3 Things Small Businesses Can Learn From Google Product Failures

People tend to give Google a hard time for trying out so many different products – many of which eventually go to the chopping block. Google Reader is the latest product to be discontinued, leaving many marketers scrambling to find an alternative RSS reader.

We complain when a product we’ve grown attached to gets retired, and we’ve even laughed at some of Google’s previous attempts at social media. (Remember Google Buzz? There’s not much to remember.) But the truth is, failure is crucial to the success of all companies, big and small. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is famous for saying “We celebrate our failures.”  Below are three reasons why your small business should celebrate them too.

What You Can Learn From Google Product Failures

1. Companies Should Focus on What They Do Best

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, and in business, you simply can’t try to do everything. Having too many products in your pipeline is a distraction from your core purpose.

If you can’t explain what your company does in one sentence, you may be trying to do too much. Customers tend to love companies that do one thing – extremely well. Once you’ve figured out what that one thing is, you should put all your focus on that single vision. Because it will probably take everything you’ve got to make it succeed.

When I founded WordStream, the company vision wasn’t clear. People weren’t sure exactly what my product did. That was a failure on my part; I wasn’t communicating the value. So we did an exercise to refine and define our core purpose and values as a company. This helped clarify what really makes us stand out in the market, which in turn helps the leadership team focus on what really matters.

2. Shutting Down Less Successful Efforts Frees Up Resources

A side effect of focusing your product stack or reining in your service offerings is that you free up resources to put back into your core product.

For a tech company, this means that development and engineering resources can focus their valuable time where it really counts. This is also true for any kind of small business you might run. You have limited staff and a finite number of hours in the day. So it’s imperative that everyone you hire is able to put their time and effort into projects that will contribute to your bottom line.

I used to actively market and sell a Keyword Research Suite – a set of keyword tools at a much lower price point than our main PPC management platform. Remember when I said you can’t please everybody? That’s exactly what I was trying to do. I wanted to have a product offering for businesses that either weren’t doing PPC or that couldn’t afford PPC software. But in the end, it was a distraction from our core purpose and it was eating up our valuable development resources. So today, it’s no longer our focus and it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

3. Failure Is a Learning Opportunity

It’s easy to lose perspective when you’re running a small business. Believe me, I know. Some days I feel like a million dollars and other days I feel I owe millions of dollars. But I think the beautiful thing about small, periodic failures is that they provide valuable learning opportunities which in turn is one of the most exciting aspect of running your own business and motivates me to do better next time.

Google tries and fails at many things and it’s helped them get where they are today. If they were afraid to try and fail, we wouldn’t have Gmail or Google Maps. But, of course, not every Google venture worked out that well. Below, I celebrate some of the many Google products and services that eventually had to die to make way for other technologies.

infographic google graveyard

[Click for full size version]

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Larry Kim Larry Kim founded WordStream in 2007. He serves as company CTO and is the author of 4 Award-Winning Books on Software Development. Larry also blogs at the WordStream Blog and practices photography in his spare time.

14 Reactions
  1. I appreciate that Google knows when things are succeeding and isn’t afraid to acknowledge it.

  2. Wow I didn’t know there were so many things in the google graveyard, but great to know they understand when they are not succeeding. And it is great example of what other businesses should do.

  3. It takes more than just a good idea to succeed in business, even for Google.

  4. You forgot to add Google’s image editor company they acquired, called Picnik.

  5. And Google Checkout is on it’s way to the graveyard (nov 2013)

  6. This makes me feel a lot better. On the surface it looks like Google has the golden touch – everything they do is awesome. This just shows that everyone fails – even Google. More importantly, they learn from their failings and improve the next time!

  7. Haha! I’m loving the image. I can remember the launches of some of these and Google used to be so excited about it. I guess one of the greatest things about Google is that it knows if it cannot fight the fight. It gives up just in time for fresh new ideas to come in.

  8. The infographic is interesting. Indeed, failure is crucial to the success of all companies, big and small. I remember my partner failing in 2 businesses previously before succeeding at the third one which has prospered until today.