Distribution versus Product

What comes first – distribution or the product?

To most businesses, this isn’t even a question – there’s nothing to distribute without the product, so it comes first. But in the new era of lean startup, it’s something to ponder upon for those starting up today.

In the established, fast fading way of building startups, the distribution problem is generally tackled after the product-market fit has been achieved. The focus is on iterating the product based on customer feedback(?) till a P-M fit has been achieved, when you switch to focusing on distribution.

The problem with this approach is demonstrated by the thousands of untouched, unloved landing pages littering the Internet. How do you get valuable, and wide-based customer feedback on your MVP, if you have no distribution – no way of reaching a large number of users.

Low, and reducing, cost of developing MVPs means the battle line is shifting. It’s not as much about building the product right any more, as about getting the right product to the correct, target market. And while the cost of developing that MVP (whether a landing page or more full formed) is coming down fast, the cost of reaching a large number of relevant, interested users (to get the feedback from) is actually increasing due to the large number of MVPs seeking them out.

My suggestion is to build a network, if not the full distribution chain, before you start building the product. It gives you an early, deeper insight into the market you’ll be building for, introduces you to some of the influencers in that market, and gives an early feedback on your product idea – even before you’ve built the first MVP!

And, of course, once you have the MVP ready, use the network to push it out. You may find both users and influencers more receptive to using, spreading, and giving useful feedback on your product.


PS: A small word of caution. Given the time scarcity that every startup founder lives in, I’d suggest being very focussed on who you network with. It’s easy and comfortable to network with like-minded people – fellow founders, young developers and designers, angel investors, etc. But I’d suggest getting out of your comfort zone and finding end users (or their strong influencers) to network. They are the ones who’ll help you get early traction.
Do this successfully, and the fellow founders, angel investors, and young developers-designers-hackers will be hunting you down to ‘network’ with.

How to find the end consumers, their influencers, and/or how to reach out to and network with them? I may be able to help.

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