Scrabulous – an awesome product-market fit

Hey guys (if there are any of you still reading this blog)! Apologies for the very long blogging break but as promised in our New Year’s resolution, we’re back! Today I wanted to do something we rarely do here on this blog, talk about another product. My reason for doing so is because it makes a great case study and allows me show my support for this product.

You may be aware of the Facebook application created by two brothers in India taking an age old board game and putting it on the web. You may even be one of those people who spends half of his or her day flexing those vocab muscles conjuring up every permutation of words one can make from 7 letters. If you do, you know what I am talking about. To those who aren’t, I am referring to the Facebook application, Scrabulous. Could anyone have imagined creating an online scrabble game would have so much success?

Less than eight months old, Scrabulous today, has the 5th highest number of active users (655,781) of all Facebook applications and of that list, the highest ratio of active to total users (25%). It’s even one of the more popular applications among Facebook employees. Its growth has been quite staggering and even more impressive is its ability to engage users and keep users coming back. I myself am guilty of having 3-4 active games at any given time and taking increasingly frequent breaks during the day to put down my “bingo”. With Hasbro’s recent demand to shut down the company, users have flocked together to show unprecedented support to keep the application up. The Facebook group “Save Scrabulous” has over 55,0000 users and over 8500 people have signed a petition asking Hasbro retract their cease and desist letter. A few fans even created a humorous and satirical music video as their way to show their love and support for the application:

To achieve this type of a large, passionate and loyal fan base is the dream of any product developer or marketer.

What’s interesting to note, as many of you are probably already aware, is that Scrabulous is not the first online version of the game. Far from it in fact. A quick search on Google for “online scrabble” will result in a plethora of online and downloadable versions of this classic word game. These have existed for years but none have found as many and passionate a user base as Scrabulous. This begs the question, why?

The answer lies at the crux of what makes a successful product. Marc Andreessen wrote a great bit on this a little while ago that I urge you to read. The key to making a successful product does not mean having a perfect product or an extremely stellar team (not to detract anything from what the creators of Scrabulous have done). What matters most is achieving a harmonious product-market fit. This means shaping your product to fit the current trends, needs and demands of the market. A lot can even be attributed to timing; being at the right place at the right time.

In Scrabulous’s case, the product was nothing revolutionary. On the contrary, it was a plain and simple online adaptation of the board game that had been done numerous times before. It was also far from perfect. Those who remember early iterations of Scrabulous will recall how frustratingly slow and unreliable it was (and to some degree still is). The user interface was (and still is) cluttered with intrusive, to the point annoying, ads that detracted from the overall experience and had much room for improvement (and still does). But all this did not stop users from returning or the application from taking off. Scrabulous’s user base continued to sky rocket thanks to Facebook’s immensely viral platform. So why did users continue to swarm to this application?

The reason becomes clear when we examine the market a little closer. Facebook has been seeing an exponential increase in users. It opens up its platform to allow third party developers to create and distribute applications on the Facebook network. Millions of users, hungry for novel ways to interact and engage with their newly created network of friends, start experimenting and adding these new applications as they are being released. Some of the applications are extremely successful while some fail and get buried in the figurative Facebook dust. In comes Scrabulous, an application that allows users to play the classic board game online with their friends in an asynchronous, turn based manner. The game becomes an instant hit. People love the ease with which they can start and participate in games. It provides a new way to interact with friends and play the game with people who may not be accessible to play face to face. The game itself meshes with the typical Facebook user’s profile: high school, college or recent graduate, educated, smart, with a large network of similar friends. The game finds a core of users and spreads like wildfire, thanks also to Facebook’s ability to promote such applications virally via news feeds, user invitations, etc.

The market therefore, was a perfect fit for what the Agarwalla brothers created. It wasn’t that they built a brand new product that took social networking to the next level or changed the way people interacted. They simply saw an opportunity that was ripe for the plucking and took advantage of it. Kudos to their team and the success they have achieved and I wish them luck in their battle against Hasbro.


2 Responses to Scrabulous – an awesome product-market fit

  1. Shafqat says:

    Awesome post… well articulated but more importantly, loved the hilarious video. I’ll embed the video on my blog and credit you guys (if thats ok?). Keep it up.

  2. nihaar says:

    Hey Shaf, Yea absolutely.

    Also wanted to draw your attention to an article on the New York times highlighting these guys:

    Brings up a great point about that I’ll quote here “The board game industry will be forced to adapt, Mr. Mason predicts, just as the music industry has adjusted to unauthorized downloads of songs. “If something’s already out there and proven, the companies should go with it,” he said.”

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