What product vision looks like

An exceptional post by Stewart Butterfield, founder of Slack, the new team collaboration tool that just exited beta: We don’t sell saddles here. He wrote this last July as his team was readying the first version of the tool.

It’s an excellent example of product vision, going way beyond what the software technically does to what they’re trying to do as a company. Here is how he explains the value of the product:

“(Slack) is not as eye-catching as self-driving cars or implantable chips?—?it is not basic research-y kind of stuff. But, for organizations that adopt it, there will be a dramatic shift in how time is spent, how communication happens, and how the team’s archives are utilized. There will be changes in how team members relate to one another and, hopefully, significant changes in productivity.

We are unlikely to be able to sell “a group chat system” very well: there are just not enough people shopping for group chat system…

That’s why what we’re selling is organizational transformation. What we are selling is not the software product?—?the set of all the features, in their specific implementation?—?because there are just not many buyers for this software product. (People buy “software” to address a need they already know they have or perform some specific task they need to perform, whether that is tracking sales contacts or editing video.)

However, if we are selling “a reduction in the cost of communication” or “zero effort knowledge management” or “making better decisions, faster” or “all your team communication, instantly searchable, available wherever you go” or “75% less email” or some other valuable result of adopting Slack, we will find many more buyers.

This is a really great piece. Butterfield touches on several memes that I think are crucial to product design (“build something people want”, “product/market fit”, “life is too short to build crappy software”), etc. You should read the whole thing.

Published: February 18th, 2014

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