A concept I have been toying around with at work is how to create solutions to problems that best serve the most people. It seems obvious that what ever you do, should from the start be as efficient as possible to serve the masses. Surely it will be a downward spiral to burn out and over work hell if you create solutions that require significant manual input and personal attention. No way they can be the best path forward?
Several interesting sources would disagree.
and Paul Graham
both highlight how important it is in the initial phases of product creation to do things that you don’t think will scale. It is only through doing this that you give the attention that your product, idea or solution requires to actually craft into a desirable one with dedicate and evangelistic users.
Over-engaging with early users is not just a permissible technique for getting growth rolling. For most successful startups it’s a necessary part of the feedback loop that makes the product good. Making a better mousetrap is not an atomic operation.
Pick a single user and act as if they were consultants building something just for that one user. The initial user serves as the form for your mold; keep tweaking till you fit their needs perfectly, and you’ll usually find you’ve made something other users want too. Even if there aren’t many of them, there are probably adjacent territories that have more. As long as you can find just one user who really needs something and can act on that need, you’ve got a toehold in making something people want
It is typical to get very detailed feedback from some of your early users. And if you’re not getting some people who say “This is super important to me. I love this. I really need this to work well,” it usually means you’re off track. Passionate feedback is a clue that your product really matters to someone. And one passionate user can turn into many, if you listen to them carefully. It’s essential to get this kind of feedback early, while you’re still defining the product. It’s like setting a foundation as an architect. You wouldn’t build a skyscraper before you’ve build a solid foundation. User feedback ensures you won’t build a dozen floors on an unstable swamp.
If you want to build something that’s truly viral you have to create a total mindfuck experience that you tell everyone about. We basically took one part of our product and we extrapolated what would a five star experience be. Then we went crazy….So a one, two, or three star experience is you get to your Airbnb and no one’s there. You knock on the door. They don’t open. That’s a one star. Maybe it’s a three star if they don’t open, you have to wait 20 minutes….A ten star check in would be The Beatles check in. In 1964. I’d get off the plane and there’d be 5,000 high school kids cheering my name with cars welcoming me to the country…
The point of the the process is that maybe 9, 10, 11 are not feasible. But if you go through the crazy exercise of keep going, there’s some sweet spot between they showed up and they opened the door and I went to space. That’s the sweet spot. You have to almost design the extreme to come backwards. Suddenly, doesn’t knowing my preferences and having a surfboard in the house seem not crazy and reasonable? It’s actually kind of crazy logistically, but this is the kind of stuff that creates great experience.
Miles away from the startup world is doctor Paul Farmer, who in the book - Mountain Beyond Mountains
- describes how important it is for a doctor to do things that don’t scale:
But standard notions of efficiency, notions about cost- effectiveness, about big people performing big jobs, haven’t worked so well themselves. Long ago in North Carolina, Farmer watched the nuns doing menial chores on behalf of migrant laborers, and in the years since he’s come to think that a willingness to do what he calls “unglamorous scut work” is the secret to successful projects in places like Cange and Carabayllo… In public health projects in difficult locales, theory often outruns practice. Individual patients get forgotten, and what seems like a small problem gets ignored, until it grows large, like MDR. (Multi Drug Resistant TB) “If you focus on individual patients,” Jim Kim says, “you can’t get sloppy.” (p294)
And from this “un-scalable” beginnings came an incredible system..
Zanmi Lasante has become a very large public health and medical system, a system that sends about nine thousand children to school each year and has created schools where there were no schools, that employs nearly three thousand Haitians, that feeds many thousands of people each day, that has built hundreds of houses for the poorest patients, that has cleaned up water supplies in dozens of locales and lately has begun installing water filters in some patients’ homes. PIH has also launched or is assisting various environmental and economic projects in Haiti— such as reforestation and micro- enterprise lending. The system now directly serves about three million impoverished Haitians, about one seventh of the country, and the real numbers are much larger— people come from all over Haiti to avail themselves of the system’s hospitals and clinics. There was only one hospital when I first began to follow Paul Farmer around, back in 2000. Now, less than a decade later, Partners In Health has either restored or built from scratch eight other hospitals and health centers in Haiti, and it also sends out mobile clinics. (p304)
Farmer points out that there is often an ethical argument as well to doing things that don’t scale, it can just be the right thing to do . What does cost-effective treatment mean and how could a rich country justify an expensive medical procedure as cost effective when it is not an option fora poor nation?
“Resources are always limited.” In international health, this saying had great force. It lay behind most cost- effectiveness analyses. It often meant, “Be realistic.” But it was usually uttered… without any recognition of how, in a given place, resources had come to be limited, as if God had imposed poverty on places like Haiti. (p175)
I plan on testing this lesson further as a counter intuitive but compelling opportunity to create something really great. Focus on things that don’t scale for it is there that the pot of gold might lie.
I was trying to think of a phrase to convey how extreme your attention to users should be, and I realized Steve Jobs had already done it: insanely great. Steve wasn’t just using “insanely” as a synonym for “very.” He meant it more literally — that one should focus on quality of execution to a degree that in everyday life would be considered pathological…
What insanely great morphs into as you roll the time slider back to the first couple months of a startup’s life. It’s not the product that should be insanely great, but the experience of being your user. The product is just one component of that… But you can and should give users an insanely great experience with an early, incomplete, buggy product, if you make up the difference with attentiveness.
More like this….