Clayton Christensen developed a framework for product positioning called ‘jobs-to-be-done’. Essentially ‘consumers usually don’t go about their shopping by conforming to particular segments. Rather, they take life as it comes. And when faced with a job that needs doing, they essentially “hire” a product to do that job’. The more successful businesses tend to be very clear about what customers are hiring their products or services for.
A common occurrence is that as companies start to grow fast — achieved product-market fit, messaging and sales/marketing resonating, distribution channels locked and loaded — the emphasis and clarity on ‘jobs-to-be-done’ starts to slide. The focus shifts to how to keep the well running machine oiled and functioning as efficiently as possible. There’s nothing wrong with this. The issue arises when this takes focus away from delighting the customer. The problem starts when businesses think they know their customer so well, and stop learning about the customer, and pay most of the attention to selling more products to said customer in the name of growth. That’s when things start to go wrong…
Nest is, easily, the poster child for the Connected Home (devices in the home connected to the internet and talking to one another). It’s no easy feat for a company to have brand recognition after just 5 years in existence. With its slick product design and user experience, Alphabet/Google acquisition and suite of product offerings it has become the company other hardware companies desire to be in the mold of the Apple’s of the world. With its fully (almost vertically integrated) operations Nest nailed the ‘jobs-to-be-done’.
Until Nest stopped nailing it’s ‘jobs-to-be-done’. Big time.
A few days ago Nest customers woke up to non-functional thermostats as a result of a software bug. It’s a big deal when a product that is supposed to maintain well being — a warm home when it’s cold outside or a cool home when it’s hot outside — fails to perform that one job it’s been hired for.
But this should come as no surprise to anyone; when a company takes its eye off the ball by focusing on several products when it has yet to gain mass adoption for the main product it sells, there are bound to be mistakes that could lead to catastrophic failure of the business. When the focus is solely on growth, in this case through offering a full suite of products, software glitches that affect the critical functionality might happen. For a company that is so well run, a software glitch of this magnitude is less about sloppiness and more about a shift in focus to priorities that have little to do with the promise it’s made to customers.
Does this impact the growth of the connected home market? Not really. The market is expected to grow to $58.68Bn by 2020. The industry is still in the early adopter phase — early customers who are technology friendly and are willing to accept some failures in product functionality with the expectation that the product will improve over time — and product developers are yet to nail the mainvalue propositions of the connected home. We can be thankful for that. These software failures and problems will be solved or at least minimized to a large degree before connected thermostats are present in every single home. There are many companies working on this right now..
What we should worry about is whether Nest, like most companies that fail from trying to walk before they crawl, is forgetting the need for a single-minded focus on maintaining the feeling of well-being in our homes. The worry is whether Nest is forgetting it’s ‘jobs-to-be-done’.
Like many people say to an actor who’s fluffed his/her lines; you only had one job... I’d hate for us to end up saying that to Nest.