I ran across a fantastic PDF on HackerNews by Henrik Kniberg that pulls back the covers on How Spotify Builds Products. It's such a good article -- and so different how many companies actually execute on building products -- that I wanted to highlight a few of the best parts.

Firstly, Spotify starts with a a strong, concise vision (with a singular focus): "Spotify’s vision is to bring you the right music for every moment." This has proven to be a fantastic guide as they iterate on their platform. In a similar way to Dropbox, which I described recently, everything Spotify does furthers that singular vision -- every new feature, every performance enhancement. "Starting as a music player a few years ago, their products are now evolving into a ubiquitous platform for discovering new music and connecting artists with their fans directly." This allows Spotify to expend all its energy on optimizing for product/market fit around that vision, and that's what creates tremendous shareholder value in product companies.

The article sets up, in simple terms, the product prioritization dilemma that trips many companies:

"Here’s the paradox though: Successful companies like Spotify only want to deliver products that people love. But they don’t know if people love it until they’ve delivered it. So how do they do it?"

Spotify's core product philosophy is this (bold emphasis is mine):

  1. "We create innovative products while managing risk by prototyping early and cheaply.
  2. We don’t launch on date, we launch on quality.
  3. We ensure that our products go from being great at launch to becoming amazing, by relentlessly tweaking after launch."

They use a four-step process to product iteration:

  1. "Think It = figure out what type of product we are building and why.
  2. Build It = create a minimum viable product that is ready for real users.
  3. Ship It = gradually roll out to 100% of all users, while measuring and improving.
  4. Tweak It = Continuously improve the product. This is really an end state; the product stays in Tweak It until it is shut down or reimagined (= back to Think It)."

Here's why they follow these four stages:

"The biggest risk is building the wrong product - a product that doesn’t delight our users, or doesn’t improve success metrics such as user acquisition, user retention, etc. We call this “product risk”. The 4-stage model helps us drive down risk and get products out the door quickly."

The article goes into deep detail on each of the steps and how they are executed on. Here's a part that a product guru friend of mine says he especially likes:

"In addition, the Think It squad builds lots of different prototypes to experiment with the look & feel of this product – both “lo-fi” paper prototypes and “hi-fi” runnable prototypes (but with fake data sources and such). Internal focus groups are used to help figure out which prototypes best convey the narrative, until we’ve narrowed down to just a few winning candidates.
This is an iterative process with no deadline. The product is simply not worth building until we can show a compelling narrative and a runnable prototype that fulfills it, and we can’t decide upfront how long that will take."

Hope you enjoy this PDF as much as I did!