Focus on the customer’s job to be done


gogglesI’ve been swimming most of my life. I even got paid for it as a lifeguard for three summers, which financed my travels around Europe and the Middle East after I graduated from high school. So the Engadget article Form’s Swim Goggles are the first great wearable for swimmers caught my eye. If you are interested in wearables and augmented reality it’s a recommended read. But that’s not why I’m flagging the article on Mentorphile.

Probably the most common problem I see with founders is their adamant desire to boil the ocean. When I suggest they start off by boiling a cup of water and work their way up they often resist, as they believe that some competitor will swoop in and boil the ocean first. So I’m always looking for stories about successful founders who realized that focus was the name of the game. This article about smart swimming goggles is one:

I tested the Recon Jet back in 2015, saying that the smart glasses had the “potential to be better.” In part, that was because the device cost $700 and tried to be a platform, rather than a tool designed for a specific job or hobby. It was ostensibly designed for runners and cyclists, but could also run third-party apps and had a 2.1-megapixel camera. In trying to be all things to all people, it failed to do any of those jobs well enough to make it an essential purchase.

By comparison, Form’s Swim Goggles are a focused product that does one job very well. It tracks your swimming and relays those stats to your eye as you swim, and that’s it. The focus means that it’s got no unnecessary extra features, it weighs very little and its battery lasts for ages. And that means a lot for capable swimmers, who don’t want to carry around bulky devices that could hurt their times in the water.

Engineers love building things and usually they like inventing new features as well. This leads to the phenomenon of feature creep as new features get added to the original specification and the product becomes unwieldy. How do you avoid this? By starting your product development process with customer discovery, interviewing dozens of prospective customer to better understand what problem you are solving and what features are essential to solving this problem.

And don’t ask customers if they would like feature X or Y! Because they will say “yes,” and think “why not?” This is where agile development and the Minimum Viable Product come in. Your need to start with a very lean product that solves not three, not two, but one big problem for your customers. Features should only be added to your MVP based on customer demand, not engineering invention.

Once you have found your niche and dominated it you can start to add new features to box out competitors and develop stronger engagement with your customers, but not until you have that elusive product/market fit.  Startups never have enough resources; by focusing on only a minimal set of features that satisfy customer needs you are making the best use of those limited resources.

Put all your wood behind one arrowhead, as Sun Microsystems founder Scott McNealy used to say.

By focusing you will do one job for the customer and do it well. For extra credit, read the Harvard Business Review article Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done” by Clayton M. Christensen et al. Here’s the nut of the article:

After decades of watching great companies fail, we’ve come to the conclusion that the focus on correlation—and on knowing more and more about customers—is taking firms in the wrong direction. What they really need to home in on is the progress that the customer is trying to make in a given circumstance—what the customer hopes to accomplish. This is what we’ve come to call the job to be done.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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