Distribution-first vs product-first

jasonleow  •  24 Jul 2021

I used to believe in the “Build it and they’ll come” approach to making products. It really appealed to the product craftsman purist in me, that I can attract customers just by the sheer power of awesome quality and a great user experience.

“So good they can’t ignore you”, so said Cal Newport.

But recently, I’m thinking otherwise.

Not to say that quality or UX is not important. But not overwhelmingly so. Certainly not the only thing that matters, as compared to how I used to believe.

A great product is important. But distribution is just as important. Some hustlers would say it matters more in the bigger scheme of things. Because between great product and poor distribution, and poor product and great distribution, the latter still wins. That is, it earns more.

I’m simplifying for sure. But there’s no smoke without fire.

I think I’m just frustrated with my lack of progress. I’d ignored distribution for too long. As a skill, and as a means. Old habits truly die hard, and if I keep optimising for enjoyability and passion, I’m not going to get the results I want, even if I do enjoy the process and journey.

There’s a phrase going around on Twitter that I hear a lot. That first-time founders focus on product, second-time founders focus on distribution. I wonder if I’m going through that now, the hard way.

So what gives?

What if I went distribution-first for a product?

Find a growing market and a reliable and sustainable distribution channel first, before even making the product?

For an existing product, how about finding a distribution channel and then shaping the marketing and product around it instead?

What are the conditions that might favour a product-first approach? When should I use distribution-first approach instead?

I don’t know. I have more questions than answers now.

But that’s at least more promising and encouraging than doing the same old things and expecting different results.

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