Cracking My Favorite Products

My time in school has come to a close. It is bittersweet in that my love of learning seemingly knows no bounds. I could spend years exploring more nooks and crannies in computer science, but the time has come to say goodbye.

If that’s the “bitter” part, then the “sweet” part is the job hunt! I’m finding that I enjoy the process of looking at companies, wrapping my head around their business, and evaluating if their product interests me enough to apply to an open position. As part of the job hunt, I am prepping for interviews. A vital step considering I’ve spent the last 18 months with my head down in the land of bits and am applying mostly to product management positions which are a blend of bits, business processes, and user needs.

I’m currently reading Cracking the PM Interview as a reminder of the tools of the trade. My favorite section is the Product Questions chapter; no surprise. As I was reading, I realized that I have not given much thought to my favorite products. The authors of the book provide a fairly simple framework for evaluating your favorite product that I’ll use here:

  • What problems does the product solve?
  • How does it accomplish these goals? What makes it stand out?
  • How does it compare to the alternatives?
  • How would you improve it?

I’m going to apply this framework to two products that I use frequently. The first is a software product that if it disappeared tomorrow, would cause a rather large disruption to my life: Spotify.

What problems does Spotify solve? End-to-end music management (artists, albums, and playlists) across multiple devices. I would be lost without it.

How does Spotify accomplish these goals? By providing a wealth of content that you can seamlessly organize across all platforms. Really that simple.

What are the alternatives? Before Spotify, iTunes was the primary home for my music (along with storing things on a hard drive), and Apple Music is now the Apple alternative to Spotify. Apple has more exclusive content and their sound quality is better than Spotify. I wouldn’t consider Soundcloud a true “alternative” as it occupies a space that Spotify doesn’t (a home for independent artists), but it is the only other app where I listen to music. Outside of that there’s Pandora, YouTube Music Premium, and Deezer. All offerings with significant tradeoffs. I would say that Apple Music is the only real competitor to Spotify.

How would you improve Spotify? Apple Music represents a big challenge to Spotify and I think we could look to it for ways to compete. Spotify’s clunky of support for playing my own MP3s is annoying, and the lack of true high quality content is also limiting.

The second product is a 12 inch Nenox chef’s knife with an iron wood handle. Like Spotify, if it disappeared tomorrow my life would change radically.

What problems does it solve? Like all knives, it solves the problems of cutting things that need to be cut.

How does it accomplish these goals? Here is where the Nenox shines. It is balanced in a way that gives the impression of the knife being an extension of your hand. The handle fits perfectly. The blade, when properly sharpened, is unparalleled. In short, the knife accomplishes its goals with style.

What are the alternatives? Wusthof, Shun, and MAC all make top-notch products. That said, they are all mass produced and have their own tradeoffs. I find Wusthof to be clunky, both aesthetically and in how it handles. Shun is a great brand, but I am not a fan of the handle. I have a MAC knife as a backup and it was my first good chef’s knife, but the balance on it is just not the same.

How would you improve it? Unfortunately I cannot answer this question. The knife was what my wife got me when she asked me to marry her and so imagining it improved is off-limits.

So, there we have it! A few breakdowns on products that I enjoy.