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Zombie Products

In the world of software there are a lot of blockbuster products and there are many more products that
go belly up.  When a product or company dies, many people think that it's the worst thing that can happen. Actually, the worst thing that can happen to a product is that it remains in a "zombie" state – it's not successful and it's not dead, but enters the world of the "undead"

Zombie Products take up time and resources and slow your team down.  A Zombie cloud-based product still needs to get security patches, still needs monitoring, and still needs to be upgraded when the vendor APIs are changed.  A Zombie mobile product still needs to work with new form factors, sometimes needs to update its components and sometimes needs a refresh to at least look compatible with new mobile operating systems. Most importantly Zombie Products still take mental bandwidth from the engineering team.

Engineers on average are really sharp people and they know when they are working on a Zombie Product: there are just a couple of customers using it and no new customers sign up, traffic growth is slow, marketing doesn’t market the product, and sales doesn’t sell it.  Some people might think “well at least you have a job”, but the engineers I hire for my team, do not have a problem getting a job.  Working on a Zombie Product is a sure way to have bad morale and lose your best people.  There are plenty of successful products inside and outside your company that need engineers right now.

In my experience in the SaaS world you know that the product is in a Zombie state approximately 6-12 months after releasing it.  Successful products get new customers, new requirements, and even new bugs that the early adopters find.  If you do not see traction the responsible thing is to discontinue the product.  Of course, you should try your best to migrate the customers that are using it and provide alternatives.  Most of the time traction is measured in active users, enterprise deals closed, or transaction volume.   In my experience if after 12 months you do not have one of the following, it might be time to cut bait:
1) 50,000+ users for a freemium or ad supported product.
2) 50 enterprise / corporate clients for a B2B conventional sales product
3) hundreds or thousands of daily transactions

Google is known to terminate products that they consider to be in a Zombie state.  I know a lot of people get upset because at Google’s scale a product with tens of thousands of users could be considered a failure.  I have a lot of respect for anyone who has the guts to pull the trigger in such situations.  It is the right thing to do.

If you detect that one of your bets is not working out, that the product is not getting traction, do something about it as soon as you can: pivot, discontinue or outsource maintenance.  If you let your Zombie Products linger around, they will slow down your progress and sometimes cost you your best engineers.

-mb

PS: If you liked this post you might want to check out TestFlight and Importance of Private Beta and So you want to start a mobile app business...

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