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Jun 18

Simplicity - A Powerful Value Proposition

Posted by: George Mulhern        

Every day I see, or read about, some new productivity tool that promises to make it easier to manage all of the information and/or complexity that seems to be growing exponentially in my life.   I don’t have a lot of extra time, so it is such a pleasant surprise when I find a new product or solution that solves a problem that I have, but doesn’t require hours of study to figure out how to use it effectively.

Apple has always been great at this.  I bought one of the first Macintosh computers when I was in college.  Started using it right away and never even opened the manual.   They did the same thing with the iPod.    The Browser was another a game changer - very powerful, but I don’t recall ever seeing a user manual.   I think simplicity is one of the most powerful value propositions for consumers and businesses.  It also happens to be one of the toughest and most challenging to deliver from a development/engineering standpoint.  It is not easy to be simple.  Obviously, it takes extremely bright and capable developers.  More importantly, it takes an insightful and creative understanding of how the user works and what they are trying to accomplish.  Maybe, most importantly,  it takes an incredible amount of discipline to know when enough is enough.


The power of simplicity was one of the reasons we decided to invest in a small back-up and recovery solution developed by a company called Rebit.  When we looked at the market for PC back-up we saw that it was crowded with competitors and pretty sparse when it came to actual users.  Most of the back-up solutions were too complicated and time consuming to use.   Rebit is pretty amazing in terms of both its power and its simplicity.  You just plug it in, accept the license and then it backs up your entire system - operating system,  applications and files/data.   You can restore your entire system, or just a single file.  You don’t schedule it - it backs up anything new, once you stop using the keyboard for 10 or 15 seconds.   It took some brilliant engineering to make such a simple product.

As I was thinking about this,  I thought it would be interesting to look at how many times simplicity was a key ingredient in a breakthrough product or solution.    I could use some help generating the list, if you have any examples.


2 Responses to “Simplicity - A Powerful Value Proposition”

  1. avatar Mike Sparr says:

    I always like it when people appreciate great software, and the fact that sometimes it's harder to make something simple than it is to make it complex - very similar to writing a story. I heard in a presentation recently that Mark Twain once stated "I didn't have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead." This is a great correlation to building software, and the considerable thought that goes into it.

    George, you're absolutely right. Often times people take for granted the fact that software just works, or was so intuitive to use it required little/no training. Our engineering has two mottos "KISS" and "DMMT". These stand for "Keep It Simple Stupid" and "Don't Make Me Think". There is actually a book on the latter.

    A few years ago when we were first prototyping Goomzee's web administration tool (managing text message marketing campaigns), I demonstrated it to a friend/VC in Silicon Valley. His first response was "cool… but". His advice was to "dumb it down" so simple his grandmother could use it.

    It took us many iterations and sitting with users to get the columns, button text and other pieces correct. As a matter of fact, we still have releases where we'll change even verbiage if people ask us during demos what that meant, etc. A testament to this effort is that we have thousands of users and barely two or three support calls/questions per week lasting only a few minutes. Further, unsolicited online orders at all hours of the day often times result in the client setting up their account, campaigns and merely awaiting signage to promote their text campaigns, all without any training or intervention on our part - it's wonderful when things just work (kind of like the Apple, right?).

  2. avatar Ethan says:

    Completely agree. Everyday I see another API mashup featured on Mashable or RWW. Often times, I will check it out and be disappointed. With the proliferation of efficient software development tools, very few companies can deliver on their value proposition-as they are often complicated and difficult to use. Apple, however, is an example of a company that has excellent marketing strategies and can deliver on their value proposition. To your point, they are able to be successful, primarily due to their simplicity.

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