It's more than just Milkshakes. Get the latest on Jobs-to-be-Done here.

Ash Maurya on Jobs-to-be-Done and Running Lean

Chris Spiek // 06.30.14

ashOn this episode of Jobs-to-be-Done Radio we’re joined by entrepreneur, author, and entrepreneurship expert Ash Mauyra.

Along with creating the Lean Canvas, an incredibly usable tool for startups who are trying to apply the lean startup methods, Ash has integrated many of the Jobs-to-be-Done techniques into his writing and workshops.

It’s always exciting for us to talk to someone so committed to applying and evolving the Jobs-to-be-Done framework, so be sure to tune in!

Software as a Series of Flows

Using his own business modeling software product as an example, Ash describes curse of specialization: When faced with a challenge (e.g. let’s optimize the app on-boarding process to help the user get something done) developers will want to develop more features and designers will want to redesign the user interface.

Using Jobs-to-be-Done, Ash has been able to help teams shift their focus from the product to the user, and the jobs that the user is trying to get done.  Once the team has a clear view of the outcomes that the user is looking for, the team can align on the work that needs to be done to improve the product.

Of course this summary falls short of doing the story justice, so be sure to tune in to hear all the details!

Show Notes

Jobs-to-be-Done Radio

Click to view episode transcript.

Female: Welcome to the latest edition of Jobs-to-be-Done Radio where we discuss how to apply the jobs-to-be-done framework to understand why consumers switch from one product to another and ultimately, how to get more customers to switch to your product. And here are your hosts.

Chris Spiek: All right, welcome to the latest edition of Jobs-to-be-Done Radio. As always, I’m here with Bob and Irvin. What’s up guys?

Male: Hey, Chris.

Male: Hey, Chris. What’s up man?

Chris Spiek: Today, another very special guest. We’ve got Ash Maurya on with us. Ash, how are you?

Ash Maurya: Doing well, guys.

Chris Spiek: Great.

Ash Maurya: Thanks for having me.

Chris Spiek: For the people that don’t know, there’s got to be only a handful of them. Ash is a big advocate of the startup movement, author of Running Lean. Ash, give us a little background, how did you get in to the whole lean movement? And then what are you up to now? Because I know you’ve got books, blogs, workshops going on, kind of give us the quick update.

Ash Maurya: Sure. I would say, my short introduction is I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve been an entrepreneur for many, many years and all the books and workshop, all this is fairly new to me and I’m still adjusting to all of that. But the way I got into all of this is I was kind of going my merry way. I had started a company and patented all kind of failure and successes along the way and didn’t really have a repeatable pattern to anything.

The parts I’ve succeeded, I kind of knew, after a year and a half to two years, they were going work. It didn’t work. Similarly, after a year and a half to two years, I knew they weren’t going to work and so I killed them and did something else. That bothered me, because I wasn’t getting younger, I was running out of time from that sense, so I was trying to find better and faster ways for going through these ideas, going through this foundation process.

That’s how I got first introduced to lean, and then started a blog which was first named just Now, it’s and that’s where I started sharing a lot of my lessons and that eventually morphed into everything I do today which we can get into more detail if you want or kind of ask me through a lot.

Male: I’d loved to. That’d be awesome.

Male: What do you have kind of coming up? Because I know you have a workshop coming up now or is there something kind of in the distant future? What can people reach out to kind of get a hold of?

Ash Maurya: Sure. When I started getting into Lean, I was running a completely different company. It was a software company. I was doing some large file sharing pipe technologies. And the company was doing well and I wanted to really get my feet wet around lean and so I began writing and using one of colleagues as a test pad. Then at some point, I was having more fun doing that. So I got I sucked into writing a book and I started teaching the way to learn about writing the book.

My advisor would ask me every now and then how much time am I spending on this side project versus my real business, and that was just the proportion for growing from one side to the other over time. So I eventually decided to sell that old business. So I sold that business and started a new company, Spark59. What we do there, the big problem that I felt that I wanted to go tackle was this idea of entrepreneurship being hard against new product introduction in general, being very difficult at having dismal odds of success. It was a big hairy problem to go address and there were some solutions that were starting to surface as an answer, that I was starting to get to the surface with lean and some of the work that you guys are even doing, I think very much fits and part of that story.

I began to teach that together as part of this new company and we did three things there. There’s tools that we build. There’s software products and the business modeling software, the Linux product. There’s coaching that I do. So every month, I’ve gone to workshops somewhere in the world. And it’s time to pick a new city, run a workshop, and then there is a tools content and there’s the coaching aspect which is the workshop and then the content are things like books and blogs. I continue to develop that and write those kinds of things.

What would that be up and coming? There’s always a workshop every month. We have that on our website. You can see some of the upcoming workshops. But there’s one that’s going to be run every month somewhere in the world. And we have these other software products on the shelf.

Male: Awesome.

Male: Very cool. So you mentioned jobs, that our work is kind of one of the reference points which is obviously very humbling. There’s a lot of ways to kind of get insights and user stories and things like that, there’s personas. How did you discover jobs and recognize jobs as a possible thing that you needed to kind of lump in to the process?

Ash Maurya: My work is I sometimes joke, and it’s really, I’m just a DJ, I simply wrangle ideas from other places and package them together. But I first sort of first heard of jobs through, and probably what a lot of your audience also did, through Clay Christensen’s milkshake study. It’s the same story that I’ve heard Ryan Singer, at the end of the day — we all looked at that study and it was an interesting way to look at what I would call existing alternatives to a product. You’re not really competing against other milkshakes, but on a breakfast booths. So that was kind of the big thing that stuck with me back then.

Then I kind of have just had that mental model and even in this… So I built this one-page business model canvas, called the lean canvas and it’s very customer-centric. So ideally, we have every entrepreneur start not by talking and by what they want to go build, because that’s what they all want to talk about.

Male: Yes.

Ash Maurya: But rather who are you building this for and what are the problems that you’re addressing? And then even more, responding to those problems matter, so how are they solving them to date? For me, the existing alternative box, there was a section that we have there which is what I found to have the most overlap with the job’s concept. So I have been drilled down in that and we would have, as many people in the interviews really uncovered, really that existing world view and how they think and how their keeping that together and we build artifacts like a customer journey maps and workflows to get to that.

For the longest time and even the software, what I would tell people that software is nothing more than a collection of flows. They’re not really features but flows. Then when I ran into your work, more recently, first to probably send them signal guys, and actually there’s a funny story there. Because when they first [inaudible 00:06:26] the first visual shop, I really thought it was one of their workshops because there weren’t a lot Basecamp-related types of workshops. And so I ignored it. And it wasn’t until the second one that I pieced together that it was the same guy who are working on the project with Clayton Christensen, the jobs-to-be- done framework and not some [inaudible 00:06:43] signal thing.

Then I just went and dived into everything that you guys were doing, all of your podcasts and all of that. I find that the vocabulary is a lot richer. So I’ve really shifted away from — I wouldn’t say shifted away with, but I’ve been introduced a lot of your vocabulary now. I find job to be a very powerful concept and pay a lower attack. I think, in my workshops, so far, it’s been resonating very strong. And people hear some of the stories there, they’re quite fascinated by how they can position their products around a job that a customer wants done. I think it’s a very powerful metaphor.

Male: What’s so interesting to me, Ash, is that it’s almost like come full circle. I work with Clay in the early ’90s around different ways of doing this. And I came from lean, Six Sigma, TQM, kind of that whole movement and that it all started as function analysis and breaking things down into one of the functions and everything else was — it’s very interesting to me that the language has kind of come back. It’s very cool to me.

Ash Maurya: Yeah. I tell a lot of people this, because I look at this lean startup thing as some brand new thing that was invented. And I tell them no, what it’s really done is repackaged a lot of old things in a way that… It added some new vocabulary and stuff, there’s some a new thinking. But a lot of it is only repackaging.

Chris Spiek: Yeah, yeah, that’s right.

Ash Maurya: It’s also a very powerful combination of just the world we’re living in. So with the internet and globalization, now ideas spread so much faster. So when I do my workshops in Europe, people in the room already know that vocabulary. It’s just like learning a new language. You’re now talking about products and business in a new way that we have never been able to do before. It’s really exciting.

Male: What’s funny Ash is that I’m 50, right? As a student, my internship was with Dr. Deming and Dr. Taguchi. The whole notion of SPC and work as a process and Deming’s 14 Points, and all those kinds of terms and things like that, I had it before I actually kind of finished engineering school. It’s just in the DNA. And like you said, it’s repackaging and I feel like all that information has been repackaged like probably four times, really. Every probably almost six to eight years, there’s a… Lean is what’s hot now. They’ll be something else that’s going to be a new version of it in a couple of years. But the notion is is that the principles are so powerful, just so powerful.

Ash Maurya: Exactly. And that’s the branding that I teach everyone. Some of my products doesn’t have the word “lean” in it. The company name doesn’t have “lean” because I do believe that the problems will not change.

Chris Spiek: That’s right.

Ash Maurya: We will still be chasing how to build new products 50 years from now, but the technologies will all change.

Male: That’s right. And for me, my whole background has been in product development and so I came more from the product development side than the entrepreneurial side. But as I evolved in to the entrepreneurial side, what you’re doing is you’re enabling so many people to start in businesses and you’re just doing a phenomenal job simplifying what this is all about.

To be honest, I just want to say thank you for what you’re doing because it’s a very powerful thing.

Ash Maurya: Thanks and I appreciate that.

Male: Tell me a little bit more about the software as a series of flows. Because part of me is kind of throughout the product space, I’m wrestling to get people to stop, like thinking of it through the eyes of the product and like rotating it, so that they look at it through the eyes of the users. Developers and designers get caught up on the feature side of software to such an intense figure. It’s like we need to optimize it, we need to make it faster, slicker. And I think this notion — and this is the first time admittedly that I’ve heard of those notion of flows. So I almost want to hear a little bit more about it. How do you get people to make that kind of rotation in their perspective? And how do they start behaving once they’ve changed their perspective?

Ash Maurya: I’ll probably just use one of our examples. I like to see [inaudible 00:11:24] given this whole problem that we all encounter. It’s what I call the this curse, the curse of specialization. And that is just that over time, we have become so specialized. I’ll post a problem to my team. So we have this lean canvas, a business modeling software product. And I would ask them, we all know that say a particular metric is not working. So we know that the on-boarding process where people signup to where they become paying customers is not where we wanted to be so let’s improve that. While the designers in the team will come back and say, “It’s a UX issue, so let’s go ahead and improve the experience or let’s make the design more aesthetic.” The developers will want to build more features, so that’s where it invites the curse of specialization. We are all trained at certain skills and we look at the solution as just from those lenses.

Initially, I would use that word “flow.” I’m like we really want to get the customers to get something done, so let’s think in terms of that and not so much aesthetic or even features. I’m going to jump in and use the word “job” because again, that word just sounds so powerful now, but back then I didn’t have that word. But now, when I would look at that same problem, I would say, “Well, we have people signing up every single day. And their motivation was high when they signed up. But after a few days or few weeks, they will stop using the products. So we are missing out. We are kind of faiing them in some way. If we can figure out that job, we can then build the right things there.”

So then, we start having these discussions about who are these people and what do they really to come from. And if you look at really this particular product, the business model kind of modeling product, a number of people who come in here, their alternative is to go write a business plan. And they have to go do this because, I mean that’s what they’re told and what they’ve adapted to do is to get investment. So they’re writing this plan, they’re spending weeks of their life. They hate this job, they hate this work. But they spend weeks of their life doing this work. They go in, maybe they can pitch to someone. The worst part is that person doesn’t even read the business plan. They want you to come in there and give them a more advanced version of it.

Once we began having this conversations internally, the job of our tool became very clear, at least for that particular segment of people coming in. They only a way to get their ideas down on paper to where they can go communicate it effectively to maybe an investor, maybe an adviser, use that feedback to make the plan more solid, and then take all that saved time, and this is the added benefit we throw in there, is take all that saved time, the week that they didn’t spend writing a business plan to then going do some validation and come back and maybe show some positive traction around the idea. And that gets everyone getting the job done.

So the investors who doesn’t to punish people by saying, “Well, write this business plan document,” they just want to not waste their time. So they want you to go this homework, come back, and with a more cohesive story, ideally, about something more than I’m just going to build this and it’s going to work. But that’s the best of what their job is. Then the other guys, they want to get a successful business doing. Again, once you start to think that way, you then very strategically build in the right, you can call them features or flows in the product to really make that job a lot more additive.

From the entrepreneur perspective, let’s do the everything possible to get them to a business model that’s teachable, that’s workable. From the investor perspective, let’s build tools for them to where they can quickly review these request coming in. Get this conversation in 30 minutes, get them to something they should spend time with further or they should just tell them to just go do some more homework.

Chris Spiek: That’s right. There’s three concepts that we were kind of work with around that which is this notion of people will end up focusing on let’s say, an attributor or a benefit and it’s kind of like in the end, when you really unpack it, it doesn’t mean anything to them until you start to say, “Well, what does that mean?”

For example, we talk about this concept of easy, right? Let’s say, well it needs to be easy. And it’s like who wants it to be easy? And then when does it need to be easy? Is it easy to setup? Is it easy to do? Is it easy to finish? What is it? People spend too much time on the features and well, this feature will make it easy, but we don’t understand from the consumer side. I talked about this notion of going from an attribute to an experience. And from a point down the line of how easy is this to…

Easy is really about a time-sliced continuum of when does it need to be easy, because it might need to be easy in the beginning, but it might need to be hard at the end to actually add value. So trying to make it easy to whole way through doesn’t actually add value. So part of it is this making sure that people are unpacking things to the right level and then understanding kind of like, you said, the flow through the experience. That’s very cool, I like that. I like your idea.

Ash Maurya: I’m glad you brought up the easy thing, because that’s also where many entrepreneurs get into the premature optimization, like when they make things, sometimes, too easy. And really, at least, when you’re looking for early adaptors, and this is that counterintuitive thing that I often teach is that when you’re looking for early adaptor, you sometimes want to actually raise time and friction. You want to make it a little bit harder for them to jump through a particular hoop. This also goes for like the forces diagrams, is that you do want there to be a little bit of friction, because that’s going to weed out fellows that will really stick with you and give you the best feedback versus those that are just going to kick the tires and then just complain and not do anything.

Male: For Chris and I, we kind of like we went into the trenches and kind of bit the crap out of each other around that whole principle which was I asked him to generate leads for me when I was building houses. And it was like, “Well I can generate leads and I can generate a lot of leads.” And I’m like, “No, I want qualified leads.” He’s like, “Well, I can get you leads.” I’m like, “No, I want to make it harder. He’s like, “No, no, no, everybody’s about making it easier.” You and I went back and forth, Chris, right? Remember it’s like… and finally, we came up with this way of trying to help people talk about the forces, right? Why can’t you move, why do you need to move, basically we walked through the forces in a survey and it was like 20-25 questions is a long way.

But the reality is everybody who went through the survey — and we got it like what? 75%, 80% conversion. It was like ridiculous amounts of conversion. And once you got the conversion, it was like for us to close a house, once we know they can go through it versus Chris could get a hundred people to my door but I could close 10.

Male: So the other example that I always give, this is like the poor man’s lean startup but it’s like… we constantly have entrepreneurs coming to us just wanting to talk through ideas and get kind of the jobs slant thing, right? What we’ve essentially come back to is like we have a hundred copies of the business model canvas book and a hundred copies of rework in our office. And it’s like, “I’ll talk to you in a month. You need to rebuild those books. Do the canvas and be able to talk to me intelligently kind of using both of those as frameworks.” Because what we found is like everybody had a cousin that was like, “He’s got a great idea for this and he just needs an hour of your time.” And you would sit down and because they hadn’t invested enough energy into it, they couldn’t defend it, they hadn’t fought through it.

So we have like what? Maybe a one out of ten. So you always take the books, read it, one out of ten will actually come back and say, “That was great and here are the mechanics of what I’m working on and here is the thought process.” And it’s like, “Okay, now we can talk.” And the other nine are like you weren’t even willing to kind of put that level of thought in, making assumptions, but it’s like I’m not going to put energy in and if you’re not putting energy in.

Male: Two things. One is we need to add the lean start action book to the mix.

Male: Now there’s three books.

Male: Now there’s three books they go to do. But the notion is for a hundred bucks, it’s like you can come to us, we will give you the books. And the reality is like it saves our time. Those people who come back who’ve read it and thought through it, you know they got the energy, you know they’re looking to do something with it. For us, it’s part of our vetting process and then, we’re willing to invest some time to really sit down, talk to entrepreneurs.

Male: Well, I want to ask the question from the other side. If you’re an entrepreneur looking to… let’s say you believe that you can unseat an incumbent by making your offering easier and cheaper. What’s a practical exercise to understand what easy means? Like what do we actually do to figure out an acceptable parameter?

Male: What is really easy? How to find easy?

Male: Yeah, how do you find it?

Male: How do you define easy? So Ash, we’ll let you go first. How do you coach somebody to find and unpack the easy?

Ash Maurya: And the problems that we take and confront, a lot of entrepreneurs who were starting out, this is kind of the other [inaudible 00:20:09] many of them will carve out their differentiation and say, “We have no competition.” It’s almost never true.

The first [inaudible 00:20:19] working again and is we have no competition, we’re just selling to everyone. So those are the two big things. Both of those have to be narrowed down. And like who is your… Okay, I know five years from now, you want to tell everyone, you want to be the next Facebook. Even Facebook just started out with a college student, and not just any college student, but one in the Harvard campus. I get them to get to that place and say, “Tell me, whose your best early adaptor, now?”

We start with honing into that one person. And then we look at the product from their lens, saying, “What’s it going to do.” Initially, there’s some of the hypothetical, this what the product will do for them, this is what I think they’re currently using, so that’s their existing alternatives kind of session. But then the big homework in front of them is to go out there and run a series of… and also there’s two ways, you can either go and observe your users, your potential customers if you were in a phase where you can do that, or you go and explicitly interview them.

There’s a whole script of how we go do this, but the idea is to uncover the back story talking about the problem, seeing if they are interested, of course, through body language and if they are, and just exploring that world view. Telling and asking them how we solved their problem today, spending 15, 20 minutes to just document all of that.

Once you do enough of those, I found once you do like 10 or 15 of those, you become an expert. So I often tell the story of how I was once going to explore the professional photographer market. I only use an iPhone to take pictures, so I’m, by no means, a professional photographer. He’s got to be generous enough to come in because I gave them a platform to talk about their problems and at least, they show me what they did. They spent an hour with me, each of them. After 15 of those interviews, I became the “expert” on professional photographer workflow. I even could tell you are the good photographers from the not so good ones by their workflows.

I started giving advice to other people and they would look at me and say, “Wow, you must be a professional photographer.” So that’s just how you can hack of becoming an expert on a particular job or workflow. That’s how I would recommend getting going. If you can draw that workflow diagram, that’s where we then begin to impose a bunch of criteria like where was their pain, both emotional pain, the monetizable pain? Where would you inject your solution? And if you were to inject it, was the before and after picture the current reality, the future reality?

All of that just can be done on paper, and then once you can do that, follow an interview doing what I call a solution interview. So you then go and present, in the lean world we call the minimum viable product demo. So we go and say, “We talked to you last time and you told us all of these stuff. These are the problems we are trying to address with our resolution. And let me show you how we do it.” So that’s where you go and test whether what you think is easy, what you think is better and you know it’s going to work. And then you can test all kinds of things from pricing to the experience and other things in that interview.

Male: We talked about that all the time, where context is everything. So until you can actually bring them back to the context, it’s like if you just show them two things, say, “Do you like this one or do you like that one?” It’s like it’s a useless data. It’s like, “I don’t know. . .”

Male: Without context.

Male: Yeah, without context, so that’s great.

Male: I love the process. To get back to Irvin’s question, I almost want to say… So if you’re out there and you want to poke holes and just do it, I almost want to say the easy might never have a role in a job. I’m literally trying to microfiche through every interview that I’ve ever done to get like, easy to me feels like an optimization routine. They’re using it to do the job and if I can take out a little speed, I can make them happier but they’d found the solution.

But part of it is like… So there’s Justin Jackson, if you go on the hashtag [inaudible 00:24:13]. He just did a little YouTube video around coffee and the job of coffee. So what I did is I went back and put myself in the shoes of the five-hour energy drink guys. That’s like we are going to sit in the room, we’re going to brainstorm. We need a bigger slice of the pie of the heavy coffee drinker market, right? So what I went to is one of my close friend’s works at home. Gets up every morning, gets in his car, drives five miles to Starbucks, he gets the Starbucks, come home. He has a Keurig, he has everything in his home. But this is almost like obsessive behavior, like he will never start a day without behaving that way.

And when you talk to him about it, it’s all about like I don’t work in an office, I don’t get the banter, I need to go and be around people for at least five minutes and then I can come home, open my laptop and feel like I have a reasonable start to a day and I’m not like a hermit for all week, right? So I can make five-hour energy drink healthier, I can take the crash out, it’s cheaper, it lasts longer, all these dimensions and you will never supplant that job of kind of being social, right? So I almost feel like easy at the packed-in level, you will never find. You might find derivatives of it in less steps, stuff like that. But it’s a huge pothole that you can fall into as a developer.

Male: Chris and I just drove from Chicago back to Detroit last week and we have time. And so we were listening to Einstein’s autobiography by Isaacson. And the thing that’s so wonderful about it is that it gets back to this notion of [inaudible 00:25:49], right? If it’s easy, easy relative to what? Easy relative to who? And easy relative to when? And so there are these other dimensions that are packed into easy that it’s like…

Male: From what point do you arrive at easy? What direction are you traveling?

Male: It sounds ridiculous, but the reality is there is a continuum there that has multiple dimensions and literally you have whole project teams going, “Yeah, we are just going to make Facebook easier.” And it’s like I have no idea what you’re even talking, like no idea what you’re talking about. And so for us, we spend this time just trying to make sure they can unpack and get to the experiences and realizes that they don’t take easy to the wrong extreme or take easy to the wrong place.

But most time, especially when you’re in none — let’s say not in startups, but in product development, people have a list of attributes and they’re like, “Okay, we need to do this better, we need to do this better,” and they’ve no idea how to really connect it back to what they need to do.

Male: I think it gets right back to Clay’s milkshake video, right? Unless you understand the situation, is it sweeter, is it more sour, is it bigger, smaller. I mean I can go anywhere, you can make it easier to buy, easier to throw away, but it’s like none of those [inaudible 00:27:05].

Male: How’s it going to make a difference, right?

Male: All the discussion we just have also apply to the idea of convenient.

Male: I just convenient yesterday.

Male: Oh, all right.

Male: Well, convenient has the same dimensions, right? It’s convenient when, convenient by who, it’s convenient and easier, they’re all the same thing.

Male: They’re too packed down.

Male: And so they’re too close to each other. So the other thing is that they’re words, right?

Male: Okay.

Male: We talk about trying to unpack to the action. What’s the action that’s not — like so easy when, it’s like easy to set up, okay, easy to set up is number of steps. Oh, so it’s more convenient if I could set it up in three steps instead of four? Yeah, okay. Now I know what you’re doing. But if you don’t unpack it down to the action, to Ash’s notion of flow, it doesn’t mean anything.

To me, its unpacking things down to the actual action, because as a product developer, our job is to create easy, right? We have to put together things to cause easy. Holy crap! That’s really — like to see easy it’s just, let’s make this easier. I can get everybody in the room to agree that they want everything to be easier. But to actually make it easier from a developer perspective, that’s like the hardest damn thing in the world.

Male: Right.

Male: I’ve got to cause easy? Holy shit! Sorry, I just… more like PG.

Ash Maurya: I think it’s probably, that I think that you said very well is I look at easy also as being an optimization effort.

Male: Yeah, yeah.

Ash Maurya: If you are going to align with the job, and it goes back to early adopter stuff, they’ll will crawl to get that job done if it gets the job done to them better than the alternative. Easy doesn’t matter as much as in the beginning. But as you get more of the mainstream market to come in, then all of that stuff, the on-boarding process, the experience, they begin to add in there. So I do think it is just more optimization than by itself.

A company like Apple can come and say, “We will build the easiest phone, the simplest phone,” and if we don’t buy it because they say it’s simple, we buy because of the track record of everything else they had done before that.

Male: Exactly.

Male: This is so important to me at this point and this also ties back to Lean Canvas so let me know how well I do. But I was consulting with a client this week and their “unfair advantage” for this new app they’re going to build is its going to be easier than our competitor.

Male: I have to laugh already, sorry.

Male Voice: Can you unpack and just kind of leg it out.

Male: Sure. Unfair advantage, what it truly means.

Ash Maurya: Yes, so past definition was and that’s why I kind of quote in the book and I use in my workshop was quote by a friend of mine Jason Cohen who is an angel investor, he is also the founder of WP Engine. He defined it as something that cannot be easily copied or bought.

Male: Yeah.

Ash Maurya: So something that cannot be easily copied or bought. And so if you just give that example of we are going to be the simplest solution out there, even if it weren’t, people know you’d have to — I can just literally copy everything, you know, just by feature by feature copy your exact product. And if you don’t have enough market share yet, they can just displace you. So even when Facebook was coming out, there are clones of Facebook, there are clones of Instagram, there are clones of all these stuff that are not just look alike, but they’re identical versions of them.

But they didn’t quite succeed because the unfair advantage for all those companies, those ones in particular didn’t come from the top place down. They came from, in network effect, they were building around the top player.

Male: Cool, very cool.

Male: Yeah, great answer. So I feel like we’ve hijacked the whole topic based on this easy thing. So one of the interesting things — and I think you’ve talked through a lot of this, so maybe we’ve already covered most of it. But one of the interesting things that came up when you and I initially kind of touched base and just had some phone conversations was I kind of came in with the notion of like I read the Running Lean book, we have our notion of kind of how to talk to customers and how to do interviews. You had I’d say a quicker process described the book. And at that point you kind of cut me out and say, “Wow, wow! You’re reading a book that’s been out there for a while and I’ve evolved the thinking a little bit and I’ve changed it.” Can you talk about — is there anything that we haven’t touched on already as far as how you’ve changed it and evolved the application and that sort of thing recently?

Ash Maurya: Yes, so I guess I would say, one thing we didn’t touch on is where does the job discussion really come in, like even if I would superimpose it on the process that I first put out there. That definitely changed quite a bit. In the beginning, so I do think of two places where it’s very helpful. The first is in something we’ve talked about already which is when entrepreneurs first have an idea, they only care about solutions like you really have to back the way and look at customers’ problems, existing alternatives or more specifically, the jobs that they’ve undone.

And I see a lot of entrepreneurs kind of say, “Well we are building something very disruptive.” And that’s when I also give examples like the Apple iPad and Steve Jobs was on stage. He wasn’t talking about ten new things you can do with the iPad. He was talking about ten old things you can do with the iPad but only much better.

So that connects the people, they’re like, wow, if this guy is doing it, who are we to come in and come up with these brand new use cases or jobs. And so I think that’s very powerful. It’s very early in the product even the Lean Canvas I try and get people to think more in terms of that job or existing alternative. It’s very hard to change behavior and almost all that you have to design your products to seamlessly fit in. So that’s very valuable to them then.

Then in regards to this process, they go build their MVPs or their initial products that are out there. And then, once you’ve launched your product, whether you like it or not, it actually gets noisier because before you can select early adopters and say, “I’m only going to take you and you,” but eventually everyone starts — not everyone but a lot of people, different kinds of people start using your product and then its valuable to revisit the job again. So we built this product with a particular job in mind, how well are we meeting it? And we go interviews from our existing customers and really see are we failing them or are we meeting that job? Are there new jobs that are being created?

Male: Right.

Ash Maurya: And so I feel that at that point, that’s again very valuable. And that’s often where people get up, they lost their growth, it either plateaus or it doesn’t go anywhere and so then they have to figure out where does that next incremental set, features or things come from that’s going to help us get them stocked.

Male: So I’m imagining the chef at MacDonald’s that was designing the milkshake to be so creamy and so indulgent and the chocolate. So we always have this reaction when we do interviews for clients, because it’s like that’s not why we built… like why are they using it for that? It’s like they’re using it in the morning to get ready for work, they should be like it’s not what a milkshake is for. And from an entrepreneurial specter, from an entrepreneurial perspective especially like it’s stomach turning, because it’s human to be kind of wed to the idea and the ideal application of your product I think.

Male: It all goes back to — so one of the other books we listened to is Drucker, right? And Drucker’s whole notion of innovation is most innovation comes from misuse. And we forget, I mean it’s like so fundamental to everything and…

Male: Tax, that’s packing it.

Male: Right, but the notion is I meant it to do this, like Novocaine. Novocaine was invented for war time amputation. And it was like the doctor said, “Absolutely not, we need these people out cold. If I’m cutting off your leg, I don’t need it to be numb. I need him to be out.” Right?

Male: Right.

Male: And somehow, somebody used it for dental and all over sudden it was like boom! It took off. But it wasn’t developed for teeth, it was developed for amputation. Then all over sudden it was like the misuse and so to be honest, once you make it, you have to be open enough to kind of say, “What are you using it for?” And to be honest, it’s the beauty. To be honest, that’s the most fun I have is when you think you have a job, you build a product and then people start to use it for other things. You’re like, “Holy crap!” And then it’s like those are truly beautiful moments.

Male: Here’s another struggle I’m having. So with clients that I’m working with, when you see that work around, that hack?

Male: Oh, yeah.

Male: This is something different. It’s almost impossible to size that opportunity. So how do you talk off the lid?

Male: No!

Male: I’m telling you, I have this conversation…

Male: I know. It’s not hard to size, because the thing is that you have to be able to — you take them down the main path and you say, “All right, out of ten times, how many times do you do that other path?” And you’ll be shocked how quickly you can get the work – well, eight out of ten times I use to workaround. What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to acknowledge…

Male: [Inaudible 00:35:54] from the sizing it from – if I’m sitting with entrepreneurs and they’re saying, “Okay, this one opportunity is going to be 20 million people.” This new thing that people are hacking, I don’t know how many people have that job.

Male: Yeah, but the thing is it’s all in the setup. If you get them to set it up right to say here is the main thing you’re using it for and then you just pop the question at the end and say, “But we know people use it this way. Out of ten times, how many times do you use it that way?” You can get the size of the hack. That’s how we did — the milkshake it was the same way. It was all like how many times — if you were to interview the people who build, the first answer goes, “I don’t usually do these.” And you’re like, oh no, I never… Okay, “How many times do you do this?” And you start to realize like if you buy milkshakes in a week, well maybe five out of nine. You’re like, “Wow! That’s a lot.” And so to me, it’s not as hard as you think it is, but you can’t just ask him out. The thing is you can’t ask him cold. Like, “Do you use it for this?” “No, I don’t.” Right?

Ash Maurya: Yeah, and especially if you have, like in our case, we have a software product and we initially went down this path of building a step by step wizards, like this is how we think you should go around this process. At some point, we just got lazy and no, we’re just going to keep this open. That was a great accident that we had, so kind of a nonlinear way of using the product. And then we build this analytics product and we had a funnel in and people were not following it. And first, we were like why are they not following this funnel?

So then we began to study what they were doing. And we noticed that they were doing things in order like did this in the business modeling tool. We would think that people would first, one individual would create their initial idea, then they will invite people to come and review it. We were finding the opposite. They were actually inviting people first and then creating it. So went and just ask them, “Why would you do that?” And they like, “Well, they want to work in the team.” I was like, “Oh, wow.”

It’s just one of the things where if you remove those – if you don’t treat your users as sheep and don’t think you want to just steer them down a particular path, they can teach you a lot. And if you were instrumenting your back tracks where you can track their event from their breadcrumbs you can learn so much just by looking at data, by talking to them. It’s pretty powerful.

Male: It gets back to the notion of once you have the conversations, then you can go to your data and all of the sudden, see it. To me, I still web analytics is all screwed up because people are trying to see it without the theory and observation before it. But once you hear the job, it’s like with Basecamp, we would go in. We’d be like, we hear the people were covering their ass because they’re adding a bunch of stuff and they’re checking it all off like, “Oh look, this are the people who were doing all that.” “Oh, can I see it?” But the thing is this, if you don’t know that, you just see a bunch of stuff and say they’re not doing anything. It doesn’t make any sense. The whole notion of the experiential that allows you to then go in and find how the data can support the theory.

Clay and I talk a lot about how to do theory development because there’s academic theory, but in most cases, real, good, new theory comes from observation. So we observe the precausal mechanisms together to say this is how it works. And then we go look at the data to say, “Can we substantiate how this works that way?”

Male: The other thing that’s interesting on the web is I think Ash, you touched on this right at the beginning of the show, it’s like when you see behavior web app that’s like they come in and then they leave and they’re not coming back. I always ask the question like, “Are we doing a terrible job or we’re doing an amazing job?” Because we’re talking like we’re new in the web radio stuff and we’ve had Martin Szymanski [SP] on the show from Streamline. It’s like yeah, people come in and I get one page view or two page views. It’s like okay, we need to figure out did you just do a great SEO effort where they searched, they found the exact page they need and then they’re done and it kind of sucks for you as a business model that relies on advertising, or is it like the experience was so bad that they left and you’ve got nothing.

So I can look at web analytics and get data but I can’t get the feel and the energy around like, “Yeah, this is amazing, I found what I’m looking for” or “No, that was terrible and I’m gone.” I think those are the only conversations that will lead you to that.

Male: So I was giving a chance to plug the conversation between Irvin and I on the Contact us button.

Male: You’re going to have the plug it yourself.

Male: Yeah, I understand. But it’s the notion that when Irvin first started, we had this conversation, it’s like when we talk through anxiety and it’s only on the job that we’ve done .org site, but it’s literally like a 30-minute conversation around contact us and Irvin kind of saying, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” I’m like think of the anxiety content stuff, what’s next? What does that mean? Are you going to reach back? How do you set expectations? All of these and it’s just the anxiety of one click.

There’s to me, a really good conversation of how to unpack things and then, to be honest, start to go talk to people about what it is. But without knowing how to look at the situation, the simplicity in the wrong side of complexity just pummels you, just pummels you. So anyway.

Male: I love it. And any parting wisdom, Ash? I feel like we could talk all day. Oh, Irvin has a quick. Go ahead Irvin.

Irvin: So from the mail bag, Alex from Chicago found out we would Dan, sent in the question. Ash, what are the key skills from entrepreneurship mastery?

Male: Nice and broad.

Male: Okay, we only have about five more minutes.

Ash Maurya: I guess, maybe I’ll – it is very broad, but I’ll say that maybe the biggest, the number one reason why I think entrepreneurs fail, and I touched on this a little bit, but I will just say it again, is that they just build a wrong product. They spend all these needless time, money and effort building something that not enough people want because they… and to peel that back, they sometimes prematurely fall in love with the solution they think that their customers want. And so I find that the true job of the entrepreneur is to still have a vision. I think you to have a big vision around the change you want to see in the world or the impacts you want to see. But not necessarily going to bind yourself too tightly to a particular solution but really turn that into a question mark and systematically find your way towards something that’s going to have that impact.

Male: So honing the ability to do that is like… because part of me feels like you can go through a workshop, you can do that once, but it’s like it’s something you can practice, right? Like startup, after startup, product after product. I can get better at that over time and may get faster at it and that sort of thing.

Male: But to remain objective. The key is to remain objective. And I would say that happens both in entrepreneurial and in new products where people were like, “This is a great thing.” And they’ll ask questions that just only people can say, “I love it.” So they don’t even know that they’re in love with it, and they don’t even know that their lenses say that they’re in love with it. So part of it is making sure that they can be objective enough to ask the tough questions like if this wasn’t here, what else would you take? Are you willing to switch? The whole switching aspect, even though people will love it, it doesn’t mean they’re going to buy it. There’s no problem with that they have now.

Male: Okay, got it.

Ash Maurya: Being pretty being objective is more easily said than done. So there’s [inaudible 00:43:35].

Male: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ash Maurya: There needs to be that process of getting people to see that. I oftentimes say that being lean is about being less wasteful and you can only appreciate waste unless you’ve been wasteful before. So those that are ready for it, they just come in and they’re more inclined to be objective and [inaudible 00:43:51] and done everything the wrong way or in the more expensive way. And now they’re like putting, let’s put our assumptions to test.

Male: Yup. There’s a lot more zen in lean than people know.

Ash Maurya: Yeah, exactly. And even for those that are coming with a beginner’s mind, there’s a way that you can spear them. It’s like all right, you want to go reach a million people. But let’s reach a hundred first and that should be easy, and get them started with some smaller wins or failures and then they begin to cover out.

Male: Absolutely.

Male: Love it.

Male: Thank you so much.

Male: So where can people reach out, get the workshop schedule, follow you on Twitter? Can you give us kind of just the URLs and the addresses and we’ll add them to the show notes so people can click on them as well?

Ash Maurya: Sure. So that place to find me is just on my blog, from there you will get links to everything, from my Twitter handle, Facebook, the workshop schedule. The blog address is

Male: Practicetrumpstheory, fantastic, thanks so much for you time Ash. I hope we get a chance to talk again soon. Really appreciate you being on.

Male: I’m looking forward to meeting you face to face.

Male: Thanks, Ash.

Male: Thank you.

Ash Maurya: Thanks for having me, you guys.

  • naesborg

    Great interesting episode. I love your guy’s content. But I frequently find it difficult to hear. The audio quality isn’t great, there’s lots of static, pops & crackles etc.

  • Justin

    Thanks for mentioning my JTBD coffee video. 😉