Joel Sumner Smith

Product Manager @Gatsby focused on developer experience.
Analogical thinker in an analytical world.

Notes

Jobs, Markets, & Functions

April 10, 2020

Jobs

One way to think about products is that consumers hire various products (or services) to help them accomplish a job that they need to get done in their life.1 An accountant hires a spreadsheet to help track and calculate large or difficult number sets. A night shift worker might hire a cup of coffee or a sugary snack to help get them through the late night hours. A product, then, is something that gets hired in to help them make progress on that job.

When a product helps someone make progress so without creating friction, you have match between the demand side (the job) and the supply side (the product). A mismatch between supply and demand spells trouble for the long term success of a product.2 Sometimes products come out of a supply side innovation that then necessitates the discovery of demand, but most often, demand more effectively drives the supply side of innovation.

Markets

Another driver of success for a product is the market that the jobs it might solve for comprise. A market, often time, is referred to as a set of connected consumers who share similar attributes like the industry in which they sit, the size of the organization, etc. Another way to frame markets is as a collection of adjacent and overlapping jobs to be done that are sufficiently solved by a product.3

Thinking then about jobs wrapped up in markets, one of the ultimate goals in the early stages of a market is to move towards product-market-fit. Andy Rachleff defines product-market-fit as the inflection point where the demand side is pulling the supply out of your organization as fast as or faster than you’re able to create it.4 He describes it as the dogs eating the dog food (which makes sense if you’ve seen a hungry dog at meal time). Wrapping that all together then, when your product has solved a sufficiently large job or collection of adjacent jobs within a market, you should expect to see signs of product-market-fit.5

Functions

A related and helpful way to think of products is as functions that take an input (a job that needs to be done) and performs some kind of work to transform that input (i.e. help accomplish the job).6 The output of that function can be compared to other functions with the equal inputs, and the delta between the value of those solutions is your comparable value to your competitors.

Combining this metaphor of functions with our discussion above of jobs and markets, products succeed when the transformation of a sufficiently large input or set of inputs results in a recognizable greater value than other similar products.


  1. For the full scale understanding of the Jobs to be Done framework, it’s helpful to read Clay Christensen work on the matter, especially Competing Against Luck. For a shorter introduction to his work, you can also read his Harvard Business Review article on the subject: “Know Your Customers’ Jobs to be Done”.
  2. For a deeper look into the supply-demand model of thinking about products, check out the great work Bob Moesta has done to build on Christensen’s framework. Here’s a talk he gave that is similar to a workshop I attended with him in 2020.
  3. Thought ultimately just a piece of the conversation, I thought that the way that Daniel Ek talks on Invest Like the Best with Patrick O’Shaugnessy about jobs and markets was incredibly instructive.
  4. Andy Rachleff on Invest Like the Best. One of the implications of his description of product-market-fit is that great products often don’t need strong marketing or sales functions, and I haven’t yet been able to square if that’s true in the B2B as much as it is in consumer.
  5. Rahul Vahora has talked and written extensively about how Superhuman developed metrics around product market fit. It’s an adaptation of the NPS score which is often used as a proxy metric for product market fit (i.e. set a baseline percent of folks who are promoters and measure constantly).
  6. This metaphor comes from Ryan Singer at Basecamp. He spends a great deal of time laying out this metaphor, and I won’t belabor his points too much here.

© 2020, Joel Sumner Smith