Friday, October 16, 2009

How many people does it take?

There's an industry parable that I often quote:

A VC in training asks "How many people does it take to write great software?"

The sage CEO responds "two, one to write the code, and the other to shoot the programmer when it's done".

I've been actively working with an entrepreneur towards seed funding his new venture. He's been actively speaking with potential employees, business partners, and surveying the target demographic. We get great feedback, and incredible ideas which keeps expanding the product requirement list. And that's the good and bad news. Without his active pruning of the product branches, the Product Requirement Document surely would've collapsed long ago.

This set me to thinking about the product experience we see as consumers, or as professionals. Too often I have been involved with or seen products/sites that are beautiful, yet with so many irrelevant features which burnt precious capital, time, and focus. In many ways and markets, the great progress in LAMP tools and vast open source resources, the art of product management seems to have overtaken the impact of the science of architecture/programming in determining success.

For grounding, I try to hearken back to simple principles such as Google's home page, devoid of everything but its search box. Why? Because the site is all about speed...get the visitor off to their destination ASAP. Management product folk determined that it's to sacrifice near term revenue to optimize the #1 distinguishing site feature, speed. For long, this was a contrarian approach scoffed at my industry sages.

It's not only search. Look at the comparison of three large players in the dating vertical below:

The UI for Plenty of Fish is enough to give any respectable UI designer angina; but it works fabulously well.

How about the mother of simplicity; Craigslist? In many ways, you have to admire a self-professed 'geek' like Craig Newmark, who has consistently rejected 'cool' in favor of effective navigation. Check out the graph comparing traffic on Craigslist, Ebay and Amazon.

The Wii, with it's pedestrian avatars and antiquated graphics slaughtered Sony and MSFT in this generation's console battle. The essence of a site's success may be 'cool', but it's not a prerequisite for success.

You can't judge a book by it's cover.

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