Building product-led organizations can be a tricky process. You need to ensure that your company’s leadership and internal teams are all singing from the same songbook. It requires a holistic approach to (re)building a business and remembering that the product is ultimately the result of people, processes, culture, company beliefs, and leadership.
This is what David Rivier specializes in – transforming startups into bulletproof, high-growth businesses. In this article, he reveals how he does it, along with some tips to get close to your customers.
David Rivier Career Development
I always joke that I’m a failed entrepreneur. That’s what I love about a product – it’s the closest thing to entrepreneurship.
But let’s backtrack for a moment. I have always been fascinated by innovative products. I received my first computer when I was 6 years old and taught myself how to program. I got into programming in the early days, back when the internet was still in its fledgling state.
Many years later, right at the beginning of my career, I was fortunate enough to work with many startups, including one of the first chat services in France. That was when I caught the bug for product development.
A British startup got in touch with me to help them build social networks for academics, so I moved to the UK, which got the ball rolling. After this, I did some consultancy work for O2 and Shell, mainly developing tools for community management, crowd-sourcing, and gathering customer feedback.
Eventually, I joined Skype with my first ‘official’ Product Management role. This was where I learned the tools of the trade. I got to work with some incredibly talented people. It was a fast-paced, exhilarating, and collaborative culture where you needed to learn how to swim a lot. So I learned a lot. Quickly.
Then Barclays came calling, asking me to help them work on digital transformation throughout their payment business Barclaycard. The process was as much (if not more) cultural as it was technological. It was an eye-opening opportunity to study process optimization and analyze how people work daily and manage their information. This experience led me to where I am today, focusing on digital transformation and reinventing company cultures.
Now, I’m CPO (Chief Product Officer) at Wonderbill, an easy-to-use platform for managing your monthly household bills. I lead the team, define the strategy, visualize what the future might look like, and set the wheels in motion.
Building a product to deliver accurate, immediate value to consumers
Wonderbill is an app that aggregates all consumer bills and subscriptions, allowing users to see all of their bills in one place and find better provider deals.
Calculating monthly spending can make people pretty anxious. We found that 30% of people hate digging into their bills. We understand that budgeting is tricky, particularly when the digital economy is moving onto a subscription-based model.
But Wonderbill goes further than budgeting alone. We help consumers navigate through the minefield of monthly billing while stopping them from getting overwhelmed. We believe everybody should have the tools to stay on top of their household finances and live more freely.
It’s a joy to work for such a business because we’re making a difference in people’s lives. Now, they don’t have to spend needless time every month doing something they hate. Instead, they can use that time doing things they love while still staying on top of their budget.
4 key pillars to transform your company culture
Your organization must be close to its customers, know what they want and need, like and dislike. If you don’t understand this, you won’t deliver (or create anything useful). And if this is the case, you won’t have a successful business – end of the story.
So if you’re not as close to customers as you’d like to be, you should transform how your teams operate.
From my experience, there are four key pillars to transformation:
1. Identify foundational issues
You will spot a few foundational issues if a business’s culture isn’t right:
An incoherent vision: Too many businesses have confusing missions, translating into a lack of business-wide clarity and leading to never-ending organizational issues.
Strategy and execution misalignment: Sometimes, the strategy is disconnected from the plan. The strategy might be ambitious, but if it doesn’t translate into practice, it is useless.
Product, purpose, value misalignment: This happens when the product (what it does, why, and what the value is) is disconnected from the customers’ needs.
2. Align leadership
Transformation projects will only be successful if you encourage the leadership team to speak the same language (figuratively, not necessarily literally!). If leaders aren’t pulling in the same direction, you end up with subpar strategies, poor results, and dysfunctional teams.
3. Make sure your teams are on board
Product development is more than processes and outcomes alone. The best product teams focus on getting the most out of their team, ensuring they always learn, work together effectively, and solve big problems creatively.
The team needs to be singing from the same songbook. Everyone should have the same vision, mission, and culture. This is where data can come in handy.
People naturally have conflicting ideas and opinions, but the numbers are the same for everybody, and numbers don’t lie. People might have different views on what the data tells them, but you’re all working with the same metrics.
4. Change the culture
Once you’ve started on the journey, don’t stop there. Build a self-sustaining organization that continually optimizes its processes and turns promising junior employees into great leaders.
But how do you do this?
Listen: The best transformation leaders bring together disparate parts of the organization and keep a pulse on the impact of any changes. Make sure you ask lots of questions to find out what people are thinking and doing. By showing that you genuinely care about others’ opinions, people who initially resist change can become your best advocates.
Restructure the team: You can improve your teams’ by turning your business model into a vertical structure instead of a top-down hierarchical structure.
Focus on outcomes: Go one step further to ensure your business model is based on problem-solving. For example, a product manager, developer, and graphic designer don’t have to sit within different teams but work together to identify and create a solution to customers’ needs.
If you do all of these things to get close to your customers, you’ll be on the right track.
Getting closer to your customers is essential because you won’t have a business without delivering anything useful for your target audience. It’s a lot more enjoyable to work with companies who think like this because you keep the customer at heart and direct your business and decisions accordingly.
Vitamin products vs. pain killer products
You need to start with the customers and understand their pain points before providing them with what they need. If you can’t deliver anything useful to your customers, you won’t have a functioning business.
We tend to use a technique of inquiry-based learning called ‘Discovery’.
- Our customers’ needs and pain points;
- How we can provide a solution;
- How to monetize this solution.
Consider this: You can provide your customers with ‘vitamin products’ or ‘pain killer products.’ People should use vitamin products, but they might well choose not to. There’s no pressing need. However, consumers always return to painkiller products as they address a pressing, painful condition.
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