Should I Kill or Shelve My Slow-Growing Product?

Today a founder shared his plans for his start-up. Its software product has some traction but isn’t growing quickly enough for various reasons, including timing. The founder believes the product has potential but feels he needs to pivot to work on something else for now. He wasn’t sure what to do with the product. Shut it down and it doesn’t have a chance of reaching its full potential. Keep working on it full-time and he bears an opportunity cost.

In the end, this founder decided to make the software product self-serve. Customers can do everything on their own, from signing up to canceling. The product is going on autopilot. He’ll just monitor it periodically while he pivots to build a new product. If the first product takes off, he’ll revaluate and decide whether he should step in or hire someone else to oversee it.

I didn’t much like this approach when he shared it. But as I thought about it more, I realized that I heard a similar story years ago. I was at the Mailchimp offices. One of the founders told me their origin story: a product they’d built and shelved while they worked on other things ended up becoming Mailchimp. Last week, they closed the deal to sell their “forgotten product” for $12 billion. Had they killed it instead of shelving it, their trajectory would have been very different.

The Mailchimp story is an example of the unpredictable impact of timing. Extreme, yes, but real. You never know when people will see value in what you’ve built. Sometimes it takes a little longer than you planned, and you just have to be patient and give the product time. Depending on the situation, sometimes you can work on other things while you wait for it to flower.