I used to have a paper route when I was in 6th grade. I would deliver the daily paper for San Jose Mercury on my route on the Cupertino/Saratoga border. I actually kept it for a few years and handed it over to another kid in the neighborhood when I got to high school. These don’t seem to exist any more as kids’ jobs, in fact I haven’t seen a kid on a bike delivering a paper in years. Like 20 years. Adults now do it from their cars, cover a bunch of different routes, and make a decent wage. But I digress. I loved it. You’d be up early in the morning before the rest of the people had woken up…say around 5 am. I’d ride my bike to the corner of Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road and Prospect where the papers were dropped off at Jake’s Pizza. I’d sit there on the cold ground and fold each paper, put in any inserts, and even put them each in their own “Weather or not, we deliver” bags to keep the paper dry if it was raining. By 5:30 or so, I’d be on my first cycle, meaning I’d have packed the pouch thing that hung over my neck and held about 20 papers in the front and 20 in the back. On a normal day I could do my entire route in just two shifts meaning I’d only have to come back to Jake’s to reload once and then I’d be done. Usually I’d be back at home before 7am and be ready to go to school. The biggest pain though was Sundays. Instead of 20 on each side of the pouch, you’d only be able to fit six or maybe eight per side because they were so huge. The pouch was heavy, you’d have to keep going back to Jake’s to reload and you’d finally be done after a few hours of this.
The good news was you’d make real money. As a 12 year old, making $150 per month was great cash and the experience was actually really fun. I loved cycling by homes with their lights off and seeing a rare person getting up at 5:30 or so to get to work. It was peaceful, quiet, and you felt super independent. I always felt older than my age when I was working hard, earning money, and doing something that seemed totally crazy.
One of the things that I learned though, was that anybody can do virtually any job. There were paperboys before me and paperboys after me. Everybody got the papers to the houses usually on time. But the guy who trained me told me to “porch” every paper. He said that the tips were better and that he’d been doing it for years so now the customers expected it. What this meant though, was that you had to stop your bike at every house, get off, walk up to the house, and place the paper on the porch of the customer. It slowed you down…a lot. Others would just peddle by on their bikes, reach into their bags, and toss the paper on the house’s driveway as they sped off. As I was porching every paper, I wondered if it was worth it, etc., but then I had my first round of collecting and I understood the power of taking the extra step to provide excellent service. The act of “collecting” for a paperboy involved going around at night to the houses on your route and knocking on the door to try to get the subscriber to pay for their month’s worth of service. Nobody paid in advance, nobody paid by credit card. You literally had to track down 80 different subscribers every month and get them to give you $10 or write you a check. It was a pain (but fun…a lot of times when folks paid cash we’d go straight to Jakes for pizza and Asteroids).
The point of this rambling post though, is that I realized the value of providing great service when I’d collect and talk to the customers. They were so appreciative of having the paper on the porch every morning. They raved about it. They tipped me a ton, and they trusted me and cut me some slack if I ever needed it.
As I look at products being sold today, I look for the equivalent of “porching” the product. You know it when you see it. You are using a product, go to some small part of the product, and see that it was super well thought out and created to delight you. I remember when I first used the calculator on the first iPhone. I accidentally turned it sideways and it turned into a scientific calculator. I was amazed. Obviously the calculator wasn’t a key part of the core “phone” service, but when I saw that I knew they put a ton of love and care into every part of the product. They “porched” it. I’d advise this to any startup or product company…go the extra step and amaze your users. I’m also not a believer of the Minimum Viable Product philosophy as I think you miss your best chance to amaze a user…that being their first impression…either that or my definition of “Minimum” is a lot more than bare bones. Either way, porch the paper and make everybody happy.