My approach to products is wrong. And so is yours.
That's what I learned from Kathy Sierra's Badass: Making users awesome. I blazed through the book on my flight to #dyfconf and it was just the best thing ever. Every turn of the page had me going "Duh, shoulda known that. Yep, that too. Oh and that. Why hasn't anyone told me this!? It's so obvious now!"
The core premise of Sierra's book comes straight out of Simon Sinek's TEDx talk about communicating from the inside out - Start With Why, How great leaders inspire action. There is a bigger why behind every product purchase.
Talk about specs and colors and what the product does is superficial. Users talk about that, but they don't care about it. They come to you because they want to be better at something.
People buy better versions of themselves
While Sinek talks about the communication aspect, which all marketing materials use these days, Sierra goes deeper. She says that you shouldn't just play to people's why in your marketing materials, they why should permeate your entire user experience. Everything from the manual, to the followup mailing list you subscribe users to.
You do have a followup email sequence don't you?
According to Sierra, you want to turn people into experts. Not necessarily the best of the best in the world, but expert enough that they can brag to their friends at a dinner party. If you sell cameras, you want to make photographers, if you sell snowboards, you want to make snowboarders, if you ...
Everybody loves it when people look at what they do and say "Wow dude, I could never do something that awesome. How the hell did you do that?"
And then your users are like "Oh yeah I read that dude's book." or they say "Pssht yeah, there's this new photo app with great filters" or they go "Dude, that guy, he taught me all I know about snowboarding, it was fucking amazing!"
The so called "word of awesome". It's when your users are so awesome, you don't even have to ask them to tell their friends. They tell their friends because you made their lives better and they want their friends' lives to be better too.
But how do you do that?
By staying with your users through the whole process.
Everybody starts using your product in The Zone of Suck. Whether it's a camera, a snowboard, or a new open source library. The first day sucks. You don't know the buttons, you fall down a lot, and you have no idea what all those functions are good for.
You have to tell them that it's okay. Everybody sucks the first day. It's supposed to be hard. Learning something new is hard.
Ever downloaded a new library that said it will solve all your problems, make you fart rainbows, turn your code into a thing of beauty, and make you twenty-five times more productive? Yeah, we all have.
Then you use it and you're like "God damn it, this is a piece of shit just like everything else."
Trust me, we've all been there. Over promise, under deliver.
Or does it just suck that first time and everyone is too afraid of their precious little marketing message to tell us? So rather than feel encouraged and pushing through The Zone of Suck, we feel bad, think we're stupid, and spill vitriol on twitter.
And even beyond The Zone of Suck, you should stand by your users and help them become better and better. Teach them how to become better at their bigger context (photographer, snowboarder, engineer, whatever) and they will remember you for forever. Maybe two forevers.
Even when they become so amazing that they've outgrown what you offer, somebody will come to them and ask "Hey you, how did you get this good? How did you get to where you are? I bask in your glory and I want to learn from the best!"
They will say "That's awesome! I learned everything I know from those guys over there *points*"
That's you. They're pointing at you. Because you made them awesome.
I write articles with real insight into the career and skills of a modern software engineer. "Raw and honest from the heart!" as one reader described them. Fueled by lessons learned over 20 years of building production code for side-projects, small businesses, and hyper growth startups. Both successful and not.
Subscribe below 👇
Join Swizec's Newsletter and get insightful emails 💌 on mindsets, tactics, and technical skills for your career. Real lessons from building production software. No bullshit.
"Man, love your simple writing! Yours is the only newsletter I open and only blog that I give a fuck to read & scroll till the end. And wow always take away lessons with me. Inspiring! And very relatable. 👌"
Senior Mindset Book
Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companiesLearn more
Have a burning question that you think I can answer? Hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.
Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.
Want to become a true senior engineer? Take ownership, have autonomy, and be a force multiplier on your team. The Senior Engineer Mindset ebook can help 👉 swizec.com/senior-mindset. These are the shifts in mindset that unlocked my career.
Curious about Serverless and the modern backend? Check out Serverless Handbook, for frontend engineers 👉 ServerlessHandbook.dev
Want to Stop copy pasting D3 examples and create data visualizations of your own? Learn how to build scalable dataviz React components your whole team can understand with React for Data Visualization
Did someone amazing share this letter with you? Wonderful! You can sign up for my weekly letters for software engineers on their path to greatness, here: swizec.com/blog
By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❤️