Product Tips and Insights

Constraints Force Product and customer focus

Product Strategy

Enterprises are on a constant journey to be more innovative and to be disruptors vs. being the ones who get disrupted. Part of the reason startups are better at innovation and creating new, disruptive products than enterprises is because of the constraints startups face. Real constraints force product and customer focus, which are the keys to building new, successful products.


I put an emphasis on real because most enterprises try to be innovative in hollow and shallow ways that don’t provide clear constraints to force meaningful focus. Constraints that force meaningful focus create an environment where product creators work intimately and iteratively with users. They don’t have enough time, money, and resources to hide behind or be distracted by unimportant activities. Enterprise innovation teams that have access to an abundance of capital, resources, and time will not be as efficient and effective as they should be. Enterprises can’t pretend to establish an environment of constraints; the constraints must be real to force the discipline required to create a new product. Establishing a skunk works isn’t enough either, unless the skunk works means innovation and new product teams will be given limited resources, money, and time to validate, concept, and iterate.


Startups don’t have a choice but to get close and stay close to customers, because they don’t have any at the beginning. This inherently gives them an advantage over enterprises. But that is only part of the story. All the constraints a startup faces drives an overall focus that helps them create new, disruptive products better than enterprises. We know this to be true because enterprises have all the resources that startups don’t, yet have consistently not been the primary innovators and disruptors that startups have. So, we can conclude that an abundance of resources isn’t an advantage and a lack of resources can be an advantage.


There is something else at work here too — constraints control ego and make us humble. An abundance of resources inflates our egos and doesn’t allow us to be empathetic with users. Constraints, however, keep us humble and help us to more be open-minded and vulnerable.


Real constraints force a focus and discipline that provides a more conducive environment to creating a great, successful product.

Ryan Frederick
Ryan Frederick has had the privilege of being part of several startups and growth companies. He has helped companies grow from inception, to viability, through to sustainability. During the evolution of these companies, Ryan as served on company boards and been instrumental in capitalization activities. He has also helped companies to expand to international markets. Ryan brings a unique blend of business acumen and technical knowledge to help companies and clients achieve their objectives. He enjoys the process and challenge of starting and growing a company. Ryan (@ryanfrederick) is a Principal at AWH (@awhnet), Director for Startup Grind (@startupgrind | @startupgrindcmh), Chairman i.c.stars|*COLUMBUS (@icstarscolumbus), Co-founder (@black_hack) and leader ProductCamp & ProductTank Columbus.


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