Finding Your Inner Milkshake

The hiring and firing of milkshakes and candy bars

Horace Dediu is one of the most influential and insightful analysts in the mobile market these days. I just started listening to his podcasts. The one I linked to above is an interview with Bob Moestra, who is executing on a simple Clayton Christensen idea.

The short summary is thus: products are hired to do a job. The key to each successful product is figuring out why the product was hired and then executing product, marketing and sales around that job.

Christensen’s example is one of a fast food chain that found that some customers were buying milkshakes in the a.m. Why? Turned out the commute was long and boring and they wanted something to do. Eating a bagel or sandwich was too messy. Drinking a milkshake kept them busy without risk of a sullied shirt and filled them up until lunch. The milkshake was being hired in the morning to help fill travel time and an empty stomach.

In the tech space one obvious example of a product that has figured out why it is hired is DropBox. DropBox is hired to give access to all my files wherever I am. The folks running DropBox have done a fabulous job engineering all facets of its business around this idea, even with new features like automated scripts for doing stuff on available files. What I admire about the company is that it realized not only what it was being hired to do but also that all the other noise needed to go away. No settings, no special processes, nothing. Just drop it in a file and go.

Even our very own powerOne has a clearly defined job: give you answers to your math and finance questions fast and easy. Believe me, we have tried over the years to expand its job but it has never worked. The product’s job is give a result fast and easy. Everything else is superfluous.

(As an aside this is why companies go astray, I believe, as well. Those developing it forget why it was hired. I also think this is why Siri is beta. It isn’t because it is not feature complete. I think it is because Apple doesn’t quite know what job you are going to hire it for.)

A couple of years ago I went to a TechTalk sponsored by Apple in Seattle. One of the things I took away from there was a distinct phrase that Apple uses for each one of their products:

Your differentiator your solution for your audience

In other words, what job is your product being hired to do by what audience.

Once we figure this out, the rest is staying focused and executing.