This past spring we decided to prune our product line.

We stepped back, took inventory, reviewed how things were growing, considered which products mattered most to us, thought about which direction we wanted to go, talked about what we were proud of, and made some decisions.

This process reminded me a lot of pruning a tree. Before you start pruning, you circle around the tree and take in the shape. You have to step back and get a wide view in order to see the whole thing.

Then you start making some observations.

You notice this branch crossing and rubbing that branch. You see suckers shooting straight up taking energy from the healthy limbs. You see dead wood, you see thriving wood, you see leaders, and you see future problems. And depending on when you’re looking, you might see next season’s buds.

It’s always hard to cut something you grew from scratch. You feel a fundamental obligation to see it blossom and continue to grow strong. You know how long things take to grow, so cutting things back is an emotional process. “Man, this branch has been growing for 10 years and I’m going to cut it down in 10 seconds…”

But you also know that cutting things back means that you’ve favoring what’s left. You pick the winners, you help the tree grow up strong. And most importantly, while pruning gets rid of a lot, it also opens up new opportunities. Light gets in where it couldn’t before. Air circulates better. And new growth comes to life.

Now let’s get back to software.

Initially when we decided to prune our product line, we did it because we felt we had too many products to maintain. We’re bigger than we used to be, but we’re still a small company. It’s so easy to create (because creating is fun), but it’s also easy to ignore (because ignoring doesn’t involve work). Over time, if you create too much and don’t clean it up, you can lose control over quality. Quality, like time, is a limited resource. We felt like we might be on the verge. Hence the pruning session.

So we decided to stop accepting new signups for Ta-da List, Writeboard, and Backpack. We also stopped selling our Draft iPad app. We sold Sortfolio, stopped selling the Getting Real PDF (we’re giving it away for free now), and pruned some internal non-customer facing tech, too.

But an interesting thing happened. Not too long after we pruned, a couple new product ideas started bubbling up. Before pruning, the last thing we were thinking about was adding more products. Now, with some breathing room, new ideas are getting light, getting fresh air, and coming to life.

Not only are we thinking about a few new products, but we’re thinking very differently about these new products. One is a variation on an existing product. And one is entirely new for us. But both are also attached to a new business model.

I feel like our exploration into new business models would have never happened had we not cut some old growth back and let some new light in.

We’re finishing these two new products up now. We aren’t ready to announce release dates or talk much about them yet, but hopefully it won’t be too long now.

So, while it’s hard to cut back, it’s good to remember that subtraction can lead to addition. New shoots, new sprouts, and new ideas often need new room to grow. They’re waiting, but you need to clear the way.