This week is about “the ibles and the ables”. It’s a look at the elements of a great product from ideation to market adoption.
Last week we took a look back a year of podcasts episodes from a16z relating to data science and references to artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Writing about the elements of a great product was inspired this week by another weekly newsletter I’ve started reading.
First, a shout out to Grey Meyer’s Data Operations newsletter for the backbone inspiration. Greg’s newsletter explores the spaces between systems. The systems are ones that range from the ever blooming world of disruptive SaaS to the persistently chased dreams of the established Enterprise market everyone seems to want to see disrupted.
“Everything Starts Out Looking Like a Toy”
Greg shares that amazing, let alone great, products have the following qualities in terms of their strategic vision:
amazing products are dogmatic
amazing products acknowledge the past
amazing products evoke belief in the future with a long term plan
amazing products are innovative platforms to explore white spaces
Next, a shout out to Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson for the melodic inspiration.
So, if you’ve met me in the past decade or so, you know that I’m not really one to watch TV. Movies? Sure. Documentaries? Perhaps.
Well, this is one of the coolest documentaries that I’ve come across and I’m only in a couple of episodes.
Finally, readers of my long form blog at fudge.org might recall this snippet from Social Telecom 2030 that has become the radio edit inspiration for this installment of my newsletter.
Possible - can it be done
Permissible - can it done with less risk
Repeatable - can it be done again and again
Sustainable - can it be done efficiently
Advisable - can it be done with earned trust
Now, let’s explore “the ibles and the ables” by bringing in a musical reference as well.
Technology is the response to a perceived need and might easily describe what is possible today. However, only identifying a market demand today is a limited view.
By anticipating the market demand of tomorrow, the probability for an enduring product/market fit may be increased. As such, it is worth exploring past trends as well as seeking out points of view that are visionary, aspirational, and projections of a future not yet realized for the customer journey throughout the product lifecycle.
When thinking about leaving room for what is to come, it’s useful to remember that old saying about guitar sales…
Sometimes it takes a Fender to sell a Gibson.
One could argue that Jimmy Page’s early use of the Fender Telecaster in the studio for one of the most iconic guitar solos of all time actually resulted in more sales of Gibson Les Paul like the one he was later seen using on stage because it was possible to recreate studio recorded songs using an entirely different instrument.
As a new book Led Zeppelin - Denmark 1968-70 documents path from the sound of a 1959 Fender Telecaster used in studios to the iconic imagery of the 1959 Les Paul Standard seared into the mind by photos and moving pictures.
Stairway to Heaven was written, recorded, and performed in multiple modalities.
When considering risk, the key concerns are typically around access to technologies that will survive for the lifecycle of the product within a customer journey. However, anticipating and calling out the obsolescence is an incredibly powerful approach to consider.
When the product requires the customer to contemplate change, it must be viewed as permissible – not just desired because it is possible. Change, as the saying goes, is hard.
Indeed, the storytelling of a product roadmap can provide assurance that there is more than mere execution for today but a vision for the future as well. After all, the customer journey may start with the need expressed today but the investment protection pledge is honored with each day of use, each upgrade along the way, and the thoughtful anticipation of change management.
While is has been said that the definition of a legacy system is “one that works” it is also true that times change and a legacy system may not last forever. So, to embrace the future is what David Bowie might have called being “immune to your consultations” centered exclusively on the legacy system of the past.
David Bowie outlines how to overcome the challenges of the customer journey.
When considering a customer journey, one must anticipate and convey the means to support the product experience delivered over time. Nobody wants to buy into a product only for it to be dropped off with no sense of ongoing support.
Indeed, a product experience and brand pledge cannot be divergent. Any sufficiently advanced product is indistinguishable from marketing.
And now dear reader… I might be losing you here but when I think of sustainable effort – there is a gold standard. In fact, 1 Billion views can’t be wrong.
Rick Astley infection chorus can be restated as key take aways:
Will never cancel your support contract
Will never cause deleterious impact your SLA
Will never prioritize other customers over your support contract
Will never introduce unreasonable switching costs
Will never depart from evergreen architectural principles
Will never provide guidance that leads to gross misconfiguration
Rick Astley provides an anthem for sustainable product vision and execution.
Once sustainability is understood as inherent to the product, it is time to take account for the capacity in maintaining a level of effort in each new sale. Next, as the product organization attempts to find sustainable sales growth, the level of expectation set by the first few customers must be consistent throughout the growth of net new customers.
This means that over time the repeating is not simply shipping of the product but the ongoing ability to increase adding customers over and over while simultaneously delivering a consistent customer experience.
Or, as Shirley Bassey says, a product must demonstrate a series of industry reference ready experiences throughout the customer journey.
Miss Shirley Bassey and Propellerheads describe the importance of customer references.
Finally, beyond the repeated pattern, there is recognition of leadership. Perhaps, a category or classification of the product has been achieved.
Ideally, the analyst community has taken into account the qualitative impact (Gartner, et al) as well as the quantitative impact (IDC, et al) of the product. Further, references to the adoption of the product are now part of wider conversations that cross into the realm of sensible advice for embracing the change to adopt the product.
Or, as Eric B. & Rakim summarized the path to creating new categories in the wider analyst community:
Assume that the category and market for a new product is nascent
Ensure that the innovation of a product extends to its positioning
Accelerate category creation by continuous distillation of messaging
Only then are customers, and market validating competitors able to…
Follow the Leader.
Eric B. & Rakim outline an advantaged approach by seeking a balance of vision and execution