Hi, welcome to my session. I’m delighted to be here at Product Camp 2012. We’re going to explore 3 methods that are a little outside the normal product management process to define and build awesome products. This is a condensed version of the talk I gave in December at the SVPMA monthly meeting – if you were there, you’ve seen this. Feel free to attend a new talk – or stay, your choice.
So who am I and why should you listen to my views? I'm Mike Harding, a 25 year veteran of designing, building, and selling products.
Over my career, I’ve designed, developed, and released more than 50 different products, about 2 a year.
I'm co-founder of a startup called re.vu (pronounced “review”,) a radically better resume and a little more - I'll go into more detail about this later in the session. And I have a retail project underway in downtown Half Moon Bay called Oddyssea, it will open up in June of this year.
Why should you listen to this talk? Well, it's one guy's opinion about what works and what doesn't work when designing products; and I've designed more than a few over the course of my career. One thing I’ve always wondered is why there are so many “me too,” mediocre, and downright bad products available. Let’s look at a few of these products…
Microsoft’s desktop paradigm of the early 1990’s, Bob
Digiscent’s, I kid you not, iSmell
Xervac, rent or buy it to apply alternating vacuum and pressure to help you grow hair
Your bare chest is the problem? Then use this handy chest hair toupee.
Here’s Ford’s infamous Edsel, the flop of the ‘Fifties
Anyone care for a New Coke? It did succeed in one dimension, it made us all appreciate Coke Classic!
How about the startup Color, who planned to revolutionize mobile photography and scored $41M in funding with no product and subsequently imploded?
It’s a dreidel. It’s a Christmas toy. Need I say more? How many of you design products?How many of you aspire to design good products?How many of you have ever designed what you thought was going to be a good product, that turned out to be a flop?
These products clearly suck, most products are simply OK. Let’s take a look at 3 ways to get a better result.
This is an advertisement from the early 1900’s for Quaker Oats. Quick, how many squares do you see in this image? Shout it out.6?7?More?
What happens if we rotate the image 180 degrees? Does your answer change? We're looking at the same image, though I suspect your answer is different this time.
Channeling computing pioneer Alan Kay - "A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points." That means we can't use the same old tools, process, and assumptions and expect to get a different result. There are some approaches which invite the participants to open their minds and begin to notice new things.
There are three approaches we’ll cover today:The first is Best Imaginable Product
Next is Design as a Product
And the third is Self as a CustomerLet’s start with Best Imaginable Product
A few years ago, I had the chance to run into this animated Australian gent who teaches at UC Berkeley, Haas School of business. His name is Dr. Peter Wilton. We engaged in sessions around customer loyalty at that time.
He spends time working to help people build great products and his practice to do this is to start with a blank piece of paper, close your eyes, and
imagine the best possible product outside the bounds of budget, market analysis, competition, etc. It's a very simple and a very powerful process.That's the breakthrough. Let's explore how it works. Here's an example from 10 years ago involving air travel.
How many of you enjoy the experience of booking tickets, transport to the airport,
being groped and/or x-ray’d at security,
surviving the boarding process,
And the ritual of abusing fellow passengers with carry-on bags,
enduring the actual air travel complete with surly service, bad food, rude passengers, and a cramped physical space,
the sprint to deplane, to claim baggage, if you dared check it in, the mad rush to the car rental/taxi/hotel shuttle, and the transport to your destination.
How many of you feel relaxed when you've completed such an ordeal?Is your blood pressure up? Mine is just re-living my air travel misadventures.I hate business travel in particular because after you finish the ordeal, you're off to an event or to see a customer and have to be on your "A" game. What if there was a better way?
You start by asking a question:* What are you trying to accomplish by using the product, in this case, air travel?If the answer is that you're going to meet with an important client to provide the overview for your new product, you'll head one direction. If the answer is you're trying to escape Silicon Valley to go to Kauai for vacation, you would head a different direction. Let's take the business meeting direction.Drill a little deeper, what would make this travel the best imaginable experience, yet still allow you to meet the objective of interacting with your client to provide the product overview?Where would you start?Would you attack the booking process? Airport transport to/from? The check-in process? Security? Boarding? The in-flight experience? The baggage process? There are certainly great opportunities to improve and if you cast yourself back 10 years or so, you'll know that many of these things have changed and sometimes even improved.
Think about new entries into the industry like JetBlue. What did they focus on? I'll argue it's the in-flight experience at an attractive price point. There is more room, the entertainment and amenities are better than the standard carrier, the staff seem a little friendlier and perhaps even more competent. I would argue that JetBlue, with their limited routes, has made the actual air travel experience more tolerable. But, best imaginable? Probably not.
How do you know if something is best imaginable? It's when a prospect or customer has an evoked set of one. Where one mentions a product like facial tissue and you say Kleenex or I say cotton swabs and you say Q-Tips we likely have a best imaginable product that defines a product segment or category.Let's try a couple of examples:Sports Broadcasting?
ESPNWho pops to mind when you think of all electric sports cars?
Tesla.These are evoked sets of one, where it’s possible that these products are offering a best imaginable experience at this time and dominating a category.Let’s try another example:Who pops to mind when you think of air travel?
Evoked set of how many? Why?No single carrier has truly achieved a best imaginable state. There are many options and the basis of competition is not experience, but primarily price.Thus they are not best imaginable.
So, let's get back to the air travel example. What is best imaginable?We have to start from first principles, what are trying to accomplish with air travel?Well for me, best imaginable would be not traveling at all.
Again, remember this we're talking 10 years ago, so things like remote meetings consisted of a telephone connection and emailed slides. What if I could host a video conference that allowed me to be there and share my content without ever stepping on an airplane? Obviously there are a number of options to be able to do this today. The point is that answer is not obvious when thinking about a problem in the context of "How do I improve the air travel experience?”You can get to a different point when you have a blank sheet, you start with what you are trying to accomplish, and then imagine what the best experience should be to achieve the desired result.It’s simple, it’s repeatable and it’s effective.
You have to consciously change your perspective and challenge your assumptions and thinking. The Quaker Oats puzzle a reminder to us to do that.This is the power of the "best imaginable" approach. The answer you get could be completely non-linear from the expectations set by a more traditional approach. OK, so you now have the basics of BIP. Let's look at another way to build design something interesting, DaaP.
Next is Design as a Product
When is the last time you heard this about a hotel: The following are comments available on Yelp.
If you haven't read Jay Greene's book, Design is How It Works, you should. He gives 8 case studies on how design impacts products in different segments of the market.
One of his examples outlines Ace Hotels. Have you heard of them? I hadn't.Why is Ace Hotels interesting? I think they are because of how they use two tools in iteration, design thinking and experimentation. The core insight they had is that there is a segment of cost-conscious travelers who value an experience or feeling of a hoteland that these travelers were not able to afford (or perhaps not even interested even if they could afford) the high-end properties and were put off by the cookie cutter low-end hotel options.Instead of creating a rigid roadmap with features and milestones, they visited places that provided the feeling they were looking to create in their hotel. They assembled sets of pictures into story boards and produced the hotel project more like one would shoot a film than build a business. Even that constituted a starting point, they didn't know which property they would be able to acquire and once they got into that building, how to establish the experience. The story board established a true-north to refer to as they designed the experience on the fly.
Their first hotel, Ace Seattle, is a former maritime flophouse just north of downtown. This is the ultimate bootstrap operation, they haven't taken loans or venture capital, they fund from cash flow. That lean approach to creating their hotel meant they couldn't shell out the industry standard $40,000/room for furniture, fixtures, and equipment (that alone would constitute a $1.1M investment to open) nor could they go crazy on renovations to the common areas and services. So, they cleaned it up and left things very much as they were, a little funky but infused with some character.
The rooms were furnished by hitting the local consignment and thrift shops. Material reclaimed from the renovations was repurposed - for instance, old planking was turned into a desk and old pipes became towel racks. Many of the rooms in the property had no private bath, rather a shared arrangement down the hall. The investment was to make things clean, serviceable, and a little interesting. They wanted to create an experience that was like the apartment you wished you had right after you finished university.
The form of the building dictated their pricing strategy $75/night for shared bath and $195/night for private bath. This allowed for younger, cost-conscious travelers to stay in something better than a hostel or Motel 6 at similar prices with proximity to downtown Seattle.
But the Ace team wasn't finished, they continued to experiment and make each room a little different. One of the most interesting experiments they ran was to acquire some old turntables and vinyl records to install in a few rooms. Conventional wisdom would have been to worry about the needles and guest breaking or stealing the records. It turned out that this was one of the most popular things they could do for guests and soon people were requesting the rooms with turntables specifically, they were on to something.Not all the experiments work though. An example was with a table that the team really liked in a local second-hand store. They hired a company to recreate duplicates of the table to install across their property. The result was phony and out of place in their design scheme. So they scrapped those pieces and instead hired a local artisan to use reclaimed material from renovations and other external sources to build tables in the basement of the property. Where the mass produced failed, the artisan succeeded. But it took some iteration.
Once they had the Seattle property up and humming, they expanded into Portland executing the same script.
They repeated this again in Palm Springs (home of the swanky resort) and
now in mid-town Manhattan in New York City. The chain has been cash flow positive since opening and much of that success is from the fundamental approach of keeping things lean, their FFE costs are about $15k/room, a $25k difference from the industry average and that cost differential coupled with the experience they've created
keeps the guests coming back over and over, and helps to win new travelers. So, in the Ace Hotels example, you can see that design can provide for a strong differentiator.Rather than spartan and cheap, you can use design and experiments to reap value and compete in a way that is difficult for others to replicate just like Ace Hotels does.
And again, read the Jay Greene book, Design is How It Works! Let's take a look at our last approach, SaaC.
Let’s explore Self as a Customer
In February, 2011 my former employer had a reorganization of our product teams. As David Bowie would say “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.”Before the reorg, I had responsibility as a business head for our non-bundled, non-embedded software business. After the reorg, that job disappeared and it was clear that I needed to find a new gig.
So, I dusted off my resume and was completely underwhelmed with what I saw. Reflecting on my own experience as a hiring manager, I tend to view resumes as "chronological lists of lies" - in other words, it's a disqualification tool rather than a means for a job seeker to communicate effectively with prospective employers. I thought about my own resume through my own eyes as a hiring manager and thought, there has got to be a better way than this to represent myself.
It started a quest. It turns out the first well known resume was written by Leonardo Da Vinci a little over 500 years ago. And they haven't changed much over the lasthalf millennium.
There have been some improvements and attempts at improvements, there are video / audio resumes (show some bad ones) there is the advent of the online profile (LinkedIn as the best known example) there were some steps taken for personal splash pages (about.me) but nothing really fit the bill.
Adding a photo seems to have been a big deal
Skills and ranking started to come into play
Slight interaction, where areas can be expanded and contracted.
And some visual options have started to appear that primarily unify the various social networking presences one has established.
I started thinking about what I really wanted to see as a hiring manager. Ultimately I’m looking for 3 things: Skills, Passion, and Fit.I want to know achievements, I want to get a sense of the whole person, I want to know the story about that person, I want to understand their specific value add, I want to get a sense of their thinking, creativity, passion, and humanity. And, I wanted to be able to understand at a glance if it was worth engaging that person in dialogue.
We can all agree that a plain old resume fails across nearly all of these dimensions.So, I set out to create something better.
The first idea I had was to create a PowerPoint presentation.
I tried some variations on theme
Trying different ways to represent the “whole” person.
Even trying a baseball card-like format.
And in some versions I started trending toward infographics.
This business of StarWars infographic gave me a clue what I wanted to ultimately produce
I partnered with a designer I know to clean it up a bit and liked the result.This is the document I used during my internal competition for a new roleand I won it. I also circulated it outside Juniper and had many inquiries as a result - a very interesting development.One night over a beer, the designer (now co-founder of re.vu Steve Years) and I discussed the possibility of encapsulating the design principles he used with the infographic format to make it possible for non-designers to easily translate their career story, achievements, skills, interests, etc. using an automated tool set.
Before you know it, we hacked together a prototype and started collecting some feedback from potential users, from hiring managers, and from HR professionals.
The feedback from HR professionals was cool. They were concerned that the new format would break their existing resume systems. Others expressed concern that this was just fluff. In every case, the HR professional would demand a traditional resume to go along with the infographic version.
However, to a person, each said that the infographic resume would stand out from the crowd. The feedback from hiring managers and job seekers was clear an unequivocal:
I want this and I want it now. And, I never knew I wanted it!
We used a hackathon to advance our prototype toward product, the event was called 59DaysofCode and it occurs in Fresno where Steve is located. To our delight and surprise, we won for best "in-process" project which gave us a real boost toward launching. We added another co-founder (Bart Clarkson) and started building our product with vigor. In the meantime, others had similar ideas and competition started to appear. We focused on our core idea which ultimately we boiled down to an online, personal branding and promotion platform and are still pursuing that vision as our true-north.
re.vu launched in September, 2011, you can see the adoption curve in this graph of 10’s of thousands of users.The current standard re.vu for job seekers is free now and forever. Check it out, it does a simple, 1-click import from LinkedIn to jump start your re.vu and you can customize from there.We're about to release the premium service for job seekers in the next few weeks.
Here’s a sample of our present re.vu product of someone you might recognize…
Here’s another sample for actress Felicia Day.The jury is very much out on the ultimate success or failure of re.vu, but you can see how using yourself as the customer and designing the product you want to use can result in a very different outcome than the traditional product design process.Can you imagine what I would have produced had I relied on a benchmark of the competition? Yuck!
When it comes down to it, which do you prefer?The traditional resume or a re.vu?If you like it, you can create yours today for free at http://re.vu/
We’ve now had the express tour of the 3 methods to define and build awesome products.
You've probably noticed that each of them are mixed to some extent, but ultimately, they all lead to a similar place. Something different, something valuable, and something potentially unexpected. Just in case you have some lingering doubts, here are some more examples:
BIP/SaaC - Better personal finance? Mint. Aaron Patzer was frustrated with Quicken and other personal finance options. He wanted a tool that would work for him and provide him financial insight. He decided to take advantage of online financial accounts and data visualization techniques to assemble a financial picture for users. It was a brilliant approach causing long-time Quicken users like me to ditch it for a product that had 0.01% of the features, functions, and power of Quicken but did what I wanted, better.Quicken acquired Mint in 2009 for $170M.
DaaP - More electric power? Enernoc. The US has an insatiable appetite for energy. Electric power consumption has doubled over the past 20 years. It's more expensive than ever to build new power plants. And there are other troublesome questions:do I choose coal, clean coal, natural gas, nuclear, or some renewable option? Or, do I attack the problem a different way by managing how the energy that is produced is utilized? EnerNOC creates “nega-watts.” That's the approach of EnerNOC, they introduced a concept called "demand management" into the electric power industry. Essentially EnerNOC acts as an intermediary between a commercial power customer and a utility enforcing power consumption service level agreements using networking and remote power control to optimize power consumption during peak hours and during low demand hours to deliver cost savings to the commercial end user and relieving the utility from the cost of building new power plants. EnerNOC went public in 2007.
SaaC - Need a good contractor? Angie's List. Back in 1995 a request for a referral to a "good contractor" spawned a quest for a better referral and rating system. Essentially, the idea was to capture and normalize word of mouth knowledge and make that available to a larger community systematically. It started as a call-in service for subscribers, all 1,000 of which were signed up by the owner personally in the first year of operation. The business model shifted to be online and started to scale out from one metropolitan area to many. Pricing was paid by the community members and varied by geography. In the absence of finding the service she wanted, Angie Hicks created it. Angie's List had it's IPO this year.
DaaP - Clean the Salton Sea? Blue Oasis Shrimp. Dr. Lewis Zettell wanted to help restore the ecology of the Salton Sea, a large man-made (by accidental levy failure) body of water close to Palm Springs, CA. The Salton Sea has more salinity than the ocean and consequently, not much can live there. Dr. Zettell devised a method to clean the water and wanted to test it. He took over a former shrimp farm on the shore and started testing his process. Along the way, he had the idea to test the efficiency of the process by having shrimp live in the water post-treatment. Not only did the shrimp live, they thrived. This resulted in a new, sustainable, shrimp farm that is producing much of the shrimp consumed in Southern California and Nevada. It's the Blue Oasis Shrimp company which was the result of design experiments and a pivot.
SaaC/DaaP - Lose weight? Jazzercise. Judi Missett was a professional dancer and opened her own dance studio so she could carry on her love of dancing and share it with others. What she noticed was that her students did love dance, but what they really came for was to lose weight and to tone up. So she started to experiment with different kinds of classes and ultimately found a format that maximized the benefits for her students by upping the tempo and changing the moves. What Judi did led to Jazzercise. It is a franchise with over 7,500 locations and a clothing line.
DaaP/BIP - Best way to save money and impact the environment? Nest. How can you create a simple product that when used on a large scale can drastically change energy consumption? That's the question Tony Fadell set out to answer. Fadell noted that over 50% of home energy cost was tied up in heating and air conditioning. What if there was a way to optimize this cost? What emerged is the Nest learning thermostat. It looks like a piece of consumer electronics and is as simple as a dial to operate and reap benefits from. By thinking about the problem from a best imaginable angle, Fadell has reimagined the home thermostat. Ironically, Honeywell filed patents on pieces of this technology and ran it through a traditional product management evaluation and they chose to pass. Now Honeywell can’t compete with Nest’s innovation and has decided to attempt to litigate themselves to success.
Throughout this talk, we’ve covered 9 different examples of companies & products in different industries at different maturity stages. Each of these used one or more of the three approaches we explored, Best Imaginable Product, Design as a Product, and/or Self as a Customer.Which brings us to the end of our talk. I do have an ask of you though:
Escape the status quo and stop repeating the sins of the past when designing products. There are different approaches we can use and if we do fail, let’s fail because we were too far ahead rather than through mediocrity.
Remember to consciously change your perspective, your products and your career will benefit. Taking a different view of the situation can only expand your perspective and the horizons for your product.
Somewhere in your life, your day job or perhaps a side project, experiment with at least one method: SaaC, DaaP, BIP to see how it works in practice
If you try it, you can change the calculus of product management and create a clear path to succeed. Above all else…..
Aspire to build not good, but GREAT products. Because that can help make the world a little better place to live in.You have the power to do that. Not many people do. Take full advantage of it.And, there’s one more thing….
I want to note, we've just completed a presentation about innovation, design, and product management in Silicon Valley and I didn't mention Apple once. We all know that story, it's a great one, there are many others out there and most importantly, I hope that you've found at least one nugget that inspires you to take a different approach and go design your own fantastic products!
Thank you once again for the invitation to speak in this forum and for your attention and participation during the session.
I'm available for questions now until it's time to wrap. If you'd like to connect individually, you can find me at http://re.vu/MikeHarding and follow me on Twitter: @mah1.