Ryan Lawler

2 March 2020

3 min read

This video is a part of our ClassroomX educational series on the nuts and bolts of building a startup today. From defining your business model to growth, product strategy, and building your community, these 15 lessons by domain experts aim to equip young founders with crucial insights to transform their early-stage products into viable businesses.

How to build products as a cultural reflection

The online market place is a frenzied environment. Social products — and most products generally — rarely reflect our shared culture, and instead serve to fracture it. But online groups can reflect cultural trends and help to coalesce non-cohesive ideologies.

What you'll learn from this lesson:

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About Reggie James

Reggie James is the co-founder of Eternal, an avatar-based social network launching in 2020. He was previously an analyst at Uber, specifically at JUMP bikes, and a product manager at Dreams.tv, a live TV network for the internet.

Turn private beliefs into public expression

First, products need to reflect culture, which Reggie defines simply, as "expression x belief." To do this, products must channel the specific expressions and beliefs of particular social groups. This idea is fundamentally about instilling a sense of shared community and voice through product.

"I think this is one of the most powerful things that someone can do," Reggie says. "I think the largest opportunity in today's product landscape is [forming] this definitive sense of how the world works."

The upshot is that products have to reflect the opinions its builders have about the marketplace — about technology, about society, and about what progress with technology looks like.

"Have your opinion, put that into the product," Reggie says. "You should have an emotion while building this thing or else when someone experiences that thing, they're not going to have any emotion. You'd rather have 100,000 people hate it, but at least they feel something."

Align on the edges and restructure our crowds

Entrepreneurs also need to understand market dynamics. Where there is a cultural center — like the hottest club in New York City — there are always up-and-coming movements at the margins ready to replace them. For example, he says, once-obscure Brooklyn nightclubs, like House of Yes, have recently overtaken Manhattan mainstays as the new cultural centers,

In the technology world, Reggie points to companies like Slack as indicative of how companies connect with their customers.

Slack was ultimately successful because the company took a risk at the margins. "A lot of big names passed on Slack very early in its life," Reggie says. "Slack was weird. It was just, 'Listen — email? Yeah, that's dead.'"

To develop scalable solutions, entrepreneurs need to be willing to ride marginal cultural movements to their future high-water marks. The team had Slack identified how to fit into a changing marketplace. "It was a paradigm shift on how we viewed workplace technology, and that's the important thing," says Reggie.

Literally become the representation of a cultural group

When a product successfully aligns at the edges and reflects the beliefs of a cultural group, a remarkable thing can happen — that product becomes synonymous with the group itself and enjoys widespread acceptance.

"This is when you become the central cultural artifact," Reggie says. For example, Nike is synonymous with both athletics and achievement, and the clothing brand Supreme has come to personify streetwear.

Reggie believes that entrepreneurs can't force widespread adoption — but they can encourage it. "Product, especially early-stage and growth, is about creating moments," he says. "You can be intentional on a small scale, and try to make these moments continually, along with the values that you set for the product."

While companies can't count on becoming the next Nike, they can build products that, in their own ways, reflect and amplify the culture around them — helping to align the marketplace with their solution.