Product improvements: Insights from Gibson Biddle, former VP Product at Netflix

4 minutes of reading
Gibson Biddle from Netflix at GSoft

If you build products, you know you’re supposed to fall in love with the problem, not the solution. (But how?) And you know you’re supposed to keep things simple. (But it’s so hard!) We recently talked products with Gibson Biddle, former VP of Product at Netflix, who we hosted for a series of events that included a workshop with our product specialists from ShareGate, Officevibe and GLab. Here’s what he and Gabriel Gohier-Roy talked about.

Imagine Netflix had stopped evolving 10 years ago

According to Gibson, no product is ever really done. The job of a product specialist is to keep making improvements because, at the end of the day, users are inherently dissatisfied. To illustrate how crucial this is, he said, “Just imagine if Netflix had stopped getting better 5 or 10 years ago. The company would be dead!” If you want to keep your company and brand current, never let yourself believe that your product is good enough.

To get the most from Gab’s interview with Gibson, watch this video:

Cultivate hard-to-copy advantages

Cut and kill

At GSoft, we strive to keep our products simple, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Gibson believes the challenge stems from the way product developers think. By definition, builders like to create stuff and they’re understandably reticent to toss their work out the window. “But cutting and killing is important,” said Gibson, adding that there’s no sense in holding on to solutions that customers aren’t delighted with.

But then again, invention requires both tireless experimentation and a lot of discipline.

If you take simplicity and ease of use to its radical extension, you might not take enough risks or try enough stuff. There’s a lot of tension in building product stuff.

Cultivate hard-to-copy advantages

Since killing our own creations doesn’t come naturally to us, we asked Gibson for tips on becoming more ruthless. His advice is to be maniacally focused on four things that really matter, namely hard-to-copy advantages:

  1. An economy of scale (once you get big)
  2. A network effect
  3. A unique technology or body of work that’s hard to master (for Netflix, it's personalization)
  4. Your brand and customer loyalty

If you can successfully make money, you’ll be able to reinvest in your products, making them better and better for customers. For example, in the past four years, Netflix has been able to focus on original content because they’ve achieved a huge economy of scale thanks to their 160 million members. They’re able to invest more in content than many competitors. “The beautiful thing is, they’re still focused on what’s going to be their hard-to-copy advantage 5 years from now. And I think that’s why you’re seeing experiments like Bandersnatch, interactive stories and stuff like that.”

Three tricks to product strategy magic

If we’re to believe Gibson Biddle, product strategy is a mindset. And—lucky for us—it comes with a reliable formula. First, create a list of things that delight. Second, shortlist those that can actually generate long-term, hard-to-copy advantages. And finally, recognize that you’ll always need to experiment with new ways of making money.

If you can do these three things, product strategy will magically unfold itself.

(He makes it sound so easy!) In the same breath, Gibson offers a word of warning about complacency. “I’ve always found it dangerous to stop improving on the product attributes that really matter.”

Thankfully, there are endless ways to solve problems, improve features and delight customers, be it in SaaS for smarter workplaces or other markets. We’ll keep working on our unfinished masterpieces.