Who is setting your standards?

Ask: Who is setting your standards—your industry, your ego, or your clients? – Selling the Invisible

You launch a new feature for your product. It uses a new technology stack that’s cutting edge. You spend hours working on the last few tweaks making sure the logo and the animations are perfect. Your colleagues applaud your work and compliment the new project. The only problem? Your customers prefer the old version.

It’s easy to fall into a trap of allowing your industry or your ego to set the standard for your work. The desire to impress colleagues and receive accolades pushes us to go the extra mile on projects but occasionally forget that customers might have preferred something else entirely.

The goal in shipping should be to solve the customer’s problem, not to get kudos. If the industry and ego are satisfied but the client is unhappy, that’s not success. It’s true that customers often aren’t sure exactly what they want. That’s not an excuse to ignore what they’re asking for altogether.

Let your client set the standard for your work. Ego and industry should come second.

The first part is usually hard

The first week of a new exercise routine is hard. You’re left feeling sore and confused on why you’re doing this in the first place. Four weeks in when the weight starts to come off, you have a new found enthusiasm for your date with the treadmill.

This cycle is easily depicted in the J curve. The graph typically is used for financial implications, but it can just as easily be tailored towards habit formation.


On the X axis, you have time. On the Y axis, you have happiness or well-being. Initially, you’re at some baseline level of happiness. As you attempt something new, you initially move down in happiness, not up. You might feel lost, frustrated, unsuccessful, and demotivated.

The trick is making it past the trough and onto the other side. That’s where you reap the benefits of the new workout plan or the hours of preparation for the big presentation.

I stumbled across this J curve in Thanks for the Feedback and started thinking about implications for customer experience and product development. Customers go through a similar cycle.

Initially, they sign up to accomplish a task. Despite how easy your product is to use, there is a learning curve. There are two pieces:

  1. Getting them to the other side of the curve as quickly as possible.
  2. Painting a clear picture of value that’s recognizable when they’re in the trough.

The first can be accomplished through creating a better onboarding experience, improving your signup flow, etc.

The second is more difficult. For Twitter, it could be getting a new user to their first @ mention as quickly as possible. For WordPress.com, maybe it’s getting the first like or comment on their blog post (related).

It’s worth thinking about both pieces as we build things and look to create value.

Hierarchy of Engagement

I recently came across a presentation from Sarah Tavel at Greylock Partners titled The Hierarchy of Engagement. It’s a talk she gave at the Habit Summit. The purpose of the hierarchy is simple:

As companies move up the hierarchy, their products become better, harder to leave, and ultimately create virtuous loops that make the product self-perpetuating.

A photo of the hierarchy of engagement

She provides a great breakdown of each step. I found it very interesting to read and then think about the products we’re building at Automattic.

In particular, I’m thinking more and more about step 2—retaining users. Sarah lays out two elements key to getting users to stick around:

  1. Accruing benefits – The more you use the product, the better it gets.
  2. Mounting Loss – The more you stay with a product, the more you have to lose by leaving.

She uses Evernote and Pinterest as examples of both accruing benefits and mounting loss. Another I would throw in that mix is Spotify. The personalize Spotify with things like custom playlists, the harder it is to switch to another service like Apple Music. I have to believe that “Creating a playlist” is in Spotify’s “Day Zero” strategy.

Scott Belsky on Crafting the First Mile of a Product

This is a really great interview with Scott Belsky, cofounder of Behance, over on Design.blog. He hits on the “first mile” of a product—the initial interaction a user might have and why it’s so important:

A failed first mile cripples a new product right out of the gate. Your product may get lots of downloads or signups, but very few customers get on-boarded and primed to the point where they know three things: (1) why they’re there, (2) what they can accomplish, (3) and what to do next (note: users don’t need to know how to use your product at the beginning, they just need to know what to do next!). Once a new user knows these three things, they have reached “The Zone.” Fantastic businesses are built when the majority of users that express interest in a product are able to get on-boarded and into The Zone.

If you’re not following Design.blog just yet, I would recommend doing so. The team behind it at Automattic is creating some really awesome content.

Pairs well with: How to Power User Onboarding with Small Wins