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Why We Changed Our Name to Boom Factor

We recently changed our name from Montparnas to Boom Factor. As with any name change, it wasn’t just about the name; it was about capturing a new vision for our company. Having seen numerous clients struggle with building viable, innovative products, we saw an opportunity to combine our experience building startups and leading innovation teams to help solve this problem.

The problem is that established companies often spend too much time and money building products that either fail once in the market or simply fall short of being a breakthrough innovation. There are many factors driving this problem, and many agree that a critical missing element is a leaner approach to the development process. It is a key reason why startups are able to disrupt more established companies with smaller budgets and teams. So, what is the lean startup process? It’s best summed up by Steve Blank:

The Lean Startup is a process for turning ideas into commercial ventures. Its premise is that startups begin with a series of untested hypotheses. They succeed by getting out of the building, testing those hypotheses and learning by iterating and refining minimal viable products in front of potential customers.

– Steve Blank

A startup’s ability to disrupt is why bigger companies end up acquiring these startups or even investing in early stage ventures. However, larger companies will always need to be able to build products on their own that can break through. Considering our clients’ innovation problems and the experience we had building and growing products in startups using the lean methodology, it was clear what we needed to do. We needed to offer our services as a lean startup that could build viable, breakthrough products in market spaces indicated by our clients.

Before I explain what we do, let me summarize the issues we saw that we are addressing.

Innovation Mistakes Companies Make

Not Talking Face-to-Face With Customers

A key misstep companies make is simply not talking to enough customers face-to-face. This is often overlooked at the most critical point in the process: at the very beginning, before massive investments are made. This step is necessary to validate that the problem exists and that it is worth solving.

Getting out and talking to people is a simple step that reveals the nuances in the customers’ lives, how frustrating they perceive a problem to be, what workarounds they use, and whether that extra effort warrants buying into whatever solution the company puts forward.

1. Starting with the Solution

Another common issue in the innovation process is that companies fall in love with a solution before validating that it solves a problem their customers actually have. In the absence of objectivity and proper validation, the company dives straight into a multi-year development cycle to build out the “perfect” product, while product owners are taxed with contriving a customer problem to justify the product. On rare occasions, the solution can stumble upon a problem, but often it is all wasted effort that could have been avoided.

2. Building Unnecessary Features

After identifying the problem and deciding on the solution, the next big hurdle is getting the product out and in the hands of customers. Again, this is where a company and product owners can be their own worst enemy. Instead of focusing on the features critical to proving out the solution, they often prioritize excessive features and try to build to scale before they know whether the core features solve a real problem.

3. Building for Perfection

Quality is important, but perfection has always been the enemy of speed. I’ve seen “MVP” projects span past three years for something that could be created in 3 months. Meanwhile, competitors steal market share with what are considered sub-par products. What tends to occur in the end is that the product is rushed out the door since it has taken so long to launch, and is then released as a poor quality, over-engineered and stale product that stands little chance of success.

4. Designing by Committee

In many companies, there is no clear single product owner, and even when there is, that person’s decisions can often be overridden. Product designs and features are created and recreated to suit the opinions of many internal stakeholders, and the larger the group, the harder it is to reach consensus, the longer the review cycles and the more shifts that are taken. Many cycles are wasted and sometimes work thrown out when trying to cater to all these varying viewpoints. It frustrates the team, elongates timelines and can leave everyone feeling dizzy.

5. Ignoring that Failure is Part of the Process

At its core, innovation is risky and success is never guaranteed. The failing to acknowledge this is best broken down by process and structure, and culture.

Process and Structure: Innovation needs to be done in baby steps to stay nimble and iterate with new information all along the way. Many of the aforementioned issues are a manifestation that the company has not structured itself or its processes in a way that supports innovation.

Culture: We’ve heard many times that the most innovative companies celebrate failure. This is a key missing element in many companies that try to innovate. How many times have we seen a company aim to create something innovative, and then slowly pull back risky features until they are left with an ordinary product that matches the competitive landscape? If incentives and culture do not reward risk-taking, even when they are not successful, innovation will continue to be out of reach for that company.

 

All of these problems may seem insurmountable as they require fundamental changes to how a business operates and thinks, but what if viable innovative products could be produced with an outside partner — one that already employs the Lean Startup approach? This is what we at Boom Factor offer: a startup for hire.

How We Address The Innovation Problem

We address the above problems for our clients by creating our own startup teams geared toward building a viable product based on the challenge provided to them. These teams apply the lean startup methodology: using rapid iteration cycles and experimentation to develop, test and grow a given solution. In the end, we deliver a product that has not only achieved product-market fit, but also shown traction and scalable growth.

Getting Out of the Building

Rather than jumping into solutions, our startup teams first dive into understanding the details of the underlying challenge and the customers better than you or any of your competitors. We do so by getting out of the building and talking to as many people as we can in real-life situations rather than in a lab or focus group room. In this process, we seek to validate a given problem before considering any potential direction.

Develop the Product Vision

Once the team has talked to and observed dozens of people, they formulate several product ideas. They then select the one that most clearly addresses the problem, seeking additional input from potential customers, if needed. Once a direction is set, the next step is to quickly get a minimum viable product in front of real customers.

Test the Solution As Early as Possible!

Our teams truly seek the fastest way to validate a given solution: if the team can test the solution with a paper prototype or manual process, they will! If not, they focus on one to three main features to build a strong MVP and get it in the market in a matter of weeks or months, not years. At this stage, rapid iteration then becomes the focus.

Iterate to Product-Market Fit

Our teams launch early because the product development process really starts once a product is in customers’ hands. It’s only once real people start using the product in their everyday lives that we can identify what is resonating and where gaps exist. The startup team obsessively listens to customers’ feedback and questions and constantly monitor behavior patterns and measure key metrics to help guide the next iteration. They continually improve, and change course as needed.

Our clients are kept involved in the process along the way, seeing how the product evolves and sharing in the insights; however the design and product direction is owned by the startup team who stays close to the product and customers all along the way. Only once we see steady, sustainable adoption and engagement, do we gear up for handing over the reins.

Grow and Hand Off

Once product-market fit is reached, we help build out the growth strategies and lay a solid foundation from which our clients can take the business forward. The startup team works closely with the client across disciplines to transfer any gaps in knowledge and learnings from each of the iterations of the product. They review key metrics and explain critical decisions that helped steer the offering. Finally, they work with the client to identify key opportunities for growth and features to explore for future iterations.

 

So Why the Name “Boom Factor”

We needed a name that captured what a startup can bring, and for us it was Boom Factor.

Boom Factor alludes to our ability to move quickly and the way we can accelerate a business. It captures the fact that we go beyond just designing or building things, and instead deliver the ultimate resounding artifact: a product with proven traction.

We hope that you like it and will join us on this journey. We love to hear from our readers so do tell us what you think in the comments or by dropping us a line: hello@goboomfactor.com.

Biggest Mistake that Product Managers Make

Entrepreneurs can be considered the ultimate product managers, taking an idea from just a concept, and building out a product without the help of existing brand recognition and boundless resources. In many ways, product mangers within companies can learn a lot about how to develop a successful product by examining what successful entrepreneurs have done in building their own products/businesses. In practice, there are several things that overlap, such as, iterating the design, prioritizing features, measuring performance, etc.; however, a key missing element for product managers in established organizations versus entrepreneurial product mangers is actually talking to the customer.

 

Whenever an investor is looking at an entrepreneurial venture, they often evaluate the potential success by understanding how the founders have gone out and validated their idea with potential customers. They want to know that the idea has pivoted based on real information from real people. Of course too they want traction, but numbers can also be deceiving and they often invest in the team over the idea. In the end, seeking out what your customer needs, experiences, feels goes beyond all the market research one can conduct and can add qualitative validation that put the numbers in perspective.

A Second-Hand Account

If we look at how organizations evaluate the success metrics of a product owner, we’ll see a wide-range including number of products released, level of engagement across products, market penetration and post-launch sales. Whether these are the right metrics and how to measure them is a separate issue, but to meet these goals product managers employ all sorts of research and tools.

 

When it comes to hearing from the consumer, the sad truth is that it is often that they are consuming second-hand information. For example, customer service tells them that so-and-so is the issue, or a third-party vendor has conducted some research and say X is really what people will pay for. How many product managers have you known to actually call or step out of the building and talk to the customer? Why is this not the standard?

 

In the startup realm, you just won’t make it very far not stepping out of the building. Almost every entrepreneurial guide (or success story) tells you — you must talk to people, evolve your idea, get other people’s perspectives. When you consider that significant product development is often a year plus investment, it’s incredible to think that a small portion of that time is not taken to really speak to (and listen to) the very people to whom we plan to sell.

What About Traditional Research?

Traditional research certainly helps to provide information about consumer perspectives and it is not to say that these should not be done. However, let’s consider the power of the first-hand account. I’ve met several marketers who have watched focus groups and said things like ‘wow, I didn’t know that kind of perspective existed’ or ‘I had no idea that this was a problem’ or the list goes on. In the same way that user experience professionals insist on doing testing as the product evolves — you don’t know what you don’t know! Without speaking to people and constantly seeking their thoughts, how do we know we’re on the right path.

 

Also, let’s consider how often traditional research is done. It’s never cheap and waiting for traditional research to occur at various spread out times in the development cycle is really missing the opportunity to get some first-hand accounts. Doing so allows you to continually adjust your product roadmap and keep you in touch with your customer in ways that could even build more loyalty.

 

But It’s Unreasonable to Keep Talking to People!

Well, is it? Consider the entrepreneur who surrounds himself with early adopters and creates panels of early testers who feel involved in building the product. How can it be that such enthusiasts can be built from zero, but established brands can’t do the same. Making these panels accessible to real product managers who make the decision could be extremely worthwhile! The insights are there waiting to be harnessed as customers like to be involved (and those that don’t will opt out). More and more companies are building these bases, but often under-utilizing them with impersonalized surveys that show no results to the participants. This is setting up a takers-only relationship when a conversation and follow up on ideas could be much more mutually-beneficial.

 

So, what are you waiting for.. get out there and start talking to your customer. You may be amazed by what you find out and how happy they may be to speak with you!

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer journey mapping is not just a technique for big-budget projects or companies, but a critical step in understanding your customers’ needs, desires and pain points. They allow you to stay focused on the consumer, and to identify the ways that you can better serve them.

So what are customer journey maps anyway?

A customer journey map is an illustration of a customer’s experience engaging with a company and its product or service. The map can tell the full story covering the entire customer lifecycle from initial contact to activation, engagement, and beyond or focus on only a part of the story that lays out interactions or touchpoints critical to part of the customer’s experience. What makes these maps unique to traditional funnels is that it focuses on the customer and the questions and motivations behind his/her behavior. This helps to humanize the problems and thus put the consumer at the forefront of a company’s mind and strategies.

These are fairly easy to construct (depending on the level of sophistication you use), and require you to do something you should be doing anyway: observing your customers and talking to them!

There are several forms of journey maps to be aware of, based on the scope of the visualization:

  • User Experience Journey Maps: to chart the digital experience
  • Sales Journey Maps: to chart the path through the sales funnel (awareness to purchase)
  • Customer Journey Maps: to holistically examine the full experience

We will focus on the last of these as it is the most expansive, most used, and often the most impactful in identifying big impact areas, and understanding your consumer’s full experience (which is what they will remember).

Another set of customer journey maps depends on the stage of the product. They can be either:

  • Retrospective Maps: in the case of existing products and with actual users where we map existing behavior OR
  • Prospective Maps: in the case of new products where we map how expect a consumer will behave

Here we will be focusing on retrospective maps.

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What are responsive images

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Four Ways To Build A Mobile Application

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Be daring. Don’t be afraid to fail

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, if all men count with you, but none too much; if you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run – yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and – which is more – you’ll be a man my son!

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The Future of Interaction

In his article A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction, Bret Victor counters the status quo and a recent video from Microsoft projecting the future of interaction. Victor argues that, while the future does encapsulate using our hands, the future is tactile and not touching glass or ‘Pictures Under Glass.’

Images of the Future of Interaction

He summarizes his argument as:

In this rant, I’m not going to talk about human needs. Everyone talks about that; it’s the single most popular conversation topic in history.

And I’m not going to talk about about technology. That’s the easy part, in a sense, because we control it. Technology can be invented; human nature is something we’re stuck with.

I’m going to talk about that neglected third factor, human capabilities. What people can do. Because if a tool isn’t designed to be used by a person, it can’t be a very good tool, right?

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UX Design and Business

A few months ago, I received an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. As a UX designer, it seemed a strange choice to many I spoke to about the decision, but I’ve been a long-believer in the convergence of design and business. Furthermore, the need for collaboration between all the roles in the product development cycle has been a recurring theme both on this blog and in the wider community. Collaboration is greatly improved with mutual understanding, and thus the MBA serves as a great linkage between an engineering and design background to the business disciplines, including product strategy, marketing, and business management.

Signs of Convergence

Evidence of the mingling of design and business abounds. The convergence can be either very concrete, such as merged managerial-design roles, or less so through collaboration.

Don Norman, the father of user experience design stated in 2008 that UX professionals need to “learn to speak the language of business,” including using numbers to sell  ideas. In his 1998 keynote address to the Human Factors society, he mentioned that “four equal legs [of product development] are required for good product design, all sitting on the foundation of the business case.” In a Nielsen Norman Group report, Norman gets into either further detail by describing the organizational design that supports these principles of effective product development and collaboration. It has been a common drawback of each of the elements of product development to struggle for power and overlook the essential contributions of each “leg.” A recent article from this year at UXMatters nicely addresses the issues of power vs collaboration for the UX leader.

Obviously one of the big companies that has highlighted the integral importance of design in business is that of Apple. In 2005, in the wake of the iPod’s success, Bill Breen of Fast Company wrote about the Business of Design and the “design-based economy,” which has clearly gained even more momentum over the past decade. Design and business complement each other in so many ways that the field of  ‘Business Design’ is spreading in schools and companies alike, most notable of the latter is human-centered innovation consulting firm, IDEO.

What the MBA provides

Beyond a broader perspective to apply the user-centered approach, I have gained a better understanding of cost-benefit analysis, marketing process, techniques, and goals, competitive strategy, organizational dynamics, team building and incentives, and executive managerial issues. These fundamentals allow me to think beyond delighting users now, and thinking about long-term success for the company and the user alike. Compromises in the development cycle are necessary and it’s making the right compromises that can make or break a company or product. Furthermore effective collaboration across disciplines requires understanding each side with an appreciation for what each brings. Irreconcilable differences that can often happen between marketing, engineering and designers can end up surfacing in a product’s experience.

The more strategically we can think as designers, the more effective our recommendations can be within the businesses in which we work, and as a result the better the final experience can be.

Please share your comments and other articles on this issue as I’m constantly trying to track the convergence/intermingling of these disciplines.

Market Research and the Primitive Urges of the Consumer

“The trouble with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”

ThirdSight Software on a Smartphone Decoding Expression

The BBC reports on an upcoming breakthrough for market research, currently being developed. Dr Roberto Valenti of the University of Amsterdam and Dr Theo Gevers.

The two have established a company, ThirdSight, to take advantage of computerized emotion recognition (decoding emotions from facial expressions). ThirdSight has successfully run its software on a smartphone, but the team acknowledges that results are not yet perfect, requiring a researcher to oversee the software, because it cannot decode context or hidden meanings. For instance, it considers both a happy smile and a bewildered smile as ‘positive’.

This technology poses some promising power in the future of market research.

Read full BBC article »

Design Research and Innovation: An Interview with Don Norman

Great words of insight (as usual) from Don Norman in an interview with Jeroen van Geel on Johnny Holland Magazine. He talks about the gaps between academic research, design studies, and design as well as topics on innovation, emotional design and design thinking. In regards to design thinking, he refers to a previous article that he wrote (which I re-read recently and highly recommend): Design Thinking a Useful Myth. Highlight quotes from the interview and link below:

On the difference between researchers and practitioners:

One wants deep understanding, the other wants to know what to do next. One is happy as soon as an idea has been demonstrated, even if it is held together only by tape, string and mirrors–that is, even if it only works on special cases and requires careful attendance and repair by the research group. The practitioner wants something complete, robust, and reliable. Researchers are incapable of delivering this; they are too curious, too driven to learn new knowledge. The practitioner is too practical.

On emotional design and websites:

Everything has a personality: everything sends an emotional signal. Even where this was not the intention of the designer, the people who view the website infer personalities and experience emotions

On getting inspiration:

Stay curious. Always be learning new topics […] And I talk mostly with my critics.

Read the full Don Norman interview on Design Research and Innovation.