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Products for Normies, Products for Sickos

Fred Perrotta
Fred Perrotta
2 min read

Table of Contents

Some products are made to have a perfect balance of features. They are "good enough" for "most people." A milquetoast Wirecutter pick.

Those are products for "normies."

But some products are made for the extremes, the edges.

Those are products for sickos.

(As a fellow product sicko, I use the term with affection.)

When we started Tortuga, creating a carry on backpack felt like building for an edge case. Fourteen years later, it still does. Look around any airport. Travel backpacks are a small minority of the luggage people carry. Suitcases are the default. But, thankfully, there are still millions of dollars of sales to be had making backpacks.

Within a niche, there are extremes. For our next batch of products, we are building for the bell curve of our category.

The Bell Curve of Emotions (and When To Let Go) - Exploring Deeper
Bell curve. Normies in the middle, sickos on the right and left.
  • The Fat Middle: Our current bags are for the fat middle of the curve. The well-balanced products that are just right for most people. Those bags are for customers on the edge of the general population but right in the middle of our category.
  • The Thin Edges: So what's out on the edge of the bell curve? That's what we're working on next.

Blue Ocean Strategy

To design products for those edges, we're using some lessons from Blue Ocean Strategy.

The most important lesson from the book is the Four Actions Framework. The framework is designed to help you create something new, i.e. a blue ocean. To do so, you must eliminate or reduce some things considered standard for your industry while also creating new value and raising some things above industry standards.

We're simplifying the idea by adding two questions to our design briefs:

  1. What are we maxing out? What benefits or features are we turning up to 11? This should probably only be one thing. Maybe two at most. This will define the new product's positioning.
  2. What are we willing to sacrifice? What will we reduce or eliminate to max out the above? To maximize (light) weight, we might have to sacrifice size, volume, pockets, and other features. To maximize organization, we might have to sacrifice weight or simplicity.

Opinionated is Good

These choices make for an opinionated product. Opinionated is good.

When hiring, a good job description will attract the right candidates and repel the wrong ones. A product description should do the same.

Here's the reaction you're looking for by audience:

  • Sickos: "Yes! Thank you! Finally!"
  • Normies: "What is this? Who would buy this?"

Look for this exchange on Reddit:

  • Normies: "I would never buy this. It doesn't have X."
  • Sickos: "Good! Only an idiot would want X."

Make your target audience feel seen and appreciated. You'll earn their business and loyalty by building something specifically for this underserved audience. We saw this when our first bags started to reach product market fit.

Sickos bought our V1 travel backpack and loved it despite the bag being hideously ugly. That's the power of nailing the right thing while sacrificing everything else.