written by
Tim Cakir

4 Takeaways from the Section 4 Product Sprint

Growth Product 8 min read , March 31, 2021

If you’ve been keeping up with my newsletter you’ll know that I’ve been going through Section 4’s courses and I started with the product sprint. I’m learning so much from these courses, so I wanted to talk about them in my blog.

In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about the Section 4 product sprint, including:

  • Who the course is for
  • What you’ll learn
  • My 4 key takeaways
  • How to put these ideas into practice

Have you heard of Section 4? If not, here’s what it’s all about.

What is Section 4?

Section 4 is an online platform providing quality business education for reasonable prices. By reasonable, I don’t mean cheap - the product sprint costs $750 for two weeks. However, for what you get in terms of content and instructors, the price feels fair.

The platform boasts credible professors from top universities, teaching topics that are hyper-relevant to today’s businesses.

Scott Galloway, also known as “Prof G” is the founding professor of Section 4. He’s a Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern and has founded several companies. He’s also written best-selling books like “The Four” and “Algebra of Happiness”

Section 4 currently has four courses or sprints available - Strategy, Brand, Product, and Platform.

Why the Product Sprint?

The Principles of Winning Products is 2 weeks long and the price, as I mentioned above, is $750. It promises to teach you:

“The psychology, principles and practices behind today’s most successful, sticky, and memorable products”

The class is taught by Adam Alter, another NYU Stern professor, and product expert. It’s a live cohort course designed for entry and senior-level professionals working full time. It’s for “strategists, marketers and product enthusiasts”. Whether you’re part of a product team in a large company or running your own business, you’ll find plenty of value here.

Throughout the course, you’ll do practical work on your own company and product, and you have to submit a final project to achieve the certification.

As I’m working on my startup, Squad One, I felt that the product sprint was the best place to start. I’m intrigued by the idea of “product-led growth” and I believe that even the best marketing strategy and growth hacks in the world can’t make up for a poor product.

At the beginning of the sprint, we were encouraged to think about our goal for the course. For me, that was digging deep to find the “why” behind my product, get clear about the problems I want to solve, and set my company’s product strategy.

4 Takeaways from Section 4, Product Sprint

It wouldn’t be possible to summarize everything I learned from the Product Sprint here because the course was packed full of value. So I’m just going to talk about a few memorable points.

I hope these takeaways will help you when thinking about your product.

Look beyond the “actual” product

I used to think of product in simple terms, seeing it more or less at face value only.

Thanks to this sprint, I’ve learned to see beyond the “actual” product and analyze it on three different levels:

  • Actual product: at a basic level, what your product is.
  • Augmented product: extra, additional services you offer.
  • Core product: the psychological reason why your product exists.

The core product is where things get really interesting. Every product must meet a psychological need to be successful. Here are some examples of psychological needs:

  • The need to see your ideas come to life.
  • The desire to demonstrate your wealth and social status.
  • The goal of becoming the person you always dreamed you’d be.

It’s not always easy to figure out which psychological need your product is serving. Your core should influence everything from the design of your actual product, to your name, branding, positioning in the market, and more.

Here are some real-life examples.

Uber’s core product is convenience, the ability to get from A to B at the click of a button.

Airbnb’s core product is an immersive experience. In any destination, you can live like a local and feel like you belong there.

Rolex’s core product is not a watch, but a status symbol and a display of wealth and success. If you’re wearing a Rolex, people will assume you’ve “made it” in life.

Think about the company you work for, or the startup you’re building. What’s your core product?

What psychological need will you answer for your customer?

Rethink your competition

Up until now, I’d always concentrated on “narrow” competition. However, during the product sprint, I began to identify a lot more potential competitors.

There are four different types of competitors you need to look out for:

  • Narrow: the most obvious competitors that provide a very similar or identical service to your company.
  • Form: companies that provide a similar but slightly different service.
  • Need: answer the same core need for customers, but in a totally different way
  • Resource: aren’t necessarily similar products, but compete for a share of the same budget.

To illustrate this, let’s take Airbnb as an example.

One of Airbnb’s narrow competitors would be VRBO, another vacation rental booking platform with a very similar offering.

Their form competitors could be hotel chains like Mariott or Hilton. They’re also in the travel industry, but offer a different kind of experience.

Need competitors for Airbnb could be a music festival, a carnival, or a cruise. They serve a similar need - for an immersive travel experience - but the method of satisfying that need is completely different.

Finally, resource. Airbnb is competing for a share of their consumers’ leisure budget. They could choose instead to spend that money on Groupon deals, day trips, or dining out.

Now think about your own company. You probably know who your narrow competitors are, but have you considered who fits into the other three categories?

Here’s one of my favorite examples from the course:

One of Netflix’s form competitors is sleep. The resource is the viewer’s attention, and they have a choice - continue watching, or go to bed!

When identifying competitors, start thinking outside the box.

Incorporate gamification and social feedback

We’ve all heard of gamification and the power of social recognition, but do we really know how to build these into our products effectively?

Another key learning from the sprint was that for gamification to work, it should feel authentic and improve the user experience. You can’t rely on it as a sneaky way to get people to use your product.

Gamification goes hand-in-hand with social feedback. People love the element of competition and are keen to know what others are saying about them. These two elements are key to creating great products.

Think about the goals people have when using your product - gamification can be as simple as giving them the ability to track their progress towards those goals.

The language learning app Duolingo is a great example of incentivizing continual use. You can earn points and badges, communicate and compete with other learners.

Headspace also does a good job of motivating you to practice meditation every day, through daily streaks and progress tracking.

Now think about your product and why people use it - this goes back to that core psychological need. Is there a way to help people track their progress and measure themselves against others, in a positive way?

Don’t go overboard with gamification or social feedback. It’s important that these tactics make sense and fit with your actual, augmented, and core product.

Run friction audits

Friction audits are a really important piece of the puzzle when it comes to refining your product.

You have to put yourself in the position of the customer and look out for any points of friction that may cause your customer to abandon the product.

Here are some tips and things to watch out for when running a friction audit:

  • Think about the customer’s journey before they start using your product. You want to look at the journey as a whole, from the first time they hear about you, to when they recommend your product to friends.
  • Document every step in the journey. Anytime you notice a point of friction or something that could annoy your user and cause them to abandon your product, take note of it. You can do this yourself or get test users on board.
  • Pay special attention to how a new user would interact with the product, vs an existing customer.
  • Sharing and paying are two crucial aspects of your product. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to share your product and signup or pay.

When you’ve identified friction points, you have to evaluate the effort vs impact of fixing them. Start with high impact, low effort if possible.

Every time you make a change or add a new feature, you risk creating friction. That’s why friction audits aren’t a one-time thing, they must become an ongoing aspect of product development!

Is it worth investing in the product sprint?

For me, the product sprint was a great investment, and I loved the course and teaching so much that I signed up for the brand and strategy sprints as well.

The price tag was worth it in my opinion and it’s an ideal course for founders, product professionals, and aspiring product managers.

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