The best single lesson Bill Gates gave every startup & product manager

Bill Gates 1980's

The worlds richest man, Bill Gates, did something important all those years ago when he lead the personal computing revolution. He didn’t let perfection get in the way of success. In fact, he became the worlds richest man by selling a product which in many ways was well, suboptimal. His software crashed so often it was just a normal part of the product usage experience. And we accepted the situation for one simple reason: it was better than the alternatives. It was better than doing the work manually. It enabled us to create malleable work. It enabled us share information electronically. At the time this was such a shift forward in communication, the imperfections, the problems, the crashes and other stuff Microsoft became famous for still made it better than the substitutes.

This story makes clear two points when it comes to product strategy:

  1. Users will tolerate imperfect products that provide significant utility jumps over what they are currently using. Think game changers – Tesla short mileage range comes to mind.
  2. If the product is a ‘me too’ offer, then the only thing that will create success is the exact opposite: Seamless user experience, beauty, stability and reliability. The hassle of switching must be worth the effort. Instagram comes to mind.

If our startup is introducing people to a much better option, we need to move quick and fill the void, even if it has known imperfections. We shouldn’t be afraid of making it better later, once it’s already in market. But if, we are entering an established game, we better be sure it’s not full of bugs. But sometimes the hardest thing to do is not fool ourselves as to which category we are actually playing in.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.