Digital Product Development March, 2015

NYU Stern: How to Start Your Digital Idea

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Digital Product Development

March, 2015




Overview of Originate

Product Vision

Shared Understanding

Product Development Risk


Define a Product Vision (exercise)

Next Steps



1.  Learn from each other on how to effectively communicate about digital products 2.  Understand how a product vision is set and used for effective communication 3.  Learn about shared understanding and how to build it 4.  Understand the various types of risk in building digital products 5.  How we use prototyping to reduce risks and increase shared understanding 6.  Practice putting together a product vision for an iPhone app

Key Takeaways

Please write down key things or ideas that come to you on note cards. I am especially interested in what you want to try to apply. At the end, we will review as a group.





We are a digital product development and venture firm. Our mission is to enable everyone in the world to create extraordinary technology.


We partner with forward-looking enterprises and high growth startups to create modern mobile, web and data-driven software.

Our partnership model ensures full alignment toward the same vision of building useful, compelling and successful products.

We have partners, not clients.

•  Founded in 2007 •  140 employees •  9 global locations


Focus On Partnership We seek long lasting productive relationships

Our Philosophy


Ambitious Problems We embrace and prefer tough technical challenges

We start with the end in mind We develop and hold ourselves accountable to learning objectives

Shared Risk Shared Reward We believe in what we do, and we invest in what we do

Our Strategy


We ensure high quality through each step of building a product using these key factors

Full Team Access

Entrepreneurial Individuals

Test Driven Development

End-to-End Expertise


It takes a wide range of expertise to deliver great products

Product Management

Front End + Back End Development

Testing & Quality Assurance

User Experience & Design

Technical Architecture

Business Strategy

We have expertise across all disciplines and work with our partners to combine the right skill mix for every project.

Technical Capabilities


We combine our deep technical experience with a passion for problem solving to make informed technology recommendations.

Web Mobile Languages Server Database

HTML 5, Javascript, jQuery, Angular.js,

Ember.js, WordPress

iOS, Android, Windows Phone, PhoneGap, Unity

CoffeeScript, Ruby, Scala, Python, Go, Swift,

Java, PHP, C/C++

Rails, Play, Node.js, Tomcat, Lift,

Locomotive, PaaS

MySQL, Cassandra, MongoDB, DynamoDB, Riak, Postgresql, MSSQL

Global Reach

130+ engineers, designers, and product strategists across 9 global innovation centers

New York Los Angeles San Francisco Las Vegas

Boston Orange County Silicon Valley Hangzhou, China Stockholm

Our People


End-to-End Experience


Eli Bozeman Ben Echols Paolo Suaya Taylor Crane Marci Pasenello Alex Niemi

Gerry Tano Angie Hayden Kevin Smith Alm Joacim Aram Alekyan Parsa Kamali

Doug Von Kohorn Vipul Patil Drew Minnear Ali Shanriyari Matt Handler Daniel Hawthorn




Past Experience



Product Vision UX & Design Development


Develop an entirely new home repair marketplace, optimized for the mobile experience.


Successful development of two stand alone applications – SnapFix and ServiceTown. After widespread adoption in the market, Angie’s List incorporated the apps’ features and design into their flagship app.

Mobile iOS, Android


Database Neo4j

Server Scala


UX & Design Architecture Strategy Development


Accelerate progress by supplementing Updater’s engineering assets to re-platform their tech stack, validating their design and UX, and train their team on the new architecture.


Updater has gone on to serve over 500,000 Americans and raise $8M from leading venture capital firms.

Web HTML5, jQuery, JS

Database MySQL

Server Ruby on Rails


Product Vision UX & Design Development


Database DynamoDB

Server Scala


Completely transform the architecture and UI for an education product used by over 1,000 institutions and 2 million students and teachers across the globe.


Dramatically simplified the UI based on the different needs of each user type. Implemented an ultra scalable cloud-based architecture.

Cloud Amazon Web Services

Our Partners


A Three-Phased Approach


2 Week

User Research Origin

11 Week

Learn & Iterate

Weekly Ongoing



1 Week

Origin Workshop

Prototype Design

2 Week

Product Release

8 Week

Product Vision


What makes a great digital product?



Usable Feasible

Product is too difficult or expensive (time and money) to build or maintain

Product needs too much education for potential customer to understand its value

Product is not useable and/or doesn’t really solve a problem

A product vision is…


A shared understanding of how a product is going to solve a problem for a set of customers and deliver on its value proposition when it has been released into the market

What can happen when you don’t set a clear vision?


Why is it important to set a vision before you start working on a product?


1.  Meaning for decision making 2.  Creates a common language 3.  Paves the way politically 4.  Allows concept testing to start reducing risk 5.  Speeds up the build

Shared Understanding


What is shared understanding?


Shared understanding is when you and another person, or group, both understand what each is imagining and why.

What does shared understanding look like?


What does shared understanding look like?


What a lack of shared understanding looks like:


What a lack of shared understanding looks like:


What a lack of shared understanding looks like:


What a lack of shared understanding looks like:


Context is critical


Product Development Risk


4 Types of Software Product Development Risk






Technical Risk Can this product be feasibly built given resource constraints?

Business Risk Does the project have the right funding and people support? Can we build the right processes to support this business?

Market Risk Is there a real need in the market and does the market want the solution?

Product Risk Does the product solve the problem in a way that users need and enjoy?


Examples of market risk


Is there a real need in the market and does the market want the solution?

Examples of product risk


Does the product solve the problem in a way that users need and enjoy?

Examples of technical risk


Can this product be feasibly built given resource constraints?

Examples of business risk


Does the project have the right funding and people support? Can we build the right processes to support this business?



When are people prototyping?


Why we prototype?


1.  Build a shared understanding within the team of the product at a deeper level before building

2.  Product manager engaging with the product at a deeper level, which improves the product backlog immensely

3.  Communicate to business people and technology people 4.  Increase clarity in decision making as the product is being build 5.  Test assumptions before building

What are the different types of prototypes?


Paper Wireframe Functional Technical









Levels of fidelity in prototyping


Data Visual Functional Context

Examples of fidelity


When to use the different types of prototypes


Paper Wireframe Functional Technical •  Always •  Early on for

exploring really big directions

•  Need for speed

•  Layout and design options

•  Information architecture design

•  Exploring design and UX options

•  Defining a product backlog

•  Testing assumptions about users

•  Answering difficult technical questions

•  Make technical architecture decisions

How to think about fidelity









Low High Amount of time/effort to change/fidelity

Define a Product Vision


Background – “Pre-reading”


A marriage to remember

Background – Alzheimer’s1


Alzheimer's  disease  (AD)  accounts  for  60%  to  70%  of  cases  of  demen@a.  It  is  a  chronic  neurodegenera@ve  disease  that  usually  starts  slowly  and  gets  worse  over  @me.    The  most  common  early  symptom  is  difficulty  in  remembering  recent  events  (short  term  memory  loss).  As  the  disease  advances,  symptoms  can  include:  problems  with  language,  disorienta@on  (including  easily  geLng  lost),  mood  swings,  loss  of  mo@va@on,  not  managing  self  care,  and  behavioral  issues.    As  a  person's  condi@on  declines  they  oMen  withdraw  from  family  and  society.  Gradually,  bodily  func@ons  are  lost,  ul@mately  leading  to  death.  Although  the  speed  of  progression  can  vary,  the  average  life  expectancy  following  diagnosis  is  three  to  nine  years.    The  cause  of  Alzheimer's  disease  is  poorly  understood.  No  treatments  stop  or  reverse  its  progression,  though  some  may  temporarily  improve  symptoms.  Affected  people  increasingly  rely  on  others  for  assistance  oMen  placing  a  burden  on  the  caregiver;  the  pressures  can  include  social,  psychological,  physical,  and  economic  elements.    In  2010,  there  were  between  21  and  35  million  people  worldwide  with  AD.  It  most  oMen  begins  in  people  over  65  years  of  age,  although  4%  to  5%  of  cases  are  early-­‐onset  Alzheimer's  which  begin  before  this.  It  affects  about  6%  of  people  65  years  and  older.  

1Wikipedia Entry on Alzheimer's

Background – Still Alice


Forget Me Not


Product Canvas



Cost Structure Values Streams

Solution Unique Value Proposition

Advantage Customer Segments

Key Metrics Channels

Top 3 problems Target customers or groups

Top 3 features Single, clear, compelling message that states why you are different and worth buying

Can’t be easily copied or bought

Path to customersKey activities you measure

Customer acquisition costsDistribution costsHostingPeople, etc

Revenue ModelLifetime ValueRevenueGross Margin

Parking Lot (Knowledge gaps, questions, ideas)

Personas Narratives / Prototypes


Tech StackInspiration

Anything that inspires with business model, brand, design or functionality The technology we want to use or explore to build our solution and the tools we want to utilize as we work together

Capture anything that comes while creating a canvas, ideas, questions, places to explore further

Characters (or user roles) created to represent the various customers in the target groups

Step-by-step stories of a personas using the solution and a visual/functional representations of those stories

Hypotheses, experiments and learning



1.  You should prepare to create multiple canvases, one for each customer group, and to test them in parallel

2.  Each canvas should take anywhere from 15 minutes to 5 hours to create, but no more than 5 hours

3.  Each canvas should be done in a single session with as few breaks as possible 4.  Be concise: the core canvas and all text should fit on a single page 5.  Think in the present: things on the canvas should be based on what you know

now (make sure to record any gaps you find in the knowledge gaps section) 6.  Take a customer centric view: think of your customer first 7.  It is ok to leave blanks where we don’t have enough information 8.  Quickly write a first draft, review and discuss, then revisit and break things apart

and prioritize thoughts in each section



What problem are we trying to solve?

1.  A problem can also be thought of as a job that customers want you to complete for them


Customer Groups


Who suffers from our problem? Who is going to use our product? Who is going to pay for our product?

1.  Create a list of customer segments within your group. 2.  Distinguish between customers and users: Customers pay for your product but may not use it. A user

uses your product but may not pay. a)  Example: you are a user of Facebook but you don't pay, so you would be a user and not a customer.

Advertisers pay to advertise on Facebook, thus they are customers. 3.  Split large groups into smaller segments. This may need to be a place to iterate as you build the canvas. It

is always better to err on the side of specificity. 4.  Specify who is going to be the early adopters within that segment (an even smaller group who will be the

first to purchase your solution). These will be the people you initially target with your marketing. 5.  Identify other user roles that will interact with that customer and make sure to denote that they are users

rather than customers.




Who else has solved this problem with a product? Who inspires us with their design or functionality?

1.  Inspiration is anything that inspires you with its business model, brand, design, or functionality. 2.  Pull in anything but make sure to focus on the two following areas:

1.  Existing alternative solutions to your problem: how do your customers current solve this problem? The answer may be nothing, but typically you're competing with something. If there are not alternatives, you should ask if the customer pain is large enough to warrant a solution.

2.  Find other unique value propositions (UVP): study what works about companies who have clear UVPs that you like. Use what you can from those to revise your UVP.

3.  Take notes on positives and negatives and note ideas that might be good to borrow.


Unique Value Proposition


Why is our product different and worth others’ attention?

1.  Think of the UVP as the big statement on a landing web page. It needs to distill the essence of the product in a few words that can fit into a headline.

2.  This is one of the main places to iterate. 3.  Tips on how to create a first UVP:

a)  Be different, but make sure your difference matters. Deploy the problem statement in the UVP. b)  Target early adopters, they need to know that the product solves their specific problems.

4.  Focus on end-user benefits over features. How will your customers have benefited from using your product when they are done and how long will it take to get that benefit?

5.  From Dane Maxwell: Instant Clarity Headline = end result customer wants + specific period of time + address the objections

6.  Pick the words you use to define your solution carefully. They can be used as keywords to drive SEO. 7.  Answer what, who, why. If you can't get the why in, create a sub heading.




What does our product need to do to solve the problem or deliver on its Unique Value Proposition?

1.  This box is only half the size for a reason. While the solution can feel like the safest part, we don’t know enough about the problem yet for it to be worth a lot of thinking.

2.  We want to articulate just the top 3-4 features.




How are we going to get in front of customers (early adaptors)?

1.  If the idea requires access to large numbers of customers right away for it to succeed (network effect) , we may want to reevaluate the idea.

2.  We want channels that can eventually be scaled. 3.  Free versus paid: there is no such thing as a free channel. Channels we normally associate as being free,

like SEO, social media, and blogging, have a time and effort associated with them. 4.  Inbound versus outbound: Inbound channels use “pull messaging” to let customers find you organically,

while outbound channels rely on “push messaging” to reach customers. 5.  Direct sales versus automated sales: First sell manually, then automate. 6.  Direct versus indirect: To maximize learning, go direct to customers rather than trying to start a

partnership or hire a salesperson. 7.  Retention before referral: While referral programs can be very effective in spreading the word about your

product, you need to have a product worth spreading first.


Value Streams


How is this product going to deliver value or make money?

1.  Don’t think in terms of 3-5 year projections (which will be wrong). Instead think about what happens if the product is in the market tomorrow.

2.  Plan to deliver enough value with the product that people will pay what you’re charging from the very beginning (unless you’re never planning to charge at all).

3.  Price is a huge part of the perception of the value and should be articulated on the canvas. 4.  Inspiration is a great place to get ideas on how to price things.


Cost Structure


What is this going to cost to build? What are the on-going costs?

1.  What are we going to need to get the first version of your product to market and keep it running for the first 3 months?

2.  Focus on present costs, not future costs (we don’t know what those are going to be). 3.  Factor in the price of time! 4.  Looking at your costs and your revenues, what is your breakeven point? If there are multiple revenue

hypotheses, calculate the breakeven for each.


Key Metrics


What are we going to measure to show that the product has been successful? What is the one metric that matters?

1.  Focus on leading rather than lagging indicators. Leading metrics give you a predictive understanding the future where as lagging metrics explain the past.

a)  Leading metric: sales prospects in a pipeline. Predictor of sale volume b)  Lagging metric: churn (customers who have stopped using the product). They are already gone.


Key Metrics - Pirate Metrics







Generate attention through a variety of means, both organic and inorganic

Traffic, mentions, cost per click, search results, cost of acquisition, open rate

Turn the resulting drive-by visitors into users who are somehow enrolled

Convince users to come back repeatedly, exhibiting stick behavior

Business outcomes (which vary by your business model: purchases, ad clicks, content creation, subscriptions, etc.)

Viral and word-of-mouth invitations to other potential users

Enrollments, signups, complete onboarding process, used the service at least once, subscriptions

Engagement, times since last visit, daily and monthly active use, churns

Customer lifetime value, conversion rate, shopping cart size, click-through revenue

Invites sent, viral coefficient, viral cycle time



What advantage do we have that can not be easily copied or bought by others?

1.  Examples a)  Insider information b)  The right “expert” endorsements c)  A dream team d)  Personal authority e)  Large network effects f )  Community g)  Existing customers h)  SEO ranking

2.  It is ok to leave this blank for a while as the true advantage can revel itself after work has started




Who are the individuals (what do they look like and act like) that are going to be using the product?

1.  Give each persona a name, background points, goals (why they want to use the solution), and frustrations (why they feel compelled to use the solution).

2.  Create only relevant points in the background section (e.g. if the product is about email, it is not relevant what car the persona might drive)

3.  Create as many as needed to describe the various customer groups and or roles.




How might those individual personas use the product?

1.  Write down step by step what would happen as one of the personas used our solution. 2.  Use names from the personas where appropriate. 3.  Create a “back bone” of major steps then break them down in detail. 4.  Record any questions, ideas, or issues that arise. 5.  Build a list of terms as they are defined or mentioned. 6.  When starting a new idea, avoid sign-up or onboarding stories (come back to those later) 7.  Go back through the story and organize any data terms in a hierarchy.


Paper prototyping


What does the solution look like as the persona is using it?

1.  Draw each screen in the narrative map and add as much detail as needed. 2.  Sketch quickly, discuss, and explore. Don’t be afraid to throw things away. 3.  Try to keep data fidelity as high as possible using the terms defined in the narrative.


Functional prototyping


How does the solution behave as the persona is using it?

1.  Using a prototyping tool of choice, turn the paper prototype into a functional prototype. 2.  Show the prototype to customers and get feedback


Next Steps


Problem Validation


1.  Validate that the problem is real 2.  Interview possible customers 3.  For more information on problem validation see:

Solution Validation


1.  Validate that the solution will solve the problem for customers 2.  Start a landing page (forces a release, testing of the UVP, etc.) 3.  Interview possible customers with the prototype 4.  For more information on problem validation see:

Quick-start Tip: New Project

1.  Use the worksheets, agenda, and materials here to run your own workshop 2.  Always do it with the whole team (or all key players) 3.  Designate someone as time keeper/facilitator

4.  Start sketching and gathering inspiration ASAP 5.  If interested in using the tools shown today, send me an email: [email protected] to help get set



Key takeaway review


Please send me your stories of success and failure at trying some of these things! [email protected]

Josh Wexler Director Originate – New York 917-902-6253 [email protected]