“People are usually afraid of change because they fear the unknown. But the single greatest constant of history is that everything changes.” - Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus
We as Founders live by this statement. Infact, we are adept at identifying gaps in the world around us, trying to address them by building products and/or services that change the way we live. We, as entrepreneurs are the drivers of change. The bigger the change on the larger the audience, the bigger is your Startup.
But, how do you continue the evolution of your startup with essentially the same product such that you do not become obsolete in this constantly changing environment? How do you ensure that you are not the ‘Gap’ some other Founders are looking to fill?
If you are reading this, I am sure you are not actively firefighting (Phew!). So you have the topic of being relevant occupying your mindspace. Staying relevant by constantly changing, updating, evolving. And you are looking out for frameworks and tools that you can apply to your startup.
This was the dilemma I faced when I started on my journey many years ago. Honestly, back in 2012 when I was building my Startup, I found a severe dearth of resources on long term Business strategy on staying relevant, not tactical ‘How To’ documents that talk about your Year 1, Year 2 and so on. But longer, how do I build a business that solves 1 problem for 1 and grow for years to come. I would constantly ask myself about my business's 'raison d'exister'. And I, like most of our breed, am a framework thinker.
So, I took it upon myself to build a framework for finding my startup’s raison d'or. A framework that I could use for the next 5-10 years and beyond. Not by force-expanding into new geographies or complementary product lines. Those were industry norms.
I wanted organic growth by solving the pain point of my Persona such that I delivered ever-growing value to my customers. Helping them optimize a part of their daily life so much, they did not realize that the pain point existed any more. In turn forgetting that a product exists that they are actively using. This would mean that the product has replaced the persona.
Now that is a moat that is hard to replicate.
Well, it wasn't really an Archimedes Eureka moment for me.
The WAR principle started taking shape when I failed in one of my endeavors, as curtains drew on my product.
As our breed is calibrated, I did a retrospective, looking back at what I could have done better. With that, came the painstaking exercise of reliving my journey, month on month. introspecting, zooming out, I realized that my startup was destined to fail. I was building the product for my primary persona, but my product was not a living embodiment of the persona. This meant that while the product was easing a part of their lives, I was not thinking how I can do the Persona’s job, without the Persona. How can I replace my primary user.
A quick look back on products that have survived the test of time, been there for centuries will paint the picture. Technological advancements since the turn of the century have led to rapid product disruption.
One of the products that has quickly evolved mapping the WAR path is the automobile. I’ll explain the WAR principle, taking that example, and call attention to how it can be used as a guiding framework for the products we build today.
WAR is short for ‘Wizard -> Assist -> Replace’.
It is important to note that at the center of the principle is the Persona for whom the product is being built. In the case of an automobile, the product was built for the persona of a driver wanting to get from point A to point B. Let’s track a path from W to A to R with the example of an automobile.
All products start out by solving a pain for their primary persona. When the pain is such that the Persona is willing to pay is when you’ve achieved your Product-Market Fit. In fact, I would rather call it the Product-Persona fit
At this stage, you have successfully built a Wizard. A set of tools that allows the Persona to live a better life when using your product.
The first true automobile built in the 1880s solved the problem of ferrying people from source to destination. It was one tool solving one pain point and the Persona was willing to pay.
Once you have solved your persona’s pain, next you look at ways in which you can enhance the experience for him. Trying to find ways in which you can help him do his job even faster, more effectively, with low touch, using low mind space. This is when you start incorporating prescriptive and predictive layers on top of your product. Nudging the persona to take the right next step based on the potential outcome
In automobiles today, we have all kinds of assistive features to help drivers with navigation, safety, and comfort. Think features like assisted parking, steering assist, break-assist, turn-by-turn navigation, and climate control.
Once your product has spent enough time with your persona, the product can start recognizing and learning patterns. This is where you build AI layers on top of the product. I know AI is an abused term, but used in the right context, it is indeed powerful. At this stage, the goal of your product should be to replace the persona’s job function you built the product for.
As with all successful businesses, your business would be scaled horizontally too. Addressing adjacent pain points of the same persona. If you have scaled horizontally enough, your product should be able to replace the entire job function itself. If not, it would replace the specific job which caused the pain point for the Persona
We’re quickly headed toward a world where automobiles will be self-driving. The very persona (driver) they were purpose-built to serve, they will replace.
Applying the Framework
The same principle applies to any product you can think of. From factory machines to search engines, all products are on the WAR path. Let’s apply the WAR principle to another example of email marketing.
If we plot a graph of % of automation to complete a task versus human intervention, we could see how it all comes together in unison as we move from W > A > R
As entrepreneurs, when we set out to build products, as soon as you identify the primary Persona, start by thinking about your business’s WAR path. Your WAR path may span years or even decades, and that is fine. But for every business plan, roadmap, module, feature, this framework should act as a guiding light to ensure you steer your ship in the right direction.
Is it applicable to all businesses?
Do note that this framework may not be directly applicable to all industries. For example, if you are in the gaming industry, you will never want to replace your primary person since you are in the entertainment business. But, you can still think about replacing the non-core parts of that business that touches your Persona, but is a hindrance to them. E.g. Do you really want your users to use a physical joystick to immerse themselves in your games? Can you possibly replace that touchpoint?
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