Back to home

Don't focus on building ethical products

Faizan Patankar on 2 February 2020

...build the right product for your target market. And build an ethical business.

I first came across Klarna sometime in 2019.

It provides online financial services such as payment solutions for online storefronts, direct payments, post-purchase payments and more.

To most folks, it means, you buy now, pay later.

It makes money by charging the storefront owner for providing this service. It's rumoured to get around £4 in every £100 spent by the customer.

And there are other players like Klarna that offer similar services.

Here are some facts about "buy now, pay later" model:

  • it increases the debt of the buyer
  • increases the average order for retailers
  • frees up cash flow for consumers who might otherwise go to high interest smaller loans

Answer this, is Klarna an ethical product?

Klarna is a perfectly legal business. And I really don't want to dig them. But it intrigues me as to how Product leaders build products that have both positive and negative effects.

We often jump to conclusions of what's ethical and what isn't. Assuming everything is legal.

For me, it's one of the hardest things to get right.

Building data-driven product is important for all businesses. It means using analytics to understand customer behaviour and build things they will use.

Sometimes it means we nudge customers to do a particular action.

Is it ethical to nudge people to make a particular decision, even if it is a good decision (according to you)?

If the answer to the above is no, then everything Greenpeace, charities, and all other "ethical" companies do, is actually unethical. Because their ads and products are built to nudge you to donate money to them.

Now, if you argue that the nudge techniques these above-mentioned organisations use are ethical.

Then what Klarna does is ethical too? They use the same psychology to nudge you to buy something (more).

So what's the answer?

The answer doesn't lie with the product. It lies with us.

I believe we are too often delegating decision making to products that may not always make the decisions in our interest.

It is, in my opinion, not the job of a product company to say what we should and shouldn't do (if the things they do are perfectly legal).

We need to stop making decisions on behalf of other people.

Building products is hard. I get that.

And Product leaders should focus on building the right product for the right market.

My point being, focus on building the right business for the right people. Don't try to build something for everyone, or assume everyone will use it. Make smarter product decisions with regards to abuse of the system.

Rather than doing unethical things, and let's be clear "ethics" is a grey area. What is ethical to you, is unethical to someone else. There are lots of ethical things that we do. Which are illegal.

For example, helping your friend cheat in an exam is ethical. But strictly illegal.

This is a longer discussion, and I will revisit the view. But if you have any views, do let me know, I am keen to learn.