How we build at Scout

How we build at Scout

Last updated May 14 2021 • draft


This document aims to show how we approach building products at Scout. As our approach to building world-class products evolves, so, too, will this document.


Our next milestone is to build a product that delights 100 people.

That's it — that's all we have to do. We can pick the product and we can pick the people. We define delight as:

  • Love the product so much they have shared with 3+ friends.
  • Continue to use the app 30+ days after activation.
  • "5/5" level disappointed if they could no longer use Scout.
  • "10/10" level of excitement to share with friends.



1. Build for delight. 2. Focus on the timeless. 3. Start small. 4. Work backwards from perfect. 5. Be willing to fail. 6. Fail fast, fail forward. 7. We compete with indifference. 8. Every tap is a miracle.

1. Build for delight.


2. Focus on the timeless.

The big ideas in business are often very obvious — but it's very hard to maintain a firm grasp of the obvious at all times. But if you can do that — and continue to spin-up flywheels and put energy into those things — over time, you build a better and better product for your customers on the things that genuinely matter to them. Video interview with Jeff Bezos →

I very frequently get the question: "What's going to change in the next 10 years?" And that is a very interesting question; it's a very common one. I almost never get the question: "What's not going to change in the next 10 years?" And I submit to you that the second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. Video interview with Jeff Bezos →

3. Start small.

We believe the best business start by owning the entirety of a small market. Amazon started with book-readers. "We sell books, but on the Internet." Apple built 50 computers for nerdy enthusiasts. Airbnb started by hosting designers attending conferences. Facebook started exclusively for Harvard students.

4. Work backwards from perfect.

We start with the 10/10 perfect experience and work backwards. Airbnb does this by thinking through the 10-star experience and working backwards from there. Amazon does this by writing a Press Release before a single line of code is written or a single physical product is designed. What about this product will get the user's attention?

5. Be willing to fail.


Successful invention are inventions that users care about. In order to do this, you have to ramp up experimentation. In order to ramp up experimentation, you have to be willing to fail and willing to be misunderstood. Video interview with Jeff Bezos →

6. Fail fast; fast forward.

The path to success is lined with failure. When we fail — and we will — we must move quickly to prove or disprove the core of our hypothesis.

7. We compete with indifference.

Almost every good idea has already been built. Sometimes new ideas are just ahead of their time. There were probably 50 companies that tried to do viral video sharing before YouTube. Before 2005, when YouTube was founded, relatively few users had broadband and video cameras. YouTube also took advantage of the latest version of Flash that could play videos seamlessly. Blog post from Chris Dixon →

8. Every tap is a miracle.

In the age of mass-distraction, every interaction our users have with out product is a miracle. We celebrate the wins when they come and we know that setbacks happen when you're doing something challenging.

Guiding questions

Why do people come?

A clear and strong value proposition and word-of-mouth recommendation are the best drivers for someone to join Scout.

Why do people stay?

We have 1 hour to make users say AH-HA! In a time of mass distraction and shortening attention spans, we must give our users a reason to keep opening the app and to form a habit of coming to Scout.

Why do people share?

While this doesn't have to happen immediately, we must give our user a reason to share with friends (formally or informally). This should be a combination of the product being so good users want to share it and clear incentives for people to share it (i.e. the value of the product increases for the user as more people join the product — otherwise known as network effects).

Why do people pay?

The ultimate sign of us adding value to our users and the sign of any sustainable franchise, our ability to generate revenue is the last question we ask ourselves when building product.

Risk layers

It may be helpful to think of our guiding questions as layers of risk that combine to create a pyramid. Our goal is to confidently go from the bottom of the pyramid to the top in as little time possible (see our Fail fast; Fail forward value).

As a team, we encourage each other to answer the most foundational questions — to mitigate the most foundational risks — before moving on to the next layer.


Level 1: Demand.

Do people come? User demand — that is, offering something people really want — is our biggest and most fundamental risk. 80% of startups never build a product people actually want link. To build an enduring product, we cannot build something our users kinda want or just think is cool. We must build a product our users bang on our doors until they get access level of want it.

Level 2: Retention.

Do people stay? Once it's clear there is demand, we have to give people a reason to keep coming back.

Level 3: Growth.

Do people share? The pinnacle of any great consumer product, a strong desire to share fuels growth.

Level 4: Monetization.

Do people pay? The result of three solid underlying layers 🙂