Saturday, October 18, 2008

Simple Products That Simply Work, Simply Filling A Simple Need

Some days, it's good to remember, especially as an entrepreneur trying to create a new product, what simple products you love. Ask yourself why they work, why you love them, why they are so simple, how YOUR PRODUCT can have such dignity, majesty, value.

Simple products that just plain work. Simple products that just fill a need, over and over again. I can count them on the fingers of these two hands typing away here. You can trust them. They are like old friends. You ask them to do something, they do it for you. That's all there is to it.

1. FedEx -- you hand them a precious package and ask them to hand it to someone else first thing in the morning. They do that. I love them.

2. McDonald's -- you ask them for hot, salty, long, thin, crispy french fries. They give them to you in a bright red and yellow signature sleeve-box thing. (BTW, I love their salads, which are currently helping me mourn the loss of Paul Newman, with every little packet of his dressing accompanying them.)

3. Toyota -- I can't say enough good about them, and I'm hopelessly addicted to their reliable, simple, elegant, dependable UI. They keep my family safe, help us have fun, go the distance. And the Prius, often maligned and teased when it first appeared, as it was so WAY ahead of the crowd, is the ultimate LAST LAUGH product in so many ways now.

4. Apple -- I suppose it should be at the top of the list, but there's no real order here. I'm just looking around the room, thinking of products I couldn't live without. Apple makes a number of them here at my house. They do what we all need in computing, music, telephony and soon TV, and do it BEAUTIFULLY.

5. Lands End -- Frankly, I love Lands End's decision to be online AND at Sears. It's so convenient to shop them in both places and although some people think Sears is a slightly down-market brand, I've rediscovered Sears (letting it do things Macy's used to do for me -- sell me jeans, other clothes -- as well as all the things they always did wonderfully well -- tools, Kenmore appliances) thanks to Lands End. I don't think anyone else has done such a customer-centric good faith integration of online and good old bricks-and-mortar as Lands End has. I appreciate it.

6. Amazon -- Again, this list is not in any real order, and as I think of online stores I can't live without Amazon heads that list. In fact, I take their excellent service and insanely wide shelfspace so for granted, I expect them to leap tall buildings at a single bound and all that super stuff without a peep. I need something, I ask them, it's on my doorstep in about 2 seconds.

7. Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream -- The flavors, the founders being not being paid 350X what the workers are paid, the NAMES of the flavors. Even on a diet, when I can't and shouldn't be eating them, I get major pleasure from reading the new names of the flavors off the pretty hippy dippy fresh flowery-powery labels at the supermarket.

8. Netflix -- I'm a very late adopter, but absolutely wild for them. They installed a new "video store" outside my front door, a little blue box that says, United States Postal Box! I put the old movie in their USPS mailbox, I get a new movie in my mailbox! Still way more fun and easier than downloading stuff from my TV. It's fun opening little red packages when you get home from work.

9. Costco -- I'm a gigantic fan, but I think I'm also a voyeur of all the brilliant customers, like the big families from countries far away who bring six kids, three aunts, an uncle with a soccer ball, grandma, grandpa, hell, even great grandma holding a screaming baby to shop together there, pushing the cart along the endless aisles, turning 20 lb sacks of rice, three gallons of mayo, a carton of mangos, a package of 25 chicken breasts and a big screen TV into the American Dream.

10. Google -- !!!!!