Table stakes in product development

Cap Watson is Etsy’s design lead. His perspective on the idea of product table stakes is something that should be familiar to people in the web/mobile space. In the context of Twitter, etc. copying Instagram’s functionality:

In my career I’ve been in dozens of meetings where the term “table stakes” gets dropped in. Maybe it’s by a designer defending what they feel is a non-negotiable element of the user experience. Maybe it’s a PM trying to keep the product feeling relatable… Whatever the reason, time and again I see that term win arguments. You say “table stakes” and everyone stops and nods because, hell, it’s usually true… [but] focusing on table stakes isn’t how innovation happens. Can you imagine if Instagram had tried to match Flickr feature-for-feature?

It’s easy to look at “table stakes” or “best practices” and, like Cap says, it’s usually true. We spend lots of time watching competitors passively—their websites, apps, emails and push notifications—and continuously benchmark ourselves against products we use and companies we admire. In defense of this approach, it has a time and a place: especially for small startups with limited budgets and resources that need to prove traction quickly. The

It’s an easy trap to fall into: if [successful company] has raised [$$$] and is doing [some feature] then it must be the right thing to do. It’s easy because it seems low risk. But you’re mostly reducing short-term risk at the expense of long-term growth.

Some related concepts worth noting: