Why was the iPod successful?
- It didn’t have the most features – I once bought an Archos Jukebox with many options unavailable on the iPod at the time.
- It certainly wasn’t price – I bought a Dell DJ for $100 less than a comparable iPod in 2005.
The design and user experience, the sleekness and trendiness, certainly played a part.
But the most important thing, to me, is that the iPod made things easy. Here’s how to buy and listen to a new song on an iPod:
- Look it up in the iTunes store.
- Click to buy.
- Sync your iPod.
Easy. No trying to remember where you downloaded a certain file, or making sure it’s in the right directory to get transferred to your MP3 player, or trying to find a legal copy to buy – Apple has taken all of the effort out of this fundamental transaction.
And I think this is something to remember – a good business plan can be built around taking the things that should be easy, and making them easy. Why is Google successful? It makes it easy for advertisers to find users who are searching for relevant information, and easy for users to find relevant advertisers to their interests. Google makes it easy for these two populations to find each other, and has made absurd amounts of money.
It reminds me of Seppo’s description of game design – find the fundamental unit action of a game, and make it fun. The equivalent for business model design is find a fundamental action of a user, and make it easy. There is value in making things easy, and users will pay for that value.
Even the rise of blogging can be seen as a testament to this idea. From the earliest days of the Web, it was possible to post updates and thoughts on a web page – it was crude by modern standards, posting individual HTML pages, but possible, as evidenced by my ramblings page which was started in 1994. But the advantage of blogging software is that it makes it much easier to post an update. And although I don’t pay for WordPress, I do pay a subscription to LiveJournal and MyBlogLog to make my blogging easier.
Twitter takes the next step to making it so easy to keep one’s friends informed that we can do it from anywhere we have cellular access. I think that Twitter may be the perfect mobile application in that it is easy to dip into the Twitter stream whenever I have a few minutes to kill, and I can do it from anywhere. I do worry that it is destroying my attention span, though.
One last example: Google has changed how I do things because it makes certain things so easy. I have now given blood twice and plan to continue doing so. It was always something I meant to do, but never got around to. But when Google brings the blood drive on campus, so all I have to do is go downstairs, it’s so easy that all of my objections go away, and I just do it. Similarly, having the Mountain View Public Library come to campus once a week, and making it possible for me to request books via email, means that the library is now more convenient than Amazon (which in itself is an example of a business model built around making a common action easy).
It makes me think that there are plenty of business opportunities left in the world. I feel like any time I encounter something that is difficult that I can imagine could be made easy, I should now react to it by thinking of it as an opportunity rather than a frustration. Admittedly, it’s only a business opportunity if it’s enough of an annoyance that a significant number of people will pay for a solution. By making it easy to do things that were difficult or impossible before (like buying music online or finding people interested in your advertising), an entrepreneur can create new value in the world. And it seems like there’s an endless supply of things in the world that should be easier.