneurs get this confused because investors always ask about the roadmap. Product roadmaps are entirely driven by solving problems for your customers. Investors want to see that you can substantiate your roadmap milestones with customer pain. All roadmaps begin with asking your customer, “how can I help you?” In fact, many roadmaps begin as consulting jobs. Once you have identified a common pain you can begin to productize your solution.
Often times engineers try to solve too many problems at once. This usually happens because the inventor never stops programming. You need to get out and talk to potential customers. They will tell you their problems and help you focus on solving the most painful ones. Solve their problems one at a time to build credibility. Do not waste time programming and developing a solution that does it all. Customers want to buy from a company that is focused and can explain how their product will evolve over time to meet their needs. Solving too many problems becomes complicated and hard to explain. Your customers will not buy what they do not understand.