"What kind of startup are you building?": The age-old debate of product vs. distribution


Hatched by Glasp

Sep 16, 2023

4 min read


"What kind of startup are you building?": The age-old debate of product vs. distribution

In the world of startups, there has always been a debate about what is more important - the product itself or its distribution. Some believe that building a remarkable product is the key to success, while others argue that without a strong distribution strategy, even the best product will go unnoticed. In reality, both aspects are crucial, and finding the right balance is the key to building a successful startup.

Product First, Audience Second: The Apple way

Apple has long been known for its focus on product excellence. Their philosophy is to build something so beautiful and powerful that people will go to great lengths to get it. Instead of relying heavily on marketing and distribution, Apple creates products that are so compelling that they practically sell themselves. This approach has proven to be immensely successful for the company, as consumers eagerly line up outside Apple stores whenever a new product is released.

Audience First, Product Second: The rise of Instagram influencers turned fashion moguls

On the other end of the spectrum, we have examples like Instagram influencers who have leveraged their large audiences to build successful businesses. These influencers already have a dedicated following who trust their taste and recommendations. By tapping into their audience's interests and preferences, they can create and promote products that resonate with their followers. This embedded distribution strategy allows them to seamlessly integrate their products into their audience's lives and generate significant sales.

Symbiotic Growth: Connecting product and distribution

The concept of symbiotic growth suggests that a startup's product and distribution channel should be tightly intertwined. They should rely on each other for growth and success. Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees, is a prime example of this approach. By championing the environmental cause, Ecosia not only attracted users but also turned them into advocates. The product's value proposition and its distribution channel became inseparable, leading to organic growth driven by user advocacy.

Insights for building a successful startup

  • 1. Align product growth with a noble cause: By connecting your product to a noble cause or purpose, you can create a powerful word-of-mouth marketing engine. Users who champion the cause will naturally spread awareness about your product, attracting like-minded individuals who resonate with your mission.
  • 2. Make users your advertisers: Instead of relying solely on traditional advertising methods, focus on turning your users into advocates. Create a product that is so remarkable that users can't help but share it with others. This organic, user-driven growth can be far more effective than any marketing campaign.
  • 3. Embed your signature in user creations: Create opportunities for your users to showcase their creations publicly. This can serve as a powerful marketing tool, as others looking for inspiration or solutions may stumble upon your product. By providing a platform for users to showcase their work, you can attract admirers and potential customers.

Practical advice for startup success

  • 1. Leverage distribution through demonstration: Make your product visible during normal use. Ensure that its value and benefits are evident to anyone who interacts with it. This can create curiosity and intrigue, driving potential customers to seek out your product.
  • 2. Build a decentralized sales team: Focus on creating such a remarkable product and providing exceptional customer experience that your users become brand ambassadors. Satisfied customers will naturally recommend your product to others, helping to expand your reach and customer base.
  • 3. Foster a community-evolved product: Allow your user base to shape the evolution of your product through feedback loops, open forums, and beta testing. By involving your users in the development process, you not only create a sense of ownership but also ensure that your product meets their needs and desires.


In the world of startups, the debate between product and distribution will likely continue. However, it is clear that both aspects are crucial for success. By finding the right balance between creating an exceptional product and implementing a robust distribution strategy, entrepreneurs can increase their chances of building a thriving startup. Remember to align your product growth with a noble cause, make users your advertisers, and embed your signature in user creations. With these actionable insights and advice, you can set yourself on the path to startup success.

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