5-Bit Friday’s (#11): Snack-able insights, frameworks, and ideas from the best in tech
On copying well, creativity, observations on product management, finding your zone of genius, and some hilarious comedy on building what customers want
Hi, I’m Jaryd. 👋 I write in-depth analyses on the growth of popular companies, including their early strategies, current tactics, and actionable business-building lessons we can learn from them.
Plus, every Friday I bring you summarized insights, frameworks, and ideas from the best entrepreneurs, writers, investors, product/growth experts, and operators.
Happy Friday, friends! 🍻
Welcome to the 214 new folks who’ve joined HTG this week, and a huge thanks to, , , and for adding me to your recommendations. It means so much — I really appreciate it. 🙏
Okay, two quick notes before we get into things today.
First up, if you missed this weeks deep dive on OpenAI (the company behind ChatGPT), I definitely suggest catching up when you have some time. No bias here 👀. But seriously, I found learning about this absolutely fascinating, and I think you will too. It covers the need-to-know primer on the AI industry + a deep dive on OpenAI, their big picture strategy, and their tactics with ChatGPT and Microsoft.
Second, and this one is for the founders and CEOs. I know from experience that finding and hiring great software engineers takes time, and it’s expensive. But we all know engineers are absolutely essential, and everyday with an open role is a day the product is being built slower, and a day of opportunity gone. So, how can you close that gap (1) faster, (2) reliably, and (3) at a good price? Well, just go check out Lemon.io. They’re a Ukrainian-based startup with a pre-vetted pool of top-notch devs from around the world, and they can help you get back to focusing on growth and shipping more product within a week. 🧑💻
Note: If it looks like an ad and sounds like an ad, it usually is. But, this is actually just a shoutout (not paid here in anyway). Their founder Aleksandr reached out, but since I don’t do ads, and since I just really like what they’re doing by democratizing access to global talent, I decided to just share Lemon with you today incase you’re in the market for devs (now, or later).👉 Check them out.
Great, let’s get started.
Here’s what we’ve got this week.
The audacity of copying well
Creating in the era of creative confidence
12 observations on product management
Looking for a new job? First find your zone of genius
Should you always build what the customer wants?
And to kick things off for us…🥾
The audacity of copying well
Ben Thompson just writes gold. And one of the recent nuggets of his I came across (although an older piece) is all about the value of copying over differentiation.
Hot take, right.
Indeed, so let’s take a look at this idea more.
The first mistake most incumbents make when building new products in response to threatening new competitors is to attempt to win on features. [As an example] Nokia and Microsoft tried to build something distinctly different from the iPhone [when it came out], with a completely different user interface, features like Live Tiles, and various content hubs. The effort earned plenty of plaudits from the press and pundits eager for something new, but in practice made it far more difficult to secure the apps that actually mattered for becoming a viable platform.
A more pertinent example for this article is Google+. When Google launched their Facebook competitor in 2011 they touted features like Circles to organize your friends, Sparks to find content to share, and Hangouts to video chat. These made Google+ “better” and “differentiated”, which is another way of saying more complicated; meanwhile the most important feature — your friends — was nowhere to be found.
The problem with focusing on features as a means of differentiation is that nothing happens in a vacuum: category-defining products by definition get a lot of the user experience right from the beginning, and the parts that aren’t perfect — like Facebook’s sharing settings or the iPhone’s icon-based UI — become the standard anyways simply because everyone gets used to them.
— Ben Thompson
In short — don’t reinvent the wheel everybody has gotten used to. As a simple example, if you’re designing a new landing page, put elements and CTAs in places people expect them to be. Sure, you can try create a new design paradigm, but habit is a terribly hard thing to break.
But, copying alone isn’t enough. To copy well, you still have to lean into something you have an edge on.
The fact [that] features don’t offer useful differentiation does not remove the need for differentiation: the key is figuring out what else can be leveraged. Google, for example, may have largely copied the iPhone’s UI, but the key to Android’s success was the search company’s ability to leverage their advertising-based business model to offer it for free. On the hardware side Samsung leveraged their manufacturing might and long-established distribution channels to dominate the otherwise undifferentiated Android market, at least for a time. And, in perhaps the most famous example of this strategy, Microsoft embraced web standards with Internet Explorer, extended their browser’s capabilities with features like ActiveX, eventually extinguishing the threat when Netscape couldn’t keep up.
The takeaway? If a great product has already gone through years of testing, iterations and establishing a certain type of user behavior (i.e product familiarity) — why would you go and build something different?
Focus on building something better based on your advantage, like distribution.
A case in point here is Meta. Notorious copycats. After two attempts at creating feature-differentiated versions of Snapchat that failed (Poke and Slingshot, both standalone apps), they eventually just said fuck it and copied them straight-up, threw it into Instagram, and the rest is history.
As fast as Snapchat was growing, Instagram was much bigger with far more penetration across multiple demographics and international users. Instead of going with a new app, they just added “Stories” right inside their most important asset — their network.
Don’t worry about copying if you’re going to copy well.
⛏️ Source + dig deeper: The Audacity of Copying Well, Ben Thompson
And the total opposite of copying? Creating…
Creating in the era of creative confidence
It’s remarkable to watch a five-year-old draw, void of any anxiety about what the world will think. We all start our lives creatively confident, happy to create and share our work with pride. And then, as we age, our comfort with creative expression declines. We’re discouraged by the learning curve of creative skills and tools, by our tendency to compare ourselves to others, and by the harsh opinions of critics. As Picasso famously quipped, “All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” It is a sad irony: As we age, our creative capabilities (and opportunities!) grow as we collect life experiences that inspire us — but our creative confidence shrinks. We are more creatively confident in kindergarten than we are as adults. Correcting this is among the greatest opportunities for the next generation of humankind.
— Scott Belsky (Founder of Behance & CPO at Adobe)
So how do we become more creatively confident again?
For starters — we lean into the things that help us get over that proverbial fear of the blank page. We leverage things like friendly web tools with easy to use templates, and we embrace the potential that generative AI has in breaking down “creativity’s notoriously steep learning curve.”
In a super engaging essay by Scott Belsky, he talks about how he believes that our culture is going to see a seismic shift from “the insatiable pursuit of productivity to individual differentiation through creativity.”
This is largely because creative expression is being democratized. Friction between an idea you have, and the ability to creatively express that idea, is being removed. From images/videos, to essays, web designs, and even creating code — we’re getting to a place where you can simply talk about what you’re imagining and get immediate visual output.
Just because you struggled with the Adobe suite, or find painting difficult, does not mean you are not creative. “Creativity is about far more than the outcome.” And thinking back to my high-school art days — I definitely recall times when what I ended up producing fell far short of what I imagined. Abysmally so.
But, what should be the true measure of my creative expression? My idea, or my poor execution?
Like most good debates, the answer isn’t clear cut. But food for thought as you think of an opinion…
The Sistine Chapel, often considered Michelangelo's masterpiece, had 13 other painters helping him out. Any less creative?
In his essay, Scott Belskey lays out some drivers around this. Here they are, with my favorite excerpts:
The Death of Creativity’s Learning Curve
Until now, “creativity” has conflated both the generation of ideas and the process involved to express those ideas. Is the process of intricately chiseling a beautiful sculpture creative, or is the idea of the sculpture — the image conjured up in the mind’s eye — the truly creative part of an otherwise laborious and tedious process? It’s an age-old argument. Michelangelo, for instance, believed that each stone has a statue inside it and the sculptor discovers it by chipping away. At the same time, the great master employed as many as 13 assistants to help him paint the Sistine Chapel. So, it’s complicated.
Most artists today can’t afford 13 human assistants, but they use other tools to reduce the laborious parts of creativity, including AI-powered shortcuts, component libraries for product designers, templates, and now generative AI. […]
Of course, behind the scenes, the machine learning engines that drive AI creation were trained using millions of pieces of content from real artists, many of whom never consented to having their work used in that way. To correct this, I anticipate a series of regulations, evolutions in copyright law, new walled gardens and token-gated portfolio experiences, and new compensation models for artists that opt-in and/or allow use of their style for GenerativeAI purposes.
The Opportunity for Creative Pros in the Era of Creative Confidence
There is a common sentiment — and often times anxiety — among creative professionals that these tools threaten their livelihoods.
Humans have always been frenemies with new technology. We relish the efficiencies and welcome having more brain power for higher order tasks. And yet we fret the interim disruptions as we adjust. That was the case with the advent of photography, automobiles, and desktop publishing, and I don’t think this is an exception. As more human jobs become assisted, automated, or replaced by artificial intelligence, we must spend our hours where we have a competitive advantage over machines: developing new ideas, expressing old things in new ways, innovating process, and crafting the story that infuses our creations with meaning. […]
It is the innovation in the creative process itself that distinguishes the outcome. As the process part of creativity — chipping away at the stone or mixing the colors or iterating the pixels — becomes less of an obstacle, the other parts of creativity — the original idea, the judgment, the innovations in process, and the story — become more important than ever.
Takeaway: The expression of ideas is becoming exponentially easier, and it’s going to be the ideas themselves that are the differentiator and signal of creativity.
And a quote I came across while researching OpenAI that caps this off perfectly:
What will always matter is the quality of ideas and the understanding of what you want.
— Sam Altman
For more on the above, as well as the implications for creative careers, culture, and beyond…
⛏️ Source + dig deeper: Creating in The Era of Creative Confidence, Scott Belsky
12 observations on product management
Dan Hill, former Head of Growth at Brex and Director of Product at Airbnb, has spent many years building products. In his essay, “Observations on Product Management”, he took the time to consolidate some of his biggest lessons. He dubs them “mostly things that are either obvious but no-one ever says them, or non-obvious but important.”
Had me hooked with that line.
So, here’s Dan telling you what they are:
The job of Product Management is to deliver good products to end users. The sheer number of possible definitions of good, product and user mean there’s no standard look to a Product Manager. But if you don’t deliver, the product is not good, or no-one uses it, you’ve done it wrong.
Your product, especially if you manage people directly, is not the product. It’s the process that builds the product. Designers output interfaces/interactions, engineers output code, product managers output process.
‘Process’ includes the frameworks for reasoning about a problem, how the team interacts and communicates, expectations of the product, expectations of the team, timelines, what success and quality look like, how decisions are made.
Process is not inherently bad. There’s good process and bad process. Good process is any that allows the team to produce better work faster, with joy and elegance. Bad process is anything else.
Be wary of people who hate process. Sometimes they have been burned by bad process, often though they fear process is a) the same as bureaucracy or b) will limit their contributions.
If you are a new Product Manager to a team that hasn’t worked with one before, the first order of business is proving to the team that your process increases their contributions and joy, not decreases it. It almost doesn’t matter what the product is.
The greatest attribute of a Product Manager is a strongly developed ability for metacognition. First, to be able to introspect oneself and see how your words, actions, choices are affecting an outcome. Second, to introspect a process and understand why it is or is not working.
Most Product Managers (and everyone probably) spend too little time thinking about how to solve a problem. They jump straight into solving it. Problems come in different shapes, and not all need the same process.
The process that shipped the last product is unlikely to be the one that you need for the next.
It is easier to macrobullshit than to microbullshit. It is impossible to bullshit good engineers, designers, data scientists, researchers. If the team isn’t calling you out on something fairly regularly, you’re doing it wrong.
Where there is skill to move mountains, there is no need for the faith that moves mountains. Faith cannot last — eventually someone has to build something.
Incremental development and vision are not orthogonal; they both require the other. All product must start with a vision — a point of view — but then be built critically step by step. It’s ok to learn something new as you go.
Being data-driven is not vision. People who cling to being data-driven rarely create anything new or interesting. I also personally find it hard to explain why to them.
You can learn more about Dan here.
Looking for a new job? First find your zone of genius.
Whether you’re in the job market due to layoffs, trying to get out of a bad gig, looking for your next thing, or even if you’re cruising happily along at work…knowing your zone of genius is an extremely helpful framework.
This image does an excellent job at summing it up:
This doesn’t need to be said, but ideally you want to be working somewhere/doing something where you’re regularly in your zone of genius. Be careful settling for things that you’re good at but hate doing. This is where it’s easy to get comfortable and hit autopilot for a few years.
Okay, so how do you find your zone of genius?
The answer to most questions like that in life is to ask the right questions. Here are some examples:
What do you love doing the most? Something you enjoy so much that time flies by when you’re doing it.
What work do you do that doesn’t seem like work?
At work, what produces the highest ratio of abundance and satisfaction to amount of time spent? Thing something you do (even for just few minutes), that might lead to an idea or something else of value.
What are you great at? What’s your unique ability/skill?
Armed with knowing what your zone of genius is — you can use that to help define a specific, long-term goal that ties back to it. With this, you’ve created a good lens for looking at companies and job opportunities.
And how do you find these companies and job opportunities? Peter Yang from The Creator Cconomy wrote a great piece, here’s an excerpt I really liked.
To state the obvious:
Getting a warm lead through your network is 10x as effective as applying online.
This is especially true in this recession where every job will have hundreds of applications. Here’s how you can network:
Make a public post
If you’ve been laid off, post publicly on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media about what you’re looking for next.
People need to know your situation to help.
Reconnect with your network
Reconnect with your old managers, coworkers, and friends. Ask them if they know anyone hiring for roles you may be a fit for.
Your goal is to connect to a hiring manager at a company you’re interested in.
Reach out to strangers
You’ll be surprised at how many strangers are willing to help in this economy. Here are some tactical tips:
Find people who work at your target companies. Search on LinkedIn and cold DM or email people who may be hiring managers.
Build a relationship even if they’re not hiring. Reach out to people at interesting companies even if the company has no open roles. Try to build a relationship so that you’ll be first in mind whenever a role opens up.
Be crisp in your cold outreach. I get a lot of lazy messages like:
To drastically improve your response rate, briefly explain your credentials, provide value, and have a low-effort CTA. Here’s a hypothetical cold email:
Follow up. Be persistent and you’ll often get a response. I typically follow up at least 3x before I give up on a cold outreach.
And if you’re looking for a job right now, LinkedIn is just one path. Some other non-traditional avenues to consider:
Leverage Crunchbase to find companies that have just raised capital. Companies with new cash are often looking to hire, and even if they don’t have a role that matches, follow the cold outreach strategy above and put yourself on their radar anyway (assuming you like them).
Use talent collectives. These are becoming more popular as creators build up communities, and it’s worth creating a profile and making yourself more visible. Some to look at:
For PMs: Will Lawrence’s Talent Collective
For devs: The Pragmatic Engineer Talent Collective (by Gergely Orosz)
For marketers: MKT1 Talent Collective (by Emily Kramer)
And some other helpful resources:
Should you always build what the customer wants?
Short answer. Nope.
And this hilarious 1 minute video by Sanjeev NC (my new favorite tech comedian) is a perfect example of why:
It’s very easy to get distracted and drown in product features because a customer asked about it. Common belief is build something people want. Of course that’s true, but an important caveat there is that during customer discovery/research — it’s about finding what the right people (your High Expectation Customers) really want/need, and are willing to pay enough for.
When filtering, the key is to actively listen, get to the why, and to translate what they’re directly/indirectly asking for into a real JTDB.
Hats off to Sanjeev for hitting tech culture so perfectly in his comedy. Here are a few of my favorites for the PMs. They’re short, each about ~1 minute. Please, enjoy.🤣
And that’s it for this week! Thanks so much for reading and being a subscriber. It’s been amazing watching this newsletter grow. So, thank you.
On that note, if you learned at least one new thing, consider giving this post a like/share and all of that good stuff.
See you next week.
— Jaryd ✌️
*Update. Thanks @StevenPuri for the correction.
One of Meta's copycats was "Slingshot", not "Springshot". This has been updated.