Reminder: Your “product” company is just an implementation detail

I’ve learned this over and over again. It seems every time I start a new product I forget it for a while before it smacks me in the face. I’m writing this to serve as a reminder for future Me.

The product is not what we build. It’s not the bits and pixels. The product is the change we cause in our customers’ lives.

When we started building Zipline, we spent a lot of time thinking about the features. We obsessed over every single interaction. Some workflows developed in days, others in weeks and months. Things that seem minor often kept me up at night with the nagging feeling that they didn’t feel right. The features were so important.

They became so important that our product turned into a collection of features. When asked what we did, we told friends and investors what we were building: “communication software for retailers.”

This trend continues when speaking with customers. We would start by presenting the features. The features were impressive and the meetings kept coming. But, while we were proud of our awesome features, we were forgetting something critical:

The progress our customer wants to make is the most important thing.

After asking around, this seems to be a common theme among “product-oriented” founders. We get so focused on the features that it’s all we talk about. We think about our features and what they can do, and present them that way.

When we do this, we’re forcing our customer to do the hard work. They have to map our features on to their process and then figure out if it helps them make progress. Attempting to fill in those gaps is where roadblocks emerge.

Instead, we now talk about the progress our customer wants to make. We build tools that enable that progress and leave the rest behind.

As we get better at this, we’re making better decisions, higher margins, and happier customers. Now, that’s progress!

I was reminded of this when I read Clayton Christiansen’s book How Will You Measure Your Life. He talks about the “Jobs To Be Done” framework that he has discussed in other books. Here is a video of him explaining it better than I can.

This is my first story on Medium. If you’ve enjoyed it and would like to read more, let me know with a heart or contributing thoughts of your own. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Much love and thanks to Bradley Smith, Melissa Wong, Leo Polovets, and D. Keith Robinson for their reviews, thoughts, and kindness.