Three attributes of a successful product

You have a team of talented developers and designers, a beautiful app, selling a beautiful product. Your sketchy competitor with a dated website and a disposable product converts three times better than you. What gives?

Figuring out how to create a successful mass-market product is an age-old dilemma. 

A successful product needs many things, including good customer service, slick marketing, good timing, and the right target audience, but at the core of success, I believe there are three main attributes. To lay foundation for success, a product (whether virtual or physical) must be:

  • Functional

  • Affordable

  • Beautiful

I am a decade-long hardcore Apple fan. Regardless of what people’s personal preferences may be - I believe that Apple’s products are successful largely due to the simple UX, polish, relative affordability, and remarkable beauty. Therefore, I’m going to use the Apple Watch as an example throughout this piece.

In 1968, a Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe introduced the world’s first wrist-worn watch. A marvel for its time, the watch was a clock packed down to a wearable size - nothing more. Fast forward to 2014, the basics of a watch have changed very little and the watch market lacked a dominant player. Watches in 2014 were largely a commodity product just like gasoline and ballpoint pens.

In 2015, everything changed. Apple Watch was introduced. Despite the criticism and skepticism, within two years the Watch replaced Rolex as the top watch manufacturer and claimed an enormous market share. 

Why now? Watches have faded in popularity over the recent years. Why did the Apple Watch become “the” smart watch of the decade?

It’s functional

Two years after its release, the Apple Watch doesn’t inject you with medication and measure your blood pressure. While it may not have an overload of features, the user experience is smooth and fluid. The gestures are intuitive and easy to get a feel for. It’s fun using the watch. 

Functionality matters in industries other than tech. Hoodies from a local discount retailer may look just like their boutique counterparts, but will your favorite pair of jeans be the one where the zipper constantly comes apart? A garlic presser that has no easy way to remove the peels when you’re done is unlikely to become a staple of your kitchen. 

Functionality matters and products that succeed are the products that meet the needs of what the customer is trying to do with the product.

It’s affordable

To step back to the Apple Watch example, one of the reasons the Apple Watch is hugely successful: it costs a fraction of what top notch Rolex model would go for. The reason why Levis is successful, is not due just to the quality of style of their jeans - their products are affordable. While some customers are more price-sensitive than others, no one wants to spend more money. 

It’s beautiful

One of the early smartwatches on the market was the Pebble. Beloved by some, the product never caught on, and the Apple Watch put the company entirely out of business. The Pebble had a range of features, similar to the Apple Watch. It was similarly priced. One thing it lacked: a good design. The watch looked futuristically-wonky. It was something that could appeal to a small segment of early adopters, but it wasn’t a fashion statement. 

The renowned Chemex coffee maker is another great example. There are plenty of other pour-over style coffee makers on the market, but the Chemex has one thing that stood the test of time - the hallmark design. 

While an important component of a successful product, beauty alone isn’t worth much. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, beautiful things have become mass market and cheap to reproduce. No holiday ornament, picture frame, or paperweight product holds more than 1% of the market share. Beautiful things are easy to find. 

These three factors are the foundation for a successful product. They don’t guarantee that a product will, in fact, be a hit, but they are a baseline for success. Think of it this way - you probably won’t get hired as a CEO without some business experience - you might, but you probably won't. Same thing with these three attributes, they are a likely requirement for a successful, mass market product.