Mario Cardinal

"The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" – Marcel Proust


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For five years we have been searching for the right Product/Market Fit

Often, I summarize the To-Do Studio journey saying that it took us five years of research and development (R&D) to find a simple and elegant solution to the following problem: How to allow teammates to complete a common to-do list? The reality is much more complex.

What I describe as R&D is rather a long quest to find the right Product/Market Fit. Of everything I discovered applying the Lean Startup practices, Product/Market Fit is the concept that remains the most inspiring for me. Compared to some other concepts such as MVP that I first discovered through reading The Lean Startup, Product/Market Fit is much less famous outside of the startup scene.

Product/Market Fit means that the solution (the product) is well suited to its target problem (the market who experienced the problem). Startups that achieve Product/Market Fit create a sustainable future for their businesses, with products that can grow and generate profits long after the initial launch. The life of any startup can be divided into two parts — ’before’ Product/Market Fit and ‘after’ Product/Market Fit. Obviously, to this day, To-Do Studio is in the ‘before’ part. Our goal in 2019 is to move into the ‘after’ part.

Over the last five years, using ongoing build-measure-learn cycles, we have progressed toward validated learning. Every day we had new assumptions for building the product, new measures to check results, and new learning opportunities that brought us closer to Product/Market Fit.

On the other hand, on three occasions, we abandoned perseverance and opted instead for a pivot. Pivoting is what you should consider when you conclude that you’re not making any progress (or not enough) toward Product/Market Fit. A pivot is a radical course correction, going in a new direction, with a new strategic hypothesis regarding the problem or solution space. In pivot mode, the unit of progress is creative destruction.

Here is a summary that presents the radical course correction of each pivot:

Problem Space Solution Space
Launch
April 2013
New market

For teammates who want to improve outcomes from shared accountability and aligns individual responsibility with team workflow

New product

Boards that guides collaboration between teammates using sticky notes to represent work items and columns to represent each stage of the workflow

Pivot 1
May 2014
New market

For individuals who want to schedule commitments and get a unified view of their “daily” commitments

New product

Daily planner that organize work by pairing a daily calendar with a list of to-do items. It keeps track which to-dos remain to be started, which are in progress and which are done.

Pivot 2
Sept 2016
New market

For people adopting work-life fusion who want to split their workload with their close ones

Product Evolution

Collective workspace that expands on our previous product by allowing to team up with others through a common list of to-do items, synchronized among teammates

Pivot 3
Jan 2018
New market

For leaders who need to empower others to get things done and want to avoid the hassle of follow-ups and tough talks that occur when pushing and pulling others to take initiative

Product Evolution

Collective workspace that expands on our previous product by providing each teammate with an automated assistant (personal coach)

A first interesting observation is the elapse of several years between each pivot. This can be explained by the following reasons:

  • The discovery process requires time. Making the right assumptions and finding out why they are not working is hard and time consuming;
  • For entrepreneurs, deciding to persevere against pitfalls is always the first choice. It takes a long period of thinking and many failures to agree to pivot;
  • In bootstrapping mode, since entrepreneurs divide their efforts on two fronts, the discovery process is much longer. They must complete the contracts that finance the business while continuing to pursuit the Product/Market Fit.

A second interesting observation is that each pivot involves a creative destruction of the target market. It seems that entrepreneurs are poorly equipped to define the problem space. As a convergent thinker, an entrepreneur is much more likely to focus on the solution than the problem.

The good news is that correctly identifying a problem space is a knowledge that can be learned. In our case, it was in December 2017 when I discovered the “Job to be Done” innovation approach. This acquisition of new know-how led us to our most recent pivot.

“Job to be Done” innovation approach presents a product not as a set of functionality but rather as a solution that a customer hires to get a job done.

Here are two blog posts I wrote following my discovery of the approach. It describes the positive impact it has on our quest to discover a better Product/Market Fit:


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Customers don’t buy products they buy better versions of themselves

Samuel Hulick at User Onboarding wrote an incredible post and graphic, showcasing how customers use products to design a “new me”.

mario-water

This is basically what I discovered through my readings about de “Get-the-job-done” approach.

Recently, equipped with my new skills, for our product To-Do Studio I tried to discover what superpower is needed when people team up with others.

Clearly, for many, getting things done WITH others is not high on their priority list. Mainly, because it is hard to work efficiently with others. There is always someone somewhere who does not do his share of the work. For them the desired superpower is to be able to get things done BY others. Currently, they do not have a high success rate.

The only ones who see teamwork positively are leaders, managers and entrepreneurs. In fact, for them getting things done with others is very high on their priority list. Therefore, they desire the same superpower; to be able to get things done by others. Currently, they are struggling to do so because of the burden of tracking and moving forward work progress.

Following my interviews, here is the system of progress that I see:

system-of-progress3

Clearly, we need to improve our studio to add a productivity assistant. A studio is a creative space to team up. We need to figure out how to add something like a chatbots in this creative space. In the coming months we will rework the user experience to add a productivity assistant. Back to the drawing board again…


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Customers hire something to get a job done

Last year, after almost two years of effort working on a daily planner as the co-founder of To-Do Studio, I had to admit we were working on the wrong idea. Since that day, we have focused our efforts on a new vision: the design of a creativity space to team up with others. Although our new idea seems promising, we have no formal proof that we are on the right track. Until recently, I thought I was forced into this very unscientific process of trusting my good fortune and my instincts to compete against luck.

Fortunately, in recent days, I’ve discovered an innovation approach that presents a product not as a set of functionality but rather as a solution that a customer hires to get a job done.

intercom on job-to-be-doneI first became aware of the “Job to be Done” approach through Intercom. In recent months I have subscribed to their blog and recently they have published a book to summarize how they use the approach internally for product management.

competing against luckThis innovation approach is very well documented by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in the Wall Street Journal Bestseller: Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice.

“When we buy a product, we essentially ‘hire’ something to get a job done. If it does the job well, when we are confronted with the same job, we hire that same product again. And if the product does a crummy job, we ‘fire’ it and look around for something else we might hire to solve the problem.”

– Clayton Christensen

when coffe and kale competeChristensen’s book is a must read but, in my opinion, the best reading I have found on the subject is the book by Alan Klement: When Coffee and Kale Compete: Become great at making products people will buy. I particularly appreciated how he unifies the “Job to be Done” approach within a system of progress.

Now that I am equipped with a more scientific approach, I will take advantage of the next few weeks to review and validate whether setting up a creativity space to team up with others is always the best idea.