Would you buy your own deep tech?
We ‘hire’ products to perform tasks for us. And understanding the ‘job’ for which a customer hires a product is essential to design successful solutions. The better you understand the job, the easier it gets to design a product that will stick.
Let’s look at Netflix and their understanding of the job. In 2019 Netflix stated that, to the surprise of their shareholders, its biggest competitor was not HBO, nor Amazon Videos, but the video game Fortnite. The leadership at Netflix saw their product to be more than simply a streaming solution for films and series, they considered themselves more widely, as entertainment for their customers’ free time.
‘Jobs to be done’
In the 60s, Theodore Levitt made the statement that “people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” Five decades later, fellow Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen took up this same concept, and popularised it in its own way with the Jobs to be done theory (JTBD). Customers ‘hire’ your product or service to get a ‘job’ done. This theory seeks to identify the most basic reasons why customers use a product or service. By understanding what that job is, companies can create solutions that their customers truly want, and win the market.
The best innovations solve struggles, not needs
When talking about the JTBD theory, a famous quote from Henry Ford frequently comes up: “If you ask people what they want, they will answer: a faster horse.”
Even though we will never know if he actually said that, Ford saw the real job behind this need for faster horses, and addressed it with a radically different solution. The car was successful because he understood that it wasn’t about faster horses at all, but rather the struggle of getting from point A to point B quickly and conveniently. Even if at the beginning cars weren’t as quick as horses, people would happily trade off the benefits and discomforts of a horse for those of a car.
The development of a new product should focus on eliminating a struggle that customers experience, and not get distracted by what customers say their needs are. This is because the needs tend to be expressed in a way that takes into account today’s world and the solutions that already exist. Designing a solution that addresses an underlying struggle instead of a communicated need allows you to keep focused on the real problem at hand, and remain technology-agnostic.
Defining “jobs” is quite challenging
Jobs to be done are not nice-to-have; they exist to fill a discrepancy between how things are today and how I, the customer, want things to be; the ‘actual self’ vs the ‘desired self’. To achieve the end goal of hiring a product. In fact, Levitt had the right idea but the idea didn’t quite go far enough… People that wanted a hole perhaps didn’t just want a hole, they wanted shelves to put books on. Ikea could have solved their problem with easy-to-build furniture, or even Amazon with the Kindle and Audible.
JTBD has social, functional and emotional dimensions, (with a few exceptions, of course.) Therefore, it is essential, also for deep tech ventures, to spend time and resources on investigating context and circumstances instead of limiting oneself to traditional customer studies only. For Christensen, “the job, not the customer, is the fundamental unit of analysis”. To find the job to be done, you will need to perform in-depth reviews with individuals, to expose the reasons for which they hire the actual solution. While understanding behaviour is indeed much more demanding than asking people for their needs, it’s far more effective.
Applying JTBD to deep tech
JTBD must be seen as a theory that explains how and why people intend to buy a product or a service. Being customer-centric by applying this in an early phase will significantly increase every venture’s chance of success. It is easy, when developing breakthrough innovation, to focus on the technology and leave behind the ‘why would I buy my product?’, but it is fundamentally detrimental to your business.
The major takeaway of the Jobs to be done theory is to see the bigger picture, the context behind the scenes. While your product or technology could have no competitor yet, people are already satisfying their need with something else.
What you have to bear in mind is that, in hiring your product, customers are in turn ‘firing’ another one. So, why would they hire yours?