Stacking the Bricks Podcast
EP16 - How do you design products people love?
In this episode…
But Amy and Alex aren't interviewing Scott about his book or his launch in this episode. In fact, the opposite.
In this episode we turned the tables and Scott interviewed us, digging REALLY deep into our combined backgrounds in business and how we do research, conduct "Internet Ethnography" a.k.a. Sales Safari, and how we build learning systems to help our customers and students. You can even learn some of the "expert-level" Sales Safari techniques that we use.
Note: We didn't plan to make this a podcast episode so the audio quality isn't perfect, but when I found this recording buried in some folders a few nights ago I realized that there wasn't anything even close to this comprehensive anywhere out there So it's time to change that..
Click play to tune into this fun, fast-paced, and multi-layered conversation with an alumni we're very proud of, as we share what goes into creating the products that people love, and how we help others do the same.
Links mentioned in this episode
- Designing Products People Love
- How to create a product people want to buy
- Desmond Morris
- The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Part 1, Part 2
- Learn Startup is Backwards
- Freckle Time Tracking
- Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Alex Hillman: What’s going on brick stackers! Welcome back to another episode of Stacking the Bricks. As always, I’m your host, Alex Hillman and today I want to spin the tables around.
I’m actually bringing back Scott Hurff who you met in episode two of Stacking the Bricks, where he was talking about his first and second rather epic product launches.
There’s a good chance that you heard Scott’s name again recently because he just launched a traditionally published book about product design called Designing Products People Love, and unlike a lot of published books, Scott’s book is doing very, very well.
Have you ever heard of the book Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug? It’s an absolute classic and if you haven’t read it, you absolutely should, but that’s not why I’m talking about it. I’m talking about it because Scott’s book beat it on Amazon’s charts in its own category. But this time we’ve got Scott coming back in a slightly it’s different position. One where he’s actually interviewing us, because about a year ago, while Scott was doing research for his book, he sat down with Amy and I to ask us some questions about the origins of our research methodology that we call Sales Safari.
What’s cool about this is Scott actually knows Sales Safari. He learned it from us, and he’s used it to create and launch multiple products, as well as grow his audience. But he didn’t really know a lot about where it came from or how Amy and I have applied it in our businesses – and I’m not just talking about 30x500.
I didn’t record this conversation, expecting it to be a podcast episode a year later, so the sound quality is not quite where I’d like it to be. But I rediscovered this file a couple of nights ago buried in a folder and realized what was inside. We don’t have this much awesome stuff in one place, really anywhere in the world, except for maybe inside of the 30x500 classes themselves.
So, I’m really excited to share this, and I’m really, really excited to hear what people think about it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a longtime reader, a student of one of our classes, or someone who’s just found us today. There’s SO much in this interview for you. I really think this is the kind of episode that people are going to be coming back to and listening to over and over again, pulling out a brand-new nugget every single time.
I’m pumped. I hope you’re pumped. And I hope you really enjoy this episode.
Scott Hurff: My parents have always railed in me when I was writing papers on the 30th draft that they brought their red pen to, what are the terms? So, I thought it would be great to hear in your own words what the terms were, what is 30x500? And what is Sales Safari?
Amy Hoy: So 30x500 is Alex and my class for creative people so that they can learn to create and sell their first products, because working and doing creative stuff for somebody else for hire, it’s very different than selling directly. You’re insulated from the market realities. You don’t understand quite what people want – except your boss.
It’s very difficult to go from a school and job, and then freelance to create a product. A lot of people fail because they don’t understand how different it is. And so, our class gives them those skills so they can go and launch something and make money.
Alex Hillman: And Sales Safari really started as just one of the components of that class when we first set out to create it. The first version was actually called the Year of Hustle and was sort of an end to end – it was the result of Amy and I - we’d gotten together in her and her husband Thomas’s apartment in Vienna and doing like the post-it note Kanban board of all of the things that people, either reasons that they don’t start a business or reasons that when they do, they make mistakes and they fail and they either never get to launch, or they launch with sort of a fizzle and die.
What was interesting when we started teaching that version of the class – which was sort of everything leading up to launch, a bunch of the components of that, or we didn’t think they were all that high level, but we learned over time just through teaching that things like ‘take notes’ and ‘go do research on your audience’ aren’t really specific enough. Sales Safari has really become the heart of the 30x500 class and I’d argue that the majority of the lessons themselves – the exercises – are tied directly to it, when originally it was one step of many.
Amy Hoy: We would say things like go study, go read what your audience is writing, study it and make notes on what you find and then use that. People don’t understand how to go study, read, or make notes. A lot of college educated people, none of that made sense at all. Which, I mean, as a self-educated person I found very shocking.
Alex Hillman: So Sales Safari has evolved over time into, as close to a paint-by-numbers, version of that process.
Amy Hoy: Truly. It’s truly involved a lot, a huge amount.
Alex Hillman: It’s step-by-step, every component is a ‘here’s not just what to do, but specifically how to do it’. And ‘here’s the results that you get and here’s to know whether or not you’re doing it right’, because you’re going to use those results in the next component and things like that.
Amy Hoy: What it really is, Sales Safari is internet ethnography, combined with some close reading and empathy, like step-by-step empathizing with your customer to understand them.
Alex Hillman: Also sort of a built-in feedback loop. Once you start applying for Sales Safari data, you’re sort of collecting sort of categories of notes, things like the pains that you notice in people and not just the pains, like what the problem is, but also how they describe it. You start collecting jargon, some of their specific, detailed language and words they use to describe the problem. Elements in contributions to their worldview, their deep seated beliefs that are sort of unshakeable and then also the things that they talk about, they recommend, the things that they buy and all of these things where the individual data points can be valuable, but the goal of Sales Safari is to have a systematic and repeatable approach so you can collect a shitload of it. You want a ton of data, because without a ton of data, you can’t find patterns and without patterns, you can’t make smart decisions about your business.
Amy Hoy: Yeah. People who go, and especially designers, developers, writers etc., they think “I’m going to make a product”. They get one data point, or they get one potential client or customer and they think, “All right, this is it. I’m going to do it.” And that’s really a recipe for failure, you need to keep doing whatever research you’re doing until it all comes together and it’ll seem fruitless up until the point where it immediately the clouds will part and a ray of sunshine will burst through, the chorus of angels will sing and you’ll go, “Of course. This is what I should be doing”, but people like to go on one data point because it doesn’t take any work and because it feels right at first. It’s bad though. It’s a bad idea.
Scott Hurff: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I’ve been there.
Amy Hoy: A lot of people have been there.
Scott Hurff: Yeah. Not only as the guy running this chapter, but like a student of both of you, it’s kind of amazing seeing the passion you have for it. I mean, that was just five minutes of like, this is what it is. It’s why it’s awesome. I mean the energy is there. It’s palpable.
Amy Hoy: Which is great because the coffee hasn’t really kicked in yet!
Scott Hurff: Yeah, mine neither. I think that’s a good segue to what was the impetus behind doing this and what led you on this path to now?
Amy Hoy: It started when I was very young, I read like every book in the library when I was a kid, I read everything. One of the books that really made a difference in my life was Peoplewatching by Desmond Morris and then his related books like Babywatching and Catwatching, etc. That gave me very, very early on the idea that you can understand people and creatures by observing them. So thanks Desmond Morris!
Later on I learned about ethnography, which is of course with Desmond Morris was doing. Then just later on, when I started doing freelance and business and stuff, it just made sense for me to focus on what were people doing and how could I get in front of them. So Sales Safari is something that I’ve been doing sort of naturally since I was a teenager and then I started trying to teach it to my friends because as someone who was really well connected in the Ruby on Rails and PHP worlds, I just watched my friends fail and fail and fail, and I’m like, “Um, you don’t need to be failing”. When we launched – my husband and I launched Freckle, our Software as a Service in 2008; Software as a Service grows really slowly in terms of revenue and in 2010 I’d decided I had to quit consulting because it was making me want to murder everyone. So, I was like, well, how can I make some money?
Alex Hillman: Amy and I have some similarities in the fact that we’ve done the employment track, we’ve done the freelancing consultant tracking.
Amy Hoy: And then we did the impossible!
Alex Hillman: Separately as it were! What is interesting is, it was two things. One was Amy and I were friends for a number of years before we started working together. So, this was not a business partnership forged out of necessity. It was more of a, “Hey, we do have a common interest and a common set of skills in terms of being able to connect with an audience and help have them do something that’s important to them.” That’s what’s made us successful as both employees and freelancers, honestly. The thing that was always my angle as a freelancer was when everyone else was out there selling their code, I was actually getting to know the business that I was trying to serve and say, “Here’s what I think will actually make the work you’re about to pay me to do pay for itself in a multiple.” Nobody does that.
Amy Hoy: Nobody does it because they just think like a cog at all times, but also I’ve found one of the main reasons I hated consulting was the clients don’t – I mean, they say they want that, but they don’t really. They ignore you; they hire you and they pay you, but then they ignore what you say, which is frustrating.
Alex Hillman: The move to Amy and I were working together on this, I think, came from the same frustration of both having created successful sort of alter businesses beyond our freelance. Amy had been able to launch Freckle. It was young and growing, at the time I had Indy Hall – also young and growing at the time, and saying, how is it that we’ve created these things and seem to have dodged all of these bullets that take so many other people out? What can we share from what we’ve learned to help people avoid the failure rather than just lean into it and accept it and say that these lessons are necessary battle scars in order to be successful? That’s ridiculous.
Amy Hoy: We share a hatred of the idea that X can’t be taught, whatever it is. X can’t be taught is said by people who are shitty teachers. So Alex, you didn’t explain what Indy Hall was.
Alex Hillman: Sure, so Indy Hall is a coworking community and space. We were one of the first in the world, which puts me in a distinct position to say that there were legitimately were not people doing what we did when we started. I had to learn a lot from outside influences and things like that to figure out how to make Indy Hall work.
For those of you who know about coworking and maybe have visited a coworking space, one thing that I’ll urge you to do next time you set foot in a coworking space is look for one thing in particular and that’s whether or not people that coworking space are actually interacting with each other? Whether they’re talking to each other. Do they walk up and say hello to their neighbors and things like that? Or do they walk in, they drop down their computer or they put in their headphones and not talk to anybody?
One of the things that sets Indy Hall apart, and the thing that I think we work the hardest at since the very beginning is we’re not so much a place to work – although absolutely I think – one of the best places to work. We’re placed to meet people who you wouldn’t otherwise meet and really a community more than anything else, more of a club and a clubhouse.
Amy Hoy: It’s totally a club.
Alex Hillman: Eight years later, we’re still growing strong and evolving and doing all sorts of things, but the interesting thing about my experience in building Indy Hall and community building is the practice that we both do at Indy Hall and we teach other coworking spaces and things like that.
It’s got a lot in common with Sales Safari. That’s not something that I talk about a whole lot. But it’s a lot of the same components of observation at scale, pattern watching, close listening, building empathy and then I guess the part that’s a little bit different from 30x500, in many ways and a lot of the businesses that 38x500 helps people create is when you create a product business, generally speaking, your customers are not aware of each other – or not super aware of each other. They may be aware of each other in terms of testimonials or they may bump into each other, even if you’ve got like a mailing list or something, a discussion list, or support forums or things like that.
Indy Hall’s this kind of bizarre business where the customers are extremely aware of each other to the point where the majority of the value that you get as a paying member of Indy Hall is actually coming from other members, which means as a business owner, my senses for listening and understanding people where they actually are, needs to be very, very good. Otherwise, we react to what we hear versus what we see and make bad decisions that a lot of other shared workspaces do.
Amy Hoy: Indy Hall and therefore Alex is sort of like the godfather of coworking communities, because so many of them have made the same stupid mistakes and then had the shutdown because they didn’t serve and focus on their customers first, they instead focused on the extraneous, baubles, like fancy desks and a fancy space and then they were like, well how do I fill this space? Which if you spend any time at entrepreneur forums, people make things and they’re like, well, how do I get people to buy it? It’s the same thing. It’s the same problem people have. Indy Hall and Alex did it the opposite way, which is why he and I are such a natural fit.
Alex Hillman: Yeah. If you think about starting a business with venture capital or really any stage of funding before there’s money coming from customers; what happens is, is you set a scale, you pre-dictate a scale that the business needs to be in order to be successful. The more venture capital you take on even a “favorable” rate or evaluation, that transaction dictates a necessity city for growth and that’s what people say makes a startup, a startup. But it changes the kind of decisions that you make and who you serve. Instead of serving your customers, you serve the size of the container that you’ve created for that business to need to fill and do by hook or by crook – unfortunately, too many people leave towards crook – in order to make it work or you fail. So many businesses fail at a totally reasonable profitable scale because they never are able to hit that imaginary bounding box.
Amy Hoy: They’re over leveraged from day one.
Alex Hillman: If you look at a coworking space as a physical manifestation of the exact same thing, if you start with a 20,000 square foot space, you now need to have membership to support a 20,000 square foot space and then some, before you can ever consider yourself successful. We take the inverse approach and teach the inverse approach, which is have members before you even have the overhead of a space. Let the membership and its growth, and its needs, and its way of supporting each other, dictate the size and other attributes that are far more important than the size of the space itself.
Scott Hurff: So that’s really interesting. I usually see Sales Safari taught in the context of online products and I feel like this is a great example of something that is not obviously online, it would be an interesting exploration of how does Sales Safari translate to the offline world? Maybe that’s a huge, that’s probably a huge topic, but roughly speaking, how did you apply the rough principles or philosophy or a mindset of Sales Safari to building an offline business?
Alex Hillman: So my short answer – and then I will hand it over to Amy – is that not much changes with the exception that everything slows down; you lose a bunch of really valuable tools like search and copy paste and you rely on your ears and your brain. The one thing that I’ve tuned that, I mean, this is expert level Safari in so many ways, is the ability to disassociate what someone is saying from what you interpret them saying, and remember what they actually said, not what you think they said. That’s something that’s much easier to do online when it’s written, because you can literally copy and paste what they said, when you’re talking to people – man, is that hard?
So, you’re at a bunch of disadvantages to try and do this offline and it’s slow, but I’m curious what Amy has to say about this.
Amy Hoy: So we don’t need to invent in-person Safari because ethnography and whatnot have already been invented.
Alex Hillman: Right.
Amy Hoy: Safari was my invention to take those into internet forums, and I sound like an ancient person saying internet forums. I don’t know – forums? The coffee is kicking in now, most people cannot observe while they’re engaging. It’s very difficult, not only is it difficult to dissociate; but literally you have to have two parallel running processes in your brain and they both have to be working at full speed. Very few people can do that. I think even with training, very few people can do that. If you’re in like a local user group, for example, and you’re like, “Oh, well, these people have these problems in this user group” is to me even that’s accurate, you then think that, well, they all they must be this way across the entire world. All the different user groups, every Ruby user must have this problem. That could be so untrue. You have a local maximum in a lot of ways, like literally local and you might have just reached the peak of what’s local and it may not peak anywhere else.
Alex Hillman: Which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it’s a limitation you need to be really, really aware of.
Amy Hoy: Right. So when you’re serving an actually local market, which is what Alex does, it works so much better because it doesn’t really matter if people in Tucson, Arizona have the same concerns about working alone as a freelancer, because they’re not going to join Indy Hall, probably. If you serve a local market, then local Safari is the absolute best thing you can do.
But on the other hand, people then take that kind of thing – if I say that kind of thing – and they think, “Oh, I’m going to go to my salon and see what struggles they have”, but that doesn’t show you the full picture. I cannot tell you how many friends and early-on students – before we learned to discourage them, went and said, “All right, well, my local bar/restaurant/salon has this staff scheduling problem, I’m going to make software for it.”
They think they identify quite a problem that they were going to solve, but they didn’t understand salons at all. They watched the misused pieces of paper to do this rough scheduling, but they didn’t understand that these people never buy software ever. If they bought software, they wouldn’t have this problem to start with.
We’ve seen the staff scheduling issue for local businesses come up four or five times over the past few years. It’s always a failure because you can observe someone doing a task and not understand the greater context, and the way that you understand the greater context is long term observation, like many different intervals.
Alex Hillman: The other part to that is if you ask them to show you how they use it, you’re instantly at a disadvantage because they know you’re watching over their shoulder and that instantly creates changes, even if they’re micro changes in how they use it, because they’re trying to show you something instead of doing what they normally do in order for you to observe.
So, there’s an element of Sales Safari, where there’s a very intentional distance and a lack of participation. People need to not know that you’re there watching. That sounds really creepy when I say it that way, but the reason for it – and this is sort of professional lurking – if you want to look at it that way, you’re there to watch what they do and say when they don’t know that you’re there.
Amy Hoy: It’s not that they’re doing in private.
Alex Hillman: Right.
Amy Hoy: These are public forums and mailing lists and such, but they aren’t performing for you.
Alex Hillman: Exactly, it’s what do they say unprompted?
Amy Hoy: In ethnography, I mean, I consider this a Margaret Mead problem, right? Margaret Mead was this famous anthropologist who fucked up big time because she went to these remote villages and she asked the villagers – and especially the like teenage girls, what their lives were like and then she came back with these insanely and sensationalized tales of crazy sex lives and everything, and they were just totally pulling her on. So in people studying circles, Margaret Mead is sort of a cautionary tale. In fact, she’s probably THE cautionary tale because she took the word of her subjects instead of observing what actually went on – very gullible – you don’t want to become a Margaret Mead.
Scott Hurff: So why in your experience do people misrepresent or sometimes lie or sometimes just say something to get you off their back. Why is it that asking people isn’t it reliable?
Amy Hoy: Well, I think it’s rarely on purpose. I think it’s rarely on purpose. People don’t understand what they do all day. They don’t pay attention to what they do all day. As a designer, I can tell you, this is absolutely fact because if I explain all these problems with email software, people are like, “Oh, but it’s not so bad”, or like, “Oh, that’s just email whatever.” And I’m like, “Well, what about if it was like this?” And they’re like, “Oh, I never thought of that. I never thought that maybe I should have a people view that was sell the files Bob sent me, so I don’t have to search for Bob and then click every fucking email with a fricking paperclip icon”.
Alex Hillman: You found a hot button topic for Amy, by the way.
Amy Hoy: People…they tune out, they just do what they do.
Alex Hillman: Amy’s point, there’s a numbness to some pains, but the other side of it is, well it’s people really ultimately train themselves to not think about it or to think about it in a certain or specific way, or they’ve heard a certain thing that they think they’re supposed to say.
And again, it’s not an intentional act of deception. That’s extremely rare; it’s more that you’re relying on them to be reliable and that’s statistically, just not going to be the case. If they were so aware of their problem, there’s a good chance the problem would be solved by now.
Amy Hoy: Which is why every programmer makes their own tools and they’re all terrible. No offense programmers. I’m a programmer. Y’all know what I’m talking about.
The other thing is there’s research that shows this – experts don’t understand how they do what they do. They can’t verbalize it. When you start observing it, they start like trying to explain it while they do it, the performance worsens a lot.
Scott Hurff: I also remember the example you gave in a talk a while ago of the, the Walkman focus group.
Amy Hoy: Oh yeah.
Scott Hurff: They said, “We want yellow” and then they all picked up black.
Amy Hoy: Yeah, all the kids were asked by Sony, “Which one is cooler? Which one would you want to buy? The cool, sporty yellow Walkman?” - I think it was a Discman – “or the black one?”
Then they’re like, “Thanks for doing our focus group, here’s two tables worth of Walkman’s, pick the one you want.” And they are almost all picked black. Peoples’ vision of themselves is different than how they actually are. That’s humanity for you.
Alex Hillman: Also, this is something I’ve learned through Indy Hall, is that people rarely – this is bizarre – people so rarely act in their own best interest. It’s really bizarre and it’s not that they are intentionally self-sabotaging. It’s that if there are habits at play that they generally aren’t aware of that habit and they will simply revert to the habit.
The example I can give you is that people choose to work in a coworking space generally because they don’t want to be by themselves, otherwise they can stay at home, right? And yet, so often given the opportunity, if they come into a coworking space, the first place that they will choose to sit is by themselves. Why is that?
I like to think of it. It’s like when you get into an elevator by yourself, you stand in the center and the second another person walks in the elevator, you both go to the opposite corners of that tiny little box. It’s a weird habit. It’s a personal bubble thing, or I’m used to sitting by myself, so I think I’m going to sit by myself. And it takes an outside influence, which in the case of our coworking space is me and my team, doing choice architecture and design to help our members – our paying customers – get what they actually came there to get, because if they are left to their own devices, often they won’t.
Scott Hurff: That’s fascinating. Do you find that peer pressure plays a role as well? Or is it like so-called societal norm in the context of where they’re at? Or is it just, you know, “Hey, I’m awkward being social, but yet I want to be, I don’t want to be by my myself.”
Alex Hillman: It depends, and I’ll say all this, there’s not a right or a wrong way to work in a coworking space. You work however you’re most productive. But what we know is the people who get the most value, generally do a handful of certain things – and that comes from observation. So, if we can help people choose those things for themselves, that’s one of the other elements that we teach in Sales Safari.
One of the Sales Safari derivatives is our copywriting techniques, which are designed to be persuasive. It’s not about getting somebody to do something they wouldn’t already do. It’s getting them to make a choice that is in their best interest. If it’s not in their best interest, it doesn’t work. That’s the beautiful thing about it. It’s not persuasion for the sake of getting people to do something detrimental. You can’t plant an idea in someone’s head and simply have them do something that is against their best interests. If you can, it’s evil.
Amy Hoy: But most people aren’t that good.
Alex Hillman: Yeah. So that’s just it, you have to be very, very good at it in order for that to be effective, and most people just aren’t that good.
Amy Hoy: Thank God!
Alex Hillman: Master manipulators.
Amy Hoy: They exist, and they are scary.
Alex Hillman: It’s true. But it comes down to, you know, when you think about sales and copywriting, writing persuasively, even if it’s not a sale – in terms of money changing hands, but getting somebody to do something, writing an email that people will read, writing a blog headline that will get somebody to read the rest of the article. You have to think about why reading the article is in that person’s best interest and then show that to them. Because they’re not going to do it on their own.
Amy Hoy: It’s this idea that people walk around looking for solutions to their problems. No, people walk around trying to tune out their problems because they don’t expect that they can solve them. So you have to reflect back to them, “Hey, this is the problem that you’re having and you know, it’s a big deal, but also we can fix it together.” That is the heart of my copywriting techniques.
Scott Hurff: So that’s a good segue. What is an overview of the process that helps you understand what would make someone read that email, use this product, read that blog post?
Amy Hoy: They key is that you start by observing what they actually already do. You don’t try to persuade a vegetarian to buy Omaha steaks. You look at what they actually do in real life, on the internet, what they read, what they share with each other, what problems they discuss, what things that they ask help for, how they help others. Then you get in there with something that already fits their behavior and their worldview. So, if people don’t watch videos or they exclusively watch videos – or you find they pay more for videos – then you’ll want to consider giving them videos.
The process is essentially: figure out what hurts them, reflect that back to them in a very empathetic understanding way, and then offer them assistance. So you don’t say, “Hey, I can help you with that.” Say, “What if you didn’t have to restart Skype five times during your podcast?”
Scott Hurff: That would help!
Amy Hoy: Yeah! So, there was this is a little tool we started using the other day, Alex found, called Line In so you can actually hear yourself on your own monitor while you’re recording stuff.
Scott Hurff: Oh, imagine that!
Amy Hoy: Yeah. It’s like you have to start recording and then stop recording and then reopen it and listen to what you just recorded to be sure that everything’s correct. Why do you have to take all these steps? So what if you didn’t have to take all these steps? What if you could do it simultaneously? “Hey! Here’s this app!”
Alex Hillman: By the way, it was incredibly hard to find a solution to that problem. I was someone who was looking for it. This is a great illustration of what Amy was talking about before. I knew the problem that I had; I knew that I wanted to solve it. What I didn’t know was how to describe it in the way that the person who had created it was marketing the product.
Amy Hoy: They didn’t do as good a job as I just did right now.
Alex Hillman: Right. Exactly. If they had, I would have typed a couple of things into Google and boom, they would have popped right up. There’s a natural SEO to this as well is if I’m trying to guess, what way would a product maker describe their product in order to find it? You’re making me do double the work and that’s why I’m never going to find you, versus let me type in the problem that I have in the way that I would already describe it - and poof, there you are.
Scott Hurff: Yeah, that’s kind of like a reverse jargon, a translation process or something – that was a terrible sentence. But, you know, it’s like reverse decoding. That’s crazy. What I love about Sales Safari is that it takes advantage of the fact that we’re now at a time where all this stuff takes place online, for the most part. There are some communities that don’t hang out in forums or link sharing sites or Reddit or whatever, but it takes advantage of the fact that by and large, the vocal members of some community are talking about the problems they have and whatever, I think interesting, it’s a small revelation, but it changes everything.
Alex Hillman: This is the thing to like put all of that into perspective, Scott, because I think you’re totally right. Is that in order for someone to go on the internet and ask a question of a group of strangers about how to solve their problem is a very strong indicator of the level of pain they’re in. Even if it seems like very little pain to you like, “Oh, that’s so simple! Here’s how to fix it”. It’s awesome that you think that, but that’s clearly not where they’re coming from. Otherwise they would have fixed it by now. So, keep that in mind that in order for people to post the problem they’re having for help to an internet of strangers, that’s a clue right there.
Amy Hoy: Yeah. For example, my husband Thomas is like a lot of people. He just kind of like goes along and I’m like, “Why are you hanging socks on the drying rack this way? If you hang them this way, they’ll dry faster.” And he’s like, “I’ve been hanging socks this way for 30 years. I don’t care.” So, can’t really help Thomas no matter how much you want him to be helped. In these areas he doesn’t care about, but if he were on a forum asking how to maximize his hang dry time, then you would know it was time to sell him one of those crazy octopus hanger things that they sell in places where they don’t have dryers. The struggle is real.
Alex Hillman: More and more of our examples are related to underwear, Amy, have you noticed that?
Amy Hoy: Have we talked about underwear lately?
Alex Hillman: It’s because of the tidiness book.
Amy Hoy: Oh, that’s right. That’s right. You told me that last night.
Alex Hillman: Which we’ve assigned to…it’s now assigned reading in the new 30x500 and as such people are spending more time thinking about their underwear and socks. Let’s move on, Scott.
Scott Hurff: I do have to pause though, because I think I just read that book or at least I bought it from my girlfriend. It’s like a square book, like the Japanese home technique?
Amy Hoy: Did you read it or did you not read it?
Scott Hurff: I scanned it, but I knew enough to give it to my girlfriend.
Amy Hoy: Okay.
Alex Hillman: Brilliant. But yeah, that’s the book.
Scott Hurff: That’s cool. Yeah, she sold like a thousand bucks worth of a secondhand clothing because you get rid of so much stuff.
Amy Hoy: When I read from some of her students, like “I just went through 200 tops”, like clothing items for the top part of your body, including sweaters and stuff. Thomas and I also recently went through our closet and got rid of stuff so that we could get rid of one of our wardrobes before the book, I don’t think we had 200 tops together. People are very different.
Alex Hillman: So Amy, if you want a little bit more about this, Scott for you and other folks that are maybe listening to this, Amy and I did an actually two part conversation about that book, where Amy had been reading it and really reflecting on how much of the process that the book teaches about why your approach to tidying is wrong and here’s a new one, has parallels to 30x500 and the way we teach business.
Amy Hoy: It’s so good. I mean the key thing that makes Marie Kondo’s book so amazing – it’s called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – is that she’s basically telling you and demonstrating through logical steps what all of the feel good advice about like, “Oh, tidy 15 minutes a day, tidy one room at a time tidy slowly, blah, blah, blah will never work for you” and that’s exactly the same thing as, “Oh, well try this and customer interviews and pivot. And if that doesn’t work pivot again”, it’s like you’re working with a system that’s wrong and no matter how you tweak the wrong system, it’ll still be wrong. Whereas you really need to do is question the base assumptions and start fresh. And that’s what we do with our class and I was so amazed to see the same idea apply to something everyone struggles with, which is tidiness.
Scott Hurff: Yeah and that’s an interesting segue too, I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on the so-called Lean Startup mentality that’s just permeating startups everywhere. It’s something that people will kind of take it blind faith these days. Any thoughts on that?
Amy Hoy: I could fill a book with my thoughts on that. Did you have a specific aspect of it that you wanted to talk about? Or should we just pick one?
Scott Hurff: Just pick one actually, because I know you write a lot about this and I think you could probably pinpoint your biggest critique without me kind of guiding you into it.
Alex Hillman: So I think it’s important to think about the Lean Startup before we even get into what it is and why it doesn’t work, talk about the problem it tries to solve. The problem that tries to solve in theory is not very different from the problem we’re trying to solve, which is ship something that people actually buy and to avoid wasting time and effort and money and other finite resources on getting there.
Sort of what Amy was just saying about the tidying advice, the Lean Startup is sort of the version, the other tidying advice that she was talking about. It’s advice being given at the level where you’re just tweaking an already broken decision, an already broken system, or the Lean Startup really leads with the genius idea that came from inside of you and says, “Here’s how you will take my Lean Startup magic fairy wand and if you tap it on the right people’s shoulders in the right direction, you’ll magically make a sale.” You like that?
Scott Hurff: That was beautiful.
Alex Hillman: You like that? I like that.
Amy Hoy: Please say fairy wand again!
Alex Hillman: Fairy wand! But that’s how I’ve been describing 30x500 is as the antidote to that feeling of tapping people on the shoulder with your, ‘do you want this’ wand and hoping that…it’s getting weirder, isn’t it?!…and avoiding that invoicing that entirely. So, Amy, do you want to pick up and run from there?
Amy Hoy: Yeah.
Alex Hillman: How’s that for a setup by the way?
Amy Hoy: So basically lean started with Cinderella and Cinderella is just going to keep scrubbing different stoves until someone comes and nominates her to be the magical princess.
Alex Hillman: And it’s not that Lean Startup can’t work, it’s like – what’s the term in programming – is it eventual consistency? Like Lean Startup can work given an infinite amount of resources and time to maybe finally make a match.
Amy Hoy: Okay. Thousand monkeys, typewriters, Shakespeare. Well, I think the key is garbage in, garbage out. If you have something that’s already fundamentally good, then Lean Startup can help because you’re just refining what’s already good, but most people don’t have something that’s already fundamentally sound to start with.
Alex Hillman: And there’s no way for them to know whether or not they do. Lean doesn’t teach you that.
Amy Hoy: Just throw something at the wall until something sticks, which is basically the Lean Startup approach. But the thing is, if you actually read the book, The Lean Startup, it’s really vague. It doesn’t actually tell you do this, do this, do this. It’s more of a pastiche, which is fine, except people act as if it’s a set of instructions – which it’s not – which leads to all the confusion and difference in opinions that you find people in fighting about all the time and the lean forums.
The thing about Lean Startup is it’s inspired by the Toyota Way and lean manufacturing, which is very clear, like some of the best parts of the book are the quotes from the Toyota Way. No one starts in assembly line, is like, “Well, let’s see what comes out the end and if we don’t like it we’ll change it.”
Scott Hurff: Right.
Amy Hoy: Which is what Lean Startup does. It’s like, “We’re going to make something. If it doesn’t work, we’ll change it.” That’s not how anyone makes cars and that’s not how anyone ever made cars. By the time they get to lean manufacturing, the, ‘what’ is a known quantity, and it’s established that it functions, then you just improve the manufacturing itself.
So I’m not actually sure how the Lean Startup came about it. It doesn’t ‘logic’ out to me, if logic can be a verb, whereas we’re like, well, what makes something people want to buy it? And then what do people want to buy? Because you cannot make something people want without understanding what people want or being very lucky and luck is not a business plan.
Scott Hurff: Exactly. The Sales Safari process takes the onus off you to have this, magic fairy wand idea machine that will suddenly solve everyone’s problems and be immensely successful, and says, “Hey, when you watched the social network, when you watch these fantasize movies about Silicon Valley, this is actually not how it happens”.
Alex Hillman: It’s not that it’s not how it happens, it’s unlikely that you can recreate that. There’s a fundamental difference between the business that’s willing to run around with hopefulness; that Cinderella story that we were talking about before and predictable, repeatable results. Predictable repeatable results mean you can work with consistency. It means that you can work on a schedule. You know, if you’ve got limited time, you’re trying to do this on the side, or you’ve got health issues, or you’ve got kids and a family and you don’t want to give things up, the lean approach again, it will swell to fill the amount of time and resources you give it, and you can keep doing it to infinity.
Whereas with consistent, repeatable results, you can do it with finite amounts of time and know that you’ll get there.
Amy Hoy: We should sell a t-shirt that says ‘30x500 students do it in a finite amount of time’.
Alex Hillman: And it’s a beautiful thing because it actually scales also is, you know, that when you do it and it works, you can keep doing it. You can do it more and get better at it. You can put more in and get more out. It’s an actual process versus this very vague, fuzzy, open to interpretation thing that is lean.
Scott Hurff: No one ever said the more you learn about your customer, the more disadvantaged will be. I mean it scales with your time.
So, we’re rounding out the hour here. One last question. I was talking with a friend the other day and talking about just pains versus joy. And I was like, you know, from my experience, finding what people bitch about, they complain about, that’s more of a solid way of approaching a business than, “Oh, you know, like these things made me so happy”, which no one ever really says and in these forums, but you know, it was the debate of basing a product on a pain versus a joy. I’d love to explore that and your experience. What made you build Sales Safari on the pains and not the joys that people mention?
Amy Hoy: Because joy is much more personal and also a lot of cultural groups – and I don’t mean like ethnic or country cultures, but industry culture etc. don’t talk about what’s awesome all the time. Or they do, but it’s sort of disingenuous how everything is awesome these days.
Scott Hurff: Lego movie!
Amy Hoy: So 30x500 focuses on providing business value. Business value always comes from something that is a waste to start with or a lack. So, Freckle Time Tracking – my app may create pockets of joy, which I think is awesome, but the most important thing that it does is serve a business need while not being terrible. So Freckle is actually very pleasant to use, but just saying it’s actually fun to use, I mean, you could apply that to anything and it would be meaningless.
The thing is it’s time tracking that you’ll actually use because it’s pleasurable, that time tracking is the key part here. If that makes sense. There was this a scene in this book called Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Have you read it?
Scott Hurff: I have not, but it’s on my Amazon Wish List.
Amy Hoy: Oh, it’s really good! You should read it now. It’s fantastic. So, one of the main characters, this is demon Crowley, and he’s sort of gone native in the world. He wants to be human basically and live as human. The demons’ job is to create evil. So, they have this demon meeting and the demon middle management is there and these other demons are like, “I tempted a priest to commit blah, blah, blah. And I tempted a man to kick his dog and blah, blah, blah”. And Crowley is like, “Well, you guys are not thinking big enough. Those are individual acts that maybe are strong acts of evil, but what I did was I invented the M25 motorway and people drive around it and curse it. Thousands of them every single day”, which is especially funny because British highways are terrible.
He joked that it was the design of a demonic sigil highway, which if you look at it from above, it’s pretty, pretty hilarious. But the idea that there’s like this low-level accretion of evil, thousands of times a day, I like to try to create the opposite.
Think how many horrible man hours each day are burned using Microsoft word? Or Enterprise time tracking software? But the thing is if you just say, I’m going to create joy and be like, “Here’s a cup of ice cream!” that doesn’t actually tell you where to go. People like kiddies, they like kiddies. They like ice cream. They like jazz music, but those are harder things to sell unless they’re in the mood for them. Whereas if you say “You struggle with this problem every day. Imagine if it was actually a positive interaction instead?” Then you actually get people listening, because if they’re not in the mood for ice cream, they’re not going to buy ice cream. You can’t stimulate demand for it easily, but if you work with something that they’re suffering with, then you have a conversation opener.
Scott Hurff: I love that characterization. You have to be in the mood for these things. I mean, I’ve never heard it put like that before. I think that’s really powerful.
Amy Hoy: Yes. Stimulating demand is difficult.
Scott Hurff: Yeah. Otherwise you’re like, “Hey, would you like ice cream delivery?” I mean the ice cream truck drives around with music for a reason, you know?
Amy Hoy: Exactly. That’s Pavlovian. Yes. I think I read an example once about pricing, it was like, free boob jobs. Scott, do you want one? For yourself.
Scott Hurff: No thank you!
Amy Hoy: Exactly!
Scott Hurff: I have been drinking a lot of soy milk though, so…
Amy Hoy: Good luck with that!
Alex Hillman: I think this all comes back to, just to sort of round out Amy’s point. It’s very easy and also Ineffective to spend a lot of time trying to convince somebody else that they want something, versus meeting somebody where they are in the moment where they want it.
Not only are you able to serve them, but they get this feeling of sort of magic mind reading-ness, which that’s a complicated concatenation of words, but the idea of being not only are you able to solve their problem, but they get this feeling, in addition to the joy of having their problem solved. Think about that elation that you feel when it’s like, “Finally somebody gets me and gets my problem and by the way, found a way to solve it.” And even if it’s not perfect, even if it’s got shortcomings, which by the way, it will, it always does. That doesn’t matter because they feel felt; they feel like you get them, which instantly instills some trust, which adds to their willingness and likelihood of buying. People buy – that’s another factor in the 30x500 process. The difference between selling to clients as a freelancer, or even selling yourself to an employer, where you’ve only got to convince one person is you can get to know them and figure out what you need to tell them in order to get them to hire you or give you a raise. When you’re selling products, you are not allowed to be in the room for every sale, so you need new mechanisms for building trust and meeting people where they are, helping them genuinely through ebombs. Then through a pitch that says, “I get you; I get your problem. This is your problem.” And they’re like, “Yeah, that is my problem. You even described it the way I described it. Are you reading my mind?” Then you show them how things could be better. They’re like, “Yeah, that’s actually what I want” – that ratchets up the trust. They believe that you get to them.
Amy Hoy: Because you do.
Alex Hillman: Because you do. And of course, this only works if you actually follow through. We study infomercials and show our students infomercials. Reasons, if people hate infomercials because they sell junk that doesn’t deliver on the promise. If they worked, we wouldn’t hate them so much. So, getting the customers trust that you actually know what problem they have delivers so much. Then when you do actually fix the problem, as that sort of like cherry on top of the trust sundae – since today has been full of metaphors – then you’ve also got a customer who’s not only happy, but wants to talk about you and your product and how much your product is awesome. Not because your product is awesome, but because your product helped make them awesome. Your product solved their problem. A customer whose problem is solved is going to talk about the fact that the problem was solved, and you get to go along for the ride.
Scott Hurff: I think that’s a great conclusion unless y’all…YOU ALL have anything left, any parting thoughts?
Alex Hillman: So, Scott, if you always to tell you that there was a way for you to quickly drop acquired accents, would you be interested in that?
Scott Hurff: I might be interested in that!
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