The Underrated Power of the Product Rep
Examples from Netflix, Pinterest and Waze
Hey, I’m Jacob 👋 Welcome to all of the product people who subscribed since last time! If you’re not a subscriber yet, we hope you’ll consider joining this band of like-minded folks from startups to Fortune 100 companies who are all learning how to build better products. Questions or feedback? Drop ‘em here.
What is a product rep (example from Netflix)?
No matter how complex a product is, there is one core unit of action. Think of it like a single rep in a workout.
For Strava, it's completing an activity.
For Uber, it's arriving at your destination.
For Google, it's finding the information you searched for.
In a perfect world, when a rep is completed, everyone wins. The customer has found value in the product and the company that provided that value has been compensated either in money or, often, in data.
When this isn't the case - when incentives are misaligned - companies will struggle to acquire customers and the customers they do manage to acquire will most likely churn. So how does the product rep help with alignment?
The product rep is the most fundamental building block of business - it's a transaction. Back when the general store would sell goods, this was much easier to define which resulted in a very straightforward exchange. A pound of butter was $0.21 or a gallon of molasses was $0.57. Hand the seller the money, they hand you the goods.
As products evolved into digital applications and one-time pricing evolved into variable subscription models, things have gotten more complicated. Consider movies. One rep is one viewing of the movie. They started as a "pay per view" model in theaters. Then this scrappy little startup called Netflix said they would mail you a certain number of movies for a monthly fee which broke away from the traditional model. And of course, it all evolved again into the product we know and love today that offers unlimited reps every month for the same price that it used to cost for one rep at the theater.
With change, comes the need to understand how it impacts your value moment and how the value moment, in turn, impacts every other aspect of your customer funnel.
Getting your Product Rep right…
clarifies the first step (improves acquisition),
unlocks value (improves engagement),
builds good habits (improves retention),
and aligns incentives (improves conversion).
Let’s get into it.
Why does it matter?
1. It clarifies the first step (improves acquisition)
If you remember from this article, your "Clear One Thing" is the single action or experience that you are trying to move your early users toward. It gives them a path of least resistance. A way to experience a rep of the product without the burden of going through every menu or tapping on every button to figure it out.
Your product rep is often the result of a user engaging with your "Clear One Thing".
Strava's "Clear One Thing" is starting the activity tracker. And their product rep is completing an activity.
Uber's "Clear One Thing" is hailing a ride. And their product rep is arriving at your destination.
Google's "Clear One Thing" is searching for something. And their product rep is finding an answer.
If you know what a successful rep looks like, defining your "Clear One Thing" is much easier.
2. It unlocks value (improves engagement)
While more rare than common, in an ideal world, each repetition of the product unlocks more value for the consumer and makes the next rep easier or more attractive. For example:
With every completed show or movie, Netflix unlocks more personalized suggestions.
With every completed trip, Waze unlocks more efficient routes.
With every completed task, Asana unlocks progress insights toward your project goal.
Unlocking more value with every repetition isn’t an easy feat and often comes with product maturity since a lot of the value that is eventually unlocked is learned over time. It wasn’t until Netflix was 8+ years old before their personalization efforts really got good enough to be considered valuable to the user.
3. It builds habits (improves retention)
Like any activity - whether washing your hands before a meal or working out every morning - the more you do something, the easier it is to do the next time. Repetition builds habit. Each rep of a product should reinforce that behavior, making it easier to do the next time.
“The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.”
—James Clear, Atomic Habits
James Clear, in his best-selling book, Atomic Habits, lays out a 4-step framework for building good habits based on the Four Laws of Behavior Change.
I'll write a more in-depth article on this in the future (subscribe if you haven't already) where I unpack each step in the habit-building framework as related to product development. For now, consider each of these steps and how you can design an experience around the product rep that encourages another rep in the future.
It should go without saying, but unfortunately, it needs to be said. With great products comes great responsibility. When entire teams are focused on designing for habit building, you can create experiences that are either beneficial (staying in touch with your friends on Instagram) or detrimental (crippling anxiety over how people perceive you). Too much of a good thing can lead to a bad thing. Have you considered what overuse of your product could lead to?
4. It aligns incentives (improves conversion)
The primary reason is that it helps you align incentives with your customer. We already touched on this a bit, but I want to provide an example that will hopefully bring it home for you.
My wife had a gym membership that she had kept for almost a year but wanted to cancel so she could get a pass at my gym. Typically gyms have a 1-year commitment that, if broken early, would incur an early cancelation fee. Strike number one.
It was right around the 1-year mark when she decided to cancel, so she decided to wait until that 1-year anniversary had passed so she didn't have to pay the cancelation fee. Looks like the threat of an extra fee did its job unfortunately - the gym got an extra $37 out of us. But then, on her 1-year anniversary, rather than being charged $37, we were charged $117, $80 more than we expected. When we called the gym to get the fraudulent charge taken off our account, we were told that it was an annual membership fee 🤯 We had just been penalized $80 for our loyalty. Strike number two.
The more I looked into it, gyms are even more sneaky than I had originally thought. They will overbook the number of memberships they can actually handle in hopes that their members won't show up. Strike number three. You’re out.
If the point of a gym is to exercise and stay healthy, how much more misaligned can you get? The success of your business model literally depends on the failure of your members to capture any value and, more shockingly, to feel so guilty about it that they keep paying you for the membership in hopes that one day they'll build up the will power to go workout.
Don’t be like a gym.
How do you find your product rep?
For complex products with multiple valuable moments, finding your product rep can be difficult. For example, consider a product like Pinterest. It's a complex app with many different functions like searching, commenting, and sharing, all of which are central to the product experience. But I think we can all agree, none of those are the product rep.
In fact, you may think it's obvious what the product rep is. But is it? As we consider it more deeply, a handful of ideas jump to mind. Is a rep creating a pin board? Or is it more granular, like saving a pin to a board? Or is it more additive like pinning a brand new pin?
Each of these actions feel worthy of the "product rep" title. After all, what good is saving a pin if there are no pins to save? And what good is pinning a new pin if you have no board to pin it to?
The best way to find your product rep is to go through a quick thought exercise. Imagine a customer who is using your product well.
Ask yourself, “What does a successful interaction with your product result in?”
The answer should shine some light on your product rep where both the company and the customer win.
Let's give it a try with Pinterest. What does a successful experience look like? It would look like saving an idea that you can access later, right? That's the point of an inspiration board which is the metaphor that Pinterest is based off of. So whether you add a brand new pin or save one that someone else added, the Product Rep is adding a pin to a board.
Compared to some products - especially "super apps" like WeChat or Facebook - Pinterest is a simple product. But this newsletter is written for early founders and product leaders, not Mark Zuckerberg, so hopefully this small example is enough to get your gears turning.
My company, Check, helps home service providers run and automate their business. As you might imagine, there are many value moments - scheduling jobs, generating efficient routes, sending invoices, and collecting payments just to name a few. With so many sub-plots, it’s more important than ever to define the main plot so it doesn’t get lost amongst the options. Remember to keep your “Clear One Thing” the “Clear One Thing”.
After going through exercises like the one I laid out above, it became clear that the product rep was completing a job.
It’s the core unit of progress for a user’s business.
It has a direct correlation to earned revenue for the user.
If Check can help a user complete a job and get paid, they’re more likely to see Check as a tool worth paying for.
It showcases key features and benefits of Check.
There’s a strong correlation between completing a job and retention.
All of these things (plus more not listed here) gave us the insight we needed to define our product rep and begin building around that rep. Pricing, discounts, free trials, messaging, features, design, the “Clear One Thing”… it all revolves around the rep.
Some questions to consider as you clarify your product rep and begin to put this into practice:
How can you reduce the friction for new users to experience the product rep for the first time?
How can you maximize the number of reps for each user to begin building a habit?
How can you maximize value for (and unlock even more value after) each rep?
Thanks for reading!
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This Week In Startups | Scaling Your Startup: Jesse Venticique, the Co-founder and Head of Product at Fitbod, talks about the "Product Hook" which combines the ideas of a Product Rep and the “Clear One Thing” into a single concept. Incredible talk on how they aligned Fitbod’s pricing and growth levers mechanisms around their hook.
Pricing your SaaS product: Patrick Campbell, former-CEO of ProfitWell, takes a deep dive into pricing strategy and how to align your pricing with your product rep.