Product Discovery

Context

One of my favourite experts in the area of product management and leadership is Marty Cagan, the founder of Silicon Valley Product Group. In addition to the book he wrote called Inspired (probably the best book for product managers and leaders at tech companies), he writes a blog. He wrote an article on the Origin of Product Discovery in June, which builds on his original blog post on Product Discovery in 2007.

Preparation

During the early days of the lockdown, I took the opportunity to read a few books on product discovery.

The Mom Test

The most popular book that everyone seems to be reading these days is a short book called The Mom Test. It talks you through how to talk to users and customers. The most common advice from respected advisors in the startup community is to talk to your users. And I think that’s because startup founders are often coders who like to build products. But they often find it harder to go and talk to people.

Lean B2B

Lean B2B is a book that focuses specifically on conversations you might have with other businesses who are potential future customers. These conversations are often quite different to those you would have with consumers. So it talks you through how to prepare for these and set them up. And then what goals you should have with them and how you should approach the conversation.

When Coffee & Kale Compete

When Coffee & Kale Compete is a book that introduces a product discovery technique called “Jobs to be Done”. And the book is available as a free PDF 😊

The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design

The last book I read was called The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design. This was written by IDEO.org, a leading design and innovation company. And it’s also available as a free PDF!

User Interviews

So in mid-May we started our process of talking to users.

Who?

The first question was who to talk to. Besides finding people who are actively seeking a new career, we decided to first talk to people who broadly fit within what Nesta calls the National Retraining Scheme (NRS) cohort. These are the 8 million working adults in England who don’t have a degree. They also earn less than £35,000 per year and are employed or furloughed in an industry or role at risk of automation. As a finalist in Nesta’s CareerTech prize, we need to build a solution that helps this group of people. So it made sense to start our research by talking to these people.

How To Recruit?

The next question was how we should go about finding and recruiting these people so we can talk to them. We decided to try using our existing product at www.WouldYouRatherBe.com to do this. Just before showing the final results for a user who answers the 100 survey questions, we asked them to tell us if they are actively looking to start a new career. We also asked them what their highest level of qualification is. We recruited users using Facebook ads, targeted at people aged 25–44 who live in the UK. This wasn’t perfectly aligned with how Nesta defines the NRS cohort. But it was the best we could do in an easy way and I think it was close enough.

Recruiting our First Users

So I built this flow in a couple of days and then switched on our Facebook ad campaign to recruit users over the weekend. After three days, I only managed to recruit two users for an interview. And I had spent £100 on ads to acquire them, costing £50 per person.

Preparing for our First Interviews

We spent some time crafting a discussion guide to help us with these interviews. We started by stating our goal, which was two-fold:

  1. Identify how we might be able to help users change into the career they want to pursue
  2. Identify if there are any products or services that the user might be willing to pay for

Interviewing our First Users

The Forward Partners Studio team ran these interviews as they have a lot more experience in doing these than me. Given the lockdown situation, the only option was to do these remotely. So we used Zoom to have video calls with each person. This conveniently gave us the opportunity to record the calls (with the person’s consent of course), which allowed me to watch each interview myself.

Broadening our User Base

As we were hitting our stride with interviews, we decided to take the opportunity to interview a broader range of users. We started by interviewing people with degrees. And then we interviewed younger people aged between 16 and 24.

  • Ten people from the NRS cohort
  • Seven with degrees
  • Six aged 16–24

Customer Interviews

While the Forward Partners team were busy interviewing users, I started the process of setting up and running customer interviews.

  • Recruiters who might pay for access to talent
  • Training providers who might pay for new students
  • Career professionals who can provide helpful context on all areas

A Failed Attempt to Recruit our First Customers

We’d obviously need a different approach to recruiting customers vs. how we recruited users. We couldn’t really use our existing product. So we’d have to try other channels like LinkedIn and our networks. And incentivising people’s time may not work quite the same. So we’d have to think of other ways of persuading people to take time to chat with us.

Recruiting Customers through my Network

I then sent emails to a few friends who work or have previously worked in recruitment. And I also sent an email to the Forward Partners team to see if they could help.

30 Interviews Later! …

Nat, Forward Partners’ Head of People, also helped tremendously in setting up more recruiter interviews. She’s well connected in the recruiter space and sent a request to her network. She apparently had an avalanche of offers to help. So I spoke to a few of her contacts. I also spoke to a few people from my direct network. All-in-all, I spoke with 17 recruiters. And after a few conversations, it became clear that I should talk with recruiters who hire for entry-level positions, as those are the roles that are relevant for our target users who are trying to start a new career. So more of my latter recruiter conversations were with those.

Synthesising Information and Forming Insights

So by the end of June, we had spoken with 53 people! Which was a lot of information! So, what next!?

Synthesising the User Interviews

For the user interviews, I made structured notes as I watched each video to record:

  • Their current career
  • Motivations for changing
  • What careers they are considering
  • Challenges they’ve faced and what they’ve done about those
  • Whether they have spent any money
  • What they’d value the most

Applying Service Design Methods

Being a finalist in Nesta’s CareerTech prize helped a lot here. Part of their programme of activities were sessions on service design led by a consultancy called LiveWork. They also provided monthly 1:1 coaching sessions. This gave me the opportunity to discuss methods I could use to synthesise all of this information.

Our Core User Insights

People’s main motivations for changing careers was to find a job they enjoy more, and also to grow and progress. And they struggled with all stages of the process.

Our Core Entry-Level Recruiter Insights

Recruiters of entry-level roles get hundreds of applications for each role they post on a job board. And hiring for entry-level roles has slowed right down during the pandemic. Which means that there are fewer potential customers who are looking for talent. But those who are looking face bigger pain points around screening candidates, as they are getting a lot more applications than normal.

Forward Partners’ Synthesis

The Forward Partners team independently synthesised their insights too from the user interviews. This helped to create a more complete picture of people’s needs. They did this in a slightly more granular way, which added value.

  • Job to be done (as I talked about earlier)
  • Quotes
  • Feelings

Design Sprint

In mid-July we ran a week-long design sprint. All of the work on conducting the user and customer interviews and synthesising everything we learnt fed into the sprint.

Day 1 — Understand

Day 1 was all about context sharing to get everyone up to speed. We started with introductions and an ice breaker. I then spent some time talking about the company, the vision, where we’ve come from and where we’re going.

Identifying the Biggest Risks

We then did an exercise of writing down all of the questions we each had and what we saw were the biggest risks for the product and company. We wrote these down on virtual post-it notes directly on our Mural board.

  1. Can we create value for recruiters?
  2. Are we able to help users create a viable pathway into their chosen career?

Sharing Insights and Mapping a User Journey

We then spent quite a bit of time going through all of our user interviews using the synthesis that Dharmesh and his team had done. We each looked at the insights from a few users and wrote post-it notes phrased as “How might we …” to capture thoughts around how we might solve the different needs that people have. We did this to spur ideas and creativity later on.

Defining an Archetype

The last thing we did was to define the archetype that described the people we wanted to focus on helping. Archetypes are similar to Personas, but described a broader group of people rather than a particular type of person. We decided to focus on career changers (employed adults aged 25–44). As that overlapped with the NRS cohort that Nesta wants us to focus on. And we also felt that they expressed a stronger struggle when we interviewed them. We spent some time digging into their motivations, behaviours and frustrations.

Day 2 — Sketch

Day 2 was all about brainstorming and ideating.

Day 3 — Decide

On Wednesday, the goal was to go into detail on a single user flow so that we’d be in a position to prototype it.

Day 4 — Prototype

We all had the day off on Thursday, except for our designer Josh. The goal for today was for Josh to produce a high fidelity prototype that we could use to test with users on Friday.

Day 5 — Test

On our final day of the design sprint, we tested our prototype with five users (we actually did these over Friday and Monday). During the week, we switched on our Facebook ads to recruit 15 users ready to test with us at the end of the sprint. We knew from scheduling previous user interviews, that only 1 in 3 people actually turn up to the interview. So we scheduled three times as many interviews that we needed. As expected, only five people turned up, which gave us the insights we needed.

Building Towards a Minimal Viable Product (MVP)

Synthesising our Learnings and Ideas

I then spent some time digesting the feedback and insights we gleaned from showing users our prototypes. I summarised the key features that stood out for people. And also some of the emotions that people expressed.

The Next Two Weeks

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll work with Dharmesh and Josh on storyboarding what the flow will be for our MVP. We’ll then go into the detail we need for each screen (as we did for the design sprint prototype). And Josh will then design it. Then we’ll be ready to build it!

Hiring My First Employee

My second big priority for the last 10 weeks has been to hire my first employee!

Writing a Job Spec

So I started by writing a job spec. I took some time to really sell the company, the mission and the opportunity. I think we have a really compelling social mission. And this role is an amazing opportunity to learn, grow and be part of something exciting at a really fun stage. So I wanted to communicate that.

What We Were Really Looking For

But what were we really looking for?

  • Intelligence: Given the varied nature of the role, I need someone who can learn really quickly. Then they can pick up whatever is required of them
  • Motivation: I want someone who is really excited by the social mission. Then they’ll have a lot of energy for the role. And they’ll be more likely to stick around for a long time
  • Hard Working: I need someone who will get stuff done and work really hard. Then we can keep moving fast and give ourselves the best possible chance of success

Side Note About Job Specs

I found this process of writing a job spec as an employer really interesting. Especially as what I wrote and what I was actually testing for were quite different. And I had good reasons to do it this way.

Recruitment Process

The recruitment process served two purposes for me. Obviously I wanted to hire an amazing first employee. But I also wanted to learn as much as I could about recruitment as that’s aligned with our company’s mission.

Posting the Job Ads and Managing Applications

Suf put my job spec on Workable, which is an applicant tracking system (ATS) they use. ATS’ are nice pieces of software that serve a few functions:

  • Craft a job ad. This consists of a description and requirements, as well as an application form that you can customise
  • Easily post your job ads on all the job boards you want to. Such as Indeed and Reed (there are many, some free and some paid)
  • Manage inbound applications. This includes sending messages to candidates and moving them through the process of screening, interviewing and final job offers. It can also capture comments from each interviewer against the candidates’ profiles

Learning about Other Products on the Market

There were some places that Workable wasn’t able to post our job ad. So we had to do so manually. One of these was Otta, which is a relatively new startup focused on jobs in tech in London. They have a great user experience and are in a similar space to us. So I was keen to post there. Both for the relevance of candidates, and to get a closer look at their offering. One of the things they do well are nice-to-read profiles of companies. Here’s our profile they put together for us.

200 Applications in a Week!

We received over 200 applications in a week! As so many people have been furloughed and made redundant, there are a lot more job seekers in the market. So jobs are getting far more applicants than they’d normally get. This is bad news for candidates as they have far more competition and it’s much harder to stand out. But it’s good news for employers, as we can probably hire better calibre people than we’d normally be able to. Although it’s more work to screen a lot more applications!

Screening & First Interviews

I started screening all applications myself, scoring them against a scorecard. I devised a scorecard based on the eight attributes I was looking for (as I talked about earlier). And then I chose a subset of attributes that we could get some reasonable signal on at the application stage. I also asked some specific questions as part of the application process that gave us signals on their motivation, product sense and intelligence.

Task & Final Round Interviews

We advanced a handful of candidates to the next stage, which was when we asked them to complete a task. For me, this was the most important part of the process and when we were likely to get the strongest signals on the candidates. I asked each of them to spend 2–4 hours researching how to get into a career as a Care Worker. The expectation I set was that it should involve some desk research and talking to a couple of people. I asked them to put together a short presentation, showing their approach, their results and product ideas they had for how we could use that research. We then asked them each to present this back to us as part of the final round interviews.

  • Motivation and work ethic (how hard they worked on it)
  • Intelligence (based on their approach and synthesis of information)
  • Communication (the construction of their presentation and its delivery)
  • Product sense (translating their research into product ideas)

And Our Employee #1 Is …

We had some really strong candidates come through the process, so it was hard to turn them down. Especially those who got to the final round interviews. But there was one candidate who really stood out. Her name is Emma Rosen.

What’s Next …

Onboarding

My main priority over the next couple of weeks is to onboard Emma into the company as well and efficiently as possible. I’ve already invested quite a bit of time into this. I wrote a 15-page onboarding document. This covers the tools we’ll be using and all the context and linked resources that I could think of. Plenty of reading for August! I sent her my top books that are most relevant, on product and careers. I’ve organised all of our company’s documents using Google’s Shared Drives, and carefully permissioned things. And I’ve given her a new Google account (with a new email address), access to all the documents she needs, a paid Zoom account and set up a new Slack workspace.

All The Small Things

My goal is to free up as much of our time going forward as we can to focus on product-market fit. Specifically, to build a product people love that helps them discover and get into their dream career. And then to make money, and scale it profitably. Until we do that, no other priority comes close.

Storyboarding and Designing our MVP

We still need to map our high-level prototype of all of our big ideas, along with our user insights and product ideas, towards an MVP. The next step here will be to storyboard our user flow for our MVP with Josh and Dharmesh at Forward Partners. We’ll then need to flesh out the details of each screen. And Josh will put a prototype together that we can use to build the actual product in September.

Researching Minimum Qualification and Experience Levels For All Careers

Part of the product experience we need to build is a user journey from the current final results screen (which shows 16 careers on average to someone) to one career that a person chooses to pursue.

Researching How to Get Into Five Target Careers

In order to support people into a career they want to pursue, we’ll narrowly focus on just a few target careers. We’ll carefully decide which ones to focus on based on:

  • The demand in the market today (i.e. the number of open roles)
  • The popularity (based on data we already have from people completing our survey)
  • How much employers might pay for access to high quality talent (with is probably proxied on starting salary)
  • The ease in which someone can access a career (e.g. a career as a solicitor usually takes at least a year to complete a conversion course, so we’ll probably select careers that are more immediately accessible).

Visual Design

I’m not a visual designer. I have some appreciation for good visual design, but I can’t produce it. As you can probably tell from how the website currently looks. So we’re employing Forward Partners’ services to help spice up the look-and-feel. They’ll help design a new logo as well as colour schemes, fonts etc. to use on the site. That’s happening next week.

Data Protection / GDPR Compliance

Data protection has been on my todo list for a few months. I have a privacy policy, but it’s one I cobbled together last year. So this needs a little work. I probably need a Terms of Use policy too. And a cookie policy. Plus I probably need some cookie opt-in that most sites have.

  • What data I’m collecting, why and on what legal basis I’m doing that (and document that in my privacy policy)
  • Decide how long I should keep the data for and ensure I have policies and procedures in place to adhere to this.
  • MongoDB Atlas that I use for my database
  • Heroku that I use as my server
  • GSuite that I use for document storage
  • Slack that we’ve just started using for communication and collaboration.

Nesta Midpoint Check In

And finally, a midpoint check in is due as part of Nesta’s CareerTech prize by the start of September. This includes:

  • A summary of our solution
  • Progress update
  • Planned activities and milestones
  • Learnings of our beneficiaries
  • Our use of labour market information
  • The potential market for our solution
  • How we plan to measure its impact

Building Product

So the goal will be to start building product again in September. It’ll be a busy two weeks trying to wrap a lot of this stuff up. But then we’ll be free from distractions and able to focus come September.

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