Stealth Mode Development
The most common approach to product development involves taking the most promising ideas (often based on intuition) and developing them into products in a “stealth mode.”
In a stealth mode, companies typically cut themselves off from mainstream civilization and choose to complete a product built primarily on their assessment of what the problem is and what the solution should be instead of getting any early feedback or validation from the customers.
Companies hypothesize that they understand enough about the problem their customers are facing to know the right solution to build. Hence, they don’t consider slowing down the process by introducing any feedback loops in between steps.
Being an early mover is clearly one of the goals, and fear of competition makes companies wary of sharing their idea prematurely, even for the purpose of obtaining potentially life-saving feedback.
During the infamous dotcom meltdown, dozens of companies folded because they chose to build products without fully deliberating upon what the right product ideas worth pursuing were. They chose to build out every single conceivable product feature without determining if there was a market for it or not.
The result was that while they built a fully scaled, fancy-looking product or service, they unfortunately didn’t have a large enough customer base to make the product launch as interesting and successful as the product development journey had been. During the time that briefly preceded the NASDAQ crash in March 2000 and some two years after that, over 800 Internet companies collapsed.
Most of these companies had unrealistic valuations without any regard to a proven and repeatable business model. Despite the recent history of obvious pitfalls of such an approach, we still find takers for this grand way of building products. This method requires a long runway (meaning, a long supply of funding and patience), but more importantly, the belief that we the makers know better than the consumers. In a way, this is like Henry Ford saying, “Had we gone to the people, they would have told us faster horses.”—a sentiment doesn’t quite apply in today’s world. Clearly, the current thinking is not about making products in isolation or with an arrogance that we know better than our customers.