Today I’m going to quickly deep-dive on something that’s always fascinated me…
Specifically, I’m going to focus on why some of the most notable success stories in entrepreneurship at large directly contradict the age-old ‘better mousetrap’ philosophy… by succeeding wildly in spite of their average, ho-hum products.
And no, I’m not just talking about the obvious factors like smart marketing tactics, optimizing conversions, etc. Even if we assume that these companies had unlimited funding & marketing prowess – it still becomes painfully obvious how little the product itself actually matters… at least under certain circumstances.
In fact, I think this is the most critical piece of business building that most people tend to miss.
So if you aspire to go beyond the hobby level – here’s my take on what the most critical puzzle-piece in that process actually is.
Let’s dig in…
Does ‘Good Product’ Matter?
It’s obviously true that brands like Apple, Porsche, Dom Perignon and Rolex are only successful because they each sell fundamentally great products. That is the core of their business model.
It goes without saying that the vast majority of people would be thrilled to own any product released by the aforementioned, and I’m not going to argue that – conventionally speaking – good product doesn’t matter. It usually does.
Instead, I’m going to argue that what people actually buy vs. what they actually receive are often two different things.
And while it’s true that someone who buys a Porsche might actually be buying status, when what they actually receive is a rear-engine, 6-cylinder sports car that needs $500 oil changes… my argument doesn’t center around the “steak vs. sizzle” approach to offer-framing, either.
No, instead – my argument is that some of the most successful brands in recent history have purposely & proudly offered mediocre products. And their customers happily spend money with these brands with the full understanding that their products aren’t stellar.
But that’s because the products themselves are secondary to the actual unit of value…
All Aboard the Lazy Train
What started out as a corny Youtube video quickly became one of the most successful startups of the decade: Dollar Shave Club.
They were recently purchased for $1 BILLION (in cash), by multinational consumer-goods conglomerate, Unilever.
This is a company that specifically marketed simple, mediocre razors that the average dude knew full well was all he really needed. They did this with shoestring video production and a super basic membership model.
And – here’s the crucial bit – Dollar Shave Club wasn’t really offering razors. What it was really selling was the ability to automate an ongoing process for the customer. Instead of John Q. Shaver driving to the grocery store every damn week to buy some needlessly fancy razors (at a 1200% markup), he could instead simply receive slightly shittier razors in the mail, for a fair bit less.
This isn’t a money savings, really. This is about identifying an action in your life that’s annoying (shaving with dull blades and then having to spend an hour going down to the store to get new ones), and replacing it with a convenient process that runs on autopilot.
DSC truly succeeded because their product was mediocre in comparison to the “market leaders”. And that’s because they were competing against the big boys with a better model… not a better product.
Read that last sentence again.
The Unsurprising Success of Surprises
My wife loves surprises. (Good ones).
As a result, I wasn’t surprised when she signed up for one of those “monthly box” offers – specifically, the pet treat box (BarkBox).
And up until our beloved dog Charlee ascended the rainbow bridge, we always looked forward to each new month’s shipment of funny treats, hilarious chew toys (on theme with the nearest holiday), and various other endearing crap that we knew full well was produced for pennies in some bleak Chinese factory.
Every month, there was also something unexpected – at least one “mystery item” with each shipment. And this element of surprise was the actual product. Not the contents of the box, but rather the fact that we didn’t know what the box would contain.
Make no mistake – this is all low quality crap. But it’s fun crap – because you don’t know what kind of crap you’ll get next. (Yay!)
As a result, brands like Fab Fit Fun, BarkBox, Nature Box and the plethora of other “monthly surprise” clubs out there have achieved astonishing levels of success.
Because apparently it’s fun to get mystery crap.
The takeaway? If what you’re actually selling is “fun” in a box – quality doesn’t matter.
The only thing that matters is keeping your customers amused long enough for your average retention rate to produce an LTV that exceeds your CAC.
In essence, that’s all it takes to turn a box full of cheap knick-knacks (that would probably flop with conventional ecommerce) into a 9 figure behemoth.
It’s just a matter of math & modelling.
Your $5,000 Espresso Machine Can Go Puck Itself
I love great coffee.
Where we live on Canada’s West Coast, you can be assured of death, taxes & rain. LOTS of rain.
As such, this makes for a thriving cafe culture, and our little city of Victoria is no exception. With one of the highest concentrations of coffee shops in the country, per capita, all the residents here have become quite the coffee snobs, myself included.
In fact, BigPixure’s downtown office (my software startup) literally has FOUR local artisan coffee shops & roasteries within a 200 meter radius – no exaggeration. This was a large part of why I snapped the lease up on the spot a while back.
Now – as much as I love my “office arrival routine” of getting a freshly roasted, organic coffee grown on some remote Peruvian cliffside with a bunch of majestic llamas running around – know what I love even more?
Someone else making it all for me. Or alternatively, something else.
For this reason, when I’m not downtown, the only coffee machine I’ll ever have in our house is a Keurig. (“Keurig” is to coffee snobs what bacon is to a vegan).
Why the hypocrisy?
Well, it wasn’t always this way. I’ve tried owning fancy espresso machines, various grinders, and a few other higher-end alternatives to the infamous Puck Machine. But at the end of the day, the process of making a good coffee (on my own) is simply too arduous.
I hate the 2-step (grind & roast), I hate washing out all the various parts after each use, and in general I just hate the process of it all.
When I’m at home, it makes me so happy to stick an overpriced puck of condensed coffee powder into a soulless robot and watch it dispense a perfectly measured stream of mediocre coffee into my unwashed “World’s Greatest Dad” cup.
In fact, I even bring the damn thing with us on road trips. It’s my guilty pleasure – the proverbial “Nickelback” of coffee.
Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so – consumer goods conglomerate ‘JAB’ is also quite the fan. They recently acquired Keurig for 13.9 BILLION.
That’s a lot to pay for a “sub-premium” coffee brand… but my guess is the bean counters (pun intended) are a lot more focused on the intuitive, widely-popular distribution platform that the Keurig actually offers than they are about the quality of its end-product.
And they’re obviously pretty confident that the world’s laziest solution for making a perfectly mediocre coffee will only continue absorbing the home brew marketshare like a black hole.
Not because it makes the best coffee.
Instead, they took a $13.9B gamble on the Keurig because they realize that it’s the best WAY to make a coffee.
(There’s a big difference.)
My Favourite Service is Literally Redundant And Probably Useless
Lastly, let me tell you about my longest-ever monthly expense that I’m sure is probably unnecessary, and I’m also sure there’s a plethora of free alternatives out there that I could use instead.
And I don’t even care, because I already set it up years ago and I have no plans on unsetting it up.
It’s a redundancy cloud backup service called Mover.
I pay something like $12/mo, for it to do the following every night:
– It copies all of my Dropbox files/folders to my G Drive, and
– It copies all of my G Drive files/folders to MS OneDrive
And that’s it.
This, in addition to my local external backups (which are also passively cycled), means that my entire digital life is backed up on FOUR locations at any given time: Dropbox, G Drive, OneDrive, my external drives, and each of my actual computers.
Yes, I know that I could just do this myself every so often. And yes, I know that tons of people reading this probably use free alternatives that do the same thing. And finally – yes, I know that the odds of one of the major cloud providers ever “going down” or my files becoming unretrievable from them is remote to the point of obscurity. (Especially considering that I also have local backups)
But the benefits that this possibly completely useless “service” are actually great!
No matter what device I’m using, and depending on which app works best with a given device – I’m only a click or a tap away from my entire digital life. Which is nice.
And aside from the convenience, it’s basically a digital insurance policy. I love it.
In contrast, I pay LESS per month for Adobe’s impressive Creative Cloud Suite (including Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.). If push came to shove… I would totally pick Mover over Adobe.
Re-stated: A scripted process that I could probably build on Upwork for a grand has more intrinsic value to me than the world’s leading software suite for design professionals.
(What does that tell you about the dollar value of automatic convenience?)
You Just Need a Great Model
So how important is a good product, in the end?
Hopefully at this point, you can see that the question is too narrow. The better question is as follows:
Is your actual product a deliverable? Or is your actual product a benefit involving a deliverable?
There’s nothing wrong with a business where your product is the deliverable. Lots of millionaires & billionaires have hitched their ride to the “top” on the back of a great, quality deliverable.
But the truth is – it’s not necessary. And I’d even argue that for lean, self-funded startups… the absolute best product to be selling is convenience.
So, what does that look like, in your industry? And is there room for a “convenience spinoff” with your current business?
Really give this some thought.
By only focusing on “selling the best ___________”, you could be totally missing out on a substantially better and easier roadmap to stratospheric growth – simply by pivoting to a lower-effort model of convenience.
Anyway… I think that’s it for this one folks.
Time for a mediocre, push-button coffee 🙂
P.S. Wanna see me try & come up with some “convenience product ideas” in my next blog post?
If so – let me know in the comments.
Thank you Chris for this blog post.
Most often than not, we found that we have a lot of resistance coming from upper management who don’t want to risk using a new, more convenient (to both company and customer), less hassle, yet maybe higher cost model. And they would argue that “new model may not work, but good product did”.
What do you think about it?
“They” have a valid point, but in a way it’s also sort of an unrealized loss, potentially.
It’s risky to pivot a functional business, for sure. But I’d argue that it’s smart to run spinoff experiments & pilots to test a model in the wild.
Or at least augment parts of a model into the sales channel as a test.
If Gillette had offered a spinoff monthly restock option (that made sense) before DSC hit the scene – it could’ve built a moat around the brand.
Instead, they’re now playing catchup and trying to reclaim lost marketshare.
Great post, as always! I would love to see you work on an idea in real time.
Always love your semi annual posts mate! Great insight
Sure I’m game to see ideas… sounds like fun. Thanks for the article it has me thinking….
Great article, Chris. Has me re-thinking about an offer I was NOT going to make.
I would definitely love to see you come up with some product ideas.
I have a strong desire to know what some candidate “convenience product ideas” are, without the annoying need to research the subject.
Not expending any funds has a great deal of appeal as well.
While you are toiling in the fields filling this void in my, otherwise marginal life; I’ll crank up my Keurig for a very excellent coffee (I’m a bit of a cheat, I blend my own).
Other than this; once again you exceed expectations.
Thanks Frank! Glad I could help fill the void 😉
Yes absolutely Chris. Would love to see you come up with some great ideas in the next post.
Yes sir, let’s hear your convenience product ideas. I need some inspiration.
Great article (as always) Chris! Hope life’s great over on the island!
Thanks Tavis! Rainy, but otherwise great.
Thanks for the great article Chris. And then the dollar beard club mirrored the dollar shave club to great success!
I am in that dilemma right now.
I wanted to get into the health supplements biz but so far the available products (from fulfillment brokers) are mediocre. Very frustrating because creating my own custom products is a much tougher and more expensive way to go. I don’t see a way to sell mediocre health supplements to people – and still feel good about myself! It is not that convenience would not work, but it is a market for helping people regain or maintain their health so quality really matters.
Agree Rick – by definition this model can’t apply to every product range. For example, I hope Air Canada doesn’t source its aircraft supplies from DollarPlaneParts.com – so it has its limits.
It’s more about identifying the types of product ranges where the ‘convenience model’ can fit, and then either running that as a spinoff, a funnel feeder, something on the backend of a quality product, etc.
I just came back to over 100 emails, some important (to me) ones too. However, as soon as I saw your name, that’s the one I opened first. As always, infrequent but insightful Chris. As a copywriter I’m often surprised by what pure genius some companies/people come up with as an ‘edge’. So some examples would be very welcome please. Do we really have to wait another six or so months to get them though?
Thanks Tony! Really appreciate it. Just for you, I’ll get the next post out in 4 months. Ish. 😉
Hey Chris, it’s been a long time – great to see you at still at large. Speaking of pucking one’s self, I just made superautopro.com (not a plug, just coincidence). A R. Branson quote that has stuck with me for a long time goes something like: “If you can make someone’s life more convenient, you’ve got a business.” It is really so stupidly simple. So, let’s see what you have!
Ha! Awesome. Nice looking site.
Fun and insightful as always Chris!
Yes, let’s see what your westcoast brain comes up with.
Dave in White Rock
Well, now the pressure’s on 🙂
Intriguing and insightful. Would definitely like to see a follow up post.
Yes that’d be very cool to come up with some ideas.
Convenience at rip off prices is a proven business model for sure … 7 Eleven, Circle K, etc.
I do think though … not all services can fit this model when quality of the work is paramount. But I get it, this is a great way to go for mass products.
Look forward to seeing your ideas.
Agreed Mark, if the model itself is quality (eg. consulting, healthcare, etc.) then obviously the deliverable is the product.
I’ll try to clarify on this a bit more in the next post
Very insightful and “timely” post, Chris! (btw, I love your writing style)
Im launching my SaaS in the very crowded (and getting worse) niche of reputation marketing, but its USP is the “convenience” angle. So this article was very encouraging to me… just what I needed to hear to power through these inevitable mental struggles of the last mile.
Thanks for you thoughts… keep ’em coming.
Right on! Crowded space – yeah, sorta. Also a market that’s increasingly growing in size.
Loved the post Chris! I enjoy your wit, humor, and as always insightful views into business!
Excellent post, Chris! And, YES, I do want to see you come up with some ‘convenience product ideas’ in your next blog post…
I think I have a great idea for a product that has two main benefits. What I am trying to decide is which of the two would be the one consumer thinks is best so I could emphasize that benefit as the key one. Is there somewhere online you can go to get feedback from prospective customers on this?
Forums / subreddits are pretty receptive usually. As long as you’re not dropping a link or self-promoting, a blind market survey can be really helpful and folks are generally willing to help.
Or, you could run a Google Survey. Cheap, easy and a great way to get market fedback on your idea. https://www.google.com/analytics/surveys/
Well ….. stone the crows !….& …. starve the lizards ! … Chris. Rempel , after all these ‘ years ‘.
I’m glad I stopped the hand that hovered over the Delete Button, so I was able to read & enjoy your refreshing content … Indeed ! … behind the tiller hand, is the breeze in the sail …. aah … convenience !
Diary Note : Me … come back here this year …
Cheers from Aus. mate.
Thanks Doug! Appreciate it mate. I’ll try to have the next one out before 2018, lol.
Nice one Chris, glad to see you’re still around. +1 for some examples, especially digital ones. Those you covered were all offline products where it is obvious how to make stuff more convenient to people. But buying digital products/services is already convenient, so how to stand out there? Like, for example, selling a backlink service?
Actually a lot of room for this model on the digital side. I’ll definitely cover some examples in the next post.
Thank you for an excellent Post! Like usual worth a number of rereads with a great cup of coffee and much meditation on the porch. And then action.
Looking forward to your next post!
Great to hear from you again, very inspiring post. Here is another vote for “convenience product ideas”
The first day of spring is in 2 days. I’m lobbying for the next post to happen before the first day of summer:)
Very ambitious! 🙂
Might be a few days into summer
Thought provoking as usual.
While I was reading, I was trying to translate to my MBA-brain. Something like, most people forget there are 4 Ps (product, price, promotion, and place), and focus on only 2–product and price. We think all we can do is make a better product or lower the price.
In fact, distribution (place) is a valid business model that almost no one thinks about.
I don’t know think that’s a fair restatement of your case. It’s certainly not as fun as the way you put it. I do remember the first example that I heard of a product competing on place. It was Leggs Eggs panty hose, distributed in the pharmacy in a big stand. Much more–wait for it–convenient (there it is).
Maybe the fourth P should really be convenience…
Nice catch, mate. I liked the article and insight a lot.
Chris. Is John’s Place still open? I think it was on Pandora. We used to spend hours there quaffing cappuccinos.
Still there! Best bennies in town. We go occasionally, but on the weekends it’s an hour wait (and parking sucks on Pandora now with the new bike lanes)
Yes, finally someone has said it! I realize that quality products and service are wonderful, but you are right, convenience seems to be such a foreign concept in so many marketing blogs. In fact, you are the first person I have seen that has said it in such a concise and smart way. I would love to hear some of your “convenience product ideas.” Thanks for a great post!
Thanks Susan! I think often its easy for marketers (myself included) to sort of just assume that “the rules” always apply in every situation.
But, like most things in business, the evidence is mixed 🙂
The global vibrator market is growing and stock values increasing. It’d be a good time to come up with a less expensive version or one that doesn’t require batteries or a monthly club of new designs and styles, eh?
Not a market I’m overly familiar with 😉
Would love to see you “noodle” on this concept and develop some convenience ideas. Don’t be such a stranger. 🙂