ResourcesBlogBehind the Product: Learning from Drizly’s Journey

Behind the Product: Learning from Drizly’s Journey

Learning from Drizly's Product Management journey

As a passionate product management consultant and trainer, I often find myself delving into the complexities of the profession, seeking to understand the heartbeat of product success and, equally importantly, the lessons we can draw from failure. One question that invariably sparks conversation in my training sessions is, “What percentage of products fail?” The answer is elusive, floating somewhere between 70-85%, depending on who you ask. But the real essence lies not in the percentage but in the profound question of why products fail. 

It’s not enough to acknowledge failure; we must unravel the intricacies of why it happens. And that’s where the journey of Drizly, the online alcohol marketplace, becomes a poignant case study—a story not to belittle, humiliate, or scorn, but to compassionately dissect and learn. 

For those who aren’t familiar with Drizly, let me get caught up. Drizly is online marketplace that makes it easier for consumers to purchase alcohol without leaving their homes, which can be a time-consuming and inconvenient process. Drizly’s platform connects customers seeking alcohol with local liquor stores, allowing customers to browse and order alcoholic beverages from nearby liquor stores

Drizly’s journey is not just about being part of the majority that faces failure; it’s a mirror reflecting the challenges that many product teams encounter. 

Product managers often emphasize the importance of customer feedback, and for a compelling reason. Drizly’s customer reviews speak volumes—some praised its wide selection and fast delivery, while others lamented long wait times and poor customer service. The heartbeat of a product lies in understanding and addressing customer needs. Drizly’s stumble suggests a crucial lesson.

Lesson #1: Prioritize customer voices

A product’s success hinges on an intimate connection with its users. Based on their Google and Yelp reviews, I wonder how much they actually paid attention to the feedback they received. 

When I did some digging into Drizly’s history, I also discovered something pretty startling, Drizly faced criticism for its data security practices. In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission discovered security failures that led to a data breach in 2020, exposing the personal information of about 2.5 million Drizly users . Drizly was ordered to destroy some of its user data and further restricted what the company could collect and retain, among other requirements . This made me think about last year’s Southwest Airlines debacle when they had to shut down for 3 days last December, leaving many thousands of travelers (including yours truly) stranded because their technology platform finally broke after years of neglect.

Lesson #2: You can’t ignore your tech debt

While this is not a standard reason products fail, it does remind us we have to take care of the health of our product. It won’t matter how amazing your product is, if customers don’t trust it with their information, you aren’t going to grow your book of business. 

Drizly entered a fiercely competitive market, facing rivals like Saucey, Swill, Thirstie, Minibar Delivery, and BoozeBud. While convenience and ease of use were acknowledged, Drizly struggled to stand out. This underscores the importance of our next lesson.

Lesson #3: Conduct thorough market research

In a sea of competitors, a product must find its unique value proposition to weather the storm (those who know me well, understand why I am always saying our positioning statement module is the most critical in our class). You must be able to clearly articulate the benefits of your product to your user (vs. listing out the capabilities you offer). So much of the success of your sales and marketing efforts rely on this very critical product management artifact. 

Marketing is the melody that introduces a product to its audience. Drizly’s closure raises questions about its visibility. Did potential users even know it existed? I live in Wisconsin which boasts its high affinity towards alcohol assumption (nothing to brag about truthfully), but up until a couple of weeks ago, I never knew this product existed (or any of its competitors to be honest). The idea makes sense, but then again, I wonder what “problem”, this platform addressed. Here, we arrive at my last lesson learned.

Lesson #4: Ensure Awareness in the Marketplace

A lack of marketing can shroud even a fantastic product in obscurity. As we dissect Drizly’s journey, it’s crucial to approach it with empathy and a commitment to learning. Every product team, at some point, faces the daunting question of whether their creation will thrive or falter. It’s not about pointing fingers but about looking inwards, asking the tough questions, and embracing the lessons that emerge. As a product management consultant and trainer, my goal is to turn these lessons into beacons of guidance for those navigating the intricate landscapes of product creation. 

Joe Ghali
February 08, 2024