Meet Them Where They Are


Fred Perrotta

What's your California Roll?

Nir Eyal's People Don’t Want Something Truly New, They Want the Familiar Done Differently highlights how the California Roll turned American sushi consumption from zero to a multi-billion dollar industry.

He calls this "the familiar done differently." This is the same idea as optimal newness.

Eyal's post and sushi analogy reminded me of something that Garrett always says:

Meet them where they are.

The California Roll met Americans where they were, with familiar ingredients (rice, avocado, crab meat). The only "new" parts were the format and the nori. By starting with ingredients that were already part of an American diet, the California Roll was a gateway into more adventurous sushi. The gateway is what's important. A sushi roll with raw fish or tofu was a bridge too far for most Americans until they tried the California Roll. Traditional sushi chefs may not have liked making the concession, but the California Roll was a necessary step to more traditional sushi.

The new must be grounded in the familiar.

We've been trying to be more aware of this at Tortuga. Our team is capable of pushing boundaries. The more innovative an idea is, the more exciting it can be. I'm guilty of this too. I want to work on the new, fun stuff. But we have to be wary of being too clever for our own good.

I'm sure that this is a bigger challenge in green field industries like technology where almost anything is possible.

We run into this with web design. When in doubt, we should do what's already common or what people already understand. We don't reinvent the wheel unless it's a signle place where a significant innovation will work best for us. Remember that we're looking for the familiar but done differently.

For our physical products, we've worked to define our constraints and to understand our market and customers. Restricting your playing field can give you a starting point that will serve as an anchor for customers. As a luggage company, we start with certain constraints and know that people will respond best to more familiar shapes and "categories" (backpack, daypack, duffel bag, weekender). Using these as a jumping off point helps us to meet customers where they are. From there, we can get creative with materials or a unique feature.

If you meet people where they are, you can then inch them a bit further along. You can't, however, ask them to make a leap to understand or use your product, especially as a new brand. That leap requires a massive amount of trust. Potential customers won't make it. Past customers with a lot of history with your company might, but you can't depend on it. Even Apple gets blowback when they push the envelope.