Make insanely great things

By Ross Chaldecott — Published

I believe there are a few things that differentiate generational products from average ones. They’re subtle things but they make a huge difference. They’re also the things we think about when we build Kinde.

Not revenue or customer driven.

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Almost every product decision we make at Kinde is driven by a single one of our values. It’s this: We exist to build the business of our customers. We focus on them first, because growing their business is the best way to grow our own. Customers first, revenues second. Always in that order.

On the surface that seems like an odd value to use to help make product decisions – but we believe it’s actually the most important factor. You see, if we start thinking too much about revenue, then we start making decisions that are led by chasing revenue. This means building custom features for one off customers. Subverting our roadmap so that we can chase after single large accounts. And letting money drive every decision we make.

In most company’s this is the norm. And the result is average products that are hard to fall in love with and carry all the hallmarks of traditional enterprise tech: hard to use, horrible to work with every day, and hated by most people who are forced to use them.

It’s odd that the thing that everyone claims to be - customer driven - ends up being the worst thing for their customers in reality.

Don’t get me wrong. We spend a lot of time with our customers. Our team talks with them – obsessively. We spend an insane amount of time learning from them and understanding what would make them successful with the products that we build. This is a great thing.

But it can’t be the only thing. We cannot allow ourselves to be driven entirely by these voices. We have to always be driven by the vision of the change we are trying to create in the world. And this is true for everyone who is trying to build anything great. It means having a deep understanding and appreciation for customers. For the people who will ultimately have to use your product. Enough that you can also see what they need most. What will make them superheroes – without them necessarily even knowing it. This is where great products are born.

For us we have another secret advantage – and I actually believe this is true for most great products and companies. The thing that we are building is something that we actually need and use every day. We’re building it for ourselves. We are a team of founders and engineers, building for founders and engineers. We have experienced the problem of SaaS infrastructure first hand. And so we have a deep and rounded understanding of our problem space as well as a passion for making something that will truly improve people’s lives.

Choosing a category approach and sticking with it

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This leads into another important point when thinking about what and how to build.

There are really only two types of new products in this world. Those that try to compete in an existing market with dominant players and capture a segment of that market. For Kinde this would look like focusing all of our energy on a single, underserved part of the Authentication market. A lot of businesses do this, but in reality you just end up fighting over the scraps left over after the dominant player (the category king) has had their share. This typically ends up in a lot of smaller players that never manage to achieve sustainable market share, and a race to the bottom on pricing. There have been businesses that have succeeded with this approach – but it’s a hard battle requiring exceptional execution across the board. Airbnb and Nest (owned by Google) are some of the few that truly stands out here.

The other path is to define a new category. To create something that doesn’t yet exist. This might be a totally new product (Chat GPT for example), or a compound product solving multiple existing problems in a single product (Rippling dominates in HR, IT and Finance. Shopify in retail).

At Kinde our focus has always been on building a new category of infrastructure tools that will empower SaaS teams to forget about infrastructure and focus on building their own product value. We believe in this mission so wholeheartedly that we don’t let short term, easily available auth revenue distract us from where we are trying to go. Again, this comes back to our value of building the business of our customers.

Obsessing over details

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The details matter - they are what make your product. Great products obsess over every small detail and use them as opportunities for true delight for their customers. I believe this is one of the things that really sets Kinde apart in the market. We treat every interaction as an opportunity to do something better. We spend a huge amount of timing on things that you might not even notice, to make sure that the overall product is one that people will fall in love with and will give them a general feeling of calm and ease of use. This doesn’t come easy. It comes from a lot of hard discussions, a lot of working and reworking, and the introduction of a lot of smart defaults that mean our customers don’t have to make decisions that don’t matter. The result is, hopefully, a place that people will love to be.

This obsession over details extends beyond product by the way. Every part of your company experience, from the way your sales team interacts to the music you play on hold when people call in, is an opportunity to create delight for your customers. Never let a good experience go undesigned.

Designing for smart defaults. With flexibility

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We don’t know what incredible things people will imagine with our products, but every day we are surprised by the inventive and creative ways they come up with to use our tools to do amazing things. I believe a lot of this stems from our way of thinking about product decisions. We have three product principles that we use to help push us in the right direction.

The first is to build what most people need, most of the time. This allows us to ignore the paths that lead to complexity and specificity based on a very small and limited use case. We don’t build on spec for enterprise customers. This can be hard. Ignoring the asks of some of your biggest customers and prospects to make sure you are supporting the majority of your customers, is a very difficult things to do and to stay true to.

Second is to give people smart defaults. When you build software, you can give people ultimate flexibility, or you can be very opinionated. We choose the middle ground, which is to build an opinionated piece of software very finely tuned to do what most people need, but to build this using smart defaults, which our customers can change as they need. This means flexibility with opinions.

Third is to build with extensibility in mind. From our first line of code we’ve always thought of Kinde as an extensible platform. Something that would ultimately include a marketplace which our customers and partners could use to bring their own needs and voices into the product. This hasn’t changed. We’ve build powerful api’s, webhooks and extension points to allow our customers to do what they need to. And in time we hope to make this better and better.

At the end of the day, if you give people wonderful tools, they’ll make wonderful things.