May 8, 2014

Decommoditize your product


One of the best books I have read recently is "Rework" by the 37signals' founders. This book is filled with many interesting and innovative ideas on how businesses should run and adapt. One of the many phrases that left me thinking even after finishing the book is "Decommoditize your product".

The chapter in the book uses this phrase in the context of "Competition" and how you can protect your product/feature from being copied. The example of Zappos and it's obsession with excellent customer service is a good case study of creating a unique product experience.
"Pour yourself into your product and everything around your product too. Competitors can never copy the you in your product"
I started thinking about the relevance of this phrase to web products or mobile apps. It doesn't refer to differentiating your product alone, but rather investing more effort in giving a unique product experience and taking care of all the little details in every touch point - product discovery, on boarding, engagement, purchase, customer service, feedback, communications, content and more.

This is where I believe the practice of setting a vision, organization values and culture come in extremely handy. Many startups dismiss these ideas in the early stage, thinking these are just for the paper and that it's better to focus the energies in getting product-market fit and designing the right product. But these aspects can help a great deal in defining your identity - what makes you unique among the different startups in the same problem space. These can also serve as guiding light in the early discussions around everything you do (or intend to do) around your product experience.

I'm proud of having worked for an organization like Cleartrip which truly believes in its vision of making travel simple. This vision permeates down every single decision related to product design, communication, messaging and customer service. While competitors can get "inspired" by the interface flow, the basic driving factors need to be rooted in their organization's DNA to create any impact.
"One can steal ideas, but no one can steal execution or passion." - Tim Ferriss
The organization's vision and values serve as inputs to setting product principles. In the book "Inspired", Marty Cagan talks about the importance of setting them and how they can speed up the product discovery process.
"The product principles are a public declaration of your beliefs and intentions. It serves as a framework for evaluating the many alternatives and to get the team on the same page"
A few examples of product principles:
- Simplicity
- Accessibility
- Speed
- Reliability
- Friendly

Going through these 4 steps of setting your vision, values, culture and product principles help you to define your organization's identity and to ensure your offering is unique. And please, let's not treat this exercise as a one-day offsite discussion and leave it at that! :-)

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