Trying to get to “just right”

Hunch co-founder Chris Dixon wrote a blog post about the “Goldilocks Principle“, and how it affected their relationship with customers as Hunch pivoted from a B2C to B2B offering.

Hunch was in the position of being “too hot”. I think that OpenTok is still in a position of being… not “too cold”, but I’d revise it to actually be “not quite cooked yet”. In lean startup methodology, I think that we’re still a “nice to have” as opposed to a “must have”.

I’ve spoken a lot with my fellow PM Andrew about what it’s going to take to make the OpenTok platform cross over to that sweet spot where folks understand that not only do they need live video to be a part of their applications, but that they need live video as powered by TokBox.

It’s a tough problem to solve when you’re creating a market. The real value of face to face communication can only be experienced, it can’t be sold. And that makes it difficult to try to hand wave one’s way to a deal or partner launch. At the more abstract level, you need to convince someone that something they never knew they were missing is actually a critical component of the product that they live and breathe every day. That’s pushing water up a hill if ever there was an example.

All of that said, we’ve done a few things that have really started to help move the needle for us. Better demoes, live demoes and improving quality of partners, and with it testimonials, have all helped with the “you’ve got to see it to believe it” problem that we were having. Those were big steps forward, but I don’t think that they are the real game changers.

The biggest game changer, in my opinion, is what we didn’t do.

Not doing has two components – what you actively chose not to do, and what came to you outside of your control.

We chose not to wait
I can definitely say that I disagreed with the TokShow plug-n-play application. It felt too close to what some of our favorite partners were doing. I don’t actually believe in grey areas, and a lot of the defense around the app used grey area arguments. I’m of the opinion that you make a decision consciously, and that you confront the known consequences of that decision.

Why was the decision right, and I was wrong? Because the opportunity wasn’t a need; it was a flash in the pan. This is where I truly realized that we weren’t a “must-have” platform for anyone yet. But the transition across that proverbial chasm required that when there were flashes in the pan, we caught them.

Is it possible to grow organically, and really let the market come to you? Yes. Disqus did it. But that just wasn’t in the cards for us, and so we didn’t wait.

Our competition arrived
I don’t know how many people thought that video chat was relevant before July of this year.

Yeah some phones had it, but not really.

Yeah Skype had it, but that didn’t live in the browser nor did it integrate into other applications.

And then Google Hangouts landed, and the Facebook+Skype integration followed. And then it got interesting.

Our competition has arrived.

We chose not to be afraid of specialization
I think that I was under the impression that a platform had to solve all problems to all people. It worried me that at times we were making trade offs and decisions that applied to certain verticals, and helped certain partners.

I now realize that platforms never start as all thing to all people. That’s way too difficult a problem for day one. Instead the early adopters of a platform help to shape and define the path from from where we are to where we are going.

It’s still our job to be the conductor, but every now and then there’s a soloist who needs the opportunity to shine for all of us to get to the next level.

New, unforeseen use cases emerged and we did not ignore them
We spent almost nine months on the archiving infrastructure. We did a lot of things wrong (and that’s coming in a new post). The one thing we did right was listen.

During our beta program a new use case emerged; we rapidly iterated and got the stand-alone recorder and player to our developers.

I don’t know that if we had allowed ourselves to be (a) consumed by a desire to singularly focus and (b) driven by a need to launch we would have made the same decision.

Instead we chose not to ignore the blinking light off to the side, and it has brought the archiving API into many more applications as a result.

I haven’t read the remainder of Chris Dixon’s blog series about the journey that Hunch has taken in getting acquired by eBay, but I wonder if NOT doing played as integral a role for Hunch as it has for TokBox.

I do know though that when we look back at what got us to the “Goldilocks point”, not doing will have been as important as anything we did on purpose.

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  • Brendan Corcoran

    I think that whenever you guys come up with a new plug-n-play app, you should remind yourselves that even if it’s similar to what one of your partners is doing, you’re not going to meet everyone’s needs. That’s where your partners come in.

    Provided you’re not offering something service-related on your end that they can’t feasibly offer (like if you kept archiving for yourselves) then I don’t, personally, see any cause for concern. That said, it’s a good sign that you’re putting the interests of your partners first.

    On an unrelated note: is the co-viewing app ready at all for testing? I’d be really interested to take a look at it.

  • http://www.onvural.net/melih Melih Onvural

    Soon. We’re working through some components to make sure we can offer them widely, and once we resolve that then we’ll be in a place to let folks play with it. 

  • jakellermann

    organic growth is where its at. build, and let the customer base drive the innovation. (unless you get to jobs-ian level, in which case you give them what they didn’t know they were missing : )