Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Prod Mgmt: Solve human problem, not machine capability

I will be the first one to admit.  I am a recovering engineer who got introduced to product management.  I like talking about computational theory and randomized algorithms.  I get a kick out of talking about right way of designing object hierarchy and design patterns.  Somehow it makes me feel that I got value out of my college and post-college years.

But I can tell you one thing.  Designing a product has very little to do with understanding technology, let alone implementation details.  In fact, knowing how product is put together is likely to hinder your understanding of what makes a marketable solution.

I still remember the conversation that I had with my sister.  When I was fresh out of graduate school, she was pursuing screenwriting career and got her first digital camcorder.  I remember the camera was a significant investment on her part.  It must have costed her over $4,500 to get digital camcorder and MacBook for video editing.  Seeing the cool gadget for the first time, I could not help but get excited.
Me: "Awesome camcorder.  When are you shooting something?"
Sis: "I don't have a script yet.  I'm working on my script first."
Me: "Just start shooting.  Something will come out of it.  You can edit your way around it."
Sis: "You don't shoot something just because you have a camcorder."
Ah.  I was still very much a coder.  Never mind what story you want to tell.  Just start shooting.  Something will happen while you are shooting and experimenting with your cool new camcorder features.  That was exactly my mentality.  

Now I can see what might have come out if she started doing that.  It would be bunch of clips testing bits and pieces of camcorder features and you'll go nowhere in creating something interesting to watch.

Exactly same is true.  First understand human problem.  Then solve the problem.  Do not start from machine capability.  You may end up with something that looks new, but good luck taking that to the market.

I'm not saying there is no value in doing purely engineering-driven project.  But taking something to the market involves so much more than creating something novel.  You have to find what human problem that you are solving.  Often times this exercise becomes so backward that you'll have easier time starting out with problem than building a solution for it.

Technology is not what solves human problem.  It's story that product allows user to do.  It's what user can do with the product that otherwise would have been cumbersome or difficult.  Without story, there is no product.  There is no market.  With story, even if you built it using existing technology stack, you'll find market.

All amateur DJs out there, meet Roqbot.
Roqbot raised $1.2 million seed round.
Let me give you an example.  It is incredibly easy to share a song.  You would think that it is a solved problem.  Spotify does it with Facebook, Ping does it on iTune and so do many other streaming music sites. But what about sharing a song in your favorite cafe?  What if you can share a song and it gets played instantly on cafe speakers?  It would be online jukebox in your favorite retail stores.

That's exactly what Roqbot does.  It lets you deejay music right from your iPhone or Android while you are sipping on your favorite coffee.

There is nothing new in the technology stack.  Yet, it's creating a story for user.

When starting out a new product, start from human problem you should solve, not from technology you should use.

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