What app developers can learn from the lovable Sumo orange: Do less, better
Throughout my career as a product manager, I’ve followed one primary philosophy: Focus your product on just a few things you want to do better than anything else out there — and execute.
My business partner Eric and I brought this approach to ArcTouch when we started building apps for phones in 2008. Clients would regularly come to us with grandiose and complex app ideas with hundreds of features. We helped guide them from the mindset of doing more things to doing fewer things, better.
We had variations of the same conversation dozens of times. “Don’t try to do too much,” we’d say. And we’d draw upon a metaphor that most seemed to understand. We’d encourage them to build an app experience like a steak knife vs. a Swiss Army knife. The Swiss Army knife does many things — yet does nothing particularly well. A steak knife is a specialized tool that does one thing perfectly — and that’s what an app should do, too.
Fast forward to 2021, and the same rules apply. We still have regular conversations with clients about their app’s “minimum lovable product (MLP)” feature set to do a few things better than anything else. I recently wrote about a lovable app experience I had that made weight loss easier than anything else I’d tried.
And, although I spend my days immersed in tech and thinking about digital product experiences, I am always fascinated when I see an example of a non-technical product that succeeds for the same reason. It does just a few things better than anything else.
Meet Sumo Citrus
Walk into any Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods between January and April, and you’re likely to see orange and purple cardboard boxes piled high with strange-looking oranges. The boxes read “Sumo Citrus” and “Enormously Delicious.”
Sumo Citrus was developed in the 1970s by the Japanese agriculture department as a unique hybrid of Satsuma, Orange, and Mandarin varieties. Although they achieved their goal to create the biggest, sweetest and easiest to peel citrus, they couldn’t grow it reliably and abandoned the project 15 years later. A visiting tourist discovered the fruit and brought some seeds back to the United States. After decades of further development, the Sumo is now successfully grown in California’s Central Valley, much to the delight of its growing fanbase — of which I am now one.
My Sumo experience
I was introduced to Sumo oranges a few months ago by a “convert” who shared his praises for the superior fruit. I was skeptical when I saw that they cost on average $1 more than your average orange or bag of mandarins.
But after trying them, I quickly became convinced — and I’m willing to pay a premium for a well-executed product. Anything can be a product (even food), and every product ought to be a lovable one. The Sumo does three things better than any other orange I’ve ever eaten:
- They are effortless to peel
- They are easy to eat without making a mess
- And they are, in fact, more consistently delicious than the competition
The orange equivalent of the steak knife
The creators of the Sumo orange may not have applied agile product management techniques, but the results are arguably the same. They probably didn’t need extensive customer research to identify the main problems found in other citrus fruits. But they did know that if they tackled those few things better than anyone else, they could create a lovable product — in this case, a lovable orange. Like the steak knife, the Sumo orange perfectly executes on its purpose:
Easy to peel — The Sumo has a nub that extends on one side. Think of it as a built-in pull tab. The company calls this a “Top Knot” — and it makes it easy to grab, pull and peel. The orange also has a unique rind that separates from the fruit easily as you pull it.
Easy to eat — The individual wedges separate easily without breaking or squirting juice all over your hands. You can just pop them into your mouth. The fruit is bred to be seedless — because who actually enjoys having a mouthful of juiciness interrupted by bitter seeds.
Sweet and delicious — While taste is typically a matter of personal preference, I think most would agree that Sumo’s hybrid flavor is among the best they’ve tried in an orange. It truly is a wonderfully sweet and juicy blend that’s refreshing and delicious.
What app developers can learn from this lovable orange
Anyone who works in product design and development — including top app developers like ArcTouch — can learn a lot from the Sumo orange.
Like a great app, Sumo oranges strike the perfect balance between utility and delight to become truly lovable.
The “sweet and delicious” qualities of the orange are the utility. In lean app development’s terms, that’s the threshold for an orange’s MVP (minimum viable product). If it doesn’t taste good, then no one will buy it.
However, it’s the “Easy to Peel” and “Easy to Eat” qualities that make it delightful. These are the things that make it different — and turn an MVP into an MLP. It does just a few things better than anything else.
And when you execute — and successfully deliver something better than the competition — a funny thing happens. Your lovable product turns customers into evangelists who help spread the word and drive more sales.
Sumo enthusiasts regularly share their love of the fruit across Instagram and other social media, hyping it to crazy levels during the few months they are available in stores.
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And that’s the only thing I don’t love about Sumo. The lovable orange often sells out too quickly. Now that’s a problem any product manager would love to have.
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