Friday, May 30, 2014

Why Should Customers Buy Your Product?

In my new product, we are still trying to define the killer feature of the product. We are getting closer with a lot of sweat, shouting, cookies and coffee.

The question is "why should customers buy our product and not competitors?"

The answer, is not surprisingly: it depends.
Our product manager wants the product to do stuff that competition do not do. The reason they didn't implement those features is because they are physically impossible. Let's just say that one of them is a time machine.
I don't like being just a negative guy and saying people, even product managers, that this is impossible. I want to do constructive, so I've compiled a list of things that we can do which will be our IP. Or in other words, those are the reasons customers will buy from us instead of the competition.

  1. Algorithm, a.k.a. Idea. This is the most common thing people are looking for. Every geek I've talked about doing startup invariably talks about "having an idea". If there is no idea, there is no product. Google's page rank is a great example. Another great example is ...
    It talks to our engineering hearts, but even for Google it take time to come up with their second great idea. This would be, ehhh, news or maybe, glass? Why this IP type is rare? Few reasons:
    • There is only one "the best idea in the world" idea in the world. It is hard to find one. It is like winning a world championship.
    • In many cases, there is no such thing as "best idea". Is there a best software developer? Nope. Because they cannot be compared. How do you compare web developers and assembly nerd? How do you compare architect of operating system with a coder that writes optimized code (John Carmack)? You can't. There is no such things as best developer! Even though, TopCoder might disagree...
    • Most of the problems are not solved by one idea or an algorithm. Usually things are much more complex than that. Google could fail even with page rank. They had to build a huge datacenter, invent Map-Reduce, spread things around the world, build indexing engine, best crawler, hire enough good people, resist pressure from investors and etc.
    • Nobody is a world champion forever. Everyone will bite a dust in the end. The same is with (many) algorithms. There always will be a better one. If all you count on is the best algorithm, you will fail when the next "best algorithm" appears.
  2. Expensive Hardware or Software. Not every company can build a satellite, a tank or a ship. Neither every company can build a cloud or operating system. This is not only an engineering undertaking, but also a huge investment that only a few companies can afford. As a big company, we can afford to target big and expensive market, this could be our salient feature.
  3. Trust. Little trust is required to sell 1$ application to users, but how about 1M$ system? Will "Bank of America" even let some small company to present their product? Not very likely. I have been in storage startups before. It is damn hard to make a customer not only to trust your product with their data, but also to pay you for this. Microsoft, on the other hand, have bank's trust already. They do not have to deal with this sort of stuff.
  4. Get dirty. Do a stuff that others are not willing to do or simply offload the stuff others don't want to do. There is plenty of stuff that is not sexy, but it needs to be done and people are willing to pay for it. This is why data conversion companies are huge business, why there are some many project outsourcing companies and why IT is moving to the cloud. This is "buying free time with money" for IT guys.
    • Convert data from one format to another.
    • Connect to some old database.
    • Upgrade existing software to the new technology.
    • Support many different types of printers or custom made hardware.
    • Run Exchange servers or a version control. 
    • Buy licenses for Word and run file servers.
  5. Just works. This is nothing magical about this type of software. It just works. It has been around, probably version 7 or 11. It has all the right functionality and nice UI. It works fast, good and users love it. It is a result of years of development, feedback of many users, many versions, bug fixes and incremental development. Those years and efforts are the IP of "just works".
What is the right sort of IP for us? How will we succeed?

I don't know yet, but I do know what is success...

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