Product Leadership At Octane

So there is this dilemma that I think nearly all businesses go through. I know we did.

Giving the customer everything they ask for.

When Octane first opened, there was coffee. Then smoothies. Then sandwiches. Then super-large coffee. Then beer. Mixed drinks. I’ve heard people ask for breakfast, greeting cards, and shoes (seriously). At some point it got out of control and Octane was in danger of losing its essence.

Every customer suggestion should certainly be listened to – but not always acted upon. Octane concluded that it’s hard to really stand for something when you’re doing everything.

Tony and Diane decided that they would have product leadership. They canned huge coffees. Killed nearly all the Frappuccino ( sorry, "Coolant") flavors, and pared back the food menu. Smoothies are dead. Less beers, not more. They decided on product leadership, and with less than half the items they sold before, sales are up – not down.

Now, Octane invests in 2 things, best I can tell. Coffee excellence and beer excellence. Their baristas go through ridiculous amounts of training for both. They practice, experiment, and study coffee and beer. They eschew the compromise of huge portions which are in direct conflict with a perfect coffee or espresso drink. They resist the higher margins and numerous requests for Bud Light and Coors and margaritas.

As a customer, I’ll admit I initially found it sort of frustrating. I mean I used to have my own sandwich. I wanted breakfast. Lord knows I would buy shoes there if they sold them. I hounded Tony mercilessly lobbying for what I wanted to see at Octane. Of course that’s why it’s product leadership. Leadership is never easy. But Octane led me to things they never could have otherwise, and I’m grateful for it. I’m more loyal now than I ever was. I talk about Octane more now than I ever did.

In the old world, businesses won by diversifying and expanding product lines. Big mattered. In the new world, it’s just the opposite. Businesses win by kicking-ass.

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