product

5 Ways To Make Your Product Development Process More Inclusive

In the early part of 2017, I had the opportunity to teach aspiring product managers at General Assembly. While we were on the user personas part of the curriculum, I got an interesting question from one of my students;

”It’s theoretical, but there’s something disquieting about creating these personas based on distilling, and how it could really leave a company never creating consumer products that are designed for a broader swath of person than white, single woman with disposable income. Is there a philosophy on how to best make sure that more people are represented?”

The product development process can sometimes become a silo and miss out on opportunities for other groups of users, potential features, and revenue. Based on my experience, here are 5 ways to ensure you’re building products and practices that help capture larger groups than the standard user persona allows.

  1. Focus on what needs to be done rather than who is doing it. The jobs to be done theory is the process a consumer goes through whenever they evolve themselves through searching for, buying, and using a product. It begins when the customer becomes aware of the possibility to evolve. It continues as along as the desired progress is sought. It ends when the consumer realizes new capabilities and behaves differently, or abandons the idea of evolving. (Learn more here) The jobs to be done framework moves beyond who the user is and focuses more on the future state of the user. While demographics and other user information is important, product teams should focus on collecting the appropriate information to build that bridge from current state to future state.
  2. Have a methodology you can look back to and evaluate. Companies should keep a metric/ or a process reserved for how effective they are at capturing fringe segments, feature requests, and/or products use cases. While it may initially seem like an extra chore for an already busy product team, it helps ensure that the team is accountable to dissenting features, products, and ideas. For example, a client I worked with back in the day had a 10% rule… The 10% rule stated 10% of their feature idea had to be fringe use cases. It helped the dev, product and marketing team think about particular types of users who may not be in the initial user segment.
  3. Employ for Diversity. Inclusive product teams (of experience, culture, background, gender, race, etc) is one the most important things you can do to insure you’re bringing inclusive products to market. The internal team asks the first set of questions, plans the go to market approach, and prioritizes which features get developed.
  4. Build diversity into the product feedback process. I’ve worked with a lot of companies who’ve outsourced ui/ux feedback to third party companies in the hopes of lightening the internal load. Feedback, especially early in the product development process, is best managed by your internal team. It also gives the product team a chance to focus on bringing a diverse group of users to the table for feedback.
  5. Don’t be afraid of the niche. Companies, especially in the early days, are afraid of building a niche product/feature. Building a niche product and getting market leadership is sometimes more important than getting mass market acceptance (also depends on company and industry). Sometimes being laser focused on a specific type of customer builds the bridge you need to the mass market and/or other niches.
product, startups, Technology, Why?

Design Thinking in the Nigerian Context

It’s 2 AM and the electricity goes out. Annoyed, you walk outside to turn the generator on. In the process of turning the generator on, you realize there’s no gas in the gen. In the pitch black of night, its not difficult to see the large red canister of gas a couple of steps away. You get the canister and start to attempt to fill the gen. You realize there’s too much gas in the canister and its difficult to control the amount that goes into the gen so you start to think… You go into the kitchen and get a used plastic bottle, cut it in half and now you’ve created a funnel and cup. You head back outside, put the makeshift funnel on the gen and begin to fill the cup with gas and pour it in the funnel. You fill the tank, turn the gen on, and go back to sleep.

That story is design thinking in action. I’d argue with anyone that design thinking is not a process that Nigerians are foreign to. In fact, it’s been at the ethos at most grassroots solutions. There are so many small inventions and quick fixes that I see everyday. Why don’t you see some of these solutions in the market? I believe the challenges are threefold:

  1. How do you get people to see their solution as valuable outside themselves?
  2. How do you provide the platform for people to producttize/ commercialize their already working prototypes?
  3. How do you protect ideas and create incentives for people to continue to create?

How do you get people to see their solution as valuable outside themselves? 

This is consequence of innovating to live vs innovating to thrive. People are brilliant problem solvers in developing markets because they have to in order to survive. Design thinking concepts tend to become a framework that most people operate in without knowing it.  The challenge is being able to think beyond the problem, which is challenging for the problem solvers. I would suggest getting up to the balcony like in this story below:

Let’s say you are dancing in a big ballroom. . . . Most of your attention focuses on your dance partner, and you reserve whatever is left to make sure you don’t collide with dancers close by. . . . When someone asks you later about the dance, you exclaim, “The band played great, and the place surged with dancers.”

But, if you had gone up to the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, you might have seen a very different picture. You would have noticed all sorts of patterns. . . you might have noticed that when slow music played, only some people danced; when the tempo increased, others stepped onto the floor; and some people never seemed to dance at all. . . . the dancers all clustered at one end of the floor, as far away from the band as possible. . . . You might have reported that participation was sporadic, the band played too loud, and you only danced to fast music.

. . .The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray. . . .

If you want to affect what is happening, you must return to the dance floor.*-Ronald Heifetz

That often the most challenging place for problem solvers to get to but is central to seeing the value in an idea or a new process.

How do you provide the platform for people to producttize/ commercialize their already working prototypes?

This a more systemic and structural problem. With a lack of manufacturing and capital in developing markets, it’s often impossible to scale a new idea. I believe the improvement of technologies like 3D printing hold a tremendous opportunity to decrease the cost and increase the accessibility of manufacturing to the masses.

How do you protect ideas and create incentives for people to continue to create?  

This is an interesting challenge that all countries face now. How do you protect people who create, while encouraging the free exchange of ideas so people can build upon them? Legal spaces like IP and copyright may not be as developed in a place like Nigeria but it presents a great opportunity to re-imagine what IP/Copyright law can look like in the information sharing age.

Politics, product, Technology, Why?

Kobayashi and the Leader of the Free World

***Disclaimer…. I’m a huge Star Trek fan. I’ve tried to simplify a little bit so you don’t have to know as much about Star Trek to understand what I’m trying to say.***

Kobayashi Maru is a star fleet training exercise that is used to evaluate a commander’s character and fortitude. The simulation in the Star Trek universe allows the cadet to command a federation star ship, and sends them to aid another Federation vessel, the Kobayashi Maru. The disabled ship is adrift in the Klingon neutral zone, and the ship commanded by the cadet entering the zone will be in violation of a treaty and liable to attack.

The cadet has to decide whether to rescue the stranded ship, creating an opportunity for an all-out war with the Klingons and jeopardizing his or her own vessel and crew-mates’ lives in the process, or leave the Kobayashi Maru to eventual destruction. If the cadet attempts to save the vessel, the simulation is programmed to guarantee that his or her own ship will be destroyed. Not only will he be unsuccessful in saving the Kobayashi Maru, but everyone else will die as well.

The object is to test the cadet’s character and presence of mind in the face of large-scale disaster and certain death. The creation of the Kobayashi Maru isn’t discussed as much in Star Trek cannon, although in the most recent reboot, it’s shown that Spock was the preliminary designer of the test. His Vulcan sense of logic proved to be very helpful in constructing the no win scenario.

When deciding on leaders, humans traditionally follow our gut and how we feel about a person. The mental models an heuristics used to make snap decisions on who to follow are legacy from our early days when we had to be very cautious about who we were hunting and gathering with. We decide leaders based on what they say but even more on how we perceive them. Don’t believe me?  Take a read about JFK VS Nixon here.

While we can never get rid of the human perspective, shouldn’t we be responsible for aiding better decisions in who should be leaders? We should have our own Kobayashi Maru that we use to vet leaders where we can objectively see their character and fortitude. To be more specific, the president of the United States should be put through more than just public opinion to become president. We have the history of the world and technology to create all possible and future scenarios to test a candidate’s decision making skills. It’s not a heavy lift at all. Here are the steps:

  1. Recognize that we are currently incapable of making the best decisions without more information.
  2. Develop a Kobayashi Maru equivalent that runs through a week of various possible scenarios (domestic disasters, economic collapse, political brinkmanship,etc).
  3. Have the potential president pick their team.
  4. Run the simulations… Evaluate the results.

The hardest step is 1. Everything else is super doable. Our armed forces train just like this. I don’t think its too much to ask a potential Commander in Chief to go through similar training and evaluation.

There’s a lot of responsibility involved with picking the next leader of the free world . Citizens should look at a Kobayashi Maru like exam as an opportunity to improve our decision making by exposing the decision making process of our future leaders in life- like situations.

Or we can just watch them play The Sims.

 

 

 

#productideas, business, product, startups, Technology

Disrupting VC

2 years ago, when tiphub was started, our core team had a couple of initial assumptions that came to be true.

  1. Bootstrapping is important, however majority of disruptive technologies need early capital.
  2. Venture capital is broken. With failure rates that would not be accepted in any other industry, most vc’s continue business as usual. The best ones have found ways to de-risk their investments by leveraging marketing strategies but its not a sustainable model for all vcs in a given ecosystem.
  3. The decision making process for investment selections was purposefully arbitrary. It allows gate keepers to claim a higher power than a regular person at picking companies that have the best chance of success.
  4. Lack of diversity in decision making leads to unequal representation and missed opportunities.

Now, to throw a wrench in it all, bring in the African perspective. Not enough vc activity, not enough opportunities to invest in, not enough capital, etc etc.

The major issue with the private market is that its supposed or destined to be the engine of growth for developed and developing countries alike. However, we don’t have the correct scale-able processes, or institutions in place to really push the needle of investment at scale. The two major problems are;

  1. How do you assess risk in a way that is accurate?
  2. How do you match risk, interest, and expertise to ensure optimal outcomes?

So early on in the inception of tiphub, the idea and the hope was that we would create a platform that would exactly what is missing in the vc community. A platform that could learn, overtime, the best investments for an investor based on different inputs. We called this project tracker.

2 years later, on the anniversary of tiphub, I can say we’ve gotten to the second phase of the tracker which is a platform that will bring together experts, investors, and startups to learn from interactions, and we’ll move on to phase three, where things will start to get really interesting.

Stay tuned as we build what we hope will be a game changing platform that will improve outcomes for all entrepreneurs and investors.

 

#productideas, product, Uncategorized

All Products Go To Heaven

Earlier today, Dropbox announced on their blog (here) they would retire Carousel and Mailbox, two products part of the Dropbox family. Dropbox acquired Mailbox for $100 million and made several acquisitions to improve the Carousel product.

From a user perspective, I understand the anger that comes from people who used either of the products. Mailbox, an IOS only email client, had a huge user base before the acquisition. Carousel was a great way to manage photos already stored on Dropbox and uploaded pictures from my phone gallery. The essence of Mailbox and Carousel will live on in new products Dropbox develops.

The product/ strategy guy in me knows Dropbox is shifting away from mass consumer products to more enterprise collaboration tools. Products like the newly minted Paper are the future of Dropbox’s enterprise strategy. It will allow them to compete with the likes of Google, Microsoft, Box and other enterprise companies.

Products phased out in large companies never really die. They often live on as core features within new projects. Product teams diffuse onto other projects and bring their experiences. Distressed users go on product hunt to find replacement products that solve their particular pain point. All products do make it to heaven. Its just a matter of how they get there.