Incentives & Their Effects on Products

Netflix & PrimeVideo are so different from YouTube as products, driven into different directions based on their incentives. Here are a bunch of observations

  • Netflix and Prime know their content. Which powers features like X-ray in prime and the ability to skip intros and recaps in Netflix. Even subtitles and episodes lists are better supported in the apps. Added value for users. YouTube, on the other hand, knows very little about the content which can add value to the users. Which is why it is heavily dependent on a recommendation engine, which also takes the user from videos on 1 topic to another. Disconnected yet interesting dots
  • Netflix and Prime just focus on the current video, YouTube shows you other videos as soon as you start the video. Thus the screen space is used in different ways. Netflix and Prime have a volume slider, YouTube does not (and it is an irritation)
  • The focus on the content allows Prime and Netflix to reuse the content in different languages, YouTube does not have that benefit yet. AI/ML might solve the problem, but I am not sure dubbing of user-generated content will work
  • Organization of the home screen is also driven by their individual incentives. You come back to series for new episodes in Netflix and Prime, so they are placed higher, YouTube showcases its recommendation engine.
  • Because they don’t need to show ads, Netflix and Prime allow Picture in Picture on the iPad, and YouTube does not.
  • YouTube original content strategy is always at risk personally, free content and subscription content are diametrically opposite. More on that here:
  • UGC platforms like YouTube have the advantage of having content for everyone, but the big disadvantage is you need a constant stream of content, both to support creators and consumers, you can’t stop ingestion of new content. Which put a lot of strain on quality.

To end: Incentives always drive products and their features. Where you can, choose your incentives carefully.

Built with Empathy

empathy noun
The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

The Goal of Products
Products are at the end of the day tools which help users get the job done. The job might be helping a user get from point A to B (Uber), or watch content (Netflix) or express themselves with words (@medium). Each product might be doing a lot more in the background or foreground as most products do more than one thing. One of the goals of the product manager is to make sure that the user is happy and content when engaged with the product.
Getting to know the users, all the users
How do you know the user is happy? How do you know your solution is solving the core need of the user? You could ask the user, be the user yourself or start looking at data to give you insights. During any of those exercises, if you are not empathetic to the user, you may miss opportunities to improve the product.
When the user takes that extra few seconds to find the next button, or when the user exhibits confusion, or when the user is just not able to get the job done are all examples of places where you have an opportunity to improve your product. Asking questions and more importantly observing the users is critical for PMs. Also just asking or observing a few users won’t cut it, users behave differently and have different capabilities.
Products that have empathy
Google Search is my favorite product when it comes to showing empathy towards users. AutoSuggest & AutoCorrect are features driven to help the users. While they don’t directly help Google Search as a product, they help Google provide a better experience for the users, it reduces the effort required by the user to get their job done if they are slow at typing, for the ones fast on the keyboard, they help you get stuff down even faster with the keyboard.
Uber entire business is based on empathy, they want to make it easier and cheaper to get from point A to point B. If you don’t know where you are, they will make sure you are able to identify a point A, which also makes it easier to get their driver to get to you.
Sometimes the users will be blunt and let you know what you need to fix, or developers will make some fixes for you. Twitter Hashtags and thread creators were features built for Twitter by its users. Not all products can allow users to build something by themselves
How to be more empathetic?

  • Ignore all the biases against any users, it is not the user’s job to know how to use the product.
  • Ask why they did what they just did, especially when they did something you did not expect
  • Keep observing them, be aware of any difference in behavior from them
  • Observe as much as you can without saying anything. When we are with the products we make we inherently pitch our product, which we need to avoid. Record what you can, you can record the user & the screen. User interviews are also a great way of showcasing problems to the rest of the team.

Do you have any tips on being more empathetic?

6 Basic UX principles I self-learned as a Product Manager

I have been into products this entire decade, and with the quest to become a good product manager comes the quest to learn ancillary things. One such thing is the user experience. Great products almost always have great and simple user experiences. I have picked up some basic UX principles along my Product Management Journey, which I have listed below. A heads up before you read: Some of the things I mentioned may be actual UX principles somewhere with nice names, but I never came across them. What I am trying to do is basically list a few key principles which are based more on experience and common sense, which are many a time completely ignored.

1. Reduce Motion of limbs

I want you to try an exercise, stop using alt+tab to change the apps you are working with for a day, instead use your mouse and the taskbar every time. Over time you will find the process painful and slow. Now imagine if you had you use a virtual button which was 6 inches to the right of your screen and 6 inches higher than your screen to perform the same task? How many times in a day do you think you could move your hand in the air today to do that task?

Key reasons user interfaces like from the movie Minority Report won’t work, is because they need too much effort from users. Too much movement makes the user tired. Which is also one of the reasons I hated hamburger menus and loved bottom bars in mobile apps. The amount of movement my thumb has to do is greatly reduced with bottom bars. I also love the double tap on the home button on iOS to get the entire screen down. As such bottom bars are making a comeback and growing into bottom sheets

An extension of this is keeping a count of the number of clicks and taps needed to do anything. The lesser the better. As such the only time more clicks and taps work is when the repeated press of a button changed the function being performed. Car steering wheels, for example, have limited space, but pressing the same button makes performances different tasks, the same goes for microwave ovens were pushing the start button multiple times adds 30 seconds to the timer

2. Reduce the options, have workflows

Your App is not an open-ended RPG


Photo by Martin Reisch on Unsplashh

This I learned when I was working on an Admin dashboard. Admin dashboards usually have lots of features, but you need to make them workflows which don’t make the user think. When you are creating a Push notification you can do it in a single page with all the options open to the user, but that will just confuse the user. If some of the features are depended on another, using workflow can actually make it easier. Want to send a broadcast, don’t even show the segmentation option. Workflows also inherently reduce the number of clicks/taps needed. This also means you have to reduce the cognitive load on users, which is where having steps to do a process helps. MailChimp does this very well, so does Facebook Ads. If you love TypeForm, it is probably because it is making the form a workflow, it makes you worry only about one single question.

3. Respect Muscle memory

Missing Rear door handle?

If your product is not based on something brand new, users almost always know where buttons and things should be. Power buttons for monitors and TVs are almost always on the lower right side because people expect them there. Frankly, they may have been also put there assuming most people are right-handed and bottom location works for a person of any height. But now that is a defined behavior. While you can attempt to train people to change, it is hard. Have you tried driving a left-hand side driving car if you have been driving a right-hand drive car? Try it in a game it will be a struggle. Another place I recently came across was in an office where one of the conference room’s door was replaced with a sliding one, but everyone kept pushing it, the final solution was to put a sheet of paper which said “Slide ->” on it. Another instance I was lost was while trying to open the rear door of the Chevy Beat, the handle is hidden and at a place, you don’t expect a handle to be. Users don’t expect things to suddenly change unless you are reducing the workload of the users.

People will always design new things, but don’t blindly fall for them. Even if it is Apple or Google asking you to. What your user needs and what the owners of the platforms will always be different. It is your job to know the needs of the user and design an experience around it. Also, it is important to remember, no one will have all the right answers and design all the time, you need to find them.

Worse still is when people ignore great UX from (relatively) not so great companies

5. See how your users behave, run User Experience Tests

Humans are creatures of emotion, emotions which can make them lie, even unknowingly. When building PureMetrics, one of the early users was a friend and was always positive about the product, but he never used it. So one day I went to his office and asked him to use our dashboard in front of me, and just keep thinking aloud. First few minutes went off well, and then he said, he never scroll past this point, as he never understood many of the charts there. That statement was a heartbreaking eye opener. We were trying to solve one problem, but it had a whole different problem underneath.

Now you don’t need to do a user test for everything, you can copy from popular products around which are battle tested. The stories format for example, or a feed. Those experiences are well defined, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel

6. There is no such thing as “the right way”

Finding the right UX needs the understanding of the problem the user is facing and then understanding the user itself, rather understanding all types of users for your product. Alt+Tab, for example, is a keyboard shortcut, which powers users are familiar with, but many first time users and casual users of a computer, actually use their mouse and the dock, it fulfills their basic need. Many iPhone users probably click the home button to go back to the home screen to change their app. Good user experience needs to take all the types of users.

How do you find such UX patterns?

For a start, you could read a bunch of books on UX design and human physiology. Another mechanism to figure out such patterns is just questions why users behave in the way they do and question why things are designed in the way they do. Questioning the behavior and the design will do one of two things; either answer your question or give you an opportunity to improve upon something.

What are some of your favorite UX principles? Let me know on Twitter

Zooming in and Zooming out

I had recently heard a phrase, great leaders are good at zooming in and zooming out, it gave examples of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs.
While it didn’t strike me then, after a little while of thinking more about it, a few days, to be frank, it dawned on me, like many great sayings, there is a lot of depth in the phrase.
The oblivious one is that great leaders, pay attention, pay attention to the details, but also pay attention to the larger pieces, how those pieces fit into a larger story, why each piece matters, how the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Paying manically attention to detail on the small things. Paying attention to the small things can get operational, which might make one lose focus on the large goal
Zooming out gives one a larger picture, but it also gives a goal for leaders to rally the troops around. Another great thing it does is allow leaders to see the entire machinery of the organization turn in parts, which part moves the other, hopefully, find operational efficiencies to solve. But Zooming out is not easy, it requires a leader to understand the basics of each part of the business, zooming into the smaller parts. (Which is also one of the reasons great leaders tend to have a quote or anecdote on every aspect of running a business.)
The ability to zoom in and zoom out is also critical for Product Managers, talking to clients & leaders in an org requires the product manager to be in a zoomed out mode. It is the opposite when talking to the teams the PM works with, high-level goals leave massive gaps in execution plans, worse can cause confusion in what actually needs to be built. Product Managers need to be able to function both as a strategy: Mission – Vision level and also at a ticket and status level.
This is fact is also true for most managers, across functions. We unknowing set ourselves to zoom in and zoom out. Employees who always question why, question the status quo, are curious are in the early stages of being able to zoom in and zoom out.

The Product Death Cycle & Its Affect On A Startup

Life is tough for startups. Every day can be an existential crisis, every day can be a challenge to find your first set of customers or product market fit. In this search, Startups spend a lot of time thinking of the one feature which will differentiate them from competition, the feature which will make customers come in running to use their product. If you already have a few customers using your product and you notice growth stalling the most common solution startups think of is trying to find a new feature which you believe can be the catalyst for growth. Makes sense right? If people are not using your product you need to add a feature which will change that. So you ask your customers what they would like, and decide to build that in. Unfortunately, what this leads to the “Product Death Cycle”, something both Andrew Chen & David J Bland have documented. You should definitely give it a read to figure out the issue with product adoption & feature creep.
0_IM4EU55RompGiTOyIf you are early stage startup then you have more challenges:
Your sales team has to pitch multiple features now. If the new feature is orthogonal to the current set, then they are going to have a tough time trying to figure out which feature to prioritize for each prospect.
Your marketing team now has more keywords to push, more landing pages to manage, generally more work to do.
The same goes for your Customer Success & Support teams. The team now needs to work to up-sell to the current customer without more manpower, that means less success & support
As you need to write more code, you will inherently have more bugs, which will take away time from your dev team who now have to resolve those issues.
Product teams now have 2 backlogs to manage. Each feature will need more iterations
In short, it is going to push & stress each of your teams. Which will lead to friction, issues & arguments and finally, attrition.

In an attempt to chase everything, you may end up achieving nothing

Unless you have a lot of money in the bank which can help in hiring, you need to be careful when building new features, especially if they are totally orthogonal.
Also published ET Catalysts and Sudo vs Root
Photo credit: topgold via / CC BY