When should you kill a product? Noah Kagan, Rob Walling and 16 other founders weigh in

Founders have the unique opportunity to create something for the world. There’s nothing quite like envisioning a new thing, making it, and getting it into user’s hands.

The fact that you can make something in the first place implies that you’ll always have the choice to change directions. This freedom is good, but one pitfall of freedom is that it’s paradoxically stressful. For better or worse, founders are never truly locked in.

One of the most difficult decisions an entrepreneur can make is whether to kill a product or not. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Because killing a product is such a stressful decision, we thought it’d be interesting to tap 17 founders of varying backgrounds and experience levels to ask them one simple question: “What circumstances would lead you to kill a product?”  

Featured here are people with backgrounds in marketing, software development, sales, consulting, and creative.

I’m confident that if you’re grappling with the decision to kill or not kill a product, you’ll be able to find a viewpoint here which gives you a bit of clarity.

One more thing – at the bottom of the post we recap 4 major reasons to kill a product that entrepreneurs here mentioned over and over. Stay tuned for that.

Until then, over to our spotlighted founders:


Noah Kagan: Founder, AppSumonoahkagan

My rule is simple: If you don’t make any sales in 48 hours, kill the product. (CLICK TO TWEET)

@NoahKagan

 


Jimi Smoot: Founder, Octavius Labsjsfour

I originally worked in the ad industry as a buyer doing a lot of repetitive work.

So after selling my first company, I created a platform called Prosperio to disrupt the ad buying industry.  We ended up receiving a large investment from a top accelerator, however our team ran into founder disputes.  We also realized that our investors had a much different vision for the company than we did – there wasn’t great alignment on that front.

In life one should always consider hidden costs. Its easy to look at a situation and think ‘I should stick things out’ but is that really true? Often times the value lost from not taking advantage of other opportunities is higher than the potential upside of the situation. Wisdom is knowing when you are right, when you are wrong, and having the balls to take action accordingly, even if it makes you unpopular.

This is especially true for startups because the clock is always ticking. A year spent contributing to project A means loosing the revenue from project B. This is why its smart to always be working on the best idea even if that means that its time to throw in the towel on the current one. The trick is just to make sure that you are not hallucinating.

“Wisdom is knowing when you are right or wrong, and having the balls to take action accordingly” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@jsfour


Dan Norris: Founder, WP Curve

I worked on http://inform.ly for 12 months and at the end only had about 10 paying customers. At the time I needed it to be my main money making channel so there was really no chance it was going to work. We kept it open to existing customers for about 12 months after closing it down to new customers.

If I was to do it again I would be careful starting a freemium or low price software app as my only source of revenue. It’s very hard to build up enough business quickly when compared with other options like services.

“I would be careful starting a freemium app as my only source of revenue.” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@thedannorris


Elisa Doucette: Founder, CraftYourContentelisadoucette

Killing a product depends on two things for me:

  1. Is it profitable (often pretty easy to answer- if it costs me more fiscally and mentally to maintain than it makes, then it is no bueno)
  2. Is this product serving the voice & vision I have for the company. This includes questions like “Am I excited to work on this, or excited enough to get my team excited to work on it?” “Am I attracting the type of customers I want to work with?” “Am I doing this just to make money, and could I do something else that would make as much, if not more?” “Am I going to be proud to have my (or my company’s) name on this?”

If the answers to these two questions are resoundingly no, then I know it might be a great product, it just isn’t a great product for me.

“if it costs me more fiscally and mentally to maintain than it makes, then it is no bueno” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@elisadoucette


Matthew Newton: Founder, TourismTigermatnewton

There are ideas which fail completely and there are ones that take off: it’s the ones that are limping along which are problematic.

The time to kill off a product is when the return on time or money invested is simply not worth it, AND where there’s no clear path to any solution. We killed a product last year for this exact reason. My business partner was losing half of every day on it and we were making less than 4 figures per month with tepid growth. So despite our investment in the product, we opted to kill it off.

“Some ideas fail and some take off: the ones that limp along which are problematic.” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@himatthewnetwon


Rob Walling: Founder, Drip

If your product is early-stage (before you know if you’ve built something people want) you should kill it if you’ve tried everything you can possibly think of, and still can’t find anyone who wants to pay for it.

Do this only if you’ve already tried all the angles – niche-ing down, talking to every customer who walks through the door and leaves to find out why they left, adding features, etc.

This part is a long slog. Plan to brute force it until you’re completely out of ideas. This will take months if not a year+.

Once you’ve built something people want (aka product/market fit), things would have to go very poorly for me to kill it. At this point you have created a ton of value; anyone with marketing chops should be able to grow your product at this point. This is when you begin to scale up revenue, and even if you don’t have exceptional marketing chops you could bring someone in to assist. Getting here is the hardest part of the journey, in my experience.

“Once you’ve built something people want, things would have to go very poorly for me to kill it.” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@robwalling


Mads Singers: Coach, MadsSingers.commadssingers

I believe that pretty much all products can be successful, however the key thing is focus and time. For most businesses it takes 3-5 years to really get established and it’s key to have the focus to continue and push things for a lot longer than you expect.

That said sometimes you deliver products, where there’s huge surprises in the likes of shipping/availability and other factors which make the margins lower than expected.

If the above case rings true for you there are two options: raise prices or let go of the product.

That said, don’t be the guy that kills products every 3 months because they didn’t do a home run on the first go!

“Don’t kill products every 3 months just because you didn’t get a home run on the first go!” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@madssingers


David Hehenberger: Founder, Fatcat Appsdavidhme

You should kill a product if it has no traction (few users/customers) and you failed to find a marketing channel that works. You should avoid falling into the sunk cost fallacy – if it looks like the product isn’t succeeding despite your best efforts, kill it.

It’s also worth considering killing an existing (successful) product if you launch a new product which outperforms it drastically. In this case, you’ll be better off selling the product instead of killing it outright (both to make sure customers continue getting support, plus so you’re not leaving money on the table).

“Avoid falling into the sunk cost fallacy, if it looks like the product isn’t succeeding, kill it” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@davidhme


Michael Erickson: Founder, Search Scientistsmichaelerickson

I think you should kill a product when a certain number of factors are met, all of which have to do with looking back at the initial reasons your product was created in the first place.

The first: If you started building the product for the wrong reasons. Making money or achieving your personal goals is not a reason to build a product, it will taint every action you do, and you’ll be destined for failure. Build things that help people solve a real problem.

The second: If your product is so similar to the competition, and you haven’t given customers a unique reason to shop with your business, then it’s probably time to kill, revamp, or improve your product. Additionally, if your product doesn’t add more value than a competitor’s product, then it’s time to seriously reconsider your product.

The third: This one relates to the founder’s mindset. Everyone I know with a truly successful product lives and breathes their brand. They’re not creating a product to create a product, they’re moving forward with the goal to change a piece of the world. If you find yourself just going through the motions, someone with more passion and drive is going to blow right by you.

“If your product doesn’t add more value than a competitor’s, it’s time to consider killing it” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@searchscimike


Will Swayne: Managing Director, Marketing Resultswillswayne

I suspect the standard answer is when you run out of “cash runway”, you run out of passion or you don’t have a plan to make the product viable.

Another case which justifies shutting down is when the product reaches a plateau and is no longer teaching you new things or stretching your abilities.

I have a couple of e-book businesses that have been running on autopilot for a few years. They make a bit of income but I’m not passionate about taking them to the next level. That’s why I’m in the process of preparing them for sale to let someone else experience the next leg of the journey.

“Kill a product that is no longer teaching you new things or stretching your abilities” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@willswayne


Greg Gibas: Founder, OfficeGoblinsgreggibas

The time to shut down a product is when you can’t even give it away for free! (CLICK TO TWEET)

@greggibas

 


Michael Michelini: Founder, GlobalFromAsia

Shut down a product when you’ve exhausted your lean startup map, the problem isn’t big enough for the target customer to pay, or it’s hard for you to be passionate enough about the product/service to sustain the internal drive required to make it a sustainable business.

“Shut down a product when the problem isn’t big enough for the target customer to pay” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@michelini


Brandon King: Founder, SmartInternChinabrandonking

You should kill a product when it is killing you. If you go through an extended (longer than 3 months) period of time working on a product that you hate building and that drains your energy, that is a good sign that it is time to move on.

We all lose motivation sometimes, but when a lack of motivation morphs into more extreme emotions that might be a signal that it is time to move on to building a product that gives you more energy.

“If you are working on a product that drains your energy for too long, it’s time to move on.” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@expatskaterat


Kevin Dewalt: Founder, Allaboard.iokevindewalt

Kill a product if you realize you don’t love your customers. Products change. Team members change. Investors change. But your customers are the people you will be working with most for the next 10+ years. Going to their conferences. Taking 1 AM support calls. Solving problems they don’t yet have.

Don’t lie to yourself. Sometimes we discover the customers who buy our products are not the customers we wanted to serve when we started. If you wake up and realize you don’t love the people that are paying you… quit. Kill your product and do something else because you’ll never rise above mediocrity if you don’t love them.

“If you realize you don’t love the people that are paying you. quit. Kill your product” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@kevindewalt


Tim Conley: Executive coach, TimConley.cotimconley

Sometimes a product should be killed while still an idea. Most companies come up with an idea they think is cool without considering how it fits within their business model.

Some product ideas don’t enhance a current product line, or may even cannibalize sales without positioning the company for future markets.

Some products that could be innovative don’t have the internal support in the company from money, personnel or leadership to make it a viable competitor.

If a product won’t be a good fit in your current product lines, or no one will take ownership of an innovative product that doesn’t fit in the company, then the product in question should be killed early, so as to not divert precious time and resources needed for existing products.

“Kill a product that won’t fit in your current product lines, or if no one takes ownership of it” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@timconley


Eric Siu: Founder, GrowthEverywhereericsiu

Kill a product when you no longer think that you’re able to put your best effort into it.

Poker pro Phil Ivey always talks about quitting for the night when he’s no longer at his best. Business is the same way.

If you don’t feel like you’re at your best consistently, it’s time to move on.

“Kill a product when you no longer think that you’re able to put your best effort into it.” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@ericosiu


Josh Jones: Founder, Chunkhost

As a software developer, I say kill a product as soon as you’ve got another product that obviously deserves more of your limited resources.  But don’t give up unless you’ve got something more promising to focus on!

“I say kill a product as soon as you’ve got another product that obviously deserves more of your resources” (CLICK TO TWEET)

Josh-Jones on AngelList


Shayna Oliveira: Founder, Espresso Englishshayna-oliveira-picture

Kill a product when the product is neither selling, nor receiving much positive feedback from customers or even free trial users. A good product starts with a small core of customers who love it, and this group grows over time. But if it’s consistently like pulling teeth to convince people to buy, plus the feedback is lukewarm – then it’s time to pivot, reposition, or pull the plug.

“A good product starts with a small core of customers who love it, and this group grows over time” (CLICK TO TWEET)

@adventurous_s


 

As mentioned above, having the freedom to create something new introduces a paradoxical new stressor – questioning whether to move on from your own product.

Taking stock of the responses here, you’ll notice four common themes:

  • Kill a product if there is a lack of sales – you have to pay the bills.
  • Kill a product if you lack of passion for it – if you have the option to choose what to make, don’t continue making something you don’t love.
  • Kill a product is that it’s not doing okay but well enough.  Opportunity cost is high for founders.
  • Kill a product is for strategic considerations.  Products need to fit into the big picture of your entire businesses and also what you’re best at.

So what should you as a founder do?  How do you decide whether to kill a product or let it live, given your unique situation?

I offer one recommendation – break this problem into two parts, depending on how far along you are.

I’d chunk lack of sales and lack of passion together as “low level” problems you’re likely to face early. These issues should force you to decide whether or not to kill the product before you’ve invested a ton of resources.

Lack of sales and lack of passion are two compelling reasons to kill a product. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Now if sales are fine, and passion is sustainable – then think about whether you’re doing well enough to justify the risks of entrepreneurship, and consider the greater strategic picture.

Did you enjoy this article?  Please share and leave a comment or question for our influencers.

About

John is a startup entrepreneur building an events sponsorship company while guest contributing to WPcurve and Helloify. He relies on content marketing for his own business and helps others do the same. John tweets, and he also podcasts .

5 responses to “When should you kill a product? Noah Kagan, Rob Walling and 16 other founders weigh in”

  1. Matthew Newton says:

    Hey guys

    Love this post and happy to be a part once more.

    One thing – I made a typo in my post (they’re should read there are). Sorry.

    Mat

  2. Happy to be upping the estrogen level on this one. 😉 Great insights from all!

  3. Dan Norris says:

    We definitely need to work on this. I’m going to email you about it right now! But thanks for participating!

  4. Kyle Gray says:

    Fixed up Matt! Thanks for sharing your insights!

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