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In our final video in our series with Bret Taylor of Quip, the former Facebook CTO talks about Google Maps and the strong product vision that led to its success. If you missed them, make sure to check out:

Part 1: Confessions of a Product Manager, Bret Taylor of Quip

Part 2: Confessions of a Product Manager, Part 2: Bret Taylor of Quip

In this last installment, Taylor sheds some light on:

  • Being a successful product manager and creating a long lasting product beyond his own contributions
  • Struggling to maintain a single search button for Google Maps throughout the product development process
  • Defining product achievement as getting a product to the moment where users just get it

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Video transcript:

Matt Pasienski: What's it like to have that kind of impact in terms of knowing that billions of people are using the things that started does it go from zero to infinity like that?

Bret Taylor: I think it's really fascinating. Part of the reason I was actually most proud of Google Maps is that I worked on that for two years. We were a team that started off with Lars and Yens were the two tech leads and a team of about five engineers and me, we launched it. A couple of years later, it was quite big. It was one of the most popular mapping products, but what's notable about it is now Maps is even bigger. It's on the iPhone, there's Street View. It has taken on a life of its own, so I'm really proud of the fact that it wasn't just like a product that I worked on, but it became this big business and it has had a life beyond me. I think that's something that doesn't happen with a lot of people's products especially in technology where the lifespan of products is pretty short.

Matt Pasienski: That's incredible.

Bret Taylor: Things like [inaudible 00:01:05], they're great and it's fun, but it doesn't feel quite like level of change from before and after.

Matt Pasienski: Can you think back to those early days and there's the thing that you're so glad you put in or the thing you're so glad you didn't put in to Maps that would've're determining the future in some retrospect you have that near miss.

Bret Taylor: The most controversial feature was the fact that Google Maps had just a single search box, so it's hard to remember, but if you went to the home page of Yahoo Maps, or MapQuest, prior to that, there was a form with about nine or so fields. YOu'd put in the street, the city, the state, the zip code of the "To" and the "From," and it was like filing out a form like when you're purchasing something on an eCommerce site, there's a lot of fields there.

We had the ambitious goal of just be able to type, sort of stream consciousness, free form whatever address you wanted, or you wanted directions, you'd just type the "To" in between the before and after address. When launched absolutely no one understood it. We started getting all these searches for things like California that didn't make sense and we were like, "Are people really searching for the state?"

We realized they were looking for all the text boxes in the page and just putting in one part of the address here, one part of the address here and another part of the address here, and clicking the "Search" button next to the bottom most search box. People just came out with the completely different expectation. There's a lot of internal pressure to go back on that decision, and we powered through, figuring that it was much more efficient then these other interfaces despite how incomprehensible it was.

We did a bunch of user education on the side. It was hard just because literally no one understood it and we still just felt strongly that it was the right thing to do, and its managed to stay that way.

Matt Pasienski: I couldn't imagine it being any different now.

Bret Taylor: You'd be surprised how confuse people are too.

Matt Pasienski: That's incredible. Any last advice to someone who is, I think, at the same place you are. Obviously, you've been there several times before, and who's looking to increase that early traction to just massive adoption and worldwide impact, what are the things you have to stay focus on day-to-day?

Bret Taylor: That's a good question and certainly I could probably give myself some of that advice too. I think that most traction is related to getting people from opening your website, installing your app to an ah-ha moment, an ah-ha experience and that's just sort of a cheesy way of saying they get it. They get why your product exist and why it's different. I think that social networking in practice that meant getting people to get five to seven friends in their network and the moment they did, they would understand why social networking worked, and exist and is good.

If people have fewer friends than that, they just would never quite get to that point where they'd actually really grasp why the service was useful. With every product though, both the moment that they get to and the path to that moment is really different, and I think that its already been given a bad name by the a lot of the, sort of, questionable tactics. [inaudible 00:04:19] what growth means at a company is people analyzing what that means to get people to that moment.

With startups it is very easy to pivot constantly to new feature and new feature, and hoping you hit some silver bullet and I think that bouncing that with taking a more analytical approach, and usability studies, and really trying to understand that moment for people, and then having the conversation of how can we can compress the time with which people get to that moment, I think the best products do that exceptionally well.

Matt Pasienski: Fantastic, thank you so much.

Bret Taylor: Thank you.

Matt Pasienski: Thanks a lot.

Bret Taylor: My pleasure.

Matt Pasienski: That was awesome, thank you.

Posted by on Friday, February 6, 2015.


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