Podcast |

Inside Intercom Boston startup panel

How do you set your product on the path to success?

At the recent Boston stop on our Inside Intercom World Tour, I invited leaders from three of our favorite local startups to join me on the Cyclorama Building stage for a panel discussion which covered the burning issues their businesses face on a day-to-day basis. They shared insight into things like executing a successful product launch, the role of marketing at an early stage company (and how it should be in sync with product), establishing your product’s point of view, and much more.

Our panelists include:

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Prefer a written account of the panel? You’ll find a few of our favorite insights below.

Nailing the Product Launch

Meghan Keaney Anderson: A good launch has to have a foundation. The launches that go poorly, it’s not that they fail; they fizzle really fast. They’ll take a set of features, throw them up on Product Hunt, do a bunch of promotional activities about those features, and then the launch is over. A launch is no more about features than a Presidential campaign is about the candidate’s resume. It’s about ideas. The best thing to do with a launch is start with the idea.

Eli Rosen: Our way of getting the product into people’s hands is focused on integrations. The key to building a successful product and building is, from the beginning, thinking about how to get this to people and what your strategy will be. Putting your product up on Product Hunt is not a strategy. Putting it in the App Store is not a strategy. From the first moment that you build your product, you have to build it with that distribution channel in mind and build specifically for that distribution channel.

The MVP Concept: Helpful or Hurtful?

Nikos Moraitakis: The whole theory around building the MVP is a nice methodology that tries get you the message that says you need to follow what customers want. The problem is it has been taken a little bit too far. It’s not a blind rail that you can follow, especially in B2B. In B2B, there’s a certain expectation of some kind of functionality that’s in the jobs this thing is made to do. A payment system, for example: It can’t just do one simple thing. It needs to do refunds and this and that.

Defining your Product’s Point of View

Meghan: A product has to have a point of view and that’s important for a couple of reasons. One is that it prevents feature creep. It prevents your tier point from trying to be all things to all people and, every time any request comes in, just building that because a big customer wants it. That’s incredibly important. The other angle is it gives you a bit of a competitive advantage. It goes back to that idea of having a story or having a reason to be there, a philosophy with your technology.

Eli: Our customers, basically, are plumbers and electricians managing all of their work. A lot of them use paper and post-it notes. We thought, “We’re going to bring them software and we’re going to show them that this is how you have to manage your work. And we’re going to show them the better way to do that.” Our software was very opinionated. We’re now re-approaching and we’re about to release a total revision to our software that is not opinionated at all. It’s incredibly flexible.

There’s a lot of different ways to create a job. There’s a lot of different ways to schedule a technician. The more flexible our software is, the more useful it will be to people. If you were to take a survey of the way everyone uses a Gmail, everyone uses it differently. That’s what makes it so successful. It’s an everlasting tool that we all live in, because it allows you to manage your work. It allows you to manage your day the way that you want to. That’s a philosophy we’ve recently adopted at Dispatch.

When to Focus on Marketing

Megan: Marketing and product have to grow up together. I have worked at companies where the product has been further out than marketing and I’ve worked at companies where the marketing has been far ahead of the product. Eventually, the other half is tripping themselves to catch up. Your experience, your business, your growth suffers as a result.

Three years ago we made the decision to move our entire product marketing team away from the rest of the marketing team and embed with the engineers who were actually building the software. They started to conduct and build the story as the software was being developed. They were understanding the motivation behind why a PM or an engineer was making a certain choice. There were times when a PM would hear the story that was developing and make a shift to fit that story because they felt like it fit the idea and it reflected where the customer needs were. That co-dependency really made for a stronger product.

Nikos: You can develop this fantasy that marketing is like a separate thing that we’re going to do later. The moment you have a product out and you have a conversation with users, whatever form that takes, that’s marketing. It’s your choice defining what kind of marketing you’re doing and how much you’re doing. Just don’t tell me you’re not doing marketing. Marketing needs to be built into the product itself.

How Customer Support Partners with the Product Team

Eli: The product team, their incentive is to keep shipping. They want to ship some product and move on to the next really interesting project and then move on to the next thing. They don’t always think about all the different pieces of the onboarding or the launch. Then you have the customer success team stuck with supporting that. There’s this constant tension between wanting to move faster and ship things versus wanting to make sure our users are happy and we don’t want to have to deal with this crazy support volume spike.

All we’re trying to do is provide the best experience for the user and we might have different views about what that is. That’s actually great. It helps us refine what we ship and what the product is, the business problems we’re trying to help our users solve. That contentious relationship is necessary and really healthy.

What makes a great product?

Nikos: Ultimately in a B2B sense the characteristic of a great product is that it actually gets the job done for a user. What that means for a big company or small company is radically different. From a product manager’s perspective, what you’re trying to do is to build enough empathy with the users to be able to understand what really is going to make them happy.

Meghan: Clay Shirky has this really good line from years ago now. That is, “Technology doesn’t get really interesting until it becomes almost invisible.” Which is to say it’s so intuitive that you don’t even notice what it’s doing for you. When a company is working really well for its customers and its users, they’re not in the way. They’re enabling. In the products that I use, in the products that I try to work for and represent, I really value products that are so good they’re damn near invisible.

Eli: What you really want to do is build up great businesses. Your product is really just a vehicle for that. The key to building a good “product” is really whatever it is that’s going to help you build your business. Product isn’t just the product team. Your whole company is your product. Product isn’t the day you ship the code, that’s actually day one or day zero. It’s everything that happens after that.

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