Jobs-to-be-done and Munchkin spoons – Thinking Product

My hypothesis is that great products have 3 characteristics –

1. Nail job-to-be-done: They are a great solution to a problem users care about
2. Delight to use: They are well designed
3. Sticky: Makes the customer/user want to come back

I thought I’d start by digging into the idea of nailing job-to-be-done. And, to do that, I decided to start with a physical product that I think does a great job of this.

This is what Munchkin Inc.’s (what a great name) spoons look like when all is normal.

At this stage, it is like every other spoon for infants in the market. It is light, easy to use and colorful.

Here’s what the spoon looks like when it touches hot food.

The spoon turns white and gradually becomes colorful again as it cools. It is designed to help parents avoid ever burning their kids’ tongue and has become very popular with first time parents.

Understanding jobs-to-be-done: The jobs-to-be-done idea is that customers don’t buy specific products or services. Instead, they hire various solutions at various times to get a wide variety of jobs done.  A job-to-be-done, thus, is about the higher purpose (or “the why”) that causes a customer to buy.

So, how do you test if you really understand jobs-to-be-done? There are 2 tests –
1. Do you understand why the customer buys this product?
2. Do you know what the customer fires to hire this product?

Both these questions are important. So, let’s dig into them.

1. Do you understand why the customer buys this product?
This is a classic example of a seemingly simple question that is hard to answer. One way to illustrate this is by asking – what are Netflix’s competitors?

The obvious answers are Amazon Prime, Hulu, and YouTube. But, the answer would be different from from a jobs-to-be-done point of view.

Why do people watch/hire Netflix? A hypothesis could be that they likely hire Netflix to escape from the day-to-day at the end of a day or to help them avoid boredom. And, if that’s the case, then Netflix’s competitors would actually be the following: television, books, listening to music, watching TV with the family, conversations with friends or family, sleep, cooking / putting together a meal kit, and exercise. And, this is us just getting started. Of course, some of this is more important than others. But, the list is a lot broader than you think.

2. Do you know what the customer fires to hire this product?
When you understand why customers hire you, it is easier to understand what people fire. Working with our hypothesis around Netflix, people often likely “fire” reading books, watching television with the family, exercising, among others.

This leads to all sorts of product insights for Netflix. For example,

  • Make sure you have interesting documentary content for people interested to learn (instead of books)
  • Make as many original TV shows as possible so people tune in to you just like they’d tune into television (television)
  • Allow for these TV shows to be binge watched (sleep)
  • Have an endless collection of great recommendations so people are always happy they hired you to avoid boredom (overall)
  • Allow other members of the family have separate accounts so you can all watch Netflix separately if need be and so you nail the right recommendations for the right person (replace family watching TV)

Back to Munckin spoons: Understanding JTBD helps us understand what Munckin Inc’s spoons do really well. They understand that parents hire almost anything to do with their infant to do 2 things – i) Do the job and ii) Ensure safety.

Most other infant spoons did half the job well. But, Munchkin Inc. understand that new parents would pay a premium for safety and nailed the use case. Every other spoon got fired.

Jobs-to-be-done is a process of discovery and it isn’t something you necessarily get right when you build your product the first time. This process of understanding it and nailing it is called “product-market fit.” And, it is a process every great product gets right.

Thinking Product | A stake in the ground

I am a sucker for great technology product experiences. I also love writing – there is no other practice that teaches me to synthesize what I learn as effectively.

But, I’ve not spent enough time on the intersection of the two.

I’ve written about great product experiences every once a while here That’s part and parcel of working on side projects for over a decade. But, I’d like to do a lot more. So, my hope is to write about building technology product experiences once a week – my stake in the ground.

I thought I’d call this series “Thinking Product” as so much of building products is about the thought process – both of the user and the builder. As a result, I’m going to also write about both aspects of technology product experience – products (i.e. User focused) and product leadership (i.e. Builder focused).

And, in scientific method style, I’m going to start with a hypothesis for frameworks around both of these. I expect them to evolve as I write and learn.

What makes great products?

My hypothesis is that great products have 3 characteristics –
1. Nail job-to-be-done: They are a great solution to a problem users care about
2. Delight to use: They are well designed
3. Sticky: Makes the customer/user want to come back

These characteristics, in turn, helps them grow. There are many ways to think about this cycle of growth. Acquire -> Activate -> Retain -> Monetize -> Refer is one way to do it, for example. But, I’ll aim to simplify again and just focus on the following cycle of 1) Growth (the act of bringing new users into a product) -> 2) Onboarding (the act of converting new users to power users) -> 3) Usage (the act of retaining power users)

As you can see, there’s a strong connection between the two.

What makes great product leaders?

There’s a distinction to be made here between product management and product leadership. So, working through this takes us through the first principles of how products are built. Product management, for instance, requires product builders to sit at the intersection of engineering, design and business needs. And, product leadership, on the other hand, requires thought leadership (an in-depth understanding of what customers need and what the market is ready for) and people leadership.

I’ve intentionally separated the two as great product leaders don’t always have to great product managers. That’s a longer discussion for a later time.

All of this means there’s plenty to write about. I expect to spend time on products that nail one or more of these characteristics and aspects of great product management and leadership. I will always try to bring things back into 3 key aspects – e.g. 3 aspects of building great products or 3 parts of the growth cycle – as I rarely remember more than 3 things. And, additionally, a list of the 3 most important aspects gets us 90% of the way there.

I look forward to the learning and the discussion that follows. This should be fun.

Where does growth come from?

I received a YouTube video link via an email forwarded across multiple mailing lists praising its insight. It was Clay Christensen’s talk at Google titled “Where does growth come from?” I’ve read and seen many of Clay’s talks now and feel a certain familiarity with the material. However, I am a fan. In fact, I think it is a normal week on ALearningaDay when at least one post is directly or indirectly inspired by one of Stephen Covey, Clay Christensen, or Seth Godin. 🙂

I thought I’d boil it down to the usual 3 things I took away. But, before doing that, let’s lay the groundwork. First, we must understand that companies invest in 4 kinds of innovations to drive growth –
1. Potential products: We don’t yet know what they are.
2. Sustaining innovations: These make the potential products better.
3. Disruptive innovations: These grow markets.
4. Efficiency innovations: These enable us to do existing things faster or better.

Getting terminology right is helpful in learning how to use them. I found this helpful as I found myself grasping this better despite having seen this a few times.

1. Disruptive innovations originate at the low end and are often business model innovations. For example, Uber disrupted the taxi industry with a business model built on variable costs. The iPhone disrupted the personal computer. And, so on. An interesting point he made was that disruptors often win with customers who were non consumers. Uber converted car owners into Uber users. And, his belief is that Android and Huawei are disrupting the iPhone on the low end. They are, in turn, bringing in non computer and non iPhone users into the smartphone market. Japan’s growth in the 1970s came from a series of disruptive innovations. They enabled non consumers to own cars, listen to music and consume electronics. However, they followed it up by focusing on increasing profits and efficiency/sustaining innovations. And, these only help with growth in the short run.

I thought of Amazon and Jeff Bezos as he insisted on the importance of the low end. Amazon Web Services or AWS struck me as a great example of this – a combination of low end and a fundamentally different business model of charging by usage has resulted in their stunning growth. So, the question that crossed my mind was – how do you ever disrupt an Amazon? Thanks to Jeff Bezos, they are so relentlessly focused on the low end that it is highly unlikely a competitor will ever catch them unawares.

2. The customer is the wrong unit of measurement. Forget the customer. Instead, focus on the job the customer hires you to do. This is such a simple and transformative idea. Yet, I haven’t completely internalized this and, thus, can’t say I have learned this yet. I need to keep working on applying this regularly and make it second nature.

3. Be careful what you measure. A Clay talk wouldn’t be complete without this message. The metrics we use can have many an unintended consequence – both at work and our lives. The metrics that are commonplace – stock prices, valuations, promotions and salaries – all tend to be short term. The most valuable things are the hardest to measure. So, take the time to understand how you will measure your business and your life.

A close friend watched this talk and pointed to Clay’s humility as one of the things that impacted him. Whenever someone asked a question, Clay always said – “Thank you for your question.” And, his presentation reeked of humility and thoughtfulness.

It doesn’t at all surprise me that Clay gets that right. After all, the small things are the big things. And, there are few who “get” that idea the way he does.


OMTM for German publishers

OMTM stands for “one metric that matters.” Understanding the OMTM for a business is incredibly helpful in analyzing the impact of an initiative.

A collection of German publishers came together recently to create a pooled data set to help improve their ad targeting capabilities to be able to better compete against Facebook and Google. The CEO of the new platform had this to say – “Nobody is suffering more than publishers and sales houses in Germany, because they don’t have enough data, and their data silos will never be able to aggregate enough to come even close to Google and Facebook,” said Daniel Neuhaus, CEO of Emetriq. “Even now we’re pooling it; we’re still nowhere near but we’re getting closer in quality and quantity of data.”

He definitely deserves points for honesty. While I think this initiative makes 100% sense, I doubt it’ll do much to move the needle. And, it is easy to understand why when you understand “OMTM.” The OMTM for advertising is audience attention. The more time the audience spends on a platform, the better the advertising potential. The amount of time users spend on Facebook and its properties is only increasing. Couple this engagement with the increase in the number of daily active users on these properties and you begin to see why Facebook is being touted the killer of journalist business models. Google, on the other hand, benefits from being the perfect spot for direct ads as these depend on intent. If a user is searching for car dealerships in their town, it is likely they’re shopping for a car. In both these cases, the key is audience attention. Data helps. But, it is just the by product of a good product.

So, what should publishers do to really compete? Get better. Provide better, sticky content that will drive German consumers to their websites and have them stay longer. They need the sort of content that will encourage their audience to by-pass Google and Facebook and show up directly. Do that and the pooled data set will pay dividends. Else, it will just be a case of too little, too late.

Image Source

Data for trash

I’m hoping we are 10 years away from when you dump your trash into various trash cans for different purposes (recycling, compost, etc.) and wait to get your trash rating.

data for trashImage Source

The trash rating would come from scanners in these cans which can detect if you did the right thing. For example, they’d be able to tell if the compost level went down from 100% to 98% and, with data on the change of weight, the approximate amount of non-compost material you dumped. You would have scanned in your home’s card or ID number to get to the trash room. So, bad garbage dumping would have an effect on your overall trash adherence rating.

The trash adherence rating wouldn’t be all that different from a credit rating. In this world, it would have 2 important consequences –
1. Your adherence rating would be known when you file for a job and when you apply to buy/rent a house. Employers and house owners would want to keep their average adherence ratings down.
Why? Glad you asked..
2. A poor adherence rating would mean higher taxes. The rationale is straightforward – the poorer your adherence rating, the more work for garbage collectors and sorters and the worse the externalities for society. To make sure the tax incidence is progressive, we could target a part of the funds into lower income households while ensuring incidence is much higher on higher income folks.

Given what we know about our human penchant for not acting till we absolutely have to, maybe the linkage of our trash data and taxes are a bit far fetched. Hopefully, the rest isn’t though. I’d love to see home data for trash and energy use, for example. Just seeing the data and being able to compare our usage with local/global averages could go a long way in reducing pollution and energy waste.

The Apple Pay moment

I took a quick look at tickets for Kung Fu Panda 3 a few days ago on my laptop. As soon as I found them, I did something that I’d never done – I pulled out my phone, opened the Fandango app, found the movie and paid via Apple Pay (i.e. by just placing my thumb on the home button).

I generally make sure I do my online shopping on my laptop. I find it much easier to type in card details on my keyboard vs. on the phone. And, in most cases, there are plenty of auto fill options that make the process faster.

But, every time I’ve used Apple Pay on my phone, I have loved it. It just makes me feel good as I think of all the typing I’ve just avoided. And, even if my last experience buying tickets was a good 6 weeks back, I still remember the feeling.

This was definitely one of those moments when I noticed my behavior as a user, paused for a moment to observe myself and then said – “Wow!”

Apple Pay hasn’t taken off yet. But, I’m long on its prospects. It removes friction – and that’s what great products do.

Apple PaySource

Thinking Product: Economist Espresso magic

The Economist Espresso is a new digital product released by The Economist this year. The Espresso is a collection of 6 key pieces of news, a collection of smaller news bytes as part of “The world in brief” and a collection of market specific metrics.

The jobs to be done framework developed by Clay Chistensen explains that customers “hire” products to get a job done (More here). When I think of the job that readers of “The Economist” hire it to do, I think there are 2 kinds of jobs it is hired to do –
Use case 1 – “Make me smarter”  (majority)
Use case 2 – “Prevent me from looking stupid”
I think use case 1 is the majority because it is rare to come across environments where everyone reads and discusses “The Economist.” I’m sure there are isolated cases of teams where the manager is a huge fan and insists on discussing it with the team. But, for the most part, The Economist is akin to a “vitamin” rather than a “painkiller.”

However, newspapers / news apps exist largely for use case 2. Very few people ready the news to make them smarter. It is, after all, more of the same every single day – disaster and negativity coupled with a few bright spots. And, I suspect most people hire newspapers to prevent them from looking stupid when their colleagues or clients discuss the news.

That’s what makes The Economist Espresso a masterstroke. The Economist is now solving use case 2 by promising well curated news. The Espresso is helped greatly by The Economist’s stellar brand – we expect thoughtful, quality content and is a fantastic example of a brand extension. Even if The Economist refers to itself as a newspaper, it is generally a collection of weekly opinions and analysis. With Espresso, The Economist plays in the news domain and actually exists as a painkiller for use case 2.

The Espresso requires you to subscribe to the Digital edition for $22 per quarter. This means $1.83 per week to get smart news news 6 days a week? Absolutely. And, I would also get to read the top 10 odd articles, Editor’s picks and a couple of “round up” articles from The Economist as a bonus? This is fantastic. The presence of a painkiller completely changes the game.

the economist espresso

The Economist, then, follows it up with a beautifully designed app that is just a pleasure to read. I get “The Economist Espresso” by email and consume 3 other emails in the morning – TheSkimm, The Quartz newsletter and Ben Thompson’s “Stratechery” daily update. However, I always find myself archiving the Espresso email and heading over to the app because it is so pleasing to the eye. Even advertisements look gorgeous – so much so that I ignore the fact that I see an ad every day despite the fact that I’m paying for it. I think the maximum word count on an “agenda” item (there are 5 of these) is 150 words – just right for a quick skim. And, the world in brief pieces (7-8 of these) are no more than 75 words.

The only small nits I noted –
– It does feel more intuitive to swipe downward and go to the next article rather than swipe left
– The email edition ends with a quote – I can’t find it on the app
– The Espresso recently added a Saturday edition with news on the arts and sports. I, for one, always hope to find more sports coverage. Here’s hoping that changes going forward.

Overall, a fantastic experience thanks a smart combination of thoughtful product strategy and excellent execution.