Three keys to a remarkable product

(Editor’s note: Sean O’Malley manages Venrock’s entrepreneur in residence accelerator. He submitted this column to VentureBeat.)

I was sitting down with a seasoned angel investor last week discussing what really matters for startups when he summed up his thoughts by saying “I’ve come to the conclusion that having a remarkable product is what really matters most. It’s what I look for before investing.”

This got me thinking about my own experiences and asking, “What makes a product experience remarkable?”

In one of my first product roles I learned the importance of frictionless usage. I was in a product marketing role, supporting the sale of new IP-based telecom systems to carriers (like AT&T). It was a product that took several years to build and several years to sell into a carrier’s product offering.

One morning I came to the office and an engineer was making an IP voice call through something called instant messaging. By the end of the day most of the team had downloaded the product and were making IP-based calls on their PCs. I’d seen more people start using instant messaging voice that day than actual deployments of the IP-based phone I had been working on for over 2+ years. The ease of setup and first time use was so frictionless it made a lasting impression. Over the years, hundreds of millions of users have made the same assessment.

On another occasion I learned the impact of providing instant gratification. Several years ago I had the opportunity to work on one of the global roll outs of Yahoo’s front-page. In fact, it was the first simultaneous global launch for the front-page.

The team spent many hours talking to customers across the globe. They also spent a large amount of time watching users land on the product for the first time. The front-page had instant impact and provided immediate, relevant information to the user. Whether it was their mail, country news, or favorite property, it made an impression – which kept the front-page as one of the most vital assets for Yahoo! and most visited properties on the internet.

One of the most important lessons I’ve experienced over the years, though, is to build something worth noticing: A product that is the first to simplify a big problem or entertain a user’s important passion.

I’ve been working with Martini Media from its inception. It connects brands with passionate users and is the largest passion-based ad network on the web. But CEO Skip Brand wanted to extend the company into a property that advertisers and consumers would find remarkable. So, I worked with Skip’s team to develop a media product called Martini Life that would appeal to passionate consumers who work hard and play hard while enjoying the finer things in life.

So, why is a remarkable product so important? Because it can make all of the other parts of the business easier to manage – and it can compensate for a lot of organizational deficiencies.

For example, marketing is cheap and easy when you build a remarkable product. If you build something that influential people can’t help but talk about, then the product is the marketing. Having a remarkable product may not cause the product to become a viral hit, but it certainly helps its odds.

But building remarkable products is hard and it’s rarely done the first time around. As Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Remarkable is understanding your customer better than they know themselves. It’s the art of uncovering what the customer will notice and talk about. It’s the hook.

Once you’ve uncovered the hook then finding passionate users who influence the purchasing behavior of others becomes easier.

You’ll be able to talk about word of mouth marketing without needing a gimmick. Most importantly, you’ll be able to approach bloggers and influencers in your space who will talk positively about your product.

Image by Cyron via Flickr.

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