What are the key ingredients for a long product life time?

“What are the key ingredients for a long product life time?”

A while back I was asked to answer the above questions as part of an expert roundup. The question has been stuck in my mind and I thought about it for a long time. Here is my take on the secrets of long-standing products:

They keep evolving:

While the underlying problem that make users look for a solution rarely changes, solutions provided for the problem changes all the time. In order to create a long-standing yet relevant product, teams needs to constantly provide new and innovative solutions to the core problem. Let me explain this concept a bit more:

Let’s look at Netflix. For them the core underlying problem is to keep their users entertained through watching home movies but over time the solutions they came up to satisfy this need changed dramatically. They started out as a better solution to Blockbuster (remember the franchise that you would go to rent a movie?) with mail-in service but now they are in the business of video streaming. They also changed the type of home entertainment they offer. At the beginning they provided movies and paid back loyalties to movie producers but now they create their own films and movie series. So looking back at the 20-years old Netflix you can argue that they completely renovated itself across all their product offering and services while still addressing the same problem.

Now let’s take a look at another product. You might have heard of Basecamp, a project management and team collaboration software that has been around for at least 15 years. The company is one of the most successful small businesses in US and their software is wildly popular. What have they done to stay relevant? Turns out every couple of years they go through and build a complete new product!!! and I am not talking about just a visual redesign, but a whole new product rebuilt from the ground up. Even though the product solve the same old problems, but it does so in easier and more modern ways to deliver more value to the user. As far as I know they have gone through two major rebuilds. If you want to know more about their reasoning watch this talk. Another interesting fact is with each major upgrade they didn’t forced customer to move to the newer version. The customers have a choice to stay on the older product or to upgrade to the new one.

They keep users move forward

I have written about this previously when I reviewed ‘Badass’ book but one of the fundamental things makes the user repeatedly come back is that if the product helps them build skills and keep them moving forward along the path of expertise. This one is subtly different in that these type of products are more complicated and required continuous users effort. For example if you dig deep into why photographers keep using Photoshop is that post-processing images is considered a valuable skills that separates amateur photographs from professional ones. Photoshop is ‘the’ tool for editing digital images and it can be as small as correcting colors or as complicated as removing a forefront object from a busy background. Although photoshop has a reputation for being complex because it supports a photographers journey from beginner to advance user keep coming back for more.

What are the other traits of long lasting products that I am missing? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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