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Useful for One

Posted on:September 12, 2023

Many products have network efforts, whereby they become more useful as the number of other users increases. This can make it hard in the early days to get traction, as until there’s a critical mass, the early users struggle to get enough value to justify using the product. It’s a classic chicken or egg conundrum suffered by products such as online marketplaces and social networks.

Some of them never overcome it, though there are ways to break through. One technique is to focus heavily on one side of the network. So for example, in a marketplace with buyers and sellers, you could look to first amass a bunch of sellers, and let the buyers follow. But this doesn’t always work, depending on the type of network (some are one-sided) and how hard it is to attract either side in the absense of the other.

There’s another way the problem can be potentially avoided altogther. And that’s by making sure that the product is useful for one person in the absence of anyone else on the platform. This can be true even with a product with long-term goals of becoming a large network.

You can think about how, for example, Figma is a great design tool that’s extra beneficial once you have your entire team leveraging it. But it’s also just a excellent tool for a single designer to get their work done, in the absense of anyone else. Video games often have a single player mode (fun for one), and multiplayer modes.

So if your goal is a network, it may be worth prioritizing some perhaps counterintuitive features in the early days. The upshot is that the product could grow a following without needing a critical mass of users.