Get the newsletter · 2018 essays (PDF) · Featured · Recent

10 signs you’re a product fanatic

Are you a product fanatic?

If you are, you might recognize yourself in the following:

  • 10. You think MySpace is soooo ugly
  • 9. You only use the best products:
    • Macbook Pro
    • Mac OS X
    • Firefox
    • Gmail
    • Google Maps
    • Facebook
  • 8. You never use the popular products:
    • Dell
    • Windows
    • IE
    • Yahoo Mail
    • Mapquest
    • MySpace
  • 7. You try out new sites and judge them based on their features and functionality
  • 6. You assess a site’s quality based on if it’s written in Ruby versus Java
  • 5. You like things simple, functional, and uncluttered – cuz what else would you want?
  • 4. You think your startup’s “secret sauce” is in the technology, or platform, or programming language (LISP!)
  • 3. You don’t require users to give you their emails, because it’s not what you’d want as a user
  • 2. You say things like, “Just build something people want”
  • 1. You secretly worship Steve Jobs :-)

Do any of those sound like you? Maybe it’s not even that secret that you worship Steve Jobs?

 I confess that I personally fulfill many of the characteristics above, for better or worse. And I see significant dangers in becoming too fanatical about product, for the following reasons:

Product fanaticism != User fanaticism
An overfocus on product – meaning the features and functionality, or the underlying technology – can cause friction with motivations from the user. The reason is that product people often feel a great urge to be “product artists” and experiment with new features and interactions, when it’s not what users want.

In many cases, users want to do things that don’t mess with your view of the world. They want to make things look like Geocities, and muck everything up. They want you to take a bunch of existing products and mush them together, not make a single high-quality product. And the visual aesthetic they respond to changes whether they are teens or moms in the midwest, or seniors, and sometimes the Googley thing to do isn’t the right thing to do.

Product fanaticism overlooks innovations in other places
People who are overly focused on the product may overlook opportunities in innovate in other places than the product. This might be a create new way to make money (subscriptions versus virtual goods versus whatever), or maybe a novel method of distribution. Or you might focus completely on features, but ignore the metrics and analytics you need to drive them.

Would product fanatics have invented Wal-Mart, or Microsoft? Some of you wouldn’t WANT to invent these businesses, even if you could. The reason is that both of these businesses are big, ugly, non-product-driven businesses, and that’s why everyone makes fun of them. But they work because they’ve completely locked the distribution channels, can essentially charge whatever they want, and are great businesses.

If your goal as an entrepreneur is to be successful, it pays to be open to such innovations. What is the Wal-Mart version of your business? What’s something that’s boring, execution-oriented, but could be an industry changer? Think about it.

Product fanaticism can lead to beautiful, empty websites
And the final danger of all of this: It takes a lot of effort and resources to get a website off the ground – you need people, financing, and distribution strategy, technology, hackers, etc. If the focus becomes to ONLY focus on “build something people want” then that attention is taken from the other, critical areas. Now in many cases, it doesn’t matter, because you don’t need to figure out your financing structure right away. But you probably DO need to put appropriate thought into the business model, your distribution strategy, and all that other good stuff.

Otherwise, you’ll end up like a lot of the websites that show up on Techcrunch – cool ideas, maybe even good implementations, but ultimately, you get the traffic spike followed by nothing.

So given the choice between the extremes, which one would you pick?

  1. Beautiful, innovative website that no one uses
  2. Ugly, copy-cat website that lots of people use

If you’d rather have #2, then you might want to think about taking some known user mechanics that people already love – thus reducing your risk there – and instead innovating in something other than product.

Have fun!

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.