Building products is more than just problem solving!

A successful product does not just fill a hole. This is unarguable. A successful product does not become an integral part of people’s lives. A successful product transforms the lives, and the jobs, and the habits of customers, and moulds them around itself.

A successful entrepreneur doesn’t build a product to fill a hole, she envisions a transformation that can take place, and works to turn her customers into entirely new people, and entirely new companies, with new ways of working and living and being entertained.

This is the Netflix effect. PSA to the younger readers here. When Netflix first started, you had to have DVDs mailed out to you in an envelope, and you’d watch the DVD and mail it back, and wait for the next one in your queue.

That was filling a hole, and solving a problem. People no longer had to go out to Blockbuster and rent a bunch of movies, they could push a button, wait for a certain amount of time that would seem soul crushing today, and then be entertained.

If you had asked people what was wrong with that system, in an attempt to find a way to compete, they would probably have asked for lower fees, shorter delivery times, or a wider or narrower selection, depending on their tastes. They wouldn’t have said they needed to completely do away with the entire system and structure and model of the company – that’s not how consumers think.
Consumers look at what they have, find a crack, and ask for it to be filled.

Entrepreneurs who think the same way are able to build profitable companies, but they don’t build truly innovative ones.

Netflix are an innovative company. Their choice in moving to a streaming model wasn’t an attempt at solving that business model as if it was some kind of problem.
It was an attempt at transforming their customers, and letting them become a new breed of entertainment consumers…the chord cutters.

People who used Netflix as a way of life, who changed their social schedules and social interactions to accommodate it. You know how you can tell they were successful? The word Netflix has entered the modern lexicon and begun to mean “streaming” in the same way that Kleenex just means “tissue.” The product has transformed it’s customers so drastically that it’s even changed their language.

If you’re looking to create innovation, it is your job to envision who you want your customers to become, and then find a way to effect that change. If you want to create innovation, it is your job to be more than a glorified chop shop, hacking together solutions. You have to become a powerhouse of customer transformation.

Of course the idea that you have to solve problems isn’t totally wrong, and it’s not bad, and it’s not stupid. I think entrepreneurs have a tendency towards being completely revisionary…everything is innovation, until it’s not, and then it never was. Approaching entrepreneurship as a solver of problems is still valid, and it can still enable you to create successful startups.

But innovative companies aren’t built like that. Innovative companies aren’t built to fix things, they’re built to transform the people who initially wanted the fix into people who don’t even remember why they wanted it in the first place.


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