“In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.” – Jeff Bezos, Amazon
This “new” world is also noisier than ever, why instead of adding to the noise, you want to stand out and be the irresistible one. There’s no way around growth hacking your way into people’s hearts with a product that sucks, regardless what any growth hacking medicine man or woman tells you, so how does one build a great, irresistible product, then?
“Good luck. I can tell you lot of things, but it’s not gonna be anything like it when you actually do it. Do your pushups, try to get some sleep, stay healthy and hang on to your dear life.” – Don Cheadle, Director of Miles Ahead
The quote is what Don Cheadle, an Oscar nominated and two time Golden Globe winning actor, kept hearing when asking for advice from experienced directors prior his directorial debut of Miles Ahead, a movie about Miles Davis, widely considered as one of the most innovative and influential artists of the 20th century.
Don Cheadle’s making of Miles Ahead carries many of the very elements, that in my experience are essential in building a great product. Before you even think the thought: No, it’s not like comparing apples and oranges. Having to date met with hundreds of startup founders, seen their early products, and followed many of their journeys over the years, few things keep standing out. Hear me out.
First and foremost, Miles Ahead is a movie brought to life out of sheer passion. What started as a conversation in 2006, when Miles Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, ultimately took six years and last minute crowd funding efforts to bring to the screen. Don had also tried to find a director, but having him directing it just became the only way to get the movie made. The advice he had received regarding directing also proved to be painfully accurate: He lost both sleep and weight, just like I’ve seen too many founders do. Yes, even with fame, talent, and a “safe”, highly recognized topic, it’s all about the grind.
With Miles Ahead, Don wasn’t now only taking on a challenge of directing his first feature film, and himself in the leading role, but he also learned to play trumpet in order to play all the solos. Already an accomplished saxophone player, he recalls trumpet as “a motherfucker of an instrument”. To learn a new instrument, in addition to the extensive research material provided by the Davis family, demonstrates both great care for details and intellectual honesty. These two qualities together translate on the screen into a sensibility of the subject and care for details, that can only be described as astounding. All this is a result of having a strong vision, fittingly reflected by the movie’s tagline : “If you’re gonna tell a story, come with some attitude.”
Miles Davis was all about the process in his work, why Don wanted to approach his directing in the same way, as a process to get to the next thing, and a better product as a result. This is also why he takes a completely different approach than the many stories already told about Miles Davis. He knew, that if he was to portrait the icon, he didn’t want to do it by checking all the same milestones in the artist’s career, which the documentaries already have done so well. Instead, he chose to tell a five-year non productive and silent era in the artist’s life, with a goal and a vision to make a movie that Miles himself would want to star in, a movie that felt like Miles Davis’s music: dynamic, innovative, impressionistic and experiential.
The best part with Miles Ahead is, though, that to fully enjoy it, one doesn’t have to be either an expert on, or a fan of Miles Davis, or even a fan of Don Cheadle for that matter. That’s exactly what great products do: They wow and create an emotional connection with a customer, while at the same time add value by enlightening her.
Great products take their customers along on the journey, and with Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle has truly painted an entirely new picture of Miles Davis for the world to discover and fall in love with. In the context of building a product it’s fair to argue, that a great product in the end should also become a commercial success. Viable distribution channels are crucial to any product and take time to build, why it’s too early to say if Miles Ahead per definition will also be a great product, not “only” a great movie. (The obvious disclosure: I’m a fan of the work of both Don Cheadle and Miles Davis, and very happy to have had the chance to join the European premiere of Miles Ahead at Berlinale.)
Here’s a little taste what a great product like Miles Ahead looks like:
Ten Questions To Answer YES To When Building A Great Product
I’ve put building a great product into context with help of a checklist of ten questions for you to answer YES to. These are the ten things I’ve learned to look for in a great product. I use them as an internal checklist whenever in a conversation with a founder, or giving product feedback. To throw around lofty words like passion, vision, intellectual honesty, or care for details is both easy and meaningless without tangible advice and explicit examples, why I’ve also assembled an accompanying toolkit to help you to get to YES and build a great product.
Before we get started: Building a great product and a great company are deeply interdependent, as your product ultimately is a reflection of your company culture. Culture in turn is determined by founder values, and since culture eats strategy for breakfast, you as a founder better start by setting great values, so that you at least have a chance to not suck at your product. As this post will be all about the building a product part, please do pick up the starter kit* for building a great company (*Luck excluded).
Ready to say YES? Hit Play. Then head over to the toolkit.
(View on Slideshare if not working on your mobile.)
Paula is Digital Product Advisor and Top 100 Women in Tech in Europe, focusing on Product, Go-to-market, and Internationalization strategies. She has to date mentored over 150 digital technology companies, and rated as one of the best startup mentors in Europe. Read more about her work and personal guidelines. Contact Paula to help you build better products and drive growth. “You never learn anything when you speak, only when you listen” – Roelof Botha / Douglas Leone, Sequoia Capital. Connect on Twitter, LinkedIn.