This article looks at four products and services that launched this year with the potential to meaningfully impact their industries. In particular, it looks at how the Jobs to be Done concept — first popularized by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen — can explain why these four innovations have so much potential. Our Jobs to be Done framework looks at eight discrete parts of the market landscape, with each revealing just one piece of the puzzle.
Innovators focus on jobs, not products
A Jobs-based view of the market leads us in a very different direction. Regardless of whether consumers are buying a cup of coffee, an energy drink, or a set of yoga sessions, there are only a handful of jobs that they’re trying to get done, albeit in a fairly wide range of contexts. Maybe they’re trying to unwind after a stressful week or increase their productivity before a deadline. Once you understand what all of the jobs are that lead people to purchase these products, you begin to see that all of those jobs really relate to the same theme — mood alteration. From that perspective, it becomes much easier to understand how a single product can satisfy seemingly diverse needs. The only thing left is to figure out what type of solution best satisfies the jobs you want to focus on. For Thync, the answer was electric stimulation, with an app that lets you choose whether you want to stimulate in a way that makes you calm or energized. And the company’s innovation has paid off. While only time will allow us to see how well the product does in the market, we know that Thync already inspired confidence among investors. Thync raised $13 million to help launch its product.
Successful new solutions solve pain points without swimming against the behavioral tide
IKEA has long been known for making affordable furniture sets. The company is often cited as an example of Jobs to be Done thinking at work. Prior to IKEA really gaining traction in the U.S., there were a handful of jobs related to furnishing a home or apartment that were common, important, and under-satisfied. The experience was riddled with pain points. Most notably, buying a set of stable furniture that actually matched was both time-consuming and expensive. But that’s an old story. This year, IKEA continued its Jobs-based approach and really took things to a new level.
As smartphones have grown increasingly intertwined with our everyday lives, we have more highly pronounced jobs related to staying informed and connected. Unfortunately, the better phones get at satisfying those jobs, the worse they get at doing it for long periods of time. More powerful apps mean more battery drain. One of the reasons we know the dead battery pain point offers room for innovation is that even where it’s currently being solved for, the workarounds are awkward and insufficient — things like swapping out batteries halfway through the day or carrying around portable charging units. In the grand scheme of things, having to carry a charger from room to room isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s a nuisance that we’re not prepared to endure. IKEA’s Jyssen platform alleviates the need for these workarounds. Sitting at your desk doing work? Your desk lamp will charge your phone. Making breakfast in the kitchen? Your counter can have a built-in charger. Going to bed? Take advantage of the charger integrated into your nightstand. By creating furniture lines that allow for built-in wireless chargers or add-on chargers, IKEA lets you live in a world free of dead batteries without having to change your behavior at all. That’s great from the consumer’s perspective, but it’s also smart for the business. It gives IKEA a way to differentiate its core products (furniture), and it also creates a new revenue stream (charging accessories) from people who want the Jyssen advantages but aren’t yet ready to upgrade their furniture.
Innovators know how to fight the obstacles to adopting and using new products
So why has Google been on a two-year campaign to just give away the designs for its VR innovations? In part, it’s because Google recognizes that the creation of a new VR market requires defeating the obstacles to consumer adoption. Much like how grocery stores offer free samples to get you to try — and later purchase and repurchase — new products, Google is setting itself up for success down the road. But it won’t be successful later without making some investments today. The VR market has received a fair amount of press attention, but it hasn’t really caught on with consumers yet. There are too many obstacles. VR viewers are expensive, and even if you spend the money on them, there’s simply not much content to consume. With Cardboard and Jump, Google is giving you a cheap way to start experiencing what little VR content is out there, while simultaneously making it easier for others to create and share more content. In the not-too-distant future consumers will be ready for VR media. When that day comes, Google will be ready to start profiting, such as by collecting fees from developers who sell content in the Google Play app store.
A Jobs-based lens allows for asymmetric competition
Although we often talk about the impact Amazon has on brick-and-mortar retailers, the company launched a new storefront this year that’s a good reminder of how Amazon is being threatened as well. Amazon Launchpad is a new addition to the site that “curate[s] the cutting-edge so you can discover unexpected and fresh new products from today’s brightest startups.” Amazon works with startups — largely through VCs, accelerators, and crowdfunding sites — to get new products in front of consumers. By addressing extremely under-satisfied jobs for startups around marketing and distribution, Amazon is competing more broadly and continuing to move beyond the traditional definition of a retailer. In doing so, it’s bringing dollars back to its site that might otherwise have been spent on crowdfunding sites or other platforms that support startups and small businesses.
This post was written by Dave Farber and was originally published on Medium. Read more about Jobs to be Done.