Business lessons from reading Let My People Go Surfing, Part 1

In this multi-part series, I will talk about my lessons learned from reading Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing- The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, and how they transfer to software and general business principles that we can all take back to our organizations.

Part 1.
I started reading Let My People Go Surfing a few weeks ago when 2Shoes team member, and my good friend, Slaton Whatley mentioned it. We both idolize Yvon Chouinard - the founder of Black Diamond and Patagonia - and how he has created 2 amazing outdoor companies, all while staying true to his cultural ethics and environmental morals. Yvon grew up in southern California and took a liking to the outdoors. From the start, he explored areas around where he lived and got into fishing, climbing and Falconry. It wasn’t until the late 1950s, when he started making climbing equipment for him and his friends to use, and later selling it out of the back of his truck, that his first business was born- Chouinard Equipment (later Black Diamond). As the title of the book implies, he never meant to be a businessman but used it as a platform to fund his own adventurous pursuits and this later turned into two successful companies built by Yvon. Here are a few lessons I learned in my first few weeks of reading this book.

Functionality and Fit
Is your product or service functional and multi-functional. Nobody likes waste and it is important that the key functions of what you provide are valued by your customers. Even better is when it can fill multiple roles. Gather feedback and see what your user base thinks- you may find that what you offer is not what they need. For 2Shoes we have the goal of limiting functions as much as possible, and only including ones that customers actually value. To accomplish this customer feedback is critical and iterating new releases is the best way to provide the most value.

Durability
Durability is tricky in the software world and is much clearer when talking about clothing or other textiles. With a pair of shoes, you can easily tell if they will hold up over time. In software, durability flaws (or bugs) can be found at any stage. They can show up after a year or in 2 seconds. No matter what type of product you have, it is important to test as if a product is not durable, it is not worth much to your customers.

Simplicity
By simplicity I mean two things: product simplicity and product line simplicity. The first goes back to functionality and how I mentioned that you should only provide those that are valuable. Provide as much value as possible with the least amount of functions as possible- that is simplicity. The latter has to do with your full list of products and services. Nobody likes to be overwhelmed with options and only giving a small list of the best possible options is infinitely better than tons of mediocre ones. It’s for this reason that 2Shoes only offers one version of our application. We have picked the best functions and the only choice you have to make is how much you want to use it.

Authenticity and Satisfaction
It is one thing to say that “We are the best at XYZ” and it is another thing to truly mean it. Furthermore, this can be taken to the next level by backing that claim up with a guarantee to make right any wrongs that may come along the way. Make sure your product is truly what it claims to be and if it is not, do everything in your power to make the situation better for your users or give them their money back.

Homework and Core Customer Needs
Do you ever feel like you are chasing the innovations of a competitor? It’s easy to do but you sometimes need to put the blinders on and make sure you are designing your product for your core group of customers. This can be accomplished by gathering feedback and validating new concepts. If you do this successfully, you won’t have to worry about competitors because you will be giving your users the best product or service possible.

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