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How to Save WeWork

 

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Photo by Hieu Vu Minh on Unsplash

 

As recently as three months ago, WeWork was a high-flying startup headed for an IPO with a $47 billion market cap. Since then, they have suspended IPO plans indefinitely, sold their private jet, fired their CEO, laid off thousands of employees, and suffered a valuation drop of 80%.

According to SoftBank, the majority shareholder, WeWork is now worth $4.9 billion. By some estimates, the paper worth of their property and equipment ($6.7B) is greater than the valuation. With Adam Neumann’s corporate malfeasance dominating the headlines, it’s easy to overlook the fundamental reason for their downfall: WeWork and its investors miscalculated the size of their market. All the cost cutting in the world won’t earn WeWork’s shareholders a return on their investment. The only way to save WeWork (and SoftBank’s shirt) is to find a new market big enough to warrant such an enormous valuation.

WeWork Miscalculated Its Market Size

Even before WeWork published its S1, Wall St analysts were asking how WeWork was different from any other commercial real estate landlord. IWG/Regus, for example, had more space, more revenue, and, wait for it, profit. Yet, IWG currently has a market cap of $3.56 billion. So what made WeWork different?

WeWork's S-1 devotes a lot of space to explaining the company's high valuation. To summarize there were 3 key points: 1. Technology; 2. Employers are willing to spend a lot on office space and there are a lot of employees; 3. WeWork wasn’t just about commercial real estate it was about building a community. This means they can enter new markets such as their nascent forays into housing and education.

Here are the problems with those justifications for WeWork trading at exorbitantly higher multiples that IWG. Let’s start with the technology statement.

Technology is not a market. Nobody wakes up in the morning thinking “gee, I need more technology.” As Theodore Levitt famously said, “Nobody wants a quarter inch drill; they want a quarter inch hole.” The same is true for technology. Nobody wants the tech itself, they want to get something done and tech helps them do it faster. As a result, technology cannot increase how much the world is willing to pay for a place to work. Technology can help provide a better customer experience and decrease the cost of delivering that great experience for people who need a place to work. But all that does is enable WeWork to potentially capture a larger share of the same market. It doesn’t increase the market itself. This is how Wall St viewed WeWork’s coworking spaces. They asked ‘in what way is the market bigger than what we’ve seen from IWG?’

This brings us to point number two, how WeWork calculates its market size using product price * number of buyers. In the S-1, WeWork estimates there are 255 million people with desk jobs in their 280 target cities. They then cite a data point from CBRE and Cushman Wakefield that employers spend a weighted average of $11,700 per employee for occupancy costs. 255 million * 11,700=approximately $3 trillion. There is a huge problem with this formula. The willingness to pay for office space exists on a curve, with a small number of companies willing to pay a lot and a large number of companies willing to pay a lot less. Taking an average number rather than the area under the curve, inflates the market value tremendously. To use their data to calculate a much more accurate market size, we'd have to see the distribution of spend/employee.

In any case, Wall St evidently didn't go along with this and continually compares WeWork's underlying metrics and Market Size to IWG.

If you can’t justify the valuation in co-working or office space, then you have to expand the mission. In this way, it makes sense that WeWork tried to characterize itself as a "community" company and enter other markets: residential housing and education. Unfortunately, they failed to demonstrate ways of delivering in those markets that were significantly better than what customers get today. If the solution is not better than the competition, people will not switch and growth will not happen.

A Historical Aside

From early 2011 to late 2013, I worked at Patch, AOL’s hyperlocal news network, now owned by Hale Global, a private equity fund. I was the Director of Consumer Product during a proxy battle that saw activist investor Starboard Value try to gain sufficient AOL board seats to shut Patch down. AOL won the battle but lost the war, selling Patch to Hale Global. Coincidentally, Artie Minson, current Co-CEO of WeWork, was the CFO of AOL at the time.

Much ink has been spilled on AOL’s large investment in Patch. Here’s my take: the size of AOL’s investment in Patch led shareholders to demand growth that was incongruent with the size of the only market in which Patch was successful: local news. On the inside, we didn’t discuss the problem in these terms, but we reacted to it as such. Our internal traffic and revenue growth goals were ambitious and had to be in order to justify the investment to the board and The Street.

When our local news traffic and ad revenue fell short of the goals, we looked for other areas of expansion: photo sharing, blogs, social networking groups, classifieds, crowd funding...a Patch Credit Card was even in development. We didn't get enough traction in any of these areas and Wall Street didn’t buy the story. Patch was sold to Hale Global.

Since Hale acquired Patch they have re-focused on news and ads, and have reported profits. With a lower investment and a lower valuation, Patch’s expectations outside the eye of Wall St are right-sized for the market in which it performs well. I don’t know the financials of Patch’s sale to Hale Global. It has been widely reported that AOL invested $120 million/year in Patch at its peak, and the terms of the sale were not disclosed. Your guess is as good as mine.

When the investment and the valuation of a business are in conflict with the size of its market, people lose money.

WeWork Has to Enter a Large Market With a Solution That Satisfies Unmet Needs

To think about how WeWork can find a large enough market, it’s worth taking a moment to consider: what is a market?

The most common way to hear analysts define markets is by the product people are buying. This leads to terms like “the office space market,” “the cloud services market,” “the phone market,” “the mp3 player market,” “the encyclopedia market,” or “the film market.”

“Wait a minute,” you may be thinking to yourself, “nobody buys MP3 players, encyclopedias, or film anymore. Why did you use those examples? Those markets don’t exist!”

And that is precisely the problem with thinking about markets in terms of products. Some day a new technology will lead to a new product that causes no one to buy the old products. Products and technologies change every day, which causes product markets to disappear.

History is littered with examples of once great companies that focused on improving positions in markets defined by products and then failed. Kodak failed in the film market. Britannica failed in the encyclopedia market. With the Zune, Microsoft failed in the MP3 player market. While those companies were investing in improving their products, other companies created entirely new products based on new technologies that caused nobody to need film, encyclopedias, or MP3 players.

It’s hard to blame Kodak, Britannica, and Microsoft for these mistakes. If you plug products that don’t exist and don’t have buyers yet into a traditional market sizing formula, product price * number of buyers, you get a zero dollar market. So then you try to guess how many people will buy the product and the whole enterprise starts to feel very risky. It seems much safer to invest in the existing products whose market size you know for sure, right?

Wrong. All product-based markets will eventually go to zero as the old products are replaced by the new. As Jobs Theory states, “Nobody is buying your product, they are hiring it to get a job done. When a new product can get the job done better, they will fire the old product.”

We can use this insight to create a more stable definition of a market and a more accurate market sizing formula. Instead of defining the market as a product, we can define it as a job-to-be-done. If we stipulate that the job is a goal customers want to achieve independent of any solution, we now have markets that stand the test of time. Furthermore, if you want to position yourself better in a job-based market, you need to be the one who will find the new product to get the job done better rather than clinging to your old product.

Using the Jobs definition of a market, instead of the “mp3 player market,” we have the “create a mood with music market.” Instead of the “film market,” we have the “share memories” market. Instead of the encyclopedia market, we have the “find information market.”

To size the market, we can use customers’ willingness to pay to get the job done rather than the price of the product. This enables us to size markets regardless of the new product and helps us see opportunities to create value. Imagine how scary it would be to invest in a new product (the iPhone) that would kill your cash cow (the iPod) using the traditional market sizing formula. But, if you looked at how much people were willing to pay to “create a mood with music on the go,” “talk to their friends and family on the go,” and “use the internet on the go” much better than they could do before, investing in the iPhone wouldn’t have been scary at all. Those markets together represented an enormous opportunity. And considering the willingness to pay to get the job one helps you understand why Apple was able to charge $500 for the iPhone when Steve Ballmer preferred Microsoft’s $99 mobile phone strategy in comparison.

So if a market is a job-to-be-done and the size of the market is the customer’s willingness to pay to get the job done, what job should WeWork look at?

Here is the criteria:

  1. The willingness to pay (the market size) has to support a valuation greater than $47 billion for SoftBank to make a return on its investment
  2. WeWork has to have a believable path to satisfying needs in the job better than the competition.

Let’s take a quick look at the two “markets” WeWork already tried to expand into: housing and education. The core jobs here would be “secure a place to live” and “learn something new.” The willingness to pay likely varies significantly across segment, but it’s pretty safe to say these are very large markets. However, the projects underwent heavy criticism. Most likely few people believed WeWork’s solutions for these jobs satisfied unmet needs and would enable WeWork to grow in these markets.

While thinking about this problem, I came across a lengthy NYTimes aritcle from Feb 2018 called The Rise of the WeWorking Class. In part, it tells the story of Mabel Luna, a WeWork customer:

“She hung up her shingle as a private C.P.A. Though she never advertised, she quickly outgrew herself; she told me that 90 percent of her customers have come through WeWork, either via hallway run-ins or through the social-networking features of its mobile app. She had several clients in the building — including a brewer of natural alcoholic kombucha, a sole-proprietor attorney and the German sunglasses manufacturer by the printer.”

Mabel used WeWork to acquire customers and grow her business. The acquire customers market is enormous. It’s the advertising industry and the CRM industry. Google and Facebook have grown to multi-hundred billion dollar market caps in this market.

Here’s how WeWork can figure out if it can realistically take share in this market and generate sufficient equity value:

  1. Identify the key customer to target: Is it a solopreneur like Mabel, small businesses, large businesses, all of the above?
  2. Identify the market: What is the job they will target? Is it acquire customers? Grow sales? The trick here is to avoid splitting hairs and articulate the goal in the language of the customer.
  3. Identify the market size: What is the willingness to pay to get this job done?
  4. Identify the unmet needs: In what ways are customers struggling to acquire customers? In other words, what are the key problems WeWork can solve?
  5. Identify the customer value: How will WeWork productize what it has done for Mabel to help customers satisfy their acquire customers needs better than any other solution they could use?

Answering these questions will lead WeWork to define a de-risked product strategy. Jobs-to-be-Done customer research can answer all of these questions *before* building the product. It is much cheaper to execute the customer research to de-risk the opportunity than it is to build a failure.

Posted by Jared Ranere in market size, wework, markets, valuation, patch, starboard , 0 comments

Should Facebook Allow Lies? A JTBD Perspective

 

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Facebook has been in the news for allowing a Donald Trump ad that makes untrue statements: essentially lies. They have been defending this by claiming (i) protection of “free speech” and (ii) that politicians are already fact-checked.

This obviously has big risks for Facebook. Users could revolt and leave the platform, regulators could crack down and fine them, and the growing chorus of politicians who want to break them up could get even bigger and louder. And most importantly, advertisers (Facebook’s true customers) could spend their advertising dollars elsewhere if they feel pressure from their customers.

Facebook has enormous power due to its network effect, but it is not invincible. All companies, like all species, go extinct at some point. As CNBC reports, A Washington University study found that 40% of the Fortune 500 will no longer exist in just 10 years.

Species fail when they cannot adapt to their changing environment. And the same is true for companies. Customers “fire” current products and “hire” a new one, when a new product enters the market (the “environment”) that gets the customer’s job done faster and more accurately. Think of Blackberry, Britannica and Kodak—once dominant companies that failed when competitors (Apple, Google, and Facebook) stole their customers and their market share.

Facebook might be successful in the short-term allowing lies in its ads. A fascinating look at why this is can be found in Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine. She argues that memes are a second replicator like genes. Genes are replicators and they have created all species (see Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene).

“Genes are instructions for making proteins stored in the cells of the body and passed on in reproduction.... Memes are instructions for carrying out behavior stored in brains (or other objects) and passed on by imitation.” Memes are replicators that have created human minds. But memes don’t have to be true to spread rapidly and widely. So Donald Trump can be successful buying ads that get liked and shared on Facebook because a meme’s ability to spread (e.g. “Joe and Hunter Biden are corrupt”) is not dependent on how true it is.

So Facebook can make money selling lies. It is that simple. But should they?

Companies that shortcut their customer’s jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) ultimately will face consequences. The CEO of Wells Fargo was forced to resign because they shortcut their customers jobs by fraudulently charging them fees for accounts they didn’t want. Wells Fargo should have focused on getting consumers finance JTBDs done better. Instead, they took a shortcut to profits through fraud.

Facebook is shortcutting their users’ and advertisers’ jobs-to-be-done by selling lies. Facebook uses "Free Speech" to defend keeping lies on its platform. But more important than the legal question, is whether or not lies on its platform serves its users.

The jobs-to-be-done that Facebook’s users are “hiring” the platform to do include sharing memories and staying connected with friends. But they also include staying informed about current events and determine how to vote to help their lives. According to the Pew Research Center, about four-in-ten Americans (43%) get news on Facebook.

So how can Facebook avoid selling lies?

It can keep and satisfy its users (consumers) by actually helping them stay informed with the truth so that they can make better decisions in their lives. Over time, products will emerge to get the consumers’ jobs done better. This is why Facebook grew rapidly. Facebook, combined with mobile phones with cameras, replaced film and destroyed Kodak because the internet is a faster and more accurate way to share memories (which is a consumer JTBD).

Either Facebook will continue improving how it helps consumers stay informed and make decisions about their lives (another consumer JTBD) or another company will do it faster and more accurately and replace Facebook. Through this lens, it's clear that lies are an existential threat to Facebook. In the short term, lies (fake memes) can spread rapidly and generate profits via advertising, but in the long term any product that fails to get the consumer’s job done will go extinct.

No one, not even Mark Zuckerberg, can beat evolution.

Facebook’s advertisers, of course, are their true customers (they generate their revenue) and advertisers are “hiring” Facebook to acquire new customers (the advertisers’ job-to-be-done). If consumers no longer use Facebook because lies don’t help them with their jobs, then advertisers will be less successful acquiring customers on Facebook and will leave the platform as well.

This type of downward spiral can happen very rapidly for a company, so the threat to Facebook, is very real. In 2007, Blackberry’s market cap ($80 billion) was 4x larger than Apple’s when the iPhone launched. It is now effectively zero. This can happen to Facebook, and it might all start with little lies.

 

Posted by Jay Haynes , 2 comments

Getting to the Truth - Stop Ignoring What Customers Want

 

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“Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.”

-- Valery Legasov, chief of the commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster, in HBO’s Chernobyl

Here’s a description of a company that may sound familiar:

Behind the efforts of an intuitive, dynamic leadership team who is excellent at selling, the company enjoys early growth, enough to invite substantial investment or acquisition.

The new shareholders are excited, they expect growth to accelerate when their cash infusion is put to work. They believe the likelihood of a substantial return on their investment is strong.

But expectations are not met.

The sales team is reporting a slowdown in their pipeline. Not only are they closing fewer deals, but marketing is sending them fewer prospects.

Marketing and sales look at the product team and say, “Tell me you have something exciting on your road map for us to sell!” The reply is a litany of optimizations to their existing product. Marketing has little confidence that these iterations will generate interest from new customers. Product agrees and laments that the executive team asked them to prioritize the low-hanging fruit.

Together, the teams march to the c-suite with a compelling argument for a research budget.

Sales says, “We don’t have anyone that’s excited to make a purchase.”

Marketing says, “Our lead gen rate is declining.”

Product says, “We’ve optimized our product but it doesn’t seem to make a difference.”

They say they need to find out what customers are really looking for. They want to know if they have product/market fit and the slowdown is a blip on the radar or if they need to innovate their messaging or product or both. The research will give them evidence.

“You don’t need that!” says the CEO who spearheaded the early growth, “I sold our product to our existing customers. They are your proof! It’s impossible that there aren’t more people who need our product. You just need to turn their light bulbs on!”

Three months later, the trends have not reversed and the conversation repeats itself. This time the executive team is open to research because now the board is on their case to accelerate growth and is questioning the current plan. They have their own pressures to generate a return on their investment.

The CEO approves the research but says, “Make sure you include our existing customers and warm leads in the research.”

When the results come back, the product team points to research subjects that say, “We are not focused on the problem you solve; we have no budget to address it; it’s really not an issue for us.” The product team’s interpretation is, “we better go find another problem to solve that is pressing.”

The CEO points to the small sample of existing customers and warm leads and says, “But what about these people? They are validating that our current plan is the right one. Stay the course.”

Six months later, there is a new CEO.

________

The quote at the beginning of this post refers to the USSR’s alleged culture of prioritizing their global reputation above the truth. That culture trickled-down to the staff of the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Plant at Chernobyl.

The show opens in the aftermath of an explosion in the plant’s reactor core. The management on duty refuses to believe that the reactor has exploded in spite of all evidence to the contrary. As the staff reports evidence of the explosion to management, the denials continue.

Here’s how Craig Mazin (Chernobyl’s screenwriter and showrunner) writes one particularly stark moment of denial. In this scene (p. 46 of the screenplay), Sitnikov works for Dyatlov, the manager on-call during the explosion.

SITNIKOV: I walked around the exterior of building 4. I think there's graphite. In the rubble.

DYATLOV: You didn't see graphite.

SITNIKOV: I did.

DYATLOV: You didn't. YOU DIDN'T. Because it's NOT THERE

The only way for graphite to get to the exterior of the building is for the reactor core to explode. However, built correctly, it would have been “impossible” for the reactor core to explode. An explosion would indicate that someone had made a mistake and done their job poorly. In the Soviet culture, it was more important to appear flawless than to own-up to the mistake and fix the problem.

In fact, we learn later in the series (SPOILER ALERT!), that the plant was built incorrectly. Because of a design flaw and a poor choice of materials, the failsafe mechanism that would have enabled the Chernobyl staff to shut the plant down and avoid the explosion, did not work. Even worse, Soviet physicists and officials were aware of the flaw, but hid it.

Hiding the truth caused tens of thousands of deaths according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, with a study later conducted by Greenpeace that estimated an additional 10,000 - 200,000 deaths in the years following.

Eventually, the truth bore out.

________

Organizations that operate from a place of fear, whose leaders reinforce their own beliefs and whatever will make them look good, rather than leading the search for truth, sit on a ticking time bomb.

It can be scary to admit mistakes and take the sometimes drastic actions to correct them. What will your boss think? What will your team think when they find out that they’ve been working against an exhausted plan?

Most likely, they will be happy you’ve realized it’s time to change directions. Often the last person to realize a plan has lived out its useful life is the very person who devised it. Everyone else already knows.

It’s important to go out and figure out what your true market is, how big it is, and whether or not your current product can seize the opportunities in it. The market and the truth will always win. And no matter how much you love your product for helping you get that early growth, your customers don’t want it. They want to get their job done.

You know what’s more expensive than doing the research to identify your customer’s unmet needs in their job-to-be-done? Continuing to market the wrong message and sell the wrong product.

You know what’s worse than owning up to incorrect assumptions? Dealing with the fallout.

 

 

Posted by Jared Ranere , 0 comments

How to Cut through the Clutter with Smart Product Positioning

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Issue: Too Much Competitive Noise

Positioning your product is key to fostering a unique connection with your customers. When a product or brand is positioned well, it’s easy to point out. There’s no confusion around what the product does, it makes it clear how it differs from its competitors, and when new products are launched, everything feels succinct and connected. And when customers are ready to buy, that clarity is what will drive them to choose your product over any competitors.

However, instead of creating an overarching market position, companies often rely on product features to position themselves as more valuable to the competition. This is a mistake as competitors can simply launch new features and continue to beat you with the same approach - an unending game of feature catch-up continues. Customers won’t be able to understand the difference and will get confused about what solution they should turn to for help.


Traditional Way: Positioning with Product Features  

It’s likely that you’ve studied various best practices when it comes to product positioning, including Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter’s definition.

Michael Porter defined a competitive position in his 1985 book Competitive Strategy as a way of achieving competitive advantage. Porter identifies four different competitive positions based on broad or narrow market focus and product cost or product feature differentiation.

Cost Leadership Position

A cost leadership position means that you are targeting the broad market, but you have lower costs than your competitors. So you can generate more profits with higher margins, or you can lower your prices to customers and take more market share. Walmart is an example of this. They are known for low prices.

Cost Focus Position
Porter's cost focus position is when you focus on a narrow or niche market with a low-cost product, such as Huawei.

The Differentiation Leadership

The differentiation leadership position is when you satisfy needs with your product differently than your competitors in the broad market. Apple’s iPhone is a great example of this.

Differentiation Focus Position

The differentiation focus position is when you satisfy needs with your product differently than your competitors in a narrow or niche market.

Although this breaks down the different approaches, how do you execute on this positioning method? How do you apply this to your market and your product?

You are probably already using industry best practices to lower your costs. But because you and your competitors are likely using the same best practices, lower costs on their own are likely not enough to lead you to success unless you are in a true commodity market.  So your focus should be on differentiating your product’s value. Unfortunately, Michael Porter doesn’t tell you how to do this. He also doesn’t explain how you should determine if you should target the broad market or the narrow market.


JTBD Way: Focus on the Job Steps

The key difference in JTBD positioning is that you don't use the product features to position the brand or product. Instead, you look at the steps a customer takes to get a job done and you focus on those steps.

In order to identify the best competitive position, you need to first identify the underserved customer segment using needs in the job. Who is struggling the most with this particular JTBD? After that, you’ll break out the job steps within the JTBD and identify the underserved job steps with unmet customer needs. Focusing on those specific unmet needs in the job steps is where you can begin to create a unique position.

Benefit:  Generate Growth from Consistent Positioning

JTBD makes it easier to generate growth out of new products because it helps companies avoid being stuck in a "product-focused position". Companies often fear launching and selling a new product because it may confuse their brand position with customers. For example, retailers might say they could never provide a service because customers don't know them for that.

If you make yourself known for a job or steps within a job then it's easier for the team to believe they can release a totally new product and easier for customers to buy into it.

Posted by Jay Haynes , 0 comments

3 Tips for Adopting a Product Management Framework

 

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Product Management frameworks are exciting to learn and frustrating to implement. As a product manager myself and a framework teacher, I totally understand the appeal. Being a product manager is a messy job. You’re constantly trying to explain to your peers what you do. You didn’t go to school for it. And every day you have to motivate really smart people who don’t report to you to align with your vision and decisions. In the least, frameworks provide a comforting structure. At best, they align and focus your team, leading to operational rhythm and achieving your goals much faster than you anticipated.

As a Jobs-to-be-Done trainer and consultant, I’m obviously a huge fan of frameworks. In the past few years of helping dozens of large and small companies with Jobs-to-be-Done, I’ve repeatedly seen the enthusiasm of learning something new followed by the struggle to implement the lessons. Those who overcome the struggle reap the rewards.

The phenomenon is not unique to Jobs-to-be-Done. Here’s a pattern you have likely experienced with any framework:

  1. Hype: Your team reads some articles or even a book about a framework and gets amped about using it to fix broken processes, operations, decision-making, etc. and hit the targets you’ve been missing.
  2. Thrill of Education: You bring in expert trainers to teach the framework to your team. The session is one or more days, and your team happily attends. They believe this new framework has great promise, the training will be a nice change of pace, and you ordered great food. At the end of the workshop, momentum is at its peak. The trainers were inspiring, and the team is excited yet a little intimidated about putting the framework into practice.
  3. Cannon Shot: The day after training you and your colleagues are shot out of a cannon. You spend the morning unburying yourself from the emails you didn’t answer while you were in all-day sessions. You look on everyone’s calendars to find time for the “Framework Implementation Meeting.” The next available slot is in two weeks. (While you were in the session the rest of the company slammed you with meeting requests). While you wait for the follow-up meeting, your team falls back into its operational patterns. That’s ok, you think, they need to finish their current projects, and there’s a bunch of research to do before we can really use this framework. The follow-up meeting can wait.
  4. Land of the Forgotten: This is where your dreams of fixing your broken processes fade. Your follow-up meeting got rescheduled. Finance told you to wait for next quarter to get budget for the research. Half of your resources are working on tech debt. Growth has slowed so much there are whispers of re-org--definitely not a good time to start something new. Your team, your work, your company, and your career remain on the descending path they were on before you learned about the framework.

Don’t let this happen to you. I’ve learned from experience so you don’t have to. Here are three tips to implementing frameworks. Break the pattern and use frameworks to improve your team and achieve your goals.

1. Don’t Add, Change

Frameworks can be extremely powerful, but they cannot add hours to a day. Not only is it unrealistic to ask a maxed-out employee to add something to their plate without taking something off, it’s demoralizing. We’ve all been on the wrong end of that equation, and as a product manager, you’ve already learned this lesson from your engineering team.

Engineers can only handle a finite number of story points in a sprint. If you want to prioritize a new item, you have to de-prioritize something else.

The same is true for Product Managers. You are not superhuman.

To help your team adopt a new framework and the work that goes with it, change their responsibilities.

Change their metrics of success. Change the way they write specs and user stories. Change the meeting schedule. Change the deployment schedule. Change your criteria for decision-making. Change the process for decision-making. Change one of these things, all of these things, or a new thing not listed here, but change something.

Presumably, the reason you got excited about the framework in the first place is that something wasn’t going right on your team and you thought the framework could fix it. Articulate that something. Isolate it. Before you introduce the new framework, offer it to your team as the candidate for change and tell the team, “I expect the framework to replace this thing we do today.” If you do it right, adding the framework decreases the work.

2. Use The Framework Right Now; Waiting Is a Slow Death

The training session ends, everyone is excited, and they think, “I’m really looking forward to spinning up a new project that will be right for this, but I have to finish my current project first.”

Two weeks later...fire alarm! Your team interrupts their current project to put out the fire. It takes another two weeks to clear the smoke. Now, they’re back on the project. At lunch one day, someone remembers, “Weren’t we going to adopt that framework?” “What would be a good project for that?” “We should talk about that when I’m back from vacation.” You get back from vacation to 500 emails. The framework is forgotten.

Waiting to implement a new framework will kill it.

Meanwhile, you continue with your old processes, decision-making, and operations that you thought were so broken that you needed a new framework. And every day you do that, you are spending money on development that isn’t achieving your company goals because they were chosen under the old, broken decision-making rubric. Your budget dwindles and you tighten your belts, “We can’t implement something new now; we’re in crisis!”

Here are two ways to avoid this death spiral:

  1. Come up with a project (or multiple projects) that will use the framework before you train your team in it.
  2. Don’t wait for a special project. Insert the framework into whatever your team is doing today even if you can only make incremental improvements, which brings us to tip number three.

3. Perfect is The Enemy of The Better

Often when you learn a framework, you learn it from an expert who has spent years using, advancing, and teaching it. The framework is full of new terms with very precise definitions. There are specific research, analysis, and decision-making techniques. There are wrong ways of doing things with seemingly disastrous consequences. Leading practitioners have long-standing arguments about the right way to do things. The experience can be intimidating, like you’re walking on a minefield. One wrong step and BOOM.

It can make you feel like using the framework requires perfection and a tremendous amount of work. You can’t use human-centered design without observing your customer in their natural setting. You can’t be Lean without lighting your road maps on fire, allocating all of your engineering resources to instrumenting every pixel of your application to measure user behavior, and hiring a coach for every team. You can’t use Jobs-to-be-Done without doing dozens of user interviews, running lengthy surveys, and executing a detailed analysis of every competitive feature against every customer need.

All of the above activities are valuable and help you mitigate the risk of investing in the wrong product ideas but none of them are necessary to get started with a framework.

You can use a framework before executing all of the research, training everyone in your organization, and building out the infrastructure to support it. Remember, the framework was appealing in the first place because something about your current work habits was broken and you were not realizing your aspirations. Even if you start with a small piece of the framework, even just the way of thinking, it will be better than what you were doing before. Start with that while you invest in full implementation.

For example, if you’re implementing Jobs-to-be-Done, before you do all the research, create a hypothesis about the job your customer is hiring your product to do. Make sure it doesn’t include a solution. Then pick a feature your team is *currently* working on (don’t wait for a new one, see above). Ask, “How would this help our customers get the job done? Which struggle with the job does it help our customers overcome? Does it satisfy that need faster and more accurately than their current solution?” Then refine the feature based on these answers to try and satisfy the need better than the competitive solutions.

Because you didn’t do your customer interviews yet, maybe your job will not be at the perfect level of abstraction or you’ll articulate it in a way that’s not exactly in the customer’s language. Maybe the need you identified is not the *most* unmet need because you haven’t done your survey yet. Perhaps you’ll miss an element of the existing solution that makes your speed assessment a bit off. But at least you’ll have a justification for developing the feature that is clearly connected to a customer problem, builds your team’s customer empathy, aligns your team with the customer’s goal and a clear goal for your feature, and potentially leads you to refine your feature and increase your likelihood of success with it. Those are a lot of benefits even though you are still far from implementing the framework perfectly.

In parallel, you can do all the work related to getting the full value of your framework, but don’t wait for that. In the meantime, your team can perform much better than they do today.

Posted by Jared Ranere in INNOVATION , 0 comments

Why 95% of Product Teams Fail at Defining Customer Needs

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Issue: Disagreement on Customer Needs

Your goal as a company is to build, market and sell products that satisfy customer needs better than competitors. Although it may sound oversimplified, identifying exactly what your customer’s needs are isn’t so straightforward for many teams. Research published by MIT Sloan found that 95% of all companies do not have an agreed-upon definition of a customer need. It’s likely your team also tends to argue about this.

Without an agreement on customer needs, teams often use customer requests, sales requests, feature ideas, or technologies as inputs into product development. Although these may offer helpful insight into how to connect with your customer, none of them provide your team with an unchanging, consistent definition.

In this post, we’ll teach you how to define a customer need, how to identify customer needs in your market, and how to organize needs to make them useful for your teams.

Traditional: Relying on Changing Input to Drive Product Roadmap

With the traditional product development process, when a new launch fails to generate growth, your team is left to iterate or pivot using more changing inputs. By trying to hit a moving target, teams are basically guessing at what customers want. This eventually leads disagreements, arguments, and harmful company politics, and it ultimately leads to a company's death spiral. It is why products, companies, and often careers fail.

Blackberry, Britannica, and Kodak all lost billions of dollars in equity value because they did not have a stable and quantifiable definition of customer needs. They defined their markets based on changing products and technologies, not on stable jobs and needs. You need a detailed customer need definition to make Jobs Theory useful and actionable for your team and your company.


JTBD Way: Focus on Unchanging Customer Needs

The best way to avoid trying to hit a moving target is to focus on the customer’s job-to-be-done. A customer’s job never changes and JTBD provides you with clear criteria on how to identify the customer’s job steps and needs within the job. It serves as a stable target for your team to hit, regardless of what product, services, or technologies evolve. You can learn more about how to answer the question of what your customer’s job-to-be-done is in this post.

Similarly, your customer's needs in their job will not change either. Like the job itself, needs are stable over time because they are also independent of any product, service or solution.

Let's look at our Apple and Google Maps example with the job-to-be-done being “get to a destination on time.” This is a stable job that will never change as opposed to “figure out a route to work” or “catch the next bus.” Getting to a destination on time becomes the market in this case.

But if we want to build a superior product, knowing the job isn't enough. We need to double-click into the customer needs to determine what product features we should build to get the job done better than Apple and Google.

In order to get to a destination on time, a lot of variables come into play (e.g., know the arrival time, the address of the destination, how long it will take to get to the destination, the optimal sequence of planned stops and if the destination can be reached on time). These are all variables in the job. In order to achieve their goal of getting to a destination on time, consumers need to do something with each of these variables; they need to take actions on them (e.g, calculate how long it will take, determine the optimal sequence, etc.).  These actions along with each of the possible variables are what the customer needs to do to successfully achieve the goal and get the job done.

Since every customer need has an action and a variable, you can measure the speed and accuracy with which customers can satisfy a need. This is the true power of Jobs-to-be-Done. You now have the ability to measure the speed and accuracy of your customer's needs to determine why they are unsatisfied in a market.

Benefit: Align Your Team on Customer Needs

To recap, customer needs are actions a customer must take using variables required to get the job done. Customer needs in the job, like the job itself, are stable over time and they have no solutions. This means that your team will have a stable target to hit. Structuring needs this way makes Jobs Theory useful and actionable for your team. It provides them with a shared focal point and a clearer understanding of what they are building, selling and marketing to customers.

If you want to figure out the next steps in identifying and measuring your customer’s needs, take our Jobs-to-be-Done online course.

Posted by Jay Haynes , 1 comment

Why JTBD is the Only Fail-Safe Product Strategy

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Issue: Confusing Operational Efficiency with Product Strategy

Choosing the right product strategy is critical to your success and your ability to create equity value for your company. But many companies do not have a clearly defined definition for a product strategy. People often confuse operational effectiveness with strategy, focusing on their internal goals like reduced costs or revenue growth. Creating a product strategy based on your company and not your customer can quickly create a misalignment among teams, causing higher costs and unending arguments.


Traditional Way: Company Focused, Not Customer Focused

The traditional way of defining a strategy is to focus more on what you are going to do for your company rather than saying what you are going to do for your customer. “Our strategy next year is to increase budget, hire a team, invest in a new marketing channel, etc.” None of that is what you will do for your customer.

In 1996, Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter wrote a famous paper called “What is Strategy?” Companies often use Michael Porter's definition of strategy, since he was a pioneering academic in the field, famous for analyzing industries to determine competitive strategy.

In Porter's view, “the essence of strategy is choosing to perform activities differently than rivals do.” Activities companies perform include manufacturing, engineering, distribution, marketing, and selling. For example, mobile phone companies each perform these activities but they have had very different results.

In many financial reporting periods, Apple has had 98% of the profits in the industry and it isn't because Apple performs activities differently, as Michael Porter would predict. In fact, Apple uses Samsung to perform some of their manufacturing activities.

Apple has leading profit share because they satisfy customer needs differently than their competitors, enabling them to take leading profit share. Successful strategy satisfies needs differently than your competitors. So customer needs, not activities, should be the focus of your product strategy.

This is why Michael Porter is outdated.

Because in 1996, MP didn't have the customer's JTBD in his strategy toolkit. Performing different activities from your competitors is important, but anyone can copy activities using industry best practices. Satisfying your customers JTBD in a unique way is harder to copy.

Needs in your customer's job-to-be-done, not your activities, should be the foundation of your strategy because your customer's JTBD tells you what activities to perform to satisfy your customer better than your competitors.

JTBD Way: Choose a Customer and Focus on Their Unmet Needs

A product strategy is making three choices - identify which job beneficiary to target, select which job-to-be-done to fulfill, and determine which platform you are going to use to satisfy customer needs differently than your competitors.  

Let's look at a well-known example to demonstrate why a JTBD-based product strategy definition is more useful. We all have executed the job of creating a mood with music. While the products have changed dramatically over time, the job is stable and has not changed.  The needs in the job have not changed either.

For example, one need in creating a mood with music is to find a new song for the mood. This need follows the job-to-be-done structure with an action and a variable. So we can measure the speed and accuracy of different platforms satisfying this need.

Let's look at how satisfying this need has changed over time with the arrival of new platforms that led to different product strategies. In 1984 when the CD was released, finding a new song for the mood was time-consuming and often very inaccurate, because you often couldn't find a new song. The speed was slow and the accuracy was low because consumers were forced to buy entire albums.

Then, CD changers emerged to help with this need by enabling consumers to search their library for songs. But finding a new song for a mood was still time-consuming and not always accurate. The iPod of course, was a huge improvement because it reduced the steps and time significantly. Accuracy was improved with the introduction of the iTunes store, but you still might not be able to quickly find a song for the mood.

However, Microsoft was clearly not using customer needs in the job to create their product. In 2007, Microsoft’s Zune simply tried to copy what Apple was providing without making the experience faster or more accurate. This is an excellent example of why products succeed or fail with the right product strategy.

But Pandora launched with different product strategy using a new platform: streaming. Pandora's streaming and music taste algorithms satisfied this need faster and more accurately. When Pandora launched, it was signing up 90,000 new users per day because it satisfied unmet needs in the job faster and more accurately.

This is a great example of where product strategy can lead to success or failure. A company with enormous resources (Microsoft) chose the wrong product strategy (i.e. using a hard drive to satisfy needs in the same way as the iPod) and it led to failure. In contrast, Pandora chose a differentiated strategy to satisfy needs faster and more accurately and it took Apple an entire decade to launch a competing streaming service.


Benefit: Align your team around one central strategy

To recap, you create a product strategy by identifying a job beneficiary and job to target, and then choose a platform that will satisfy unmet customer needs faster and more accurately than your competitors.

Using Jobs-to-be-Done as the foundation for your product strategy means you will have a strategy that is unambiguous and easy to remember. Everybody is aligned and it gives you direction on what to do in your department to fulfill strategy. It mitigates risk because you know whether or not you're building the right platform or not. 

Posted by Jay Haynes , 0 comments

Stop the Downward Spiral of Feature-to-Feature Comparison

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Issue:  Miscalculating Your Real Competitors

Creating equity value in your company comes down to one thing - your ability to satisfy customer needs better than competitors in your market. This is why competitive analysis is critical to your product strategy. But often times, product teams use traditional “industry” research to identify their competitors, creating a product roadmap based mostly on what features are already in the market. The challenge with this thinking is that you risk playing feature catch-up while your real competitor sneaks up behind you and steals significant market share.

In this post, we will teach you how to identify your real competitors. You will also learn how to identify competitor weaknesses that you can exploit to create more equity value for your company with less risk.


Traditional Way: Feature Parity Drives Product Strategy

In traditional competitive analysis, product teams often compare their own product's features to a competitor's features. If Product A has all of the features of Product B plus a few more, then Product A has the advantage. In their minds, more features equal competitive advantage. The problem is that customers don't want features; they want to get their job done.

Focusing on feature-to-feature comparison is the wrong way to think about competitive differentiation. Your team will be constantly trying to catch up - with very little chance of actually doing so. If you've ever been on a team that is playing feature catch-up, you know it's like bailing water out of a leaky boat: every time you release a feature and think your work is done, your competition releases something new, racing ahead of you yet again. You will always be a step behind.


The problem is that customers don't want features;
they want to get the job done.


For example, Microsoft thought they caught up to the iPod by including all of its features in the Zune. Apple launched the iPhone. Microsoft tried to catch up again with the Windows Phone. Playing catch-up leads to failure.

Plus, just because it's market standard, doesn't mean it's the best way to do it. What seems like state of the art today will be archean tomorrow.

JTBD Way: Focus on Your Customer’s Unmet Need

Your customers' struggle to get the job done causes them to look for new competitive solutions to get the job done faster and more accurately. In order to beat your competitors, you have to start with where the customer struggles to get the job done and figure out where the competitor is failing. Where are they not getting the job done fast or accurately enough?

First, identify all the competitors (products, services, technology, or manual processes) that satisfy needs in each step in the job. Then calculate the speed and accuracy with which the competitors satisfy the needs in the steps.

Let’s look at an example of a customer job-to-be-done creating a mood with music.

The Zune team at Microsoft compared the Zune to the iPod using traditional product feature analysis. The Zune actually had more features than the iPod, including a Podcasting feature. But this analysis did not help determine if the Zune was going to take market share from the iPod.

This analysis is flawed because customers don't want features, they want to get their job done. Zune, for all of its features, was getting the job done in the exact same way as the iPod.

Pandora, however, had fewer features than the iPod, but because it had a different feature (automatically generated streaming playlists) that satisfied an unmet need in the job of creating a mood with music, it was able to grow successfully and create equity value.

This illustrates why your competitive analysis should not be based on feature comparisons - because feature comparisons are not predictive of your growth.  

The speed and accuracy with which the competitive solutions satisfy the needs are the benchmark for how good your new solution needs to be. If it does not satisfy the needs faster and more accurately, you have not given customers sufficient incentive to switch to your product.


Benefit: Lead Your Market, Instead of Following

Focusing on your true competitor, you will avoid the risk of wasting capital and feature catch-up. With Jobs-to-be-Done, you’ll figure out where the customer struggles to get the job done, and where the competitor doesn't help the customer get the job done fast or accurately enough.

Want to figure out your true competitor? Take our online Jobs-to-be-Done course today.

Posted by Jay Haynes , 0 comments

How to Avoid Endless Idea Generation for Your Next Product Feature

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The Issue: Endless Roadmap Meetings and Too Many Product Ideas

Brainstorming can feel like the wild wild west of product planning. The unpredictability of idea generation sessions can derail productivity and leave your team more at odds than before. Despite its unruly nature, product teams still use open-ended brainstorming to identify new product ideas.

In this post, we will teach you how to generate winning product ideas for new features using unmet customer needs in a Job-to-be-Done. We include an example of how to beat Google Maps and Apple Maps using this technique.


The Traditional Way: Generating Ideas with No Objective Criteria

One of the most popular methods to generate new feature ideas is brainstorming. To facilitate the generation of new ideas, there is often only one rule in brainstorming - there are no bad ideas. In other words, your team is not supposed to use any criteria to judge new ideas on the assumption that this will enhance creativity.

Brainstorming has proven to be ineffective at generating valuable product ideas. The reason brainstorming is inefficient is because it doesn’t include any quantitative criteria your team can use to quickly and efficiently judge new product ideas. Those criteria are the unmet customer needs in the job.

The JTBD Way: Clear Criteria Focused on Customer’s Struggle

Because Jobs-to-be-Done identifies unambiguous and quantifiable customer unmet needs in your customer’s JTBD, your team can use these unmet needs as the criteria to judge your product ideas. This eliminates any opinion-driven decisions and instead frames all ideas in the context of whether or not they will help your customer overcome the struggle to get their job done.

Let's look at our example of Apple and Google Maps. What feature idea will help us beat Apple Maps and Google Maps?

How to use JTBD to Uncover Unmet Needs

We know that customers aren’t waking up in the morning saying, “I want to use a navigation app today!” Of course, not. Instead, they’re ultimately asking for something to help them get to a destination on time. This is the Job-to-be-Done that consumers are “hiring” navigation apps to do. Consumers getting to a destination on time is the underlying market for navigation apps.

thrv jtbd job steps

 

Above are the 16 steps in the JTBD of getting to a destination on time. Job Steps are all the things a customer has to do to complete a job. Once we know the job steps, we identified the needs in each step to determine how customers struggle to get the job done. For example, customers need to determine the optimal sequence to make planned stops in a busy day.

Unmet needs in the job are the criteria
to use to generate and judge new product ideas.

To determine if this is a struggle, the thrv team asked consumers in a survey how difficult it is for them to determine the optimal sequence to make planned stops. We determined the customer's struggle by calculating a customer effort score. And we used customer effort scores to identify an underserved segment of customers who all struggle to get the job done in the same way.

This revealed that 86% of customers in the segment did not find it easy to determine the optimal sequence to make their planned stops. And for each customer need, we used the existing competitive solutions - in this case, Google Maps - to determine how quickly and accurately a customer can satisfy the need with the existing competitors.

In this example, satisfying this need takes five minutes or more and is only 20% accurate. With our quantitative data and analysis, we discovered that it takes too much effort for customers to satisfy this need with our competition - Apple Maps and Google Maps. These effort, speed and accuracy scores are your baseline for our idea generation. In other words, the unmet needs in the job are the criteria to use to generate and judge new product ideas.

How to Generate and Identify the Best Product Ideas - An Example Product Idea

Let's use this unmet need to generate and judge new product ideas. How can we help consumers determine the optimal sequence to make planned stops faster and more accurately?n To help them determine the optimal sequence in their busy day, one idea was to create an assistant service. A customer could call a remote assistant who would have access to their calendar, assess their stops, routes, and likely arrival times. And then make recommendations to re-order their stops. We can score this idea using the speed and accuracy of satisfying the unmet needs with our Assistant Service features. And we can assess the likely resulting customer effort.

Our second idea is called Sync & Optimize. This idea includes syncing with a user's calendar to determine the stops in their day. And to create an optimization algorithm that will factor in which stops can be moved, what the likely local traffic conditions will be at the time, and any atypical travel conditions like traffic or weather that may occur as the departure time approaches. The Sync & Optimize feature automatically and instantly optimizes the sequence of their planned stops.

Want to see how these two product ideas compare? Learn more in our online course.

The Benefit: Ditch the Debates and Align Your Team with Less Risk

Jobs-to-be-Done provides you with clear, objective criteria to generate and identify the best product ideas so you can end debates and build features your customers actually need and want. JTBD helps align your team with your customers and helps you get faster executive approval on your product roadmap.

Quick Review: To identify the best feature ideas, determine the JTBD and the steps, quantify the unmet needs in JTBD and segment customers, finally analyze and calculate the competitive speed & accuracy baseline for each of the unmet needs. Then you are ready to use the unmet needs to quickly generate and judge the best product feature ideas. 

 

Posted by Breena Fain , 0 comments

How to Size Your Market & Calculate a Customer's Willingness to Pay

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Issue: Incorrectly Sizing a Market Leads to Product Failure

Market sizing is used to determine which markets are worth investing in. If a product wins its market, it still may not be worth building if the market is not large enough to generate a sizeable return. To make this decision, you need a good definition of a market.

What is a market?

The traditional way to size a market is to use a product-based market definition and a formula that looks something like: product price * number of buyers = size of market. But what do you do when your market sizing calculation leads you to invest in an existing product category that totally goes away when it is disrupted by a brand new invention?

And how would you size the market for that new product category and know whether or not it’s worth investing in? Defining and sizing your market incorrectly can lead directly to product failure and missing enormous opportunities.

In this post, we’ll show you how to avoid traditional market sizing mistakes by using Jobs-to-be-Done to size your market.

 

Traditional Way: Incorrectly Sizing a Market Leads Directly to Product Failure

Let’s look at an example of using the traditional product-based market sizing formula.

In 2007, you could have looked backward at iPod Sales and seen that Apple sold 200 million units at a price of $150. Our traditional formula (product price * number of buyers) tells us that the iPod market was $30 billion and the MP3 player market was even larger.

In 1990, you could have tracked sales of encyclopedias (Britannica alone sold 120,000) and identified a multi-billion dollar encyclopedia market.

In 1996, Kodak’s revenues reached $16 billion as it dominated sales in the enormous film market.

All of these market size calculations would have fooled you into making terrible business decisions.

Kodak went bankrupt in 2012.

Encyclopedia Britannica was sold for half its value in 1996.

And in fact, Microsoft thought the MP3 player market was so attractive, they invested in the Zune, which they wrote down as a $289 million loss in 2007. With the launch of the iPhone, the MP3 player market went away.

In 2007, customers didn’t want iPods anymore than they want records, cassettes or CDs. They wanted to create a mood with music.

“Creating a mood with music” is a job your customers want to get done and they hire product solutions to do it. In fact, the MP3 player market never existed. “Creating a mood with music” is the market.

The product-based definition of the market will lead you astray. Markets defined with Jobs-to-be-Done will remain stable over time and give your team a clear target for innovation. Sizing your market based on the customer’s job will help you put a dollar value on new product categories your company should invest in that cannot be sized looking backward at old product sales.

 

JTBD Way: Using Jobs-to-be-Done to Size Your Market

To size a market opportunity, don’t analyze the products currently in the market. Instead, analyze the willingness to pay to get the job done.

  1. Define your market as a goal customers are trying to achieve (a job-to-be-done)
  2. Identify the range of your customers’ willingness to pay to get that job done using interviews and surveys.
  3. Chart the answers on a scatter plot and draw a best fit line through the points. The area under the curve is the size of the market. This will help you identify if the biggest opportunities are in the premium market or the low-cost portion of the market.

 

 

 

Let’s look at an example. How would you do this if you wanted to take share from Google Maps and Apple Maps in which the traditional market sizing formula would show us a market worth nothing ($0 * Billions of users = 0)?

  1. Define the market not as the ‘map app’ market but as a job-to-be-done e.g. “get to a destination on time”.
  2. In interviews and surveys ask people who need to get the job done how much they would be willing to pay to get to their destinations on time every time they tried to it.
  3. Chart the range of answers on a scatter plot and calculate the area under the curve.

We actually did this research at thrv and found a premium ‘get to a destination on time’ market worth $2 billion. These customers are willing to pay for a new solution because they cannot get the job done effectively with the existing solutions in the market. In other words, they have unmet needs in the job.

 

Benefit: Make Confident Decisions in Your Product Investments

When you have an idea for a new product, it can be hard to answer the question “Is the market big enough for it?” when all you have is sales of existing products to size your market. If you use Jobs-to-be-Done to size your market, you will be able to justify investments in new product categories that make your company the leader. Instead of launching products like the Zune into markets that are about to disappear and recording losses, you will be focused on stable markets and be able to defend and win investments in products like the iPhone. You will accelerate your company’s growth.

Want to learn exactly how to apply this to your product and company? Take our Jobs-to-be-Done online course. After creating your own market sizing analysis, we’ll show you how to then identify unmet needs in your customer’s job-to-be-done and stop relying on demographic-based personas.

Posted by Jay Haynes , 1 comment

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