Sarah Tavel

Sarah Tavel spoke with Patrick O’Shaughnessy and in their discussion included five good questions. Perspectives from differing industries make these questions especially helpful, a change in point-of-view is worth forty IQ.

What weaknesses accompany competitor’s strengths? Ebay is a behemoth. They sell everything. So Tavel points to Goat, “and one of the founders had ordered a pair of sneakers off of eBay, opened the box up, and they were counterfeit.” That was their founding insight, eBay has all the supply, which includes fake products.

What business serves too many people? New companies arise to serve new needs. One helpful framing is to read is books from the late-90s an early 00s about technology and the remarkable respect for Microsoft. Everyone worried about them but large size brings weaknesses too. Why does TikTok work in a YouTube world? Why does Snapchat when there’s Facebook? Why Zoom with Skype?

Does this exist elsewhere? Tavel said, “It doesn’t really make much sense if you’re a real estate broker to be on LinkedIn. It’s not your network.” What if there were a network where brokers could share leads then share commissions? Poker does this when one player stakes another. “Real estate brokers do share leads with each other and if one of them converts they get a share of the commission, but there is no formal system.” There’s no such thing as new problems.

What job—and this may be different from what customers say they want—do customers really want? At Pinterest the power users wanted to rearrange pins on their board. This was a difficult engineering challenge and only requested by .1% of users—but that was still a lot of people so the Pinterest team built the feature. “It was a symptom of something else not working in the product, which was an inability to search your boards,” Tavel explained. They didn’t know the JTBD.

What choices reinforce our advantages? “Anytime a user clicks or taps they are using energy and you want to direct that energy in a way that creates the most value for the system that you have. Usually there’s a core action in your system that is most correlated with a user retaining, and creates accruing benefit for your product.” Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy Bad Strategy is summed up by a different phrasing of the same question; what collection of choices is the most synergistic?


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