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5 Startups That Could've Been Saved By Stronger Product Roadmaps

February 21, 2017

A year from now, will your product still be in play? 

To create something users can’t put down, you need a product roadmap. While roadmaps can’t predict the future, they can help your team stay on target when evolving your product. 

The brain behind your product roadmap should be your product manager. Think of the PM as the architect of your product’s blueprint. For startups without PMs, a lead designer or engineer is the best person to plan your product’s future.

Regardless of who you choose to craft the roadmap, it’s essential to tap someone who understands the delicate balance between business, technical, and user needs. This person’s roadmap can help you avoid a number of product problems that will, sooner or later, come back to bite you.

The Roadmap Advantage

First, a great roadmap allows for flexibility. Should competitors or available resources change, your roadmap helps you look ahead to adjust your trajectory accordingly.

A roadmap is also an excellent product analysis tool. A solid roadmap looks back at what you’ve already built to determine which features are hits and which are flops. The roadmap’s strategy can, and should, change with users’ feedback.

Finally, a comprehensive roadmap takes a 1,000-foot view of a product, helping you consider all aspects of development. A seamless user experience, for instance, is essential to a great product, but it can’t be created at the expense of other considerations. Without a roadmap that considers financial and technical needs, you might wind up with a buggy product that doesn’t provide business growth.

Poorly Planned Roadmaps

Whatever your product, there’s no substitute for a clear, strategic roadmap. And whether or not the following startups began with product roadmaps, they finished with products epitomizing their importance:

1. Move Loot

Furniture resale marketplace Move Loot started out with a fine idea: to make buying, selling, and moving secondhand furniture easier. Its failure, ironically, came after a period of rapid growth in which feature ideas weren’t tested before implementation.

Had Move Loot better utilized a product roadmap, it could’ve prioritized iterations based upon current and past performance. Instead, it lurched forward, tacking on feature after feature without looking back. By adding functionality users didn’t want, it burned through its own loot and torched the business.

2. Vine

One of the pioneers in mobile video, Vine exploded in popularity as people found creative ways to express themselves within six-second video loops. But after its popularity caught Twitter’s eye, things started going downhill.

As the app aged, it struggled to find a path to new users and monetization. While other social media startups rolled out new features that users loved, Vine withered. Without a solid roadmap, it failed to iterate on its product, driving users toward the competition.

3. Meerkat

A surprise hit at SXSW 2015, with celebrity endorsers ranging from Jimmy Fallon to Madonna, Meerkat’s success seemed like a sure thing. But when Twitter released Periscope and Facebook developed Live, Meerkat suddenly found it impossible to retain users.

With a proper roadmap, Meerkat could have prioritized keeping up with the competition, allowing it to develop ways of keeping its users on board. The company has since switched to social video; whether it creates and follows a product roadmap this time around remains to be seen.

4. Storehouse

Frankly, the first time I opened Storehouse, it blew me away. The photo curation app’s beautiful animations and intuitive design were unparalleled. How did it still fail to acquire users? Well, it built a slick app, but it neglected to spend enough time on marketing.

With a proper product roadmap, it could’ve struck a better balance. When it didn’t meet user retention or acquisition benchmarks, Storehouse could have shifted to focus further on its marketing efforts.

5. Sosh

Sosh was the sort of app you’d use when bored and looking for something fun to do. Locals and tourists alike loved that it provided well-curated assortments of events and activities in various cities. Unfortunately, the company didn’t take the time to figure out which features were hits and which weren’t, relegating it to failure.

With a high-quality roadmap, Sosh could’ve leveraged its mounds of user data to determine which features were users’ favorites. Instead of discovering and building on those, it operated on assumptions, giving heavyweights like Yelp and Groupon the edge.

In the end, a product roadmap is exactly what it sounds like: a map. It shows all of your product’s possible routes and explains how to follow them. It’s a blueprint of your success.

So forget about building without a blueprint. To get started, download Yeti’s free guidebook to product roadmapping. Then, if you’re still struggling to take your product from a house of cards to users’ new home, give us a call. We’d love to build by your side.

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