April 22, 2006

A shout out to the Rhapsody team with backstory

Thanks for fixing the Rhapsody Player so it works on Intel based Macs. Thanks to your hard work I've got my sweet Rhapsody back.

While I'm a tireless iTunes + iPod pimp because it epitomizes simplicity and elegance, iTunes isn't the center of the music universe. If I've already got the music, iTunes and iPod is where I play it. No question. But when I want to discover new music, Rhapsody is the only game in town. Without Rhapsody, my iPod would go stale. When someone tells me about a new song I've got to hear, the only simple way to hear it and the band's other tracks is Rhapsody. iTunes's stupid 30 second sample limit is like getting one random taste of a seven course meal. How can I buy something if I don't know I'll like it? Rhapsody lets me explore the track, album, band, and other bands with music in the same vein as the new tune I'm sampling. Rhapsody is this amazing experience where I start listening to She Wants Revenge at 11pm and end up listening to Paul Oakenfold at 3am with some cool but previously undiscovered musical thread running between them. If I like anything I find on that thread, then I go to iTunes and buy it or try and find it in the used bins @ Rasputin.

Music is about discovery, and the only way to discover new music is Rhapsody.

So now the backstory...

I loved Rhapsody so much that I went to work there. The idea of merging iTunes's simplicity with Rhapsody's discovery was the kind of design challenge I couldn't resist. Throw in some incredibly amazing innovations that would have rocked your world, and that was what we were working on. Sadly, things just didn't work out for me and many others who joined my team. The why isn't appropriate for a blog, but Real taught me an important lesson about design.

Due diligence about a potential employer's management team is a sometimes unobvious but critical part of your success as a product designer there.

Great ideas worked on by great people can still fail if your management team is missing the great adjective. When you see an amazing product appear at retail, it is more than what the product team that created it gave. It is the sum of the product team's tireless effort, the marketing team that promotes it, the logistics team that delivered it to market, and as importantly, the executive team that understood it and fostered its development. When you get ready to join a company, look at more than the compensation you'll command, the freaking awesome solution you'll work on, and the team that you'll sweat blood and tears with. Without these things in hand, you'd be a soulless minion. But these are the tactical issues to evaluate. You must also examine, understand, and be in alignment with the management team that will make the tough, strategic decisions about your product. While you might not feel you have the context to do the diligence about the management and direction of a company, you need to stretch out and learn how to do it. A man can be a master shipbuilder, but the best ship built without the context of the sea it will be sailed on will probably sink. You must learn how to evaluate the sea you'll sail on as a product designer.

And why the backstory is relevant to this entry...

This hearty shout out goes to the Rhapsody team because IMHO they are great people making an inspired product in a difficult organizational environment. Rhapsody is a/the gem in Real's pocket. I think I speak for a whole group of Real Music employees who came and unfortunately went when I say that we just couldn't figure out how to focus Real on polishing the Rhapsody gem to make it sparkle for millions of music consumers. Some of us were managers intimately struggling to drive the right decisions, others were great team members focused exclusively on the product, but focusing Real alluded all of us to our great dismay.

I learned from many hard lessons at Real. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have worked there and to have met the amazing people I did. I count many new friends from my time there. I'm now happily working at a killer startup in stealth mode, and I definitely applied what I learned at Real to the process of selecting this new company. You've got to have the idea for a great customer focused solution, the right people to turn that idea into a simple and elegant product, and a great management team that shares your drive and vision. I've got all of those now, so I'm excited to be designing again!

Thanks again to the Rhapsody team for continuing your tireless efforts to make Rhapsody the best music discovery experience out there. I can't wait to see what the next version brings ;-) I'm anxiously awaiting the music experience that challenges and potentially dethrones iTunes + iPod.

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