All fast-growth companies share one thing in Common. Regardless of who their customers are, their business model, the type of Product, industry, or region of the globe they’re operating in, they all make a product that a large group of people loves. They’ve built products that, in the eyes of their customers, are simply must-have.

Creating must-have products is not sufficient for success

While creating a must-have product alone is not sufficient for breakout success, it is the baseline requirement for rapid and sustainable growth. Of course, building a must-have product isn’t easy, and one result is that too often those launching new businesses or products put the cart before the horse, pouring resources and staff into trying to drive more customers to a product that isn’t actually loved, or sometimes even understood, by its target market.

This is one of the most common and deadly mistakes start-up founders make, and it’s also a huge problem that often surfaces with established firms, even those known for their innovation prowess, launch new products. Just think of Google Glass and Amazon’s Fire Phone - both innovative products that nobody wanted, or the infamous Microsoft Zune media player, launched in November 2006, which Microsoft reportedly spent at least $26 million to promote but which never generated more than a tepid response. The Zune was not a bad product; many critics considered it quite well designed. But it added no “wow factor” to make it more appealing than Apple’s already ubiquitous iPods.

Despite continued efforts to stoke sales, including the release of an improved version, the Zune HD, in 2009, the Zune was never able to garner more than a single-digit share of the market and was discontinued in 2011.

The cardinal rules

One of the cardinal rules of growth hacking is that you must not move into the high-tempo growth experimentation push until you know your product is must-have, why it’s must-have, and to whom it is a must-have: in other words, what is its core value, to customers, and why. (The exception to this rule being businesses such as social networks, where the core value is the people on the platform.)

This may sound blindingly obvious, but the fact is that it can sometimes take enormous patience because the pressure to start pushing for growth is intense.

For start-ups, that’s often due to demands from taking venture capital, or, on the flip side, because the company needs to prove itself in order to raise capital, or generate revenue to keep the lights on. Even in established firms, where products are generally assigned a target revenue contribution by a specified date, there is pressure to start demonstrating growth -- yesterday. And as this pressure mounts, the belief that growth can be forced, usually by increasing spending on marketing, becomes increasingly alluring.