“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” – Vince Lombardi
Let’s take this scenario:
Think of the difference between shiny new Prada shoes and those from Steve Madden. Both are brand new, look very similar, but cost a whole lot more. You can get a good pair of Steve Madden’s for under $75, whereas a pair of men’s Prada shoes start at just about $500. Over time though, the difference between the two becomes more than just price. The Steve Maddens wear down very fast and begin to break. The Prada shoes will last for years to come after being beat up day in and day out. At the breaking points, at the wear and tear, that’s where quality comes in to play.
The magic of technology startups is that we can deliver quality “Prada like” products at scale without the cost to the end user.
When you’re building your company from scratch, focus on getting market traction, but focus on building a product that is concerned with quality that stretches at the breaking points. Quality products stretch the breaking points, without giving out on its user where others might falter. It’s at these breaking points, a truly great product can deliver something that would seem clunky from anyone else, simple as cake.
Take a look at Stripe – the difference between its API and other products that have come before it is the fact that at the final integration breaking point it just works and keeps on delivering. Test every last nook and cranny until you’ve delivered the ultimate “it just works” scenario.
Products that focus on quality make someone feel delighted like a VIP – delight that they can only experience through your product. I’m not talking about Zappos level customer service, but that’s certainly important too. One of the examples I’ve been fascinated with is this example Jack Dorsey gave of Prada and how it applies to square:
“When you go to Prada in Soho, you buy a bag or a tie,” he says, “And what do they do? They take your credit card. They go downstairs. They come back with this leather case, and they open it up. You sign. They take it back downstairs. And then they put the receipt in this ridiculous envelope. They hide all the damage, so it makes it feel like you’re in this alternate universe. Why can’t smaller places do the same? Why do they have to compromise when it comes to one of the important things in their business, which is getting paid for what they do? It’s a simple exchange of value.”
In this case Square is focusing on making every end user of the product feel like a VIP, like someone that just shopped at a fancy store in SoHo. Products that focus on quality can bring a delightful VIP experience to the masses. This is what keeps people coming back, the delight in the product that makes them feel like a VIP. How can your product do what Square did to payments?
Quality technology products should be something that seem so ahead of their time and so unattainable, that if you showed it and its capabilities to a person with no knowledge of the brand+product, they would think it could be priced 10x higher.
Look at the first iPhone when it came out. It was light years ahead of ANYTHING else out there and in some cases still is. The iPhone had beauty and capabilities 10x what was available on the market. If it were announced as an early concept car esque prototype at $2000 instead of $200, many people would have still bought it, though this would have made it unattainable for most.
Quality products are so good that they make normal folks great at things they never thought they’d be great at. Quality products have such a fit and finish that they make the average person great at the goal they are trying to accomplish. Quality products are not only great themselves, but make their users greater by using the product.
Take this story about Instagram for example from Kara Swisher’s Vanity Fair profile:
On a beach walk one day, Nicole told him she would be reluctant to use the app he was working on because her pictures would never be as good as the ones a mutual friend took. “I said, ‘Well, you know what he does to those photos, right?’ She’s like, ‘No, he just takes good photos.’ I’m like, ‘No, no, he puts them through filter apps.’ She’s like, ‘Well, you guys should probably have filters too, right, then?’ I was like, ‘Huh.’ ”
Instagram had a focus not only on providing quality itself, but on letting others, the amateurs, provide perceived professional level quality. Whether you love or hate filters, people adopted them because it made their amateur camera phone photography feel like quality.
Quality is at the breaking points and that’s where the magic happens.
Quality is where you make someone feel delighted like a VIP.
Quality is where you make the unattainable, attainable.
Quality is when a product makes a mere amateur feel like a professional.
Don’t settle for anything less. Take pride in delivering quality.