A roadmap of experiments

Currently, one of the things I am trying to do on our new MedTech venture is to build a roadmap of experiments to run before we get to the MVP itself.

Why am I doing that, you may want to ask?

Because I think it is super important to do whatever it takes to make sure that we can deliver some sort of tangible value from day 1 with our MVP. Nonetheless so because we’re in MedTech and because we’re dealing with a serious medical issue. We simply need to get it right.

But also because I think it makes overall sense as an approach. In fact I think it might even make better sense than to work on a more regular product roadmap at this stage.

Why?

Simply because at the stage we’re currently at there are so many unknowns and associated assumptions about where we might take this that the most robust roadmap, we can have, is the one articulating what we don’t know and thus need to find out more about.

But does that make it easier to do a roadmap of experiments than a more normal product roadmap?

Definitely not.

After all there are a ton of different experiments, you can run at any given point in time, and the trick is to figure out – or at the very least have an idea – which ones are going to give you most bang for the buck at any given moment in time. And where you take it from there – depending on how the experiment goes.

It’s a super interesting exercise in doing a blueprint for your activities while trying to make sure that you get to that ultimate goal of the experiment series; feeling pretty confident – on a data based basis – what should go into the MVP and hopefully set you off on a good trajectory for startup success.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The negative value proposition

Is creating value as a startup with something new always inherently positive for everybody concerned?

Maybe not.

What if part of the value creation you offer is to help take away the uncomfortable pain of someone having to confront someone else with a problem, the first one really just want to be rid off? Is that a positive for everyone concerned?

Case in point:

If a healthtech startup as part of it’s value proposition offers doctors the ability to spend less time with patients, is that a net positive for all? Why it may help drive down cost for the health sector as such, wouldn’t it be a loss of value instead to a lot of the patients affected by being less able to actually meet an expert?

I am not saying here that it’s wrong, and you shouldn’t try to deliver that kind of value. I am just suggesting that what you may offer as a positive value to one set of stakeholders might be seen as the opposite to another. And you need to be aware of that and own up to the fact that that is what you (also) do.

Especially so if you’re dealing with vulnerable people.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Cakes, laptops…and news

Despite every intention otherwise, I keep returning to commenting on the industry, where I got my education and served a significant part of my career:

The media industry.

I just can’t escape the fact that I get almost emotional every time someone within the industry makes an argument that only serves to prolong the suicidal pain, the industry is putting on itself by not squarely facing up to the real market realities they exist within.

Latest example? Paywalls. Or rather; the customers lack of love for them.

Whenever a new survey comes out indicating that customers don’t want articles behind paywalls, you will hear a version of this argument from the industry:

“Oh, but this and this industry also has expectations that you pay for what they are offering”.

I have seen a lot of analogies for this with laptop-resellers and bakeries being just the latest. So let’s latch onto those and just briefly examine why this analogy is both flawed and – ultimately – downright stupid:

No matter if you went into a computerstore or bakery back in the 80’s or even today, there has always been a constant: The merchandise was sitting on the shelves with a nice price tag onto them, and the ONLY way you could get to walk out of the store with something in your hands was by forking up the cash to pay the price on the tag (or haggle yourself to a slight discount, but that’s beside the point here).

How about in the media industry?

Through 20 years the media industry have said to people coming to their ‘store’, aka news websites: “Look, everything here is free. Just feast yourself to your own delight.”

That advertisers paid for the privilege of offering the product to customers for free was a point lost on the consumers. To them it was just great that they could get something without paying directly. Who doesn’t like that idea?

Fast forward to today. Media entities are now busy putting (much needed and long overdue) paywalls up.

Now, naturally when you start demanding something from your customers in the way of payment rather than just offering it for free, a chunk of your customers will object to it. After all the feeling is that you’re talking something away from them.

But trying to reason that argument by comparing it to other industries, where you ALWAYS had to pay out of pocket is just misplaced. It’s like comparing apples to cheese.

And where it IMHO gets downright stupid is that as long as media people insist on blaming the customers that they just won’t all accept the change, the more time it will take for these same media people to focus on the things they need to do from their end to get out of the misery they’re in:

Developing the product into something customers find it natural to pay for, because it has that value to them.

As hard as it is in reality, as basic straightforward solution it is.

It is the only way this industry will ever be able to move out of this quagmire they’re in. And if blatantly stating when they are misusing their time on worthless arguments can help push things in the right direction that alone is a reason to keep on bringing it up and commenting on it.

Only trouble with that is that I am not confident they will ever really understand, let alone accept, it. Which probably also means that this won’t be the last time I feel the strong urge to comment on it…

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

You’re (likely) not a pro

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a new pair of shoes.

I don’t do that often – it’s kind of one yearly event – and I settled on a pair of ‘Nike By You‘ customized shoes. Not because I wanted to but because they were actually cheaper than some of the other models, I looked at.

Anyways, I started customizing. And because I didn’t want to customize, I asked myself:

“How can you make the most conservative shoe that goes with pretty much anything?”

The answer?

Make every choice as black or dark as you can. No frills.

So I did that. And I mused that the program had well over 5 billion combinations, when all I just ended up with was a black shoe.

Turned out, I didn’t.

I ended up with my shoe alright. But the devil was in the details.

A laze is not just a laze even if it’s black. And the lazes I had chosen, because I didn’t really bother and didn’t really give it the love, a custom design deserved, were a pair of lazes, I would otherwise NEVER choose.

My point?

I got a customized product that was customized indeed; a hodge-podge of various styles and parts that make them look like Frankensteins monster, and where my only comfort is that they are so dark, you won’t notice the weird choices, I have made.

Where am I going with this?

Even if you get the opportunity to design, chances are you will suck at it – unless you’re actually skilled or trained in it.

The same goes for any other craft, you obviously don’t really know anything about but where the combination of sheer naivety and stupidity combined with cool technology makes you think you’re a seasoned pro, where in fact you’re nothing but a full-blown amateur.

Do what you’re best at. And leave the other parts for the pro’s.

I’ll do that with the next pair of shoes, I invest in. Next year.

(Photo: Private)

Always create value

One of the hardest things when building new products and services is to deliver real value to your customers.

I know, it sounds stupid. But it’s true. And there are two reasons for it:

First of all, you’re not the judge of what brings value to your customers.

They are.

That’s a frightening prospect, because in essence customers may choose to vote that what you’re doing – your whole idea – isn’t valuable at all to them.

If that happens, you have no value. Period.

Second, it is super hard to deliver value to customers and NOT necessarily pursue your original idea.

Why?

Because every time you put your idea out there with users and potential customers, their feedback is going to be somewhat different to what you had hoped and/or expected. And while it’s super important – and immensely valuable in itself – to get that feedback before you build, it is still SUPER hard do divert or abstract from your idea to wherever customers may seem suggest there is real value to be found.

The challenge is no less for founders who are most often driven by an original idea and feel very passionate about following through on it.

Having them – or being able to yourself, if you’re the founder – understand that your idea matters far less than the value your customers are looking to get, may be the single biggest factor deciding whether you will be successful or not.

(Photo: Pexels.com)

Your ego is (literally) killing you

Alex Danco wrote a stellar blog post a couple of weeks ago about the Freud moment of the Covid-19 pandemic seen from an American perspective.

In it he argues that the reason why the US is struggling so much with the pandemic is because doing all the right things to stem it has been positioned as helping other people, which goes against the very ego driven US culture.

I really think that is a profound insight. But it lacks a further perspective;

While the short term problem is that people won’t use masks to help others that very behaviour comes with two risks:

(1) By not using a mask, you risk becoming infected as well. Which may – worst case – be fatal to you and – by extension – your ego.

(2) By not helping others and playing your part in battling the pandemic, you’re making yourself substantially worse off longer term, as you’re effectively destroying your own future.

Why is that?

Because basically you’re assisting the crisis in becoming a lot worse before it gets better. Meaning that while it rages out (if it ever does), you’re losing business, opportunities, sales, partnerships – a livelihood.

You’re not necessarily killing yourself (and your ego). But you’re making both substantially worse off in the longer term by not taking a time out to help NOW.

Why is this important?

Because it shows the perils of (a) being controlled by your ego every second and (b) not thinking ahead a bit.

The last point is one of the great, great challenges, we have as a human species;

We’re so used to thinking and acting short term – from moment to moment – that in the pursuit of instant gratification and a win here-and-now, we’re sacrificing a better, more productive and more profitable outcome later on.

Without even thinking.

Should we really congratulate each other on having stepped back in evolution to the level of other self-absorbed non-reflecting mammals?

Or should we use our unique skills to show that we’re better than that?

(Photo: Pexels.com)

Insight is value

People inside and outside the media industry are starting to take notice of the value of quality content; content that people are actually willing to pay for.

Hooray! Better late than never, I guess. And yes, this goes out to you late bloomers in the media industry, who are finally getting around to the idea of getting your income – your livelihood – from other sources than an advertising market going towards a CPM of 0.

Yes, zero!

Anyways, it’s great that the focus is now on how to create content people are willing to pay for. But at the same time, I think it’s valid to mark a point of concern:

I see a lot – especially media people – looking towards popularity numbers to decide, which content is worth paying for, ie looking at page views and different engagement metrics to determine what they need more of in terms of increasing their ability to drive payment direct from users.

I think this concept is flawed. And let me back it up with a couple of examples:

I pay a monthly subscription to Stratechery by Ben Thompson and have done so for years. I pay a monthly subscription to Exponential View by Azeem Azhar. And the only magazine in print, I subscribe to is the Danish magazine on current political affairs, Raeson.

What do all these have in common for me as a paying user:

(1) I can never guess what they are going to put out based on prior history, and it’s perfectly fine, because…

(2) I subscribe for the insights and outcome. Nothing else. And I am willing to pay for that – and continue to do so.

The last point is important. I strongly – STRONGLY – believe that the key to a great content business – streaming services apart which is a totally different ballgame – is knowledge and insight. That you actually know and have a deep, DEEP expertise in whatever it is, you’re writing or even podcasting about.

And this is where the problem risks returning for the regular newsroom. Because in the effort of doing more with less, be fast and always be breaking, newsrooms have lost a lot of that knowledge and insight that was worth something.

At the same time the internet has enabled the sources to have their own voices and charge for that. They have effectively cut out the middle man.

Which is why – despite promising numbers for digital subscriptions – legacy media will find it just as hard to build a sustainable digital subscription business with what they have got than it was with advertising.

Of course I hope, I will be proven wrong.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Willingness to pay…for what?

A new study from the Reuters Institute at Oxford University has found that there seems to be a co-relation between users with media subscriptions like Netflix and Spotify and the willingness to pay for online news.

Naturally, legacy media executives are already starting to misinterpret the findings to fit into their own worldview.

A willingness to pay is not a blanket willingness to pay. Willingness to pay is directly associated with value.

And there is just a huge difference between paying a subscription for an evergreen back catalogue of music or movies and then paying for clickbait that rots in less than 30 seconds after publishing.

On the other hand with an established willingness to pay, there is room to ask oneself in the news industry:

“Ok, how can we take a page out of the playbook from Netflix, Spotify and/or others and apply that in our context?”

What you will get from such an exercise is an imminent need to rethink the product to make it more based on perceived customer value.

And – importantly – stop trying to force the public to pay for you being able to maintain a model that is if not completely dead then terminal.

That takes a huge mind shift internally in the media organizations. A mind shift they have so far proven unwilling and thus unable to make.

It has nothing – nothing – to do with willingness to pay.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)