Sunday, March 24, 2019

When it comes to Products, Focus is your Best Friend

"After School Snacks"- this is how the title of a routine email reads in my apartment mailing list. A couple of friends of ours started this service where they offer snacks to the kids after they come from school in the evening around 3:30 PM-4:00 PM. From what i hear, they are sold-out on most of the days. On thinking about it, the reason i feel this initiative has worked is because school kids are hungry when they reach and most of the families have both parents working, hence it is a convenient option for them to give instructions to the care-taker of kids to get these snacks (which are healthy) and give to kids.
If i really think hard i tend to converge on a single reason why they are successful. "After School Snacks" focus is laser-sharp. Their target-market is crystal clear- kids returning from school. Their delivery timings are set. Their menu is aligned to target audience. They addressed a very specific need.

I was reading the book- Platform Revolution – How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy–and How to Make Them Work for You and it presented a case of Facebook and MySpace, especially during their early days. What happened to MySpace and the unprecedented heights that Facebook achieved doesn't need any more commentary, with so much more written about these competing cases. A specific thing struck me while reading the book and i present the excerpt from the book below (with full credit to authors):
Myspace was the dominant social network before Facebook was launched in 2004, and remained so until 2008. Even in its early days, it had much of the functionality that would be familiar to users of today's social networks. Its internal staff created a wide variety of features, such as instant messaging, classified ads, video playback, karaoke, "self-serve advertising easily purchased through the use of simple online menus, and more. However, because of limited engineering resources, these features were often buggy, leading to a poor user experience.
While MySpace went overboard with adding features (often at the expense of quality) thinking that this approach will attract more users, Facebook apparently stayed lean feature-wise. One winning move that Facebook made was opening up of its platform. This act allowed Facebook to leverage the platform to extend the capabilities (creating more apps) and hence making the platform more useful for it's users and eventually the advertisers.

The book cites Chris DeWolfe, cofounder of Myspace, recalling the company's flawed thinking in a 2011 interview: "We tried to create every feature in the world and said, 'O.K., we can do it, why should we open up to let a third party do it? We should have picked 5 to 10 key features
that we totally focused on and let other people innovate on every thing else."

MySpace's demise and Facebook's acceleration to invincibility can be boiled down to one word- Focus. MySpace's rigid approach to add more features 'assuming' that users would be attracted was outwitted by Facebook's flexible approach to go lean initially and subsequently open the platform.

In one of the recent projects that i was working on, the Product Leader cautioned us to ensure that we go narrow first before we go broad. The essence of going narrow isn't just in ensuring that feature-set during early stages is focused, but also that initial successes set us up for bigger things later on. Sometimes, it's a hard trade-off to achieve, especially in high visibility projects where everyone wants you to achieve more in less time. But it's not just wise, but often essential to out your foot down and you the right thing i.e. to focus.

I will leave you with the recent tweet that i read:
“Make each program do one thing well. To do a new job, build afresh rather than complicate old programs by adding new features.” - Eric S. Raymond

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