Taylor_round

This article was written by Taylor Wescoatt, one of Seedcamp’s Experts-in-Residence. Follow Taylor on Twitter @twescoatt. 

A lot of what I have written is preparation for deciding what to actually build, and naturally you’re wondering, “Ok so when do I start designing and coding”?  Once you’ve done your Vision Roadmap, and your Customer Journey, now you’ve got something to work with.

Your Vision Roadmap has given you a Proposition to focus on, for example; “Simple way to get a last-minute sparkle on my car”

Your Customer Journey has then allowed you to select a few key Behaviours to focus on. Let’s continue with the Carsparkle example above and imagine one is “Schedule First Appointment”

For each Behaviour “X” we are targeting, here’s a progression of questions I like to ask;

  1. Why don’t they do Behaviour “X”? (Barriers – ideally you can ask the customer about them)
  2. How might we encourage them to “X”? (your features/ideas whether product or marketing or ops)
  3. For each idea, what is the cheapest, easiest way to validate that? (customer engagement)

validation.backlog

What you end up with is a list of hypotheses in the form of;

“We believe that ‘Feature’ will encourage ‘Behaviour’ because it will address ‘Barrier’. We will know this is likely by doing ‘Customer Validation’.”

By grouping them according to the Validation techniques (surveys, guerilla testing, live testing, customer interviews, etc) – you will have queued up your next 3-5 Customer Validation engagements. This is your Backlog for the Validation Track of a Dual Track Agile approach. Only features/ideas that come out with a “Yes!” from the Validation Track are allowed to enter the Delivery Track of your Dual Track Agile programme.

For a list of all my articles: http://seedcamp.com/eir-product-articles/

Taylor_roundThis article was written by Taylor Wescoatt, one of Seedcamp’s Experts-in-Residence. Follow Taylor on Twitter @twescoatt. 

This title isn’t entirely accurate I have to admit. It should be ‘Validate or Die Slowly!’. If you’re reading this, you’ve read The Lean Startup and other best practice, and you know that validating your ideas is critical to success. It is also the quickest way to figure out if you’re off track, so you can re-evaluate your options.

At Seedcamp, we work with lots of startups at a very early stage, so validation is super important and we do it a lot. It’s hard though, for a good reason. Customer Validation research is about systematically challenging your own beliefs. As a founder, our sense of self-worth is often woven in with our startup idea, so forcing ourselves to question that is painful.  Until you get used to it, then it’s fun!

There is a huge amount of best practice and industry built up around validation techniques, and you can spend many thousands of pounds hiring people to help, but how do you do it yourself on the cheap? Before we dive in, let me make a few suggestions;

  1. Be clear what you intend to learn from each engagement. “Meh” is the worst outcome.
  2. Be as brief as possible, avoid extraneous opportunistic questions. It weakens learning.
  3. Plan to test everything.

Here are the techniques I recommend;

Needs Analysis

Product Analysis

Putting it all together, here are some places where each type of testing can be helpful in the drive towards Product Market Fit;

validation.opportunities

A couple of extra things to consider;

Building validation into your process is the way to go. At first, it may seem laborious, but you’ll be thankful that what you learn will have saved you a lot of time, you’ll be happier that what you build will get used, and you’ll have a stronger culture of caring about the customer within your team.

For a list of all my articles: http://seedcamp.com/eir-product-articles/

This article was written by Taylor Wescoatt, one of Seedcamp’s Experts-in-Residence. Follow Taylor on Twitter @twescoatt. 

Startups are bets. “Housemates would like to have an app that helps them track expenses in a shared household.” (Splittable is a great new Seedcamp startup) The realisation of your vision is actually a whole series of these bets or hypotheses. You test them, learn, and move forward. What users like, don’t like, how much, and what they will respond to. These are beliefs that investors buy into, and it’s your job as a Founder to ultimately prove them to be true, or if not, try something else!

But when you dig into your Vision, there are a lot of underlying assumptions. What are they? Which ones do you address first? The risk of not thinking about this methodically is that you spend a long time operating under an assumption that ultimately turns out not to be true.

Here’s a helpful tool I’ve come across a few times, the Assumptions Matrix. It asks you to graph your assumptions based on how ‘Fundamental’ they are to your business and by how ‘Unknown’ they are. Imagine using a scale of 1-10 for each axis. The result, as you can see, suggests a priority of what you should be addressing first.

assumptions.map

Naturally, you want to focus FIRST on the ones in the upper-right, this is called the Pivot Zone.

For things that are highly ‘unknown’ – how can you learn more? Talk to an expert? Get a research report? Reference competitors? Test with users? Of course, the most important things you just can’t know beforehand, that’s what makes startups ‘bets’.

For things that are ‘fundamental’ – if they turn out not to be true – what alternative approaches could you take? Imagine my CarSparkle example. If people don’t want a better way to get their car washed, I am kind of hosed. If, however, they simply don’t care about a 30-minute response time, I can change the timing model of the business, which probably alters staffing requirements.

This is a good exercise to make sure you’ve got the 30,000 feet view, at least, and can also be helpful in your day-to-day debates. It’s also a good platform to make sure people don’t get too locked into their own functional way of thinking and understand what each other are up to. Go Team!

For more Product articles, see my index at http://seedcamp.com/eir-product-articles/

This article was written by Taylor Wescoatt, one of Seedcamp’s Experts-in-Residence. Follow Taylor on Twitter @twescoatt. 

Probably the most powerful tool for early-stage Product thinking is the Customer Journey. Literally, every step your individual Customer must go through in order to create value for your business. By capturing, developing, and working with this framework, you will;

  1. Better understand your Customer (for your whole team)
  2. Have meaningful Metrics around what your business does
  3. Understand how to create Real Value for your customer
  4. Prioritise your Product work effectively

A good Customer Journey is an ordered list of actions that your Customer largely must follow in order to achieve a state of real value (for the Customer). If you’ve already read about the Vision Roadmap, you’ll be familiar with this as “The Proposition”. The list starts often with a need (felt some pain, frustration) which leads to awareness, trial, experience, and then finally your customer’s real value state, habitual use, re-purchase, or referral, for example. Here are a few examples;

The first surprise most startups have in doing this is that they find out there really are a lot of steps involved in getting a user to the real value state. Great things just building this list calls out are a) the things that happen outside your product (e.g. meetings) and b) other players in the decision process (e.g. boss, CFO, partner). You should think of it as a superset of your conversion funnel, and put numbers against the steps that you can. Now, which steps (I like to choose two to three) are your main issues to focus on for the next 90 days?

new.journey

Some of the questions that come up in this exercise

Each of these steps, actions, will also have an associated motivation (why they took that action) and expected reward (what they ideally hope to achieve by taking that step). Action + motivation + expected reward is, essentially, a behaviour. Understanding complete behaviours will give you a rich set of options of how to encourage users to perform the desired action. For example, you can appeal to emotional rewards, or confirm motivations by comparing the step you want them to take with something they do already. I like to point out the Transferwise example here, where at one stage of the journey the customer needs to go off-site (to their bank) to initiate the transfer. Completely lacking in visibility here, Transferwise instead appealed to the emotional reward with a “One more step and you will have avoided massive fees!” type statement.

I’ve written a bit on how to then turn these into actionable initiatives in my Backlog article.

Your now-better-aligned team should come up with lots of ideas here, and many of them will not be product solutions, which is great! Several times, for example, the teams I work with have come up with sending gifts, like chocolates, to the person they wanted to use the product “one more time”, but it could equally be helpful to simply reposition the step by promoting the respect your user would achieve from colleagues by using a new exciting product.

By now you’ve built your Customer Journey, you are thinking from the Customer’s point of view, you have identified key behaviours that you need to focus on, and brainstormed different ways to encourage your customer to perform these key actions that make your business work. There is a ton more you can do with your Customer Journey (thus my opening statement), but for now I’ll leave you with just a few extra-credit ideas;

  1. Build a Customer Journey your user takes without your product. Where and how are you asking them to change behaviour? (this helps understand ‘switching cost’).
  2. What departments are involved in which stages of the Customer Journey?
  3. Does your organisational structure properly support this Customer Journey?

This is an update to a previous post entitled Behavioural Roadmap which is no longer live.

For a list of all my articles: http://seedcamp.com/eir-product-articles/

This article was written by Taylor Wescoatt, one of Seedcamp’s Experts-in-Residence. Follow Taylor on Twitter @twescoatt. 

“I have the vision in my head, but I don’t know how to get it into the heads of my growing team so they can execute what and how I want them to” — Startup Founder

I have heard this a lot (spoken or unspoken) in startups. It stresses out the Founder, it frustrates the new marketing or UX person who wants to show they can make a difference, but aren’t quite sure how to.

Rallying around a five-year Vision Statement is fine, but what exactly should your team be doing TODAY to make that come true?  I like to use a breakdown of the Five Year Vision I call “The Vision Roadmap” that I started developing at eBay and found well received later at Time Out and Emoov. By expressing your Vision in progressive steps, by customer segment, in the customer’s own language, you can;

Make the Vision Actionable

vision.roadmap

“Who Are We?” – good question, but you need to answer it on many levels. Answer this for each of your customer segments (e.g. early adopters, followers, and service providers or suppliers), and identify how this changes over time. Collectively, and cumulatively, these eventually lead to the full realisation of your Five Year Vision.

The goal of this format is to allow you to render the roadmap between now and fully realising your vision. You recognise that your business will transform in stages over time, and this helps you focus on achieving those stages.

“This works nicely in an agile world where the lighthouse stays the same, but the tactics evolve as we build, test, and iterate toward the vision” — Bill Watt, Product Director, GoDaddy

The CarSparkle Vision Roadmap

So, for example, let’s say you’re building a mobile app for at-home car-washes & services, “CarSparkle”, and your Vision is “Car washing, servicing, and overall management all from your phone”

visionroadmap.2

Each entry is called a User Proposition, that is, what you mean to them. How does this help?

“I liked the proposition approach to (1) diverge vision from product development, and an evolving sales strategy, and (2) a way to manage customers’ expectations” — Didier Vermeiren, Founder, Rial.to

This doesn’t take long to do. You and your Co-Founder can rip it out in an hour or so. If it takes longer than that, all the better because you’ve identified what must be a serious hurdle in realising your Vision. Your team will thank you as they dive back into work re-energised with a clearer sense of purpose and strong connection to the Vision. Follow it up by asking them to give you a revised execution plan. Drop it into your deck, it will be a nice touch to drive that next investor meeting in the right direction.

Once you have this sorted out – you may want to move on to the Customer Journey.

This is an updated version of an older post which is no longer live.

For a list of all my articles: http://seedcamp.com/eir-product-articles/

This article was written by Taylor Wescoatt, one of Seedcamp’s Experts-in-Residence. Follow Taylor on Twitter @twescoatt. 

I was asked by Product Tank to talk about the main product challenges I see in startups. Fortunately, a few months working with Seedcamp cohorts showed me that similar questions were being asked by many of them. Founders won’t be hiring professional product people until the 10th or 15th hire, but they can benefit tremendously from ‘Product Thinking’ from day one, and this is the basis of my onboarding talks.

Here are the main early stage struggles I find startups encounter in the product domain;

  1. Hard to get the “Vision” into the minds of their growing team.
  2. Difficult to identify and laser focus on the real pain and real value they are working towards.
  3. Not sure which questions (there are many in every startup) to address first.
  4. Not engaging with customer nearly often enough.

Let’s walk through these individually, and while I won’t use this post to explain my suggested solutions, I will reference some other articles that go deeper on the topics.

(1) Getting the Vision into the Team

Daniel’s startup was doing really well. He and his CTO co-founder had been working side-by-side for over a year, in constant communication, and totally aligned. New funding allowed him to bring on three more developers and leads for marketing, ops, and product. He was crazy busy. But a month in, things felt a little off, and decisions weren’t being made like he wanted them to. He’d outlined the long-term vision, but the team was struggling to understand where to focus in the near term.

Founders need to see their growing team making decisions roughly in accordance with their vision, but time and hectic schedules tend to lead to fractured understandings of what the company’s mission is about. A “Mission Statement” is great, or some kind of manifesto maybe, but sometimes knowing where you want to end up doesn’t tell you what to do TODAY. For this, I recommend the Vision Roadmap. Your ultimate end-state vision is something you will build to over time

(2) Identifying “Real Pain” and “Real Value”

One great idea is the core of a startup. “Wouldn’t it be great if you could order a taxi from your phone?”  The idea gets people excited, investors, partners, employees, even early adopter users. But how do you really bring that to life in your product?

Any new business must CHANGE BEHAVIOUR of its customers, and for them typically it’s both hard risk. So it must be WORTH IT. How unhappy are they with how they do it now? This is Real PainHow much better off will they be once they do? This is Real Value.

I believe deeply in using the Customer Journey to clarify and deliver against these goals. It forces you to see things from your customer’s point of view.

(3) What Questions should I address first?

Startups are all bets. We take a punt, make a guess, develop a hypothesis that something can be better, and users will like it. As we build our business, we are making a lot of these assumptions, and we will find out many of them are not quite true, sometimes leading to a business ‘pivot’. The sooner we find out, the better. How do we do this?

The Assumptions Matrix lets you graph your assumptions based on x) how fundamental they are to your business, and y) how unknown they are. Naturally, you want to focus FIRST on the ones in the upper-right – The Pivot Zone – by either learning more about the assumption (less unknown), or developing alternative approaches (less fundamental). Some things, often the most important, however, will just need to get built so you can see “if the dogs eat the dog food”.

(4) How should I engage with Customers?

Anyone who has read the required “Lean Startup” book knows in their heart they are supposed to be engaging with customers. This is challenging on a personal level, it requires us to systematically challenge our own beliefs, knowing we will often find we are wrong. Embrace it!

Good, now that you’ve embraced it, how do you do customer research without breaking the bank? Above all, decide in advance what you want to learn for every validation exercise. Then, whether you’re doing needs analysis or product analysis, the following techniques can be done by anyone:

  1. Brief Interviews: three questions in the “Tell me about the last time you X” form
  2. Surveys: gets a little bit of quant and helps rank needs
  3. Deep Interviews: in 30-60 minutes get at the elusive “why” of a problem
  4. Remote Testing (e.g. usertesting.com or trymyui.com) are FAST and illuminating
  5. Guerilla Testing: grab first impressions in the mall or at a coffee shop
  6. Live Testing: some things you can only see with real customers 

BEFORE you go do any of these be very clear exactly what you want to learn, and dispense with any extraneous questions. In almost all cases, they will give you great insights, and if they don’t, at least you’ll learn a bit more about how to ask the right questions – where are you on each of these for your startup? Here’s a little more detail on how/when to use them.

Hopefully, some of these four challenges sound familiar to you as an entrepreneur or advisor to startups. They are plenty common, but fortunately there are structures and processes to resolve them. I’d love to hear from you (@twescoatt) if you’ve found similar or different issues!

For a list of all my articles: http://seedcamp.com/eir-product-articles/

This article was written by Taylor Wescoatt, one of Seedcamp’s Experts-in-Residence. Follow Taylor on Twitter @twescoatt. 

When I became an Expert-in-Residence at Seedcamp, I was asked to drive product thinking deeper into the portfolio. Makes sense, supporting your investments in the Product Market Fit challenge, but product can sometimes be a slippery concept to grasp. “You know it when you see it” or “20 per cent month-on-month growth” are a few ways to tell when you’re “there” with your product, but how do you know if you’re on the right track?

Let’s start with what product means.  In all cases, the product is connecting the user to the business. In early-stage companies especially, product “is” the business, since the user’s response is all that really matters in growing your business. Until you’ve got users happy, and doing what you want them to, you may have a product, but you don’t have a business.

Here are a few questions I have learned to ask, or better put, ask that founders ask themselves, to check if they’ve “got” product;

  1. Do you accurately understand your user’s pain? (aka problem, challenge, need, etc.)
  2. Are you crystal-clear on the “switch” you are asking users to make? 
  3. Are you actively (and frequently) engaging with your users to validate your ideas?
  4. Are you measuring real user-value?

Easy to toss out general questions like this, I know, but what if I flesh them out a little bit in order to make them actionable.

  1. Customer Pain, aka, “the problem”. Describe it concisely, make sure you hear this from your customer unprompted. Not a general “it’s hard to plan a night out” but a very specific step in their journey that is inefficient, frustrating, or unfulfilling, like “there are no up-to-date lists of what’s both happening and accessible on weekend evenings“. Make sure it’s significant so that it’s worth their time and effort to try to overcome it (by switching to your product). Otherwise, you may have a solution looking for a problem.
  1. The Switch, what makes your product at least 20 per cent better than the overall experience they have now? Inertia is your enemy. Understand and describe this in full context, that is, in the user journey. What specific step, what ‘behaviour’ exactly are you asking them to change.  A good product then delivers on this 20 per cent improvement, which must be greater than the cost of the switch. Target this, demonstrate this credibly with your product. Inertia is your enemy.
  1. Customer Engagement, no shortcuts. There are lots of ways to do this, and you should be doing it *very often*, (at least every two weeks, forever ideally) in multiple forms (at least interviews and prototypes) around your product. You (including the CEO and the developers) should also be doing this *before* you build, to validate your assumptions, test for value to the customer, and experiment with user experience.
  1. Measuring Real User Value– since only user value creates persistent company value, be clear on the difference between ‘vanity’ metrics (e.g. visits, even first-time purchases) and ones that indicate you are creating lasting value for your users. The kind that they will tell their friends about, the kind that will make them come back again and again. Things like repeat purchases, habitual usage, and referral are good measures here. How do you know they *enjoy* using your product? Why? What is this measurement for your business?

If you are doing these four things, I would say your product thinking is in place. In any given situation, I too would rather be lucky than good, but over the long run, the startups I have seen win it, have won with the latter. Being customer centric will deliver you a massive competitive advantage, and is fundamental to your success.

For a list of all my articles: http://seedcamp.com/eir-product-articles/