There are 3 cultural chasms the service agency business must cross to develop a new product: accountability, agency and a mission
Small businesses doing bespoke service work often look to building a product to escape the project to project rat race. In contrast, product focused startups are born with these qualities.
Product startups set out to change the world. With their existence, customers will behave differently. Service businesses that act as scaled up freelancers change their mission with each client project. They lack focus and thought leadership.
A product startup works tirelessly to please individual customers. A service businesses, paradoxically, distains direct interaction with customers of their new product. They discount such pandering as the old service way of doing things: “We are building for scale! The opinion of these early adopters does not matter.” A product startup aims to make change now, not after some “we’ve captured 1% market share of billions” fairy tail.
When a project turns out well, a service business doing bespoke work believes they were a major factor. When a project turns sour, the ignorant customer is always at fault. Such is the human condition, but this habit is especially prevalent in bespoke work. With this mindset, the default response to the new product not working is “user error” and a throwing of hands in the air. A true product company sees these failures as a chance to learn the constraints their product operates in and pushes forward with realizing the mission.
The service business that aims to build a new product must re-answer the question: What change do we want to make in the world? Then hold yourself accountable to advancing the cause. This means only doing work for clients directly furthering the goal. One may find a revitalized interest in the work and may not feel the need to scratch the “do something new” itch. Or, if you’re lucky, a common need across clients may appear, with a clear path to encapsulating a solution in a product.