BiggerPockets Business Podcast 90: How Solo Entrepreneurs Can Improve Their Products and Businesses with Ben Foster

BiggerPockets Business Podcast 90: How Solo Entrepreneurs Can Improve Their Products and Businesses with Ben Foster

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You may own a small business, some rental properties, or are just tinkering with a new idea. Regardless of where you’re at in your entrepreneurial journey, you’re most likely trying to make something that will not only resonate with customers, but allow them to solve a problem in their life. So how do you make a product that accomplishes this to the fullest extent?

Today we talk to Ben Foster, founder of Prodify and Chief Product Officer at WHOOP. Ben has been in this space for a long time, working with big names like eBay and Opower. After his initial success at corporate he founded his consulting firm, Prodify and has since then worked with 70+ different companies all tackling a common goal: make a great product.

If you’re just starting out in your business, you may think the best course of action is to tack on as many useful features as possible into one product, but Ben warns against this. Companies that tend to do well with products are the companies that have a core competency and then build out from it.

Great products also take market input from the customers that matter most. That doesn’t mean only the top 10% of users for an app, that means the bulk majority of customers who use the app. This is where many product teams get it wrong, and as you’ll see in the interview, there are a lot more caveats in product management than originally meets the eye.

If you’re interested in product marketing, engineering, management or anything else related to building a great product, check out Ben’s book Build What Matters and of course, listen to this episode!

Click here to listen on Apple Podcast.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

J:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast, show number 90.

Ben:
If you think about all these best innovations, it’s really a matter of learning the space from scratch, being able to think outside the box about how that space may have a better solution available for it, and then crafting that.

J:
Welcome to a real world MBA from the school of hard knocks, where entrepreneurs reveal what it really takes to make it. Whether you’re already in business or you’re on your way there, this show is for you. This is BiggerPockets Business.

J:
How’s it going, everybody? I am J. Scott, here again this second or third week of the new year. This new year is flying by. I’m glad you’re joining us again. I’m here with my lovely co-host, Mrs. Carol Scott. How’s it going today, Carol Scott?

Carol:
Things are so well. I’m loving that we’re into 2021. And our family themes this year are health, simplicity in time affluence. And we’ve got that going on in a lot of aspects of our family. And most specifically, I’m so proud of us for embarking upon the Super Scott 66, which is 66 days of six different activities we’re making sure we do together as a family to achieve those themes each and every day. So, very excited to be here, and can’t wait for a great show again today.

J:
Yeah. Yeah. The 66 Super Scott has me drinking a gallon of water a day and walking a whole lot and biking a whole lot and eating healthy. And while I am going to be thrilled with the results, I’m a little crabby today because it’s now several days of eating healthy, and I’m going through sugar withdrawal.

J:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Carol:
All right. Come on, let’s be positive. Let’s get this show going.

J:
Okay. Let’s talk about the good things. And one of the good things is this show today, we have actually a really fun show. I love today’s conversation. Our guest today is a gentleman. He’s actually a former colleague of mine, we worked together at eBay many years ago, and have been in touch for several years. And his name is Ben Foster. And he is the chief product officer at a company called WHOOP. He is the founder of a product management advisory practice called Prodify. And he is the co-author of an amazing book that was just released a few months ago, called Build What Matters.

J:
Long story short, Ben is an expert on products. And today, we talk all about products and how companies who create products can do it better and more successfully. Now, even if you don’t have a product company, you’re going to love this episode and you’re probably going to get a ton out of it. We talk all about what makes great products and what makes not so great products. And we spend time talking about some of the products we love and why those great products are so awesome, and what you can be doing to build awesome products, just like some of those products that we love.

J:
Now, for you entrepreneurs who actually create products or have a product company or want to create a product company, we also talk about how to improve our product businesses, including things like, what is the biggest mistake most product entrepreneurs make? Waiting too long to release their product. And why delivering a product that your customers aren’t thrilled with is actually a great thing for long-term success for your business. Ben tells us the three core things product entrepreneurs need to focus on to be successful building their companies. And the overall theme of today’s show is simply how we as entrepreneurs building products, whether they’re physical products or digital products, how we can do that more successfully and make our customers happier.

J:
And make sure you listen all the way to the end, because we have a really insightful discussion with Ben about why it’s so important to be thinking about the features your product shouldn’t include, and why those features your product should include are often as important, if not more important, than all those features we obviously should be including in our products. Anyway, an amazing discussion today about products. And again, whether you are a product entrepreneur or not, you’re going to love this show. If you want to learn more about Ben, if you want to learn more about his company, WHOOP, his company, Prodify, or his book, Build What Matters, check out our show notes at BiggerPockets.com/bizshow90. Again, that’s BiggerPockets.com/bizshow90.

J:
Okay. Without any further ado, let’s welcome Ben Foster to the show.

Carol:
Ben, welcome to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast. We have so been looking forward to chatting with you. So thanks again for being here with us today.

Ben:
Yeah. It’s great to be here. Thanks so much for inviting me.

J:
Ben, this show is going to be all about the thing you’re an expert in, and that’s product and creating great products. I want to start with a little bit about you. So can you give us just a little bit of your background? How did you become a product expert? Yeah, just take us through your story.

Ben:
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been doing products through and through during my entire career. So a little over 20 years ago, I got into the wonderful world of product management through the technology space. I was a Silicon Valley native, graduated from Berkeley in ’97. And that was just the heyday of technology. I mean, there were so many opportunities to get hired to these amazing companies. And thankfully, I was able to get sucked into that whole world, and learned a ton really early on. And I really wanted to just apply that to a variety of different startups, sometimes some larger companies as well. And really had some great successes, some really miserable failures along the way as well. We’ve all got a combination of those things, I think.

Ben:
And then in 2010, after having worked at a number of different technology companies, I moved from Silicon Valley over to the DC area, worked at a company called Opower. We took that public for about a billion-dollar valuation in 2014. And then after that, I created my own advisory practice trying to help other companies with some of the things that I had picked up over the years in product management, to try to help to make them successful as well. And I had the good fortune of working with about 40 or 50 companies through an advisory practice called Prodify that I had established.

Ben:
And when I felt like it was about time to be done with that and I really wanted to get back into direct hands-on operational roles myself, to lead product again at a company, I decided to hand the keys of that advisory practice over to somebody who had been working with me for a little bit of that time, who does a great job of running that advisory practice, and still lives on today. And then we coauthored a book together to make sure that we had the right thoughts, that we could put those things down on paper that we can share with the broader community. And that book is called Build What Matters. It’s been received really well so far, which is fantastic.

Ben:
And then, following the publication of that book, I decided to go work full time for a company that I’ve been advising for a very long time and a company that I’m really excited about called WHOOP.

Carol:
Awesome. Thank you for that opening and giving us some color around all the great things that you’ve done. I would like to set the stage for our community even more, Ben. Can you give us a little bit of insight of, what is the difference between a product company and a service company? First of all. And the second part of that question is, what does product include as far as, is it just physical products or can it also be internet type companies or digital products?

Ben:
Yeah, great question. Roughly, there are two different kinds of companies out there. There are services companies and there are product companies. And in many ways, what I think distinguishes those two types of companies is, service companies first meet the customer that they’re trying to provide a service to and then they try to come up with the service or the offering that’s going to deliver value to that customer, after they’ve met them and they create a bespoke solution that’s going to work for them. In a product-based company instead, what you’re trying to do is understand who the target market will be and almost predict what the next customer is going to look like and what they’re going to be looking for. And then you create the right product in advance so that it’s the right kind of thing sitting on the shelf for them at the right time.

Ben:
Now, that doesn’t have to be a physical shelf, that could be a virtual shelf. And if you think about the role of product management, the real function there and the real purpose of that role is to identify who that target market is, to figure out what kind of product they would want to buy, what kind of value it’s going to deliver for them, and then go create that. But there’s a lot of art and science that goes into that because it’s not just a simple matter of listening to whatever the customer tells you, it’s a matter of deciphering what all these different types of customers are potentially telling you and trying to predict the future of where the market is actually headed.

J:
Yeah. And it’s interesting because we use this term product in a lot of different ways. And I know you come from a corporate background, tech Silicon Valley background. We’ve actually worked together, we worked together at eBay for a number of years, and that’s where we originally met. And so we have a similar background. I did product for a long time, you did product for a long time. And so, when we talk about product, a lot of people think about product with the lowercase P, it’s the thing that you’re building and designing and selling to your customers. But in the corporate world, in the tech world, even in the non-tech world, a lot of companies have this thing called Product with a capital P. And you’ve used the term product management

J:
And Product with a capital P or Product management is basically this idea of creating an organization that does more than just build a lowercase P product, they’re focused on designing and validating products and testing the market for them, figuring out the right and wrong features to add. So can you talk to us a little bit about the difference between lowercase product, the thing that you’re actually selling, and the uppercase Product or product management, the whole idea of this organization around designing perfect products?

Ben:
Yeah. I think that’s a good way of putting it. Lowercase P product is the actual product that is for sale. Now, that could be a physical product. Procter & Gamble, for example, has product managers who are responsible for designing and creating and optimizing the products that are sitting on the shelf that somebody might go buy from Amazon or from their local CVS or anything else. There’s also internet-based products where there’s software products as well. So you think about things that are obvious, like Microsoft Word or you think about sometimes an iPhone. But what about a service that’s like a software as a service, like Dropbox? Or what about a marketplace product like eBay itself?

Ben:
Is eBay a product? It sells products, or there’s products that are for sale on it, but the actual technology itself is also a product because it’s providing a digital service, something that sellers can use to try to merchandise their items and a transaction platform that allows those kinds of transactions to take place. It’s got search embedded in it, etc. And so what that leads you to realize is that, wait, the whole notion of what a product actually is is fairly complex. And therefore, there’s this whole discipline of product, which is where the capital P component comes in. And that’s really the discipline of product management.

Ben:
And so all the things that you had referred to, I think are all part of that, like, which features to include, where the product development should be headed next, what kinds of improvements do you want to prioritize? Whether it’s better to focus on, let’s say extending that product to be better for a new target market, or whether you just want to make it a better product for the existing target market. Do you expand internationally? Etc. These are all kinds of questions that product managers are constantly trying to make decisions around. And then, in many ways, their role is to deploy the resources that the company has to maximize the success of that product within the market. Often, that’s like software development.

Ben:
Product managers themselves don’t write code, but they’re explaining to the engineers the areas that they should be focused on when they’re writing code so that the code that they’re developing has the maximum impact for the business.

J:
That makes perfect sense. But let me ask you a question. A lot of our community, a lot of our listeners are solo entrepreneurs, they’re launching a first product by themselves, maybe with a partner. You’ve mentioned companies like eBay and Proctor & Gamble. And obviously, these are multi-billion dollar companies that have teams of literally hundreds of people that are focused on capital P Product management. What about us as smaller entrepreneurs who are just getting started? Is this whole discipline of product just as important to us? And are there that we can be doing as solo entrepreneurs or small companies to really be improving our ability to churn out great products where we don’t have large teams around us?

Ben:
Yeah. It’s 100% relevant, no matter what sized company you are. And in fact, I would actually argue that it’s even more important for the smaller companies than it is for some of the larger ones. It’s a little bit easier to sometimes describe in terms that everybody can understand what product means at a larger company, because we all have familiarity with the Amazons of the world, etc. But honestly, sometimes product management is most important when the whole entire company itself is the product. When you’re trying to launch something off the ground, you don’t already have a bunch of customers that you’re trying to mature, you don’t already have a large employee base that you’re trying to manage, you don’t already have a bunch of HR issues that you need to address and different kinds of headquarters that you’re trying to think about the location stuff, etc

Ben:
There’s one thing that matters, and that’s getting to this thing called product market fit. And so that means that there’s a real heavy emphasis on what kind of product you need to build, what the features of that product need to be, what the scope of it needs to be, when do you launch that product? When is too early? When is too late. So all these kinds of questions emerge that are very meaningful and can sometimes be the life or death of a company very early on. And in fact, a lot of the companies that I was advising when I was doing full-time advisory work were companies that were just four people in a garage rather than these monolithic organizations.

Carol:
Okay, cool. So you talked a bit about something I’m personally not entirely familiar with, Ben. And so I’m wondering if there are other people in our community who might like to know a bit more about it. So you mentioned this term product market fit, and I think that comes up a lot in this space, but like I said, a lot of new entrepreneurs may have never specifically heard of this term or how important it is in determining taking a concept to blast out a product and make it as successful as it can possibly be. So can you give us more information, tell us more about what product market fit is? What’s it mean to you? And why is it so incredibly important for product entrepreneurs to really grasp this concept fully?

Ben:
Yeah, absolutely. So product market fit is this funny term and that is thrown around a lot within the investor community. It’s thrown around a lot among entrepreneurs within Silicon Valley, etc. Because every time you create a new company or you create a new product, you’re effectively taking a risk. Like in a certain company, you meet the customer first, you ask what they want, you go build exactly what they’re asking for, and then you’re done. The problem is, that doesn’t scale to then take it to the next company, maybe what you’ve built for them, isn’t going to be the right thing for somebody else.

Ben:
And so you’re inherently taking a risk when you build a product that’s supposed to serve the needs of many potential customers, some of whom you haven’t yet met. So product market fit refers to the idea that that risk has basically been accounted for and paid off so that you actually build the thing that in the market will be successful. A lot of people ask, “Well, what’s the definition? How do I know when I’ve gotten there?” And a lot of times what investors will say, or that they have a hard time defining exactly when you’ve hit product market fit, and they just say, “You’ll know when you see it.”

Ben:
And while I’ve seen it many times over, and I can tell you that’s definitely true, I don’t know that that actually does a lot of good for people who realize that they don’t yet have product market fit. So I think of it as, there’s three things needing to come together: there’s the product, which is really the solution, there’s the market, which is really your set of customers, and then there’s the economics, which is the pricing and making sure that everybody can win in this engagement. So in theory, what should happen is, it’s like the intersection of that Venn diagram with three circles, so that there’s a solution to a problem that people care about and they’re willing to pay you enough to solve that problem, such that they are getting the benefit that the ROI makes sense from their perspective.

Ben:
But at the same time for you as a business, you can actually do this profitably. You can gain customers profitably, you can service those customers profitably, etc. And it’s like, everybody’s winning because the product is actually solving the problem that people care about. It’s the thing that they want to solve. They’re flocking to you. Signals that you’ve actually achieved product market fit, for example, is that you’re not having to do a huge amount of work to go explain why your product matters or why it’s better than everybody else’s, or why the problem that you’re even solving is something that’s even important to the potential customer.

Ben:
They’re coming to you because they realize it. That’s when you’ve like nailed it. And a lot of investors are really looking for that because once you’ve had product market fit, then it’s just a matter of dumping money into marketing and sales and things like that to have this thing really take off, but you wouldn’t want to dump marketing dollars in and things like that into a product that doesn’t yet have product market fit, because every one of those dollars is probably not going to yield as much return as you might be looking for.

J:
Yeah. I love that. And I love the fact that you were able to distill the three core components of great product market fit down into product market and economics. And I imagine that for somebody to be a great product manager, for somebody to be great at product, they have to have a handle on those three things: creating a great product, understanding the market and discovering the market, and then the economics of whatever the company and the product is. So you clearly took product to the next level. You did product at a number of individual companies, and then you started a consulting firm where you went out and it sounds like you found companies that needed help, I assume startup companies that needed help with their product.

J:
And you came in and you basically served as the expert while they were growing. And we talked earlier about how especially small companies need great product people, even more so than big companies, because that is the company at the early stage. So let’s say in your experience, I’m a CEO at a small company, we’re building a product, perhaps we bring in somebody like you to come help us build. But at some point, we’re going to want to hire our own product people. Can you give us an idea of, what differentiates a great product person or a great product team from just a mediocre one? What are those qualities and traits you look for in somebody that’s going to be a great product person?

Ben:
Yeah. I think a lot of entrepreneurs make a mistake when they make their first product hire. Mistake number one is that they hire that person too early because they think, “Well, I need somebody who’s an expert in this kind of stuff.” And it’s like, the expert in this is you. You’re the one who started the company, you’re the one, who’s the founder, you’re the one who had the idea for a better product or a better service that might better address the needs of the market that’s out there. So getting that thing out the door, launching it, etc, is first and foremost, your job as the entrepreneur.

Ben:
When you do make the product manager hire, and the right time for that might be, let’s say when you have several engineers that are all working on building code, or you have several different product designers that are working on things and you might want to have somebody who’s specializing in product management, because it’s just going to suck up too much of your time. So in a lot of ways, I think of that first product hire as being a little bit different than what you might make for a hire when you’ve hired that first product executive. There’s one thing that’s consistent about both, which is that they need to have a great product mindset.

Ben:
And the mistake that a lot of entrepreneurs make, I think, when they make the first product hire is, they’re looking for somebody with a lot of domain expertise. They say, “Well, I’m in the financial services industry, and therefore, I want to get somebody who really understands everything there is to know about financial services and exactly how it works, etc.” But the whole thing is, for what the product is, you’re trying to be innovative. You’re trying to think out of the box about ways of delivering this in a new way. And what I’ve like found is that the most innovative people are the ones who can be creative in taking how a problem was solved in another industry, sometimes, and port that over to this other industry as well.

Ben:
So if you think about all these best innovations, it’s really a matter of learning the space from scratch, being able to think outside the box about how that space may have a better solution available for it, and then crafting that. And so I really want somebody, if I want to be an entrepreneur, like if I was going to make my first product hire, I would say, “Well, would it be initially the person who’s in charge of that kind of stuff because I’m the one with the idea, I’ve got the vision on this. But eventually, that work’s going to become quite taxing and I need to have somebody else that I can delegate it to.”

Ben:
So I make my first product hire. Now, what I really want to know is that I can trust them to make decisions on my behalf when it comes to prioritization of what to work on next, when it comes to decisions about which features need to be included and which features don’t need to be included, that they have a really good design sensibility, that they can like find ways of getting the 80-20 rule met, where they’re getting 80% of the value with 20% of the work, because there’s always a bunch of ideas that we don’t have time to get done. And so, those are the kinds of things that I’m looking for when I think about a product manager to be successful early on, rather than, do they actually understand the domain?

Ben:
And if they are really smart and they’re really curious and they’re really observant and they’re willing to do the customer interviews, they’ll figure out what they need to learn about the space, about the domain and about the customer base, but I’ll want them to be able to apply that product mindset and that curiosity to think about how they can solve long-term problems in new ways.

Carol:
Love it. So you’re talking all about this product mindset, this problem solving, all of the right traits of the right people to hire on your product team. And in that vein, you’ve also mentioned that these product-driven companies with the right people can be far more successful than service-driven companies. But, it can also be more challenging, right? So can you talk to us more about that?

Ben:
Yeah, for sure. I mean, the simple version of it goes like this, if you’re providing a service, you might speak to a potential customer, you learn exactly what their goals and their interests are, and then you design some sort of a solution that’s going to work exactly for them. So the risk is really low that you’re going to screw it up. You know what I mean? Think of like a financial planner who might work with you, that’s a service. They meet with you, you share a meal together, they ask what your retirement goals are, etc. And then they come up with a strategy that makes sense. And then they do that with the next person, and the next person. The problem is, it’s really hard to scale that.

Ben:
But if you think instead about a product, maybe something like Mint.com or you think about some of the products that are provided by Intuit or Wealth Front or companies like that, that they have, whether it’s a mobile solution or a software solution, they don’t have any people who were there who can then respond to what the individual needs of the customer will be. They have to design the product as a single one-size-fits-all solution for a whole entire market. And that may mean that the product itself asks those questions, but it means it all has to be programmed from the beginning, to be again, one size fits all. So that’s what is dangerous about it, is, what happens if you find that your one-size-fits-all solution is actually one in which one size fits none.

Ben:
Nobody actually cares about it. They don’t want to have that interaction, etc. So you are taking a risk by doing this, but the reason it’s worth taking that risk is because it scales so much better. Imagine the same people who started some of those companies that I just described, if they had instead started a financial services company in a traditional manner, there’s no way that the companies that they had founded 10 years ago would be worth anywhere near the valuation of some of these product-based companies along the way. So there’s a lot of product companies that go out of business because they try to take the shot and they miss the shot on goal. But when you hit that shot on goal, then the potential valuation really sores for the company.

Ben:
And that’s really just an act of both the scaling, that you’re actually getting the growth rates that you get from that, but also the potential future scaling that goes beyond that, because you’ve built a platform, you’ve built a data set, etc, that allows you to build even more products layered on top of that. Consider what Amazon did when they started by just selling books and how they’ve taken technology after technology, after technology that they’ve built and continue to build new products layered on top of the existing technology, which then gives them a leg up when they think about beating the competition in some new space that perhaps they hadn’t even been involved in previously.

J:
That’s great. I love that. Our listeners have decided, great, [inaudible 00:23:43]. Product company is the way to go and we think we have that perfect product, and we start to develop the product. But one of the biggest challenges I’ve seen with small entrepreneurs that start to build products is making that decision when to release the first version of the product. If you do it too early, your customers might think your product’s awful and they might not come back and now you’ve lost an opportunity. But if you wait too long, you potentially spent have a ridiculous amount of time and a ridiculous amount of effort building something that doesn’t have great product market fit.

J:
So what’s the right balance for a small entrepreneur when deciding when to release that V1 their product?

Ben:
The vast majority of entrepreneurs, I would say, release their product far too late. They think that it needs to be perfect, but they’ve got a high bar for what they want to provide. They believe in this future product potential that could be out there. Look, you want to be proud of what you deliver, I think we all understand that. I think the reason that often they go too late is because they’re still thinking a little bit too small early on. It’s like, “Well, what if the top 10 customers that I get all really don’t like the product? What’s going to happen? They’re all going to hate on it and then no one else is going to want to buy it.” And I had to actually take the flip side approach on this, which is, I want to know exactly why they don’t like it so that I have an opportunity to do address those problems.

Ben:
And then I can take it to the next 10 customers, and then I can take it to the next 10 customers. And it’s okay if the initial customers don’t necessarily like the product. In fact, their not liking the product is a good thing, because that’s the best way for you to get real true market feedback and market guidance to help craft that product and refine that product to be the right thing for the next 100 customers, for the next 1,000 customers, for the next 100,000 customers. That’s the notion of a product company. And so I think of it as, you actually want to carve your market up into a few different groups of people. And there’s a reason that a lot of companies early on, and a lot of startups will actually offer their product for free for people, because they know that the product is going to stink, and that’s all right.

Ben:
What they’re trying to provide is something that they can get feedback on. And I think if you think more about that iterative approach of eventually getting to the right place, the faster you can release, the faster you’re in a position to get real market feedback that’s going to help you to make a better product in the longterm.

Carol:
Very, very cool. So I want to circle back to one other thing that you mentioned, Ben, that I found really powerful and I suspect our community will as well. You talked a bunch about the extreme power of really layering in new products on top of the infrastructure that you build. And that’s super powerful. On the show, we talk a lot about scalability. We talk a lot about building adjacent businesses, rather than just starting over and over from scratch whenever there’s a new possibility, a new opportunity. You’ve also mentioned, in doing this, that there are lots of different directions that you can take a product when you’re adding in those layers or going in different directions.

Carol:
But, you probably, I would suspect, in order to innovate, you need to say no to most of them, rather than just saying, “Yes, let’s do this and this and more and more and more.” So can you talk to us more about that? And I suspect you’ve got a lot of good stories about both good and bad products, right?

Ben:
Yeah, absolutely. The product manager’s curse in a lot of ways is that they always have about 10 times as many things that they want to do with their products than that they actually have the capacity to get done. And that can be a real frustration in the role because you have all these great ideas and you want to make them all go happen, etc. You’ve got to look at that as like a blessing in disguise, to some extent. I think early in my career, I was very frustrated by that reality, and now I’ve come to really embrace it. What that means is, you get to cherry pick and choose the best few things to work on. And yes, it means you will have to say no to everything else, but saying no to everything else is part of the innovative process.

Ben:
In fact, there’s this great Steve Jobs quote that some people may have heard other people may not have, he said that innovation is saying no to 1,000 things. And I really like that because if you think about product strategy, you think about product vision. A lot of times people interpret that as, what are all the things you’re going to do? And a lot of ways, what it’s actually used for us to decide what not to do, to say, “This is outside the scope of what we decided we wanted to work on. This is this shiny opportunity that looks good over here. But if we say yes to that, and we say yes to this and we say yes to this, we fall into the trap of becoming that services-based company again.”

Ben:
Because now all we’re doing is responding to things that we happen to see, rather than taking a point of view about what it is that we’re going to do and then going and building that. And you can do that by really saying no to all these other opportunities that are going to be outstanding. So there’s going to be a million different kinds of directions that you can go, the plan here is to figure out which few matter the most because they’re most essential to where you’re headed longterm. I think a lot of times what happens is, you look in the earlier stages, you’re getting started, you’re trying to build a product, you’re just trying to get to that product market fit. And that is the right thing to do.

Ben:
But once you achieve that, you realize that the whole entire world is opened up. Do I take this product market fit that I have here? And now, do I go try to get product market fit for a different market? Hey, this technology could be used in these five other industries. Or maybe we’ve been working with small to medium businesses, and what about the enterprise accounts? They’re worth a lot of money, we could go in those directions. What about just refining the product and making it better a one? Or, what if we integrated some other company that we could potentially acquire? The list just goes on and on and on on these different directions that are all possible, but the question is, which of those are stepping stones? Instead of the most important, next stepping stone for you to get to, to help to achieve the product vision that you’ve outlined that maybe three or five years down the road.

Ben:
And if you can identify exactly what that is, because you’ve taken a step back and tried to think about what your product vision actually is for what it is that you want to deliver. You may realize that everything else is fluff and there’s one thing that really matters the most. Once you can figure that out, then you’re in a great position as the leader of the company to then guide everybody to swim in the same direction, like, “We’re all going here.” And once you can do that, then I think you can just move so much more quickly as an organization and that becomes a competitive differentiator in its own.

J:
Yeah. It’s funny because we think of all of these big companies that we want our companies to eventually grow into, and we think of them as doing a million things. Obviously, Microsoft has a million products, both in the consumer space and the B2B space and basically everywhere, probably government space and hardware and software. We look at Apple and obviously, they’re doing computers and phones and this and that, and Proctor & Gamble, and all these companies do a million things. But if you think about it, most of these companies made their name by doing one thing for a really long time really, really well. Microsoft started Windows, that’s what they’re known for. Apple started with the Mac, that’s what they’re known for.

J:
So even these large companies, Google now owns everything, but what was Google? Google was search and that’s what they’re known for, even though it may not even be the core business, if you really think about it right now, of what they’re in. I’m just agreeing with you, it’s so important to really figure out what that one thing is that your company and your product is about and focus on that until it’s successful. And then at that point, you can figure out where to go next, whether it’s to iterate on that product or to bring in adjacent products or bring in new products, whatever it is.

J:
So now that I guess I’ve talked a little bit about a couple of these big companies. Obviously, you’ve been associated with a number of these big companies, you’ve seen a lot of different products, both in your professional life and I’m sure in your personal life, let’s talk about some good and bad products that you’ve seen. And this could be there’s stuff you’ve worked on, or just products that you use in your everyday life. I’m just curious from somebody that’s a product expert, what are some examples of great products and some horrible products?

Ben:
Well, I’m a bit biased, but one of the major reasons that I went to go work for WHOOP was because I really love the product. WHOOP makes a wearable device that’s kind of like the Ferrari within the wearable space, if you will. And the thing that I really love about it is that there’s clear differentiation of what WHOOP does versus some of the other wearable devices that are out there, whether that’s like an Amazon Halo or some other, like Garmin or Polar Watch, etc. And the reason it’s different is because everything else is like a tracker and it tells you what you’ve done. And at WHOOP, we try to tell you what to do next, and I think that’s one of the critical differences.

Ben:
And so, when you think about what the WHOOP product is about, it’s about understanding your body and what’s actually going on inside of it and a far greater level of depth, but then utilizing that information to then provide coaching to people so that they become reliant on it. Like, how would I know what workout to do if WHOOP couldn’t explain to me what my body was actually prepared for? How would I know how much additional sleep that I need tonight based on the run that I did earlier today? Etc. And so those are the kinds of things that we try to provide, because if we can do that, then we can make a material difference in whether people are actually able to accomplish their goals. And I think that’s foundationally different than what a lot of the other companies are doing in the wearable space.

Ben:
So I look for that type of same thing across all other industries when I answered this question about what my favorite products are. I’ll say that, I love products that have two sides to them, of them is where you’re collecting data with one part of a product, and then you’re utilizing that data for some other part of the product. LinkedIn might be a really good example of this. LinkedIn, we all think of it primarily as like this free product, it’s like a social media platform for business, right? And everybody can connect to each other and stuff like that. Well, if that’s all that it is, why is LinkedIn worth billions of dollars because there’s no revenue associated with that?

Ben:
Well, there’s no direct revenue associated with that, but there’s a hell of a lot of indirect revenue associated with that. LinkedIn is actually more of a recruiting company. They provide recruiting tools, they help you to find jobs, etc. And so there are all these ways that recruiters like spend a ton of money to try to find good candidates via LinkedIn. But the thing that’s differentiated about LinkedIn is that they’ve created this proprietary data set that nobody else can really access that allows you to understand who’s connected to who and what that actually means about the quality of candidates.

Ben:
It allows you to do better sourcing than you otherwise would have ever been able to do as a recruiter, etc. And so they’ve created, through this free component of their product suite, this proprietary data asset that nobody else can touch that’s over here, and gives them an unfair advantage when they think about how their recruiting solutions compare to anybody else’s recruiting solutions. And if you think about it through that lens, I love companies that do that because they have this incredible strength that allows them to be differentiated now and forever, as long as they continue to invest in it.

Ben:
Google is another example of this as well, just Google Search by itself. You provide free search and you’re good to go. You run any search, you become acclimated to using Google for everything. But Google in providing free search, that’s fairly expensive. There’s a lot of servers behind that all the time. Why is that money we’re spending? Because the data that they collect about when somebody searches for this term and then they get shown these results, then they click on this particular one and then they actually go visit on that site versus they bounce off and go somewhere else, gives them a data asset that they can use to then create better advertising solutions than anybody else can ever provide.

Ben:
And no one else has access to the same kind of data volume that Google does. So they utilize that to then make their advertising products better. And I’m always fascinated with that strategy, because I think it’s one that seems to prove itself as a way of driving tens of billions of dollars of valuation for companies time and time again.

J:
Yeah. I was actually reading something yesterday that goes right to the heart of what you are saying, it was a quote or a discussion with Elon Musk about Tesla and why Tesla will likely win the self-driving car wars. One, they were first, they were one of the first, but two, a lot of other car companies rely on simulation data. So they create these non-real world simulations and they use those simulations to program their car to self-drive and do the right things and not do the wrong things.

J:
But competitive advantage or one of the competitive advantages that Tesla has is in addition to the simulations, they’ve got millions of miles and hundreds of thousands of hours of actual data from real drivers and real cars on the road that they can then iterate on and feedback and do natural language processing, not natural language, but AI on and learning mechanisms on to take that real world data and actually improve their product based on that real-world data. Whereas all the other companies, all they have are fake simulations because they don’t yet have this data, they haven’t figured out how to use that data.

J:
And it’s one of the reasons why great companies that have this data can basically start to snowball. They’re providing their own competitive advantage to improve the product and improve the company and grow the company in the future. And they will grow exponentially as opposed to linearly because that data is just self-reinforcing, if that makes.

Ben:
Yeah, I think it 100% makes sense. That’s exactly the strategy. And I think that with the advent of more and more AI technologies that are like plug and play, that can be provided to companies as well, just the mere fact of having a very large data asset is something that’s self is monetized bubble, either by you building your own products layered on top, or making that data available to other parties as well. So I think everybody’s starting to understand that the AI algorithms themselves are not really that different from one another, it’s just a big algorithm that you plug a bunch of data in.

Ben:
What separate one company’s ability to make the most of AI versus another is their data volumes that they have. And to your point, whether that data is high quality, like real actual driving miles versus simulation, where you don’t really know how to interpret that when it comes to dealing with real world circumstance.

Carol:
Cool. You’ve talked a lot about all of these characteristics of the types of companies you really do like, I want to know more about the type of products you don’t like or some big mistakes you might see product companies making.

Ben:
Yeah. I think mistakes that I see product companies making, there’s probably so many that it’s hard to choose one. I would say on the mistakes that I see some product companies making, I think one of them that’s very clear is that they get so hung up on adding more and more features to their product that they start to not realize the damage that it actually does for new customers. Just think about this, with Microsoft Word, they had word processing for years and years, decades before other people had it.

Ben:
Google Docs didn’t come around until much later, and yet Google Docs is utilized probably much more than Microsoft Word as at this point. Not because Microsoft Word is a bad product, but because they just kept thinking about, what’s the next feature we could add? How can we do even more crazy rich text editing? And the more convoluted, the more complex the product became, the more of a learning curve there was to getting up and running with it.

Ben:
And so now you get somebody new who enters the workforce and they see Google Docs, and instead, what it has is something that’s differentiated, which is just this collaboration capability. And that collaboration capability was worth more than all of the features of rich text editing that Microsoft Word could offer combined. Now, obviously Microsoft had followed suit and built a lot more of collaborative capabilities into their products and stuff like that since. But they ended up having to come back and play the catch-up game because they were so consumed with thinking about the next advancement.

Ben:
And I think that’s an artifact of something that happens where if you talk to your customers in the wrong way, or you get market input using the wrong methodology, you will often be tempted to keep adding more and more features to your product. And what happens is, a lot of entrepreneurs or product managers will talk to their existing customers, and they’ll talk to their most valuable existing customers, so the power users of the product, basically the people who get an out-sized voice. And so what are the power users looking for from your product?

Ben:
Well, they’re already using it a ton, and so they’re just thinking about, “Well, this thing would make my life a little bit easier if you just added this capability. And this bell and whistle over here, it would be really helpful if you just had the following additional thing that you could layer on top of the product over there.” And those things all make sense, there’s no reason necessarily not to do them other than managing the ongoing product complexity. But what’s more important is the megaphone that you provide to those power users ends up drowning out the voices of the customers who you really should be paying a lot more attention to, which are those ones that are more on the periphery, those ones that are like prospective new customers.

Ben:
Customers who evaluate your product and then decide not to buy it. I want to go talk to them because I’ll find out, “Hey, if I go build stuff for you, you would then buy my product.” And so that’s where you’re getting the maximum business leverage in terms of making a better product, is taking somebody who chooses not to buy it today, what would make them instead buy it tomorrow? And having that conversation is far better than having the conversation with somebody who’s already a power user, already paying you to the fullest extent possible for the product you already have.

Ben:
You can invest into the product over and over and over for those people, but it’s almost wasted effort to some extent because you’re not really getting a lot of like business gain from those improvements that you’re making to the product. And what you are doing is you’re making it much more complex and difficult for other people to understand when they come in. And you see that kind of thing happen a lot especially in the business software space where you always see these products that were relatively simple to use back in the day and perceived to be these major leaps forward.

Ben:
And then over the course of 10 years, they fall into this thing called the innovator’s dilemma, where they keep adding more and more capabilities to their product to try to make it better and better and better, and better. And in the meantime, what they actually expose is the opportunity for some alternate party to come in and come in with a new, fresher, more interesting easier to digest version that they themselves used to be 10 years back, and then now they’ve like created that opportunity for somebody else now.

Ben:
And so that’s how you see a lot of these companies get leapfrogged is on the one hand, they want to improve the product for their existing customer base, and on the other hand, they alienate the future customer base they really should be thinking about instead.

J:
It’s funny, as you were having that disclosure saying that, I was sitting here thinking, “Oh, the Innovator’s Dilemma,” which for anybody that hasn’t read that book, it’s a book by a gentleman named Christensen Clayton. And it’s an amazing book on why products and companies that seem to have a dominating position in their industry often go away very quickly. And you can think of companies like Xerox, is a great example, and HP to some extent, and just an amazing book. Speaking of amazing books, I want to talk about your book.

J:
You’ve written what I consider, and I’ve read a lot of books on product and business, but you have what I consider to be the absolute best book on product. And anybody out there that is building a product or building a company that revolves around building products needs to read this book. I want to talk a little bit about Build What Matters. So this is a book you released a few months ago. Can you talk to us about why you wrote the book, who should be reading it, who it’s geared towards. Just give us a basic overview of the book.

Ben:
Yeah. Sounds great. Well, thanks for the kind words about the book. I really appreciate it. It’s been really well received since we published it, and since it’s very rewarding to have gone through that process. The reason that Rajesh Nerlikar, who’s my co-author and the guy who’s now running the advisory practice that I had founded called Prodify. He and I wrote the book together because we had both done so much work with so many startups in the technology space, working with them on some of these things that we’ve talked about earlier in this episode around product management, best practices, how to hire for product management, how to organize your team, how to think about the innovator’s dilemma, etc.

Ben:
And we wanted to pull all those thoughts together into one place. And it is interesting, when you work with one company, you get one data point, you work with another company, you get another data point, but we’ve had the good fortune of working with like 70 different companies at this point. And so it’s like you see the matrix a little bit, and then you start to understand the signal that exists between all these different kinds of companies of, “Hmm, this is really interesting, in the 10 times that we’ve seen this, it’s worked really well, every single time. And in the 10 times we’ve seen that, it’s failed every single time. Wait, maybe there’s really something there.”

Ben:
And it gives us the ability to see things that I think a lot of other entrepreneurs have struggled seeing because they just don’t have as many data points that they can access. And so we wanted to share a lot of the things that we had learned along the way. And as we were advising each company, we were taking all the things that we had learned from the prior companies that we advised, and we realized, “Hey, wait, maybe we could do this for everybody else even if we don’t have a chance to advise them directly ourselves and maybe actually give them some a reason to want to talk to us and be interested in consulting with us as well.”

Ben:
And so we wanted to just share that knowledge. And some of the key things that we had identified that were critical success factors for new companies and for startups, especially in the technology space, were just really just a few things. I think one of them is they needed to really understand fundamentally what it meant to be a product company. And to Carol’s point, I think the importance of being able to say no, and to be selective about when you are focused on certain kinds of outcomes you want to deliver and when you’re going to like put your hand out and say, “No, we’re not going to go work on that.”

Ben:
So I think that was one thing that really stood out. The second thing that stood out to us was that companies fell into a trap because they’re looking at their own success metrics in terms of revenue or growth rates or margin percent and things like that. And they were always trying to think about ways that they could improve their own business outcomes. And what we discovered is that the companies that were actually the best at getting their own business outcomes, were not the ones that paid fullest attention to just those things.

Ben:
The companies that were most successful were the ones who were really good at getting product market fit, and product market fit was coming by really having a true appreciation of what drove customers to be successful using the product. What was the problem that customers really needed to have solved? How could they go about solving it? And it goes like this, it’s like, you’re trying to, at the end of the day, your product is an attempt to deliver value to the customer, and it doesn’t matter how good you are at optimizing, squeezing out margin for yourself out of your product by having the right monetization strategy and the right optimizations of conversion funnels and everything else, if your product stinks and it doesn’t deliver good value to customers, it’s going to be a short-lived success that you’re going to have.

Ben:
The companies that are really successful are the ones that really concentrate the vast majority of their energy on thinking about how we deliver better and better value to our customers. And then as a secondary consideration is, how do we then extract a percentage of that revenue back for ourselves. In a fair way, the customer is going to be more than happy to pay us for it because of the value that they’re getting from the product. And I think that those companies that really do a good job of that are the ones that do great customer research.

Ben:
They understand who their target market is, they figure out the personas that they’re designing for. They understand the problems from the customer’s vantage point, they understand success measures from the customer’s vantage point, and when you fail to do that, and you skip that step, you’re skipping the step of understanding the secret to your own success as a company as well. And so that was the most pronounced takeaway, I think, that we had from a lot of our consulting and advising of companies is that, that was the big differentiator between successes and failures.

Ben:
And then the last one was that a lot of companies at that earlier stage struggle to say, “Okay, great. Now, we have this vision that’s grounded in what our customers on success would be. The next question is, how do we then tie together our vision for where we want the product to go and our day-to-day operations of our product development activities?” And a lot of companies where they actually have one and they have the other, but the two are completely disconnected. So they’re like, hey, you have a conversation with the founder or the CEO, and they paint this great picture of what the vision of the company is going to be, how they’re going to deliver value over the course of three, five years from now, etc.

Ben:
And that’s all really nice and it sounds wonderful, but then I ask, “Well, what are you working on right now? And how is what you’re working on today tying back to those goals that you’ve set for yourself?” And like, “Oh well, temporarily we’re working on these things because obviously these are really important right now.” And the problem is, that’s true today, and you have this sense that in a quarter or two, you’re going to find yourself out of that hole. And the reality is, it’s actually a manifestation or representation of the culture of the company, which is that they’re just responding to the one-off conflict, things that are out there.

Ben:
And the companies finally, the third thing, I think that’s really important, is that the companies that are successful are the ones that can successfully say no. And they use their vision as a way of saying no. They say, “These are the things we’re going to be working on, therefore, everything else is fluff. We’re going to say no to those things, and we’re going to focus the vast majority of our attention on the realization of that vision that we had established.”

Carol:
Very cool. So speaking of all these successful companies and the characteristics of them, you started Prodify which was another successful product consulting company, but at some point along the way, you realize that one of the companies you were advising was totally worth going all in on. So you turned over your consulting company to your partner and you joined WHOOP full time. So what is it about the product there that led you to go all in, and what are you currently building at WHOOP that’s totally amazing.

Ben:
Yeah. I’m excited to talk about this. It was actually really hard to choose to lead the advisory practice myself just because I have loved every moment of collaborating with all these companies. I actually enjoy teaching about products more than I enjoy even doing it, to be honest. However, the thing about WHOOP that was really just so spectacular is this a company that had all the parts in the first place, we had a good vision for where we wanted to head, we had tremendous people, we had a great market and a great opportunity in front of us.

Ben:
We had already achieved product market fit, and the question was now, as we grow in this tremendous pace, how are we going to continue to innovate and create new benefits for our customers, etc. And I was just really excited about that and because I knew all the people involved and I’ve been working with them for many years, I knew exactly what I was getting into. And I got to say, that’s one of the things that was just really helped take the edge off of going somewhere new was the fact that I didn’t feel like I was taking a big risk on that front. And so a lot of the trust was already established, etc, and it’s just a thing that was very natural fit for me.

Ben:
That’s number one. And then number two is, I have always just really enjoyed that hyper growth kind of stage of a company. I love companies that are in those teenage years of everything’s changing constantly, you don’t have every nuance figured out yet, so you have a good thing going, but you still need to grow up in some ways. And so the road is changing a lot around you and that’s kind the situation that we find ourselves in at WHOOP. For example, I am hiring a person to the product team every week and I have been hiring somebody every week for quite some time now.

Ben:
And so we’re growing the team tremendously quickly, it’s changing constantly, who’s responsible for what. And that’s a frenetic and wild situation. I personally love that and I find it exciting to me, it’s like being on a roller coaster in the good way. And then I just love all the twists and turns and trying to keep things on the rails as we’re moving. That was just personally fun for me. And then lastly, I think that when you’re consulting, at the end of the day, it’s the client that you’re working for who owns their own success. You’re helping handle them the way, but you’re not the hero of their story, they’re the hero of their story.

Ben:
And I think that your job is to be the mentor and the guide and the coach. And that’s very rewarding in its own way, there’s no doubt, I love that stuff as well. But I felt like I had one more time in me to try to go back to a company and really have that ownership of the outcomes at the end of the day. I’ve had great successes with eBay, I’ve had great success with Opower, a company that I worked at that took me to the East Coast back in 2010 to 2014. And I really wanted to go back and do that one more time and have another tremendous success that I can look back upon fondly, etc.

Ben:
And so I feel really good about the trajectory that we’re on at WHOOP, we’re building some amazing elements to this product. And as discussed earlier, some of the differentiators of WHOOP versus some of the other products in the wearable space, are fairly clear to me in terms of that notion of coaching and telling people what to do next. So when we layer on top of that, all the ways that we can drive engagement, think about ways of involving the community to try and get other people who are WHOOP members to inspire other group members to change things in their life.

Ben:
We think about things like personalization and how we can adapt the product to be still a one size fits all product, but to do so in such a way that it reflects back to members what their individual goals are for themselves and to show them the progress that they’re making. So if somebody says, “My goal is to shave 10 pounds off on the scale,” that we help them to actually do that. And if somebody else says, “My goal is to shave 30 seconds off of my one mile time,” then we help them to do that. And so we want to show people how we’re helping them to drive the things that they care about most using the product.

Ben:
And so these are all interesting paths that will go, I’m sure over time we’ll move towards internationalization of the product as well. And these are all fun endeavors that I think we’ll work on as a company, and I know for a fact that as we develop those kinds of capabilities within the product further and further that that will create for us tremendous business value and return for our shareholders, which is something that excites me for sure, but we’re going to do that the right way.

Ben:
We’re not going to do it because we optimized, rounded corners on some a button to increase the click-through rate by 0.1%, we’re going to do that because we delivered tremendous and meaningful customer value and something that customers want to keep going to back to day after day, after day.

J:
Yeah. It’s cool because it’s not just a me-too product. Carol and I were talking about earlier, and she chose the perfect word to describe the WHOOP product because it’s funny, we actually at the beginning of the year, and we didn’t even look into WHOOP, we will now, earlier in the year, we actually bought a fitness tracking watch. And one of the things that I’ve been thinking about using it for the last week or so, is that it’s basically just a historical record. The difference with your product is that, and this is a word that Carol used, I think is the perfect word, it’s prescriptive.

J:
It doesn’t just tell you what you’ve done, it tells you what you should be changing, what you should be doing differently to hit your goals, not just where you’ve been, so that you can then figure out yourself how to hit your goals. One question I have, and I’m asking this more personally, not necessarily as an interviewer because again, we’re on the market for a product like this, is this meant for people like me, an old guy who’s out of shape, that’s trying to lose 10 or 20 pounds, or is this more meant for athletes and people that are peak performance-type people?

Ben:
Yeah. We get that question a lot. I think in the very earliest days of WHOOP, it was intended really primarily for those triathlete types and CrossFitters and folks like that. And what we realized is that what really made the product valuable for people was not so much that it was specifically about running or biking and swimming and things like that, but what it was really all about was helping people who were themselves motivated to make a change and help them to understand what the drivers of those changes would actually be.

Ben:
For example, if you want to lose some weight, we’ve done the real hard science of understanding, for example, how sleep consistency is a fundamental element of weight loss as it turns out, and you wouldn’t necessarily think it, it’s not necessarily intuitive, but it turns out that that’s actually a really big deal. And so sleep consistency matters both for those triathletes who want to optimize how they’re performing on a given race day and things that, but it matters also to those kinds of people who have other goals in their lives.

Ben:
And so I think the reason that we’ve been really successful recently and our growth rate has really gone tremendously up from where it was even just a couple of years ago, is because we’ve really struck that nerve, I think, with people who are motivated. Now, I will say that WHOOP probably isn’t the best kind of thing if you’re a major couch potato and you just want to make sure that you’re getting a few steps. For example, we have intentionally to the point about saying no to certain things, we decided that steps is never a thing that we’re intending to build into the product.

Ben:
So if a step tracker that tells you how many steps you did yesterday is something that’s really important to you, then maybe another preface is going to be better. But if what you actually care about is achieving some a goal for yourself and you’re motivated to go make that happen, but there’s no better tool that you’re going to find out there for helping to achieve that than WHOOP because it’s going to provide better information about what’s actually going on in your body. For example, when you wake up every morning, you get a recovery score that tells you what to do.

Ben:
And there’s a lot of people who want to, let’s say, lose weight or get back in shape, and one of the things that we’ve all probably experienced having done that is that you’re doing really well for three days, but it’s almost you’re doing a little bit too well, and you wake up on that fourth day and you’re like, “Oh my God.” Like in early January, if you run into those situations, you’re like, “Oh, I can’t do this anymore.” Whatever. And so you fall off. So what we’ve done, the hard work to figure out is, what are those behavioral patterns that are going to help people to be consistent with those behaviors?

Ben:
And so we give a recommendation for what level of cardiovascular strain is actually appropriate for today given how you woke up this morning, because what happens is people spiral out of control when they wake up and they have this red recovery that try to push themselves anyway, and then their body is just like, “Nope, this isn’t going to work.” And so that’s what prevents them from actually hitting their goals. So depending on what your goals are, you can see different strain recommendations that are appropriate given where your recovery started in that morning.”

Ben:
So to Carol’s point about being prescriptive, that’s exactly the word that we try to use internally as well is because we think that’s where the value really lies for our members.

J:
Yeah. I love that. And there was a great lesson in there that you glossed over, but hit me hard, which is that sometimes there are features that all your competitors are, or maybe they’re not your competitors and people may think they’re competitors have, and that we really have to look at and make a conscious decision, whether these are the right features for us. And you talked about not having steps in yours to think like a wearable that’s tracking fitness wouldn’t have steps. First reaction is, “Well, that’s crazy.” But the second reaction is, “Well, why should it if we don’t need it, if it’s not necessary for our core customer demographics and what their goals are and what the goal of the product is.”

J:
And so great product people also are, and I imagine the fact that you took that out, well it’s not tracking for the product at all, it’s probably making the user interface even better, and it’s not just clogging the data that’s being put in there and it’s actually making your product better.

Ben:
Yeah, that’s right. I think it’s a really important thing within product is to think about, what should the negative space of your product be? What are the things that should be missing because they would be dilutive if you created them? And it’s like, I don’t know, maybe a more easy to understand example is like, how do you feel about a restaurant when you drive by it and it’s Chinese food and pizza and French fries? And you’re like, “Ooh, I’m not sure that any of those things are going to be very good there to some extent.”

Ben:
And I think that what’s important in product is that you identify very clearly what differentiates your product? What makes it better? Why would somebody at a party say, “I love this product.” And that comes down to separating three different kinds of features. And there’s this whole notion called the Kano Model, K-A-N-O, which you can research online, that advices that you break the features of your product into three buckets, the must have capabilities, the performance capabilities, and then these delighters.

Ben:
And so the must have, think about buying a car, it must have the seatbelts. Nobody buys a car because it has seat belts, but remove the seatbelts from the car and no one’s going to buy it, you expect that they’re going to be there. Making Kevlar seat belts probably isn’t going to help you to sell more cars, but you better check the box on the seatbelts. The performance characteristics are all those kinds of things that people would be talking about to the sales person while they’re in a test drive. Like how does it handle? What’s the safety look like? What about the gas mileage? What about the performance and the handling? Those kinds of things.

Ben:
And the delighters have those kinds of things going back, J., to your whole point about Tesla, is the touch screen interface, or the fact that the handles retract into the car when it’s driving, those are those kinds of cool things that you didn’t even expect, that you weren’t looking for, but once you have them, you would never want to have them taken away. And it’s really critical when you think about the scope of your product, even an initial product is to make sure you have all of the mustangs, because if you don’t have all the mustangs, you’re not even allowed to play the game.

Ben:
Try to go sell this fancy, amazing car, and one that doesn’t actually have seatbelts. You’re not going to get very far. So you’ve got to have all the mustangs. The second thing is, you have the right set of performance features for your target market. And that’s the part that everybody forgets because they think, “Well, I got to compare it to all the other kinds of products that are out there because they’re going to be comparing my product to all these other products.” And yeah, but only for the select market that you’re trying to go after.

Ben:
And the more specific you can make that target market early on, the more effective you’re going to be at having the best offering for that, and you realize that some of the other kinds of things are dilutive. For example, there’s different types of targets for buying a car. Those who want to buy a Jeep and they’re in the market for something like that, are looking for four-wheel drive, and how does it get out of the mud? And they’re not concerned with how sporty does it look, or does it get to the zero to 60 timeframes and stuff that for acceleration, that’s not why you’re actually buying it.

Ben:
And then when you think about a minivan, you’re thinking about trunk space, you’re thinking about how many people can you fit, how easy is to move the seats around it, etc. So depending on the market, you’re going to have a completely different set of features of that vehicle that are going to be appropriate for them. If you try to create a one size fits all car that is perfect for everybody, it would be terrible for everyone. And so you don’t need to think about adding every single bell and whistle to your product, you’ve got to think about having the right set of things that’s right for that specific target market.

Ben:
But the question is, is our target market big enough and meaningful enough that we can be really successful within it? And we believe that we can, and by limiting ourselves to that area of focus, it’s what allows us to create a better user experience because it’s not cluttered with everything else that everyone else is trying to create into their products as well. It allows us to go deeper into those things that matter. So you compare WHOOP, for example, to Apple Watch, we don’t have a face on our product. There’s no thing that tells you what time it is, it doesn’t help you check your emails and things like that.

Ben:
So Apple is intentionally going down the path of being a broad but thin product. You can check your email, you can send a text, you can use Siri, the list goes on and on. We’re not going to have any of those things. But by not having those things, here’s the advantage that we get, our battery lasts five times longer than that of an Apple Watch, which means you can wear it 24/7, you can charge it while it’s on your wrist, and it allows you to wear it overnight every time, which allows you to get sleep data.

Ben:
Sleep data is critical every single night so that you understand what your recovery looks the next morning, so you can then determine what your strain should be that day. And it’s what allows us to be more prescriptive with our products because of the battery life, but we would lose battery life, and that’s a trade-off that we have to make if we tried to create a face and go compete head on with Apple Watch on that front, that’s not what we do. So ours is a much deeper and narrower product for people who are focused on health, fitness, or athletic performance, and Apple Watch is something that’s more broad for people who are more in a broad market.

Ben:
To be totally honest, their market’s bigger. I’m okay with that. I think that’s important for entrepreneurs to think about.

J:
I love that. And we always have to remember that knowing who our customer is, is more important than making everybody our customer. It’s better to have 50% of a $10 billion market than it is to have a 10th of a percent of a trillion dollar market, and knowing where you can compete and who your customer is, and not trying to be everything to everybody is often the key to success. Trying to be everything to everybody is often the key to failure. Okay. I want to jump to the last segment of the show, which we call Four More, and that’s where we ask you the same four questions that we ask all of our guests.

J:
And then the more part of the Four More where we give you an opportunity to tell our listeners where they can connect with you, where they can find out more about your book, and where they can find out more about WHOOP, and anything else you want to talk about? Sound good?

Ben:
Sounds great.

J:
Okay. I will take the first question. Ben, what was your very first or your very worst, I’ll let you decide which one, job and what lessons did you take from it that you’re still using today?

Ben:
My very first job, I don’t know if it was my worst, was serving ice cream at an ice cream parlor in my hometown of Arroyo Grande, California. And the thing that I loved about it was that you serve ice cream, and while there’s a bunch of you’ve got to deal with cleaning the bathrooms and all that kind of stuff as well, every day you’re delighting customers. They come in, they want ice cream, you serve them ice cream, and they just walk away with the best smiles on their faces. And I think that, honestly, I go back to thinking about that from time to time when I visualize customers using the products that I’m creating, even in this digital world where I don’t often get to see my customers engaging with the product directly.

J:
Awesome.

Carol:
I love it. Okay Ben, second question, and I want you to give a quick 22nd or less answer. Are you ready? What’s the best piece of advice in 20 seconds or less that you have for small business owners, or entrepreneurs, or potential franchisees, or just anybody in the space that you haven’t mentioned yet today.

Ben:
All right. Make your customers successful first and your own business success will follow.

J:
I love it. That is perfect.

Carol:
Phenomenal.

J:
Okay. Question number three, besides the two books we’ve talked about, your book Build What Matters and the Innovator’s Dilemma that we discussed, what’s your favorite book out there that maybe not everybody has already read and should be reading?

Ben:
Yeah. Let’s see. I’ll point to one called Escaping The Build Trap by Melissa Perri, who’s also a product management consultant, and I think she’s written a really good book about the difference between thinking about output, how much you deliver and how many features you ship and things like that, versus outcomes, one of the actual results that you get from that, and how do you emphasize the outcomes over the output? I think is a really good read.

Carol:
Awesome. The fourth one is, one of my favorites, what is something along the way in either your personal life or your work life, wherever, however, whatever, that you splurged on that was totally an entirely worth it?

Ben:
I work ridiculously long hours, and so I don’t get a lot of time to spend with my family or sometimes spend with my wife, etc. And so we recently prior to the pandemic had a chance to get away for about a week and we decided totally splurge on this amazing place in St. Lucia that was called Jade Mountain. And it’s just this open air room that faces these mountains that just come right out of the water and stuff like that. And it was the most beautiful romantic place. And I find myself both, I looked forward to it before we did it for a long time, which was its own kind of reward, but years later, I still look back on that when I have those dark days where I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been working for 16 hours now,” I can go back and just visualize that one kind of liking a scene, and it’s just really fantastic.

Carol:
That is so cool. And I’ve got to say, for everybody listening to the show, I so wish you were watching this on YouTube right now, because the way Ben’s face lit up and the smile he had from ear to ear says that that was beyond the best memory in splurge ever.

J:
Awesome. That was the four part of the Four More, now for the more part of the Four More, tell our listeners where they can connect with you, where they can find out more about Prodify, where they can find out more about Build What Matters, and where they can buy it, and where they can find out more about WHOOP and WHOOP’s products.

Ben:
Yeah. Sounds great. Let me do those in reverse order. If you’re interested in learning more about WHOOP, it’s really simple, go to WHOOP.com, W-H-O-O-P.com. It’s a subscription-based product. To learn more about Prodify, the website is Prodify.group. That’s P-R-O-D-I-F-Y.group. Great information on resources available on the website there as well, there’s a lot of what we call library materials. So if you wanted examples of some of the templates of documents and things like that that might be helpful to be thinking through product things in a better way, some great resources there.

Ben:
To reach out to me specifically, I usually think that LinkedIn is the best way. And so my handle on LinkedIn is really easy, Ben Foster, that’s it. Connect with me there, I love to connect with other people and talk shop when it comes to product, etc. And just to make sure that you include a little note, I would say, when you reach out because I got a lot of other random people reaching out on LinkedIn these days, trying to sell me stuff, but I’d love to connect with people who just want to learn and share notes.

J:
Awesome. And Build What Matters, where can we pick it up?

Ben:
The number one place to pick it up is definitely going to be Amazon. And if you just search on Amazon for Build What Matters, that should be one of the first things that comes up, available in hardcover, paperback and on Kindle.

J:
Awesome. Ben, this was an amazing conversation, absolute wisdom for those of us who want to build amazing products and amazing product companies. Thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

Ben:
Thanks so much for having me.

Carol:
Thanks, Ben. See you soon.

J:
I absolutely love that episode. Of course, I love talking about products, I’m a product guy, I’ve done product my entire career. So this was fun for me, but still some amazing, amazing tips there. I especially loved his Steve Jobs’ quote of innovation is saying no to 1,000 things. And it’s so true. If you want to be a great innovator, if you want to be a great business owner, it’s almost more important to say no to things and just say yes to things.

Carol:
I completely agree. And that speaks so much to one of my favorite parts was when he started talking about product companies that over the years, after 10 or 20 years, they have the innovator’s dilemma and they keep layering more and more and more stuff on and it’s just not relevant anymore, and then another product company can swoop in, bring back the basics in a bigger and better way. So I love the way he just gave those tips, and what we should and shouldn’t be doing in terms of building products.

J:
Absolutely.

Carol:
All right. Let’s wrap this up, baby.

J:
Everybody, once again for the second or third week in a row, Happy New Year. Thank you for joining us this week on BiggerPockets Business Podcast. And we’ll be back again next Tuesday and every Tuesday. So please, join us again next week. She’s Carol, I’m J.

Carol:
Now, go out and build what matters today. Have a super week everybody, keep being your awesome rock star selves. See you next week.

J:
Thanks everybody.

Carol:
Bye.

 

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • What product management really is (and what the goal should be for teams)
  • The difference between products for sale and product management
  • What makes a great product team 
  • How to achieve (and go after) product market fit 
  • When to release the initial version of your product
  • Which opinions matter most when collecting customer data 
  • Building an infrastructure so products can succeed from the start
  • Bad product traits to avoid when building out your product
  • And So Much More!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in this Show:

Connect with Ben:

You may own a small business, some rental properties, or are just tinkering with a new idea. Regardless of where you’re at in your entrepreneurial journey, you’re most likely trying […]