Google A great product sells itself. What? Think again!

A Great Product Sells Itself. What? Think Again!

  • By Andreas
  • 19 October, 2019

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So, you’ve started a (new) business and you’re ready to create a product that sells itself?

Hold that thought my friend.


Simples – we need to first see whether self-selling products really exist…

Let’s get started!

Introducing The Self-Selling Product

While the notion that great products sell themselves has long been ingrained to (many) founders’ psyche one man certainly helped popularise it over the last few years.

Who is that person I hear you ask? 

Meet Kevin Systrom…

Kevin is no other than the co-founder and CEO of Instagram.

Yep, that guy.

So, what Mr. Instagram has to say about today’s topic?

There are gimmicks, paying for downloads and stuff. But we’ve never spent a dime on marketing. Great products sell themselves.

You did read that correctly – never spent a dime…because apparently that’s how it works with great products!

In fact, according to other ‘believers’ there is even a formula.


You better be (if you subscribe to this line of thinking)…

So, what’s the recipe?

3 words.

Viral. Growth. Loops.

Which is the ‘method’ of building virality into a product.

But how that works?

Well, more often than not it involves baking into a product a strong incentive (which will prompt customers to sell the product for you).

Take for example Skype and WhatsApp – both companies did exactly that by creating a platform that becomes more valuable for the end-user when more people they know join in.

Or an alternative option is to have a strong referral scheme…

A company that famously used referrals was PayPal, which achieved a 7 to 10% daily growth on referrals alone.


According to David Sacks, PayPal’s COO at that time, they “literally pay people to invite their friends.

So, “the experts” verdict is clear:

if you create your product – intelligently – by using either of these 2 options, the product will transform into your own best salesperson and do the job through viral word-of-mouth for you!

Of course, some people might say that both options still count as marketing, but even if that’s the case it happens effortlessly.

With that said, don’t you think it’s about time to plug some reality into the mix?

The Self-Selling Product Myth Busted

There I said it!

But why is the self-selling product a myth?

Patrick Woods couldn’t have put it better to in one of his posts:

Self-Selling Products don’t exist. If they did, you wouldn’t see 2000 TV spots a day for Coke, BMW, Visa and Allstate. The assertion that your product can succeed entirely on its own merits without the help of marketing on at least some level is at best lazy, at worst delusional, and in all cases self-defeating.

As for the experts’ viral formula, while its truth that those companies managed to build those viral mechanics into their product mix…

… the fact of the matter is that model can hardly be replicated by the overwhelming majority of startups.

And I say this because:

a) building viral mechanics into a product, the-Dropbox way, is overly complicated and incompatible with most type of products/industries, and

b) referrals alone is an extremely risky strategy when you’re starting out, since it is a marketing channel over which you have very little control.

But don’t take my word for it!

Since there are a lot of top companies out there with great products to offer, let’s see if there stuff self-selling!

Twitter: 771.4 million U.S. dollars spent on sales and marketing (2018)

Microsoft: 17.47 billion U.S. dollars spent on sales and marketing (2018)

Alphabet: 16.33 billion U.S dollars spent on sales and marketing (2018)

That’s right, even household names with stellar reputation spend a sh*t load of money on marketing their products…

Even Apple’s Mac and iPhones can’t sell themselves!

So, can a business be successful without advertising/marketing?

It doesn’t seem so…

Great Products Don’t Have An “Autopilot.” Get Used to It!

I know, ‘startup romantics’ would hate me for saying this, but there is no way around it:

Even great products don’t have an autopilot!

So, on this point, I am with Paul Graham:

A lot of would-be founders believe that…you build something, make it available, and if you’ve made a better mousetrap, people beat a path to your door as promised. Or they don’t, in which case the market must not exist”. Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off.

Of course, it’s always nice to think we’ll be one of those rare outliers, but I am afraid that some rules are meant NOT to be broken.

That of course not to say that having a great product is not necessary. After all, no amount of marketing can compensate for a bad product.

As Bill Bernbach famously said a couple of decades ago: “A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.”

The moral of the story?

Self-selling products don’t really exist!

Today’s Key takeaways

– No matter how good your product is, if no one knows about it, it simply won’t sell

– Letting a product sell itself is, more often than not, a “strategy go out of business”

– Startups take off because the founders make them take off


Ok, “guys” that’s all from me for today!

If you enjoyed today’s post, check out my kinde book, The Vertical Startup: A practical guide on how today’s bootstrapped entrepreneurs turn a late market entry into an advantage by going vertical, that is currently available at Amazon.

I hope to see you soon.



“Pennies don’t fall from heaven, they have to be earned here on earth.”

– Margaret Thatcher

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