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5 Lessons I Learned About Building a Product-Focused Company with General Assembly

Jan 11, 2017
By Terence Latimer

Shortly after shortly after I took the Part-Time Product Management course at General Assembly, I founded Food Tribe.

Fast forward one year later, and I can see exactly how the lessons I learned have directly impacted the creation of my business.

1. Product. Product. Product

Super Soaker creator Lonnie Johnson, is a nuclear engineer, Tuskegee University Ph.D. and former NASA scientist. He founded his company in 1989. It was the same year he first licensed the Super Soaker, which generated more than $200 million in retail sales two years later.

The first (and most important) lesson learned during the course was the Golden Rule: Your product should be your number one priority.

Oftentimes, startups get too focused on things that don’t push their business forward: attending trade shows, watching too many how-to videos, or focusing on the wrong business metrics.

Getting a product to market should be every startup's number one priority.

The second, to improve that product.

Third, to get feedback on how to improve that product.

Four… you get where I’m going here. 90% of Startups Fail.

Your business has a 0% chance of sticking around if you’re not creating a product that users care about.

Remember: The work doesn’t end once you create a solid product. It’s your job as product owner to continuously make changes that will keep your user coming back for more.

2. Research

What’s the #1 Reason Most Startup’s fail?

No market.

Yep. Someone spent a bunch of time, energy, and money creating something that no one cares about.

A good product owner understands that good ol’ research is your best friend, because with research’s help, you’ll be prepared.

Preparation is a major key. If you’re not doing your research….

Product owners sit at the very center of a company, where external factors meets internal resources.


  • Market Need
  • Competitive Landscape
  • Economic / Political Environment


  • Resources
  • Team
  • Strategy

A good product owner is able to find a unique market with little or no barrier to entry:

Finding the biggest opportunity with the least amount of effort to enter and (hopefully) capture a market.

Remember: As product owner, your first step to building a product focused company is to use your research to see if internal resources have the ability to meet the external needs of the market.

3. Preparation is Key

Floyd Mayweather knocked out Victor Ortiz with a controversial finish that left many with a collective, “DAMN!”

“Ortiz was apologizing, Mayweather was punching!” That announcer’s quote makes me laugh every time… the poor guy, never saw it coming.

A tough lesson, but one I’m sure Victor Cruz learned from, which leads to my next lesson learned about building a product focused company: preparation is key.

Building a business, like many things, isn’t as easy as you’d like to think it is. Outside influences are constantly attacking your business, looking for cracks in the seams to burst your start-up dreams before they even get off the ground.

Preparation is key: test your assumptions, get user feedback, see what your competitors are doing, explore new product offerings and features. Those are the proactive activities a solid product owner will incorporate into their workflows to create a more prepared company.

Remember: You can’t plan for everything, but by building good habits and not being afraid to tackle the big problems, the better prepared you’ll be. Proactivity is key.

4. No Ego

The ego is a tricky beast, and ultimately, can be the downfall of many product managers (and start-ups).

Ego can be attributed to both people, and culture.

The part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.

And just like all tools and resources, ego should be used to help create a better product.

Too careful and you don’t take advantage of high growth opportunities.

Too aggressive and you spend valuable resources building something people don’t care about.

Too easily satisfied and your company never grows.

*What’s a good product owner to do? *

Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution to this one.

My advice is to stay committed to improving: try things that make you nervous, learn, and do it better the next time around.

*Remember: There’s a point in product management where art meets form, and managing ego’s (your own included) is something the most effective product managers LEARN to do. *

5. Fail Fast

The last, and probably most important lesson I learned with the General Assembly team is probably the most important: Fail Fast.

Anytime you decide to build something, you need a plan to get there. Create a goal, and work your way backwards to create a plan of action to get there.

Problem is, when it comes time to execute, getting there isn’t always that easy. Trouble is always going to arise.

Failure, when done quickly, can be your best friend. So, don’t be afraid to start sharing what you’re working on while you’re working on it. Get feedback early, be open to criticism, and make changes when necessary.

And most importantly, when you know you’re going to fail, don’t be scared to ask for help. Normally, people are willing to give a hand if asked.

So that’s it! The 5 things I learned from General Assembly about building a product-focused company.

I hope you guys found some value in this post! For more posts like this follow me on Medium!

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