When to kill a product

I’ve been out of college now for more than a decade and have worked for only a handful of companies. For a lot of people my generation, I’m probably seen as a dinosaur by not changing jobs every year once my stock options were vested.

But seeing as I’ve had a chance to move up in companies and produce multiple products, I have a different appreciation for product lifespan and code rot.

Product lifespan? Code Rot? What the hell is this loon talking about?

Software is much like owning a house, you have to maintain it. Issues (bugs) are found, new technology comes out that will make your product more stable and possibly cheaper to run. New advances in design and layout require a fresh coat of paint from time to time.

Eventually the software is a bit too much of a mess. Sometimes you have to gut a room or two. Sometimes, you just have to tear the whole damn thing down.

How do you know when its time?

For me, there isn’t one question that clearly lets you know when its time. For example: When was the last time you gave the product any love? When was the last time you added a feature or fixed a bug? When did you give it some marketing dollars? Has it been so long that you can no longer remember? Have you been distracted by other products? When was the last time you had a signup?

Its OK to admit that you have been ignoring a product. But now you have to ask yourself, how much is this costing me a month? How often is support getting calls on it? What are my hosting costs for keeping this around? Am I still making money? Would I have a company if this was my only product?

It quickly becomes clear on what you should do. We have a product at our company that hasn’t done as well as I would have liked. To be honest, it has a lot of issues. Most of which are out of our control. Due to licensing, its priced too high and competes with “free” alternatives even if they are less secure. It has maybe a couple hundred users on it and if it was our only product, we would have shut the doors a while ago. Its time for it to go.

Dealing with the breakup

So the hard stuff now has to happen. You have to either tell your customers to go away, or find an alternative that maybe you’re reselling, maybe not. There is a good chance that they’re not going to like what you are going to tell them. Break it to them easy, give them PLENTY of time to migrate away from your company if they choose. Bend over backwards to any request that they have for getting their data. After all, its THIER data! Helping users move their one service will hopefully keep those customers on the other services that they have with you.

In the end, this is best for the company. Even if you lose a customer or two, its best in the end. Even with the lost revenue, there is hopefully a huge reduction in expenses that can now be pushed to your money making products. And yes, even with repeating this to yourself, it will still suck. Good luck my friends.

Matt Patterson avatar
About Matt Patterson
Husband, Father of 3, Programmer at heart, spends his days running ridiculously large data centers in the midwest.