On Saying No To New Friends

When is the right time to start forging partnerships when building a new product? I've been asking myself this question since a former colleague of one of our team suggests we work on some kind of partnership, as this person is working on something also related to online education that can potentially overlap with our product.

My first instinct is that it's way too early to start thinking about this. We do not even have a usable product yet, even  though that is coming along quite well. However, this does mean that the product can, and probably will, change significantly by the time we reach the point of having paying users. Note that I said the product can change, not the product vision which we firmly believe in. My fear is that integrating outside ideas will very likely take our attention away from the core features we should be focusing on right from the start. In addition to that, I wonder if these outside ideas can "taint" our own vision to the point where we could loose clear sight of our original goals. Again, it's loosing focus that concerns me.

At the same time, we don't want to miss out on good opportunities to improve our product. It might be that this new idea that comes along could turn into one of our killer features further down the road - who knows? We certainly want that to be our killer feature, not our competitor's. In the end, it's all a matter of timing. So we start talking to the people who bring in these ideas, really really slowly, taking our time to fully understand what is involved, until we reach the point where we can comfortably work on integrating the new technology without steering away from our focus.

Running the risk of cliché in a post about product development, I will end by quoting the late Steve Jobs and hope I haven't pissed off anyone yet:

You think focusing is about saying "Yes." No. Focusing is about saying "No." And when you say "No," you piss off people.

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