Momento Mori: The Value of Dead Product Audits


This post was originally published here

It is often said that we human beings are the masters of the derivative. Each new innovation is actually just a cobbling together of a group of older ideas – some that worked, and some that were failures.

It’s this ability to assemble and reassemble that showcases our creative problem solving as a species, but it often means that the brilliant idea that you’re so excited about, well, someone had it before you. From a product perspective, this has a few meaningful pros that far outweigh the cons, the most important being that you can learn from the mistakes of others.

Generally, a research engagement includes a thorough market and competitor analysis, but that only covers what is currently in-market. We at Accomplice add another layer of data by doing a dead product audit – finding the products or companies that are similar to yours but have failed. This is a step that a lot of organizations typically forget or don’t know to do, but the data you turn up here can be invaluable.

Ideally, these dead product audits uncover all sorts of useful post-mortem data, including why the product failed, what user adoption was like, how the product was positioned, and pricing data. There are so many variables as to why a product fails, so this data will be interesting, but it won’t tell the complete story. It can, however, meaningfully shift your product strategy, especially if you find that you could potentially stumble over some of the same obstacles. A good example of this is manufacturing costs that exceed the price consumers are willing to pay for a product.

There are some great resources out there that can help with dead product audits, and I wanted to share a couple of those with you here. A basic Google search is a great place to start and is the least that you should do in order to make sure you’re not walking into a disaster area.

Many startups, in an attempt to be more transparent, will write and publish post-mortems when their company folds. You can find a great list of some of those here:

CBInsights List of Post-Mortems

For a concise list of reasons why startups failed, you can visit these resources:

This subreddit keeps track of news stories of startups and products as they shut down:

If none of those turn up anything meaningful, I suggest doing some more specific, quick-and-dirty research to see if you can gather any insights. A service like AskWonder will dig into preliminary research for you and turn around responses relatively quickly at an affordable price.

Dead product audits are a simple way to fill in your organizational knowledge gaps, so put the mistakes of others to good use by turning them into an advantage for your own ideas.

Olivia Hayes