As creators we are surrounded by work that influences how we perceive our own: admired work of respected peers, work aligned with current trends, or simply well-executed instances of well-worn patterns. But the work around us has gravity, and it pulls us towards similar solutions, and clouds our ability to assess our work on the basis of its own merit.
Creators don’t set out to emulate, but they can drift towards familiar and recognizable options in the vast sea of possibility. The familiar is comforting. When we successfully emulate aspects of work around us, however inadvertently, our minds fool us into thinking we’ve created something good, when in fact we’ve simply created something familiar. It feels correct. We’re lulled into accepting the recognizable.
But this is when we should push further.
It’s a lonely and scary place to be, creating something new. There’s nothing with which to compare the work – no shelter of the familiar. But this untethered feeling precedes breakthrough. New work by definition won’t be familiar. It demands a leap of faith. No great work came from someone playing it safe.
We believe small teams can accomplish great things. We’ve focused on building Delighted with a concentrated and efficient team. Since day one, we’ve been a team of three. Now we’re ready to add a fourth member.
We’re looking for the right person to help accelerate our engineering efforts and make Delighted even more useful for our customers.
If you’re looking to do your best work on a team dedicated to great customer experiences we’d love to chat.
The Delighted Team
Delighted is out of private beta and officially open to the public!
We’ve spent the last year working closely with customers like Design Within Reach, Bonobos, Eventbrite, Goodreads, TaskRabbit, HotelTonight, Munchery, and many more, to create an extraordinarily useful tool.
Delighted is built around the simple truth that great products come from companies who deeply understand their customers. We want to help companies form that level of understanding, and use it to make great decisions every single day.
If you’re already a Delighted customer, we’d be grateful if you’d tell anyone you think we could help. If not, it’s a great time to give Delighted a try.
The Delighted Team
These days it’s common practice for tech employers to tout lavish perks in their recruiting efforts. A top spec Mac, huge displays, free drinks, snacks, laundry services, in-house barista, etc. You name it. It’s all been done.
As supplementary support for people doing extraordinary work, these things can be very helpful. But when perks become the primary focus of recruiting and retention discussions, that may be a sign you’re lacking the environment great talent is actually seeking out.
Great talent isn’t looking for free snacks. They’re looking for meaningful work, clearly defined (and matching) values, brilliant peers, and an environment where they can do the best work of their lives. They want to be operating at their highest level of performance possible, free from distraction and friction.
The right environment reduces friction.
While perks can alleviate the very top level of friction, the deeper sources of friction are much more debilitating. Things like fuzzy goals, conflicting values and directives, picking up the slack for poor performing peers, and distracting office politics. No amount of perks can make these tolerable. Furthermore, if you do manage to land a great candidate, you’re not likely to retain them for long in this sort of environment.
Finding great talent is hard. And while many great companies offer impressive perks, the causation must not be confused. Offering perks isn’t a shortcut to attracting great talent, it’s merely the tip of the iceberg.
Businesses often create frustrating rules when customers behave in unexpected ways. Here are a couple examples:
It goes like this: The business feels pain from an unanticipated customer behavior. But instead of taking responsibility – addressing the mismatch on their end – they pass the pain down to the customer by way of a rule. Often expressed in a contemptible manner, these rules preemptively scold all future customers regardless of whether or not they exhibit the offending behavior.
They create friction.
The best businesses aim to eliminate friction. They set aside blame, and seek to go with the grain, creating a path of minimal resistance for customers. They believe that their customers shouldn’t be subjected to the complexities of merchant account fees, or how laundry is sorted behind the scenes of a hotel.
Great businesses realize that frustrating rules are merely band-aid solutions for localized problems. They often only apply to a small group, yet chip away at the integrity of the overall experience for everyone. In short, these frustrating rules benefit the business at the expense of customers.
Every product is a reflection of the team behind it. Just as user interfaces are the conduit between humans and the functionality of products, products are the conduit between customers and the team of people solving a particular problem.
There are no good or bad products, only good or bad teams making products. The product is an extension of the team. Each delightful detail or frustrating interaction is the direct result of decisions made by the team.
The age of shrink-wrapped software is over. It used to be that when a product did what the customer wanted, they could use it unchanged, indefinitely. The point of view of the team behind the product mattered very little. If the shoe fit, you wore it.
But these days, software products are living, evolving organisms. Now, the customer rides shotgun on the road trip of a product’s development. This shifts the focus away from the present state of the product, and towards future iterations. Where will the team take the product next? How will they make the hard prioritization decisions? Will core workflows change? Customers are at the mercy of the team.
Customers are no longer buying static products, they are buying into the point of view and values of the team behind it. They now must trust that the team deeply understands the problem at hand, and will not leave them high and dry with unexpected curve balls and poor prioritization. The line between product and team is blurring, and now, more than ever, the quality of the team is just as important as the quality of the product.
Truly great products and experiences come from people who care. It’s that simple.
When people don’t care, it’s evident. Products are confused and lack a point of view. Customer service representatives are more interested in going home than helping you. Good enough, becomes good enough.
You must push beyond what’s considered a rational amount of effort or time if you intend to make something great. This comes at great emotional and monetary expense. But money alone is not enough. Money won’t magically motivate people to care about making something great. Caring can’t be bought.
People who care are a scarce resource. This is commonly why the largest companies in the world often struggle to create great things, even when they have deep pockets, global reach, and well-paid teams. The people who care, ultimately leave to work with others who care as much as they do.
Creating something great requires that you surround yourself with people who will do whatever it takes to get it right. It’s an obsession, and it’s fueled by caring. Finding these people is hard, but they are supremely worth it. When people who care attack a problem, magical things tend to happen.
There’s no shortage of advice on how to build a company. With so many pitfalls and challenges, it’s tempting to seek out the “right” way. When advice comes from someone with some form of success, it’s easy to assume their advice must be right.
The truth is, good advice can be the wrong advice for your company. More specifically, the right way depends entirely on the type of company you are building.
What does success look like for you? What do you value? What are you good at? What do you want to be doing on a daily basis? What impact are you looking to make? How long do you have to get there?
The answers to these questions are different for everyone. Yet they are the key to understanding if a given piece of advice is one you should heed or disregard. Just because it’s worked for someone else before doesn’t mean it will square with your values and goals for the company.
When you know who you want to be as a company, you’ll be in a much better position to select advice that gets you where you're trying to go. Follow someone else’s map, and you may not like the destination.
There’s a little sandwich shop in Palo Alto, CA called Simply Sandwiches. We like their sandwiches and what they stand for.
The shop is postage stamp tiny and is run by a husband and wife. They’re open four hours a day, Monday through Friday. They’re closed weekends. They do one thing – sell sandwiches at lunch time.
A basic sandwich is $5. You can get a fancier one (with things like bacon or avocado) for $6.65. No salads, no wraps, no hot dishes. Only items you can fit in a small paper lunch bag.
They lovingly prepare every sandwich – one at a time. Every weekday, at lunchtime, there is a line out the door.
They’ve been around for 28 years, they’ve sold over 750,000 sandwiches, and are smiling every time we see them. They know who they are.
Low-hanging fruit is a phrase tossed around in meetings when someone wants to do something they believe to be obviously high leverage.
The problem is, the use of this phrase is an insidious method of concealing two critical assumptions: that the best solution to the problem is obvious, and that it will be quick to implement. Neither of which are necessarily true. It’s a trick. A trick that not-so-subtly disrespects the process of building something great.
Building great things is hard, and there’s always a certain level of diligence required to unearth the optimal solution. It’s intellectually dishonest to label something as low-hanging fruit with the intent of short circuiting the typical rigor you’d bring to bear on solving a problem.
There are no shortcuts along the path to great things. If you want something great, you must be willing to explore the paths others lacked the will to travel.
“Perfect is the enemy of the good.”
It has become fashionable to deem perfection a dirty word. The argument goes, if you strive for perfection you’ll never ship anything. But like all platitudes, the truth is much more nuanced.
Move one rung down from perfection on the quality ladder and you find “good enough”. “Good enough” sets a quality bar, and a quality bar quickly becomes a quality ceiling. Over time, doing anything above the bar is considered “a waste of time”. It’s easy to see how this mindset spirals into mediocrity.
If you really want to do something great, aim to do it the best. Every time. Anything less, and the gravity of familiarity and compromise drag it into the realm of sameness.
Shooting for perfection has the funny consequence of causing you to continually improve each micro decision. Compromises that would typically be allowed, that drag an experience from stellar to average, are not tolerated. Everyone on the team is focused on doing their best work and can’t imagine letting the team down by giving anything less.
Perfection isn’t an end-state, but an ideal. An ideal that inspires continual improvement by posing the question, “How can this be better?”. An ideal we believe is worth pursuing.
We’ve all heard the advice to simplify, simplify, simplify. Yet, many products are bloated and confused. Why does this happen? What’s the disconnect between the stated goal of a streamlined product and the reality of overstuffing it?
In a word, fear. The team is afraid of what might happen if they don’t offer X or Y. This leads to rationalizing the bloat.
Teams that don’t understand who they’re building for, and why, are prone to make bloated products. They can always imagine situations where someone might need a given option. Each possible product choice becomes a lengthy debate, and inevitably they cave to adding more. They can’t make the trade-offs.
It feels safer to keep as many options as possible; more options, they reason, equal more chances to be happy. Unfortunately this dilutes an otherwise good product. It foists all those additional options onto the customer, who ends up doing the hard work of editing the product for themselves.
It’s one thing to say you want a simple, uncluttered product and something entirely different to actually make one. When a team understands who they’re building for, they have a much better chance of delivering on that goal.
The choice to leave out an option is never an easy one to make, but it’s easier if your team shares common values. And what’s more, it’s your job. You need to make the hard choices for your customers. They’ll thank you for it.
“The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”
— Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
When creating a product, you’ll likely encounter obstacles that require an extraordinary amount of time, energy, or tenacity to overcome. When you truly understand the problem and know the game you’re playing, these can be opportunities in disguise.
Obstacles are a chance to gain a meaningful advantage over those who yield to them. Companies that lack strong priorities can’t separate the obstacles that are worth overcoming, from those that aren’t. They’ll say “It can’t be done,” when what they actually mean is “We’re not sure it’s worth it.”
Choose your battles carefully, then embrace them wholeheartedly.
Compromise is a widely used method of reaching consensus around two differing viewpoints. But in a design process, compromise between stakeholders when defining intentions almost always results in a suboptimal user experience.
Playing tug-of-war with design intentions will ultimately result in solutions that are neither here nor there. Splitting the difference is a trap.
The best way to avoid a compromised design is to commit to an intention and see it all the way through, even if there are hesitations amongst team members. If you find the intention was wrong, try the other one. Never mix intentions. Not only will this result in a much more appropriate design, but you’ll also have a much clearer idea as to why. And in design, learning is king.
Design is about solving problems. And great design solves problems elegantly – utilizing as few, highly leveraged elements as possible.
The catch is, for everything you keep, there are far more things you must give up. You can’t have it all. Trade offs must be made, and embedded in each is a choice. A choice about something being more important than something else. So, how do you know what’s important and what isn’t?
You must understand the problem. Deeply and completely. Who is this for? Why do they need it? How are they doing this today? What can’t they live without? This is where the most amount of energy and time should be spent, yet this is where assumptions and dogma tend to trump exploration and deconstruction.
Glossing over this part of the process is dangerous. You’ll build on a foundation of assumptions. This leads to solutions that, while possibly well executed, miss the mark. In contrast, when you dig deep and break down the problem to its most essential, you can then build from bedrock. And build what’s actually necessary. All your energy is focused on improving the small set of things that actually matter. Creating the opportunity for an experience that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s no surprise elegant designs are often simple. When you deeply understand the problem you build what is absolutely critical. It turns out, what’s critical is often quite a small set of things.
Enduring companies are capable of adapting to a changing external environment. We believe this capacity, to excel through continuous change, is rooted in a deep base of shared values.
Many interesting companies come and go either because the market opportunity evaporated, the team dynamic broke down, or the technology matured into a commodity.
Values are timeless. They are the bedrock of a company and don’t change even when everything else does.
We founded Delighted because of the values we share. They are the starting point for everything we do – from the products we build, to the people we hire, to the customers we seek out. Everything is shaped by our shared values.
It’s commonplace for companies to use sports strategy and metaphor when discussing competitors. Some think of competitors in the gladiatorial sense – an opponent they must destroy in order to win the customer. Such zero-sum thinking is common. Competition in sports is well understood – someone wins and someone loses. It’s simple and satisfying.
However, this framing leads to the false belief that in business there is a sole winner and that winning requires being stronger, faster, and better than a competitor. But business isn’t like sports at all. There is no single winner. Only companies that are attracting customers and making them happy and those that are not.
There’s no limit on the number of companies that can be successful, because there isn’t a universal definition of success. Some companies strive for the lowest prices, others to provide the most jobs, some to be the most efficient, and some strive for the highest possible quality. There are endless possible combinations. And that is a great thing to be celebrated.
A company needn’t model its behavior on what other companies do, because it doesn’t have to attract the same customers or value the same things. It isn’t as simple as declaring an enemy and beating them.
At Delighted we believe our passion for great design and empathetic software will attract those that share our passion, allowing us to serve them long into the future. We don’t particularly care what others choose to do, because we know the game we are playing – and we quite enjoy it.
Every customer has a unique experience, but only a small fraction of those stories have the chance to be shared, and fewer still are heard. We want to change that.
Delighted is a new company that helps businesses connect with their customers – to learn, improve, and delight. We know the profound effects of asking customers to share their experiences, their frustrations, and their wishes. We are building thoughtful tools to help businesses get closer to their customers.
We believe businesses deserve great products and experiences. We believe everyone wants to be heard. We believe companies who truly listen will win.
Caleb, Mark & Mike