It’s amazing how little you have to know to dispense startup advice, so take this one with a grain of salt. I am only speaking from the position of having worked on just❤liked for about 9 months without much to show for it.
Looking back at these 9 months it’s patently obvious that we would be in much better shape now if we prioritized some things differently or skipped them altogether. Here is your chance to learn from our mistakes.
Disclaimer: This is not another Kindle review.
I’ve been using an Amazon Kindle for couple of months now, and I think I realize what revolution means.
- My children’s children will probably not understand that different books can have different weight and thickness. I am almost done readying Ulysses by James Joyce, and it suddenly dawned on me that I’ve never even seen the book in its traditional format. I can sense from reading it on Kindle that it’s really long, but I don’t know how long it is. It’s perfectly fine with me not knowing but there is something profound about this context being lost.
- Large print books will be first to go. Every e-book is in all possible fonts from regular to enormous, and it simply makes no economic sense to have a separate printed large print edition of any book that is available in e-book format. A few years from now the familiar image of an old man in his recliner with a magnifying glass bent over a book would cause just as much curiosity as a horse-drawn carriage.
- Insanely heavy backpacks will be a thing of the past. I remember suffering all through high school hauling my textbooks around, having to think twice about which books I really needed that day. I would shuttle them between the locker and the classroom, between the house and the locker, stashing them at the wrong place for the time being and missing the book I needed when I needed it on the weekend.
- The whole term out-of-print is becoming meaningless. All books are going out of print. Out of print is in, in print is on its way out.
- No more dog ears, frayed paper bookmarks falling out of place and all over. No more ugly highlighting that soaks through the page. It’s like the vessel that carries the book’s contents is becoming devoid of any personality. No scribbled notes in the margin left by the previous owner. No coffee stains or greasy fingerprints. No bookmarks. Yes, but you can now actually find all your underlines without flipping through the book. Did I mention flipping itself (and fanning yourself in the process) is a relic too? Opening to a random page is gone.
Alright, don’t get me wrong. I am not lamenting the disappearance of these cultural memes from the lives of generations to follow. It’s fine with me. I am simply reflecting on the fact that I am witness to nothing short of a revolution. I am also not crediting Amazon or any particular e-reader for bringing this about, and this is not meant to extol the virtues of any one of these devices.
And yet the power of products to affect our lives is incredible. That alone should make anyone in product management feel the staggering responsibility that lies before us in the product business. Our products will change and better lives of people, and that’s an exciting and equally intimidating thing to think about when I power on my next book.
Incidentally, it says “Opening” when I power it on. How is that for a cognitive dissonance?
I claim that no product ever failed because it was ahead of its time. It doesn’t mean that products can’t fail for other reasons. Of course not. I guess what I am trying to say is that “ahead of its time” is just papering over something else, and this something else comes in two forms:
- The product is behind (as opposed to ahead of) its users expectations. In other words, it’s just a bad product. It doesn’t solve any problem, and if it does solve a problem it does so in a way that is somehow deficient from the point of view of the user. The technology may not be there yet, it’s slow, ugly, whatever. Bottom line is: it just doesn’t live up to the user’s expectations. This is the product/market fit that everyone talks about so much.
- The product is ahead of its ecosystem. Obviously some products just don’t make sense without certain complements, infrastructure, business models, etc. Sometimes the stuff that you have to stand on hasn’t been invented yet. The users would love to use the product, but the product cannot survive on its own, it needs a certain business or technology ecosystem. Agreed, the notion of ecosystem can be very vague, but it’s basically stuff you have no control over. Some of this can be filled in with enough money thrown at it, but mostly the ecosystem problems are too large for one company to tackle.
What does it have to do with what we are trying to build?
Well, 1 is up in the air until we let our first users play with the application. Right now we are running on a set of assumptions about user wants that we need to validate. So once we have the alpha we’ll have the first indication of whether the product is decent, i.e. whether somebody is willing to use it and on what terms. Frankly I can’t wait.
2 is easier. The coast is clear in terms of ecosystem. The things that we think we’ll need are already there. Of course, once we start tracking 1 better, we may realize that there is something in 2 that doesn’t exist and is needed to satisfy 1. We’ll see.