Frak Lopez image

Frak Lopez

Craft & Commodity

Jun 2, 2021

Over the years I’ve been part of many discussions regarding how to build something or another. Not just software and products, but businesses, experiences and even meals/food menus!

Every time, I start with a simple proposition: What is the motivation?

The motivation for why you do something will strongly inform everything else.

We all know without motivation, nothing will happen. However, without insight into the source of that motivation is the difference between riding a horse and holding on for dear life to a wild bronco.

When it comes to this type of motivation, I believe there are two main camps: Craft & Commodity.

Neither intends to describe the quality of the end result, only the approach.

No Judgement

It’s extremely important to resolve your TRUE motivation.

Often times, when asked “What is your motivation?”, people answer with what they think they SHOULD say and not with the truth for fear of judgement.

We all have to make a living, but it’s frowned upon to say I do this because I need money. Too often there are people that are just in it for what rewards they can reap.

I think there is a pretty broad line between greed and necessity. That’s a whole other topic though.

For now, at the very least, it’s incredibly important to understand the source of your motivation. Especially when it comes to product.

Without judgement or fear, think about what your motivation is.

If your motivation is to make/create value (or more simply make money), that is Commodity.

If you have to do something because it doesn’t exist (however nuanced the difference is), that is Craft.

Leading By Example

To make clear my distinction, let’s take a look at some companies to drive the point.

We’ll start with beer because, why not?

For the beer aficionados, that’s a cursed name. But, let’s put all judgments aside. This is not about whether you like the beer or not (ProTip: they probably own a brewery you like).

This is about approach.

ABInbev falls squarely in the Commodity camp.

Like most conglomerates (all?) they are driven by creating/attaining value. They will buy, build, make whatever they believe will add value to their company.

Stone is very much a Craft company.

They approach beer with what they want to do. They are driven by creating what they want to see out there and rely on the idea that there’s people that feel the same way they do about beer.

You can see these different approaches in all sorts of companies. Some are easier to spot than others. Some have flip flopped.

If you’re familiar with In-N-Out burger, you would know it’s a very craft burger joint. McDonald’s is way more on the commodity side. Microsoft is very commodity. Apple with Steve Jobs was craft. Apple without Steve Jobs seems to go to commodity.

Again, no judgments. To each their own.

Apply Liberally

Given either approach, you still have to do the normal work that follows. So how do you use this information?

Let’s say you determine your motivation to be a commodity based one.

Product via Commodity
The market is the vision and the voice. The market will yield the gaps which will allow you to get a foothold.

Establish a need and then build to meet it. Use feedback to determine what features are needed and tailor to that niche.

If the market cries out for Rose color, you make a rose color.

Product via Craft
The vision is yours and your voice is loudest in the market. You put it out to the market regardless of how crowded the space is.

Use feedback to tweak and adjust for greater resonance. You build the features you believe are necessary.

If your product is green and there are people who cry out for red, those probably aren’t your market. Instead, the people who cry out for perhaps a lighter or darker shade of green would be more your market.

Duplicitous by nature

Commodity and Craft have their pros and cons.

Commodity is hard because the market is fickle. It takes a lot of research and effort to get a successful product to resonate with an audience. While the goal is easily visible, it’s often very hard to reach.

Commodity is very scientific and so a concrete analogy is necessary. Think of climbing Everest. Sure you know where the top is, and what needs to be done to get there. Doing it is another story.

Craft is difficult because it’s hard to put your own self out there. It’s hard to not be swayed by the crowd. While you know the original source and you have a vision, it’s hard to stick to it when everyone is trying to tell you to go in a different direction.

Craft is very subjective, and so a feels analogy is necessary. Think of a restaurant you love. Now go read negative yelp reviews on it. Everyone has their opinion on what is good, better or best. The best thing to you could easily be the worst to someone else. That’s tough to hear.

Lastly some might think commodity is the easier approach. The idea that you see your target and then just try to hit it. It sounds formulaic and easy. It’s not.

Know you’re Craft… or Commodity

One thing to note is that more than likely, you won’t be ALL Craft or ALL Commodity. Maybe feature X will be a Craft driven effort, while feature Y is a Commodity one.

In the end, it’s important to know which motivator you want your product to align with most. That is, know and be explicit about the way you engage and develop your product.

Most want to say they’re driven by craft. It’s romantic to think but it’s not true. We’re not all artists, and that’s okay.

Know your truth so you can push forward honestly and effectively.


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