Episode 0060 · July 27, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

Hard Product Decisions

[Unedited Transcript]

Rich Ziade: [00:00:00] Boom

Paul Ford: hey, Rich. How you doing?

Rich Ziade: How you doing? I’m doing

Paul Ford: Welcome to the Zioti and Ford Advisors podcast, sponsored by a board. What is a board?

Rich Ziade: A board is a web and mobile platform that lets you collect stuff from around the web. Or put stuff in yourself. Drag photos or files or whatever. Organize it and then collaborate with people.

Paul Ford: it’s launching, it’s launching very soon. Go ahead to aboard. com, put your name in, we’ll get you on the list, or if you want to DM us, people have been doing that, and we’ll sneak you in, I’ll give you the secret link. Uh, we’re going to have to figure out this sponsorship thing because it’s like, we’re living aboard.

It’s, it, for a while, Ziotti and Ford Advisors was kind of our job, and now it’s like this, we are in this product.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, let’s use unilateral sponsors just to mix it up. Meaning, [00:01:00] products we love, that never asked us to be sponsored, to be sponsors, and then we’ll just pitch them.

Paul Ford: Oh, um, the Moog Mother 32 synthesizer. Just wonderful. You hit it, you hit

Rich Ziade: changed in 50 years and it still

Paul Ford: same concept. You turn the little dials. Has got a little sequencer built in. Love that guy. What about you? What are you into?

Rich Ziade: I like headphones,

Paul Ford: yeah, do ya?

Rich Ziade: do, and IEMs, and I could pitch my favorite,

Paul Ford: the best? What’s the best, most expensive headphone in the world?

Everybody likes to know

Rich Ziade: best isn’t necessarily the most expensive, in my view. There are 5, 000, 8, 000…

Paul Ford: There’s, we looked at one video of like a 60, 000 pair of

Rich Ziade: Yeah, that’s a piece of marketing

Paul Ford: Yeah, okay, okay. Um, What’s the best?

Rich Ziade: Uh, I’ve been using IEMs for convenience, and there’s a product called…

Paul Ford: Uh, in IEMs, Oh wait, what’s an IEM? That’s like a

Rich Ziade: In ear monitor. No, it’s not a suppository. You could use it that way, but that would be awkward.

Paul Ford: a waste use them, but now people…

Rich Ziade: Yes. Um, no, it goes in your ear. In ear monitor. Musicians use them, but now people use them like [00:02:00] AirPods, except it’s wired.

Um, there’s a company out of Malaysia called Elysian Acoustics.

Paul Ford: Oh boy.

Rich Ziade: uh, and

Paul Ford: I know, I know. The look in your eyes as you said that. Oh, you’re so happy.

Rich Ziade: depressing. It’s actually a little sad. They make a product called, uh, an IEM called the Elysian Annihilator. And, uh, it kind of ended my hobby in a really sad way.

Paul Ford: Well, this is the endgame concept, right? You got the thing.

Rich Ziade: and it’s expensive. But there are more expensive products out there, by the way. It’s also incredibly hard to get because I think they make a handful a month. they’re in the

Paul Ford: Lifestyle

Rich Ziade: Lifestyle business, but it’s a beautiful

Paul Ford: You know what’s funny is, endgame wise, like, there is an open source synthesizer called Surge. You can go download it. Just search Surge Synthesizer. It’s pretty nerdy. It’s like an IDE for making different sounds. I’ve gotten really into it. I’ve learned it. And I mean, it’s killed an enormous amount of my interest in gear.

Because every time I look at something, I’m like, Yeah, but I could just do that in that free synthesizer and it sounds roughly as good.

Rich Ziade: gets it right, [00:03:00] and you can tell that they nailed it, it can be very disruptive. That’s happened in every industry, right? Like, stuff gets, all of a sudden, the cheaper thing is the best thing, actually, and that’s the end of the fun.

Paul Ford: Yeah, this is, I mean, we’ll talk about this and more, I think later, like the, the, that tension between The historical value and the physical beauty and the interface of the actual device itself and the fact that it can be done cheaper elsewhere and that tension drives humans to absolute distraction.

Rich Ziade: Absolutely. And look, I want to segue what we’re talking about here to software.

Paul Ford: Absolutely. And look, I’m going to software. Oh, hold on. Let’s segue. I got a whole folder

Rich Ziade: Yes,

power. I want to talk about power and feeling powerful. Most software shows off a 747 [00:04:00] dashboard and tells you, you are going to be empowered. Some people, there are people and products have been built on the sheer will of people who love to feel empowered by software.

Paul Ford: You know, in our last episode, we talked about resilience, which is a very counter power narrative. It’s not about how you’ll take over the world and get all the control. It’s about how you’re going to roll with the punches in the most productive way possible.

Rich Ziade: right. And look, certifications have been around forever, right? You can be Cisco certified, you can be Microsoft certified. Microsoft has like a laundry list of different certifications. What that means is that I have gained expertise on a product that’s for most impenetrable. That’s a flattering thing to say about yourself is that don’t worry take a deep breath I know how to use this thing and usually it’s point and click software.

Nobody’s writing code, but it’s so complex and convoluted

Paul Ford: mine now.

Rich Ziade: It’s mine

Paul Ford: You know, it’s this, I think about this a lot. I’m going to just take it meta for 30 seconds because I [00:05:00] think it matters. Silicon Valley and AI. What is the great, the great story of AI splits into two ways. One way is it will do everything for everyone forever. And the other is it will kill us.

It will just absolutely gain total intelligence and kill us all. And, um, I feel that this is the end game of, uh, of software power fantasies, right? It’s a, it’s a really weird moment because we’re actually, we’re in an intense climate moment. Everyone’s realizing that we’re kind of vulnerable to physical forces.

And Silicon Valley is going, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that 10, 000 years from now, an imaginary intelligence will retroactively reboot you from code and punish you for not believing in it enough. And you’re like, huh, that, that’s wild, right? And I, so I think like, These fantasies of power are really deeply built into what software is supposed to be for people.

We tell them this story over and over again. To the point that we’re now like, well, it’s either going to kill us all or save us all. And you’re over here saying like, well, here’s a guy getting a [00:06:00] Novel Network Certificate so that he can get your internet all up and running. And here’s, you know, a board which we’re thinking of as like a resilient tool for small orgs.

So, so bring this all together. What do you want to talk about?

Rich Ziade: So here’s the irony of it all. The irony of it all is that the history of software is a history of people routing around software

Paul Ford: Yeah, you’ve said this before. It’s very true.

Rich Ziade: most. And when I say most, I mean, 98% of people don’t want the power. They don’t want the power. They don’t want to flex. They’re actually just trying to get a thing done or a few things done.

And so

Paul Ford: You know who’s good at this? Apple.

Rich Ziade: yes,

Paul Ford: 90% of the time, I switched my entire life to the Apple ecosystem and

Rich Ziade: are a submissive child

Paul Ford: I really am, I just belong [00:07:00] to, to, uh, to one infinite loop or whatever the hell it’s called now. I have the watch on, I have the phone in my pocket and I use the computers. I’m not getting the helmet.

You know how often I think about technology? About one third as much as I used

Rich Ziade: Exactly. Exactly. And look, look. There are people who love tools

Paul Ford: That was me. I hit a wall. I was just like, I’m tired of configuring things. I give up. You win. Goodbye.

Rich Ziade: exactly, look, there are tools out there that people just revel in, like Obsidian. Have you heard of Obsidian? It’s like one of those tools that’s like immediately pretty easy to use, but if you really want to go in, you can really, really go

Paul Ford: I’m a programmer. I Emacs org mode and so on my, I hate to say it, but the synthesizer I like to use can be scripted and I’m learning how to do that.

Rich Ziade: I think when I think about. All of the, the AI chatter that’s going on right now. And all the power of software, it makes me think about the relationship between people and software and how most people don’t want the relationship. [00:08:00] They just want, they don’t want to feel empowered. They don’t want complexity.

And there is one product, there is one tool that has, that dominates them all. And the reason it dominates them all is because it does not want to empower you. In fact, it’s one of the most ambivalent pieces of software ever created. And that is the spreadsheet. the spreadsheet is, and I’m not talking about the spreadsheet to do complex math.

I’m talking about the spreadsheet that, not the calculator. It’s the spreadsheet that’s a collection of boxes. It is one of the most unopinionated pieces of software ever created. It’s probably the least friction to getting information into a, into a system, ever.

Paul Ford: It is unopinionated pieces of software ever created. It’s probably the least friction to getting information into a, into a system, ever. It doesn’t want pictures. It can’t. And, and the truth is,

Rich Ziade: It doesn’t view them that way. And, and the truth is, Most people don’t [00:09:00] ask that of it.

Paul Ford: Oh, sorry. There’s another strong opinion it has. It hates new lines.

Rich Ziade: You have to do text

Paul Ford: I want to talk about that for one minute. We’re like 150 years in to spreadsheets, and they just don’t want you to hit return.

Rich Ziade: They’re committed to their origin story,

Paul Ford: Yes, that’s right.

Rich Ziade: are committed, like, why aren’t you using the average function?

Paul Ford: and then you get to,

Rich Ziade: come on,

Paul Ford: everybody’s in there hitting shift and are screaming all day long. Do you know how many times people have tried to put multi line text into a spreadsheet and ended up like punching a co worker in the face. The amount of violence that has come out. Yeah, it’s terrible.

Rich Ziade: it’s terrible. And, and, and look. What I’m, what, you know, I don’t want to bring a board back into the topic of this podcast, but We built a power tool a

Paul Ford: we got to be fair here. It’s all we’re talking about and doing. So Zotty for divisors just has a little board

Rich Ziade: a moment

Paul Ford: Yeah. Everybody, everybody can

Rich Ziade: a year ago We built a power tool

Paul Ford: Yeah,

Rich Ziade: and then we [00:10:00] paused and said in the last eight months have been a journey of dumbing this thing down Effectively to compete with the ambivalence.

We want to create the most ambivalent Unopinionated piece of software ever created. And we think that is a path to salvation.

Paul Ford: built this incredibly complex data tool that could do all sorts of database stuff And we have slowly and we didn’t know we were doing this, but you’re you’re you’re running products You’re like we got to take some features away It’s things too complicated and we made it look pretty and it brings in URLs and so on we got it back to A better, tidied up, smarter, but frankly, if you dig in underneath what we’re building,

Rich Ziade: power is

Paul Ford: well, but we ended up back at spreadsheets.

Rich Ziade: So here’s I think the distinction I want to make. And this is a piece of advice for product managers. Um, there’s two ways to introduce features in a product. One way is to[00:11:00]

Paul Ford: uh,

Rich Ziade: Force them to essentially enforce their use like police the user such that they need to use the feature To get anything done.

That’s one way

Paul Ford: What’s an example? Can you think of anything we can…

Rich Ziade: Yeah, I mean just frankly load up, you know, click up or monday. com or any of these tools?

Paul Ford: the 30 screen onboarding?

Rich Ziade: yeah.

Paul Ford: Anything where there’s a wizard?

Rich Ziade: they need you to go through some orientation to get to be useful right and and that work that they want you to do is is for a couple of reasons a They want to empower you, they think you want power, most people don’t want power.

Uh, and B, they want to show off the value of what they’ve created.

Paul Ford: No, this is, I think, a really important one. People don’t want software power. Everybody likes a little power.

Rich Ziade: Everybody likes a little

Paul Ford: But software people have a fantasy that what people want is the kind of power that they crave.

Rich Ziade: Nobody gives a shit about custom fields.

Paul Ford: No.

Rich Ziade: Go, you’re not going to [00:12:00] go to a dinner party and say, you would not believe what I did with Airtable. It was just the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I created a pivot. Off of one of the, like, field types.

Paul Ford: going to complain about public schools. That’s what you’re going to do.

Rich Ziade: about public schools or your allergies, right?

That’s what you’re going to complain about. And so, back to what the, the, the, like, if there’s one piece of advice I would give on this podcast.

Paul Ford: so there are two ways, two ways, let’s go back to the two ways. One is this very rigid, like follow this path. If you don’t,

Rich Ziade: Certified. We’re going to certify you.

Paul Ford: that’s right. And if, if you, if you put, if it’s a text field and you put numbers in, we’re going to raise a little alert.

Rich Ziade: And we’re going to help you. We’re going to train you. We’re going to make you an expert. And you’re going to be a pro, right? That path is a path that is more friction, that requires work and investment on the user’s part. The other path is, Hey buddy, we are going to get you going ASAP. Now, [00:13:00] listen, if you right mouse click, figuratively, there’s all kinds of power there.

We will reward you if you want to invest. We’re shifting it from being a requirement, to being a path you can decide to take. And we didn’t remove features from a board, we just moved them away from the path to value.

Paul Ford: From the perfect example of this away from our product is settings on your phone yes

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: okay most most people are not expected to spend a lot of time in settings sometimes you’re gonna need to go in there and they’ll be like yeah go in there and change your wi fi whatever but there’s about A thousand things probably I can do, I can the way or where I can customize the experience of one of my Apple devices

Rich Ziade: Intense.

Paul Ford: and, uh, but for the most part,

Rich Ziade: It’s out of the way.

Paul Ford: you’re not, you can get the value out of the platform with the decisions they’ve already made for you.

That’s, that’s what they’re, that’s what they’re

Rich Ziade: That’s right. That’s right. And look, the [00:14:00] metrics driven funnel software that’s out in the world is very aware of this. They’re like, okay, before they check out and buy those curtains, there’s like seven steps and we’re going to tell you where it fails.

Paul Ford: Let me tell you where it fails. Do you know what that is? That is

Rich Ziade: you know what that is?

Paul Ford: negate friction. That’s all it

Rich Ziade: navigate

Paul Ford: everything

Rich Ziade: friction. That’s all it is. Because everything you do, everything you touch is filled with friction. And the more you can remove… Education, certification, training, I’m a Notion ambassador, is the other side of friction. That’s what you’re asking people to do.

Listen, commit to me and I’ll commit to you. The mistake product people make, software people make, is they think the pieces, the software they’re creating, actually has a relationship with the person.

Paul Ford: Training, I’m a relationship to the things that they want to get done. [00:15:00] People have relationships to other people, and your software is either in the way of that or not.

Rich Ziade: Exactly. For most people, software is in the way.

Paul Ford: I mean, you know, for, I mean, for most people it is friction in their relationships. The only, the exception to that was social media, and which was unbelievably successful as a platform.

Like, it just grew because it allowed people to get access to other people. That’s what they want.

Rich Ziade: That’s human connection, right? And, and,

Paul Ford: I mean, that’s also, that’s why Slack is a runaway success, right? It, ultimately, what did Slack do? It made it easy for managers to tell people what to do. Now, then it also became a world of roiling chaos, but it became a 26 billion acquisition because it let managers kind of keep an eye on things, and they went, alright, we’ll buy it.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, and I don’t have the stats in front of me, but look, Slack is a deep, deep piece of software. People use 5% of it. People chat in it. Like, there’s all kinds

Paul Ford: look at all the integrations and everything, sure.

Rich Ziade: That’s the case with most software because people don’t [00:16:00] have any affinity, any loyalty to the tool.

I want to end this with an example. Bookmarks have been around for 30 years in browsers.

Paul Ford: sure

Rich Ziade: People don’t even bother with that. They just keep their tabs open. They’re like, well, why? Why would I do that?

Paul Ford: well, computers stop crashing.

Rich Ziade: Computer stopped crashing. So you didn’t need to save state, but even so the idea of an extra what two steps to bookmark There’s a there’s every browser has a bookmark all tabs in a folder and we’ll date stamp your folder.

It’ll be beautiful. Nobody bothers They don’t care. We’re done. I’m gonna ice, I’m gonna go get a scoop of ice cream and I’m done with

Paul Ford: Yeah, but you know what?

Rich Ziade: to these 48

Paul Ford: You know what they do use? Pinterest. Because it makes pictures.

Rich Ziade: Pinterest, Pinterest makes pictures, but it’s also one click, right? And again, it’s about friction. [00:17:00] Look, the gaming, mobile gaming world nailed it. You load the game and the Temple Run guy is running right out of the gate.

Paul Ford: that’s right.

Rich Ziade: watch this guys. Here we go, it’s a good time. There’s not even an intro, it’s like, it’s like James Bond movies, where there is no opening credits, it’s an action scene to get you

Paul Ford: you’re like five minutes in and then they’re like, collect gold coins just to, you know, yeah.

Rich Ziade: exactly. And so, I love, it’s, it’s way harder to do less in building. It’s easy,

Paul Ford: Let’s let’s close this out with advice. Okay, so most people who are going to be listening to this are not in the position to tell their organizations that they’re going to do less. How do you sell this internally? How do you tell people like, Hey, we’re going to do it. We’re going to do

Rich Ziade: You’re paying lots and lots of money for lots and lots of software, and we’re using 5% of it.

Paul Ford: lots of money. Why are we burning money in barrels?

Rich Ziade: It’s, it is a classic story because it’s easy to sell with features because it looks like, it looks like the, uh, the [00:18:00] sticker on a, on a new car. It’s a list of things. Nobody uses them. Nobody uses them. And so,

Paul Ford: it’s true. Everybody, everybody keeps bolting serious XM into their apps, right? And nobody really wants it anymore unless they do a lot of like cross country driving.

Rich Ziade: software is upsell. Microsoft, Salesforce, it’s all upsell. That’s all it is. And the person that’s buying it, isn’t buying it because everybody fell in love. They’re buying it like, Well, I mean, I’m a big company. I should probably buy the whole thing. Give me the platinum package, and off we go.

Paul Ford: Frickin software. Well, you and I are going to get out there and sell some software pretty soon.

Rich Ziade: We’re gonna sell really simple software. The journey for us has been one of taking things away, and it’s one of the hardest things to do in software.

Paul Ford: It is, but I like the thing we’re building. Actually, I did a thing with it last week. I’ll talk about it on the podcast for a second and let’s wind up. Which is, I’ve always had trouble organizing my own writing. I’ve written, like, hundreds of things on the world. And, um, I have a lot of Google Spreadsheets to attest to that, but I’ve never been [00:19:00] able to finish them because you know why?

It’s really depressing to go back through your past and like bit by bit like cut and paste URLs and blah. And, um, so I just got, I had a cocktail and I slam a jammed a bunch of links in the Wired articles that I’ve written into a board. And they looked really good. And I went, you know what? Screw it. Keep going.

Let’s go get all the podcasts and so on. So now it’s like a thousand URLs. Like I’ve done a lot of things

Rich Ziade: How long did that take you?

Paul Ford: About four hours.

Rich Ziade: A thousand URLs in four

Paul Ford: Well, yeah, because you, I mean, we’re thinking about ways to make this faster, but you pop up all the tabs after you do the search, and then you save, save, save, save, save into stacks and blah, blah, blah.


Rich Ziade: That’s low friction. I love this story because it speaks to low friction.

Paul Ford: a moment for me where something that I, something that was not hard to do, not a puzzle, but just kind of a miserable thing is now a pretty thing that I like to share.

Rich Ziade: that’s the other thing. And let’s, this is naked self promotion, but it’s pretty. Spreadsheets don’t want to be pretty.

Paul Ford: [00:20:00] This

Rich Ziade: not a flaw, but it’s pretty. Check us

Paul Ford: humans need to look at things with their eyeballs. Anyway, all right, we don’t have to promote on a board anymore. Check us out at Ziotiford on Twitter, send us an email, hello at ziotiford. com. We love you. Uh, Rich, we got to do some more role playing and silliness in future episodes. We’re getting a little software y.

Let’s do it, okay?

Rich Ziade: of post lights, uh, post lights,

Paul Ford: Scouts Prime. I’ll play a scout the next one. You can, well, no, then Scoutmaster. That just sounds like a weird sex thing. So we’re not going to do that, but we’ll figure something out. I’ll talk to you. Bye.

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