Collision: Takeaways from Slack, Pebble and Intercom. 29.05.2015 : 13:28pm
Greig wrote a blog post on our trip to Collision Conference with some notable pointers on product management from Slack, Pebble and Intercom. No coverage on how the team did in the casino though…guessing this will be in a different post.
So, a week on from Collision and I’m still trying to get my head around the craziness and overload of information, but I wanted to get down on paper the key takeaways from three of the main talks I attended.
Yudoozy was selected to attend Collision in Las Vegas as part of their Collide program for startups, waiving the exhibitor cost and giving us tickets to the event which for an early stage startup from New Zealand was a big deal for us. The format was to put startups, big companies and investors all in one place and let the pitching (and the drinking) happen in bars, elevators, pool parties, Starbucks — everywhere. It was such a crazy but quality experience that taught me more in 3 days being surrounded by thousands of other founders than I’ve learnt in the last few years!
Lot’s of food for thought here for PM’s and anyone involved in startups and product design. I’ve worked this from memory (albeit hazy memories) and notes taken at the time.
Pebble Head of Product & UX and the Head of Design
This talk was great from Itai Vonshak (Head of Product) and Liron Damir (head of Design). I’ve admired Pebble’s approach to everything for a while now and it was awesome to hear in their own words their ideation process and design methods.
The focus of both was around accepting limitations and even embracing them. If you have a problem with a feature that you can’t turn into a positive experience then scrap the feature completely. They realised after building the first pebble watch that menus on a device that small are limiting and no matter how you design them, the UI is tough to navigate. They looked at what they did have — location, data, a scroller and (funny enough) the time. They decided to make a bold move and scrap the app menu and move to a timeline of information. If you got a text at 6am then you scroll back to 6am to see it. If you’re flight is to LA tomorrow at 3pm, you can scroll to 3pm and the weather in LA is displayed. They accepted their limitations and embraced them as opposed to building something that is ‘almost there’. Another example of this was in the design process. When they decided to make the Pebble Time in colour, they faced challenges. Everything from compromising battery life which was something at the core of their offering to the screen just looking too busy. So instead of compromising, they looked at simple colour schemes and came across 60’s pop-art and early comic book style colours. This became their colour pallet and everything was designed around those colours. Pebble realised they made mistakes on the first watch trying to build apps and menus because it’s what everyone thought defined ‘smart devices’. They used Bob Dylan as a great example of what to try and achieve (as opposed to U2) — simple, does few things but does those thing very well, much more emotive to the few than diluted to the many which gives a loyal passionate user group, listeners either love it or hate it on first interaction.
Cool story behind Slack, a neat product that is really taking off and changing how teams communicate. The talk was told by a pretty relaxed Stewart Butterfield which, considering they have just been valued in the Billions, was really down to earth. He spoke like someone who didn’t buy in to his own hype or the ridiculous figures being chucked around in Silicon Valley currently. They’ve achieved Unicorn status but you got the impression he thought it was a bit laughable.
He was asked what kept him up at night? “Worrying someone else will build something simpler. In the last 5 years we’ve become obsessed with simplicity and perfected user experience, so opportunity always exists in a slight pain point for someone to discover, improve and make better.” The second he thing he mentioned that kept him awake was scaling as fast as they are and losing company culture and collaboration. Products can become a victim of their own success and scaling is the trickiest stage in a startup’s life-cycle to get right.
Des’ talk was the real highlight for me. Intercom is a great tool and a must have for any product team. His talk centered around the dangers of ‘feature creep’. If you haven’t read Intercom’s Handbook on product management then definitely go get a copy here.
Des stated that getting traction is easier than ever, building products that instantly get 100,000 users is the norm these days because early adopter mentality is also becoming the norm. But reducing churn and keeping loyal users is extremely difficult. Feature creep is one of the biggest killers of good products. Users will have suggestions, founders will have ideas, UX designer’s, Dev’s, Product Manager’s and even friends and family will all have ideas for features and as a product manager it’s hard to keep saying no to everyone. If you give in to temptation and start saying yes and shipping even the smallest features that don’t align with the vision, you will kill what made you popular in the first place and risk losing what gave you product market fit. Always ask ‘Will this dilute our core offering or will this take us closer to achieving the vision?’ If the answer is no then shelve the idea for at least six months. Always review decisions as, again touching on what Pebble had said, hindsight is the best sight. Stick to what got you product market fit and aim to improve on that core offering. The mistakes you know about but don’t correct are new mistakes, you’re smarter with each week and know your user group better than you did yesterday so always review decisions and shelved features. Don’t risk shipping needless features as introducing features no one uses is one thing, but killing features, even if no one uses them is much harder to do.
Since being back from Collision I caught up with Des over email and he said if anyone would like the slides from the talk then just ping an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
I attended some other talks but these 3 really stuck out. All 3 products are getting huge traction and a lot of attention right now too which probably made them resonate more with me. The key takeaways were to find product market fit and improve that offering, aim for simplicity, accept and even embrace limitations — don’t try to hide them, iterate fast but don’t let the temptation to ship new features creep in. Oh, and if you achieve unicorn status and get valued at a few Billion Dollars, you can still be humble :-).