Here’s why it’s so dangerous to scale a product with questionable product/market fit:
The Traction Treadmill
It’ll kill your company.
Let me explain why it happens.
Sometimes you build a product that’s just doing okay. Not great, but not bad either. Users show up, and some of them stick around – but not many
Some teams look at this and are overly optimistic – it’s time to scale. Just add users, instead of increasing stickiness
And this works, for a time. You can grow fast just by doubling ad spend. Or tripling ad spend
In the early days this works. 3x with 1,000 users just means you need to buy 2,000 users
Here’s the problem: Then a large % of those users burn off. That’s fine, maybe just replace them?
To 3x again, you have to replace the % you lost plus buy another whopping amount just to grow
That might work, if you’re still dealing with 1,000s or 10,000 users
The traction treadmill eventually arrives once the numbers get big
This is when you lose a % of users fast, but then just have the budget and funding to replace them- but then can’t keep grow on top
You start running hard and just staying in one place
You might increase budgets. Pay up on CAC/LTV. Optimize and run experiments. And that works.. until the treadmill reappears
The problem with the treadmill is that your team and scale makes it hard to iterate substantially on the product and business. You’re locked in
If things flatten for months, or a year, eventually morale becomes a problem. Options start to narrow. And the real solution – to increase stickiness – becomes too slow and complex to execute
Then you fall off the traction treadmill. Game over.
In the end, this story isn’t about polishing your product forever. But it’s important not to do it prematurely either – because it’s often unfixable.