Thinking About Thinking

Simplicity Is Hard

Posted in Technology by larrycheng on June 9, 2009

For every consumer or mass market company I have invested in – there has been one consistent product management theme: simplicity.  While many competitors try to build in more capabilities, more functionality, more content, more, more, more – the winners tend to be incredibly skilled at keeping things very simple.  It plays itself out again and again, you don’t have to be first to market, nor the most full featured, not even the most attractive – you just have to be the simplest.  Some examples:

  • SurveyMonkey is the market leader in the online surveying space.  They have barely touched the product in 5 years.  There are hundreds of online surveying options but they continue to dominate because they are the simplest. 
  • Craigslist is drop dead simple, and I’d argue drop dead ugly.  But, they are the market leader in online classifieds because of the former, not the latter.
  • I just got the Flip UltraHD video camera.  It’s the perfect example of out of the box simplicity.  They are not the only digital video camera, but they are the only one that Cisco bought for $590M.
  • You can’t talk simplicity and not talk about all the Apple products – Mac, iPod, iPhone.  Again and again, not the first to market, but just the simplest. 

Over the years, I have come to appreciate that building a product, service or application that is defined by its simplicity is extraordinarily hard.  It takes real talent and ingenuity to create simplicity.  And once you have achieved it – it is as real a barrier to entry as a slew of patents or technical secret sauce.  Simplicity is that valuable.