Design Think in action

Dusting off the Ecosystemville console… I thought I’d share a great post by a member of my past Developer Evangelism team, Demian Borba. He’s now a Product Manager at Adobe and well, is doing great stuff there!  Read Demian’s insightful post here.  How can you apply Design Thinking best practices to your product?

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Customer, Customer, Customer

This week I traveled down in Palo Alto to attend Relay Ventures Strictly Mobile event thank you to John Occhipinti for inviting us to attend.  The event featured CEO speakers and panelists from Education, Healthcare, Connected Home and Enterprise mobile startups, I noted that one common theme kept being discussed throughout, focus on delighting your customer first & the business model will sort itself out.   In essence customer focus is paramount, without them there is no product or service.

The speakers ranged  from Sal Kahn, founder of Khan Academny, to Ken Gullickson, COO of Evernote.  Sal talked about how even today he is recording new lessons, one or two a day that are requested by email and comments from Kahn Academy students.  Sal described how he just focused on lessons and rudimentary tools before  he had figured out how to run Kahn Academy as a financially sustainable entity.  By keeping focused on what his “customers” ask for, his team of only 40  have acquired a base of  nearly 50 million students/learners.

Ken Gullickson talked about how Evernote keeps improving the basic “free” product and in doing so have reduced customer acquisition costs.  This is  because they see strong evidence that a sizeable percentage of customers who stopped using their free version takes a second look at Evernote.  By the time they do so, Evernote has added even more customer requested features and improved ease of use, hence, they’re  likely to cause the customer to stick, and their data supports this insight.  Ken literally made the point “worry about getting the product right first, it will naturally lead you to the right business model”.

Update: As I’ve been reminded by some old MS buddies, another key lesson from Ken’s talk is what we used to call “shipping is a feature” i.e. knowing when to release the product when it’s good enough and having the discipline to do so is a key skill for any product/service team.  Thanks for the reminder guys!

Too often we get caught up gaming the business model, monetization strategy etc. and forget the basic premise that a happy customer is the overarching goal, we all know what happens in social media in the hands of a not so happy customer.

So, my take away as an evangelist is to always remember that if your startup is wondering about what the right thing to do with your API, your newest program or feature in your tools, as an evangelist you’ve got the best feedback loop in town, your customer, i.e. your developer ecosystem.  Ask them and listen to what they say you should do.  It’s always easier to “sell” something that your customer helped you design be it your product, your platform API or programs, your results will speak for themselves.  Focus on *your* customers.

When is the last time you harvested your forum feedback?  When’s the last time you asked a question on your own forum?

Focus, Focus, Focus on core value

In my Evangelism role I speak with developers and start ups all day, but when the start up is being run by an old friend, I listen carefully.  I’ve had the unique opportunity to observe my friends thoughts over a few years about developing a product or service based on his unique expertise and background over lunch or coffee.  During this time his thoughts evolved from a series of observations, to an idea, and now into a product that’s currently in development with a bunch of eager customers he and the team have already lined up.  What I’ve learned from him is another lesson of the power of focus.

Starting originally with observations of  classic  IT operational problems in big data centers,  my friend and his partners iterated through a bunch of product ideas, beginning with using streaming media and voice communications to monitor IT operations staff.  While doing this they came to a realization that they’d identified a powerful insight that’s driving their product’s core value: most problems they’d encountered are time based with location information and “who did what” being key data items.   Exactly the kind of information that a mobile phone can provide.

Turning a classic IT problem inside out, rather than using traditional data gathering  methods, they use the smartphone as the device that captures and encodes this information for their customers, turning what was a previously error prone and “after the fact” data collection problem into a real-time event creation captured using “point phone at thing (location, document, etc.), push button on UI, done”.  It’s a brilliant application of using the smartphone in a novel way.  By generalizing their observations after talking with a myriad of potential customers, they’ve actually moved to a different initial target market than IT operations.

He’s also applied some Evangelism principals we’ve discussed: like talking to customers early (evangelize early), he’s iterated rapidly on the core ideas (agile), he’s built a lean team (hire to your profile) and now he’s broadening the feedback loop (lunches with dudes like me…).

Looks like a success in progress, because the team is building an innovative product with a laser focus on maximizing via their core value.