Is your Startup Growing Up?

As you grow up, your needs, wants, ideas and preferences change. Your attitudes change. You change.

The same can be said for your startup organization. The more you grow, the more roles and goals you’ll have. Pretty soon (unless you took an opportunity to fail fast), you’ll need to work more on staying up than starting up. How will you manage your products?

It’s been our experience that product managers have a pretty tricky list of responsibilities (and the product managers we know tell us that, as well). The key to that is community. As you evolve and grow as a product manager, it’s nice to have others at various stages of their product management career that you can lean on, network with, or use as a sounding board. We’re working to help build that community here in Atlantic Canada. Coming soon, we’ll be sharing more details about ProductCamp Atlantic 2014. For now, you can check out the registration site  …and tell us what you’d like to learn more about at ProductCamp – it’s a chance for Product Managers to have a day, and have your say. We’d love to hear from you.

Staying up and growing,

Megann and Steve

Should You Really Stick to Your Knitting?

Do what you know best, and keep on doing it…what does that really mean? It’s a question we’ve been pondering lately, as we watch clients struggling with the need to grow and adapt, and the desire to hold on to what is central to their culture and narrative. Certainly there’s value to concentrating on one’s core competencies. But what is “your knitting”, exactly? Is it flat, straight stitches, carrying on, row-after-row? Or is it a series of complicated cables, winding in and out, never losing the path but requiring extreme effort to follow? Perhaps it’s a crazy, multi-coloured pattern, like fair isle – traditional, yet different every time. For knitters, it can be all of these things, and more. So the idea that “what you’re best at” can be only one thing is an over-simplification of the concept. 

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Knitting, at its essence, is comprised of two simple stitches: knit, and purl. Similarly with your business or product, there is something fundamental to which you should hold fast. But this doesn’t mean for a minute that there isn’t room for growth or change. Apple, for example, built computers that were simple, beautiful, and easy to use. Yet no one today would think of them simply as “a computer company”. So at your next strategy meeting, when someone says you are straying too far from the status quo, and suggests you might want to “stick to your knitting”, make sure you know what that means. Break down what it is that you do to its pure substance, and decide what it is that you absolutely can’t afford to change. Then feel free to change everything else. As long as you don’t lose track of how to knit and to purl…you can be any kind of  knitter you can imagine. 

Helping unravel your challenges,

Megann and Steve

 

What’s Next for Your Product? A Tree Can Help you Get it Right!

Iterate early and often? Absolutely. But each version change to your product (or products) has the potential to move you further and further from your brand’s core. Eventually your brand looks like a copy of a copy of a…well, you understand. Your messages lose resolution. Your mission lacks clarity.

How do you keep that from happening? We like to use Innovation Games(r) to solve problems, and better yet, to prevent them. In the case of the problem we’re considering today, our clients love it when we play Prune the Product Tree to work through their product roadmap or brand strategy.

Imagine the trunk of the tree is your brand. This is your core. Your heart. Your promise. The thing that supports everything else you do. It should be immutable and unchanging. As you add leaves, flowers, or fruit…make sure they fit with your trunk. If your company is a birch tree, you aren’t going to turn out any apples. Once you’ve mapped out your “where’s next?”, think about the roots of your tree. They’re all the systems and structure that keep you upright, supporting your trunk and enabling everything you do. If your root system is insufficient, the leaves and blossoms will wither…and eventually even the trunk will succumb.

This simple but powerful metaphor is one of the most useful games in our toolkit – it’s helped us help many of our clients stay true to their purpose, and it can help you, too.

Solidly yours,

Megann and Steve

Get Out of the Building!

We had a chance to see Steve Blank in conversation with a couple of hundred entrepreneurs and their ilk on Friday, at Canada’s Business Model Competition. To be precise, he was chatting by video conference on a giant screen with Drs. Mary Kilfoil and Daniel Boyd, at Halifax’s Rowe School of Business.

It was a wide-ranging chat about all things entrepreneurial, but one of the key messages was the importance of getting out of the building – to talk to customers, of course, but also to just get a fresh perspective, and to look around.

As we’ve done this, we’ve discovered that in our corner of the world, at least, entrepreneurship is the new normal. Maybe it’s because we’re attuned to it, but businesses and business ideas are springing up everywhere. Within an easy walk of our home office we have conference organizers, forestry consultants, big data analytics experts, shopkeepers, software developers, and more. So while the prevailing wind of conversation says our province is on a downward trajectory and may soon implode, we’re sensing otherwise. Times are changing, most certainly, but outside of our building, they’re changing for the better.

So as our moms used to say, “you kids, get outside!” You’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover.

Megann and Steve

Your Customers Deserve a License to Play

Even when companies insist that they want to know what their customers really think, believe, want, or need, there is often an innate desire to control the conversation. To argue. To defend. To explain. This can get in the way of true, open expression by the respondent (your customer). Combine this with the wish to ensure every question gets answered, every assumption explored, and any possibility accounted for, and soon you have…a survey. We’ve even seen focus groups, designed for open, creative exploration of feelings and ideas, turn into something more like interrogations – with numbered questions, insistent probes, long lists of information to be rated and ranked, and scales for nearly everything. The problem for the customer is that all of that seems like too much work. To be realistic, your customer simply doesn’t work that hard at deciding whether to investigate, like, or purchase your product. So how can you make your research process more like discovering, exploring, or shopping?

One way is to let your customer play. Serious games (games with a purpose) like Innovation Games™ make it possible for customers to have fun, and still answer important questions. Questions like:

  • How should our product evolve over time to give you the newest features you want or need?
  • Are there older features that aren’t important to you anymore, or that you never really used in the first place?
  • What sort of relationships would you like to see between our brand and the brands of others?
  • How do you want to interact with our company?
  • Do you feel like we really understand you?
  • What other products do you want to use in combination with our product?
  • Can you show us why the features of your ideal solution are important to you?
  • If we can’t give you everything you need right away, what should we give you first?
  • Do you use our product in ways we didn’t expect?
  • Is there something we’re doing that makes it difficult to use our product or service, instead of easy?

The reason games work is that they’re not work! They make the process of finding the answers to big (and small) questions more fun and engaging – for your customer, but also for you. Humans are naturally programmed to lean toward fun over work, so building entertainment into your research process is a proven method to getting excellent results.

Game on!

Megann and Steve

Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim…?

Logic and experience tell us that decisions can never be made on perfect information. Just like buying the latest technological gadget, what has impacted your customers’ behaviour continues to change, even as you are analyzing the latest research into their actions. There will always be one more question you could have asked, or one more angle you could have considered. So what should you do? And how do you know when enough is enough?

The key is to plan, then act. Start with clear objectives about what you’re trying to find out. (READY) That will allow you to put together a strong list of key questions and determine the targets and the methodology. (AIM) As soon as that’s done, execute. (FIRE!) Well-planned questions of any sort will yield better information than adjusting and refining to the point where you’ve long-since forgotten why you wanted to know what you wanted to know, in the first place. And timely information will help you make decisions, and take action, while there’s still an opportunity to have an impact. That’s as close to perfection as you’re ever going to get.

We’ve got customers in our sights,

Megann and Steve

Every Brand Needs a Story, Don’t It?

When Steve was a teenager, many moons ago, one of his favourite albums was Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells a Story”. It is generally regarded by critics as the greatest album of his career, and included such standards as “Maggie May” and “Reason to Believe”.

He was thinking about it the other day as we were wading through a huge number of primary and secondary data studies trying to develop a concise report to assist a client in developing their 2010 brand strategy. We’re looking for the “story” of the brand.

It strikes us that “Every Picture Tells a Story” gives the guidance that we need to help them understand their brand, develop their strategy, formulate the tactics and execute them flawlessly.

Too often we see clients living by the “Reason to Believe” model: “If I listen long enough to you, I’ll find a way to believe that it’s all true”. They want to persuade the customer to buy their product by bombarding them with messages at ever-increasing frequency.

We believe that a more effective model is to engage your audience with the story of your brand, and like every good story the more you can make it relate to the listener’s experience, the more engaged they will be. As you develop the story of your brand, pay attention to what your customers are telling you, and how they are telling you. During our last blog, we talked about language, and the importance of communicating to your customers in their words. It’s all a part of the telling of your story.

When you have the chance to listen to your customers, have them sing you their songs, show their pictures, tell their stories. Try some less formally structured interactions, painting, collages and games. We recognize the need to have the numeric indicators of business success, but the greatest measure of success is when you customers open their hearts to you and let you engage their emotions.

If you paint a picture of your brand in a way that your customers can relate to, it will tell your story in a way that 32 point bold type never can. So our advice to you is:

  • Provide lots of ways for your clients to talk to you
  • Let your customers tell you about yourself in their way
  • Use your customers’ stories to develop your story, telling how you can help them
  • Tell your story in an interesting way that will engage them in continued conversation

And don’t forget “every picture tells a story, don’t it?

We’d like to hear your story. Feel free to post a comment, below.

Steve and Megann

With thanks to Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood and Tim Hardin, whose lyrics we quoted.