Outsized Results are Found at the Edges of the Problem Space
In a podcast episode, Patrick Collison of Stripe talks about how he thinks Stripe’s obsessive attention to detail and the pursuit of beauty have made a significant contribution to the adoption and success of Stripe. Even though the notion that aesthetics might not be a big contender on the list of things for a payment processor to do, I believe that his observation might be right.
Consider the example of building out a payment processor for the internet. Let’s start with the problem space. At the center, we have handling the money itself, then a little outside the processes for reconciliation and the systems for correctly setting up the money as well. Further on the outside, we have the APIs, then support. Outside that, we have documentation, and finally, at the end, great design service. Any well-meaning entrepreneur might stop at the well-meaning support system, as that solves 90% of the problem space, and solving the remaining 10% would take another 90% of effort for seemingly diminishing returns. But Stripe chose to focus on the edges with as much enthusiasm as the center of the problem space itself, and that played a significant role in the adoption of the system. There were payment processors before Stripe, but compared to Stripe, they were ugly, outdated, and from the yesteryear. Stripe’s core values of aesthetics played a significant role in differentiating it from its nearest competitors because they chose not to stop at customer service like all their competitors.
When building or working on anything, if outsized results are your goal, then figure out what the entire problem space is, what lies at the edges, which you can use to your competitive advantage.