How Goodreads Creates Products Its Customers Love
“I have a theory about product development that I’ve been developing over the years, which I think is pretty powerful and I’d like to share with you guys…”
Otis Chandler the founder of the website Goodreads.com recently gave a talk at Hustle Con about How Goodreads Got 50 Million Users.
One piece of advice Chandler shared in his talk that caught my attention was how Goodreads develops new products.
If you run a business or see yourself running a business in the near future, you’ll want to pay attention to this next point.
Chandler calls this his Theory of Product Development:
My theory is when there is a problem that a LOT of people have, you will find SMALL numbers of people going out of their way to solve that problem using manual or hacked-together tools.
The trick, of course, is can you productize what they are trying to do?
If you’re not familiar with Goodreads, think of it like a social network for readers. It’s a place where readers can share their thoughts about books and connect with like-minded readers.
Chandler gives two examples of products Goodreads has developed using his theory:
Example 1: Book Spreadsheets
Avid readers often have trouble remembering the books they’ve read. What Chandler found early on was that a lot of these avid readers kept some sort of spreadsheet with the books and authors and the dates they read.
Example 2: To-Read Lists
Chandler also found that a lot of these avid readers kept little notepads with their To-Read Lists. Books that have either been recommended to them by friends or books that they saw and decided they wanted to read one day.
What Chandler and Goodreads have done is found a way to productize these two hack solutions into one seamless app. Inside the app, users can save lists of all the books they’ve read, with ratings, and notes. And they can also save lists of books they plan to read.
Ok, I know this isn’t ground-breaking news — you take a sloppy solution, clean it up, and make it easier to use. But here’s what I want you to take away from all this.
Chandler says his theory is a “powerful lens for the world.” That’s the most important point.
I find this to be a really powerful lens for the world. And now every time I’m evaluating a new idea, I try to think ‘Where can I see people going out of their way to manually do this?’
We see it all the time with our own products, on our message boards. People using our message boards to try and hack together something or solve some problem. And you can pretty much point to every major company and see that they did the same thing.
Get into the habit of seeing the world like Chandler. Evaluate your new product ideas under this lens. Are small groups hacking together solutions to the problem you’re trying to solve?
This approach is similar to starting with a bad idea that we’ve talked about before.
Not only does this save you time trying to think of a new product, it places you in the conversation already going on inside your prospect’s mind. Your better solution won’t seem foreign to your power users; it will seem like the product they’ve been waiting for all along.
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