20VC Former Tinder CPO Brian Norgard on His Biggest Product Takeaways from Launching the Top Grossing App in the World, The Top 10 Reasons Why Products Fail Today & How The Best Founders Assess Risk and Use It

Summary Notes


In this episode of "20 Minutes VC," host Harry Stebbings interviews Brian Norgard, the former Chief Product Officer of Tinder and a skilled angel investor with a portfolio including Tesla and SpaceX. Norgard shares his journey from founding Tappy and Chill to shaping Tinder's success with features like Tinder Gold, Superlike, and Boost, which led to over 200 million downloads and an $11 billion market value. He delves into product development, emphasizing simplicity, rapid iteration, and the importance of building for oneself. Norgard also discusses the significance of embracing risk, the power of community in product launches, and the necessity of products saving time or money. Additionally, he touches on his work with Spearhead, empowering founders to invest in startups, and the potential of crypto to revolutionize mobile. Throughout the conversation, insights from Jeff Morris Jr. and the role of sleep optimization and foundational business resources like First Republic Bank and Reich's work management tool are highlighted.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Brian Norgard

  • Brian Norgard is a former Chief Product Officer at Tinder.
  • He played a significant role in Tinder's success, contributing to over $11 billion in market value.
  • Created features like Tinder Gold, Superlike, and Boost.
  • Founded Tappy, acquired by Tinder, and built Chill, a Facebook app reaching over 30 million people.
  • Prolific angel investor with investments in Tesla, SpaceX, AngelList, and Coinmind.

"Brian Norgard, former chief product officer, has a top grossing mobile app in the world, Tinder. In less than three years, Tinder created over $11 billion in market value."

This quote highlights Brian Norgard's impact on Tinder and his success in the tech industry, particularly with mobile applications and investments.

Sleep Optimization for Tech Leaders

  • Sleep optimization is a trend among top tech leaders for maintaining energy.
  • The pod by Eight Sleep is a high-tech bed designed for peak mind and body performance.
  • It adjusts temperature dynamically and tracks biometrics without wearable technology.

"The latest trend with top tech leaders is sleep optimization."

This quote emphasizes the importance of sleep optimization for high-performing individuals in the tech industry and introduces the pod by Eight Sleep as a solution.

First Republic Bank for Entrepreneurs

  • First Republic Bank offers resources, network, and expertise to entrepreneurs.
  • Provides a solid foundation for businesses across all stages.
  • Offers access to a network of VC firms and exclusive events.

"First Republic's resources, network and expertise allow entrepreneurs to customize a solid foundation for their business across all stages."

This quote explains the benefits provided by First Republic Bank to entrepreneurs, emphasizing the importance of having a solid business foundation.

Work Management with Wrike

  • Wrike is a work management tool that helps companies harness AI, embrace the cloud, and prioritize cybersecurity.
  • It's a secure, automated, cloud-based platform for all company collaboration.
  • Aims to future-proof business cultures and facilitate growth.

"Wrike's secure, automated, cloud-based work management tool helps businesses future proof their cultures and evolve fast."

This quote introduces Wrike as a solution for businesses looking to improve work management and adapt to technological advancements.

Brian Norgard's Startup Journey

  • Started in startups directly out of college.
  • Partnered with technologist Dan Gold and sold their company to Fox Interactive Media in 2006.
  • Met Sean Rad, founder of Tinder, and admired his entrepreneurial skills.
  • Joined Tinder after it acquired his company, Tappy.

"I was lucky enough to meet Sean Rad, who was the founder of Tinder while he was still in college."

This quote provides background on how Brian Norgard entered the world of startups and eventually became involved with Tinder.

Product Development and Angel Investing

  • Product development is a personal, art-like experience for Norgard.
  • Focuses on user experience and delivering a simple promise to the customer.
  • Differentiates between building products and angel investing mindsets.

"For me, product is a very personal experience. It's something that is more art than science."

This quote reveals Brian Norgard's philosophy on product development, emphasizing its personal and artistic nature.

Market Cycles and Customer Focus

  • Norgard is not significantly affected by market cycles.
  • His primary concern is the customer and the promise of the product.
  • Believes that good product design transcends market conditions.

"The sinusotal wave that is the market has never really impacted what I build."

This quote illustrates Norgard's focus on the customer rather than the fluctuations of the market when building products.

Reasons Why Products Fail

  • Products fail mainly due to complexity.
  • Successful products fit seamlessly into consumers' lives.
  • Word of mouth is critical; a product must be easily explainable by friends.

"The number one reason why products fail is because they're too complicated."

This quote identifies complexity as the primary reason for product failure, highlighting the need for simplicity in product design.

Importance of Customer Explanation

  • The way customers describe a product to others is crucial for its success.
  • Passionate customer explanations drive organic growth and product adoption.
  • Companies often struggle to impart the essence of their product to customers.
  • The ability of customers to retell a product's story is rare and valuable.

"What's relevant is what someone who uses your product tells another person. How do they explain it? Why are they imbued with some passion to go tell a friend, like, you got to try Uber or you got to get on Tinder."

The quote emphasizes the significance of word-of-mouth and the natural customer advocacy that is essential for a product's proliferation.

Product Design and Iteration

  • Rapid iteration and testing are key to successful products.
  • Many first-time product creators fail to iterate after launch.
  • Iteration is where the real power of product development lies.

"The best products in the world are all children of this rapid iteration, this testing, this sort of zealot like testing framework where they're trying one thing, they're trying another thing, a new interface, a new button, a new login path, a different way of explaining the core value proposition."

This quote illustrates the continuous improvement process that successful products undergo, highlighting the importance of experimentation and refinement.

Maintaining Simplicity

  • Founders must retain simplicity in their products to avoid feature creep.
  • Holding the line is about knowing and standing for your product's core identity.
  • Simplicity can lead to significant success, as shown by Tinder's example.

"One of the interesting stories around Tinder was just radical simplicity it brought to online dating."

The quote provides an example of how simplicity in product design (Tinder's simple swiping mechanism) can lead to a product's success.

Balancing Qualitative and Quantitative Data

  • Qualitative data is easier to obtain and can provide immediate feedback.
  • Quantitative data is more useful for products at scale to analyze user behavior.
  • Both types of data are necessary for informed product iteration.

"You've got to understand the emotion and what you're building and really be able to talk to people in a natural environment and see what's clicking."

The quote stresses the importance of understanding user emotions and reactions, which can be captured through qualitative data.

Market Creation vs. Extending Existing Behaviors

  • There's skepticism about creating new user behaviors.
  • Successful products often extend and amplify existing behaviors.
  • Technology should be seen as a tool to unlock and enhance inherent human behaviors.

"I fundamentally dismiss the idea there are new behaviors. I think you can unlock certain behaviors."

The quote challenges the concept of creating entirely new behaviors, suggesting instead that successful products tap into and expand upon behaviors that are already present.

The Role of Courage in Product Success

  • Fear can prevent founders from taking risks necessary for innovative products.
  • Courage and risk-taking are essential for launching unique and inspiring products.
  • Products like Snapchat succeeded because of the boldness in their feature decisions.

"It takes a tremendous amount of courage to launch something that is different, that is new, that is inspiring."

This quote highlights the necessity of bravery in product development, especially when introducing novel features that may initially be met with skepticism.

Embracing and Analyzing Risk

  • Product development involves understanding when to pivot or persevere with features.
  • Repetition and experience improve a founder's ability to manage risk.
  • Belief in a product's larger purpose can simplify decision-making around risk.

"The ability to understand how to pivot off a certain feature, how to pivot off a certain emotion when something is working, when something is not working."

The quote discusses the skill of navigating product features and user emotions to effectively manage risk in product development.

Baking in Customer Acquisition

  • Integrating customer acquisition mechanisms into a product can be effective.
  • Products should be designed to encourage user-driven growth and network expansion.

"I think it's the only way to build a product."

This quote implies that incorporating customer acquisition strategies directly into the product is a fundamental approach to achieving growth.

Endemic Integration of Product Features

  • Successful product growth requires features to be inherently integrated into the experience.
  • Forcefully adding unnatural elements can push customers away.
  • Proper integration can unlock significant distribution channels.

Baking it in is sort of fundamental for a product to grow in a proper fashion.

This quote emphasizes the importance of seamlessly incorporating features into a product for organic growth.

Importance of Launching into a Community

  • Products fail when they don't launch into a community with potential early adopters.
  • Early adopters are crucial; they advocate and explain the product, aiding in its growth.
  • Finding and engaging early adopters requires marketing, PR, storytelling, and effort.

You should worship your early adopters. They're everything.

This quote highlights the value of early adopters in the success and promotion of a product.

Transition from Early Adopters to Early Majority

  • Scaling a product often alienates some early adopters, which is a painful but common process.
  • Products like Bitcoin and social media platforms have evolved and sometimes alienated their original user base.
  • Developers must weather the emotional challenge of scaling and evolving the product.

You always are going to alienate some of your earliest customers.

This quote acknowledges the inevitability of losing some early supporters during the scaling process and the need to accept it as part of growth.

Product Improvement and User Satisfaction

  • Products must improve lives by saving time, delighting, and showing new possibilities.
  • Aiming to make all users happy is impossible and can lead to failure.
  • Successful products solve problems and deliver on promises consistently.

If your aim is to make all of your users happy, you will fail.

This quote conveys the idea that trying to please every user is unrealistic and not a viable strategy for product development.

The Myth of the 10x Improvement

  • The concept of a product needing to be a "10x improvement" is seen as jargon and not necessarily relevant to customers.
  • Products should focus on genuinely improving lives, not fitting into predefined success metrics.
  • Delivering on a promise and solving a real problem is the essence of a great product.

I really don't know what any of that stuff means. And I really don't think normal customers care either.

This quote criticizes the overemphasis on startup jargon and highlights the importance of real-world benefits over theoretical metrics.

Feature Risk and Product Culture

  • Feature risk is correlated with the willingness of a product culture to embrace it.
  • Fear often prevents taking risks; creating a culture that encourages calculated risk is crucial.
  • Larger companies tend to take fewer risks due to bureaucracy.

Feature risk is also heavily correlated to the dna of the product culture.

This quote discusses the relationship between a company's culture and its approach to taking risks with new features.

Personal Relationship to Fear in Product Development

  • Building for oneself ensures understanding and satisfying user needs.
  • Removing fear and focusing on the core reasons for building a product can lead to success.
  • Personal experiences and inflection points can change one's approach to risk and confidence in product development.

Building for yourself means that you know what the best interest of that user is, because it's you.

This quote explains the advantage of developing a product based on one's own needs, as it can resonate with others who have similar needs.

Inflection Points in Product Evolution

  • Personal experiences, such as the launch of a successful feature, can be significant inflection points.
  • These moments can change a product leader's attitude towards risk and confidence.
  • Fear prior to launching a major update is common, but overcoming it can lead to substantial success.

Probably the largest inflection point for myself was the launch of Tinder gold.

This quote reflects on a personal milestone that had a profound impact on the speaker's perspective on product development and risk-taking.

Monetization Feature Impact

  • The launch of a monetization feature significantly boosted team and company confidence.
  • Success of the feature served as a template for future endeavors and strategic thinking.
  • The momentum from this success was described as surreal and provided a strong foundation for business growth.

This is the monetization feature we've all been betting on and this is the best I got. And it was amazing to see it work and then to watch the confidence in my team, the confidence in the company and how people immediately took this as a way to think about the future, a template to move forward.

The quote explains how the successful implementation of a monetization feature had a profound impact on the confidence levels within the team and company, setting a positive direction for future projects.

Appreciating Success

  • There is a challenge in appreciating success due to the constant drive for more achievements, known as the hedonic treadmill.
  • It's important to take time to enjoy successes and reflect on the contributions and decisions that led to those moments.
  • Recognizing and celebrating achievements is vital because life is transient and accomplishments should be savored.

What I dislike about capitalism personally the most is this idea of the hedonic treadmill... And so I have always espoused this idea of stopping and smelling the roses... you have to enjoy it a little bit, you have to share it, because there are so many hard times.

The quote criticizes the relentless pursuit of more success without taking the time to appreciate what has been achieved, emphasizing the importance of enjoying and sharing successes.

Personal Growth and Advice

  • Prescriptive advice is often flawed as it lacks context and needs to be carefully decoded and applied by the individual.
  • Learning to understand the source, intent, and relevance of advice is crucial for personal and professional development.

I think all prescriptive advice is wrong... One of the most important things you can do in your career is learn how to decode advice... and then your ability to sort of pull it in and rip it apart and take the pieces that are relevant to you.

This quote suggests that advice should not be taken at face value but instead analyzed and tailored to fit one's specific context and needs.

Seeking Guidance

  • When making career decisions, it's beneficial to seek guidance from individuals who have the ability to simplify complex issues and provide clear direction.
  • Naval Ravikant is highlighted as an inspiring figure who has a unique perspective on innovation and decision-making.

I think I would call the infinitely brilliant naval... And he has a way of taking very complicated things and simplifying them down and helping think through the exact reason why a decision should be made or shouldn't be made...

The quote expresses admiration for Naval Ravikant's ability to clarify complex decisions and his inspiring approach to innovation and entrepreneurship.

Mobile Innovation Opportunities

  • Despite the saturation of the mobile market, there is always room for innovative and exciting new products.
  • Emerging technologies like crypto are expected to bring new changes and opportunities in the mobile space.

There's not a ton of fruit still on the vine. Mobile is fairly saturated... This whole wave of crypto that's coming is going to change the game yet again.

The quote acknowledges that while many opportunities in mobile have been explored, new technologies, such as crypto, are anticipated to create fresh possibilities.

Future Plans and Spearhead

  • Commitment to building interesting and valuable products continues to be a driving force.
  • Involvement with Spearhead, a program designed to fund entrepreneurs, reflects a belief in the transformative power of venture capital and supporting new founders.

So I'm still incredibly passionate about my life's mission, which is building really interesting, fun, useful products... Spearhead is sort of the brainchild of naval Ravikant and Jeff Bagman... We select 15 people and we give them up to a million dollars to invest in the best and brightest.

The quote outlines the speaker's ongoing passion for product development and details their involvement with Spearhead, a venture capital initiative aimed at empowering new entrepreneurs.

Recognition and Anticipation

  • The conversation concludes with an expression of excitement for future discussions and the acknowledgment of the guest's contributions and insights.

What an incredible guest to have on the show... there will be a fantastic round two with Brian on that.

The closing remarks highlight the host's appreciation for the guest's participation and tease a future episode that will delve deeper into product success.

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