Lessons from The Boring Company
In a recent interview with Elon Musk, his core message to aspiring entrepreneurs was simple – “focus on creating an awesome product, sell it for more than it costs to produce and everything else will follow”. This may sound blindingly obvious, but he very simply pinpointed the problem with so many companies who lose sight of their product and as a result lose their core identity.
I wondered how I would translate that very simple but fundamental formula into financial services – what does an awesome financial services product look like? Is my Starling Bank account awesome? I think it’s pretty cool, looks good and is easy to use, but that’s not enough is it? How about an account aggregator that pulls all my finances together, chooses the best returns and manages my money? No, I’m afraid I can’t get excited enough about either of them to warrant the title “awesome”.
The reason I’m not excited is that finance is a necessity rather than a luxury. I need financial services products to be part of society and interact with the wider world. I need a bank account to hold the money I earn, I need cards to pay for things, I need insurance in case of accidents, and I need a pension so I can carry on living in the world after work. I need all these things just to function and necessities will never be awesome.
I could easily go through life without having to think about interacting with my money; I would like the services to just work. I would like renewal quotes to be genuinely the most cost effective or give me the most appropriate cover. If I am engaging with a new service, I want it to just happen in a way that Is so intuitive I get to the end and it’s done, and I can’t even remember the journey I went through. I want my pension to be as large as it can possibly be without endless questions on my risk appetite, and I want to know how much is in my bank and that money gets sent to the correct place whenever required.
So, maybe a solution that does all those things is boring and maybe boring is the new awesome, at least for financial services. It can be a thankless task to make things boring. If a financial services company wants to be top of the list, they need to put a lot of effort into the customer experience. Not just the interface but the end-to-end experience right down to how calls are answered when a customer just wants a human to sort a problem for them. All that effort, all the user testing and the A-B testing will be for one aim – to make the experience so easy and seamless that it feels boring.
Perfecting the art of boring requires some rare skills. Applying psychology and technology to user experience to eliminate friction and make journeys feel natural is the holy grail. Success will result in products which just work rather than journeys that are memorable. That means lots of hard work, research, and technical expertise to build solutions which, when successful, should be fundamentally invisible.
So, back to Elon Musk’s interview, maybe we should not think about Tesla, but rather, another of his companies that digs tunnels closer to home.