I have been the CPO/VP of Product for four startups as they scaled to thousands of employees. Because of these experiences – and the many challenges of growth – I’ve become obsessed with different tools and tactics that creative leaders can use to keep fast-growing companies pointed in the right direction.
Having a clear, well-defined mission, strategy and culture are helpful tools, but I’ve found that one of the best methods that helps to define a “true north” for a product organization is the creation of a product culture that obsesses over its customers.
In the first part of my career as a product leader, I learned to be customer focused. I listened carefully to customers, did my best to satisfy them, and maintained focus on what my competitors were doing. I did a good job and helped create some good products and companies. I sold my first startup Creative Wonders to The Learning Company and we eventually sold this company to Mattel for $3.5 billion. But two years later, this acquisition was valued at a tenth of the acquisition price. This collapse led to a change in thinking on my part.
In the latter part of my career, I shifted my approach from customer focus to customer obsession. Where before I had focused on satisfying customers, I embraced the challenge of delighting them. I continued to listen carefully to customers, but more importantly, learned to experiment with a variety of tactics that worked to achieve the holy grail of delighting customers in hard-to-copy, margin-enhancing ways. And instead of focusing on competitors, I learned to create all-new categories where there was far less competition. The result was enduring products, companies and brands. Today, Chegg, the textbook rental startup that I was part of, is worth $3 billion and Netflix has invented a new industry, internet TV, that I hope will stand the test of time.
The recognition that your job as product leader is to experiment and invent on behalf of customers — to delight them with products and features they can’t begin to articulate — was a helpful shift in my thinking. Today, for me, “true north” is not a destination, but rather a magical direction born out of constant experimentation and invention. And on the downside, if you fail to keep getting better, the distance between customer expectation and what your product delivers will widen, resulting in obsolescence.
In this Customer Obsession talk from ProductTank San Francisco on World Product Day, I outline:
- the balancing act of delighting customers in hard-to-copy margin-enhancing ways.
- how “customer obsession” helped Netflix to create a highly personalized experience, and
- the principles of customer obsession through a case study — “Should Netflix send a free trial reminder to its customers at the end of their four-week trial?”
Is your product organization “customer obsessed?” Do you go beyond what customers say to measure what they truly value? Have you learned to double down on delight, forsaking margin for exceptional customer experience? Do you invent all-new products that are so hard-to-copy, that you spend almost no time focused on competitors? Is your team fully committed to chasing your customers’ insatiable desires, pointing your company towards a “true north” of product, brand and company greatness?
If the answer to any of the above questions is No, then I think you will find my World Product Day talk on Customer Obsession useful.