The Product Maker and the Operator

Revenue is neither a raison d'être nor a dirty word.

The Product Maker dreams his dream of the new and of the wondrous. He cares little for the status quo. The Operator must deliver the product to a target audience that is known or to be found, and then get that audience to realize that the product will enrich their lives. So whereas the Product Maker can invent the wants and wishes of the target market, the Operator must find ways to show that the product will satisfy the target market if they try it. This is a complementary relationship.

Picture in your mind an ice cream soda. The guy who first put that cherry on top of the whipped cream, to delight the customer, was, in his own way, a genius. That delight does something: it causes people to want to repeat the experience. It's a growth hack.

I once worked for a founder who insisted we didn’t have customers, and even if we did he would never demean himself by trying to satisfy them.

There’s no magic in the word “customer”. We can call our target market anything we choose, so long as we know we are talking about the group(s) from whom our revenue comes. Doctors call them patients. Lawyers call them clients. Even prostitutes call them tricks.

There’s no magic in the word “satisfying”. Perhaps it is too limp a word. Perhaps it should be delighting, charming, overwhelming, titillating, innovating, or revolutionizing.

If our customers are thrilled, delighted, and charmed, but if for some reason fail to be satisfied to the point of spending money, then we will not have moved forward in attaining the purposes that our stakeholders expect from us.

Regardless, a culture that focuses on the market it serves, namely customers, and tries to get them to take action which generates revenue, namely satisfying, is a culture that is likely to be successful. Our goal, with respect to our work, is not to satisfy, but to do much more. As we go about our tasks we should innovate and create earth-shaking works. Throughout, our team must be focused on the wants and needs, known and anticipated, of our target audience.

This is the basis for long-term success. High-growth operators focus on revenue growth, not profitability. There are many investments that we want to make; they may generate operating losses in the near term. So long as those investments serve the long-term goal of “satisfying customers” they will be worth it. 

The only way we’ll know whether the seeds that we plant bear fruit is by seeing whether they generate revenue. If our customers are thrilled, delighted, and charmed, but if for some reason fail to be satisfied to the point of spending money, then we will not have moved forward in attaining the purposes that our stakeholders expect from us. We do all the things we dream of because we believe someone will recognize us the traditional way: by providing revenue. 

If Steve Jobs delighted only himself, you wouldn’t know Steve Jobs. If Apple’s products failed to sell, Apple would cease to exist. If Apple ceased to exist, Steve Jobs wouldn’t have had the resources to continue delighting himself. Revenue was not the reason for his existence. Revenue was the proof of the impact of his existence.

If we lose sight of the purpose of the investments we make and innovate for its own sake, if we seek to delight solely because it pleases us to do so, we will have turned our focus inward, and by doing so forsake the crucial piece of the puzzle. It is the customer who must be satisfied. Our delight must come from delighting others.