Colin Nederkoorn

What is Soylent's 'job to be done'?

Clayton Christensen a Harvard professor is well known for his ideas around the “job to be done” – what we hire products to do for us.

One of his more famous examples which he talks about in the video below is “The Milkshake Experiment”.

In the video, he describes when a fast food chain was trying to figure out why so many people buy a milkshake in the morning in the drive through but order nothing else.

What they found was that the job people were hiring a milkshake to do, it did better than any other food they sold.

  • People were usually driving, and a milkshake isn’t messy and can go through a straw.
  • People had a boring commute alone, and enjoying the milkshake made it more tolerable.
  • Because it’s so thick, the milshake lasts a really long time.
  • Because a milkshake is so filling, they weren’t hungry soon after.

… I think there might have been a few more reasons, but you get the idea.

That got me thinking about Soylent, a milkshake-like food product that’s designed as a meal replacement. It’s a very polarizing food and some of you I’m sure hate it with a passion, but bear with me and let’s look at it dispassionately for a second. I was curious and ordered a 4 week supply. That’s 84 servings of Soylent. I’ve probably had it about 25 times by now.

So what does Soylent do well?

  • It’s filling. Having a serving of soylent keeps you satiated until the next meal.
  • It’s relatively cheap at just over $3 a serving.
  • It’s easy - just added water and throw it in a blender.
  • It doesn’t go bad quickly.
  • It’s nutritionally complete (arguably).

In fact, Soylent fills many of the same needs that the milkshake does in Clayton Christensen’s example (other than providing pleasure on a boring commute).

Soylent’s job for me is if I eat it for breakfast, I can be guaranteed I won’t be hungry until lunch and won’t get mentally fatigued by then either. It’s a great alternative to grabbing a muffin or croissant at a coffeeshop which leaves me hungry in an hour and hangry by lunch time.

I wouldn’t view it as the answer to world hunger, but heck, it’s better than having a milkshake for breakfast.

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