I’ve been spending a lot of time as of late trying to determine patterns within successful products that I’ve seen, and I think I’ve finally found one that summarizes each of them pretty well. It’s quite simple, but I think there’s a lot of nuance to be developed here that would set this up to be a sophisticated theory. In this blog post, I want to lay down the fundamentals on how each new successful product brings the world towards convenience.
The baseline thesis for this is actually quite an obvious statement: every successful product/invention made the world just a little bit easier. No one should make products to enforce the status quo — and especially not to make things worse — and yet, there is a difference between having things be somewhat better versus fully better. In order to truly be successful, products must develop ease of access on all fronts, i.e. they must be convenient for the users, and the producers, and anyone who would be interacting with it on a daily occasion. For example, Uber has two main consumers: the actual users/riders, and the producers/drivers. In order for Uber to have been a successful product, it had to improve convenience for the user by making the ride ordering process easy, as well as improve it for the producer by making the ability to connect to new riders easily. If you only get one part of this equation right, then there’s going to be problems later down the line; especially if someone else ends up perfecting the equation before you.
So, in order to get the tech right and nail down the convenience factor, optimally two things need to happen: the tech needs to be mature, and it needs to be handled by people inside and out. Optimally, you would want a good team to come in just right before the tech is mature enough to get the largest amount of market share, but timing this can be quite difficult. “Maturity” is also a pretty esoteric concept that would have different definitions for each type of tech, though I believe it could be simply summarized as the point where the positives deeply outweight the negatives. For example, I would say VR tech hasn’t reached the point of maturity; there’s still a lot of problems with price point, mobility, and long-term use that need to be solved in order for it to start breaking through to a larger market. Smartphones, however, would be considered a mature technology, since it has gotten to the point where you can easily say that smartphones are on almost all fronts more convenient than the flip phones and landlines of yore. This follows as to why the team behind the product is so important; they were the early adopters and would know exactly what the tech needs in order for it to be successfully maturized. Tech can only be convenient when it is mature.
I also think that developing additions to already mature tech is silly. A new camera on a phone isn’t going to get me enough of a convenience factor to justify buying it over the phone I’m already using. In order to make big leaps in profit, you have to make big leaps in innovation (and hence, big leaps in convenience), otherwise you’re essentially fighting over the scraps.
I also don’t think the profit model has to necessarily be connected to the tech. Google is a great example of this; their convenience factor is obviously Search, allowing the access to the internet to be more convenient by making its pages easy to access. But Google doesn’t make money on Search; they make money on Search Ads, which really isn’t that much bigger of a leap. Same thing can be said with Facebook; selling data doesn’t provide an insane convenience factor, but allowing for an easier way for people across the world to communicate and share with each other is.
Speaking of selling data, there’s also a lot of problems that come alongside developing towards convenience, things such as privacy and socialization. I believe that these problems will likely be solved by convenience tech down the line (for example, a maturized blockchain could be an answer to the data problem) but I also think we need to be careful not to step back and lose convenience by trying to solve these problems; the only way to get people to pay attention is by moving forward, not moving back.
Since I personally believe a lot of what I’m saying is pretty esoteric without concrete examples, I wanted to add an appendix to this post that goes over some of the biggest companies in the world as of now and why they would suit this hypothesis.
- Apple: Building maturity on products to increase convenience factor is pretty much in Apple’s DNA, whether it be from PARC -> Apple II or early models of smart phones -> iPhone.
- Soylent: Making meals more convenient. I would say Soylent is not mature yet, simply because the shakes themselves are lacking in a key concept: flavor. If I want to fully switch over to liquid meals, those liquid meals better taste good.
- Tesla: Making electric cars more convenient than gas cars. There’s still a couple of problems I have with this however; I don’t think the team is right, and I also don’t think that the jump from gas -> electric is a major innovation in terms of cars (a major innovation in convenience would probably be closer to self-driving, which to be fair Tesla is also working on). Electric charger stations are also going to be a maturity issue.
- Ebay: Making the C2C marketplace more convenient.
- Amazon: Making the B2C marketplace more convenient. You could also give Amazon Marketplace credit for C2C, but I don’t think this counts; one of the major reasons AM is so big is probably more due to the size of Amazon itself.
- Netflix: Making TV more convenient.
- Spotify: Making music more convenient. Good to note that Apple was the previous company to make music more convenient with the invention of iTunes, but Spotify’s streaming capabilities was great enough to innovate the tech to the next level of convenience.
- Nike: I think Nike is a bit more of a targeted case for convenience; it didn’t make everyone’s life more convenient, just that of the runner. From there, others followed. Proves that it’s still worth it to have a niche!
- Walmart: Making grab-n-go shopping more convenient by having everything you’d want at the lowest possible price.
- Coca-Cola: This one was a hard one for me to figure out, primarily because Coca-Cola was invented to long ago that it’s harder to tell how things were before it. However, I think Coke’s main strength was that it made beverages more convenient by adding multiple different features of beverages (caffeinated, carbonated, refreshing, tastes good) into one single product. I’m not sure if I’m entirely satisfied with that answer, however. It could’ve also simply been the carbonation factor, which would have pulled it ahead of something like tea (which has all of the other 3 traits).
- McDonalds: Making food more convenient. Does this mean that McDonalds is in direct competition with Soylent? 🤔
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