23: Why Great Products Don't Always Win

Media Thumbnail
  • 0.5
  • 1
  • 1.25
  • 1.5
  • 1.75
  • 2
This is a podcast episode titled, 23: Why Great Products Don't Always Win. The summary for this episode is: If you liked this episode, we bet that you’ll love our blog content. blog.drift.com/#subscribe Subscribe to never miss a post & join the 20,000+ other pros committed to getting better every day. --- Why great products don't always win, plus David is hiring an MBA to work with him at Drift. Show Notes: Great products don't always win. Time and time again this proves to be true (by great we mean products that are technically superior, have the best design, etc.) Dave gets David to dig into his 20 years in SaaS to talk about why this happens and what engineers and designers can do about it. We also have some news: David's looking to hire an MBA to work directly for him on our team at Drift to be an "Operator in Residence." You read that right - the same guy that once wrote a blog post titled: "Should Entrepreneurs Get an MBA? Hell No." Here's the link to Operator in Residence role at Drift: http://bit.ly/Drift-OIR Catch all of the previous episodes of Seeking Wisdom: seekingwisdom.io or just search for "Seeking Wisdom" in your favorite podcast app. Follow David (twitter.com/dcancel) and Dave (twitter.com/davegerhardt) on Twitter.

Dave: Today on Seeking Wisdom. We're going to talk about why great products don't always win.

DC: We're back.

Dave: I can always hear the music inaudible. Okay. So we're going to talk about why great products always win, but I-

DC: Don't always win.

Dave: Don't always win, yeah. Sorry about that, great products don't always win but people think that great products always win.

DC: That's for sure.

Dave: All you got to do is build a great product.

DC: And they will come.

Dave: And they will come. But before we dive in on that, there's one other thing I wanted to ask you. So something that comes up all the time is, we talk about learning, and knowledge, and all the time, right?

DC: Dave has a weird look on his face right now, so I'm nervous.

Dave: Because I want you to articulate this for people that are listening, you always say something like," I'm not going to articulate it." But I'm always like," Ah, should we share this? Or should I share this thing I'm reading?" Or I say to you like," Wow, all the answers are pretty obvious, once you read them." And you have the saying, which is like, people already know all the answers or they're not going to do it. It's okay to share the secrets because the majority of people aren't going to do anything with it. I want you to talk about that for a second.

DC: inaudible on that?

Dave: Yeah.

DC: Let's go into that.

Dave: You get what I'm asking?

DC: Yeah. So I say that all the time. I say like, we already know the answers and are reminded of them all the time, deep down. We know what the answer is. And then I also say, when Dave is, when we're talking about sharing things that we've learned, should we share them? Because oh no, a competitor might hear what we're doing. I say," Share it, they're not going to do it anyway because people need to be in the right frame of mind, and you need to be at the right point." It's all about context to me. You got to be in the right context to be able to hear and learn from these lessons. So until you're in that right context, nothing, you can read it a thousand times. It's not going to make sense to you and that's why learning is so much about not only reading, digesting, listening, whatever format you're taking on that you're taking in the learning, but it's as much about application as anything else. And until you apply yourself, until you put yourself in the right situation, until you have the right context in other words, you can't begin to learn.

Dave: This is what we even talk about on the last episode, which is about working out.

DC: Yes.

Dave: You know the secret.

DC: Totally. And everyone's guilty of it. I'm totally guilty of it. I'll read a bunch of stuff on, whether it's CrossFit or body weight, this or that. And I'm falling, I'm looking at videos, I'm reading, I'm doing everything until I actually try to apply it, none of it will make sense to me. I could read all about perfect form, I could study perfect form to the end of time, until I actually tried to do that first pull up, that first move, it's not going to make sense to me. And it's the same... I'm not going to know the questions to ask.

Dave: It's why we talk about, there's no playbooks, the only cure is learning and doing.

DC: Yes and then you can develop your own playbooks, and your playbooks are personal to you and personal to the context that you're in. And I was talking to, I had a one- on- one with one of our developers today, what's up Ali.

Dave: Sup Ali.

DC: And we were talking a lot about all the stuff that he's learning. And the point of it was that, he had read about it and he had known about some of these things that he's learning, but it wasn't until he was in this context that we're in right now, which is an early stage company that it made sense that he could actually learn these things. And the important point about this whole thing was that, you could learn a lot of things, like in his case about engineering development, you can learn those anywhere, you can learn those on your own because you can experiment them on your own. You can place yourself in the right context, you can learn in a hack group, you can learn it at a big company, you can learn it at a small company. But the stuff that he pointed out that he was learning right now at Drift, he could only learn right here, right now, because you need to be in this context to learn these lessons.

Dave: That's a really good line. Yeah, so it's because of the stage of what we're going through and he's having to apply that, or somebody at a bigger company could have been totally, yeah, this is how you do it.

DC: Yeah. They could read the Lean Startup or whatever book they want to read all day long, until they're in the lean startup, none of it was going to make sense. It'll make sense intellectually but it won't actually make sense deep down, viscerally.

Dave: No, that's a good, it's a really good lesson for this stage, as someone that, I feel myself nodding along with. All right. Let's see. Tell me, so you and I were trading messages, we were talking about future topics, future things we're going to write about. And this has been coming up a bunch and it's actually something that you've been preaching to our team here is, as we're building a product, it's not just going to be about the best looking UX, or the hottest product, or the newest technology. Where did this idea... What spawned this conversation about great products not always winning?

DC: My own experience. Like other things, this comes from experience. I started as an engineer. And so all engineers, whether you're a designer, you're a marketer, you're a writer or whatever. If you're crafting something on your own, you feel like that thing that you're building, because you identify with it, you get it. And so you get why it should exist. You think that things should be able to stand on its own and it should sell itself, and everyone else should get it. And it's obvious because it's obvious in your own mind. And so the thing that I learned over time was that you could build the best software ever, in my case, as a developer, and that if the customer didn't care, or the market didn't care, or if the timing was off, or something else out of your control was, basically didn't care about the invention or the solution that you created. It didn't matter. The product was not going to win. And the best products I saw, time and time again, did not win. And you can go back in time. And this is not only a software thing and look at all kinds of products that we've used in our lives. And you'll see that it's not necessarily the best products that win but it's the products that meet the need. And they're able to basically explain themselves clearly and resonate with people that win, that capture a movement. And that's why sometimes, it's not the first, second, third, fourth or fifth, maybe it's the 10th iteration of a product that really actually captures escape velocity.

Dave: Well, I can't think of an example off the top of my head. But I feel like there's always something that's, a bunch of your friends are early adopters, where people are fucking around with something. They're like," Man, this is awesome, this is going to be the future." And it's really amazing but it never ends up catching on.

DC: Totally. That's why a lot of the times amongst geeks, and developers, and whatever, enthusiast's of something though, the most pure best version in their opinion, being enthusiastic and fully understanding the problem for them. They think that should be the winner. And it'll be the shittier cheaper, more commercial version, the more compromised version in their view that actually captures escape velocity with the world.

Dave: Okay, so how does this actually play out? Like you said, engineers, designers, and PMs, aren't going to like this saying that good products, great products, aren't going to win because you get into that world, because you want to build amazing products. And you think, oh, this is what it's going to take to win but that's obviously not the case. So how do you fix that?

DC: Yep. So we fit, we try to fix it by having those people that create stuff, be closest to the source of truth, which is always the customer. So that's the immediate way that we solve it. And then the other way that we try to educate is that, we can point at other companies that they may be familiar with or they may have come from, and point at them and say," Those companies may be hit escape velocity or hit scale without having the best product." And maybe the product that they have now, which you might think is the best, only came about much later in their history because the first version was not the best Version.

Dave: And I feel like that's got to be so maddening. You're building something that you know is technically better.

DC: Yeah but it doesn't matter, no one cares. So you could write the best book in the world and if no one gets it but you, yourself, your mom, and your best friend, and no one else in the world gets it. It doesn't matter, it wasn't the best book.

Dave: My favorite, so on the marketing flip side of this, my favorite quote about marketing.

DC: What's that?

Dave: That there's no marketing cure for sucking.

DC: I love that.

Dave: Which is like, okay, you can be the best marketer in the world, you could be the SEO man, and the traffic master, and the branding God, you're doing all this stuff but if you're selling dog shit, it's not going to work.

DC: It's not going to work.

Dave: And it's the same thing on both sides or you're, or you're trying to market something that the market isn't ready for. People don't care about it. So it's a timing thing all around.

DC: It's a timing thing. And what you have to do, which is tricky is, meet in the middle. There is this place that happens all the time, where the product isn't great. It's not shit but it's not great. But it's good enough for the market and the marketing is good enough for the state of the product, that together they can hit escape velocity.

Dave: Yeah. And There's probably, I mean, this has to play into why you are such a big believer in small autonomous teams, because you have the authority to move fast and ship things, and really the ultimate mindset, which you always talk about, which is defaulting to being wrong.

DC: Yeah, being wrong. That's the alternate guard rail for me, well the customer is. But then having this mindset of always go in and expect that you're wrong. And again, today I had this one- on- one with Ali and this came up because in a different context, it came up because he was talking about dynamics in teams. And how do you learn to work with other people and all this stuff that we all have to learn and struggle with, and deal with different personalities and all that. And I was saying that a technique that I've used is this very technique, which is to assume that you're wrong and to use the customer as the impartial third party. And so for him being a developer and him talking to other developers, and maybe arguing about the best way to do something, inaudible pure way to build something. Maybe instead of having that argument, which is more about my idea is better than your idea, to say to them, both of our ideas are probably wrong, let's go figure out if the customer even cares, because why build something that they don't even want it, and then get it out to them as quickly as possible. And then we can refine that.

Dave: So let's find a way to validate this again, back to the Lean Startup stuff, that's funny. But it's interesting because it also, it changes the way that you work, let's ship something so we can figure out whether we're right or wrong.

DC: Yeah. It took me a long time to have my own experiences. And now be able to look at other companies and look around and say, wow, look at all these companies that have become so successful that didn't have the best product. And this is back to the very beginning of this conversation. It took me getting into this, my own context of seeing it myself to be able to even see that, obviously that was all around me the whole time, but I couldn't see it until I had gone through that journey myself and then looked around and said," Oh yeah, no, duh obvious, the best product doesn't always win." But you don't see that until you have certain experiences.

Dave: I mean, we talk about it, it's a popular story. Like when you and Elias, and Performa went to HubSpot. HubSpot was doing 35 million in revenue with a product that a lot of people knew wasn't the greatest.

DC: Greatest product, but they had a great story, and they had great marketing and-

Dave: Sales engine was crushing it.

DC: And Sales Engine was crushing it and they had a great market fit. Problem market fit, I should say. It's really problem market fit. Let's redefine it. So PMF is problem market fit, not product market fit. Product should stem from the problem, identifying the problem. So they had amazing problem market fit. And then yes, we could fix the product and get the product to meet the problem in the market later.

Dave: All right. So let's leave people with the lesson. So you said something like, this is more of a mindset thing. Your lesson seems to be, once you were able to open your thinking to this understanding that, the great products don't always win, you're able to change the way that you work.

DC: Yes. All right. So open up your mindset, problem market fit not product market fit. But I got one more last thing to go. I got a tangent to go on. Are you ready for a tangent?

Dave: We're ready, we're here. People are locked in their cars, walking, in the gym, at work, listening to Seeking Wisdom right now.

DC: All right. I want to give you context. I've written a couple blog posts in the past and in some circles become infamous for arguing why you don't need an MBA to start a company and I stand behind that. And so I got categorized as the anti MBA guy. I'm not anti MBA but you don't need one to start a company. We could talk more about that in a different episode if people want. But I want to, I'm going to put out, I want to hire an MBA.

Dave: You are hiring an MBA?

DC: DC is hiring an MBA.

Dave: And we're talking about the same MBA, master's degree?

DC: Yeah. Exactly, an MBA. Ideally, we're based in Boston, so this is a local thing. So ideally an MBA from one of the local schools, HBS, Sloan, which is MIT, or any of the other local schools. And a bunch of reasons I'm doing this, I've given some talks, lots of talks at HBS, or Sloan, or whatever other MBA programs. And one of the questions I get all the time, and I get it in my email, which I can't answer anymore, almost every day is, how do I break into a fast growing company? How do I, I'm graduating from MBA program, how do I get into this company? That company? How do I join Drift? And I want to be a leader, I want to be an operator, I want to get into the scene. And so here's the job, it's called O- I- R. I'm hiring an OIR. OIR stands for operator in residence. And it's a one year commitment to join me here at Drift. And you'll get to see Dave's smiling face every.

Dave: Every day, pull over, take notes, this is important.

DC: And you're going to come in. And I'm giving you the opportunity to come here and earn your way, either towards an operating role at Drift in the future, a year from now if you earn it, if you're a superstar. Or maybe you want to start your own company, and I'll pledge to be the first investor in your company, if you kill it after the first year.

Dave: Damn that's a pretty good deal. We were talking about this at lunch today. There's two outcomes. Hold on, you can't fast forward through this. There's two outcomes, work at Drift as OIR operator, operators work directly under you, right?

DC: Yeah work for me.

Dave: Two outcomes are, number one, get an operating role at Drift, fascinating company. See what it's like to take a company from pre- product market fit, all the way through it or you want to go start your own company. If that's why you went and got your MBA or that's why you want to reach out to DC in the first place, he'll be the first money in.

DC: I'll be The first money in. While working with me, you're going to have exposure, you're going to have access, you're going to meet all the people that I know throughout the year, but you're going to have to earn your way. All right, this is the time to put your money where your mouth is and time to earn your way. So you're going to assist me in all sorts of stuff at Drift, whether it's Drift stuff, whether it's family stuff, whatever you're going to be right hand woman or man, whoever it is to myself. And you're going to have to earn your way. So do you think people are up for it?

Dave: I think this is an unbelievable opportunity. A, because you have the olive branch out to the MBA crowd.

DC: I do, I'm extending.

Dave: But I think there's not a lot of operating. You're extending an offer for an operating role and then you don't even have to work at this company. You're going to get an angel check from you, a year from now.

DC: From a year from now, if you kill it.

Dave: If you kill it. But I think you need to explain a little bit more because I think it's not going to be, this person is a... Yeah, pull up your job description.

DC: I'm going to pull up my job description. I don't know if people are ready for this.

Dave: I think, I don't think they're-

DC: They keep telling me they're ready, they keep telling me they're Hungry.

Dave: But what you're looking for, and I know you, is somebody who isn't going to be afraid to roll up their sleeves and clean the nasty ass sink that we have here at Drift.

DC: Absolutely, if that's what you have to do.

Dave: All the way up to, you get asked to speak somewhere, and go fly somewhere and go hang out. And experience that from helping us forecast, to doing all the MBA day-to-day stuff.

DC: To creating PowerPoints, if we needed to creating Decks, to scheduling meetings, to be doing any of that stuff, to answer my email. You want to answer my email? Someone needs to.

Dave: Somebody needs to. Please take this job, he needs help with email.

DC: Because I don't answer it.

Dave: All right. You got your bullets up?

DC: Yeah. I got my bullets right here.

Dave: Give us some, go ahead.

DC: So it's a one- year mission like I said, to come here. And after one year, you will have either earned an operating role, ideally in a leadership capacity, but no promises at Drift. Again, you need to earn it. You decide to start your own company and I will be the first money in. If you are this rockstar, you got to be super hungry, ready to prove yourself, that should go without saying, you're ready to outwork, out hustle, out grind everyone around here, including uncle DC, that's going to be hard.

Dave: He gets up really early. It's obnoxious.

DC: It is obnoxious. And by the end of the year, you will have recruited your own replacement and train them, as you take your new role. But you will be doing everything from scheduling, to emails, my emails that is, to helping out with Drift, family, traveling, either coordination or traveling with me, being the single point of contact for mostly external communication, creating presentations, creating spreadsheets, creating Decks, analyzing the market, all of the stuff that you've been training to do, you're going to get to do here at Drift. And in return, you're going to either have earned your spot on the team or earned your check for your first company. And you're going to have access to my network, to everyone that I know, you're going to have exposure. And maybe you'll even have some time on Seeking Wisdom.

Dave: Maybe, we'll see. Don't push it, man.

DC: You got to get through DG.

Dave: No, I love it. I don't think you gave enough weight to the... You're using the core MBA skills, the operational stuff. I think, I know you and I know the test is going to be, use the core operational stuff but show you can put in the work and do the grind. And you're not having somebody answer your emails because you want to see, can you roll up your sleeves and be in crosstalk?

DC: And get it done, yeah. Listen, first thing, listen to our carry the water episode, super important. And you should not think about this opportunity if one, you're concerned with getting paid as an MBA. This is an apprenticeship, you're going to get paid and you get paid comfortably, but if you're afraid to roll up your sleeves and get dirty and like Dave said, clean the sink if the sink has to be cleaned. You're afraid to carry the water. And if you're concerned with nine to five, work- life balance whatever, this ain't the place for you. And if you think that people should care about your past experience, or your degrees and that should earn you a spot, then you're wrong and probably this is the wrong place for you. But I think it's going to be a tremendous opportunity. I hope someone, I hope lots of people reach out, and I hope we find a superstar through Seeking Wisdom.

Dave: I love it. I think it's a great idea. You keep coming up with PR ideas left and right. Okay wait, I want to ask a serious question.

DC: No more advertising.

Dave: No, I love it. What are we going to do? Are we going to post this somewhere?

DC: Yeah, we're going to post it somewhere. So in the show notes of this episode, I'll have a link that you can go to and you can post it with all the stuff written up that we mentioned, and more. And then, if we do end up hiring someone from the Seeking Wisdom crowd, we'll tell you about it in a future episode.

Dave: Damn, and I love it. And get on a future episode and say, well, we got to tell... That will be the Seeking Wisdom, is telling the story about how they heard it, applied.

DC: I love it, bro.

Dave: What do you want this to change? Are you going into this thinking it's going to change your perspective? Or are you trying to do something different?

DC: Yeah, I'm trying to... I don't know if I'm trying to change my perspective. I'm trying to give someone an opportunity. So one of the things that I love the most is, because lots of people have given me, an endless list of people throughout my life have given me a hand up, and have given me an opportunity. And one thing that I love is finding those hidden gems and finding those people who need someone to help them, even a little bit, so that they can get going. So I want to do that, I want to try to help someone. And I hear we don't have an operating role for a fresh MBA grad at Drift. But I get so many people who contact me, who is that type of person. And so here, this is a way to offer someone like that an opportunity.

Dave: And we can use the help.

DC: That's right.

Dave: No doubt. All right, that'll wrap it up for this Episode. So we talked about why great products don't always win. And we talked about, if you're an MBA locally here in Boston, Cambridge, this could be your opportunity to come spend a year here, work directly for DC, and be Drifts very first operator in residence.

DC: All right. Booyah.


If you liked this episode, we bet that you’ll love our blog content. blog.drift.com/#subscribe Subscribe to never miss a post & join the 20,000+ other pros committed to getting better every day. --- Why great products don't always win, plus David is hiring an MBA to work with him at Drift. Show Notes: Great products don't always win. Time and time again this proves to be true (by great we mean products that are technically superior, have the best design, etc.) Dave gets David to dig into his 20 years in SaaS to talk about why this happens and what engineers and designers can do about it. We also have some news: David's looking to hire an MBA to work directly for him on our team at Drift to be an "Operator in Residence." You read that right - the same guy that once wrote a blog post titled: "Should Entrepreneurs Get an MBA? Hell No." Here's the link to Operator in Residence role at Drift: http://bit.ly/Drift-OIR Catch all of the previous episodes of Seeking Wisdom: seekingwisdom.io or just search for "Seeking Wisdom" in your favorite podcast app. Follow David (twitter.com/dcancel) and Dave (twitter.com/davegerhardt) on Twitter.