For Love of Product

August 8th, 2006 by Team Member

People who build great companies start with a very different motivation. They want to make “meaning”, not just money. They want to improve the quality of life, right a wrong, or prevent the end of something good.

Hire “infected” people. Look for love of product or idea more than educational credentials. Hire people better than yourself.

From The Ten Commandments of Successful Entrepreneurs by Guy Kawasaki

In mid-March, Adam sent the following email out to the local Mac development list XCoders:

Howdy XCoders,

We are looking for a few great coders to join our team in Pioneer Square. We need your help creating two important things:

1. A company where we can’t wait for Monday to roll around each week because we love the work we are doing and enjoy working with one another.

2. A set of technologies that will change the way that people relate to paper documents.

The skills we are look for include:
- The ability to create killer-apps that change peoples lives
- Experienced with Mac, web and / or open source technologies
- Collaborative and engaging team players

Check out our web site (www.exbiblio.com) for more specific job descriptions and send me an e-mail if you’d be interested in joining our team.

Thanks!

Adam Behringer
Exbiblio

I had just joined another great company, so I wasn’t looking for yet another job, but the “Monday” bit sounded sincere, and the technology that the Exbiblio site talks about is fascinating and personally interesting to me (I had “invented” content-based addressing on the Web myself, but I hadn’t made the connection to paper), so I decided to meet these people, and it was love at first sight (sorry Good).

I especially like the bit in the statement of corporate values from the Web (posted on the front office door as well) that talks about technology:

  • “We will remember that technology can create value in society, but that technology by itself is valueless.”
  • “We will focus on creating value in the world, not capturing value from the world.”
  • “We will leave beauty in our wake.”
  • It reminds me of a big difference I see in companies today in their approach to product design.

    Some companies claim to have no personal stake in the products that they build, and strive to be perfect mirrors of their customers’ needs. They focus on their customers first, and the products follow. Other companies, often led by strong visionaries, portray a love of products, quality and excellence. They focus on the products first, and the customers follow, and usually end up loving them.

    There is a big difference between creating good enough products for money, and creating products because you want to see them come to life. There’s nothing wrong with solving real problems in as economically feasible a fashion as possible. In fact, it’s difficult and worthy of admiration. But, I do believe that it is often possible to do a lot better. Quentin Stafford-Fraser has an interesting quote on the subject.

    One way to look at the difference is to observe the long-term cycles in business. Clayton Christensen, for example, in Innovator’s Solution, talks about how new ideas disrupt existing products and business models, often using highly proprietary, custom solutions, and then gradually become commodities, and become built from commodity pieces, and then are disrupted by a new idea.

    People who love products (be they gadgets, services or outcomes) are the ones who will innovate in the large, but innovation is riskier than optimizing existing products and processes, and is not a consistently winning strategy if one’s focus is money as a means to other, unspecified goals. But it is a winning strategy if the products are the end, and the money the means.

    By Claes-Fredrik Mannby

    4 Responses to “For Love of Product”

    1. Noah Iliinsky (Exbiblio) Says:

      Inspiring insight, to be sure.

      I would caution against the position of assuming we know what’s good for the customer or end user. It’s true that they may not be able to tell you what they want. However, there’s a huge difference between merely listening to what the user says, and doing actual research into real problems.

      For our product to be successful we must address an actual need that we percieve based on that research. To discount the user’s existing experience as a resource is to throw the baby (and entire tub) out with the bathwater.

    2. Claes-Fredrik Mannby Says:

      I admit to liking the jocular arrogance of the “Don’t listen to your customers” Nintendo mantra, but would think that most industry observers see that companies such as Apple and Nintendo, who may not implement what is demanded by the most technology-savvy customers (i.e. “don’t listen” to demands for corner-case features), are in fact the ones who do extensive study of customer behavior and needs, and have historically pioneered argumentation by principles of cognitive science, and doing extensive, iterative usability studies.

      For example, the iPod clearly fits in with real customer usage, and Apple’s notion of a digital hub clearly solves real problems that customers face.

      So, I don’t think there is a contradiction between “don’t listen to your customers,” and doing extensive research into what customers’ needs and usage are, and listening to their feedback.

      But, I think there is a real difference between companies who take a personal stance in interpreting that data in a way that creates unified, integrated, whole-picture solutions, and companies who have more of a feature focus.

      For example, Microsoft has presumably been listening to customers in introducing all the myriad features in Word, and they’re presumably listening to customers again, when they realize that having lots of features is a problem, so new features are created to hide the old features. To instead introduce features with careful thought to the whole picture, sometimes dropping features because they cause too many problems, takes maturity, “taste,” and confidence (often seen as arrogance).

    3. Noah Iliinsky (Exbiblio) Says:

      Yes, we are in agreement. You’ll note that I said “we must address an actual need that we percieve based on that research.” It implies that we use our judgement and taste informed by reality. In that way we allow a collaboration between the users’ experience and to our own ideas of how it ought to be.

    4. littlemoney Says:

      Yeah it’s correct that a success of people is not just by educational credentials but a love for a product, a love for its work.