Why it is Hard to Please Normals

September 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

A friend and adviser recently shared with me a great way he looks at consumer products.  He classifies his potential audience into two buckets – Early Adopters and Normals.  The Early Adopters label he borrows from Crossing the Chasm (which I highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it).  So I wanted to focus on the Normals group.

What is a Normal?

Simply defined, Normals are people who do not know (or care) what an API is.

Another test…if you find software interesting, then you are not a Normal.

How do you please Normals?

Normals just want cool/interesting/thought-provoking products that are simple and give payback in under 5 seconds with little/no work on their part.  To break through the daily clutter, a product has to also have a wow factor, while providing the utility.  All with no work to achieve this wow.

An example of a product feature that meets these criteria is the side swipe arrow to unlock an iPhone.  If you have an iPhone, you know what I mean.  It just feels cool every time you do it.  Blackberry has a similar code you have to type in to unlock the phone.  Blackberry just doesn’t have the side swipe feature to get to the code.  Blackberry is a utility.  iPhone is a great consumer product.  I think you know the rest of the Blackberry vs. iPhone story.

What is so hard about that?

Building great consumer products for Normals is very hard.  It is hard for many reasons, below are two:

1. The makers are typically not Normals, so they have to constantly divorce themselves from their daily routine.

  • When making a product, you have to get into the weeds.  Making good software is hard.  Things break if you don’t do them right.  I have sold late version software for very large companies, so I can say definitively that technology breaking is not only a start-up issue.  Different pieces have different limits.  Only by getting into the weeds can a product manager understand the limits when building the UX.  So the PM has to get into the weeds, but can’t stay there, however enticing it is.
  • When making a product, you spend every waking (and most dreaming) minute thinking about your product.  The result of this obsession is that you understand your product in a way no one else does.  Features that seem so obvious to you, often are not obvious to others.  Discovery isn’t as intuitive to others as it is to you.  This is a really, really big risk.

2. Normals don’t give good feedback while the product is being built.

  • Want an exercise in futility, show wire frames to a Normal.  Focus groups for unfinished products do not work in my opinion.  Normals need to see and play with finished products to understand it enough to give feedback.

How do you solve this problem?

  1. Build a lean, agile development process
  2. Get product out fast
  3. Set up a process to garner real-time feedback
  4. Iterate
  5. Repeat

This is the core component of the Lean Start-up approach, which is all the rage in VC circles now.  They used to call this process bootstrapping in my day (i.e. I graduated college in 1998).  Whatever you call it, staying small, keeping costs down, getting product out fast, actively seeking feedback and iterating is the best way to please Normals, i.e. people different than you Mr. Founder.

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