Benjamin Franklin once said “nothing is certain but death, taxes and a new product X killer.” Well, at least I think he’d say that if he were alive today and living in Silicon Valley.
It feels like every two or three years, I find my friends and people I interact with outside of work inevitably coming up and saying “dude, aren’t you worried about that new [company] killer coming out?!”
To be honest, the real answer is yes, you do think about it… but it really only serves as a gut check to make sure that the work you’re doing on your product still matters and you’ve got your priorities straight.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned about new products coming out onto the market is that competition is the best reminder that you need to remain vigilant that you understand the aspirations, habits and pains of your users/customers.
More often than not, your competitors are entering the market with the mindset that they’re out to beat you. The initial reaction when attacked is to fight back, but this is where remaining steadfast is the most important.
Kumo Chop: The 2009 Battle of Microsoft v Google
It seems like an eternity ago now, but in 2009, I’m not sure if you remember, but Microsoft “brought war” on Google with their new product: Kumo. It was a crazy month of May. Everybody seemed convinced that Microsoft was finally rolling up their sleeves and giving Google the swift kick off of the podium of search. They even had an $80M campaign to change the hearts and minds of America!
The days leading to the Bing launch weren’t the prettiest I saw around the Google offices. The uncertainty drove conspiracy theories and a handful of doomsday sayers. But that was one of the moments where I learned the most important lesson by observing the top product managers: never stop rallying the troops.
The rumors of Bing launching went on for weeks, unproductive side conversations took place, but one thing remained constant: focus on the user and nothing else. And we did. We kept launching. We stayed on course. We didn’t stray.
Then the most amazing thing happened… Microsoft tipped their hats. “Google, tried to preempt this,” said the SVP. Microsoft was in a feature war. Google remained on a conquest to change the way we interact with information. It was over before it began.
It was clear Microsoft was building Bing to “beat Google” and not to solve the need to organize the world’s information. Product managers could laugh about it, because it was clear we were focused. That’s why four years later, your default search engine is still Google.
Feature Wars: The Clear Loser is the Consumer
Feature wars don’t work. Feature wars make you lose focus on what matters. The customer matters. The reason they use your product is what matters. Feature wars bring you New Coke.
Features are a reflection of your customers’ aspirations, habits and pain points. Your customers/users are who you represent every day. You spend your day thinking about them. You build for them.
Competition comes and goes. That’s the certain thing. Sometimes competitors succeed in teaching you something new about what matters, but that’s where the real fun lives: your success hinges on understanding your users/customers better than the competition.
It would be a lie to say nobody paid attention to iTunes Radio today around the Pandora offices. It would be an even greater lie to say that we didn’t do what we do exactly every day: continue to find a way to connect people with the music they love as fast as possible. I would say game on, but the game has been on for years.
Focus is the name of the game. That’s not how you win the war, that’s how you win the conquest.