Does your product provide instant gratification?

November 27, 2012

Over the past year, and mostly as a result of my Plancast post-mortem, I've spoken with dozens of entrepreneurs who are working on events-related internet products.

I had a call with another such entrepreneur today who has actually built and released a considerably robust offering, at least from a feature standpoint. The service makes it possible to interact with event data in myriad ways, from personal sharing of plans among close friends to impersonal broadcasting of events to a wide audience. It consists of not only a website but a mobile client and calendar client synchronization to boot.

The problem, however, was that any given person who encounters the service will be at a loss as to why they should use it, and this was the case for two reasons:

  1. It's not clear which of the features is primary. The product doesn't sell itself as useful for any particular use case; rather, it leaves it up to the user to figure a main one out for themselves, which they're unlikely to do unless they already have a clear, burning need.

  2. No one feature in particular provides instant gratification. Even if the new user does manage to determine their use case, none of the ones available provides value immediately. They all demand that the user invest considerable time, energy and open-mindedness before they can likely get any substantial value back.

These are problems I see often with events services because they can take many different (and often nuanced) forms. For example, they can be about delivering invitations, discovering social opportunities, interacting real-time, networking with other attendees, and more. As a result, product designers often try to stuff several of these forms into one product.

Event services also wrangle with the issue of delayed gratification, because if the event data (likely) refer to something in the future, you won't fully appreciate the service until you actually attend the event. It's hard to accelerate the value you get, especially since anticipating events also imposes a good deal of psychological overhead, which isn't pleasurable.

However, these are problems from which I see many other types of products suffer as well. If you are building something and you can't pinpoint the point in time when many, if not most, new users can reliably achieve gratification upon their first usage (and by that I mean their first time visiting or registering for your website or downloading your app), then you probably have a structural problem with your value proposition. Especially in this day and age, when people mostly treat new internet services as nice-to-haves rather than needs, your product's value needs to be singular and immediately available or you probably won't get a second look.