Find the Or in And
So how do you go from an And Idea to an Or Idea? You have two options: subtraction or addition.
Subtraction is hard. Ideas organically become And Ideas because founders aren’t exactly sure why their users use their product, or they don’t like the answer. So they add more.
I got this wrong both ways. In 2020 I made a social media site that, within a month, had hundreds of thousands of users watching esports matches with streamers. Usage was growing double digits week on week with millions of games watched. The only problem was I had no idea why. Inevitably, since I’d made the site for a specific esports event, once it ended users left. So, I added more features. First music, then more esports, TV, and movies. This seemed like a good idea: I had some users for every feature. But nothing beat the early metrics. I’d started with an Or – an amazing new way to do something specific, and ended with an And – a product that did a lot of stuff reasonably well.
I should have subtracted. Rather than adding features, I should have improved my First Feature and subtracted everything else. Psychologically, this is hard to do, especially once you have users. Adding features is easy, but poisonous.
Addition only works in one rare circumstance: when it creates a benefit greater than the sum of its features. Control4 is a smart home automation company. They basically built Sonos and Nest and Hue simultaneously, hardware and software, and are NASDAQ listed at a valuation of ~$650m. It’s not as big as Sonos (~$3.5bn), Nest (~$3bn), or Hue (~$5bn), but Control4 is clearly big enough to have been a good idea.
So what is Control4’s idea? It is not Sonos and Nest and Hue all in one, and more. Their idea, their Or, their benefit to the user, their First Feature, is the user experience that doing everything together unlocks. Control4 doesn’t sell music and energy and lights, it sells romance as you walk through the door; Al Green comes on; the fire crackles; and the lights dim. Their idea is that, together, music and energy and lights are greater than the sum of their parts. Their Or is that combining everything manually is impractically hard. Not everyone who wants music wants romance, but Control4 is the best product for those who do.
Apple is the ultimate example. The original pitch: an iPod, a phone, a browser. Through integration of hardware and software design and production – far beyond that of any other company – they made an And Idea into a market defining new user experience. They called it an iPhone, and found their Or.