The economics of iPhone cases

I tried, and failed, to get a photo of this issue.

For Christmas my youngest daughter got an iPhone. It was BOGO when you add a line, so I got a new iPhone too. For simplicity sake I ordered us Apple cases with the phones. And my case sucks. The silicon marigold iPhone 13 case is the worst I’ve ever owned.

But why?

Apple products are good. The computer I’m typing this on is an Apple product. If it’s read on a phone odds are one-in-three it’s an iPhone. Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world – and has been for many years. What’s going on?

Well first, value is relative. If something is bad, it’s bad relative to what? My previous Smartish and Speck ($12 & $8 respectively) cases were more durable and provided prolonged protection on earlier inferior designed products. I think Apple cases are bad because they lack competition.

Apple, like Aldi, competes in a special way. Both are A+ companies and both compete outside the store. The goal is to get people inside, and if customers come in, they’ve got them. So Apple doesn’t convince me to buy the silicon marigold case rather than the leather case. No, Apple just wants me to buy Apple.

Aldi cereal is a visual example of this model, the boxes are bland (here in B&W) because they don’t have to grab the customer’s attention in the store. Contrast this with Walmart or Amazon where the competition is both inside and outside.

Smartish or Speck compete in the bedlam of Amazon. These cases have to throw sharp elbows in the arena of good, fast, and cheap. I found the Smartish case via a Wirecutter review, so it has to stand out as well. Ditto for Speck.

That said, I don’t know if the Apple case should even be good. Apple’s advantage is packaged hardware and software, not being best in class on accessories. Apple doesn’t sell a great phone case, instead the JTBD is ease and brand.

How to write great copy

Neville Medhora writes great copy because Neville Medhora made copywriting easy. Let me give you his steps.

But first, a warning. Copywriting can work too well. There are many scammy producers who use copywriting to sell scammy products. Copywriting joins JTBD and negotiations and Alchemy as selling tools to be used ethically.

Copywriting has two huge benefits. First it filters your listeners. I never have hecklers at my comedy shows said John Cleese because the people who come are all people who know what I’m going to say! Copywriting influences the stakeholders, who allow a certain freedom of movement – or not.

The second power of good copywriting is the magic of customer-acquisition-cost. With the right CAC, all business models work. Pirate Booty has good copywriting, informing parents that it’s “great for lunches”.

Copywriting can seem difficult because we start at the BLANK PAGE. But Neville Medhora created a system that makes copywriting easy. Anyone can write like Neville if they just follow his steps.

  1. No blank pages. Medhora maintains SwipeFile.com for inspiration. He also keeps a list of posts he’d like to write. Medhora is curious and one of his inspirations, Joseph Sugarman, wrote that the best copywriters “hunger for experience and knowledge and find other people interesting.” Like a chef with a well stocked kitchen, Neville never starts with nothing.
  2. Start writing – with a framework. Medhora likes the AIDA framework: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. He starts each piece with this outline and fills in each section. Remember, this is supposed to be easy.
  3. Find their thinking words. Amazon reviews are a “cheat sheet” for language. My research led to a book review which said this helped me have a healthy conversation with my spouse of 20+ years. Another review said it helped me maximize the time with my kids before they “flew the roost”. The book was about personal finance, but the language of the customer was “relationships”.
  4. Write the zero draft. It’ll be bad. It will look bad. Whatever.
  5. Let the draft marinate. Let your subconscious work. While you wait write 25 headlines – this is advice from Neville’s buddy Sam Parr.
  6. Edit your draft
    1. Does every line “earn it’s pixels”?
    2. Words or pictures? If your product/feature must be described, use words. If your product should be seen (like software), use gifs.
    3. Can you describe aspects the customer doesn’t appreciate but exist nonetheless? Our furniture is kiln dried for 72 hours…. a furniture website might say. Maybe everyone does this, or it’s not special within the industry but it’s not well known outside it.
    4. Do you need to punch it up? Add a cheat sheet, a rating system, embed a picture gallery, or make a cost breakdown.
    5. The more your reader knows the less you need to communicate. And vice versa.

That’s it!

If you want more from Neville check out his podcast episode with Sam Parr or use ListenNotes.com to search for other interviews.

To Sell is Human (book review)

Dan Pink’s 2013 book, To Sell is Human is good – but you probably don’t need to read it. At least not now. That the book is ten years old helps explain why.

Prior to the explosion of online media, books used to be great vessels for knowledge, trends, connections, entertainment and more. The best example of this is Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008, Outliers, and specifically the 10,000 hour rule. Prior to Malcolm’s missive, few knew of deliberate practice. After the book everyone talked about it and it was all everyone talked about. It was a thing.

To Sell is Human kinda suffers from the same circumstances. At the time it was full of difficult to discover novel ideas. The book probably kicked off a lot of helpful conversations about where the world might head. That was almost a decade ago. Things change. Here are the big ideas.

  1. We are all in sales. Self-promotion and idea-promotion are now much more common. Some of this is too due to the shift from organizational connections to network connections.
  2. There’s no information asymmetry. For our family van and family home I knew more about the actual options than the salesperson. The Toyota salesman compared the Sienna to the 4Runner whereas I compared the Sienna to the Honda Odyssey.
  3. Find the job to be done. This last one was why To Sell is Human didn’t resonate. Because this is in my head.

The JTBD framework is the conclusion to To Sell is Human. It’s the next logical step. It’s like watching the sequel first, you kinda know what happens in the first.

So don’t read To Sell is Human, but do read Dan Pink. He’s trendy, in a good way.

On Amazon is my JTBD tour-de-force.

Pirate Booty JTBD

My eleven-year-old daughter requested “Pirate Booty” after having it at school. Those bright buccaneers put the JTBD right on the box. Parents buy these “lunch bags” to pack for their children. You’re not buying a snack. You’re buying being the parent who packs their kid’s lunch.

Pirate Booty also commandeered a clever CAC. They earn “bulk pricing” from the school pay and “retail pricing” when eleven-year-old daughters return home. If this is negative CAC, it joins Freight Waves, who use content subscriptions to sell data and American Pickers who also use content to sell t-shirts.

“Aviation porn”

Jobs-to-be-done is one of our favorite topics because the examples are just so much fun. Here is another.

“What we are trying to do is what I call ‘aviation porn’. The reason people subscribe to Flying (magazine) is because of the beautiful photography, the long form evergreen articles, and the fact that when their friends and family come over they see the aviation publication. It takes a lot of work and effort to become a pilot and the people that are pilots are super dedicated to it and want to show their friends.”

Craig Fuller, Think Like an Owner podcast

Fuller explained that when he took over the magazine there was a push to go more digital, and he did that, but not without forgetting the JTBD of the print magazine.

The invisible visible

In the beginning, we measured the world one way. Then another way came. This way offered different fidelity, and we used that. Sometimes the thing we measured was a fixed supply, and the new fidelity changed demand and prices. Then a new new way came. The first two examples are this. Sometimes there is is no supply constraint and no change in price. The second two examples are that.

Investing. There are at least two areas where the invisible became visible. One is quantitative. It’s in the numbers, not the stories, where good investments can be found. A second is in scale. It’s the size of the company where there’s information which is invisible at one scale but very clear at another.

Moneyball. Like quant investing, Moneyball is a way to use numbers to find patterns and to frame our thinking.

Personal. “You work with a lot of teams”, Shane Parrish prompted, “what have you learned about making good decisions?” Well, says Diana Chapman, “people don’t practice nearly enough candor.” The whole episode (#130) is basically about this, making the invisible visible in our collection of relationships. How? Through candor.

Jobs to be done. The JTBD framework is a way of articulating purchase decisions. People take action to change what? We’ve many examples of this: Leatherman tool, Headspace meditation, and Instagram stores.

One way to find the recently visible is in words. What was so great about Chapman’s podcast with Parrish was the embodiment of her ideas. Chapman is physical: use notecards, stand here, dress like this and act accordingly. We are a visual species. Today’s prompt then: What is invisible here?

The Leatherman JTBD

Just because something looks like a job to be done doesn’t mean it is a job to be done.

Tim Leatherman was in Vietnam in the 1970s. He noticed that all the Japanese motor bikes had luggage racks for transporting goods but that all the Vespa scooters did not. So with the help of his brother-in-law, Leatherman designed and built one hundred racks for Vespa scooters. He arranged for consignment distribution and hired someone to pass out leaflets.

It seemed like a good fit. There was demonstrated demand. There were motorbikes everywhere! “But when we left Vietnam there were still 97 in the bedroom of our house. It turned out that the people who rode Vespas considered themselves a class above and they had maids who went out and did the shopping.”

The JTBD of a scooter was personal transport and something else. For some people the something else was goods transport, for others it was status.

Leatherman’s podcast with Guy Raz included a second JTBD lesson.

Tim wanted to design a knife with pliers, patent it, and license the idea to the major knife companies. Once he had a working prototype he went to Gerber but they declined, saying it was a tool and not a knife. Everyone knows not to bring a tool to a knife fight. Ok, thought Tim, I’ll pitch this to the tool companies. “And the message I got back from them was, ‘Sorry this is a gadget and gadgets don’t sell.'”

In this case the knife and tool companies confused the category for the job. Much like a hardware company might think they are in the business of just making quarter-inch drill bits when really the customer wants the quarter-inch hole.

The JTBD of Headspace is feeling better through action. The JTBD of dining out is food and atmosphere. The JTBD of Jazzercise was dancing and a dancer’s body.

‘Jobs’ is a great mental model and thanks to Leatherman and Raz for sharing another pair of examples.

The Headspace JTBD

Headspace, the mindfulness and meditation app had a problem. People came to the app under duress and wanted to feel better. Now. So, Rory Sutherland summarized, people didn’t persist for the long term benefits without a short term win. “That’s fair,” says Dr Clare Purvis. The company had to address the immediate need but also address the long term benefits.

A common idea around here is the Barry Ritholtz refrain: don’t just do something, sit there. The idea is that we equate action with progress but fail to assign inaction to progress too. Usually action=progress is negative, like with poker or architecture. But the action=progress mental model can be used for good. This, I think, is what Headspace did.

“One of the things that we tested,” Purvis pontificated, “was that rather than an eyes closed mindfulness practice was some eyes open embodied practices of stretching and breathing. We saw overwhelming positive responses to these.”

Traditional meditation (🧘‍♂️) doesn’t fit action=progress. But standing or standing and breathing is something. This isn’t sarcasm. I truly believe that part-of-the-reason this worked was because it made people feel like they were addressing the immediate issue.

What’s the job-to-be-done of Headspace? Make me feel better. ‘Embodied’ is action, action is progress. That’s what I want, especially right away.

Maybe this applies to marketing trading/investing too. Though less profitable, is it easier to sell action?

Communicate as if ‘on one foot’

In the spirit to communicate well is this story.

One famous account in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. This happened not infrequently, and this individual stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel. This gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said:
"What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it!"

The perspective of Shammai reminds me of the stereo sales agent who talks in terms of features: 5.1 sound, number of speakers, bass output, whatever. Hillel meanwhile is the person who understands the job to be done – just make it sounds good.

JTBD is iteration

The 2012 job-to-be-done at Calm was meditation. But when engineers looked at the usage data they noticed something interesting, there was a lot of Calm usage at night. “When they started productizing around sleep,” explained Vinny Pujji, “that’s when it opened up from being just a meditation focus thing to what they are today, which is mental fitness.”

We’ve looked at a few JTBD ideas: does the bundle of good explain the transaction, as it does with free breakfast? Is there zombie revenue? Even Jazzercise was job-ercised.

With hindsight ‘jobs’ sound easy, but they are iterated solutions. David Packles of Peloton shared (October 2020) two instances where Peloton had to iterate on their first JTBD solution.

First, Packles and his team looked at the largest Peloton Facebook groups. Rather than build for the power users, a no-no, they looked for wider use cases, and thought peole wanted to see when their friends were working out.

“People hated it,” said Packles. While the camaraderie between instructors and peers was important to users, the now-ness was not. So they tinkered. There was almost always at least two people in the same workout at the same time. ‘Friends working out now’ became ‘here now’. This worked, forty percent of daily active users now use this feature.

A second instance was the location field. Rather than where, people used it for what. Packles himself is a ‘Peloton dad’. So Peloton added tags which per Packles, “exploded in popularity” and “became a means of expressing yourself rather than connecting with club.” Half of DAUs have some kind of tag. Rather than people near me, the Peloton users wanted people like me.

That’s interesting moments help us understand how other people see the world. Instagram once had a tool that fought spam by looking for accounts that posted a lot and deleted a lot. During one glance through the data, Mike System noticed that in Indonesia a person was doing that – but in an interesting way. Way back in 2013 she was uploading photos of her store’s products and when they sold she would remove the post. Interesting right?

JTBD feels like a spirit of philosophy as much as it feels like a technique or tactic. It’s a way of regularly reflecting on the world. JTBD isn’t an equation, it’s a long process with a lot of inquiry. But it’s worth the work.


Two cool Peloton stats: they film thirty hours of content a day and their 18 month churn is 14%.