The Journey and The Struggle: an introduction to Productisation

Productisation is generating a lot of interest right now.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it describes an approach to product development that is customer-centric and value-based, rather than one that is functional or grounded in technology.

Value matters in 2017 because competition in digital (or ‘tech’) is increasing exponentially and 80% of people’s time is monopolised by a tiny number of products. Time is finite and choice is overwhelming, so new products that are unclear about the value they deliver have zero chance of making themselves heard above the noise.

The Struggle

Productisation obliges leadership teams to contemplate their product from the perspective of the user, the outcomes users seek to achieve and the progress they want to make in their lives.

Thanks to Daniel Kahneman, we know that product usage and new product adoption are emotional, not rational, and that we post-rationalise our choices afterwards.

People do not alter their situation without forcing functions or ‘push’ factors, so it’s essential for your user to be dissatisfied with the status quo. Productisation, therefore, starts with an understanding of what we call ‘the struggle.’ This requires insight into your ideal customer’s current situation and a clear view of their reasons for seeking change.

Whilst the utility of a product may seem clear, the forces of demand reduction are often overlooked. Habit and anxiety are your silent competitors. Or, as Whale’s Justin Kan succinctly puts it:

Startups mostly don’t compete against each other, they compete against no one giving a shit.

As product developers, it’s natural to emphasise the benefits of the new products and services we are introducing. But we forget the extent to which people irrationally overvalue the benefits of their existing products. Loss aversion is more powerful than perceived gain.

Founders and product teams that understand the ‘4 forces’ of push/pull, habit/anxiety that act on us during ‘switching’ moments are better at communicating the real value of their product whilst neutralizing concerns about change.

The Journey

Productisation also means understanding ‘the journey’ that all users undertake as they progress from disinterested prospect to (ideally) committed advocate.

As Social Capital’s Chamath Palihipatiya brilliantly described it:

Users are only ever in three states — they’ve never heard about it; they’ve tried it; and they use it. What you’re managing is state change.

Product mastery means managing state change. If you want to think about your product, don’t think screens or features, think about it in terms of 4 pillars:


A key moment in managing the ‘state change’ of a new user is the period of onboarding. In digital products (and especially in SaaS) this is the period of trial, when the user is actively evaluating whether the reality of a product matches the promise of the marketing.

For most products, this is also the period when they experience the tipping point known as the ‘Aha!’ moment. The Aha! moment is when your user first experiences the value of your product and understands how it can help them make progress in their life.


A useful exercise for product teams struggling to isolate the ‘core value’ of their product is an exercise known, somewhat dramatically, as ‘The Journey to Aha!’

This means carefully documenting every moment or interaction a typical user will experience from first awareness of your product to the point where they reach Aha! This exercise helps clarify whether the team has a shared understanding what constitutes the Aha! moment for their user.

It also clarifies how many steps there are before someone reaches it and whether marketing and copy is consistently aligned around the right message. Once you understand how long it takes currently, you can begin to optimise this journey, so that the user reaches Aha! as quickly as possible.

The Elements of Value

Much has been written about how to price a product but little about how to definitively assess its value. Recently, Eric Almquist’s team at Bain released their ‘Pyramid of Value’ – a new lens for doing just that.

Almquist’s pyramid identifies 30 ‘value elements’ and stacks them in layers, from functional, through emotional, life-changing and social impact.

In the functional layer, we find utilitarian elements such as saving you time, inconvenience and money. Note that most startups compete solely on functional vectors. As one moves up the stack, the elements become less tangible but more impactful. Here, we find value elements such as ‘increased attractiveness’, ‘wellness’ or prestige.

At the apex is ’self-transcendence’, where the value your product delivers goes beyond self to the betterment of society. Almquist identified only one product delivering value of this nature: Tom’s; the shoe company who provide new shoes to impoverished children for every pair they sell in the West.

The Takeaway

Products are, in essence, ‘value-delivery vehicles.’ Startups that identify the ‘elements of value’ on which they want to compete and carefully manage how they promise, demonstrate and consistently deliver that value with their product have a better chance of developing real traction in markets that get more competitive every day.

Post produced in partnership with Paul Jackson, Managing Director at Castle.

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