Jullien Gordon on How to Make Great Products

In Chapter 15 of 16 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview, motivation teacher Jullien Gordon answers "What Have Your Experiences Taught You About What Makes a Product Great?"  Gordon explains how he has refined his products by listening to how users are using the products each day.  This allows him to iterate the products and tailor them to core user needs.  Additionally, he looks for multiple product uses that fit into an ecosystem.  He offers an example from one of his books, "Good Excuse Goals" and the learning programs that connect the book content into his other products.  Gordon is the founder of the Department of Motivated Vehicles, a personal and professional development company that helps clients identify purpose and map it to successful outcomes. Gordon has written five books and speaks regularly to college students across America.  He earned masters degrees in education and business from Stanford University and an undergraduate degree from UCLA.


Erik Michielsen:  What have your experiences taught you about what makes a product great?

Jullien Gordon:  The number one thing for a great product is knowing that it’s never done and that there’s constant iteration that needs to occur. So for instance, the Innerview is actually an iteration of the career change challenge, 101 things to do before you graduate is an iteration of what I experienced on the Route 66 tour but the only way you can iterate properly, because you can constantly iterate, but the only way you can iterate properly is by listening very carefully to the people who are using your product on a daily basis and seeing how they’re using it and what issues that they’re having in order to make it constantly better. 

So there’s constant improvement in regards to a product development.  The next thing is I think creating an ecosystem.  When you look at for instance iPod, right?  You have iPod and then you have iPod speakers, you iPod cases, you have iPod this, headphones etcetera.  You create an ecosystem around a product so that people can use it in different ways.  I like to use the notion of the snowball and ice cream scoop, right?  So a snowball scoop sells in the winter.  Ice cream scoop sells in the summer but when you look at their physical definition they’re actually the same device and so you can figure out how to use this one device and actually create multiple use cases for it kind of like baking soda as well.  Baking soda is used for toothpaste, to clean things, to keep your refrigerator smelling good. So when you think about all the uses of your products I think and build an ecosystem that allows people to use it and access it in different ways I think that that’s what makes a product great.  So iteration and an ecosystem.

Erik Michielsen:  Give me an example of how an ecosystem works for one of your products.

Jullien Gordon:  So I have my book, Good Excuse Goals, right?  And it’s not just a book there’s actually a community of people who are in 30-day do-it groups around the country who are using this methodology in their lives.  So the 30-day do-it groups work kind of like alcoholics anonymous which I talked about last year where you get in a group of people, you set one goal for the month, it’s called a new month resolution and you hold each other accountable to that one goal that you set.  So that’s an ecosystem that’s built as another layer beyond just the book, right? 

The Innerview is not just a book there’s also videos and at Indiana University and at Cornell there’s actually a class that I come and help teach in order to deliver that curriculum.  So it’s constantly layering on value to the base product which is the book or the formula but you know a lot of people write books, self-help books but what’s the next layer, what do people need after they’ve read and digested the information that’s gonna support them to actually integrate those insights into their lives on a daily basis.  So constantly layering, which is the iterative process, and then ultimately once you continue to iterate that creates an ecosystem of other things to use.