Product principles

A product embodies the principles around which it is built. These values guide actions and decisions. These beliefs give identity and meaning. Product principles educate the customer and differentiate the market.

Your product is the opportunity to serve people. It can make change happen when it provides the utility in the way your customer desires.

SpiderOak is an online backup and file hosting service built around the principle of trust. As a utility, cloud storage is commonly available and competitively priced so SpiderOak focuses on the importance of security and privacy with the worldview of a new data scandal each week.

Product principles are connected outside in and inside out. They steer the intention about what is desirable or undesirable, good or bad, helpful or selfish—driving the mindset to build something meaningful.

All the key product questions: “Who is it for?”, “What do they desire?”, “How can it help?” and “Why does it matter?”, can easily be answered by principles.

“First to market” isn’t the be-all

Even with first to market, a strategy where second place misses out on the initial competitive advantage, the goal of “everyone” is misguided.

When working with executives I often hear ideas about getting the message out to everyone, connecting with everyone, getting everyone to buy.

Headspace is a multi-million dollar revenue business, but originally their product was viable with just 2000 champions. The application offers people daily meditation sessions that appeal because they are secular, simple, and short. Headspace now has over 300,000 subscribers, two thousand people is less than 1% of that.

There’s a very big difference between two thousand and everyone. And to focus your work, two thousand of the right people might be plenty enough.

Where does utility lie?

Utility doesn’t begin or end with IT.

The goal of the minimum viable market is to serve people who understand the change you are seeking to make and are willing to join you on the journey.

Joining you on this path is the stakeholders’ way of expressing themselves. Becoming part of the change is an expression of what matters to them.

This engagement leads to traction, to mobilisation, and to champions. The change becomes part of their identity, and an opportunity to shape a project that has meaning to them. To express themselves through their their actions, their contributions and the badge they wear.

You shouldn’t expect everyone to feel this way, but you can do your work for the people who do.

Line of sight

Entrepreneur and Pick ‘n Pay Founder Mr. Raymond Ackerman would walk the aisles of the supermarket in Claremont, Cape Town, and speak with as many customers as he could. He asked them how they found the service. He asked them about the products on the shelf. He asked them about layout, variety and price.

He asked the customer what change they would like to see.

Mr. Ackerman would stand outside a branch and ask exiting customers which products on their shopping list they were unable to buy that day. He would consolidate this list and later hand it to the Store Manager asking: “I’d like these items, please?” He even confessed to once driving behind a car with a competitors plastic bags from Cape Town to Simon’s Town (almost 50kms) to ask why the person had not bought from Pick n’ Pay.

Mr. Ackerman wanted to understand his customer and turn that understanding into strategy.