Newsletter #31: Jobs-to-be-done
12 minutes reading time. Thoughts on startups, growth, and technology 🚀
Welcome to another edition of the Struggle.
The Struggle is a weekly newsletter where I share my thoughts and learnings from running a fast-growing startup in Southeast Asia.
Early in my startup journey, I experienced a series of mistakes when trying to bring startup ideas to life.
The humiliation of those mistakes had a profound effect on me, and I got determined never to let that happen again. At first, I was blaming primarily myself and, in particular, my lack of experience. But as I started to research the matter seriously, I discovered that I am not the only person who has failed in bringing products to life. In fact, I found 12 studies by reputable organizations, including Harvard Business Review, PwC, Frost & Sullivan, and many others, that argue how difficult it is to launch a new product successfully.
Innovation is hard
A recent research study by pricing firm Simon-Kucher & Partners shows that 72% of all new product & service introductions fail to live up to expectations.
PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that only 11% of all venture investments get to any capital liquidity.
Frost & Sullivan reported that only one in 300 new products significantly impacts a company's growth and that only 1% of new products recoup their product development costs.
R.G. Cooper reported that new products succeed 25% of the time.
And the list goes on and on.
The primary objective of launching a new product is to come up with solutions that address unmet customer needs.
Yet, most people begin the process focusing on their ideas rather than on the problem they are solving. In the past, I wrote a post on where great come from, where I did my best to explain how it's not the idea that matters but the problem. Some people would argue that asking the customer is the ideal way to come up with valuable solutions. But customers cannot articulate the solutions they want. They do not know what's possible and what resources you have. Coming up with the right solution is the company's job, not the client. But what can guide your decision making when focusing on the problem rather than the "idea" or customer opinions?
The answer is "jobs-to-be-done," in one of my previous posts, I touched on the topic, but I do not think it was sufficient. There is a lot of depth to the concept, and I would like to spend some time talking about it.
What is "jobs to be done?"
"Job" stands for what a user really seeks to accomplish in a given circumstance.
A deep understanding of a job allows you to solve big problems in unique ways. Embracing "jobs to be done" mindset helps you to focus on identifying if there is a job for the user that needs to be done without obsessing over the competition—in the process, organizing the entire organization around processes that get the job done.
"JOBS-TO-BE-DONE is best defined as a perspective — a lens through which you can observe markets, customers, needs, competitors, and customer segments differently, and by doing so, make innovation far more predictable and profitable." [Tony Ulwick, Founder of the innovation consulting firm Strategyn, pioneer of Jobs-to-be-Done Theory, creator of Outcome-Driven Innovation]
When you start looking at your work through a "jobs to be done" lens your approach shifts to:
Your product and competition are secondary. What matters is identifying what the customer is trying to achieve, not how.
Your users/customers are not searching for your solution; they are looking to hire any solution that comes their way to get the job done.
Customers/users' needs are not vague. The moment you understand the job to be done, it gets easier to prioritize features.
Customer segments are not divided by demographics but by how customers struggle differently to get a job done.
A deep understanding of the "job" makes product development and marketing easier, as teams know exactly where to focus on getting ROI.
Thinking of jobs to be done matters because products come and go, but the job to be done remains stable over long periods. Think about social media; we keep on “hiring” platforms to allow us to communicate with our personal and professional networks while expressing our individuality. We started with Myspace, but by now have been through many solutions e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and now TikTok. The job to be done is more or less the same, but the way we are solving it changes over time.
"JOBS-TO-BE-DONE THEORY is comprised of a group of principles or tenets that form a foundation for making marketing more effective and innovation more predictable by focusing on the customer’s job-to-be-done. The theory is based on the notion that people buy products and services to get a “job” done. Jobs Theory goes on to say that by understanding in detail what that “job” entails, companies are far more likely to create and market solutions that will win in the marketplace." [Tony Ulwick, Founder of the innovation consulting firm Strategyn, pioneer of Jobs-to-be-Done Theory, creator of Outcome-Driven Innovation]
How to apply Jobs-to-be-done?
The following steps outline a simple yet effective process to figure out what products to build to solve for unmet customer problems.
1. Define Customers
Ideal customer profiles and personas. If you are not familiar with the terminology, check out this article.
2. Define jobs to be done
The “job” needs to be clearly defined and tested through conversations with clients, prototypes, and observations.
Imagine yourself waiting in line at a doctor's office, overcoming boredom while waiting is not the job to be done. It's the situation you found yourself in. What you decide to do when bored is the real job to be done. For example, reading a book, checking certain apps on your smartphone are the jobs to be done.
Keep this format in mind:
Job statement = verb + object of the verb (noun) + contextual clarifier
3. Define the value proposition
To articulate clearly the value proposition you will need to know: a) where in the "job" customers are underserved, b) define the value proposition that communicates to customers that their needs can be satisfied, and (3) do everything in your power to meet the targeted unmet needs better than competitors.
4. Build products to satisfy the unmet needs
“Jobs to be done” is a mindset while confusing at first; if applied frequently, it can help you to understand the ins and outs of your clients' needs. The moment you reach product-market fit is the moment when you can repeatedly satisfy a previously unmet need. Afterward, your product will grow with a lot of different features; some of them will be solving large jobs to be done on their own. Others will support the flawless execution of your core product. In both scenarios, you will need to understand the underlying principles of this framework to build a product people love.
Resources worth checking out:
🎥 Start with your customer | Jess Lee & James Buckhouse - How do you design a product that people love and a business that endures? You start with your customer and work backward to the product. For nearly 50 years, Sequoia has partnered with founders who have gone on to create category-defining, enduring businesses by solving customer needs. Hear from Jess Lee and James Buckhouse as they provide, for the first time, a taste of the product methods gleaned from Sequoia-backed founders on how to build the foundation for an enduring company from the start.
📝JTBD + Outcome-Driven Innovation / Tony Ulwick - Put Jobs-to-be-Done Theory (JTBD) into practice with Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI). Access frameworks, templates, examples, and case studies. Philip Kotler calls Tony Ulwick “the Deming of innovation.” Clayton Christensen credits him with “bringing predictability to innovation.”
A quote worth remembering:
💬 A quote by Bill Gurley on chasing your dreams (a venture capitalist at Benchmark Capital), from his talk at the McCombs School at the University of Texas.
“I'd have for you is hone your craft constantly. It's extremely important to be obsessive about understanding everything you possibly can about your craft. Consider it an obligation. Hold yourself accountable. That requires you to keep learning over time. Study the history, know the pioneers. It's the bedrock foundation for what you're going to build upon, and it will help you in networking that you're able to talk the language of the people that came before you.”
A book recommendation:
📖 Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The book is a lengthy, self-conscious, and challenging read but highly recommended if you're interested in why human beings behave the way they behave. One of the most interesting hypotheses he builds up is the existence of two systems in the mind. System 1 is prone to cognitive biases described above, but it's also where morality comes from. System 2 on the other hand is more introspective, rational, and is capable of being aware of the cognitive biases created by System 1.
Positive news worth sharing:
Exporting your plastic waste to another country isn’t a solution. It delegates the problem. And it’s turned parts of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia into wholesale dumping grounds. Ruining the landscape, posing environmental and health hazards. This new agreement stops richer nations offloading their problem onto countries who’ve signed it. (And that’s nearly all of them.) Let’s see if it can help quell our addiction to plastic.
Check out the source here.