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How to Create Tech Products Customers Love Part 1

in the mid-1980s, I was a young software engineer working for
Hewlett Packard on a high-profile product. It was a time (the first
time) when artificial intelligence was all the rage, and I was fortunate
enough to be working at what was then one of the industry’s best
technology companies, as part of a very strong software engineering
team (several members of that team went on to substantial success in
companies across the industry).
Our assignment was a difficult one: to deliver AI-enabling technology on a low-cost, general-purpose workstation that, until then,
required a special-purpose hardware/software combination that cost
more than $100,000 per user—a price few could afford.
We worked long and hard for well over a year, sacrificing countless nights and weekends. Along the way, we added several patents
to HP’s portfolio. We developed the software to meet HP’s exacting
quality standards. We internationalized the product and localized it
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for several languages. We trained the sales force. We previewed our
technology with the press and received excellent reviews. We were
ready. We released. We celebrated the release.
Just one problem: No one bought it.
The product was a complete failure in the marketplace. Yes, it
was technically impressive, and the reviewers loved it, but it wasn’t
something people wanted or needed.
The team was of course extremely frustrated with this outcome.
But soon we began to ask ourselves some very important questions:
Who decides what products we should build? How do they decide?
How do they know that what we build will be useful?
Our young team learned something very profound—something
many teams have discovered the hard way: It doesn’t matter how good
your engineering team is if they are not given something worthwhile to
When trying to track down the root cause of our failure, I
learned that the decisions about what to build came from a product
manager—someone who generally resided in the marketing organization and who was responsible for defining the products we built. But
I also learned that product management wasn’t something HP was
particularly good at. I later learned that most companies weren’t good
at this either, and, in fact, most still aren’t.
I promised myself that never again would I work so hard on a
product unless I knew the product would be something that users and
customers wanted.
Over the next 30 years, I have had the very good fortune to work
on some of the most successful high-tech products of our time—first at
HP during the rise of personal computers; then at Netscape Communications during the rise of the Internet, where I worked as vice president
of platform and tools; later at eBay during the rise of e-commerce and
marketplaces, where I served as the senior vice president of product and
design; and then as an adviser to startups working with many of what
have become today’s most successful technology product companies.
Not every product effort has been as successful as others, but I
am happy to say that none were failures, and several became loved and
used by millions of people around the world.
Soon after I left eBay, I started getting calls from product organizations wanting to improve how they produced products. As I began
working with these companies,
I discovered that there was a
tremendous difference between
how the best companies produced
products and how most companies
produced them.
I realized that the state of the
art was very different from the state of
the practice.
Most companies were still using old and inefficient ways to discover and deliver products. I also learned that there was precious little
help available, either from academia, including the best business school
programs, or from industry organizations, which seemed hopelessly
stuck in the failed models of the past—just like the one I worked in
at HP.
I have had some great rides, and I am especially thankful that I
have had the chance to work for and with some of the best product
minds in the industry. The best ideas in this book are from these people.
You will find a list of many of them in the acknowledgments. I have
learned from them all, and I am grateful to each one of them.
I chose this career because I wanted to work on products that customers love—products that inspire and provide real value. I find that
most product leaders also want to create inspiring and successful products. But most products are not inspiring, and life is too short for bad
My hope in writing this book is that it will help share the best
practices of the most successful product companies and that the result
will be truly inspiring products—products that customers love.

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