No snow chains needed.

Don’t tell me people NEED your product

In the late 2000’s a friend of mine (let’s call him Vijay) decided to seek VC funding for a dating app. This was between the gulf of OKCupid and Tinder, and there was a pretty good opportunity for better apps in the space at the time. (I think there still is, A LOT, actually, but that’s another post.)

Vijay was sure that he had something really good. He got a meeting with a well-known firm which was a very positive signal considering that he was not particularly well-connected— they were truly interested in his idea. He presented the “problem” slide to the group and everyone was nodding silently in in approval. Then he presented his “solution” slide, which read “People need better ways to date.”

Before he could explain why, the main partner stopped him cold and said point blank: “No they don’t.” Vijay tried to go on to explain why they actually did need his app, thinking the guy just didn’t get understand his particular solution and would if he would only listen, but the partner stopped him again.

“No, you’re not listening. People are already dating. They‘ve been dating for forever. They don’t NEED you. Why do they WANT to use your app instead of how they date now? Why would they change their habits?”

Vijay was a deer in the headlights. He got run over.

That VC (who I will not name, mostly because I am not important enough for them to answer my personal request to quote them on this story :P) is 100% right and as a PM you should think carefully about this. Why do people want to use my product and not something else?

At this point someone usually stops me, gets huffy and tells me that ACTUALLY people do need X product. Unless your product is breathing, sleeping, eating or excreting, the answer is no — and the human body has a monopoly on those.

Common counter arguments I get are:

“What about vitamins vs painkillers?”

Don’t mix your metaphors. That’s about solving for small, potentially non-critical issues versus hair-on-fire issues. And you know what? The hair-on-fire issues are still about things people or businesses want, not need. They don’t need Tableau; they’ve been slogging around with Excel just fine, and can continue to, less efficiently. Why do they want Tableau? It makes more complex visualizations easier for the companies that have decided the value exchange is worth the return. They want Tableau because it is worth it to them. They saved enough time to make it worth the switch.

Also, painkillers are a bad metaphor. Ever been addicted to painkillers or known someone who has? You don’t actually want to take them at a certain point, there’s no joy in it; you don’t do it for the high. You need them but definitely don’t want them anymore. In fact, you may lie, cheat and steal and feel terrible about all of it just to go on and feed your need.

This is why people leave Facebook or Twitter; they just can’t be addicts anymore and it is more work to feed their addiction that the value they receive in return. You shouldn’t be out to build a slot machine or a new vice as a PM; you have a moral obligation to offer an exchange in value to your customers for using your product. Otherwise, you’re just a pornographer or mafioso.

“What about Maslow’s Hierarchy of NEEDS? It’s got needs in the name, dummy. Gotcha!”

Well, the bottom layer is needs. The rest is just wants.

People want to be safe. They want to be loved. They want to love themselves. They want to help others. But they don’t need any new tools to do any of those things. They’re getting by, somehow.

How are you going to help them do this better? Why do they WANT your help?

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Peace out!