Product vs Service Business

Nov 11, 2022

Product businesses are so hot right now. There is a literal app for every single thing. Product companies are great because margins are high, custom work is low and scaling that is relatively easy. Unfortunately, with opsZero I’m in the service game.

Services are interesting because after doing services for 20+ companies in the last 5 years a few patterns emerge:

  • Services can be delivered in a Productized manner.
  • Most companies aren’t unique in their requirements. If you do it for one company, likely many more have the same need.
  • Most things require scaffolding. If you can Productized the scaffolding and provide the value on top it allows the value to be delivered faster.

Some negatives of a service business.

  • Since people are interacting with a person instead of a product they have weird things they want to throw in versus what they would do with a product. A product can fail and you move on because a product can’t do everything. A service on the other hand people have weird expectations that they wouldn’t have of a product because they are speaking to another person. “Oh you do Kubernetes, let’s have you do database optimization.”
  • A product company is mostly a subscription business now. This is unfortunate because I grew up in the shareware generation and I think a lot of products can be that model. Anyways, this results in people thinking the old model is product based subscription businesses and everything else is a “lifestyle” business.
  • People are willing to treat other people poorly versus having to go through a support channel to treat people poorly.

So why do I like service businesses?

  • Everyone wants to build a product but to use your product someone needs to do the work. Just because a product is created doesn’t mean that your customer can do it themselves. Webflow, WordPress, Wix, etc. Have figured out how to do this by creating a partner marketplace. But if you are just starting out it doesn’t exist.
  • Value is easier to discern. You deliver value and you get paid for it. Time is literally money.
  • The price of time has a higher value in the short term than in the long term compared to a product. Overtime a product has the better revenue + profit vs a service business. But in the short term a service has a better outcome. On the other hand a product has a harder time getting a footing which is also a risk a service company doesn’t have to do.

What are some things a service company can do to innovate?

  • A company can innovate in delivery. Process delivery, i.e delivering the same things multiple times for multiple customers, is the best way to deliver value. Basically make things as cheap as possible by constantly reducing cost.
  • As a business model service businesses don’t incentive workers. A person delivering $100 dollars in value isn’t that different from a company providing $150 in value if they are following the same checklist. Essentially a service business is seeking engineers at the cheapest rate possible and isn’t looking for the sake of tomorrow but the needs of today. Incentives in this structure is hard as people doing harder work usually results in higher pay. In a service business the goal should be getting the work done for the same amount over time.