10 Things I Love About Superhuman

As a product person, it can be hard to use software. While you understand how things work (and can be great tech support for your family), you also see all the flaws (and potential) in the software you use.

That means it’s more common to use software and think, “I wish they’d just…” instead of enjoying it.

Yet, every once in a while, an app comes along that really gets it…

RIP Sunrise

Years ago, I had a tribute post drafted to my favorite calendar app ever, Sunrise.

Unfortunately, before I got around to fully writing and posting it, they got acquired by Microsoft and shut down…

With this in mind, today, I’m writing about an app that’s great now, so we can all enjoy and recognize what makes it great while it’s here (and at its best).

Thankfully, I think Superhuman is here for the long haul given their major fundraising, and the fact that unlike Sunrise, they’re charging for their product, so have revenue to keep going long after VC money runs out.

With that in mind, let’s dive in…

10 Things I Love as a PM About Superhuman

If you spend much time on tech Twitter, you’ve probably heard some people professing their love for Superhuman. I’ve contributed my share to that.

Now, it’s no coincidence that this amazing, inspiring product isn’t just a good product. They’re also a company that is great at building products, as it shows throughout everything they do.

That’s why these 10 things aren’t just features, they’re also inner workings and approaches I’ve noticed as a customers for the last 2.5+ years.

1) Their survey at signup

Before you even get access to Superhuman, or talk to anyone there, they have you complete a 12 question survey.

Now, your first instinct may be, “that’s crazy! How many leads are you losing by making them do that?!?”

And you’d be dead wrong.

This actually works hugely in their favor:

  1. Their onboarding people can make sure everything is set up for the customer’s success before they even schedule a call.
  2. They have a consistent data set they can use to segment & analyze their customer base (conversion rates, churn rates, retention, LTV, etc)
  3. They can disqualify bad fits, focusing on those they can help most, while also understanding how many of those bad fits there are (a boon for prioritization)

And most importantly, it does *not* have a significant impact on their conversion rate.

How do I know?

  1. If it did hurt, there’s no way they’d still have the survey up many years later.
  2. We do a survey for all signups for my startup, Lighthouse, and the vast majority of signups complete it

Yet, a good survey would mean nothing without action to go with it, which they nail as well.

I had to wait 6 weeks to get access after the Survey as they worked to support Airs better

2) Awesome Onboarding

One of the challenges of SaaS is understanding your audience. Some people *really* want to talk to someone before buying, while others just want to get into a product and explore.

Superhuman is targeting busy, email-heavy users, so time is precious. They had the foresight to realize that by onboarding everyone with calls, they save a ton of questions, headaches, and missed opportunities later.

Now, I’ve seen some companies try to emulate this, but throwing someone on a call is far from enough to make this a worthwhile use of time.

In the 30 minute onboarding, the person on the call did the following which really made a big difference by doing all of these in this *exact order*:

  • Reviewed my survey answers beforehand so that they didn’t have to re-ask those questions
  • Asked me a variety of followup questions about what email tools I use, my biggest pains and frustrations around email, and how I thought I might use Superhuman
  • Showed me the most important features to me, then some general power ups they thought I might like
  • They had me try out the features, because they had already asked me to install before the call

This had an immediate huge impact on me:

  1. I felt heard, not sold to.
  2. I was immediately ready to cancel a few other tools I was individually paying for (like Yesware), because I knew how to do it in Superhuman
  3. I knew how to use the product for the most important features to me, not just what they assumed I’d like
  4. Their onboarding person was super friendly, which gave me a positive opinion of Superhuman as a whole, while putting a name and face to the company

All of this made the “put your credit card in” a no-brainer, and I was tweeting how great Superhuman was within a few weeks.

If you want to have similar results, you need to start by asking if your product fits an audience who wants to talk to someone. Then, be very careful to create similar steps around the prep, questions, and how you demo the product.

Your demo will absolutely fail if you start with jamming features down your potential customers’ throats with little or no considering for what your customers want.

3) They take referral programs to another level

Now, many products will let you invite a friend. All bottoms up (aka- product led) SaaS, and any network-effects driven consumer app will ask you to invite your friends. Some will even be outright predatory asking to grab your whole list of phone contacts.

Fortunately, Superhuman is a breath of fresh air in this regard.

Now, as the tweet above explains, they started with a simple email you cc to the CEO, but now have a nice, simple, and fast workflow (just like so many other things in Superhuman):

Note: Grey boxes are added by me for privacy.

Here the referral flow lets me start typing anyone in my contacts I want to invite, and then it also recommends people they think would be most interested:

  • Friends and contacts that are on the waitlist
  • People on my team and in my company

Those suggestions are a great bonus, which led me to not only invite the person I had in mind, but also to add a few people on the waitlist I was happy to help get off the list.

But it doesn’t stop there. With the referral, it generates an email they both get, which allowed me to give their onboarding specialist more helpful info:

Always nice to get a thank you for the referral, too

As I’ve been a customer for a couple years, I’ve seen how they iterated to this. It started with just the email to the CEO, but now they automate big parts of it, while still keeping some of the personal touch available. Paul Graham and his “Do things that don’t scale” post would be proud.

4) Feedback done the right way

One of the key things about everything that Superhuman does is that it personalizes. While some of their onboarding survey asks multiple choice questions about devices and operating systems, much of it is open ended.

The same is true for their Feedback.

All you have to do is click a little button in the bottom right corner and shoot them an email:

Now, if you read my recent post, you know I hate feature voting apps. The key takeaway from it is you don’t really get the voice of the customer that way, and you frustrate your customers in a variety of ways.

What Superhuman does here is so much better:

  • It gets my feedback in a clear fashion in my own words.
  • Because they actually reply to every message, as a customer, I feel heard.
  • Their replies often ask for more context, bringing further understanding and information.

Now, you may be thinking, “Jason, that’s sooo much work! We can’t do that.”

And you’d be wrong.

All product feedback on Lighthouse gets passed to me, and through a simple tagging system, I’m able to keep it all organized despite spending less than an hour per day on all support requests for our small team.

And at scale, Superhuman has managed to stay organized, as recently tweeted by their CEO when they had a new GPT-3 application analyze all the feedback they’ve received:

It’s initially a bit more work to set up this process, but as you can see in the quality of the Superhuman product, it’s well worth it in building better features, and having more passionate, engaged customers.

5) Teaching you as you use the product

Before Superhuman, I was not a keyboard shortcut guy at all. The only things I knew were CMD+TAB and CMD+` which allow you to change windows on your laptop.

With Superhuman I now daily use:

  • e – to archive an email
  • c – to compose a new email
  • esc – to leave a window I was composing an email in
  • cmd + enter – to send an email
  • cmd + k – to do a million magical things
CMD + K: The magical shortcut to everything…

And what I like most about Superhuman is how they keep teaching me more keyboard shortcuts. Basically any time I hover, or do something manually, they’re letting me know, “hey – there’s a shortcut for that!”

This is really clever product development, and it permeates all over…including in their catch-all CMD+K:

Best of all, their catch-all, command is forgiving, as if you can’t remember it’s called “Compose”, enter “write” works instead.

This is the definition of product craftsmanship.

Building new habits is hard, but this approach makes it easier as you get reminded over and over what the correct name of the command is and what the shortcut is.

And since Superhuman is a native app on my computer, they know what I’m typing there, which likely means they were able to analyze mistaken/frustrated entries in CMD+K and figure out what misspellings and alternate words to support.

Now, not all products lend themselves to this kind of hotkey-driven approach, but it’s a very healthy exercise to ask you and your product teams:

  • Where are our customers getting confused or lost? How can we help them arrive at the right place anyways?
  • When do people need our deeper features most, and how can we present each deep feature at just the right time?
  • What shortcuts, integrations, and special actions does our product have, and how could we teach our customers about them when they need them?

6) Awesome, simple product emails

Product updates are the kinds of things many companies either don’t do, or shortchange the effort.

Or they may outsource it to marketing, who then trumpet it off to non-customers who often care a lot less than your current ones.

You’re leaving so much opportunity on the table by doing that.

Superhuman gets a lot of things right in their updates:

  1. Frequent: It feels like they’re always launching new, interesting things. This builds brand affinity.
  2. Brief: Because they send them often, none feel overwhelmingly long, so you’re more likely to read them.
  3. Reply-able: You can react and reply to the updates, which is great for understanding customer questions, hearing what people love and hate, and seeing
  4. Interactive: They make these awesome Gifs that show how features work like this recent one below:
Superhuman Zoom integration
Straight from a Superhuman product update

If you’re not doing product updates, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to prevent churn and delight your customers. You can learn more about how to send great product updates here.

7) That magic sidebar

It was a sad day when Rapportive stopped working. That alone was incredibly valuable.

Whether confirming you have the right email address for a customer or getting helpful context quickly as you write an email, this sidebar is a massive value add. I was interested in trying out Superhuman for it alone.

At first glance it may seem pretty simple, but there’s huge depth and valuable information in that sidebar:

  • You can see the last 4-5 emails you exchanged with someone with their subject line listed
  • You can click on the “Mail” icon to see all emails between you and that person
  • All the links you could need to find their internet paper trail are right there, no need for searching

And that’s just the default.

Automagically, if you start typing a date, it will change to a calendar view, which makes it easy to make sure you suggest times or days that actually work for you:

And you can see in their most recent update in my previous point, they now also let you schedule meetings in that sidebar as well.

It toggles seamlessly and rapidly to whatever you need that sidebar area to be.

Any one of these sidebar details alone would probably be “nice to have”, but there’s a reason that when I timed myself before and after starting using Superhuman, I found I was getting through email 30% faster. The fact is all that convenience and friction removing adds up to a “must have.”

This sidebar is a great example of the key product lessons to find your points of magic for your customer and double down on them.

8. So many awesome little big details

Building products can feel like an assembly line sometimes, especially if you’re building things like Settings or Admin panels. Yet, true craftsmanship can show in a variety of ways when a team is truly committed to delighting their customers, and has the resources to perfect that last 10%, or add a little touch of joy.

There’s even a website dedicated to these that I love getting lost in: Little Big Details.

Not surprisingly, Superhuman has this in spades:

  • As pictured above, when you hit Inbox Zero, they show you a gorgeous, random picture to celebrate with you
  • You can also see that along with the picture, they’re teaching me the keyboard shortcuts again, and give a convenient way to undo an action.
  • If you hover over an email you sent, they show you when it was opened:
  • And if they haven’t opened the email, only one of the checkmarks is checked, so after you learn the indicator, you don’t need to hover to see if it was opened:
  • While I love their updates email, they also keep those tucked away in case you want to review it:
  • And when you reveal the updates, you see they denote if it’s for your phone or desktop app, and use emojis to differentiate updates:
  • If you have a person’s name and email showing in the right sidebar, when you hover on one of the emails listed that they have sent, you can see when it was sent:

And they add all these little, helpful details and tiny delights while delivering on their promise of speed and convenience. Because no one cares about your witty quotes you show on your load screen if it takes 2 minutes for the page to load.

What little delights can you add to your product to bring joy and timely information to your customers*? (* assuming you have the fundamentals of a fast, functional product covered)

9) Their mobile app is truly mobile first

Too often, products make a decision of whether their primary use case is for mobile or desktop. They then double, and triple down on one or the other, and make a half-hearted effort to have something useful for the other platform.

Superhuman has not only built a great app that covers most of the functionality of the desktop, they took a mobile first approach to the design and use cases.

A few of the helpful tweaks:

  • Rather than tabs like on the desktop, it’s one tap on an icon to switch between your different inboxes. Conveniently that icon is in the bottom right corner of the screen so it’s easy to tap with your thumb while holding your phone, which is right next to how to switch sections of your inbox (like “News” and “Other”, below).
  • Pulling down when looking at your inbox reveals Search, which they put the cursor in the Search field, call up your keyboard, and give you a variety of hotkeys and recent contacts to one-tap choose from to make it faster/easier.
  • Replacing the contact information sidebar, which there’s not enough room for, a summary version is at the top of the screen
  • Once you tap on the summary version of the person you’re emailing, Superhuman brings up the additional information that would normally be the sidebar, while optimizing for the screen space:

Once again, these are small things, but they add up. It’s clear their team has put a lot of thought into everything.

As I was writing this, for instance, I noticed that each email in my inbox view was almost perfectly the width of my thumb. That makes a lot of sense given that swiping with your thumb is exactly how you clear out your inbox with one hand. With that sizing, it’s also less likely you’ll hit the wrong email or action.

It’s all these little things that make it so that Superhuman feels both desktop first and mobile first. They treat both devices as priorities to be great, and create an experience that rivals most apps that are only one or the other.

10) They’re teaching all of us how to do it

When you do something exceptionally well, it can be tempting to keep it as a secret. Just look at Apple.

It took a decade for anyone to share much about how the iPhone was built. (Note: I highly recommend Creative Selection for that reason). And this post on how Steve Jobs liked to do product is so little known, I’ve yet to meet anyone else that knows it exists besides those I send it to.

Yet, Superhuman is sharing their insights along the way, helping a whole wave of product-led, customer focused startups.

Two of my favorites such posts are:

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve sent those links to others, because they’re such good and helpful posts. And there’s more like it if you look at their Dribbble or blog.

They’re just as thoughtful in their posts and public persona as they are in their product, which is an awesome value add to the startup world.

Conclusion:

There’s a lot we can all learn from Superhuman and how they approach building products. Whether borrowing inspiration for a user interaction, trying to create a similar workflow, or treating them as the aspiration of the kind of product you want to build, they’re a great shining light for other SaaS products.

Of course, all of this comes with a caveat: Superhuman comes with *massive* funding. They’ve raised over $33 million, which you may not have.

However, did you know that Superhuman has been working on this since *2014*?

They built very quietly and in private beta for *years*. They worked painstakingly to add all of those things I shared in this post, and many more like them.

Even with infinite resources, you can’t turn your product or idea into a great product like Superhuman overnight. However, if you’re like them and spend a lot of time getting to know your users through surveys, interviews, concierge onboarding, and truly listening to feedback, you can start bringing more delight to your customers.

Building customer driven products is hard, and rewarding work, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of building something your customers truly *love*. If you want help doing that, I’ve done it before, and would love to help you do it, too.

You can learn more about how I help companies, or schedule a free call to talk about your challenges here.

Why Feature Voting Creates Poor Products (and what to do instead)

“Let’s see what the highest voted features were on our feature voting site.” – Said no great product team, ever.

Whether a company is using the new hotness of a Canny, or the old clunky of a UserVoice site, public feature voting systems are an example of terrible product management practices.

Feature Voting is not talking to customers

I’m a HUGE fan of founders and product managers talking to customers. In fact, I’ve written a variety of posts to specifically help more people confidently and effectively “get outside the building” to learn from their customers to build better products.

Unfortunately, feature voting apps are the kind of shortcut that make some people think they’re getting customer input, when really they’re making a mess.

Just looking at this page makes me 🤢

I’ve had a personal disdain for these tools for many years, as I’ve tweeted about issues a few times, and had many conversations with other founders and PMs about it. And today, I’m finally pulling together a comprehensive case for:

  1. Why great product teams would never dream of using a Feature Voting tool
  2. All the reasons feature voting leads to a worse products and bad decisions
  3. What to do instead to be truly customer driven and deliver real customer value

With that in mind, let’s dive in…

Why Great Product Teams Avoid Feature Voting Tools like the Plague

There’s more than one way to build a great product, but there are a few traits that great product teams have in common:

  • Data Informed: They measure the results of their work and use analytics and data to help them focus their efforts and see where they need to ask questions.
  • Customer Driven: They think with the end user in mind, whether they understand it innately because they are it, or they deeply dig in to get to know and speak with end users of all types.
  • Detail Oriented: The details are what separate okay and good from great when it comes to products. One of my favorite sites is dedicated to them: LittleBigDetails.com
  • Product Sense: This obviously takes time to develop, but the best product teams include people who have and enforce having taste; they don’t fall for every fad, and bring a stamp to their work that people can see a bit of their fingerprints on.
  • Collaborative: The Holy Grail of great product teams is being able to operate with the Cauldron approach that Steve Jobs used; everyone brings their best ideas, no one cares whose idea was what, and everyone focuses on creating the best possible solution.

These are all hard to build and can take time to develop. If you’re trying to level up a product org, you likely can only improve one at a time, but that’s a post for another day.

When it comes to feature voting, it works against all of these:

  • Data Informed: As we’ll dig into more below, the data from feature voting is trash. Bad data is worse than no data.
  • Customer Driven: It may seem like it brings some customer voice in, but feature voting is so distorted and warped, it represents a bastardized version of listening to and understanding your customer.
  • Detail Oriented: When people vote on a feature, what are they really saying? You don’t know. You just know they clicked an up arrow, not the nuance of their needs.
  • Product Sense: Feature voting tries to turn your customers into your product team. Don’t. do. that. You build a product team so your PM, designer, and engineers can create the best solution, which customers usually haven’t thought of.
  • Collaborative: There’s nothing collaborative about a wall of feature votes on a screen. And without the real context of the problems to be solved, there’s no way to talk tradeoffs and iterate to something great.

Yet, despite all these being true, these are minor issues compared to the biggest issues with feature voting: They are fatally flawed from the start.

Let’s talk about why.

How Feature Voting Fails

Let’s deconstruct all the failed parts of using a feature voting system. It starts with a faulty foundation, and falls completely apart from there.

1) You get *features* not problems.

If you look at the average results of feature voting sites, what you’ll see is a lot of people asking for a feature. Typically posts say things like:

  • Make a CSV export
  • Build an integration with X
  • Add tangential feature Y

Here’s the thing: Any of those requests should be the *start* of a conversation, not the answer by itself.

For instance, with a CSV export, all of these questions come to mind putting on my PM hat:

  • What specifically do you want to export?
  • Why do you need an export? How will you use the export?
  • How would you like the export formatted?
  • How often would you expect to need the export? Why that frequency?

All of these questions can lead you down a rabbit hole that realizes any of the following:

  • A new report in your product would be better, and more up to date, than an export.
  • The export is for a key weekly meeting for the customer, so automatically emailing the numbers would be even better.
  • The export is only needed once a year, and needs to cover multiple sections of your product to really meet their needs.

The only way to get these kinds of insights is to talk directly to customers, and a feature voting site does not allow you to have those 1 on 1 conversations effectively.

2) People get easily sidetracked…

You’re using a product. Suddenly you notice something annoying, confusing, or missing. You decide you’ll share the feedback that their stacked bar chart that only has two shades of blue is very difficult to read and you’d like more control and granularity.

You notice they have a feedback button, or a link to their feature site and eagerly head over.

When you get there, you’re greeted by a list of dozens, if not hundreds of other options.Without meaning to, you start reading the other options, maybe clicking on a few. “Oh that sounds interesting…” you think.

Without meaning to, you start reading the other options, maybe clicking on a few. “Oh that sounds interesting…” you think.

But then you forget why you came, and either never get around to sharing the feedback you meant to, or giving only a partial explanation of your original thought.

Either way, the product team loses, as the feedback that motivated you to come to the page is much more valuable than a random upvote or two.

3) …Too many votes for something discourages future posting

While distraction is one problem, the sibling of it is people flat out giving up. If you look and see the top upvoted item was posted in 2017 and has 400 upvotes, what makes you think your new idea will ever get any attention? And do you think that anyone at the company is even really listening?

When feature voting apps were first getting popular about 5-10 years ago, I used to dig into them to try to get an idea of how product teams used them.

It was depressingly rare how often I’d see someone from the company actually active.

Even worse, when they were active, it was usually trying to explain why they’re not going to build the most popular items.

Now, feature voting sites can try to help with this by building some kind of algorithm to show “trending” or “most recent” items, but that’s really lipstick on a pig; this is just one of many significant problems.

(Fun aside: At a past job, I looked at our competitor’s UserVoice and noticed a number of posts from people asking for features we had that they didn’t. I passed this to our VP of Sales who then figured out who these people were and got some of them to switch to us.

So your Feature Voting page not only hurts your product, but makes it easier for your more ambitious competitors to steal your frustrated customers.)

4) Nobody wants yet another log in

One of the most famous stories in e-commerce history is the discovery that you can make *millions* more, and have double-digit improvements in checkout conversion by allowing people to check out as guests:

No one wants yet another log in, yet in many feature voting tools, the first thing you have to do is create another account to upvote or leave a suggestion.

As anyone who has worked on growth teams or on e-commerce conversion rates knows, adding steps to a process will always lead to more drop-off.

So let’s think about it…which is easier:

Feature Voting:

  1. Leave product you’re in to go to feature voting site
  2. Land on the overall page filled with existing suggestions
  3. Click on an item or to post your own feedback
  4. Sign up for an account (or if you’re a masochist, sign in with your account from last time)
  5. Find the way to add your suggestion and post it

Or, the direct way:

  1. Click on Intercom, a Feedback button, or link
  2. Send your message

If you’re measuring the rate of customers having feedback to actually sending, the latter option will far outperform the former.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves on the solution, so let’s continue with the problems of Feature Voting.

5) Not all votes are equal.

Let’s look at two different Product Managers and see what they have:

PM 1: Talks to customers directly, gets feedback passed to them from other teams, and with help, organizes it all.

PM 2: Relies on the feature voting page, when convenient, to show how many people are asking for something like what they dreamed up.

—

PM 1 has 25 logged conversations where they or a colleague they trained asked some follow up questions for context, and understands this is “very important” not just a “nice to have.”

PM 2 has 50 upvotes for a feature that kinda sounds like what they’ve spec’d out.

Question: Who has more real data to back up their decision making?

  • Answer: PM 1 in a landslide.

Upvotes != real customer feedback

The number of upvotes a Feature Voting submission has does not mean all of those people want the same thing.

Let me repeat that: The number of upvotes does not mean every upvote wants the same thing.

Here are some of the reasons someone may upvote it:

  1. “I want that feature exactly as described.”
  2. “Well, this has 25 votes already, and it’s close enough, I’ll upvote that instead of post mine.”
  3. “Oh that looks interesting, I wouldn’t mind that. Click.”
  4. “I think my coworker wanted that…”
  5. “I could have used that a few months ago” (and haven’t needed it since)
  6. “That sounds cool.”

All those upvotes and you don’t really have a quantitative count of customer input. Something could have 250 upvotes, but it’s the least important item. Or they could want different functionality or features as part of it.

You don’t know though, because all you have is an upvote, not a conversation, or even a few sentences from each of those people.

QUICK PM QUIZ:

You’re a SaaS PM that has a mix of SMB and mid-market customers. Which feature should you build:

  • A) A feature that all 5 of your biggest customers say is critical to their workflow
  • B) Dark Mode, because it’s highly upvoted on your Feature Voting tool

If you choose B, please think about a career change

6) Customers forget what they wanted if you wait to reach out

Do you remember what you were thinking a year ago? How about a month ago? A week?

For the vast majority of people, ideas, and feedback, are fleeting. When you’re in the moment doing something is the time you’re most in tune with the situation.

If I come back to you a year later asking, “Hey – I saw you upvoted Feature X last year. We’re finally working on it. What were you looking for?” Unless you have continued regularly experiencing the issue that prompted the vote, you’re unlikely to remember the request well.

You might have also changed jobs and be unreachable, gone on vacation when I reach out, or not even remember voting for something.

That means following up with all those upvoters when you finally get around to a feature, you’re unlikely to get nearly as many useful insights as you would in the moment.

Feedback is like milk…it goes bad quickly when raw.

That’s why it’s so important to talk to customers regularly, and ask them in the moment what the underlying problem is and why it matters to them. That’s when they’ll remember the context you need to truly understand their request.

Just because you can’t build something right away does not mean you can’t talk to customers about their needs and save it for later. You do that by talking to them (in chat, email, calls, etc), not by collecting votes and checking your Feature Voting app once a quarter for ideas.

—

From distractions to lost feedback, and murky data to blurred meaning, Feature Voting is fundamentally flawed from the start, and only gets worse the longer you use it.

Now, let’s talk about what to do instead.

What to do instead of Feature Voting:

By now you understand why it’s a terrible idea to add feature voting to your product, but that’s only half the battle.

You need to then focus on what to do instead.

1) Source feedback where it naturally occurs

Done right, your company can be a customer / feedback gathering machine. We did it when I was the 1st PM at KISSmetrics.

There are great sources of feedback available all around you:

  • Sales Teams: They know what deals are closing and what deals they’re losing. And the best sales people know the difference between good losses (not a great fit) and bad losses (could have won and the customer would be happy).
  • Customer Support: They deal with the angry, the frustrated, the annoyed, and the confused. Tap into their knowledge and fix their biggest problems…and you’ll fix your customers’ problems, too. They also will get feedback, so give them a way to pass it to you.
  • Account Management: They’re in charge of keeping customers and making them successful, so they see the gap between the promises your sales team made, and the reality of using your product. Another gold mine of feedback and insights, and even a potential source of future junior PMs.
  • UX Researchers: As they do usability testing and test new features, they likely hear customer gripes, questions, and feedback. Make sure that gets captured.
  • Data Teams: Ever wanted to ask a specific subsegment of your audience a question? Your data team is your best friend in helping create all kinds of great segments to analyze, survey, and reach out to for customer interviews.
  • You: If you’re a PM and not regularly talking to customers, what are you doing? Make the time, and build the habit both for features you’re actively thinking about and to generally get feedback.

Now, that sounds like a lot, and it is. Which is why you need to dig into one of the key, unheralded jobs of great product managers: Relationship Building.

Have Peer 1 on 1s with key people on other teams.

Choose some of the best people, or those most related to the part of your product you work on, and have peer 1 on 1s with those people in customer success, sales, and account management.

If you’re new to these, this post dives deep into how to have awesome peer 1 on 1s as a product manager.

As you meet with them every 4-8 weeks or so, remember to teach them how to fish! What this means is that you will:

  • Explain to them your goals of gathering feedback and understanding customer needs they’re hearing, so they get what you’re trying to accomplish.
  • Teach them how to ask a good followup question or two (“How important is this to you? What is most important to you in this request? Why?”) before passing information to you.
  • Involve them in prioritization by telling them the threshold for passing it to you (i.e.- “Once you hear something 10 times, let me know” or “If it’s a customer >$N per year, pass immediately to me.”), thus keeping your signal to noise ratio strong.

You can also then share back with them how you’re listening and acting on what you hear from them. 

Nothing puts a smile on the face of customer success like hearing “Yes, we’re finally fixing that bug you have been dealing with for months” or telling a sales person about a hot new feature you both know they can sell like crazy.

When you start sourcing information from all across your company, you’ll see that feature voting is so incredibly low quality compared to all the ways you can get detailed, context-filled, specific information from your peers.

2) Choose your focus

Feature Voting apps don’t know what your company’s priorities are this quarter, and neither do your customers. Yet, as far as a Feature Voting app knows, all requests are created equally.

That’s why it’s important for you to narrow your efforts as a PM by starting with a focus.

Some examples of proper focus would be:

  • Retention: You need to improve retention and resurrection of old accounts for your social app.
  • Churn: Your SaaS app is leaking too many customers, bringing a drag on growth.
  • Growth: You need to create more organic growth through an improved viral coefficient.
  • Conversion: Customers are adding to cart, but not buying. You need to find out why, because it is crushing your CAC.
  • Activation: Why are customers signing up, but not completing the setup process?
  • New Bookings: Your company is trying to go up market, and needs to identify the features that will allow for more medium sized business deals to close.

For each of these problems, a different segment of your customer base would be your target to talk to. Along with this, different problems and features would be most important to focus on.

By starting with your focus in mind, it narrows down your efforts significantly, and can help you ask the right questions of all your peers you’re now meeting with and talking to semi-regularly.

This context helps you make better decisions, and changes who you talk to and what you ask them.

3) Get Quantitative, too!

While ultimately the goal is to understand who your users are, how they use your product, the problems you solve (or need to solve in the future) and how you fit into their world, you must balance that qualitative information with quantitative data.

Being customer driven also means understanding the numerical side of your customer base. You likely have a few different personas and company types who use your product. You need to understand how that translates numerically to your business with answers to questions like:

  • What % of our customer base is each type of business? How much of our total revenue do they correspond to? 
  • What customer types have the highest LTV? 
  • How do our core metrics compare when we slice our customer base by various properties (like company size, business type, various demographics, plan type, device, location/region, etc):
    • Churn rate
    • Rate of expansion 
    • Referral rate 
    • Conversion rate

And I’m sure you can think of many more. This kind of quantitative work is a priceless exercise, especially if you haven’t done it before. 

When I was at KISSmetrics we dove deep into these and discovered that company size didn’t really matter, but when it came to business model, SaaS and Ecommerce businesses converted 2X as well, churned half as much, and thus had a much higher LTV.

Do you think that impacted our future product decisions?

Surveys are your friend, too.

Now, ideally you’d have infinite data you could easily query across your product to answer every question. However, that’s neither feasible, nor really desirable (it would be too costly, hard to maintain, etc)

For snapshots in time, and to jump-start efforts, surveys then become your friend.

This allows you to then take input from your customers (especially those interested enough to take a survey) and segment it based on the questions you ask.

That’s why for instance with my startup, Lighthouse, we ask people what department they work in. Certain departments convert better than others, while one department has proven to be a massive time waste. We automatically filter out the latter’s input, because we know it’s not useful.

However, surveys are not a guaranteed silver bullet. In fact, most people make a ton of mistakes using surveys by making them too long, asking too many open ended questions, or using confusing language.

That’s why I regularly revisit this awesome post from Profitwell on how to do product surveys.

The TLDR is simple:

  1. Keep it short
  2. Make as many questions multiple choice as possible
  3. Ask customers to mark the *most* and *least* important things instead of rating everything

Now, taking a step back, not only are you building an engine to gather all your feedback and to better understand your customers, but you should also be using your analytics and other quantitative data (sales & marketing numbers, conversions, custom queries from your data team, etc) to help prioritize what metrics you want to move.

And once again, this kind of data informed approach gives you much better information than the random, muddy data of feature votes. Here you’re understanding problems, not starting with features.

4) Make people feel heard!

I hinted at this above in the problems with Feature Voting section, and it bears repeating: your customers want to feel heard. 

Posting or upvoting on a Feature Voting site is like the Suggestion Box in a Dilbert Comic:

The real way to make customers feel heard is for them to get a response from someone on the product team to things they ask for, and to occasionally see things they ask for fixed or added.

It could be its own post on how to do this, but for starters, here are 3 of my favorite approaches:

1) Tell your customers about new features launched

Any progress is good progress in the eyes of customers. It gives them hope you’ll get to some of their requests, and can really make their day when you finally build something they really wanted. 

That’s why I’m a big advocate of sending semi-regular product update emails.

Doing so let’s them know you’re listening, gives you a place to thank those that gave feedback, and reduce churn as people recognize you’re improving the product regularly. 

2) Make all your product emails have a real reply address so you can talk to people

I’m always stunned when companies send announcements and product emails and make them noreply@company.com. That’s a big missed opportunity.

Instead, make it a google group that sends to some of the product team. You’ll get fewer emails than you may be worried, but those that do really care.  Your customers will appreciate being able to respond (often saying positive things and showing gratitude!) and with a simple, quick reply, you (or a coworker) can make them feel heard. 

3) When you launch a feature based on feedback from a customer, email them personally.

How do you feel when you get personal notes from friends, family, or people you work with? Pretty good, right?

You can do the same for your customers simply by sending them a quick thank you note when their input is acted on. 

If you’re a small startup, then this should be pretty easy. Sending 10 thank you’s to those that hopped on a call should take you 5 minutes.  

As you scale, this can scale too. If need be, pull the names and emails of those that submitted feedback, had a flagged support ticket, did a usability test, etc and do a mail merge to send all of them a similar form note thanking them. Anything is better than nothing. 

You can also enlist your coworkers, like for instance asking your Account Manager to reach out to their customers involved and let the AM share the good news. 

This is win-win; it’s less work for you AND the Account Manager looks good to the customer, as it shows they can effectively pass along feedback that gets acted on by the product team.

Doing this not only makes people feel heard, but it also helps you build relationships that create power users and customer advisory boards. The more people feel heard, the more they’ll reach out and make your life easier as a product manager seeking out feedback, problems, and insights.

Isn’t this a lot of work?

Yes, this is a lot of work, but you’ll notice quite a bit of this is collaborative. That means you’re sharing the workload. And best of all, your hit rate on features built will go way up, so there’s less drama, more excitement, and you overall become more efficient.

All because you roll up your sleeves and do the work.

Take the time to be a product person who truly cares about their craft and builds processes and paths to directly learn from and speak with their customers. You’ll find that feature voting is then the last thing you’d want when you have all this direct, quality customer insight coming in.

Thanks to Ray Wu , Adil Majid, and Willis Jackson for feedback on this post.

Need help for you or your product team? I can be your coach.

I’m doing a limited number of engagements now helping with getting your first customers and early adopters, overcoming churn issues, and validating new features. You can sign up for a free intro call here, or learn more about what I do here.

 

How Being Customer Driven United a Startup & Doubled Feature Engagement

What’s your proudest moment as a product manager?

For some, it’s shipping a massive feature that really struck a chord in the market. For others, it’s navigating a really complex challenge and finding an elegant solution. Or it could be any number of things like:

  • Amazing ROI on an opportunity you identified.
  • The moment you know you’d guided the product to product market fit.
  • Recognition from the CEO or a mentor you really respect.

After over a decade working in product, I have quite a few of those, and the story today definitely ranks way up there.

One of my proudest moments at KISSmetrics

Way back in 2012, I was the second, 1st PM at KISSmetrics. When I joined, it had been almost 4 months since the original, 1st PM had departed, and at that point, things had gotten pretty messy as no one was really doing what a good product manager does.

For instance, there wasn’t a lot of process, or commitment to talking to customers regularly, nor a way to channel feedback from those that were talking to customers into something actionable for the product team.

Over the course of my first 6 months there, with Hiten’s support, I slowly worked to turn the ship in a variety of ways to get us to be more customer driven. We were already product-led, well before “product-led” was a thing, but as an analytics company, we found it far more comfortable to rely on quantitative data in our KISSmetrics reports than qualitative data from our customers.

That’s why it was a really proud moment when the story you’ll read below describes when every single employee (over 30 at the time) talked to at least one customer that week. It led to one of the biggest morale boosts we had while I was there, and had a huge impact for our customers.

A big win for customers and us

When the KISSmetrics blog sold and some posts were no longer up, I had to rely on the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive to reference the story of this moment when we got everyone in the entire company to talk to at least 1 customer in the same week.

To ensure this story is preserved going forward, I’m reposting this story as told by my coworker, Chuck Liu, back in November 2012. Everything between the lines is his writing.


Getting Things Done: How Moving Fast Doubled Our Feature Engagement

As a SaaS business, we regularly make improvements in our software product because we care about our customers. We also want to give our customers a competitive advantage with our customer data so they can make better business decisions.

When we started working on our new version of Live two weeks ago, we had a lot of discussion about whether we should rewrite the whole thing or just improve the visual designs. I’ll dive more into that a little later, but one of the big influencers for a rewrite was that we wanted to make a dramatic improvement in reliability and uptime — one that wouldn’t be possible with just a simple design upgrade. What’s a new design worth if it doesn’t work?

Funny thing is, when we finished building Live, our customers said it was fantastic…but still there was something missing. We were not getting the engagement or adoption levels we had hoped for.

What went wrong?

Instead of going back to the drawing board, we kept it simple. We figured we’d waste time making decisions and changing a lot of things. It was going to take too long to plan everything out again. We learned that, a lot of times, all it takes is small changes here and there to get that bump in engagement.

In our case at KISSmetrics, we increased our engagement by making small alterations in design thanks to our customer-driven data. Test quicker, faster, and get more things done. Here’s our story:

Building the New Version of Live

New KISSmetrics Live
KISSmetrics Live lets you monitor top activity trends, filter for specific activity you’re looking for with a new launch or campaign, and see information for individual customers — all in real time.

When we set out to improve our Live tab (which provides people with a real-time data stream of customer activity), we first looked to our secret sauce — customer feedback.

Thanks to our awesome customers, we were able to define a list of requirements and use cases that our Live tool needed to help customers get their jobs done better and faster.

Some key requirements included:

  • Reliability*** — Flash was causing all sorts of trouble
  • A way to drill down on specific people, events, or properties
  • A better way to view your own activity AND monitor the live stream
  • Getting into individual customer profiles more obviously

Flash was a big offender. It caused loading problems. The different versions caused different errors. It crashed. Customers were not able to see it at all because of their device. Customers lost their whole session.

Customer Feedback Visualized
The old version of Live, complete with annotations, after customer feedback was summarized by Jason Evanish, our product manager. Oof.

Before we got to any visual design improvements, we started with the back end. If our customers couldn’t use our feature, there would be no point in updating the visuals or functionality. Our engineers did the hard part by building a robust back end that didn’t depend on Flash anymore. They were able to deliver the behind-the-scenes magic that powers our new Live tab now.

With reliability improved, we could confidently move forward and implement the rest of our improvements.

Getting to Customer Needs

What do customers actually need? To help answer this, we started with sketches, mockups, and wireframes.

New Feature Sketch Wireframe
One of the earliest sketches in our design phase from Eric, our support engineer.

We wanted to work with something low fidelity to show customers’ rough user experiences so we could see if our ideas were actually helping them solve their problems. This allowed us to focus on the jobs customers were trying to get done without having colors and major layouts get in the way of the feedback. It allowed us to differentiate what they needed (ways to filter, search, etc.) from what they wanted (button colors, perfect alignment, etc.).

UI Notes from Designer
Another idea from one of our designers, Jason Caldwell, with UI notes.

As a company that helps other businesses get to know their people, it was obvious to us that we needed to keep in close contact with our customers. And we did just that. After several cycles of interviews and testing, we were able to get to a point where customers agreed that they would be able to do the jobs they wanted to accomplish with our new improved tool. So we started building.

Problem Solved! …or so we thought.

Final Wireframe Mockup
Final design that was made by our lead designer, Ian, and implemented. Huzzah!

A job well-done, everyone! Let’s move on to the next thing, we thought.

Not so fast.

When we launched the feature two weeks ago, our feedback box started filling up with messages.

customer feedback
Some feedback messages all about stream activity being too big. Yowza. Thanks to everyone who sent in feedback!

A lot of the initial negative feedback focused on how the stream items were so large that it was impossible to scan for customer activity. Some people even wanted to switch back because it was not valuable without the ability to scan easily!

Luckily, we received positive feedback with regard to reliability, search filters, and trend monitoring. All the jobs were accomplished (yeah!), but we had a design issue to solve.

Here’s How We Got The Crazy Boost In Engagement

Crazy Boost in Engagement
Yes, this is the actual metric chart with the huge jump. Since our data is tracked on a per-person basis, we knew something great happened.

The small bump in the middle of the graph was when we originally launched the new version of Live. We saw about a 50% increase in that week alone after an email to our existing customers to check it out and use it over the course of the week where it leveled off.

After the feedback wave, we hustled. We didn’t waste any time trying to come up with a quick change that would alleviate the main problem: customers wanted to see more activity and data in the stream.

New KISSmetrics Live
What we rolled out a week later as Version 2. We increased how much activity you could see, while maintaining some Version 1 design elements on hover.

In the old design, you could see two customer activities, maybe two and half activities, in the stream. In the new design we came up with, you can see ten activities in the same resolution.

Here’s how some of our customers responded:

customer feeback via Twitter
Valuable feedback turned into fix. Thanks Pejman!
best debugging tool
Happy customer with the new fixes and improvements. Thanks Evan!

Best part? We didn’t do any additional marketing or launch emails when we implemented the new version. Our customers organically started using the feature A LOT.

So What Did We Do?

1. We started with tracking customer data. We made sure we established tracking for our Live tab with KISSmetrics. Tracking on a per-person basis steers you away from dangerous vanity metrics and makes you start analyzing the behavior of real people. One event each from a million people is very different from a million events from just one person.

We also got customer feedback data and made sure their problems were solved by our solutions.

2. With customer data, we were able to look into the whole lifecycle of our engagement patterns, all the way back to the first occurrence, as well as drill down into specific customers, if necessary. We were able to benchmark our performance to measure against dips, or in this case, gains.

3. We made small design changes according to most common customer requests. And we did it fast. It’s hard for any business to get everything right the first time. Or the second time. And so on. If you iterate quicker, you’ll learn faster about what worked, what didn’t work, and how to prioritize what’s next.


What a great story!

Because the company had become really in tune with our customers across a variety of methods (as you can see above, it even included tweeting at Hiten), we were able to understand our customer’s frustrations and quickly engage the whole team in a fix.

As I’ve learned over and over again in my career, if you get engineers and designers hearing the words straight from customers, it motivates them deeply to do their best work that customers love.

And this situation was no different as we quickly fixed the feature to be exactly what customers needed.

With that win under our belt, it became commonplace for everyone to ask what was best for the customer, and to go talk to customers if we didn’t feel we knew the answers yet.

You can do this, too.

Wish your company was more product-led, or your product team was more customer focused? I can help you.

I’m doing a limited amount of product consulting helping product-minded founders and 1st product managers learn and apply all the best product skills I’ve learned from some of the greatest product people in Silicon Valley.

If you enjoy what I’ve written here on my blog, then you’ll love when I get into the specifics of your business to help you accelerate your learning and take the actions that have a big impact…without the years of painful trial-and-error.

Want to see if there’s a fit for us to work together to help you? Then sign up for a free call by clicking here.

100 Lessons and Spicy Takes on Being a Software Product Manager

It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve been working in the software tech industry for 10 years now. For the vast majority of that time, I’ve either been a product manager, or a founder with a heavy focus on product.

With the trend on Twitter of 1 like = 1 insight or spicy take, I decided to jump on board the trend and do one on product management. It appears to have resonated:

So 100,000+ impressions later, it seems that it really resonated with people.

With the ephemeral nature of Twitter, I wanted to preserve those takes for easy future reference, so this post represents them.

100 Insights + Spicy Takes on Software Product Management

There’s some great discussion around many of the tweets, so I encourage you to check out all the discussions here.

The trick to tell if there’s a reply to a tweet is to look at the speech bubble in the bottom left corner of each tweet:

look to the number of comments to see if there's a response to that tweet

If the tweet says 1 in that area (like Tweet 2/), then the only reply is my subsequent tweet in the thread. If it’s more (like  Tweet1/) then there are replies to click on and see.

Anyways, let’s get onto the takes:

1/ Being a PM is a job of influence. The best PMs are the mayor of their area of work. You need to be able to build coalitions, and get buy in from a wide group of people.
That doesn’t happen by accident. It takes work.

2/ The best PMs are autodidacts. They’re constantly curious and always learning.If you don’t like learning lots of new skills from sales, to marketing, to negotiation, to EQ, to design, don’t be a PM.

3/ PMs are also like a point guard playing basketball. Done right, they set up many others to look great.A strong collaboration makes your designers create better designs, and the engineers ship a better product faster. Those assists don’t show in the score sheet but matter.

4/ PMs also are limited by their team. If you are missing key players or have weak players at other positions, it will often look like the PM is weak, because they have to cover or fill in gaps.Two of the toughest are PMs w/o good design help or lacking a good tech lead partner

5/ There are many ways to become a PM. You cannot major in product management, so everyone gets their start different ways.If you think you want to be a PM, look into how people you follow did it. You may be surprised how varied it is.

6/ The best ways to become a PM:
A) Excel at a growing company & ask to transition (seen it work great for marketers, customer success, design, & engineers)
B) Do a side project or startup to show you can PM (this eliminates the chicken or egg problem of having never been a PM)

7/ Getting an MBA won’t help you become a good PM.It won’t make you a better PM if you already are one, either.If you want to become a GM at a company, an MBA makes sense, but it doesn’t help product managers.

8/ I’m sure the previous tweet is going to get some replies from a Sloanie, HBS grad, or Stanford MBA.As is always the case on Twitter, exceptions always get mentioned, but do not disprove the general statement. Save $200k if you love PM and don’t get an MBA.

9/ Most of the worst PMs I know or have heard about are either former engineers or MBAs.
– MBAs often bring ego + don’t want to do the real work (talking to customers, iterating, etc)
– Engineers can struggle with the interpersonal & relationship building side of PM’ing.

10/ If the sales team is at war with your product team, or people try to go straight to your engineers for pet requests, those are your fault.The #1 mistake that good PMs make is not building relationships across departments. Fix it with peer 1 on 1s: https://jasonevanish.com/2015/09/24/product-managers-peer-one-on-ones/

11/ The #1 mistake mediocre & bad PMs make is not talking to customers.It’s scary getting outside the building, and they instead choose to be master BS artists.If this is you, change your ways in 2020. I wrote how-to’s I wish I had when I started: https://jasonevanish.com/product/

12/ There are 31 flavors of product managers. An A+ PM at one company would be terrible for another company.If you’re hiring, recognize this could explain a short stint on a resume, and if you’re job hunting, don’t apply to PM jobs that don’t match your skills & strengths.

13/ PMs fit differently based on a variety of factors such as:
– The business model (Ecommerce vs. SaaS vs. Ad tech are dramatically different jobs)
– Company stage (Think public company vs. Series B vs. Seed)
– Company culture (How are decisions made? What do they value?)

14/ The interview process for product management is completely broken. 

15/ There would be no need for a whole market for products to “Master the PM Interview” if the interview process was actually good at most companies.

16/ The best interviews see if you can do the work *you’ll be hired to actually do.*Unfortunately, most PM interviews are veiled in hypotheticals that have nothing to do with the job, and are basically trick questions.Mastering trick ?s has nothing to do w/ being a good PM.

17/ Most product teams don’t check their applicant tracking system nor respond to applicants who apply cold.This is ironic given the trend of calling PMs “Mini-CEOs”, and recruiting is one of a CEO’s most important jobs… 🙄

18/ If you want to get a response on an application, get an intro into someone on the team.Don’t have a network? Search LinkedIn for lower level PMs. No one asks them for help, so they’re more likely to respond & have a call/coffee to discuss the culture, then refer you in.

19/ The first PM hire at startups is almost always a sacrificial lamb at the altar of learning for the founder.Read more why and what to do about it here: https://jasonevanish.com/2019/04/28/second-1st-pm/

20/ The best job if you love startups is to be the *2nd* first PM hire, as you get all the opportunity, equity, and influence…all thanks to the PM that came before you.They died on hills, and helped the company learn what they actually wanted.

21/ Most customers don’t report bugs or give feedback.They just quietly suffer, or churn and then maybe tell you. 

22/ I follow the “Rule of 10:” If 1 customer has an issue, there are probably 10 more that didn’t say anything. 

23/ If you have an issue, get in the habit of sending a note to those affected. It’s good service AND it helps you quantify issues.I’ve had many engineers be surprised when they see that 2-3 tickets is actually affected TONS of users. Getting a list to email helps quantify it.

24/ Customers don’t care how hard (or easy) a feature was.All they care about is if you solve their problem or make it possible for them to do what they want to do.

25/ Quick Wins (aka – simple things you can do to make the product better for your customers) is a great way to let your team recharge and build some momentum after shipping a big feature.Sometimes customers are more excited by this than your big feature.

26/ Product/Market Fit exists for both buyers and end users.You can have one and not the other, and it will cause your business to sputter.

27/ Never become a PM at a company where the founders don’t understand what a PM does. You’ll get no credit for wins + all the blame for any problems.Fateful last words include “that feature went really well, but I have no idea how you contributed” & “Why can’t you just…” 🤦‍♂️

28/ Jeff Bezos was right when he said this:

“The thing I have noticed is when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right. There’s something wrong with the way you are measuring it.”

The problem is most PMs don’t talk to enough customers to tell this is the case.

29/ There’s nothing like doing product management in Silicon Valley. There, PMs are mostly considered vital and valuable parts of the company. This changes who does the job, and how they work.

30/ If you want to be world class at product management, you need to work a few years in Silicon Valley for this reason, and many more.Being around that many product obsessed, super smart people, will level you up rapidly.

31/ A long time product consultant in NYC told me, “NYC product is 20 years behind the Valley.” That feels directionally accurate.I think there are *many* smart, great PMs in town, but it’s structural/cultural issues that undervalue product here: https://medium.com/@Bosefina/how-to-be-a-product-driven-company-in-nyc-342fd689877e

32/ The mascot of NYC PMs would be Eeyore.The amount of self deprecation I’ve seen/heard that really feels like “haha, it’s funny, but I’m actually sad about it” has been one of my biggest surprises.Product is undervalued in many cases here!

33/ One of the hardest remote jobs is being a PM.Collaboration and innovation are where the magic happens, and that’s the greatest weakness of remote work.There are ways around some of it, but it takes a lot of conscious effort. 

34/ If you’re a remote PM, use any flights or face time you get to try to solve your biggest challenges.Nothing remote can compare to the energy of being in the room at a white board with your designer and engineer(s) working on a problem. 

35/ Also document, document, document, and share, share, share.You can’t walk by your pod and tell them about a great customer interview, so you need to find other ways to share what everyone needs to know…in a light weight way they’ll actually read/see.

36/ On the flip side, remote can help bring out some of the best work of your designers and engineers as they can more easily get into deep work and focus.Try doing that in an open office…

37/ The #1 skill to develop to be a better PM is to become a better writer.

38/ Writing touches everything you do as a PM:
– Product specs
– Updates to customers
– Updates to stakeholders
– Note taking in meetings
– Notes and takeaways from customer interviews
– Writing good survey questions
– Communicating to your team

39/ To become a better writer as a PM, write more:
– Blog posts
– Internal documents
– Tweets + Tweetstorms ;)
– Personal notes to collect and organize your thoughts.
– Emails and experiment with templates you use.

40/ The other way to become a better writer is to read more. Read regularly, and you’ll find your vocabulary gets stronger and you always learn.

41/ My favorite books to help you write #1: Tested Advertising Methods amzn.to/2sHa6OH
– Copywriting goes everywhere from the marketing site, to help docs, to inside your product
– You probably have to write some of that
– The lessons apply beyond that
H/t @LarsLofgren

42/ My fav books to help you write #2: Never Split the Difference amzn.to/2Ff5HoL
– You do a lot of negotiating as a PM. This teaches you a better approach whether working with an angry customer, negotiating with another team for resources, or deftly handling your boss.

43/ My favorite books to help you write #3: How to Win Friends & Influence People amzn.to/2ZJOLQG
– PMs are in the people business and this is the gold standard to working well with other people. This applies as much to what you write as what you say.

44/ The best way to earn respect from an engineer is to have data to back up what you tell them. Show them the customer interviews & quotes, or the analytics/data and you’ll engage them much more in what they’re building.This wins many more people over than a batle of opinions.

45/ The easiest trap to fall into as a PM is to ship things and never check the results of your work.Set a reminder for yourself 2 weeks or 2 months (depending on your company stage) later to go back and see what worked or didn’t. 

46/ Setting up analytics and measurement of a new feature is as important as making sure all the buttons are where they should before launching your feature.It should be part of your product spec. (I like @joshelman‘s approach for that https://jasonevanish.com/2014/06/03/how-to-write-a-product-thesis-to-communicate-customer-needs-to-design-and-engineering-teams/

47/ Ship early, ship often.

48/ I follow the “Estimation Rule of 2X:” Any project’s estimate is always off by 2X.
– When it’s 2 vs 1 day, or 2 instead of 1 hour, it’s not a big deal. However, the bigger the project, the more brutal this becomes (4 weeks vs 2 weeks, 4 months vs 2 months is a problem).

49/ PMs should be tool agnostic. Whatever your engineers will actually use and keep up to date is the project management tool you want to use.The tool you love for the burn down and gannt charts is not the hill to die on if all your engineers hate it.

50/ “Your startup either dies, or lives long enough to end up using Jira.”
This saying I used to hear 5 years ago still seems true. 

51/ PMs should be infinitely curious. If you see something you don’t understand you should want to investigate.
– Look into the analytics, ask the engineer to explain why, ask what motivated your designer to go that direction. You’ll learn, and it often sharpens their thinking. 

52/ If you’re a Senior PM or higher, you should be mentoring people inside and out of your company.It’s great to give back AND it will make you a better PM.

53/ Every time I help someone as a mentor, I walk away with a few new ideas and usually a reminder of a few things I know I should do that are slipping.

54/ It’s never been easier to get a mentor. A few ways people have reached me, and I’ve gained help:
– DMs on Twitter
– Well crafted Linkedin messages
– Cold emails after they read my blog and found my email address on there.
– Replies to blog post emails from subscribers.

55/ Creating a bonus structure for PMs is a very risky move*. If your company’s needs to change, you want PMs to be flexible, but that’s hard to convince them if their bonus says otherwise.* Exception = E-commerce it can work since it’s easier to have a consistent target.

56/ Being pedantic is a terrible trait for a PM.Care about the details, but in a tactful way. Know what hills to die on, and how to have both strong opinions, *and* loosely hold them.

57/ The art of knowing where and how to draw the line between high quality and shipping on time is one of the hardest skills to develop as a PM.Those that master it are worth their weight in gold.I like @Wayne‘s essay on this: https://blog.usejournal.com/want-to-build-an-incredible-product-strive-for-the-delta-of-wow-f184b716af18

58/ Being a founder, even if your startup fails, makes you a much better PM.
– You appreciate other roles more as you likely wore their hats
– You learn to ruthlessly focus on the metric that matters most
– You learn to deal with extreme constraints & the creativity that breeds

59/ A good PM is like glue & grease:
– Glue to hold things together and fill in gaps
– Grease to make things run more smoothly and adapt to changes

60/ Feature voting tools are for mediocre PMs.

61/ Show me a feature voting site for a product and I’ll show you a graveyard of unanswered customer requests and a lot of noise.

62/ Show me a product team that relies on data from feature voting, and I’ll show you a team that thinks they know their users a lot better than they actually do.Some day I’ll finally turn this into a blog post it deserves:

63/ Companies that struggle with endless debates about their products and roadmap typically are arguing opinions, which ends up creating lots of politics and the most important person in the room making calls.

64/ Companies focused on their customers settle their debates one of two ways:
1) They ask “What’s best for the customer?”
2) They plan an experiment or table the discussion until they get some data/evidence

65/ Disagree & commit is an essential skill for any PM.You need to do it sometimes, and so does everyone else on your team.The key to avoiding resentment is to measure the results of the decision. Everyone is wrong sometimes, and that’s okay as long as you fix it later.

66/ Great product leaders are unsung heroes: Their teams get all the credit if it works, and if it doesn’t, they are the ones to have to answer.

67/ Getting customers to talk to is hard and interviewing them is time consuming, which is why so many PMs rarely do it.

68/ Getting customers to talk to you is a team effort:
– Get customer success to forward you customers with issues in areas you’re fixing
– Reach out yourself (email, @intercom, etc)
– Partner with marketing on surveys & reach out to interesting answers.
– Talk to sales leads

69/ Joining a company to change their product culture is like signing up to climb Everest in shorts.It may be possible, but there’s a good chance you’ll die trying.

70/ Product managers pre-product/market fit have a 10X harder job than those post-product/market fit.

71/ The stronger the product/market fit, the easier it is for any product manager to look smart and deliver wins.A lot will be obvious, and in many cases, anything you build will work.

72/ Being hired as a PM to help a startup with a solution looking for a problem always leads to failure.The power dynamics and negative inertia are too great. Also, the founders should have been figuring it out, not a hired gun with 0.5-2% of the company.

73/ Some PM jobs are really project management jobs with a power struggle left off of the job description.

74/ Sharing wins and happy customer quotes are great ways to give your team a jolt of energy.We have a Slack channel dedicated to it at Lighthouse called #HappyManagers specifically because of this. Anyone can scroll through to read stories, quotes, and testimonials.

75/ When something is broken, the best way I’ve found to motivate a designer or engineer is to share the customer’s words directly.It’s one thing when you say it, but when they hear a customer say it, it hits their ego differently in a good way so they want to fix.
Side note: My favorite story of exactly this happening was also one of my proudest moments as the PM at KISSmetrics: web.archive.org/web/2012112303…

76/ Beautiful designs aren’t always usable or accessible designs.

77/ The #1 thing I’ve always had to remind designers I’ve work with is “Do you think a 50 year old with bifocals can read that”?

78/ McDonald’s theory is a great way to get your team unstuck:Suggest something you know will be rejected to get you back on the track of what you all do want. medium.com/@jonbell/mcdon…

79/ Harsh truth: The best products don’t always win.Sales & Marketing machines can be just as dominant, if not more so.

80/ In some markets, adding more features to demo & put on your pricing checklist is more valuable and important than any of the features being particularly good or useful.

81/ Tech debt doesn’t matter right until it might kill you.

82/ Adding another feature won’t help your company win if the ones you already have are broken.

83/ Tech debt is rarely talked about publicly, but many well known startups (both successes and failures) have faced major reckonings because of it.

For example:

84/ As a rule of thumb, once you’re onto something charging to or past P/M fit, spend 20% of your time on tech debt.This keeps it from crippling you and halting all progress (or killing you) later.A nice overview is here: https://blog.crisp.se/2013/10/11/henrikkniberg/good-and-bad-technical-debt
And the legendary Marty Cagan wrote about it here: https://svpg.com/engineering-wants-to-rewrite/

85/ My favorite way to pay down tech debt is to revisit/iterate on old features. This way you squeeze in a few quick wins (remember tweet #25?) along with fixing a troubled, decaying part of the product.It also helps keep the engineer(s) working on it thinking about customers.

86/ I knew @SlackHQ Channels could help with customer bugs and issues, but I was pleasantly surprised how well it also works to source customer development & product feedback fast.This is an amazing post on the topic from founder/CEO @stewart: https://slackhq.com/shared-channels-growth-innovation

87/ Always be iterating on your processes. What worked for a small team or company will break as you grow.Fortunately, said breaks are predictable: https://getlighthouse.com/blog/company-growth-everything-breaks-25-employees/

88/ The best way to iterate on your process is to make it a habit:
– Post Mortems (even when things go well)
– Peer 1 on 1s to get individual/private perspectives
– Ask for feedback after a ticket is closed (What can I do differently to make that easier/better next time?)

89/ The best way to scale being a customer driven company is to get everyone involved.You can’t be everywhere, but you can teach bits and pieces to others. Teach them how to ask a good followup question over email, or to do some of their own interviews.

90/ You need thick skin as a PM. You will fail and need to find another way. You will take more blame than you probably deserve.I’ve interviewed and been rejected by more companies than you’d ever guess. Lost many deals. Been flaked on by customers over and over. It happens 🤷‍♂️

91/ Focus groups are a disaster. Customer development is *one* customer at a time.You need to hear their individual stories and situations, not group think.

92/ Remember what Steve Jobs said on simplicity:“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end”The best solution is usually not the first idea. Keep pushing to get it right to unlock magic.

93/ Sometimes the best move is to kill a feature, not add another.

94/ My favorite way to learn is to read based on the biggest challenge I’m currently facing.This insures you immediately apply it to your work…and I find also motivates you to finish reading faster.I’ll share some good places to start after #100

95/ The product tours industry feels universally overpriced.None of them show you how to calculate ROI for what they charge, and typically it’s a small part of successful onboarding + educating users.

96/ Onboarding is really hard.- Customers don’t read.
– They skip overviews and tours.
– They quickly get bored of videos…then complain they “don’t get it.”And it’s still your job to help them get to the AHA! moment.

97/ The best way I’ve learned to make onboarding work is to use a lot of “lead bullets” mixed with experimentation.A little bit of everything makes it so there’s something for everyone.Ideally, you’ll simplify & help them focus on 1 thing, but that can be resource intensive.

98/ @intercom is the best product category for startup PMs since the development of modern analytics changed how we measure and made data accessible to everyone.

99/ Some mistakes you can learn from others and avoid. Others end up being learned the hard way.Be nice. What’s obvious to you may be a difficult lesson for others, and vice versa.This is especially true in product given how varied all our backgrounds are.

100/ Time management is a crucial skill as a PM; know where all your hours go every day & make sure you get the important stuff done.This video is a great way to conceptualize that:

Further Reading:

Want to learn more PM skills, my reply here gives a few people to start with:

– Read lots of books. My favorites by category here: jasonevanish.com/bookshelf
– Rafael Balbi: Who are some great PMs you regard from the west coast? I’ve been interested to learn more about these differences.

A few off the top of my head (some aren’t PMs anymore or were pm minded founders but their blog posts and presentations are still gold) @cagan @joshelman @BrianNorgard @rrhoover @jmj @hnshah @Pv @seanrose @Bosefina @cindyalvarez @DesignersGeeks @wfjackson3 @ShaanVP @danolsen

Also would add @kennethn  and his great blog: kennorton.com/newsletter/ and the classic post by @bhorowitz

Search for their blogs and you’ll find gold mines.

I’d also add that part of it is company structure / culture, not a difference in skills. It sets you free to do things that in a different structure and valuing of product that wouldn’t allow or would be serious upstream swimming.

I’ve dedicated the last 5 years of my life to helping people be better managers.

If you have a big team to manage, sign up for a trial to make your 1 on 1s organized, motivating, and accountable, or tell your eng. manager to check us out: getlighthouse.com

Learn something? Give this tweetstorm a Retweet or a Share:

Peer 1-1s: The Missing Habit Separating Good and Great Product Managers

There are many skills that go into being a great product manager, and one of the most underrated is communication, as these Silicon Valley product leaders emphasize:

“As a product manager, it is imperative that you understand the company’s overall goals and objectives and exactly how your team fits in to the broader vision.Josh Elman

“We lead by example. We succeed by making others successful. We listen first and make certain that others feel that they’ve been heard. We pursue diverse opinions. We rally our teams behind a vision that yields passion and commitment. We value and foster strong team relationships.” – Satya Patel

“Good product managers communicate crisply to engineering in writing as well as verbally. Good product managers don’t give direction informally. Good product managers gather information informally.”Ben Horowitz

You can be the best former engineer or designer, but if you can’t communicate, not only with your product team, but the broader company, you’ll struggle.

Great Product Managers communicate beyond their teams.

While it’s important to develop great written communication skills, informal, verbal communication skills are just as valuable.

When you are working with other departments to either gather customer insights or share with them a new feature launch, you’re exercising crucial communication skills.

Now, you could just blast off an email, internal survey, or update a wiki page and consider your work done. However, you’re missing out on crucial relationship building and major learning opportunities. Every moment of contact with another team in your company is a leadership and learning opportunity for product managers.

The Secret, Winning Habit of Great PMs

When you’re a product manager you have to influence people, because you have limited power on your own. You need to get buy in to accomplish anything.

And to be a product manager people enjoy working with instead of loathe, you want to be a trusted, respected colleague, not a politician or Machiavellian monster.

And the best way to build that trust and respect? Peer 1 on 1s.

What’s a Peer 1 on 1?

Peer 1 on 1s are a secret weapon for many great companies. They help fellow managers commiserate and support one another, and teams that interact regularly work together better. Usually, these meetings happen every 4-12 weeks, depending on what the two people involved feel is the best frequency.

As a product manager, having semi-regular check-ins with key members of teams you work or interact with can be priceless. It gives you a chance to give and receive feedback, hear new perspectives, gather customer data from new sources, answer product questions, and build rapport with them.

It can also ensure that people understand how you approach product decisions. You may be crushing it as a PM, but that doesn’t mean everyone else sees it that way. Product people have some of the greatest visibility across an organization, which can make it easy to forget that not everyone knows everything you do.

Who should product managers have peer 1 on 1s with?

The culture of your company and the nature of your product can make this vary, so use your best judgment when you apply this to your job.  For me, I was leading product at a 20-30 person SaaS startup, and so I will share what I found worked there based on the advice I received.

1) Your Product Team

Your engineers have an entire engineering org that decides their compensation, job title, and work. All you can do is influence what is worked on next and collaborate with them on making the best (not just good enough) solution. The same goes for designers.

When your team is small, meeting once every month or two with everyone can help ensure you stay on the same page and fix problems. Identifying a bottleneck, something frustrating, or a blind spot can save your team hours, days, or even weeks of lost time from infighting, inefficiency, or poor decisions.

You may also find opportunities to help them understand how you make decisions. This can reduce resistance to changes you propose and open up constructive feedback to communicating with them and their colleagues.

Everyone?!? At first, yes.

When you’re small (7 or fewer designers + engineers), meeting with each person can ensure your processes are working well and ensure everyone feels heard.

As you grow, focusing on the team leads who you work with most can help you scale. They can be a voice for their team. Assuming the design and engineering team leads have one on ones with their teams, they can raise with you any concerns they hear from their teams. (Note: it can help to remind the lead in advance to ask their team before you meet.)

Peer one on ones are a great way to take the temperature of your product team. If when you meet with them, they clam up, refuse the meeting, or seem combative, that’s a major signal you have work to do to improve your teamwork.

Having a good relationship with the product teams you work with is table stakes as a Product Manager. Yet, many PMs mess this up. Good peer one on ones are a good option to improve the relationships no matter your situation with your team.

2) Customer Facing Departments

As a PM, one of your most important jobs is to understand your customer better than anyone. There are only so many hours in the day, so even if you’re awesome and talk to multiple customers every day, you should still look for ways to get additional perspectives. And the best place to get those are others at your company.

Ask yourself: who else regularly interacts with customers?

  1. Customer Success / Support
  2. Sales
  3. Account management

In many orgs those three departments are off in a different area of the company reporting to a different C Level leader than you. They may literally be on a different floor or in an entirely different office. Because of this, it’s easy for sales and product to develop different cultures and even some animosity.

Break down the silos with communication.

Product managers are the perfect people to break down those barriers. You’re probably already working with them more than you realize.

Product people often get pulled into sales calls on the biggest deals, and help launch new features that success teams must document and support. They’re also driving the roadmap that ambitious sales people may use to excite prospects.

When I was running product at KISSmetrics I met with all those groups. And in each case I had two goals:

  1. Find out any lessons I should take back to the product team about customers.
  2. Answer their questions and concerns they have about product today and in the future.

So I set up regular peer 1 on 1s with people from sales, customers success, and account management.

Here’s some of the kinds of questions I’d ask to make the most of the meetings:

Customer Success / Support:

  • What are you sick of answering over and over for customers?
  • What bugs do you find you have to help users work around most often?
  • How can I make your life easier when we launch new features or make changes in the product?

These questions help improve our process around launching new features, updating FAQs, and identifying existing problems in the product we should fix. Few things make success team members stuck on the hamster wheel of never ending tickets feel better than having things that drive them crazy in the product fixed.

Sales:

  • What are common product-related issues that are causing us to lose deals?
  • What features get leads most excited about our product?
  • Are there any areas of the product that are unclear to you that I can help you understand better or fall flat in your demos?

These questions often required me to do a little 5 why’s to dig deeper to really understand and get them out of their sales mindset. Yet, with a little effort, I often found gold when I did. It also helped me better understand how my conversations with customers compared to those by sales. There’s a lot of great customer problem knowledge trapped in your head as a PM. Transferring it to sales team members can drive revenue for your company.

Account Management:

  • What features do you find you have to explain to customers the most? What’s most confusing?
  • Where in onboarding do users tend to get stuck most? How do you help them?
  • What could product do to make your job easier/better?

The people that help customers get activated will know many of the pain points that are affecting your onboarding funnel. Much like Customer Success team members, removing friction they deal with every day can really make their day, and help your customers.

Peer 1 on 1s are a privilege, not a right.

I worked hard to ask lots of questions and be helpful in these meetings. After the first meeting, I expected they would be prepared as well. I only continued meeting with people that truly brought good data, ideas, and/or concrete feedback. Otherwise the 30-60 minutes we would meet could be better spent elsewhere.

This was a challenge, especially in sales. Not all sales people really get to know their customers, but the best ones did. The best could coherently explain why we lost a deal versus just trying to ask me for every feature a competitor had.

The same was sometimes true in success; I didn’t want to know what happened that they remembered today. I wanted numbers so I knew how big a problem it was.

This then helped me make the business case when trying to decide between building something new we could sell and fixing what we had. When you can prove someone that costs $35 per hour is wasting 10 hours a week on something and it affects customers X, Y, and Z, it’s much easier to justify a change.

Build a Customer Driven Culture

When I set out to have these meetings, I was just trying to get more data and feedback to do my job as a PM better. A great byproduct of the meetings ended up being that everyone in the company became more customer driven.

As I met with people more regularly, and they saw me take action on their feedback, it created a positive feedback loop. The more I listened and demonstrated I heard them, the more they wanted to provide more valuable insights and contribute. That led to more discussions about approaches they could use in their job to get me better data and good questions to ask customers.

Patterns converge

What was particularly fascinating to me was that quite often, I would hear similar things from the majority of people I would talk to; often an issue in product would impact everyone in different ways, whether it made a sale harder, increased support tickets, or changed how account managers taught our product.

By empowering all of them to share with me what they were experiencing and teaching them how to best do so, they helped me better triangulate customer needs and calculate fully their impact. With everything else on everyone’s plates, this would never have happened without regularly scheduled meetings to talk about it.

There’s always more work to be done than time for a product manager. Taking the time to have peer 1 on 1s with key members of teams you work with can be an invaluable part of your processes as a product leader.

Want to work with a product person that lives this customer driven approach every day?

If you’re an engineer in San Francisco interested in joining a fast growing, early stage startup, I’d love to talk to you about how my startup, Lighthouse, can be a great opportunity for you. Send me an email at jason at getlighthouse dot com and tell me a bit about yourself.

How to Write a Product Thesis to Communicate Customer Needs to Design and Engineering Teams

Ever been handed a 10 page product spec that no one wants to read? Ever write one yourself? Tired of struggling to communicate what needs built next to your designers and engineers so they really understand the who, what, when, where, why of the next feature you need?

I’ve been using customer development, analytics, and information from my team to learn to build the right thing for years, but I always struggled communicating all the information locked in my head to the rest of the team. They needed to know why we were building it and all the necessary information to build the right thing without endless meetings or a massive spec they won’t read.

Fortunately, when I joined KISSmetrics, Hiten and I got to learn a better way from Josh Elman, who worked on product teams at Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.  Josh taught me about the Thesis, which is a lightweight way to communicate all the essential details your product team needs.

Now that I’ve used the Thesis on dozens of projects and tweaked it based on what I found worked best, I’m going to teach you how to write your own thesis for the next feature or product you build.

The Product Spec Alternative: How to Write a Product Thesis

> Know when to write a Product Thesis

The biggest crime product managers can commit against their team and their profession is to make up answers to critical decisions. Don’t be that guy/gal.

If you don’t know the answer to one of the sections in the Thesis, go find out. Dive into your analytics, talk to customers, run a survey, talk to your sales/account management/support teams that interact with customers regularly. You will gain the full respect of your designers and engineers if they know you always have a customer story and/or data to back up everything they may ask you about in the Thesis.

The following are all sections of the Thesis. I literally use these as headings to break up the parts and try to keep each section to 5-10 bullet points or a few concise paragraphs.

1) Why are we working on this next?

Every company, and especially startups, are resource constrained. What you choose to build affects your company’s bottom line, their standing in the market, and what your team thinks of your judgment. Use this area to concisely present your case for why this is the most important thing to work on right now.

I try to have a mix of qualitative and quantitative data here. If a mandate came from the leadership team to focus on this area, or sales needed it for a big customer, I make sure to include that. The more your designers and engineers can understand why this matters, the more interested they will be in working on it. In the end, you’re a team and everyone on the product team wants to be sure they’re building the right thing.

2) What are the use cases for this?

Most products end up having a variety of different users and ways that people use the product. To help your team better design a specific feature for the right part of your customer base, you need to detail who this new feature is for.

Be specific! A use case section that is just something like, “As a marketer, I want a mobile app so I can access my data away from a computer” is total weaksauce. Instead, provide the kind of context and detail that paints a picture of the situation:

  • On their way to work on the subway, content marketers like to check how their blog traffic is doing for items they published that morning or the day before. It helps them get into work and know how they’re doing before they sit down. If a number is low, they may try promoting it extra to try to raise the number. If the number is high, they may share the win with others on the team.

Could you picture that situation in your mind? Can you see Jenn the marketer opening an app on her iPhone while sitting on a subway car? I bet you could. Your team can too and they can also then start thinking about what the perfect (not just good) solution would be for them.

Write out as many use cases as you feel are needed. I often have as many as 4 or 5 detailed cases for a big feature.

3) What Problems do we need to solve?

Features are really solutions to your customer’s problems.  It doesn’t do any good to build a feature that doesn’t actually solve the problem, so it’s important to detail what problems you need to ensure the solution your team creates addresses them.

Problems should either be existing problems your product has (especially if you’re iterating on an existing feature) or the problems related to the use cases you just described above. Some example problems may be:

  • Performance Problem: Customers are experiencing frequent crashes. This feature is critical for customers and they are constantly having to refresh and start over, losing their work in the process.
  • Design Problem: Customers are having issues with the current UI. They can’t find key features that exist that they asked me for (Include a markup of the interface to show these.)
  • New Problem: Customers spend hours manually copying numbers to a spreadsheet and making their own visuals for their VP. If we automatically make those reports, we’ll save them time and can then have the VP see our branded reports frequently.

I usually write out 5-7 problems that a feature addresses in bullet form. If it only applies to some of the use cases I described, I’ll specify that as well.

I also try to rank the problems, so that the most important issues get the most attention.  Top problems may be because it affects the most people or functionality issues like the feature crashing constantly. When it’s time for tradeoffs when building the feature, having these detailed, ranked problems will help you make sure the right things avoid being descoped.

4) What are Future Considerations that must be accounted for?

Products are always evolving. Startups can be unpredictable, but you still know generally the direction you may be heading, especially if you’re driving hard towards product-market fit. Help your team anticipate what’s coming next whenever you can.

Depending on the feature, this could be very short or long section. If there are things you know are not going to make the first version of this feature but expect will be needed to be added later, be sure you tell your team! This section is all about avoiding hearing from engineering, “I wish you had told me that before we built [X]!” 

Balancing the present and the future is a constant struggle for a product. The best thing you can do for your team is give them the key information you know so they can do their best to balance their work against the present and future as well.

5) What is our KPI for this Thesis?

You should ask yourself, “What would make this new feature a success?” A KPI (Key Performance Indicator) is the most common way to determine that success since ideally you will tie the success of the feature to one or more of your company’s key metrics.

It’s okay to have more than one KPI, but keep it simple or there will be too many things to measure. When I’ve had multiple KPIs for a feature they’ve been things like:

  1. Support requests will drop by 90% for this feature after relaunch.
  2. Usage of the app will grow by at least 50% after relaunch.
  3. Because this feature affects the sign up flow, we expect a 5% lift in conversion after this relaunch.

You will fail sometimes, but by forcing yourself to quantify what you expect to happen, you will keep you and your team honest. By setting a number that you must hit you can also know when you should go back and iterate.

6) Further Reading:

Your main document shouldn’t be longer than 2-3 pages, so Further Reading can act as an Appendix for you.  In this section, I include links, screenshots, early mockups of ideas, markup of existing features for UX issues, and anything else that I believe would provide additional, helpful information and inspiration related to the project.

Remember: You want all the detail you can without the fluff and verbosity that makes engineers and designers skip reading it. Further reading is a great place for specific information that didn’t fit in the above sections and may be relevant to specific team members.

How does your team document what features need built next?

 

How to do a Jobs To Be Done Interview

Jobs To Be Done (#JTBD) is getting a lot of attention lately as a valuable, new method for product and marketing teams (if you’re not familiar check out the podcast and the Milkshake video that started it all).

For the product team, they can better understand the motivations and needs of their users. As a marketer, you can understand the journey a future customer goes through to go from considering finding a solution to their problems to actually choosing your product. This is priceless for your marketing site and copywriting as well.

There’s a lot of great posts coming out on why Jobs To Be Done matters, but I haven’t seen much on how to actually do the interviews. Since I’ve done them a bunch myself, taught a number of my friends, and written previously about how to do customer development interviews, I wanted to share the process I’ve learned and evolved:

How to do a Jobs To Be Done Interview

Getting in the right mindset

These interviews are very different than a traditional customer development interview, usability testing, and other common customer interview practices. It’s a lot more free form than other processes that usually just want to uncover a few problems or learn some basic customer demographics.

For JTBD, you need to think of yourself like a detective interviewing a witness at a crime scene, or a documentary filmmaker trying to tell a story. Believe it or not, there’s a significant process a user goes through to become a customer and it’s often measured in weeks or months. Once you finish this process you’ll be able to fill in a timeline that looks like this:

jtbd-timelineThe key is to get users thinking about their purchasing process and filling in the gaps while they remember the various events along the way. Your users won’t think of them with the words of that timeline, but you’ll see where those things happen.  Fortunately, the questions I’ll show you will help your interviewee remember the various steps.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet of the terms on the timeline with an example of a friend who bought a new car.  Skip down if you already understand the timeline.

1) First Thought: What caused the first thought to think about making the purchase? When was it?

– My friend owned a Prius and it was a few years old. One night when he was driving home from work, he hit a neighbor’s trash can that had rolled onto the road. He looked at the front of the car and saw it was kind of scuffed up, but not enough to take it to the shop. This made him think, “Maybe it’s time I got a new car.”

2) Passively Looking: What did they do while they were passively looking? For how long?

– My friend started thinking about what kind of car he would get next. He knew he wanted a fast car and was focused on luxury brands. He started browsing Audi, BMW and Lexus sites to look at their cars.

3) Event #1: What happened that switched them from passively to actively looking?

– My friend’s wife would need some convincing to agree to a new car. As it turns out, about a month after the trash can incident, her brother mentioned he needed a car. My friend could give his car to his brother in law and kill two birds with one stone.  With permission from his wife, he could now actively look for the car.

4) Actively Looking: What did they do while they were actively looking?

– My friend started looking up reviews of the various cars he was interested in and asked friends that owned the cars for their opinions. He has a long time mentor that he in particular appreciates their taste, and so he asked their opinion.  My friend is an Apple fanboy, so craftsmanship is really important to him as well. Both his mentor and his own research pointed to Audi being the brand best committed to those ideals.

5) Event #2: What was the event that made him decide to make a purchase at a specific day/time?

– My friend had two events that combined to push him to finally make the purchase. He was scheduled to have surgery soon and he wouldn’t be able to drive for awhile after surgery. Christmas was coming soon too.  He wanted to get the car before his surgery so he could enjoy it a bit first and not put off the purchase that much longer and knew he could claim it as a Christmas present to justify the purchase then. (Now those luxury ads about buying cars as gifts make more sense, right?)

6) Deciding: What helped him make the purchase?

– Now that my friend was ready to buy, he went to the dealerships and test drove the cars that were finalists (a BMW and an Audi). He had a great time speeding down the highway in the Audi, so combined with his friends recommendations and his own research, he was finally ready to buy the car.

Unfortunately, the answers don’t come out that cleanly. You will get bits and pieces of the various steps during the discussion, which is why these interviews have to be more exploratory. You should be able to assemble the timeline afterwards though and start to see how you can market to future customers like your interviewee and alter your product to better fit them (like helping them see the most important value sooner).

The Jobs To Be Done Interview Script

Ok. We’re finally here to the script. Remember, the goal of the conversation is to help the person you’re interviewing remember the steps and key moments in the process that led to the switch.

A few rules for the interviews:
  1. Find people who recently purchased. Most people won’t remember well anything more than 60 days ago. The more recently the event happened, the more likely they are to remember all the details you’ll hope to capture in the interview.
  2. Don’t interrogate. You want your conversation to feel like they’re just talking to a friend.
  3. Pauses are ok. The interviewee is likely going to have to think hard to remember details. Give them time and they’ll often remember things so don’t be afraid of 10-20 seconds or more of silence.
  4. Bounce around the topics. Being non-linear in your questions often leads to new discoveries. Circle back to different things you talked about throughout the interview.
  5. The best stuff comes around 20-25 minutes in. Keep digging and listen carefully. You’ll have a real *woah* moment right around then.  For above timeline example, my friend didn’t initially realize the trash cans started his car buying process.
  6. Take notes & record the interviews. There’s lots of gold in these interviews. You don’t want to forget anything, and be able to review and share them with others later.
  7. Work in teams. A pair often can do better at examining all areas of the moments you’re trying to understand and help with taking good notes. While one person is writing a key point, the other can be asking a question.
  8. Talk to more users until they all sound the same. It generally takes 7-10 interviews to get the patterns of everyone. I found out the root cause of churn for a company by interviewing a bunch of their recently canceled customers and it was very different than what people said it was in an exit survey.
  9. Organize your findings with the Timeline and Four Forces. That’s what they’re there for. You can learn about the Four Forces here.
  10. Don’t lead the interviewee. Try very hard not to ask Yes/No questions. Instead leave room for explanation and listen. Ask lots of “why” and “tell me more” questions.
  11. Timing Matters. Try to find out the day/week/month/hour something happened. There’s often patterns to be found in that timing and it can also help them recall other details as they concentrate to remember.
Jobs To Be Done Questions to Ask:

Unlike other kinds of interviews, you don’t need to always ask every question in the exact same order. These are all just ways to explore the process of their purchase and help them remember their story.

  • When did you first start thinking about your purchase?
    • Was it in the morning or evening? What time was it?
  • Where were you when you made that decision?
  • Was anyone else involved in the purchasing decision?
    • Why?
  • Visualize the environment you were in when you made the decision to purchase…where were you? What was around you?
  • Tell me more about that…(When you hear something interesting/intriguing)
  • Did you consider any competitors? Which ones? Why?
    • Why didn’t you choose them?
  • How did you decide between what you bought and the other options?
  • Why specifically did you buy that day versus any other? Why then? What was unique about that day?
    • What else were you doing that day?
    • Did anyone contribute to sparking the decision that day? Why?
  • What were you using before you had X?
    • Why did you use that? What did you like about it?
    • When did you start using that?
    • What were its shortcomings?
    • What does the new product do that your old solution couldn’t?
  • How do you normally approach choosing a new product?
    • What was your process for this product?
      • Why was it the same/different this time?
  • How do you use the product you’ve purchased?
    • Are there features you use all the time? How?
    • Are there features you never use? Why not?
  • If in doubt, ask them to tell you more about whatever tangential thing they bring up in the discussion.

You’ll notice as you do the interview, certain moments on the timeline will fit what they’re describing. I wouldn’t try to fill in the timeline perfectly until after the interview, but while you’re interviewing you can mark in your notes when it seems like it fits with some part. If a certain area isn’t seeming to be filled in, probe more around that part in their process.

But will this work in my situation? It’s special/hard/unique.

If you can get the interviewee on the phone or to meet in person, then this will work in your situation. I have seen this work for all of the following cases:

  • Buying a car
  • Buying a scanner
  • Buying steaks online
  • Upgrading to Evernote Premium
  • Buying analytics for their business
  • Getting a gym membership for the first time in their life
  • Understanding why customers churned a SaaS product
  • Buying a 2nd iPad for a family with children
  • Buying a milkshake from a fast food chain

Even if multiple people are involved in the decision making process, any one person in the process is likely able to recall most of the key moments.

What have you used Jobs To Be Done for? What are your favorite JTBD interview questions?

What the Stratasys patent suit of Afinia means for the 3D Printing Industry

Q: What is Stratasys thankful for this Thanksgiving?

A: Patents and a large corporate legal department. 

That may be a little harsh, but after the press release and filed suit against Afinia made public this week you can see that Stratasys is going to start flexing their IP muscles in this increasingly competitive market. Given that Stratasys is asking for an injunction to stop all sales of the Afinia H Series, this is a lot more than a shot across the bow. Stratasys is aggressively staking their claim to the 3D printing market.

Why Now?

The Afinia has been on the market since August 2012 and has done quite well during that time. They’ve won multiple awards from Make Magazine including “Best overall experience” and have been a mainstay at virtually every Maker Faire around the country. They also have signed distribution deals to start selling their printers at BestBuy.com and Staples Canada‘s online sites. They’re an increasingly strong competitor that is flexing their retail muscles thanks to their parent company’s experience in retail.

Q3 numbers for Makerbot was not as strong as some would expect in a growing market like consumer 3D Printers. Selling likely less than 5,000 printers had to raise some flags internally, which has led to a number of actions by Makerbot to try to grow their bottom line:

  1. A new partnership with Donor’s Choose to sell more Makerbots to schools.
  2. A change to the website to make Makercare opt-out (a $300+ cost) to try to increase LTV per customer.
  3. Opening of stores in New York City, Boston and Greenwich, Connecticut.
  4. This lawsuit against a major competitor.

Big partnerships and storefront bets are the kinds of big plays you can make to throw your weight around when you’re the biggest company in an industry. Lawsuits leveraging your patent portfolio also happen to be a powerful weapon, which when you aren’t capturing as much of the market as you like, become more appealing to use against stiff competition.

Given Stratasys has been a sleeping giant for a number of years, it appears they’re making it very clear they are awake and are ready for a fight.

The Stratasys Attitude

This quote from the press release really stood out to me:

“IP infringement discourages companies from investing in innovation”     – Stratasys CEO David Ries.

This claim is absurd. If anything, having additional competition that you can’t shut down due to patents means you have to innovate faster; in an open market, new innovations are more prevalent as companies have to push hard to stay ahead. Brand loyalty, customer service and marketing become more important as well.

Everyone is at Risk

There’s an awesome discussion of the infringement, the patent claims and possible work arounds on the RepRap form worth checking out. From the forum, these are the patents mentioned:

  • August 5, 1997, U.S. Patent No 5,653,925 (the 925 patent) METHOD FOR CONTROLLED POROSITY THREE DIMENSIONAL MODELING
  • February 2, 1999, U.S. Patent No. 5,866,058 (the 058 patent) METHOD FOR RAPID PROTOTYPING OF SOLID MODELS
  • December 21, 1999, U.S. Patent No. 6,004,124 (the 124 patent) THIN WALL TUBE LIQUIFIER
  • January 8, 2013, U.S. Patent No. 8,349,239 (the 239 patent) SEAM CONCEALMENT FOR THREE DIMENSIONAL MODELS

Most of these patents could apply to any consumer FDM 3D printing company selling a fully assembled printer and do not expire for at least 4-6 years. Stratasys went after the biggest threat that just so happened to be getting competitive distribution deals. If Afinia loses the lawsuit, it puts every other startup 3D printing company at risk of a similar suit.

The Big Picture

This is just the beginning. As CNBC has reported, over 6,800 3D printing related patents have been filed in the last decade and the rate of filing is increasing. It’s clear that Stratasys intends to enforce their patents aggressively as the CEO states:

“The entry barrier for infringers is modest, especially as technology improves and prices fall… As a result, we should anticipate that this will be a growing challenge for right holders and law enforcement.”                     – Stratasys CEO David Ries.

While Stratasys and 3D Systems aggressively try to capture a consumer market that doesn’t yet know why they need to get a 3D printer, I expect other low cost printers to start to capture value at the low end of the industrial market. Whether by helping make molds for sand casting or just being a low cost alternative to the more expensive printers, textbook disruption is happening. This disruption will take decades and given our current trajectory, will include quite the blood bath for both big and small companies on their balance sheets and in the court room. Yesterday’s patent suit announcement is a key point in history and another of the many likely battles in the court room between challengers and incumbents in the 3D printing market.

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The Rise of the 3rd Party Manufacturer in 3D Printing

There’s a lot to be learned about the present and future of 3D Printing by studying the rise of the Personal Computer. Today we have hundreds of companies building supply chains from scratch to sell 3D Printers out of garages, co-working spaces and tech shops, not unlike Steve Jobs’s garage and the motel in Albuquerque that spawned Microsoft. However, this part of the journey did not last forever.

As the market and individual companies matured, 3rd parties began supplying various components to the PC makers as they built more sophisticated manufacturing processes. The PC makers welcomed this so that each one of them did not have to reinvent the wheel for each component as well as get better prices from suppliers who could gain volume advantages by selling to many of those PC makers.

Today, we’re seeing the very beginning of such opportunities emerging with a handful of really interesting companies becoming the first 3rd Party Manufacturers (also known as OEMs). Here’s a few I’ve been tracking:

The Rise of the OEM

Extruders:

1) DGlass3D: You may remember these brothers from previous blog posts and the 2nd edition of my newsletter, when they were on Kickstarter. While they did not fund successfully, they were able to connect with companies interested in their technology. Given the challenges of dual extrusion caused by the decreased build area, added weight for the stepper motors and quality of prints when switching back and forth between heated materials in each extruder, I expect more than a few companies may be interested in the technology to shortcut adding this pivotal feature.

Why this matters: Many use cases open up when you add the second extruder including printing your support structures in a water soluble material, multi-colored printing and printing in multiple materials with complimentary properties (like part hard, part soft or part conductive, part insulated).

2) The Prusa Nozzle: Josef Prusa is one of the most prolific contributors to the RepRap movement, which includes the Prusa Mendel, one of the most popular RepRap printers. Recently, he unveiled the Prusa Nozzle, which allows you to print at up to 300 C and is a much easier to use, single piece. See more about the Prusa nozzle in edition #4 of my newsletter.

Why this matters: Printing at temperatures as high as 300 C allows additional materials to be printed like polycarbonite (bullet-proof glass) and food-safe stainless steel materials are better than the past use of brass.

Materials:

1) Proto Pasta: Another new Kickstarter entrant, these guys are working on reliable, high quality filament for your FDM printers. On their Kickstarter, you’ll find a carbon fiber reinforced PLA, high-temperature PLA and an experimental polycarbonate material. They’re testing and certifying their materials, which is rare in the current materials market.

Why this matters: Stronger, more reliable materials allows users to print for more applications. Combine this with dual extrusion (ie- multiple materials in one print) and it really gets exciting.

2) MadeSolid: This Oakland-based materials manufacturer recently completed a successful Indiegogo campaign which expands the color options for FormLabs printers from gray and yellow to the full rainbow. They’re working to make quality resins and filaments to make higher quality prints. They have some very cool technology in their pipeline I’ve seen some parts (hint: the days of PLA and ABS may be numbered).

Why this matters: Component makers have not fared as well as many 3D Printer companies on crowdfunding campaigns. It’s good validation that people are hungry for new, better materials that MadeSolid hit their goal. It also means that they do not need the distribution channel of any printer manufacturer to be successful, which provides huge negotiating leverage should they talk distribution with one.

Build Plates:

1) BuildTak: If you spend much time printing, you quickly run into issues with your printed material sticking well to your build plate and also being easy to remove after the print finishes without damaging the print. BuildTak works with both ABS and PLA and is more durable than kapton tape, which has a habit of tearing as you remove objects. This company is just starting out but is already being evaluated by some 3D printing companies.

Why this matters: Reliability is one of the most important aspects still needing dramatic improvement in the 3D Printing space especially for novice users. If this works as promised, it could address one of the major causes of failed prints: poor adhesion to the print surface.

2) Automated Build Plates: Unfortunately, this technology doesn’t exist…yet. Makerbot tried and failed in the past to create this system for automatically removing parts. For those looking to print items in a queue, they currently have to manually remove every object upon completion. That’s why Hack a day put a call out for work on such a project recently.

Why this matters: The development of a process for removing prints would be very valuable for any organization sharing a printer with multiple users and wanting to leave prints unattended and still have multiple items printed. Of course, the printers need to be used enough for that to be a key pain, which is only an issue for a small percentage of users right now.

Even a company with a large engineering team and an unlimited budget would struggle to keep all this innovation in house. It is only a question of when, not if, 3D Printer manufacturing companies at the low end of the industry move from an integrated solution to a more modular approach*.  This opens up many opportunities for individual OEMs to emerge to produce key components that supply many of those companies. (* Note: Patent-heavy, unique processes will keep the industrial printers closed for the foreseeable future).

What other great OEMs have you seen emerging? Leave a note in the comments.

[Ed Note: A version of this post originally appeared in my bi-monthly Observations in 3D Newsletter. Sign up now to get more in depth analysis like this at http://bit.ly/Observe3D]

Why the Mayday button is another genius move by Bezos and Amazon

Amazon recently launched the Mayday feature with a television ad campaign showing a one button press for help from a live person who can control and guide you through the use of your Kindle Fire HDX. If you haven’t seen the ads, here are a few of them:

At first my techie self said “why would anyone want that?!?” Then I realized Bezos’s genius.

Mayday isn’t for you.

If you’re reading this, you probably work in startups or technology. Since we are already well served by the iPad and various full-Android tablets, Bezos is targeting the technology laggards of the tablet adoption curve. These are people that want a proven product and only buy once the market is commoditized and discounted. They don’t care about the millions of apps that Apple has as they will only use it for a handful of key applications. They also don’t see the need to pay the Apple premium price either, so a sub-$300 Kindle Fire fits well.

Instead, these users are more like some of my older relatives who use their tablets for email, Facebook, browsing the web and watching videos, often as a second screen. These users sometimes struggle learning new technology and can be sensitive to asking for help as they are worried about feeling dumb.

Mayday is the perfect name.

Do you know what “Mayday” means? If you’re under 25 I wouldn’t expect you to. Anyone in the Baby Boomer or older generation will distinctly recognize it and understand its meaning as a universal call for help. It’s also way catchier than just another “Help” button and probably even trademark-able. Given the target of helping those less tech savvy who have likely not adopted a technology yet, it should immediately click with them.

Amazon isn’t in the tablet business.

I wondered: how could Amazon afford to do this on such a commoditized device where their margins must be slim? Then I remember this is Amazon. They’re not in the tablet business; they’re in the e-commerce business.

We know that e-reader Kindle owners dramatically increase their purchasing with Amazon (50-100%). I bet by now they know the LTV of Fire owners and realized they could afford the support because of all the ancillary spending they would get from those owners and opportunities to redirect users to Amazon solutions when they ask questions. Add to this the data they get on Fire owners knowing all of their activity and the optional ads special offers people can accept, and there’s a lot of value in getting a new Fire owner.

Amazon had to shake things up.

Amazon’s tablet market share is reportedly down significantly (21% in July 2012 vs 10% in July 2013). They needed to use a Blue Ocean Strategy to differentiate and find a unique part of the market they could win. Combining the Mayday button (to attract the hard to attract laggards) with some very obvious use cases (the family accounts with ability to limit access and a child’s time spent on the device) very specifically tries to carve out a strong niche for Amazon. If it works, the difference in cost structure for Amazon, the e-commerce company, versus other tablet makers will make it hard for others to duplicate the Mayday button.

Bezos continues to show he is one of the best strategist CEOs on the planet. Mayday is just one more move to capture value from an under served group and move them into the world of Amazon purchases.