Who's your competition?
"Who's your competition?"
When I ask clients this question, they always list companies who are solving the problem the same way they are. What they often miss are all the solutions that don't look like their app.
I was reminded of this when I faced the problem of scanning the mountain of documents piled in my closet.
My wife and I moved into our first home a year ago and we're slowly going through the huge task of getting organized. One of those tasks was dealing with the mountain of paperwork both of us acquired from running our own businesses.
My first thought was to get a scanner. But typical scanners are large and bulky. The whole point was to cut down on junk we didn't use often. Especially big stuff like a scanner.
So I did some research for other solutions to our problem. The solution I picked was an app and a cardboard box.
Turns out there's a lot of apps that can use the camera in your phone to take a picture of the document, straighten it, crop the edges, fix the color, detect text, and create a decent looking PDF. Just search for "document scanner" in the app store and you'll find dozens.
While downloading an app gets you most of the way there, the problem with most of these apps is they need good lighting. They could use the light on your phone but that often creates bright spots on the paper that you can't see. And glossy paper? No chance.
I was close. I just needed good lighting.
A few searches later and I came across this on Amazon. It's just a piece of cardboard cut to various shapes, a couple LED light strips, and directions how to put it together.
A few evenings, and an entire season of Alone later, and I successfully scanned 211 documents.
If you asked HP or Epson who their competition is for scanning documents, they'd probably list the makes and models of flatbed and feed scanners. They might separate it into low end and high end market. They might tell you the average cost of a scanner is around $200.
They probably wouldn't say their competition is an app company in LA or an engineer laser cutting cardboard boxes in Nebraska.
Yet in my case, they lost out to an app and a box for a grand total of $55.
It's a reminder that customers aren't looking for your particular product or things that look like your product. They're looking for something that will fill a need in their life.
Put another way: What job are they hiring your product for?
If you're building a todo app, your competition isn't just other todo apps. It's paper and pencil. It's sticky notes. It's a calendar. It's their memory.
If you're building a project management app, your competition isn't just other project management apps. It's Excel. It's Notion. It's emails.
When you focus on the need your customers have, it becomes clear who your competition really is.
It also means we can shape our solutions to fix the problem better than our competition. It's easy to fall into the mindset that we have to compete in a same category and in the same way as they do.
Don't make another scanner. Make a box.
Doesn't matter if you're offering a service or building a product, focusing on the needs your customers have will help you deliver a better solution.
P.S. I didn't come up with any of this. It's called "Jobs to be Done Theory" created by the late Clayton M. Christensen. It's something that's had a deep impact on my work since I discovered it years ago and I introduce it with every company I work with.
🧠 Psychology Patterns
A concept from psychology to improve your product.
Jobs to be Done Theory
The theory that every product and service we purchase is something we "hire" to fulfill a "job" in our lives. When that product does a good job, we keep it hired (or keep rehiring it). If it does a bad job, we fire it and hire something else.
🖤 Cool Things
📚 Book — The Jobs To Be Done Playbook by Jim Kalbach
The best book I've found to go from learning JTBD, to implementing it in your company. It includes solid strategies for getting your marketing, sales, and product teams aligned and working from the same playbook.
📚 Book — Competing Against Luck
THE book for understanding the theory behind Jobs to be Done. It’s written by Clayton M. Christensen, the guy who coined the term “jobs to be done” and developed most of the theory around it. It’s well written and has tons of examples of identifying and using Jobs Theory in the wild. Just an overall excellent book and a great read. If you’re interested in learning about Jobs to be Done, start here.
🎥 Video — The Job of Milkshakes
If you're only going to watch one thing on Jobs to be Done, watch this. It's a video of the late Clayton M. Christensen explaining how he developed Jobs to be Done Theory by trying to solve the problem of how to help McDonalds sell more milkshakes.
📝 Article — Marketing Malpractice
The article that started Jobs to be Done Theory. This is an excellent article breaking down the problem with how we think about marketing and delivering products and why much of how we approach market segmentation is wrong.