How does entrepreneurship differ for product and service businesses?

I worked as an HR person with a BPO and IT services company for almost 7 years. In that stint, I had the opportunity to evaluate multiple products that would be relevant to our workforce. This could be simple employee engagement tools, software to capture performance ratings, biometric systems and what nots. They were all in the business of servicing their clients- but some sold explicit products, while others sold services.

I had once met a senior stakeholder of Mettl. They sell online recruitment and learning solutions. This gentleman was thorough with what we wanted out of his services. As a BPO, we hired 1000s of employees every year, and we needed to have a tech based solution to those many certification tests. Having Mettl on board for them and also for our incoming IT folks helped. We didn’t have to build the software or provide the questions. It was as simple as sharing a link with the candidate or the employee and then downloading the results from the backend. Simple enough. We continued to use Mettl for quite a few years.

Screenshot 2020-06-15 at 3.25.33 PM

Another time, we met the Founder of a product platform. They had an online system of Rewards and Recognition. The employees would win points for their successes. These could later be redeemed against products of their choice. We began to explore how her platform would feature our existing policies. Eventually we got to a point where we realised that in order to work through her product, we would have to rejig all our rewards and recognition frameworks and policies. Our management wasn’t ready to invest in that exercise. The lady also backed out stating that our thought process was outdated and her platform was what some of the front runners in the industry were vying for. It wasn’t a great experience for both sides.

When I began writing this, I was wondering if it is better to head a product company or a service company. Truth is neither.

It is best to create a user centric company.

Our experience with Mettl was better because we could see that they were taking away a lot from our plates. It gave us room to explore better ways of doing things, in which they then partnered.

A user centric enterprise moves along with the user, working from the starting point of the user. They don’t try to fit their offering to the prospect’s context. Rather they see what parts of their own offerings can be tweaked to make it a value add for the client/ prospect.

So the question that you need to ask yourself is- how do you become a user centric company?

Customer Mindedness

Since you are operating within the industry, you will see what the industry will look like tomorrow. The user in all likelihood may not have access to this knowledge. It is best to first understand the immediate requirements of the user and then work with them along the lines of what future they visualise for themselves. It doesn’t do to push your understanding, rather it helps to glean from them and work together.

Self Development

You know that Instagram has almost become what Facebook used to be a few years ago. Anybody worth their salt has an Insta presence. Using that as the context, it makes sense to start investing today in the skills that you will need tomorrow, especially if you are worried that tomorrow your skills won’t be relevant any more. It keeps you more customer centric and user focused.

Invest in scalability

In COVID times, Zoom suddenly has catapulted into the position of a partner of choice. Seemingly overnight, right from birthday parties to board meetings, everything happens on Zoom. To be a user centric company, focus on scalability. When you write off certain investments as redundant or not needed, it is the best time to figure out if they will contribute to your visibility and scalability in the future or not.

At the end of the day, for an entrepreneur while there are many pros and cons of running either a product or a service company, the greatest satisfaction lies in solving actual customer problems. So rather worry about product or service, work on becoming a user centric company.

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