The Butter Thesis

At USV, we talk a lot about our investment thesis.  The USV thesis is a set of ideas that has guided our investing over the years.  It is a tool we use to help ourselves know what to look for, and to help companies who fit into it to find us.

Despite all of the writing we have done on the thesis over the years, some parts of the it remain understood, but unwritten.  One of those is what I like to call “The Butter Thesis”.

“Butter” is the term we use to describe interactions & experiences that are just so smooth.  Rich, easy, delicious.  Hard to define formally, but you know it when you see it / feel it.

Butter can apply to dev tools, enterprise/b2b products, and consumer products.  

Classic examples of Dev Butter are the Stripe API and the Twilio API.  Tools that are just so simple and fun to use (and useful!) that you just can’t help build with them.  Or, the first time you install Cloudflare and your site just gets fast and the DDOS just stops.  OMG Firebase. Takes my breath away.  Or before that, Ruby on Rails and jQuery.  The category-defining tools of each era of development have succeeded in large part because of their Buttery-ness.

B2B Butter is Airtable and Slack (and really, Google Docs, though that’s less exciting somehow).  Or in narrower vertical, Splice.  Or, in a hidden horizontal, Carta.  Tools that make working together so so much easier — like, hard to imagine what it was like before they existed.

On the consumer side, Butter means end-user experiences that are frictionless and joyful.  For example, I recently went to China and was blown away by the QR Code experience — straight butter wherever you go, linking the real world to the online world.  Duolingo is Butter for Learning.  Nurx is Butter for Health.  Coinbase is Butter for Crypto.  Amazon Prime is Butter for e-Commerce.

Building for butter means understanding that every step of the experience can be honed, smoothed and improved, to the point that it’s so good you just can’t take it.  Butter is deceptively simple. A single ingredient that yet does so much. 

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?!  Maybe this is obvious and isn’t that deep. But it is hard to pull off, and truly extraordinary when it is accomplished.

10 comments on “The Butter Thesis”

I had come from using Google Hangouts (now Hangouts Meet) for years, and more recently Slack video conferencing and it was nice to jump into Zoom.

One issue is downloading a native client which Hangouts/Meet skipped but joining meetings with a url is much simpler than requesting access.

Speaking of Nurx saw their commercial I think on CNN last night.

An interesting activity for your next all hands company meeting (with founders investments) held at USV meeting space.

Create a chart of what you think the butter is (what you are saying here in part) and then give those attending the chance to state (without knowing what you said) what the butter is from their perspective.

Then update the chart with ‘what we said…what they said’ etc. If multiple attendees from the same company each gets a chance (no cash no prizes though).

as products iterate, sometimes they become margarine. uber and lyft are two products I really liked using as stripped down products but as they added features and tried to upsell me on different things are clunky.

Nice post. I’d love to see an annual list of ‘butter in tech’ companies that master consumability.

Really love this. Maybe this is a better way to talk about design? i.e. the degree to which all elements anticipate what you might need and respond with copy etc. The China reference is on point – WeChat + QR is butter, they paying as a foreigner was very chunky (dunno what the is the opposite of buttery). Few others have mentioned – a list of most buttery products/services would be great. Somewhat related – the team at Onewheel has always described their firmware upgrades in terms of butteriness or more buttery. Butteriness seems to be a product of deep observation, frequent testing and user empathy.

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