“So, how does this scale?”

We get this question a few times a month from people who like the idea of UserMuse but worry about how much of their time talking to potential customers will take. My answer is always the same:

Wrong question.

If you’re asking whether understanding what your target customers want will scale, it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities. I hate to sound harsh, but it’s true – doubly so if you’re still searching for product-market fit.

The architecture should scale. The sales model should scale. The customer support process should scale. But when it comes to learning what the market needs and finding product-market fit, just focus on getting it right. Scalability shouldn’t be on your radar.

I say this with a sense of irony. After all, we started UserMuse because finding the right people for user interviews takes too long for enterprise product managers. We wanted to save other PMs from the days or weeks of scouring LinkedIn for people with the right backgrounds looking for people willing to talk to them. So we built a community of people who were ready to talk about the pain points they experienced in their jobs (and get paid for their valuable time and expertise).

We wanted to make a difficult process easier – but we still believe that investing in knowing your users insanely well is the wrong place to ask the “will it scale?” question.

Choose Real Progress Over Fake Efficiency

Scalability and efficiency are normally virtues, but like they risk warping our mindset when we take them too far. Writing all of the requirements for a new product in less than a week sounds great…until you factor in the strain from cramming in features to close a deal down the road. (Pragmatic Marketing‘s latest survey showed that 35% of product teams report adding features strictly to close a deal last year.) Remember, If the market isn’t buying what you’re selling, no one cares about how fast you built it. Not the employees, not the Board, not the investors, and definitely not the market.

If you need more convincing, airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia speaks eloquently about the virtues of embracing things that don’t scale on the How I Built This podcast from NPR.

“It would be a little frightening to be solving users’ problems in a way that wasn’t yet automatic, but less frightening than the far more common case of having something automatic that doesn’t yet solve anyone’s problems.” – Paul Graham

If you need even more convincing, read Paul Graham’s now-slightly-famous post on why doing things that don’t scale pays off.

And if you need still more convincing, I’ve listed a bunch of other great processes below that don’t scale well.

  • Performing open heart surgery
  • Making a Patek Philppe watch (video)
  • Painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
  • Meeting your soul mate
  • Raising a well-adjusted child
  • Playing golf
  • Making Planet Earth
  • Aging small-batch bourbon

The best you can do sometimes is be as efficient as you can while recognizing that not everything has to scale.

Now, go learn what your market wants.


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