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%.

Sports bras and pickup trucks

One of the hallmarks of a Job-To-Be-Done approach (our series) is not to ask the people what they want. A better approach is to understand what job people want to do. That means looking at how people hack your product or when there is zombie revenue. It means what people do, not what people say. Here are two additions to our collection.

Of the thousands of first Title Nine catalogs only a handful of orders came in. But…

“Many of the people put a sports bra on their order. So while I may not have been the quickest study, you don’t have to tell me twice, wow, sports bras are the most essential piece of sports equipment for the average American woman.” – Missy Park, How I Built This, October 2021

Park built her first catalog by choosing the clothes she wanted. Park grew her business by solving the JTBD.

Our second comes from another CEO:

“Being with F-150 customers is like having a barbecue with the next door neighbors, we know them that well. The Homer had a doughnut maker and beer dispenser. If you ask people what they want, you get a Homer, but if you know the customers really well you can surprise them with twelve kilowatts of power to power their home. They won’t tell you that. They won’t tell a focus group that. But if you know them well enough you know they’ll like it.” – Jim Farley, Decoder with Nilay Patel, April 2021

Whether the Ford Lightning succeeds remains to be seen, but the fact that they promote the frunk’s ability to hold two carry-ons and one full-size suitcase shows a JTBD focus.

My first collection is 26 Jobs to be done, it’s $3 on Amazon.


Sometimes the best way to see a thing is to reframe the situation. We’ve looked at FIRE (financial independence retire early) a couple of times: the FIRE Reddit survey and homeotelic responses. But, what’s the job to be done of FIRE?

When asked what’s worth spending money on, Mr. Money Mustache suggests two further questions:

“So instead of thinking about what’s worth spending money on, I encourage people to break it down more like this: What things really make me happy in life, and which things bring me stress or unhappiness? What is the most effective and least costly way to cut out some of that stress and bring more of the happiness into my typical week?” – Pete Adeney, Outside Magazine, July 2021

What’s the job of money? One way to figure that out is answer the happiness and stress aspects of the question. And this is the job to be done for financial independence retire early – more happy less stress.

This is more tricky than it sounds. FIRE has a number, traditionally 25x expenses. We like numbers like this. Numbers like this offer comfort in their certainty. But numbers don’t answer hard questions, questions about being stressed and being happy.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Adeney is asked to coach two FIRE strivers. Should they quit their teaching careers to make more money (with more stress). Adeney flips the question around. Rather than viewing it as a money question, he frames it as an enjoyment question. Like denominating work trips in time rather than dollars, denominating work in quality rather than quantity (of dollars) shifts the question. The guests like their jobs of the moment, and that Adeney says, is part of what they’re working for anyway.

Financial goals are proxies for something else, the job to be done. And we’ve collected many ways to hire for all kinds of jobs.

Here’s the JTBD Twitter tread. Here’s a (short) JTBD book I wrote.

Free Breakfast Hack

There’s always a reason why, and if we can find reasons why that are real, but not acknowledged, there is opportunity. Cruising, for instance, might have some hidden reasons and opportunities. The JTBD framework is built around this idea too. Economists call it stated and revealed preferences.

Danny Meyer noticed reasons-why as a restaurateur. It’s not just the food!

“That’s why people go out to eat, it’s not because they don’t want to cook or do the dishes. They want to be transported to a social environment.” Danny Meyer

As a kid I didn’t get this. Sometime around 1998 we went to Ocean City Maryland or Hilton Head South Carolina for a family vacation. We stayed on the beach. It was great. Each night we walked to a different restaurant for dinner and the only requirement was that it allowed flip flops.

One night we were at someplace on the sea, and I wanted fish, the catch of the day or some-such-thing only to discover that it was flown in from Maine. Huh? If I wanted fish from Maine we’d have gone there for vacation.

The lesson there, and still, is that there are a collection of features (acknowledged or not) that consumers want in a product or service. Seafood tastes better by the water.

But wait, there’s more.

People like to make easy choices for the features. Easy in the sense that the amount of work is appropriate for the amount of reward. Doing your own taxes isn’t necessarily easy, but some find the reward of financial savings, mental stimulation, and personal accountability worth it. The process of making the ledger determines the ease. Home improvement is another area. I’ve started many projects because the ledger making is easy, whereas the actual work became quite tricky, a miscalculation of the work-reward relationship.

One feature hack for easier decisions is free. Free is helpful because it’s an easy input and calculation. This can be seen in the free breakfast effect.

From conclusion of the 2012 paper, emphasis mine:

“Experiment 1 shows evidence of the zero price effect; specifically, the free breakfast effect. Even though people’s preferred alternative is the Meliá, when the cheaper option of the Ibáñez Hotel includes a free breakfast, the demand for the latter increases and for the former it decreases. Especially relevant is the fact that when the breakfast in the cheaper option is only €2 (i.e. a price that is virtually insignificant and very close to zero), people go for the more expensive alternative and are willing to pay the extra cost to stay at the Meliá. No matter how small the price is or that the net benefit for each alternative across conditions is identical, the net benefit for the cheaper option will only be superior to the more expensive option when the former offers a free breakfast.”

A two-buck breakfast isn’t easy to choose because the mental accounting is to ask, what’s the catch? Whereas a free breakfast leads to, well I’m probably paying a smidge more for the room but breakfast is another service like housekeeping, room service, or valet.

Free is a special shortcut in decision making, but not the only one. Fish taste better by the sea. Diners want atmosphere, except for fast food. What’s wonderful isn’t that there is no right answer but that there are so many answers. Like a studio engineer listening to a band, there are many dials to make something work.

Other examples of this idea are: Donation alchemy, “Earned” rewards, and eating vegetarian.
& Rory Sutherland quotes von Mises, the man who sweeps the restaurant floor is as important as the one who prepares the food.

Does the bundle explain it?

Defaults are a design tool to frame thinking. One designed-default is mean reversion. For most situations, said Cade Massey, “Try regression to the mean on for size and see if that can explain it.” Another is to start with the base rate: what typically happens in situations like this? During the Summer of 2021 there were many comparisons of vaccinated and unvaccinated Covid infection rates. This was a case of base rate neglect.

Mean reversion and base rates are good starting ideas because they prevent our Narrative Spin Drives from jumping into high-output mode. For instance, there’s an annual NFL video game known as Madden NFL. There’s also a Madden curse. If someone appears on the cover they have a terrible season after. It’s happened to eighty-two percent of the athletes!

Or it is base rates and mean reversion. To earn the cover rights, a player must have an excellent season, and their “success equation” benefited from a few lucky bounces. That happens. But bad luck happens too.

To add to the value of starting with base rates and mean reversion we can add “The Bundle”: the idea that a JTBD is a collection of things.

Marc Andreessen talked about the bundle of education: a dating scene, knowledge, social interactions, signaling, potential professional connections, cheap financing, and so on. Part-of-the-reason education innovation hasn’t gained distribution is that online only addresses parts of the bundle. It’s hard to date or build friendships on a video call.

Another bundle is the meal. Every meal is a combo meal: social interactions, nutrients, calories, taste, and so on. We can see bundles further yet. Food is more than the sum of its vitamins and nutrients. Eating an orange is more than theVitamin C, fiber, and sugar.

Work is a bundle too. Economist Tyler Cowen often notes that part-of-the-problem with Universal Basic Income is that it doesn’t address The Bundle. From NPR:

“Companies, like those in the tech industry such as Google and Apple, built enormous offices and put them all right next to each other in Silicon Valley and the office expanded what it was in people’s lives. They became like a second home. They had fancy food, concerts, dry cleaning, free meals.” – Stacey Vanek Smith, Planet Money, August 2021

Okay, a confession. I love Ted Lasso. It’s my favorite show since Parks and Rec. What I admire about Lasso is that he sets a tone (assuming for a moment it’s a real football club but this ethos may exist in the real production). Players begin the day and “Believe”. That’s what starting with base rates, mean reversion, and the bundle does too. Starting with those prompts prevents the Narrative Spin Drive from generating primarily palatable explanations.

One thing I’ve changed my mind on is reading fiction. Fiction, like Ted Lasso, appeals to us because it is a fake premise sharing a human truth.
Also, the idea of online education needing distribution is from Alex Rampell, a colleague of Andreessen, who asks: Will disruptors gain innovation before innovators gain disruption? This is the “TiVo Problem.”

April 2022 update. Taylor Pearson highlights Kris Abdelmessih’s post.

Swedish-style as a service

People love IKEA, to the effect of nearly one billion annual visits. The flat pack furniture and furnishings yields twenty-four billion euros in revenue each year. But could there be more in store for this store of galore?

One way to find business opportunities is to observe users and follow their lead. Instagram for example, developed both polls and shops (in-part) because users hacked those features before they were available. IKEA faces a similar opportunity.

If you’ve never been, IKEA is organized as an upstairs showroom and a downstairs warehouse. When a customer likes a lamp upstairs they note the aisle and bin code and when downstairs find the item. An upstairs room might look like this:
An IKEA "show room"

For larger item like couches and shelves, customers do the above and haul, unbox, and assemble their purchase. Flat packs, material selection, design choices, and scale all contribute to IKEA’s success.

Here’s the pitch: IKEA as a service.

The upstairs showrooms have appealing arrangements. It’s modern. It’s clean! For this made up start up an IKEA specialist comes to customer’s home to clean and arrange it in the flat packer’s fashion. The program includes a points program, where customers earn points toward future delivery and installation of IKEA products.

An IKEA saas offers a few advantages: recurring revenue, reduced churn, and a chance to grow their customer base. Wow Mike the house looks great, someone might say and of course I would tell them about the service, and offer my IKEA referral code.

Consider cleaning a car. My car isn’t new but it looks new after a good cleaning. The same thing occurred to college-me while shopping at The Gap. It wasn’t the clothes that looked good, it was the manikins! If I wanted to look good it wasn’t the clothes I needed, it was the body. Some number of people must do this at IKEA. Their goal is appearance and one way for that job-to-be-done is buying IKEA products.

The IKEA effect may be taken but this saas business might have great legs, like the beautiful bamboo ones available at IKEA.

Made up start ups is an ongoing series. They’re intended to be half-tongue-in-cheek and half-serious. The point is thinking in different ways, like Tyrone.

From field to city to car to circuit

This is a podcast episode covering the consumer journey from field to city to car to circuit.

The consumer journey has been one where a business shares information to a consumer depending where they are. That started at the farm with the creation of the Sears catalog, a moved to the city with the creation of stores, then moved to the car with the creation of malls and large big box centers like Walmart, and finally our story is at the point where it is on the Internet with online brand Zappos, Amazon, Warby Parker.

The selling, at least to the American consumer, is remarkably consistent. There has to be a way to talk directly to consumers whether in a store on the pages of a catalog or via an Instagram account. There has to be a way to get the product to the consumer, whether that is the new railway system, the rural mail delivery, or two day shipping.

This episode was a little less organized than normal and recorded outside. Thank you for your patience.

The podcast is available as Mike’s Notes: Apple, ListenNotes, or Overcast.

Your *cost structure* is my opportunity

“Your margin is my opportunity.”

Jeff Bezos

Businesses evolve to be better for the consumer. That is, to better fit the JTBD. In many cases that’s by making the same thing easier, cheaper, better, etc. Sometimes though, the job changes and the new job can be done in a easier, cheaper, better, etc. way.

Cheaper means a structural change. We made X like this, now we can make it like that and now X costs 7% less. Sometimes a business will disrupt itself and find a better way to make something. Amazon did this. When they started work on digital products, the books, music, and video business brought in seventy-five cents of every dollar.

But the job of books, music, and video was about to change. Convenience rose in importance.

Sometimes a business will make things cheaper by finding a substitute that allows for a comparable or better product. Sometimes a business will find that consumers aren’t that into X and would rather have Y, which is cheaper anyway.

Here’s a list:

The Walmart example kinda fits least but it’s also the least technical focused. It’s on anyway because it fits the spirit. To innovate – as incumbent or disruptor – requires a mindset of experimentation and a clarity of the JTBD.