Former Tinder CPO Brian Norgard: Why Products Fail on The Twenty Minute VC

Check out The Twenty Minute VC Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • The top reasons why a product fails:
    • It’s too complicated – simplicity is king
    • It doesn’t spread by word-of-mouth
    • It doesn’t take advantage of the power of iteration
    • The founder is too fearful of creating something novel
    • It’s not launched into a community
  • Worship your early adopters
    • “They are everything. They’ll take you to the highest of highs, they’ll show you the way, and they’ll help explain the product to friends. They’ll do your work for you, but you have to go and find those people.” – Brian Norgard
  • Your product has to stand for something. If you don’t know what that is, your customer certainly won’t know what that is either.
    • When you put your product into the market and take a stance – hold that line
  • “One of the things you learn about developing products is that if your aim is to make all your users happy, you will fail – Brian Norgard

Books Mentioned

Intro

  • Brian Norgard is the Former Chief Product Officer at the top-grossing mobile app in the world, Tinder
    • Before Tinder, Brian founded Tappy, a mobile messaging application backed by Kleiner Perkins and acquired by Tinder
    • Before that, Brian built one of the fastest-growing Facebook applications in history (Chill) which reached over 30MM people
    • If that wasn’t enough, Brian is also a prolific angel investor with investments in Tesla, SpaceX, AngelList, and Coinmine

How Brian Made His Way Into the World of Startups

  • Out of college, Brian partnered with the brilliant technologist, Dan Gould, and began to dedicate his life to building great products
    • Their first venture? – Starting a company that was sold to Fox Interactive Media in 2006 (when Brian was only 25)
  • Brian ended up meeting the founder of Tinder, Sean Rad, while he was still in college and greatly admired his entrepreneurial skills
    • In a strange course of events, Sean ended up buying Brian’s company, Tappy, which led to him becoming Tinder’s Chief Product Officer

The Art of Building Product

  • Jeff Morris Jr. has said in the past – “I apply an investor’s mindset to every product decision I make”
    • Brian thinks about things a bit differently – “I don’t necessarily bring my investor hat when I’m building a product. For me, product is a very personal experience; it’s more art than science.” 
  • “When I sit down to think about a product, the center of it is the user. The center of the experience is the promise to the customer. I think a lot about how to deliver that promise in the simplest way possible.” – Brian Norgard
    • “When I think about the customer, when I think about the promise to the customer and all the tools we have to deliver that… it’s almost a Zen-like experience.”
  • “My first love, and potentially my only true love, is product” – Brian Norgard

Does the market impact the products Brian builds?

  • “I’m usually thinking about the customer so aggressively and the promise to the customer so aggressively that the ups and downs of the market cycle don’t affect me as much” – Brian Norgard
  • “In general, the sinusoidal wave of the market has never impacted what I’ve built”- Brian Norgard
    • If you think about the problem & solution, product design, and everything else that rolls itself into a beautiful product – the market works itself out

The Top Reasons Why Products Fail (Part I)

  • 1) “The number one reason why products fail is because they’re too complicated” – Brian Norgard
    • Consumers are BUSY and have routines – being able to wedge a product into their lives in a simplistic fashion is incredibly hard to do
    • “Anytime you present a customer with any complexity, it’s going to hurt you, and you’re going to see attrition” – Brian Norgard
  • 2) It’s not word-of-mouth worthy
    • “What you tell a customer your product does is not interesting; it’s not relevant. What’s relevant is what someone who uses your product tells another person. How do they explain it?” – Brian Norgard
      • You want users spreading your product by word-of-mouth because they love it so much
      • “People are busy and inundated with all sorts of stimuli. For them to pay attention and then be able to tell your product story is really, really hard. But, that’s the magic.”
  • 3) It fails to take advantage of the power of iteration
    • First-time product builders often create something, ship it, and then wait to see if anyone cares about it
      • “They forget that the second you put a product into the market, the real power comes from iteration”
    • “The best products in the world are all children of this rapid iteration, this Zealot-like testing framework… trying one thing, trying another thing, a new interface, a new button, running all these tests in the background.” – Brian Norgard

Hold the Line

  • “Your product has to stand for something. If you don’t know what that is, your customer certainly won’t know what that is either.” Brian Norgard
    • When you put your product into the market and take a stance – hold that line
  • When it comes to product, simplicity is king
    • Take Tinder as an example – all there is is a profile photo with a binary decision
  • When people don’t hold the line, or they make something that’s too complicated with too many features – it’s like a Swiss Army knife
    • With this, it becomes much harder for users to explain the product to others
  • “Utter simplicity and holding that line, being able to stand for something really important, is the key to getting something right, and it’s incredibly hard to do, but when you get it… watch out.”- Brian Norgard

On Forcing New User Behaviors

  • “I fundamentally do not believe in ‘new behaviors'” – Brian Norgard
    • Humans have been around for 200k years and are wired a certain way – there are no”new behaviors”
    • That being said, you can unlock certain behaviors with technology
  • “One of the things I’ve made a ton of mistakes doing is trying to create new behaviors; it’s just so hard. It’s much better to find existing behaviors and extend and amplify them.” Brian Norgard

The Top Reasons Why Products Fail (Part II)

  • 4) Fear
    • Many founders are consumed by fear related to what consumers will think
    • “It takes a TREMENDOUS amount of courage to launch something different, new, and inspiring” – Brian Norgard
      • Like Snapchat
    • “Founders have to focus on being both empathetic and having the innate ability to understand risk, and being able to calculate when to use it and when not to” – Brian Norgard
  • 5) A failure to launch into a community
    • With the internet, there are millions of micro-communities, and because of this, there’s an early adopter for everything
    • “When I think about launching into a community, I think about a product that means something, that stands for something, and is put in the hands of the people that appreciate it most. You should worship your early adopters. They are everything. They’ll take you to the highest of highs, they’ll show you the way, and they’ll help explain the product to friends. They’ll do your work for you, but you have to go and find those people.” – Brian Norgard

How do you know when to pivot?

  • “This is the art of product – having the ability to understand when to pivot off a certain feature, how to pivot off a certain emotion, when something is working, and when something is not working. The more repetition and the more you’ve seen, the better you get at understanding how to address these questions.”– Brian Norgard
    • That being said – when you hold the line and believe in something bigger than just a feature, these questions tend to work themselves out

Try to Please Everyone, Please No One

  • “One of the things you learn about developing products is that if your aim is to make all your users happy, you will fail” – Brian Norgard

The Root of Great Products

  • People want things that improve their lives – How do you improve their lives?
    • You save them time
    • You delight them
    • You give them something they didn’t think was possible (or show them a path they weren’t previously aware of)
  • All great products do 3 things:
    • Solve a customer problem
    • Hold the line and continue to maintain their promise to the customer
    • DELIVER – “So few companies actually deliver”
  • Many of the best products are developed because the founder needed it him/herself, and thus – they know the user base inside and out

On Risk

  • Creature a company culture that encourages people to try new things with regards to creating product
    • Most people don’t take certain risks out of fear – they’re fearful of messing up, or afraid of a colleague’s reaction, etc.
    • Remove fear and put calculated risk-taking at the core of the culture

And remember…

  • You HAVE to stop and smell the roses 
    • Enjoy the small successes on your journey

Rapid Fire Questions

  • Brian’s favorite book?
  • What advice does Brian commonly hear that he disagrees with?
    • “I think all prescriptive advice is wrong. Advice is something that you have to learn how to absorb. It’s completely contextual… One of the most important things you could do for your career is to learn how to decode advice.”
    • With the advice you’re given:
      • Understand who’s giving it
      • Understand the reason why they’re giving it
      • Understand the perspective from which they’re giving the advice
  • Who does Brian go to for advice?
    • Naval Ravikant
      • “He has a way of taking very complicated things and simplifying them down”
  • What categories of innovation are left for entrepreneurs to explore in mobile?
    • Mobile’s relatively saturated, but there’s ALWAYS room for new, excellent products
    • “This whole wave of crypto that’s coming is going to change the game”
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