Category Archives: Advice for Start Ups
Here are six themes that recurred:
1). Where is it you personally are trying to go?
I asked a number of founders where they actually wanted to go with their product – what was their personal vision? Some were after an exit and others wanted to be the CEOs of their business seeing their roadmap through to highly profitable businesses.
The responses were interesting in that not many had considered this question and once we played out the various answers, the relevance of asking the question early on became apparent. For example, take a business offering software packages to automate accounting processes: If they were building to sell out to one of the big four, they are more likely to focus their product set and proposition to client and personnel within those large organisations. If they were to be a self-managed independent business, they might be more likely to adopt a licence fee business model that caters for smaller sized firms and even to consider targeting the end clients / companies who employ the accountants, with offers that could reduce their accounting fees.
2. The Gift of a Physical Offering in a Digital Space
If your offering has a physical element to it there are a whole range of opportunities open for you to engage with and market to your end customer. Example: a “find a flatmate” business – why not set up a Meet Up group that invites those looking for flatmates to get together and meet each other? What a great way to find out what questions they ask each other – informing the questions you are going to build in to your online / mobile form. You will also be able to spot trends that help you to identify your market segments – as an example, perhaps this is very attractive to females of a particular age and situation?
It is interesting to draw a parallel with Match.com, who started fully online and have now integrated physical meetups and events to bolster their offering. As an ongoing strategy, having a physical element to your offering helps people to engage more deeply with your brand as they meet you, feel the atmosphere that you create and at the same time, help you to develop your offering. Win Win!
3. Understanding all the People in your Universe: People Centred Innovation
As we try to identify our target user and customer, we also come across different people that are in our scene / our “universe”. I tried out a quick exercise where some of the founders listed out the different groups of people that are in their universe. These are not necessarily customers or users, but potential collaborators, influencers and people in the value chain. Understanding all of these different people is incredibly useful. Profiling who is in your scene is an important piece of research – it can challenge what category you have put them in to – perhaps you discover new distribution channels or new end customers. This really can only be carried out in person. Look in to the eyes of people; feel their emotion; see their response; understand their motivation; then you can talk from a position of knowledge rather than assumption. I guarantee you will always find out something that you didn’t know.
Example: A discussion around the accounting landscape identified that a group initially thought of as potential customers could actually be a distribution channel.
4. Start on your Doorstep
The start up London scene is immense – with so many accelerators, courses, incubators and so on. If you are lucky enough to have a proposition where your target user is in this scene already, then it is somewhat of a gift – you are already on the inside! For example, the people that run the FFWD London programme are linked with a lot of the other players on the scene and no doubt have ways to get to the various co-ordinators of the many programmes and their databases. So, use it!
Another variation on this theme of doorstep starting with a fashion duo working on a new idea to offer affordable but high end dresses. They suspect their prime segment to be working women in their early 30s – many of whom you will find in this scene – a great place to start. An interesting follow on question came from this fashion duo – they knew that it was not a great idea to carry out early concept testing with their friends – although they are target market. The advice in this case is to ask friends and colleagues to introduce you to someone that fits their particular profile, so you are quite rightly more removed from the respondent.
5. Opening the Kimono
Creating an MVP is critical to getting your product out of the door. As we all know, it enables you to gather early feedback, create an early adopter base who will help co-design your future product and it starts your brand journey. I found myself encouraging some of the founders to be bolder in their brand vision. I think that it is good to sell a vision as long as you are not making promises to deliver particular functionality in specific timeframes.
Example: An App that enables restaurant go-ers to find out more about the menu is part of a broader vision to bring smaller restaurateurs the kind of analytics that are available to larger establishments, without the accompanying price tag. The business model is that the restaurant will be paying to be on the system. So why not sell them the broader vision; they are an early adopter of the first feature set and the intention is that they are in for the long haul journey.
Open the kimono – give them a flash of what you have – there is a strong marketing message associated with being the first in. Often benefits (usually price related) will follow for them in the longer term. Again, these early adopters will be the ones that inform your future product. Stay close to them. There is no harm with labelling your MVP – “BETA” is a known and accepted label for example – it means that there may well be clunks and a limited product set as this is an early stage of the product.
6. Don’t hide your Light under a Bushel
I met three founders who were building products based on their own insider-industry experience. With so much digital innovation out there, it is really important to show credibility and not be afraid to shout about it!
Example: One of the founders is 25 and is building an online training offering for entrepreneurs of “lifestyle” businesses. It sounded initially clichéd, with concepts like “gamification”. I boldly asked his age and what experience he had that qualified him to be coaching others. He went on to tell me (in a very modest way) how he had built up three successful offerings all profit-generating. I suggested that part of his elevator pitch would be to start with a bio of his top three successes (I don’t apologise for always thinking in threes!). Instant credibility. Not just another online training platform: a business built around sharing his personal experience.
We got in to one of my favourite discussions at one of my DIY User Research workshop at FFWD London. I demonstrated how to run a number of different types of research and had the group practice for themselves. One great question was around how diligent to be on fixing user experience glitches.
Years of research with the youth market has shown that they do not necessarily like to use products that are too “scripted” – at the extreme, experiences that have in-built tutorials. They tell me that half the fun of starting to use a new app or product is to work out how to use it. That is part of the “game” (their language). They enjoy learning how to use a product and are happy to find their own way around. So fixing every single little glitch might not be a good thing to do – crazy though it may sound.
Now having said all of that, I need to temper it
1) “Hygiene” processes need to be as simple and pain-free as possible. Examples of “hygiene” being registration, sign in, and most importantly, payment! Serious impact for your business if there are any issues here.
2) It does somewhat depend on the product and the segment. If you are a mobile banking app, people are using you for efficiency and convenience – and a glitchy experience is going to put people off and reduce their confidence – the last thing a bank needs. This is also a good example of where you need to think about the segment. My first point above is a younger user, but it would seem that older users, experiencing a banking app would not really find working it out “fun”. Annoying, more like.
3) The product could be SO worth it! My example here is Pinterest. I love Pinterest. It is really useful for me to discover and organise home decor images for my pending house move (fingers crossed!) and I love the convenience of being able to share my boards. There are lots of incidents where I feel that the product is not intuitive and where I am forced through tutorials for new features. But I love it – so useful – and honestly, my love is not diminished by these usability downers.
I love running these workshops – the conversations that flow, the light bulbs that go off and the questions that make me think. Please comment away on this post.
Lack of posts since July as I have been busy developing The Mobile Academy programme for UCL Advances and Mobile Monday London. I write on the launch day – big surprise, awake at 4.30 am! The programme has sold out and there is already a substantial waiting list. (Read more about the brand creation)
The programme is a 36 hour masterclass in how to make it in mobile, delivered by industry experts (many from the Mobile Monday London community) across design, technology and business. It is a great fit with Product Doctor in that it is going to provide very practical information, with hands on sessions ,where participants are shown a number of tools that they can start using immediately.
- experiment & problem solving
- form follows function
- unity of design & technological innovation
- streamlined, simple elegance
You can follow progress on Twitter @Moblacad and also check out the News page.
The Mobile Academy is hosted by Mobile Monday London and UCL.
Here’s the report from this year’s Product Doctor Drop in Surgery at OTA 2012.
Another interesting range of products; from making a good old phone call, through to tracking housekeeping budget, m-health to enhanced status posting and finishing with around the world travel.
From what I saw in the surgeries, a few trends were certainly coming through:
- incorporation of scanning technology
- the continued growth of products to support social networking status posting
- m-health becoming a reality
- increased adoption of value added mobile services by the corporate market
- revenue models from businesses rather than individual spend
Diagnosis hinged around some familiar threads –
1). End User Validation– making sure that user insights are gathered at concept phase and continued user testing continues. The point, as always, is that this is not just usability testing, but testing that the overall concept you have. Identifying user need and desire, supporting revenue models and product feature set all need to be validated before you go and build your product.
2). Ensure it is a Genuine End User – friends, family, established business contacts and friendly existing customers do not count – they don’t want to upset you. Remember also, that you are not representative of an entire segment – building something on your own needs is not validation.
Please see “DIY User Engagement” for more guidance.
3). Revenue Modelling – Really think hard about where the pots of money are; this year there was more talk about collecting and providing customer information to brands and generating sales leads for brands. In this climate and market, a product really has to be amazing for an end user to want to pay for it.
4). Know your competition – make sure you understand who is vying for your customer money or attention. Think hard about what you think you are selling and question whether it is already being provided today.
5). Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Technology brings many new opportunities and there are some very clever developers out there, but please check out the commercial bases before you give up your job and start building a new product.
There are a couple of other points that struck me this year. I thought about how useful it could be for my patients to hear each others session. Some have experience in areas that others have not and that “share” could have been helpful. Tying this together with some feedback last year that this felt more like “product therapy”, I am wondering about running group surgeries next year…
I was asked by Bill Best, a valued former colleague from my one2one days, to help create a new venture: an independent firm of seasoned mobile practitioners looking to pool their experience and skills. I took on the task of coming up with a name, logo and website in time for launch at Mobile World Congress 2012.
1. Starting with the potential clients
Of course I started by interviewing some potential clients – senior decision makers of choice companies we‘d love to work with across different areas within the mobile ecosystem. “Speak freely… no hard feelings,” I said. Our interviewees didn’t hold back, offering up honest, sometimes brutal feedback which was exactly what we wanted.
The research started with 7 statements of what we thought we could offer – our value proposition. The questions for respondents were
a) Does this remind you of anyone else?
b) Who have you worked with in this space – what did you like and not like about the experiences?
c) Why might you engage outside consultants?
d) How do you make your supplier selection?
e) Rate each of the 7 statements – how important are they as our value proposition
For obvious reasons, I cannot publish the insights, but I can say that as usual, each conversation took a really interesting turn. We found out some common issues with consultants, our perceived key strengths, potential risks and market opportunities.
I presented the insights back to the group with a revised value proposition. It was really important that we all felt we could sign up to the proposition. We were very clear about what we did and did not want to do. In addition, we worked through our tone of voice – how did we want to be perceived and how did that map to what our respondents had told us.
The User Insights gained from this initial research were key to helping us start the process of building our brand; and now help inform and drive every decision we make around branding, strategy and communications.
2. Finding the Name
I then brought in Katrina Damianou to help establish our brand tone and visual identity. We were looking for a name that was clean, elegant, short and memorable. We also favoured names as near to “A” as possible. Based on one of the key insights from the interviews, we began by working on “Explorer” analogies – playing with words such as “light”, “pilot”, “path”, “torch”, “polar” “route” and guide”, however, these analogies are widely used; and also felt very “done”. We hit a dead end. Katrina suggested a brand brainstorm. Known as “Forced Relationship” this is a fun exercise that forces you to think of your organisation’s brand in terms of another product or service.
Asked, “If your company were a brand of coffee, which would it be?” We were inspired by Monmouth Coffee – something of a favourite with coffee lovers “in the know”; purveyor of speciality coffee, one of the first London coffee shops and with clear, elegant, simple branding. Their name is derived from the street in Covent Garden on which their first shop opened. We loved the street name concept and started searching out possibilities for our own company. Very quickly, Azenby cropped up. It instinctively felt right.
As well as starting with an “A”, the name is an excellent fit with our original Explorer analogies:
• “AZ” = A-to-Z = map /directions = we can help you navigate the mobile landscape.
• The As and Bs = the alternatives = The As and Bs (and A to Z) of mobile = what we know and what we can offer.
We also really like that:
• “ZEN” – implies “relaxation” – serious but relaxed = That’s our style.
• “BY” (pronounced “be”) = to be present & current = Yes. Always.
• Azenby Street also happens to be in Peckham, where Founder and CEO Bill Best grew up. Which is quite a nice little tie-in we thought.
3. Design remix: Creating the logo
We appointed graphic artist, Stuart Crawford, at Inkbot Design to design our visual identity. Armed with a fully-comp creative brief and mood board, Stuart got back to us with a bunch of creative concepts within a week. Here’s the first logo we picked out:
We loved the “beacon” above the “y” (we named it the “beacon” as in: the light on top of the lighthouse a torch that guides the way). We were also into the edgy-looking “z”. We also liked elements from this concept:
The split “A” in this logo reminded us of an arrowhead, symbolising the “direction” we offer clients. And we really liked how the same arrowhead, inverted, could be used to construct the letter “Y”. We were also excited by the observation that Stuart had used the very same arrow to form the shape of the beacon insignia from the first logo concept. Brilliant, we thought; let’s combine the two logos and see what comes out. Et voila! The eventual Azenby logo was a veritable mash-up of two original designs and we love it!
“If Azenby were a type of food, what food would it be?” “Sushi”, we replied. Why? Because sushi is understated, minimal and intricately constructed from the finest, freshest ingredients. Sushi thus became our inspiration for the Azenby colour palette. Introducing: our main colour, Tuna Sashimi Red; and our accent colours, Rice Grey, Wasabi, Seaweed, Prawn, and Salmon.
5. Developing the Website
With the help of Todd Halfpenny at Gingerbread Design, we took all the visual elements Stuart had created and the user insights and got to work on our website. Katrina produced the copy, establishing a tone of voice to support our visual identity. As the entire look and feel of the site is, of course, based on our user insights, we’re delighted that, so far, the feedback we have had has picked up on some of the key points we aimed to get across:
“When I look at your Home Page I want to read more”
“You look very different from other consultants – they look like they use the same template and mostly say the same things”
“It’s clear from the content that there is a lot of experience here”
“It is clean and simple…”
“Very open and transparent approach”
And that is the story of how we got to Azenby’s name, branding and proposition. Not that our work here is done. We want to ensure that the Azenby brand remains fresh and relevant. With this in mind, we’re continually listening to our clients and taking their feedback on board.
You can keep up with progress at www.azenby.com. A final thanks to Katrina, Stuart and Todd for being a wonderful virtual team – and I would recommend their services to everyone.
If you like this story and need any help with your brand and proposition, please do get in touch!
Last week I mentored 13 start ups in 2 days at Start Up Weekend Education London (#swel) and at Ignite100, where Katrina and I ran a Product Doctor Drop In Surgery for the teams in Newcastle. One of the consistent themes was that teams were not thinking about their Launch Strategy early enough. If you read the below, you will see how important it is to do so and how it needs to be considered during the Product Development phase rather than aftewards.
Diagnosis: Your product feels like all things to all people
This can be a dangerous position as it is difficult to focus in a way that enables you to understand who your end users are. This distance between the product and its end users is likely to result in feature overload, lack of clarity in the product description, product positioning and launch plan which will ultimately limit your success.
Feature overload increases your time to market. The more features, the longer the product development time, the longer the testing time is and the longer the fix period. It also adds time to future development time as regression testing takes longer.
Lack of clarity in the product description, product positioning and launch plan may not “speak” to end users in their language as you don’t know what language they speak. If they don’t feel targeted it will be more difficult to get them interested in your product.
Then the million dollar question: “How are you going to drive traffic to your site?” If you don’t know who you are targeting, how can you possibly work out how to drive traffic? Of course everyone talks about the industry press and blogs – but will this reach your target group?
Be really good in one area first. Consider organising your product roadmap around product launches to different sectors / areas, each backed up with a tailored feature set.
Work closely with your end user target segment to not only establish the feature set but also develop ideas for product positioning and launch tactics.
For your initial launch, select an industry sector / area that you have some connection to already. Either you have worked within it, or you already have contacts who you can get close to, giving you access to end users to engage in the ways described above throughout the development process.
You can show your product feature list to users (worded in user-friendly language of course) and have them put the features in order of desirability. Ask them not to rate any features that they are not interested in. You should see some consensus forming quickly as long as you have defined your target segment well. You can also get them to indicate where the features are a hygiene factor (they just must be there) vs something that feels it is different to the competition. Note that it is not who you think your competition is, but who your users think your competition is.
Cross tab this feature list against a scale of how easy / difficult the product is to deliver (Scrum processes involving points to show this is advised). Cross tab this further with some benchmarking and make sure that the sector / area you choose does not already have a popular solution. Ensure that you work with end users to establish where any competitors are strong and weak. Establish your product feature set and positioning around these insights.
For more tips on “DIY User Engagement”, see my previous blogpost.
The product was being centred around insights gathered by the CEO through general conversations with potential end users. My concerns with this were:
- The potential end users were not budget holders and therefore could not eventually make the decision to purchase the new product. So in this case, research around the benefits of the product should be also carried out with budget holders – seeing if there is a case to make their organisation more efficient / productive / profitable as a result of adopting this product.
- The potential end users had genuine pain points that needed solutions, but the prototype was a number of months down the line and no one had been back to those potential end users to see if the solution being developed was addressing their need. As I always say, you don’t need to wait for a prototype to continue your dialogue with users. You can talk about what they would want the product do to and why – build up the bank of “user stories” (Scrum reference) and get those prioritised before you begin your build.
- The CEO may well not be the best person to talk to end users. Classically CEOs are strong characters; leaders who are passionate about their product. An end user may well not be comfortable to say “no” to a person like this! It takes certain personality traits and practice to be good at gathering user insight.
The very talented developer was building up the prototype from sketchy top line requirements written by the CEO. He was injecting a large dose of filling in the many blanks with clever code that enabled the product to do all sorts of things that had never been done before. But was this functionality that the user wanted and the budget holders would agree to buy? Nobody knew.
Diving in to the feasibility (technical capability), working up the viability (scalability) and then establishing desirability (the user need) is the trap. This is how many companies end up with a product that may technically work well but does hit the sweet spot with users. They then often then find that they are continually customising the product for individual clients, which is not cost effective and not scalable. Another classic result of this approach is feature overload – features built in to a product that are never used – again resulting in wasted resource. This model needs to be reversed and you need to start first with desirability.