Fearless Products

That some things are more important than others seems obvious. However, product creators often forget that any solution will invariably expose their points of view.

Being afraid to see your opinions and insights voiced will invariably result in bland, grey, soulless experiences.

“Here’s everything everyone has ever cared about because we couldn’t decide what we were about”.

Not only will the result be boring, it’ll be unnecessarily confusing.

“The Authentic Italian” — The imaginary story of a failed pasta place

You look around your neighborhood. There are now 10 different hamburger restaurants, 7 of them call themselves “gourmet”. There are also 2 pizza places. Those also serve pasta, but they’re franchises. Nothing wrong with that, but they’re really not the kind you tasted on your Summer trip to Italy.

The fresh ingredients, the sauces, the smells — the simplicity! It hits you: Great pasta doesn’t have to be expensive. It needs to be authentic.

You find a perfect central location and decide to just buy it. You have your savings, you can bootstrap yourself to success!

You take care of the logistics, find amazing local suppliers who can bring you freshly picked tomatoes, herbs, top quality meat and this incredible fish... You can’t believe it, it’s going too well. People have started talking about you and you’ve got your opening night fully booked.

You thought of two fundamental options: the fast lunch, with 2 dishes to choose from (one meat/fish pasta and one veggie pasta), and the luxury dinners, where your prime bottles of Italian wine will perfectly complement the authentic pasta experience — there will be 4 dishes for dinner every night: 2 perfectly cooked meat or fish dishes, and 2 veggie dishes.

You’re now one week away from opening “The Authentic Italian”. You start to second guess yourself. 2 dishes for lunch? What was I thinking?! Only 4 for dinner? No no no… All those customers booked for your first night and you only have 4 dishes to choose from? This is going to be a disaster.

People like variety. Even the burger place next door has 20 different burgers. They’ve even introduced a tofu burger recently!

OK, let’s redesign the menu. Beef and Cod only?! No, people love some healthy chicken. A nice tender chicken is great. Your suppliers can get you some really good chicken.

Oh, that’s right… what about seafood? You had that amazing seafood pasta in Italy. It won’t be easy to source, but there’s supposed to be a really good fishmonger two blocks away. You should do a pasta and seafood dish.

And what about the people that don’t like tomato sauce? I mean, sure, it’s classical Italian cuisine, but there’s always someone who would hate to come in and only have pasta with tomato sauce available. You build a tomato-less dish.

Seriously, what’s the point of having two separate categories: meat/fish or veggies. That’s all in your mind. Your customers like both. Let’s just kill it and have the whole range available. They could even make their own pasta dishes. I know, we’ll have a pasta buffet for lunch!

Your opening night quickly turns into a disaster. When talking to people about what they didn’t enjoy, they don’t tell you it’s too much choice. That’s absolutely fine. All restaurants are like that and they’ve even enjoyed it.

They tell you it’s the ingredients. And the lack of pork. And pizza. It would be great if you could have some pizza for the kids… I mean, they make a mess with the pasta and every kid loves pizza. So you do it.

You’re forced to close, 3 months later. You’ll never know that The Authentic Italian had started well. You remembered what’s unique about your value proposition and what the Italian cuisine experience offered — that’s why your opening night was fully booked. You had successfully laid out the basic principles of what you were going to try.

But then you let fear take over. You lost track of the Job you were going to be hired for, the experience you would provide, the first principles of the implementation. You became the 3rd pizza restaurant in your neighborhood.

So what defines a fearless product?

  1. A fearless product knows and is clear about what it is and what it isn’t. Its differences and uniqueness are its moat. It goes back to first principles.
  2. A fearless product knows the specific problem it’s trying to solve, and all the problems it’s not. Focus on the job to be done and solve it extraordinarily well.
  3. It knows that not all information is equal. Dumping everything you know on a 5-inch screen (or a menu) does not help more people. De-prioritizing, hiding or even completely removing functionality and information is critical to create understanding.
  4. It cares about progress more than fanciness. It solves problems before it worries about putting on a show.
  5. It always puts users first. If there’s product-market fit, business follows creation of value for people.
  6. It understands users aren’t always rational. Decisions aren’t linear, they aren’t statistically or economically sound. A great product is human, friendly, empathetic, clear and cooperative.
  7. It isn’t afraid to take chances. Every single startup was born from a leap of faith. Trade-offs aren’t optional. They’re the everyday job of any Product creator.

This isn’t a guide to blindness, arrogance or a dismissal of the importance of business models. Data is infinitely valuable, delivering incremental value is often necessary and translating your friction-removal into economic utility is critical to building valuable businesses. A deep understanding of why you’re doing what you’re doing is the foundation to every other decision you’ll need to make.

However, great products don’t try to be everything to everyone.

Don’t settle for the wrong things just to avoid trouble. Don’t be afraid to take a stance. If you find yourself constantly using edge cases to justify product decisions, you’re well on your way to a terrible product.

So… What if you’re wrong? Well, you’ll find even being wrong can be fun if you do it often.

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