A while back, I reached a point where I felt like I understood the following Basecamp quote:
“Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or service.”
What does it mean to have a point of view?
Over the course of the Buffer journey, the values that I had in mind for our startup have become a core part of our culture—not only within our team but also within our amazing community and customers.
As a social media tool, Buffer started out by doing something that many other tools out there do: offer some form of scheduling to Twitter. As we started out offering this, we became very aware of the fine line between a tool that helps you optimize, and a tool that encourages you to post to Twitter in non-genuine ways.
We needed to develop a point of view on this subject. And it became this: We encourage people to post in a genuine way, because we believe that is the most effective way to make the most of social media.
This message and the philosophy behind it began to flow throughout our team and our users. This meant that all decisions were tied to that point of view, and we were very cautious about acting in ways that would not be in line with the point of view we adopted.
Today, as we develop new products and features for Buffer that go far beyond where we began with Twitter, we continue to keep this point of view central and encourage people to use social media and Buffer in an effective but still genuine way.
We try to make sure this comes through via email and on social media platforms, and also in our choice of features and changes to the product.
In fact, our recent launch of Respond is perhaps the strongest action we’ve taken towards a true realization of our social media point of view. While Buffer is focused on sharing, we’ve always known that listening and responding on social media is just as important as using those channels for marketing.
Now I feel that our product offerings now align fully with our own vision and beliefs around having a balanced approach to social media and business, both listening and sharing.
Why would you want to have a point of view?
I believe having a point of view means that not only can you build a much stronger position in the market, you can also more easily get others on board to help you grow, when your point of view resonates with them.
It can really differentiate you from other products in the market, especially if you are in a market which has “norms” and your values are different from those norms.
Having a point of view can also really help you with your customer development. I see part of customer development as discovering and validating customers’ thoughts and ideas. Another part is listening to those users and deciding whether to add or remove features based on their feedback.
When you have a point of view, the decision of whether to add a feature is much easier, since you can ask yourself whether it is in line with the point of view and values you’re trying to stick to.
A third reason you might have a point of view is that it can reduce the risk from competitors.
It is up to you as a startup to differentiate yourself and create a more compelling offering. The great part is that your offering also includes the message around the product.
The point of view you adopt can truly affect whether people will choose you over someone else. If others feel aligned with your point of view, then competitors not only need a stronger product offering but also their own, better point of view.
What’s the best way to express your point of view?
It is easy to read the quote above and assume that having a point of view is about forcing your opinions on your users or audience.
I’ve found that doing almost the opposite is a better way to get people on your side and aligned with your point of view to the point that they want to share it.
My thinking here comes from the great Dale Carnegie book How to Win Friends and Influence People. If our customers ask for a feature that doesn’t feel quite aligned with our point of view, we use some of the techniques Carnegie proposes to talk through the suggestion together. Here are a couple of them:
- We agree with the user . It is easy to agree with them, because in almost every case they have a great point! Ours is only one point of view, not the “right” or only viewpoint.
- We show that we are open to changing our mind. We often use phrases such as “I could be wrong, as I often am,” or “I feel that perhaps” because 1) we are often wrong! and 2) we always want to be open to suggestions. I’ve learned that simply by showing I am genuinely open to change, it becomes much easier to reach agreement with others.
The power of point of view
I’ve been lucky to have a great team who have not only adopted the point of view I tried to instill in Buffer but have also evolved our culture in fantastic new ways.
As a result, we have a strong and incredible community of people who not only spread the word of Buffer as a product but also spread our point of view and values as well.
When someone tells me that they’re striving to live their life by the Buffer values, that’s a truly humbling and amazing feeling. That’s when I most feel the power of having a point of view.
Do you have a point of view for your startup, or your own personal values that guide you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!