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Not Wanted (ninjasandrobots.com)
261 points by nate 1258 days ago | hide | past | web | 52 comments | favorite

This is essentially the point made in the book The Innovator's Dilemma about disrupting existing markets:

"Disruptive technologies or innovations are innovations that upset the existing “order of things” in a particular industry. The usual process is a lower-end innovation that appeals to customers who are not served by the current market. With time, because the capacity/performance of the innovation exceeds the market’s needs, the innovation comes to displace the market incumbents." [0]

[0] http://www.squeezedbooks.com/articles/the-innovators-dilemma...

I really recommend watching this video of the author, Clayton Christensen, talking about the same thing:


> ""...by competing against non-consumption, all they had to do was make a product that was better than nothing. And so when you have a new product, it's actually really important that the kind of customers you target, are people whose other option is nothing at all, and that way they'll be thrilled with a limited product."

would love to hear an example of this. what does he mean by non-consumption? he says "infinitely better than nothing" as being key to disrupting.

A much more "standard" example is the PC industry. When Intel started selling its microprocessors, their products were much slower than the high-end mainframe processors that the likes of DEC used to manufacture.

DEC weren't interested in the PC market because the margins were too small. They didn't think there was money to be made by selling cheap low-end computers to small businesses and homes. So these customers were "non-consumers" because there was nothing on the market they could afford. Intel (and a few other manufacturers) saw an opportunity there and exploited it.

The rapid growth in the PC market helped Intel make their processors faster and they were able to do this at a higher rate than DEC. At some point in the mid-90s, Intel's processors became almost as fast as the mainframes they were competing with but were much cheaper. DEC and friends were dead in the water.

The exact same thing seems to be happening with ARM and Intel but with roles reversed now!

CRM is a good example. In the past, only big companies could afford them. These days there are cheap and free alternatives anyone can afford. If there were no cheap alternatives the only alternative is non-consumption for many small businesses.

Even my own product, JotForm, is a good example. Web developers or professional designers don't need it. They can already create forms. People like teachers, secretaries, school administrators, event organizers who use jotform would have never considered online forms if there were no tools like jotform. The other alternative is non-consumption. (paper forms, manually collecting information)

That's a very good example. Nice design btw, I like how the tool is right in their face. (how did you create that GUI form like look?)

I wonder what it would be like to market JotForm to a web developer. I find that web developers automatically think I can do this in X amount of time why should I pay? It's already a tough sale I can see.

But, focusing on non-technical people, this would be a great alternative, much better than doing it manually or hiring some guy to create an elaborate web system.

You've illustrated it well, you just created the tool someone is looking for to get the job done where non-consumption is the only other choice.

many many upvotes at this entire thread, I feel that it's rewiring how I think about the product and the target.

"I wonder what it would be like to market JotForm to a web developer."

It would be very hard. That's why we don't target them.

PayPal went after eBay users first because they did not have any good way to send money. The did not try to convince vendors who can already process credit cards to use PayPal. They went after non-consumption.

When a new kind of product comes up you see all these pockets of users who are very passionate about the product because they have no other way to replace it. It is best to go after these users. They can sustain a business and if they represent a large/growing market they can grow the business.

My interpretation is best viewed through an example.

There are lots of mail newsletter providers (mailchimp, constant contact, etc.)

They aren't trying to compete against each other. Rather, they are trying to compete against nothing -- people with no ESP.

if you are competing against non consumption, how do they stand out from each other?

Great question. This is a perspective that I had when I first founded my company -- how do I convey to my customers that I'm the best solution for their problem?

What I have discovered is that it doesn't matter. There's room for lots of companies. All things equal, you want to be the best (which is my shorthand for "stand out from each other in a positive way for the customer's context"). But many customers just want to solve their problem, and don't care about solving their problem in the optimal manner.

As hackers, we're obsessed with the idea that the best solution wins. As an entrepreneur, I've discovered that second rate products with first rate sales and marketing will likely outshine a better product that has outreach as a secondary priority.

This used to upset me, because I was focused on the product. As someone trying to run a business, I'm looking at the company as a whole. That means that sales, marketing, product, support, organization, strategy, vision... they're just 1 component of the whole.

It makes the sales side easier if the product is unique or clearly the best. --

Back to the original point -- companies don't need to stand out from each other when they are the only solution a customer has heard of.

Imagine you are a sandwich shop. When you started, you could just send your marketing by BCCing people through your gmail. Now your list is 2500 people, and you need a way to send to everyone.

You just want to send your email to 2500 people. You don't want to spend a day to compare the relative merits of mailchimp versus constant contact.

Flip the perspective (mailchimp's perspective, looking at the sandwich shop owner). Mailchimp's challenge isn't to differentiate from constant contact, but to simply communicate that they exist and can solve an existing problem.


This may be more relevant for b2b versus b2c. I confess I do not understand marketing in b2c much at all.

that's a very good answer. product is only part of the big picture.

for arguments sake, what if a user can only send to 2349 people instead of the 2500 people, would it make them turned off because it didn't do the job completely 100%? is the job "2500 emails and no less"? I wonder if this is an optimization vs a fundamental necessity for the user.

would pricing scheme matter to a non-consumption individual? A) pay as you go B) pay monthly for 10,000 emails a month?

I guess I would answer by saying, it depends, and possibly.

If 1 user needed 2501 emails and your plan only offered 2500, then chances are they would be at least a little turned off.

Pricing is really important. If a 0-3000 person list at MailChimp was $20 per month, but Constant Contact tier required (2000-10000) $50 per month, the user could say something like "MailChimp solves my problem for $20, CC is $50. I can't tell the difference so I'll go with the cheaper one."

Again, though -- I doubt there is much focus on targeting competitors' users, but are competing against the user not knowing of their existence.

MailChimp's free tier allows up to 2k list members. They know most people with lists that small won't pay for a solution. As their list grows, MailChimp can ride their success into a paid tier.

thank you again for the detailed explanation. I think I have better understanding than before.

there was the example of small steel mills producing sub par product on the cheap and they slowly moved upmarket destroying the incumbents. So the idea for straight disruption if for you to find an area in the market that is not served by incumbents and use that as a stepping stone to move into the bigger playing field.

Great book. Also brought up a lot in it's sequel which I enjoyed even more Innovators Solution. Lots of great case studies of other companies doing things very similar to what I mentioned IDL did in Blue Ocean Strategy.

Similar point in Chris Anderson's "Makers" book as well. Manufacturing innovation is coming from the bottom up, from people who don't have a long history in the particular product space.


Incidentally, if you haven't tried writing something in Draft, I recommend it unreservedly. I haven't written a whole lot in it, but for the things I have written there, the process has been supremely pleasant, particularly when soliciting opinions from reviewers.

introspectively, given that you recommend it unreservedly, why do you think you haven't written a whole lot in it?

(no relation to author or project, just curious.)

Most of my writing over the last 6 months has been internal to the company, and I can't put that kind of content on a third party server, even if I trust it. For what it's worth, since I use Draft, I told Nate I'd be happy to audit it gratis. He should take me up on that! :)

I also recommend people look into draftin.com For me, I write a lot of things while disconnected from everything - internet, cell phone, other people, basically a loner writing spot with some hot water.

Draft is a pretty good online experience though.

Agreed, Draft is super slick.

(And shameless plug: Draft integrates with Beeminder! http://beeminder.com/draft )

I might, but searching for "Draft" doesn't find anything and none of the blog entries talking about Draft actually link to the website. Are they in stealth mode or something?

Edit: tried again and it's the first result. Weird.

It's also linked in the article in the sentence "I started making that same mistake with Draft when I first started."


  "An artist is somebody who produces things that people
  don't need to have but that he, for some reason, thinks it
  would be a good idea to give them."
-- The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

That's good. It fits well with the Jobs quote "Real artists ship." Shipping is when you find out whether or not people actually need what you're making.

I wouldn't take advice from Andy Warhol unless you're trying to make a product that insecure, dumb people want because they want to fit into their subculture. Or selling drugs.

I would take advice from Andy Warhol over anyone on the Internet.

Plus, a majority of products in any given category is sold as a result of insecurity (You've probably heard of the fashion industry).

Andy Warhol made things for insecure dumb people and sold drugs? I don't get it.

I would love to hear what Warhol had to say about drug dealing, but i do not theink it would be very beneficial. Many artists are long on talk and short on content. Take, for instance, myself.

I wholeheartedly approve of the notion of finding an underserved market segment and building tools for them.

I have to worry, though, about naming problems. Draft sounds a lot like Final Draft, which serves a similar need; it's at draftin.com, which doesn't immediately come to mind when someone says "You should try this nifty writing software, it's called Draft."

Miscellaneous criticism: I have no idea of the pricing model. It's not obvious at all. The settings page is a horror: I love the idea that there's a big blob of text showing what you select, but asking people to type in the names of fonts is asking for tribble. Measuring fonts in ems instead of points is bizarre.

And the help link is an email address. Would it kill you to put up a FAQ or use the features list as documentation?

I thought Draft was already a successful service. You make it sound like this is a Show HN for an unknown site. Still good and valid feedback though.

Whether it is successful or not, it's still new to many in the audience (including me), so the need for presenting the service well never goes away.

In the disruptive innovation sense they might be called an overserved or unsatisfied non-consumer.[1] (Whereas an underserved segment might be more in need of sustaining innovation where the current products don't meet all of their needs, but they need all of the current features.)

[1] http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/4300.html

While we are suggesting features, folders within folders please.

An estimation of how much your proof readers can actually read in the allotted times (i know it varies but perhaps 1000-1250 words would be better than 15 minutes).

A friends screen so I can share work without emailing.

Some of this might already have been done but its been a while since I used draft

Google draft. It's the first result, ahead of things like the NFL draft, draft beer, NBA draft, etc.

Anecdotally, most people can't really differentiate between what really needs to get done, and what their specific tools do. They might not have the sophistication to be able to abstract "word processor" from "MS Word". To them, they don't do "word processing", they fire up Word and write. (And indeed, some people are so confused that they say things like they'll 'load up Windows to write my paper'.)

The more bespoke the tooling, the more this tends to be true. For example, in areas like project management, which is not an inherently technical discipline, you have good project managers clinging to old tools for dear life because they were really hard to learn, they do the job, and the benefit of new tools just isn't that great (which is especially true of over-promising and under-delivering tools). Yes, practitioners use sophisticated tools, but I think they would be hard pressed to really abstract away what MS Project does for them.

I second that. I was just about to email Nate to ask him how he would deal with this issue but struggling to articulate it. Thanks!

This is sort of a corollary of avoiding being too naive when accepting product feedback. People often don't know how to express what they want, often they don't even know what they want. For every "shut up and take my money" moment there are many "I didn't even know I needed/wanted that" moments. So much of being an effective inventor is being able to have one foot in consumer land and one foot in product land and be able to translate between them.

In short, don't build a product for people who know what they need, find people who need something and build a product for them.

I'd say "find people who don't know they're doing something inefficiently, and build a simple, straight-forward product that gives them a more productive workflow."

Or find people who know they're doing something inefficiently, but need it done badly enough that they're doing it anyway.

Ridiculously common case.

Glad it worked out for the author but it feels like he initially focused on the wrong thing. Iirc Lean Startup considers right problem, right customer the most important early decisions.

He eventually got it right by figuring out the right customer but I think the mistake was starting with "selling a tool" instead of thinking about the actual problems. It's very possible project managers don't have a pain point when it comes to their tools (they are "good enough"). Problem and customer segment are usually tightly coupled. I could be completely wrong but I think the main discovery here was that "blog posters want to be more "professional"". Maybe because the tools are helpful but probably also a healthy dose of "journalism envy" at least initially. I think that's what I'd focus on and see if it's right (i.e. hammer the "like a pro" line)

Product/Market fit. Most think about changing the product, this is just changing the market.

I think this more comes to figuring out who the right early adopters are. You need to have something sufficiently better than what's out there to overcome inertia and get people to try your product. If you target (in the project management case) people who use every feature of that project management software, then you need all those features plus yours, or your new feature has to be so good that they're willing to throw away all those. If you target the person who does not yet use/need project management software you have a lot less to overcome.

Basically look for the pro amateur demographic?

See also: http://www.steve-yegge.blogspot.ru/2008/08/business-requirem...

and "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses"

This article was mind blowing for me for the same reasons I experienced building things for the target group I thought I wanted all this time but running into the same pattern, the price doesn't justify because it's missing X features compared to Y's product and maybe we will consider buying it when we see all the features in an extended free trial and then if we are fully satisfied then maybe we'll buy. It's impossible to please this crowd of nitpickers, impossible to match all of their desires.

if competing for non-consumption and there are others doing this, how do you stand out? If something is infinitely better than nothing for this non-consumers how do you stand out from the competitors doing the same thing? How to charge a premium without driving each other to the bottom?

The message I understood from his lecture video was develop:

1) Something that is infinitely better. My suspicion is that if you are targeting a group that already has very good tools to do the job, your product won't be infinitely better until it does feature "A-Z" like your incumbents.

2) Disrupt by targeting the non-consumption. These group of people have no other alternative to do the job or have technical understanding. Even a crappy product is better than nothing. Target this for disruption.

Is this correct? Did I miss anything?


This sounds distressingly like "sell substandard products to people who aren't experienced enough to know better," or "you don't need a good product if you've got good marketing." I'm not familiar with this guy's products, though.

I disagree. Amateurs don't necessarily need pro tools, they need tools that help them do the job that they want to do better than either no tools, or poor tools. They also might get confused and put off by the steep learning curve offered by some pro tools. E.g. PhotoShop (I don't think I need to say more).

Just because something isn't a good fit for the pro or power user, doesn't mean that it doesn't have a place in the market, or couldn't be considered good or useful.

Really? I thought it sounded more like KISS and what Apple have been doing: Making software accessible to the (amateur) enduser. (E.g. the iWork and iLife suites as well as many iOS-apps)

Sure, some people might need advanced tools for their advanced workflows, but there's often a huge market in software for the everyday-man and -woman who only [writes] as a hobby.

It's not really. The point is that the market is segmented and you need to target the segment for which your product is the right fit. People who already have a fully-featured tool which solves their problem and they are comfortable with are never a good market.

It's not that they don't "know better", it's that their needs are different. Just like it's hard to sell an amateur tool to a professional, it's hard to sell a professional tool to an amateur.

Of course, that's not the only division. Small business vs. enterprise is another. For instance, Amazon S3 enabled an entire new class of content-based web startup. Not because it was "like having fileservers but worse", but because it served the needs of users who needed to host files, but didn't need and couldn't afford to have their own hardware. A group which was otherwise underserved in the market at the time.

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