Starting Greatness

Lessons of Greatness: How to Get Customers to Hire Your Product

Episode Summary

What job should a desperate customer hire YOUR product to do? Answering this question is key to unlocking a key lesson of greatness. Here we discuss how the Instagram founders illustrate this lesson perfectly and how you can apply it to your own success as a startup founder.

Episode Transcription

Kevin Systrom:      

You start asking what jobs does someone hire this product to do in their life? And I looked at Instagram and I was like, "I wonder what job people are hiring Instagram for." And we came up with some simple ones. It was like one, people really want to share the joy of a moment with other people.


Mike Maples:        

This quote by Kevin Systrom of Instagram is totally on point for key lesson of greatness. What job is your customer hiring your product to do? Let's talk about why.


Mike Maples:        

Most startups show a lack of imagination when they analyze and segment their customers. Consumer startups might segment along the lines of product characteristics like category or price, or user characteristics like age, gender, marital status, and income. And lots of B2B startups slice their markets by industry. Maybe things like banking, energy, telcos, high-tech or the size of the business they target, like small business, mid-market and enterprise.


But here's the problem. Product and customer characteristics often give poor insights about customer behavior. And in early startup markets, customer behavior is a far more important indicator of where someone is desperate.


To identify the behavior that reveals desperation, you should ask yourself what job is the customer hiring your product to do? This is a key thing that every startup should know, but more often than not they don't. During my interview with Kevin and Mike, you probably heard them mention Clay Christensen's Jobs to Be Done theory. What's this theory about and how can you use it to reach greatness as well as avoid crucial mistakes?


Clay Christensen says that we all have many jobs to be done in our lives. Some are little, like finding something to do while you're in line at Starbucks. Some are big, like finding a more fulfilling career. Some happen routinely, like packing a healthy lunch for the kids to take to school or maybe having something to eat during a commute to work. Christensen says that when we buy a new product, we hire it to help us do a job.


If the product does the job well, we will tend to hire it again and if it does a bad job, we will tend to fire it. So we should always try to understand why should a customer be desperate to hire your product?


Kevin and Mike read about Clay Christensen's Jobs to Be Done theory and concluded the customers hire Instagram to share the joys and moments of their lives.


Today, it might seem silly, but there was actually a strong debate about whether Instagram should even be available on Android. Their early customers thought it was a terrible idea, as did many of their employees. Many had a classist view of Android users. They thought nobody serious about photography or beautiful photos would ever use Android, but if the job of Instagram was to share the joys and moments of individual's lives, of course they wanted as many people as possible creating content.


Later the question was around moving away from square photos. Many employees at Instagram thought it would mark the end of Instagram as they knew it, but Kevin and Mikey saw that there were dozens of popular apps on the App Store and they were already making this feature possible for Instagram users. They could see that the square aesthetic didn't define Instagram. It was about how people wanted to share their lives. This was the real job they were hiring Instagram to do.


Which leads to another major decision, stories. Unintentionally, Instagram's job for users had become sharing a single beautiful moment each day or a snap fulfilled a different job. They were sharing the many less polished moments throughout the day, but because Kevin and Mikey thought Instagram's job was to share the joys and moments of user's lives, it made sense to add stories to provide users a different tool to capture those moments.


It wasn't about ephemeral, it was about finding better ways to fulfill Instagram's job. Had Kevin and Mike not understood the core job that Instagram fulfilled, they might've listened to the naysayers who said that stories were in the purview of snap, but not for Instagram. In today's world of constant AB testing and getting all the data possible, there are more opportunities than ever before to learn more characteristics about your customers. And overall, this is great, but be careful not to assume that having more data about customer characteristics means that you understand their core behaviors better. Knowing more facts about customer characteristics can sometimes be a crutch, a crutch that prevents a deeper understanding of why the customer is desperate to get a job done.


In our interview, I also mentioned my own personal example when I was on the startup team of Tivoli Systems, which was a B2B software company. At first, we segmented the same unimaginative way that most startups do, high-tech, Wall Street, telecom, energy, but then one day we asked what were customers hiring Tivoli to do and we discovered that they were hiring us to roll out SAP or other types of distributed applications with an urgent go live deadline.


Once we realized this, our entire approach to segmentation and go-to market changed. In fact, our entire value delivery system as a company changed. We had custom monitoring agents and tasks for rolling out SAP. We had customer reference case studies about people that succeeded in using Tivoli to roll out SAP. We had white papers and ROI calculators about how we could help companies roll out SAP and we formed communities of common customers.


Speaking of common customers, we should always remember the most valid definition of a segment is a set of cross-referenceable customers with common desperation. Boeing was in aerospace. NOVA Gas was in energy, Merrill Lynch was in finance, but they were all in the same segment because they all had the same desperation. They all wanted to hire Tivoli to do the same job because they needed to roll out SAP quickly. They absolutely wanted to trade best practices, battle stories and all those kinds of things with each other. Think how different this is than a go-to market strategy based on event monitoring for financial services, or software distribution for telcos. The jobs to be done lens was massively more differentiated, focusing and effective.


So what does this mean for you?


Well, segmentation is more than just a classification scheme or a marketing exercise to sort prospects. It drives your entire product market strategy when it's done right. And when you define your customer segments, time and again we have seen that the best heuristic is to ask a simple question, which I'll ask you to consider...


What job should a desperate customer hire your product to do?