In Today’s Episode We Discuss:

  • 3 Big Mistakes Start Up Founders Make
  • How product managers accelerate product insights
  • Mokriya’s 3 Step Product Creation Framework
  • Distributed teams (remote work)
  • Product strategy case studies [Sony, Twitter, SanDisk]
  • The State of Product Management

    So, you have a great idea for a product and want to form a startup?

    It’s visionary, you say? It’ll change the world?

    Well, I hate to break it to you, but, these days, everyone has a great product. It’s what you do with it that matters. 

    So say my guests today, Aaron Mitchell, CEO of Freeplay App, and Jeff Whitlock, CEO of Unbird & Girbil (Jeff’s latest startup).

    Drawing upon their product creation experience at Mokriya, Aaron and Jeff came on to explain:

    • How to avoid some of the biggest pitfalls early-stage entrepreneurs fall into 
    • Why everything should center on the customer
    • How great products actually get created 

    There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive in! 

    The 3 biggest mistakes an early-stage entrepreneur makes

    In his senior year, a furiously shaking Aaron, more nervous than he’d ever been, made his debut as a starting quarterback in a Friday night away game for his high school football team.

    After his team had success in driving the ball to the 10-yard line, Aaron’s coach called a play: Aaron faked a hand-off and threw to the tight end in the end zone. Almost as soon as the ball left his fingers, Aaron’s face hit the ground. The guy chasing him had taken him down. 

    Aaron remembers thinking it was a beautiful pass and before he could wrench his face out of the dirt, the crowd’s cheers seemed to confirm a touchdown. It would be his first as starting quarterback — a great moment. 

    Only, those cheers were for the opposing team. They had intercepted the pass.

    Aaron was devastated — which only grew worse as his coach berated him, tearing him to shreds for his mistake. He thought about quitting the team. 

    He had put in so much practice, but he made so many mistakes in that game.

    The following Monday, Aaron’s coach asked him if he knew why he had yelled at him so much. Aaron assumed it was because he was mad Aaron hadn’t lived up to his potential.

    No, the coach said. He wanted Aaron to have the most difficult experience in the first part of the season. That way, he could look back and realize, if he could get through that game and win, he could make it through whatever adversity he was facing. 

    That stuck with Aaron, who took an opportunity to learn from and grow from a few of the mistakes he made as a young entrepreneur. 

    Here are the top 3 biggest mistakes Aaron made:

    Waiting on the product

    Early on in his product management career, Aaron had always thought the first thing you had to do was get a product out in the market in order to really start a business. 

    He has since learned distribution is at least — if not more — important. After launching a product with no fanfare, just crickets, Aaron wished he had spent some of the time and money making the product figuring out a growth plan and strategy.

    Fundraising is a full-time job

    In order to finance a company, you can’t just dip your toe in the fundraising waters. 

    You need to be aggressive and proactive in reaching out to investors, getting on their radar and building excitement for your company. 

    Building for vision and not for customers

    This is one of the most common mistakes Aaron sees other people also make. They get a grandiose vision of what they think their company needs to be and end up building a product to only achieve this vision.

    But they forget they need customers to get there. 

    Your customers need to be your North Star. You need to understand their needs in order to make a product to fulfill them. 

    Understanding your customers at scale

    Jeff knows a lot about understanding customers. It’s what his company specializes in. 

    And it’s not easy.

    Still, Jeff is certain whether you are launching a new product or trying to upgrade an existing one, the hard work you do to put the customer at the center of your efforts will pay off. 

    You need to talk to your customers. 

    But that data is really unstructured. It’s messy. It’s long-form sentences, interview notes, emails and reviews. And with that unstructured data, there is the potential for bias to creep into the process. 

    Jeff’s company, Unbird, is trying to help companies learn from their customers in a structured, unbiased way. 

    While he says other companies are making great strides in this area through things like usability testing — watching how people use a product, Unbird is focusing more on user needs and preferences before even getting into usability. 

    The company also gets general product feedback, focusing on the “why” and the “what” behind what customers need, not necessarily what they do with the product. 

    The process of building a product from scratch 

    Jeff and Aaron both consult on the process of product creation and have laid out a great framework to guide this process. 

    Phase 1: Discovery

    This phase is designed to figure out what you need to build that customers are going to enjoy and pay for. And it starts by first understanding the domain knowledge they have in the problem area. 

    So, they run a workshop, usually with the founders or heads of the business unit kicking off the initiative. 

    They’ll be asked to share everything they know about themselves, their customers and the problems they have. The point is to dive in deep and really empathize with the people they’re building the product with. 

    By the end of that first day in the workshop, the goal is to feel like they’re actually in the customer’s shoes. And that’s the only way to learn how to solve their most poignant problems. 

    That evening they spend all night designing the first version of the product, bring it back the next day and have everyone tear it apart. They want to find every flaw imaginable and form a good set of hypotheses and assumptions. 

    Then they take these to the customers and put designs in front of them and see what they would change and what problems the product should focus on. 

    Then they make a prototype that broadly captures all the problem areas. 

    Phase 2: Validate and Design

    In this phase, they take that prototype and hone in on one individual problem and go really deep with the customer. 

    They put it back in front of the customer and give them an actual experience and ask the customer to help create the perfect experience to solve a problem from phase 1.

    They’ll have several initiatives they validate with the customers and, but by the end of the phase, they’ll come away with full product mockups that are ready for the engineering team. 

    They save the engineering team for last because it saves time, but also money. The engineering portion is the most expensive part of the whole process.

    But wait, remember those mistakes we mentioned earlier?

    While all this is going on, they also start the process of monetization. That way, they don’t only end this phase with a fully designed prototype ready to be built, they also have a monetization strategy and an attraction strategy.

    Ultimately, the only way for this initiative to be successful is to make sure the business is viable. Without that, the rest of the process is all for nothing. 

    Phase 3: Build

    This is the fun part for everyone involved. And it’s pretty straightforward — you just get engineering to build the damn thing. 

    But while that’s going on, they’re looking at methods of customer acquisition and the business model behind the product ensuring it will be a success.

    They’ve been able to roll this out to great fanfare from most of their clients.

    But only because they’ve learned the lessons entrepreneurs need to learn and listened to their customers every step of the way.  

    This post is based on a TechTables podcast with Aaron Mitchell and Jeff Whitlock. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to TechTables here. 

    PS: You can also email me at for anything related to the podcast and if you are interested in learning more about Nagarro and our philosophy on #thinkingbreakthroughs. 

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