Become the product to drive quick launches and lasting success
Recently I was helping the product leaders and managers in a large non-profit organization improve their performance. When we discussed the use of MVPs, minimal viable products, one question asked was if the MVP approach applies to services. The answer is yes, and our guest shares an example that led to a new recycling business. The MVP approach, or if you prefer, the MVE for minimal viable experiments, is a significant philosophical shift for some people. It means doing the minimum needed to learn what creates value for a customer–aligned with solving a problem or satisfying a job they want done, before creating a complete product. I think of it as a series of small, fast, and inexpensive experiments that help us learn what a product should be.
Our guest is Abdo Riani, serial entrepreneur and founder of StartupCircle, which connects successful entrepreneurs with rising founders to help them move their ideas and businesses forward with actionable and relevant advice.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[4:43] What do you mean by not scaling in the beginning?
Doing things that don’t scale means going to market under the condition of the unavailability of the product. When I was a sophomore in college, I wanted to create a venture that rewarded users for eco-friendly actions. I became the one connecting people with the nearest recycling facility and the one who updated their points. It allowed me to go to market quickly and generate $20,000 in pre-sales that provided a foundation for me to learn more about customers and scale up from there.
[9:13] Where did the idea for the recycling business come from?
I read an article about how no one was innovating in the recycling space apart from hardware. I started ideating about how we could solve the problem of getting more people to recycle. I thought that people would be more motivated to recycle if they could earn rewards from a local business. I also wanted to help local businesses by increasing their customer base.
[11:45] How did you validate the approach?
The next step was fundraising. I spoke with more than 50 investors over 8 months but was not successful. All the investors wanted proof that the product would work, but I didn’t have money to build the product. That’s when I changed my approach to scalability. I knew I needed one recycling facility, one local business, and one interested user. I found the user on campus and went with them to the recycling facility to experience the transaction with them. I did the same thing with the small business. These experiences allowed me to learn about some things that needed to change before scaling the product. I recruited 10 more users from a local environmental club and did the same thing but with a more automated process. I added more and more users until the recycling company became interested in investing in the product. I was able to continue scaling from there. People were motivated by helping the environment and by the rewards they were receiving.
[19:50] What was the recycling situation like when you started?
The nearest recycling facility was 2-3 miles away from the area I was targeting, so people needed the motivation to go there. They could put their recycling outside, but there was another option if they wanted to go the extra mile. I found my users by being very active in communities where people were likely to like my product. I hosted events and spoke to groups to build awareness. As I built that awareness, people started asking to fund my solution by prepaying for it. I also brought value to local businesses by promoting them.
[24:58] Where there any pivot points along the way where things didn’t work the way you thought they would?
Recycling facilities were not interested in small quantities; they made money by partnering with large companies. They wanted to work with me for awareness purposes and getting local businesses to know about them. I made sure that local businesses received weekly emails about recycling facilities. I realized that local businesses were paying to recycle and knew I could connect businesses and recycling centers in a way that was mutually beneficial. I also saw that people were only recycling at the end of the month, so I worked with a few facilities to do home pickups throughout the month.
[28:20] What did your launch look like?
People sometimes obsess about the launch, but no one remembers it in the end. I learned that early on and had a series of launches. Every time I brought on a new feature, I announced it through email and with an in-person event. I made sure that I got to meet with my biggest fans, who are essentially my customer advisory board. I also got feedback from recycling centers and local businesses. It continued this way for about 2.5 years until I had an offer for acquisition. I realized in the end that I was more passionate about launching a business than running it. This ultimately led me to StartupCircle.
[32:30] What is StartupCircle?
StartupCircle provides entrepreneurs with personal guidance through daily Q&A sessions and democratizes guidance. Each session is limited to three participants to allow for personal connections to speakers and provide information that people can instantly apply to their businesses.
“Instead of thinking outside the box, get rid of the box.” -Deepak Chopra.
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it on your favorite social network.