As a product manager working for a retailer that’s been around for more than 95 years, I face a daunting but intriguing task. Popular opinion says that retailers like mine are going to fall to Amazon. But, hope is not lost. These five themes are evolutionary ways that can help us compete, and even thrive against Amazon.
Coming up with a simple product is an extraordinarily difficult undertaking given the consideration and compromises that must be made in the process. However, even simple products are not guaranteed to be great products. That said, it’s far easier to read off a checklist and say “I want it to do everything.” The allure of incorporating more ideas, features, etc. only increases the likelihood that the finished result will just be crap.
Francisco Inchauste prompted me to think about this point with his post on getfinch.com where he writes:
Simple products can be more powerful than so called “easy to use”, shortcut, gimmicky products. Simple products are not overdesigned, and many might find them to appear limited or underdesigned.
I completely agree.
When I mentioned that I was attending “Practical Product Management” presented by Pragmatic Marketing, many of my peers wondered about the value of the seminar itself. After all, product management is something I’ve been doing for several years now, so I’ve got some hands on experience about the topic. Based on my search through Quora and LinkedIn comments, I decided to give it a try this past January. Spoiler: good, but not great.
An article on TUAW about the history of the MacBook Air prompted me to think back in early 2010, when I was comparison shopping for a lightweight laptop. My search had come down to four choices:
- the Toshiba Portégé M800,
- the Panasonic Y5,
- the Lenovo ThinkPad X301, and
- the MacBook Air.
At the time, these light-weight machines were premium-priced products that were selling between $2000 and $3000. So only after painfully extended deliberation did I order the Lenovo X301 because of its inclusion of the DVD drive. However, Lenovo cancelled my order in the spring of 2010. And that has made all the difference.
If you pay for a product, you’re a customer. If you don’t, you’re the product. On Facebook, you are the product.
It’s applicable to just about any product or service you do not pay for. From a product management standpoint, every feature introduced is intended to maximize the value of the product. If the relationship is such that you’re paying, then the product is attempting to improve its value to you.
Conversely, if you are the product, then value is being squeezed from you. Incidentally, the advertisers are the consumer in this model. If you think that’s nefarious or shady, try an alternative. And if you find that hard to swallow, remember that the juice presser that’s squeezing you is deliberately very hard to leave.
With all due respect to Seth Godin, while he may be a marketing guru, his post about minimum viable product makes me think that he hasn’t participated in the product development process in a very long time, considering that his definition of minimum viable product is pretty coarse (and likely why it doesn’t work!).
As a product guy, minimum viable product is one important method with which to organize product development efforts, and to maximize the amount of benefit derived from scarce engineering, development, and management resources. In agile development circles, Product Owners work with the team to consciously choose to release “MVPs” frequently, or release a bunch of them together in an integrated package or manner. My take is that “minimum viable product” is the set of features that satisfy the core needs of your target champion audience and provides the team with the greatest return in both actionable feedback and revenue/revenue potential. More than one can go live at a time!
The newest offering from Amazon, the Amazon Kindle Fire, is a genius stroke to expand its core business of being the world’s marketplace! The key is in the fact that the device’s sole purpose is to minimize the friction of acquiring and consuming electronic media of many stripes (i.e. ebooks, video, music). And by doing so via its impressive computing infrastructure, Amazon is able to also tap into its customers’ browsing and consumption behavior to feed its omnivores even faster.
It is particularly telling that Jeff Bezos is honest enough to state:
We don’t think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service.
At this point, Amazon’s not competing with Apple; Kindle Fire to iPad comparisons are oranges and apples (pun intended!). Amazon is instead pursuing its original intention all along, by taking on the entire digital media industry and making Amazon an indispensible, frictionless, and fast service provider to consumers everywhere.
I’ve gone to ProductCampNYC for the past few years, and it’s always a great experience! This year was the first year that I submitted some ideas for speaking, and I was fortunate that folks were interested in HTML5 (or at least, as much as I am!). But my bigger takeaway this year was from the keynote speaker, Brian Fitzgerald of Knewton, and his very keen comments on a “Product Culture.” In short, I think of the culture as the thing that gets everyone pointed in the right direction, while his point about focus gets everyone moving quickly in that direction. I’ve seen situations where Product folks resist investing the time to contribute to the culture, and that’s a real shame. If anything, I believe that Product folks are responsible for motivating customers to engage with the product, as well as motivating the team to build, iterate, and innovate.
With Square’s Card Case announcement and today’s Google Wallet event, consider this moment to be the point when wallets will start disappearing. Practically speaking, cash itself is the thing that will go, when people will no longer rely on physical manifestations of fiat money and instead have it conveyed and managed in a single, summative, number.