Win, Play and Lose

No matter what product you are building, you can’t be the best at everything.  Spread your resources across all areas equally and you will be average at them all.

So how do you figure out where to focus?

One technique we used at Shop It To Me was called “Win, Play and Lose”.  We divided up all the product attributes we could think of for a product into 3 buckets.

“Win Bucket”: The “Win Bucket” contained the few attributes we thought defined our brand or were most critical to solving a crucial problem (such as accurately showing prices or providing a truly personalized experience).  These were core to our offering and were the key way we separated ourselves from the pack.  They were also what we felt the customer needed from us most.

“Play Bucket”: Many of the attributes we would categorize into the “play bucket”.    These attributes are table stakes — we need to have them to be in the game, but we didn’t need to excel with them.  An example here is web page aesthetics.  Aesthetics are definitely important for an eCommerce fashion company.  When buying fashion, people are not just purchasing clothing: they are buying an image of who they want to be.  But we believed winning on aesthetics alone was not going to win the space.  Instead, it was more of a threshold.  If the store had an aesthetic above a certain level, people would feel comfortable to buy.  If not, they wouldn’t.  The most beautiful site might increase sales on the margin, but after a certain amount we believed there were other attributes more likely to move the needle.  So we set a goal for our aesthetics to be competitive but not to outright win in the space.

“Lose Bucket”:  For at least one third of the attributes we would concede and “lose”, consciously deciding to build a version that was less than average in the market.  These were  not easy decisions.  Many of these attributes we chose to “lose” at are the strengths of our competitors and touted on feature lists.  But excelling at these features would not help us as they were not the main reason people were using our service.    By not focusing on these areas, we instead could double-down on the few attributes where we really needed to “win.”   We specifically used the word “Lose”.  By consciously deciding to “Lose” in an area, we made it clear to the team that it was ok to have a sub-par experience in areas that were not critical to our company’s success.

By dividing the attributes of your product into Win, Play and Lose, you can focus your efforts on what matters — the few most important features or products that help solve your most critical problems and lead to success.



  • No startup can build a product from the beginning that is great at everything. The best new products were great at some things and not so good at others.
  • Rather than trying to be great at everything, consciously choose the few areas where you wish to be great (you want to “win”), the areas where you just need to be competitive (where you want to “play”) and the areas where you are willing to be substandard (where you explicitly decide to “lose”).
  • By dividing your product attributes into these three buckets, you can focus your resources on just the most critical issues to your product’s success.