Investing for Your Product’s Retirement

Seventy-nine percent of Americans have access to an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan. We understand — rationally — the need to put money aside now to prepare for the future.

We’ve seen the compound growth charts, and heard that even a tiny investment today is better than nothing; it will grow dramatically over time. There may be ups and downs, but with a longer time horizon, you’re more likely to profit from those ups and downs than if you wait to invest.

We know this, right? It makes sense?

So it came as a surprise to me that only slightly over thirty percent of those workers are putting anything in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Logic isn’t what drives our behavior.

And it explains why so many companies aren’t investing in innovation.

  • They’re focused on the short-term: what they can do with their limited resources today.
  • They don’t know where or how to invest.
  • They don’t want to make the wrong choice.
  • They will start when {insert random milestone here}

First off – if you’re not contributing to your company’s 401(k) personally, do that now. Go, change your benefits plan RIGHT NOW. I’ll wait.

Ok, now you’re looking after yourself. Now, think about your company, and your product. Just like one day you’ll reach the end of your work life, so too will your product. It’s inevitable.

So you need to start planning for that now. Even a small amount. Start with customer research.

Customer research is a great ‘starter’ investment.

It offers returns now, while also laying the foundation for your company’s future.

Your UX or product teams may already be doing this. Conducting qualitative research to better understand your customer’s needs and perceptions. In startup circles, it’s called “getting out of the building”. 

The significance of these being qualitative interviews, rather than surveys or just reviewing usage metrics, is that you can find new areas to explore. New problems or opportunities that your customers bring up in passing, not because you explicitly asked them about it.

This is “inspiration,” and it’s the cornerstone of innovation.

Inspiration is the first step of an approach called “design thinking”, which is the de facto standard for new product design and innovation in 2017. It starts with understanding customer needs, and then designing solutions that are desirable, technically feasible and financially viable in an iterative fashion.

But you don’t need to be an expert in design thinking.

You just need to start investing today.

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