Welcome to episode 299 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Ben Holland about the process of product management and understanding your customers.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork identified six different takeaways from the book, “The E Myth Revisited.” To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Building the Right Things for the Right People
When you’re building a product or creating content, it’s sometimes easy to forget that you’re ultimately building or creating to benefit your audience.
Ben is here today to talk about the way that product management and interviewing your customers can help inform the direction of your creative pursuits. He’ll give you tips on understanding the value that you deliver to your customers, figuring out what your audience really wants, and asking the right types of questions that can help you build your products.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How Ben got his start in game designing
- What a product manager does
- Why it’s important to talk to your audience
- Why you should understand your audience’s problems and what your audience really wants
- How to bring value to your customers and pivot when needed
- The tools that Ben uses for product management
- The types of questions Ben asks customers
- 298: Book Nook – Six Takeaways from The E Myth Revisited with Bjork Ostrom
- The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win
- How does the Customer Development Model work?
- Simple Green Smoothies
- The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
- Google Forms
- Ben’s customer research blog posts
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].Learn more about joining the Food Blogger Pro community!
Transcript (click to expand):
Bjork Ostrom: Ladies and jellybeans, excited. First time I’ve ever done that, by the way, that intro. Ben, I know that you are maybe not a Food Blogger Pro podcast listener. That’s the first time I’ve ever done the ladies and jelly beans intro. So, congratulations. We’ll maybe cut that and do a little NFT, see if we can get millions of dollars from the latest in jellybeans intro. We’re starting to do these intros in the beginning leading into it so we don’t segment it out, but I want to talk a little bit about product management, about how we’ve worked with you, Ben, and then what we’re going to be talking about on the podcast. Excited to be chatting with you because I think it’s an area that’s really important. And it’s crafting the roadmap, the vision of the thing that we’re building based on feedback from the people that we are building it for.
Bjork Ostrom: Ben is going to be talking about that as it relates to product management, building a product. But for us, a lot of the podcasts listeners for Pinch of Yum, the product that we have is content. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be talking to your customers and developing ideas and gathering feedback around how you can be successful with that content based on what the customers need and want. So we are excited to talk about product management and excited to talk about how to do that well, customer development, all of those things. But before we do, I want to say officially, Ben, welcome to the podcast.
Ben Holland: Thank you. It’s great to be here. Excited to be a part of this.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Excited to chat a little bit with you. We’ve worked for a while together, but I’ve never had talked to Ben about his story conversation with you. So let’s do that. I’m interested to hear how you got into product management. My connection to you is through Raquel who helped us build and launch WP Tasty in the early days. She got super excited about product management. She was like, “Hey, I’m a part of this group where this guy’s leading the group of other product managers. When I was in the early stages of working on Clariti I was like, ”We need somebody to do product management and lead this project.“ And she’s like, ”Ben, he’s pretty good and he’s senior. He might be too qualified for you.“ I was like, ”I want the best person possible introduce me to Ben.” That’s how the connection happened. But rewind the tape a little bit, how did you get into this, Ben?
Ben Holland: Yeah. My first job out of college, my first real job I did pizza delivery and all of that. I worked for my dad. My dad owned a little game shop here in Southern California and it was right before the tablet movement. So mobile games was becoming a thing. They hired me as a college student to test games for them. It was like the perfect-
Bjork Ostrom: That’s the dream job of every middle school kid, especially a middle school kid who loves games. It’s literally video game tester.
Ben Holland: Exactly. They had a little lounge area, I’d just sit on a couch with a brand new tablet and testing games. I also have a lot of sound engineering background. So I did a lot of that game music and game sound effects and things like that, which was really fun.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh my gosh. That’s awesome. So this is mobile iOS, iPad, Android games?
Ben Holland: Right. When that was becoming a thing. Yeah. Before that, there were web-based games. And they’re casual games.
Bjork Ostrom: Flash games?
Ben Holland: Yeah, flash games, casual, hidden object games, adventure games, even angry birds type games, pretty fun stuff.
Bjork Ostrom: So were they developing them as an in-house startup to then publish on their own or were people coming to them and they’re like, “Hey, we have this…?” Everybody has an idea for an app. And then everybody is like, “Oh my gosh, I have this idea for a game. Who do I have build it? Is that what it was or were they developing in-house games that then they on their own would sell?
Ben Holland: They had mostly in-house games about the time. Throughout my tenure there, they had some bigger game companies come their way and say, “Hey, we want you to be the indie publisher for this game.” Big game names like Activision and things like that, which was so exciting.
Bjork Ostrom: Would there be any games that people would be like, Oh my gosh, I play that game or no of that?
Ben Holland: They’ve shifted quite a bit over the years. If you were big into hidden object games, you may know their name back in the day, like early 2000s. They’ve shifted quite a bit. Now they run a company called… Flagship product is a game called Munzee, which is like a geocaching type of game that geocaches their QR codes all over the country, actually all over the world.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, interesting.
Ben Holland: That’s pretty popular.
Bjork Ostrom: Do people put the QR codes there or does the company?
Ben Holland: Yeah. You buy a QR code pack from the company and then the people go play some all over. If you download the app Munzee and sign up, I bet you’ll see there’s some all around your house. We go look for…
Bjork Ostrom: How do you spell it?
Ben Holland: M-U-N-Z-E-E.
Bjork Ostrom: Munzee. Because then I know geocaching and have done geocaching where, for those who aren’t familiar, you have the coordinates and you try and find where this geocache is. We did it at the non-profit, it’s like a group, team building thing. People were waiting into water, this pond trying to find a geocache that was underneath. I know some people are really into it. Anyways, your dad has this company, which sounds awesome. It sounds like a dream job for you to come out and do testing of these, but you’re getting into it and doing essentially QA, quality assurance on these games before they publish the next update of them?
Ben Holland: Yeah. And as I was doing QA, it’s pretty natural as you’re testing things to make suggestions like, Hey, I think this could have been thought through this way. Because you’re the first user using it at that point.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And when you’re building it, you have an idea of, Hey, somebody is going to use it. Here’s how they’re going to use it. And then somebody else picks it up and it’s like, Oh my gosh, this is not how I intended you to use this.
Ben Holland: Exactly. Yeah. They were really great about doing customer research and things like that. Eventually, I had these suggestions and it was my dad and we had some really amazing portfolio of products. He said, “ I want you to take lead on a couple of these.” We didn’t have the term product manager. In the gaming world, it’s usually called producer or things like that. But I was called a game designer. So I led the design of a handful of games and started to think, wow, I really like this, but I wasn’t sure if I liked the development part of it or if I liked the product part of it. That’s when I switched my major in college and started learning how to code and things like that. Because I thought that was the avenue I wanted to go in.
Bjork Ostrom: And it wasn’t, it turned out.
Ben Holland: It wasn’t.
Bjork Ostrom: At what point did you realize that?
Ben Holland: Well, they actually kicked me out of the major. I got too many B pluses.
Bjork Ostrom: You realized when they kicked you out.
Ben Holland: Yeah. I realized, Oh, maybe I’m not cut for this.
Bjork Ostrom: Totally.
Ben Holland: I actually switched to a writing major, finished my undergraduate in writing, realized I really like writing. I just wanted to get the degree behind me and wanted to move forward with more product stuff. That’s when I worked for a small startup in Salt Lake, it was a financial startup. We built analytics tools and I was actually the full stack developer and the product guy talking to all of our customers and I stretched too thin. Then worked my way into some pretty cool non-profit product roles where we were helping people with finances around the world and student lending and things like that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So over time, you’ve filtered down to land… It seems like at a place where you’re working in your zone of genius, your area of expertise. How would you describe, for those who aren’t familiar, the role of a product manager. The reason that we’re having this interview is because especially in the early stages, I think any business builder or creator, they’re having to wear multiple hats. We did a book episode on The E-Myth. I think you and I have maybe talked about The E-Myth as well.
Ben Holland: Yup.
Bjork Ostrom: But in that, he talks about in early stages, you’re having to do everything. One of those things that you’re having to do for us as brand builders, business builders, blog builders, publishers, whatever it is, is to get really good at understanding the best thing to create in the world and to put out there. We’re going to be talking about product management as really specific things around that, but it’s one of the hats that you have to wear as a publisher and a creator. And for us to kind of borrow best practices from the product world and apply it to content, which for us is the product. For other people, they actually are going to be having products that they’re creating. So context for podcast listeners as we get into this, the reason for the conversation. What does a product manager do? What is the day to day and what do you consider to be the most important deliverables out of that position or that role?
Ben Holland: Yeah. I think the role of product is really nuanced and an extremely broad people can use the term product managers to meet a lot of different things. The true purpose of a product manager is to make sure that you’re building the right things and that you’re also doing them right, building them right. That’s the way I summarize it. I think that most people in product get misunderstood as project managers, as the building it right. Let’s just make sure we’re doing things and doing them in a certain order and having a plan.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. This step at this point, and it needs to be done here and have you completed it?
Ben Holland: Yeah. And are we communicating properly and all that? That’s really important of course, but I think the most valuable sweet spot for a product person is really building what people want. I wish there was a better term other than product manager. I’ve tried to invent one, but there isn’t. Because product manager just doesn’t construe that value, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s almost like… This is putting the pressure on me to manifest, maybe I’ll use that word, value manifester.
Ben Holland: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: This idea that there’s nothing and you’re wanting to create something, but it’s not just creating the thing accomplishes that. You need to be creating the thing that people actually want. It’s like, I feel like it parallels the idea of you can climb the ladder, but if it’s up the wrong wall, it’s not going to, I think they use that for career stuff, but this idea of project management could maybe be like, how are you properly climbing the ladder? Whereas product management would be about, Hey, make sure that before you start climbing the ladder, you’ve really analyzed and you want to make sure that this is the wall that you should be climbing up. So you can change your own LinkedIn to value manifester.
Ben Holland: I love that. I’m going to steal that one. I think you nailed it. We see it so often. Here’s a recent example and maybe we’ve all forgotten, but Quibi. The big short-form…
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Can you explain that for people who aren’t familiar with what that was.
Ben Holland: Yeah. So Quibi was a very well backed streaming giant that was coming into the marketplace, but they were all focusing on short form content that could be viewed vertically or horizontally on your phone. Lots of big tech players in that space, tons of big actors, the Hollywood producers putting content on there.
Bjork Ostrom: 1.8 billion in funding.
Ben Holland: Yeah. I think Meg Whitman was the CEO. I could be quoting that wrong. I can’t remember…
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg were…
Ben Holland: Katzenberg.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Ben Holland: Huge tech entrepreneurs, each tech names. And maybe COVID can be blamed for this, but I think that it would have happened either way. People weren’t watching media on their phone anymore. They were watching them at home in their living room on the TV. But the big question I think most of us in the product world had was, do people actually want this? Do people want this new form of streaming? There’ve been a lot of people that have tried this short-form content play in the past and haven’t succeeded. Verizon go, there’s a couple other short-form content things that tried their hand at this. So in the product world, I guess the way I put it as are you hacking through a jungle knowing where you’re going, or are you just hacking as fast as you can? Are you climbing up the wrong wall?
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. And it seems like the combination to use that going through the jungle analogy, the analogy with, or to draw that out further, product and project. It’s like hack, hack, hack, pause, climb up a tree, look where you’re going, go back down, hack, hack, hack, climb up a tree. So analogies aside, what does that actually practically look like? Because I think that as content creators, we probably have ideas, or product creators. There’s people who both have products and produce content. Most of the people listening to podcasts are going to be, their product is their content.
Bjork Ostrom: I think that generally what happens is maybe you do some keyword research. So you’re thinking about it from an SEO perspective and how do you rank for something? But there’s also a piece that’s about building a brand and figuring a niche and figuring out if people actually need and want that thing that you are creating. So we can use clarity as an example. That’s the product that you’re focused on and that we’re working on building and we can draw analogies to that from the content world. But how do you go about knowing what people want? How do you ask those questions and how do you even get people to follow up what do they care? It’s your thing, not theirs.
Ben Holland: Yeah. My roadmap for this is Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany. I live by that. I think it’s a very important model and he has these four circles.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about, real quick, Steve Blank, who that is, and then real quick, shout out. I don’t know if Dom listens to the podcast, but Dom lives in Scotland. I was just having a conversation with him on the Food Blogger Pro forums and he mentioned Steve Blank. So, funny connection there to Dom, a Food Blogger Pro member, doing some Steve Blank reading. But can you talk about just a quick background on who Steve Blank is and then dive into that framework that you use?
Ben Holland: Yeah. So Steve Blank is one of those godfathers of Silicon Valley tech startup worlds, and he’s largely responsible for The Lean Startup method and some of those things. He’s written several books. Four Steps to the Epiphany is one that I found especially meaningful to me over my career as a product manager, even though it’s not necessarily a product book, but it’s about customer development, customer discovery, understanding your customers and things like that. What he talks about is oftentimes people will jump straight to, okay, I’m creating my customers. I know who they are, I’m building stuff, hack into the jungle. Not to bring up analogy again. But what we should do when you’re starting from zero is figure out what people want, figure out what problems they’re facing, go through a discovery process. What that’s meant for us in Clariti is talking to people, talking to bloggers, talking to people who own sites, who write posts, and understand what their pains are. That first step is really just analyzing problems. Understanding what problems and seeing patterns throughout people’s content creation journey and content optimization journey.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. It’s interesting. One of the things that we do as Pinch of Yum is we have a survey that goes out anytime that somebody signs up, I think this is still running. Anything that somebody signs up for the email list, they’ll get a survey where they can fill out who they are, where they shop. We often talk a lot about Pinch of Yum. We’re making recipes for people who shop at Target. They need to be able to get everything they need to get at Target. But that feels like a great opportunity for us to then, and I don’t know all the questions within that, to ask a question around, what is your biggest problem when it comes to making meals. It might be time, it might be education. I don’t know how to do it.
Bjork Ostrom: That can inform some of the decisions that we make around the content that we produce. So you can start to see how some of this stuff comes together, but in your best case scenario, what does it look like to have conversations with people? Are they literally a Zoom call conversation, or can that be a varying degree of asynchronous conversation, email, Zoom, what does that look like and how do you structure those conversations?
Ben Holland: I found the later you get into your product development or content creation, you can use a lot of other mediums. I think when you’re very early on, the best thing to do is just get out there and talk. And I mean, if you are building something that should go to the every everyday person, sit in a coffee shop, say, “Hey, can I buy you your three dollar coffee and talk to you for a second about something I’m working on?” I think they’re very informal. One thing that I usually do is I plan a three by five card of questions and just guiding questions, think of it as a really informal 60 minutes interview where you can ask these open-ended questions, learn from them. But also, if they stumble upon something that you hadn’t heard before, double-click on that and continue to ask questions about that.
Ben Holland: One of the important things to remember through this is you’re looking for patterns and you can’t find patterns if you’re not talking to more than one person. One data point doesn’t give you enough feedback to make decisions or understand the problem. You got to find patterns amongst groups of people and asking questions in ways that help people feel comfortable expressing how they really feel. An example of that is, if you could wave a magic wand to make any problem go away, what would you wave it at? Instead of, what bothers you the most? If you ask it that way, they’re going to sit there and think, well, what do they want me to say? How can I answer this? So finding ways to disarm the conversation so it’s not between two of you, but you’re looking at the problem together and learning more about it very investigatory.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Interesting. But I’m curious to know at what point, we’re talking about to frame it up for people who are tuning in via video at this point, halfway through learning as we go, at what point when you are having interviews with people you’re early on, so in the content world as an example, you say, “Hey, great. I want to be able to write about, let’s say a specific diet. I want to talk about what it’s like for me to do grain-free recipes. That’s really important. I want to share that with the world.” So instead of just like, Hey, now I’m going to spin up a blog and it’s going to be about grain-free recipes, or gluten-free would maybe be like a broader, more applicable category for that.
Bjork Ostrom: At what point do you know when you have a takeaway, a nugget, something that you can move forward with and apply versus just random feedback from random people? I think that’s one of the hard things, is distinguishing truly helpful thing, things from somebody’s opinion and thoughts. Do you have to have 100 conversations to suddenly know what those takeaways are and how do you get through that and how do you do that?
Ben Holland: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think it’s probably more art than science to find those nuggets. But I will say that as you start to hear patterns, you can start to find the common denominators among people. And you can certainly take the one-off problems and say, well, that was a really interesting one. I’m going to ask about it in these following conversations with people. But I think really it’s about seeing the patterns amongst these conversations and trying to find the common denominators. And mind you, this is problem-focused. Understand what their problems are, what they’re yearning for, what their hunger is, what they care about. Don’t jump right to solutions. Henry Ford’s famous quote, which I don’t think he actually said, “If I were to ask customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me a faster horse.” Right?
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Ben Holland: Oftentimes your audience doesn’t know what they want, but they can talk about their problems all day long, or they can talk about their lack of something all day long.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Well, the interesting thing for me is the point with that, I think some people will say, so then therefore customers don’t know what they want, just shouldn’t ask them, just create the thing. Steve Jobs talked about how they don’t do customer interviews for Apple because people don’t know what they want, but it’s like, I think people do know what they want. Maybe they just can’t describe it in a way where it’s not like they would say a car. To your point, they’re saying, we want something that’s faster. And then it’s your job to interpret what that actually looks like in the world. Still super helpful and interesting to do those conversations, have those conversations, but then to interpret those into what that might actually look like in the world.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s the interesting thing, what you were saying before is like, there’s not a rule, there’s not after 10 people say it, then you say, this is something we actually need to move forward on and it’s actionable. It’s the art of those conversations to say, “Hey, I see some consistency here.” Do you have an example for Clariti? For those who aren’t familiar with Clariti, two Is, so C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com is the tool that we are working on to help people organize, optimize and improve their content. It came out of us having this Pinch of Yum spreadsheet, massive spreadsheet. And we’re like, anytime we have a massive spreadsheet is probably an opportunity to not have a spreadsheet and instead have software. So we’re like, there’s got to be something there, but that was just for us. What I didn’t do that you are doing now is starting to have a lot of conversations. So can you talk about what that actually looks like with Clariti and some of the things that have come out of those conversations?
Ben Holland: Yeah. So we have pretty regular conversations. And I will say this, while the customer discovery can be problem-focused, it’s also really important. The goal of all this is to calibrate your customer intuition, understanding what they really want. You want to make sure that that’s hyper calibrated throughout. There are two examples throughout all of our conversations that I can think of that came up time and time again from our audience, from our bloggers who are early adopters of Clariti. One, they have created their own manual way of tracking all of the content because WordPress doesn’t do it and they’re tired of… Well, there really wasn’t a tool to do it. They would put it in spreadsheets or air table or a sauna. They have these big elaborate projects that would track every single post, all of the metadata about it and things like that. That was one pattern we found amongst one customer segment.
Ben Holland: The other pattern we found was Google Analytics is pretty intimidating, and it’s hard to glean decision-making insights from Google Analytics. You can’t just sit there and say, Oh, I see this today. Therefore, I’m going to do this. Or I’m going to start writing this type of content. It’s hard to do that. You have to be a wizard to be able to get those types of actionable insights from Google Analytics. So those two things really spawned our early roadmap for Clariti to get these tools into the hands of bloggers without all of the manual labor of putting it into a spreadsheet or an air table and keeping that up to date regularly.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. This is a quick little, we’ve talked about Clariti here and there, quick little shout out for Clariti. For anybody who’s interested in being early stage, Clariti will probably be a tool, I don’t know, there’s all different classifications of where tools are. Like consumer, prosumer, enterprise. It’ll probably be as far as the tool that we’ve created on the higher end, in terms of product pricing, we’re looking to connect with people who are strategically building a content site and are either really hustling to make it income producing, or are already at the point where it’s income producing and then allowing them to double down on that. Really, a lot of it focusing on this idea of content optimization, not just creating new content and that being an important shift that’s happening to. But we’re doing a, we’re calling it Forever plan for the first 500, which it might take us 10 years to get there, or it might take us 10 months. We don’t know yet. But we’re going to cap that at 500 and that for us is like, that makes Clariti a sustainable product.
Bjork Ostrom: We’re just in the early stages of starting that in April. So if you’re interested, there’s a waiting list. You can sign up for that. We’re slowly bringing people on and getting their sites set up and doing a lot of hand holding along the way. But the idea with that Forever plan is like, Hey, that makes it sustainable for us. It’s probably below the price point. It is below the price point that we’ll eventually launch at. But acknowledging for people who are early beta users like, Hey, there’s going to be a little bit of risk in getting in early stage in that we’re a beginning product just starting out, but long-term if the tool is still one that you’re going to be using three, four years from now, which we’re excited about the potential for that, and think that there’s high probability that that will happen, that you’ll be at a price point where it’s like, Hey, great. It’s like you just have this recurring discount as a thank you from us for signing up early and being a part of that.
Bjork Ostrom: If you want to check it out, clariti.com. And if nothing else, you can just sign up on the waiting list and you can see what we’re up to. We’ll be sending out updates as the product evolves and you can learn a little bit more about it there. But talk about the framework. You talked about Steve Blank and in this framework that he has for doing product development. We could apply that to the content world as well. But what does that look like to walk through that and how do you use that as a tool to not only have conversations with customers, but then also turn that into actionable insights that you can use?
Ben Holland: Yeah. I think we talked about early on when you’re going from zero to one. When you’ve already got something out in the marketplace, you’re producing content regularly, you’ve got an audience, and maybe it’s not as big of an audience as you want and you want to grow that audience. The next whole half of the model is like the customer creation company building side of things. I think what we do at Pinch of Yum is a regular survey and constantly reaching out to customers here and there and applying feedback. The world is your oyster as far as data goes. Find different ways to capture information from your customers. Find ways to capture information from Google search console, Google Analytics to optimize what you’re doing.
Ben Holland: In the product where we have other tools like Mixpanel or Segment or other full story customer support, all of those other angles that we can take into account to help build this customer segment, target these customer segment groups and really build to what they’re looking for and to build things that will delight them and grow them. One of the things that I’d say that I’ve found is really, really important here is focus. I think in the product world, focus is undervalued. So many product teams take a shotgun approach and they’ll just throw anything out there that they can, but focusing on very key things that will bring value to your customers and then also being willing to change and pivot based on feedback. Not on every whim, but sitting there and say, Hey, we’re going up towards the dead end here, let’s pivot and see where this path continues.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. A company I’ve seen do that really well that we’ve had on the podcast a couple of times is Slickstream. And I’ve been lucky enough to advise from a publisher perspective on some things for them. But I’ve also learned a lot as somebody who’s interested in startups and building different startups. But Kingston, the founder of Slickstream and his team is willing to let go of an idea. A lot of times it’s stuff that’s really cool and it works really well. And they think, we’re going to put this out there and we’re going to see if it gets traction in the world. And if it doesn’t, they’re not beholden to the idea because it was their idea. They’re willing to let it go. I think that can and probably should apply to the content world as well.
Bjork Ostrom: If you are working on something and it’s just not resonating with people, maybe shift and pivot, think about another area of focus. Maybe it’s a niche that you could look at that will really get traction and that will be helpful for people. I’m looking at it. Now, let me know if this is right. Customer discovery is the first part. That’s what you talked about, where you have this vague idea of the problem that you’re trying to solve, but it’s almost like at that point, you’re just trying to figure out what is the problem? It’s having conversations to hear, this is what we’re focusing on. What are your problems with this? And then is what you’re talking about right now customer validation? In customer validation, you’re saying, “We heard what the problem was, we created what we think is a solution to it. Is it a solution, does this help you? Is that what customer validation is?
Ben Holland: Yeah, that’s right. You take the problems that you’ve heard, you innovate some solutions. In Henry Ford’s case, you throw out a model T and say, “Hey, would you use this?” And if the answer is, what the heck is that? Or I don’t know. That doesn’t have anything to do with the problem we talked about. That cycle there where you can pivot and say, okay, well, this isn’t the right solution.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And for some people, you might stay in that stage for a while until you get something where people are like, Oh, this is awesome. This is really helpful for the problem that I have. You validated, okay, we talked to people, we heard that they had this problem. We’ve created something that we think is solving this problem. They’ve said it does solve the problem. And then is the next stage that customer creation? Am I looking at the right chart here?
Ben Holland: Yeah, that’s right. The customer creation, the line that divides the two boxes is really when you start to get market traction, market fit. You start to say, okay, not only do we have the right solutions, but they’re working for people, they want more. And then this customer creation phase gets more into the how can we further dig deeper into this customer segment or further market to this audience and things like that? How do we do more product marketing? That is about growing the business to where you get to the fourth stage, which is company building, turning this into a true bonafide company that generates revenue and has customers that are happy with the solutions that you provide.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And at that point, you know the thing that you’ve created is working well for people, it’s a good fit. Then the questions become around, how do we make this as available to people as possible? How do we scale this up? I’m trying to think of examples in the food world, but the easiest ones are around almost, I think of our friends at Simple Green Smoothies. They created this really niche thing. I don’t know if they went through the process of doing customer discovery and customer validation, but at some point, you’ve validated, Hey, people are interested in having simple, healthy smoothies. We have this niche and this focus around it. And then the question becomes, how do we scale this up to reach as many people as possible?
Bjork Ostrom: Or another example would be you have a really specific niche and maybe there’s a trend around it, instant pots. That being a really important device that a lot of people are using. My mom, every night I’ll FaceTime, almost every night, but I’ll go down with our daughter Solvi and play with her. And then I’ll FaceTime my parents. The other night my dad answered and I was like, Hey, we talked to him for a little bit. And he’s like, “Yeah, your mom’s actually doing a community class on Instant Pot Recipes.” Okay, that’s validation that there’s people who have this, they want to learn how to use them. In this case, it’s like a community ed class, but still it’s a problem and that is a product that is helping people solve it. So it’s a real world example of creating something where there’s a need, there’s a problem. Spinning up a solution, in this case a Zoom class, and then presenting that to people.
Bjork Ostrom: If they wanted to, they could then think about, how do I spin that up? Create an Instagram account. You publish recipes around it. You start to do corporate classes on this specific thing. We’re having a conversation with our team right now. We’re trying to do lunch and learns. We’re having a conversation with somebody who does pasta making, simple pasta making classes for remote teams as a way to connect, and she’s building a business around it. That comes from probably not formally maybe, but probably not formally going through this process of saying, Hey, I see there’s a need here. What’s the best way to solve that need, iterating on that, and then creating a product around it? Which there’s a good chance that tiny bit as a team we’ll buy that. And she then has a business around it.
Bjork Ostrom: So you can start to see real world examples of how this is existing within the world and how people are moving forward and executing on it and using to build businesses. So if somebody wants to dive deeper on this, how do they go about doing that? Is there a Steve Blank book on Four Steps to the Epiphany? It sounds like a spiritual self-help book, but it’s actually a product book. Is that a book that he’s actually published on it or are there other ways that people can learn about it?
Ben Holland: Yeah. So the book is called The Four Steps to the Epiphany, and I agree that when my friend gave it to me, I had no idea. I didn’t read it for a year because I thought this is a strange concept. But as you start to dig in, it’s lots of valuable tidbits here. I will mention, I think most extroverted people will probably naturally go through this process because they’re interested in getting feedback talking to people. If you’re more introverted like I am, you have to formalize it for yourself and say, okay, I’m going to be strict about this. But the cool thing about his book is this is a pattern that many tried into products, companies, content creators have gone through, is this understanding what people want, seeing how the market or the audience reacts and then adjusting and pivoting to that. So there’s a lot of principles here that apply in so many areas of our lives that I’ve really appreciated about the book. Well, it comes from a Silicon Valley background, startup background. It is a very life applicable book.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You mentioned Lean Startup, one of the interesting things, Eric Ries, I think that’s how you pronounce his last name, wrote the book that I feel like really caught fire in the startup tech world, all about building a product and not wasting a bunch of time and energy on it because you’re doing these important things first, which a lot of people don’t do. But it’s like Steve Blank really being the person who did the initial work at that. And it seems like, I’m not super familiar with it, but in The Lean Startup, a lot of those philosophies are inspired by some of the original work that Steve Blank did, which is cool to see that through line through there. Can you talk about some of the tools that you use to do this? Even if it’s something as simple as Zoom, we all know Zoom, we use Zoom. I use it. But what are the tools that you use to document, to save notes? What does that look like so if somebody does want to go through this process, they can maybe get a jumpstart on some of those tools?
Ben Holland: Yeah. You can be really scrappy. I think you can do it with a pen and paper half the time in a coffee shop. Your local coffee shop, pre-COVID probably would have been easier. Although it seems like that may be getting easier here soon. Zoom, getting a Zoom and 30 minutes recording it, going back and listening to it a couple more times to make sure you’re really familiar with what happened there. If you want to get scrappy, we use Google forms, which are free. You can use a Qualtrics, free Qualtrics account to create some more articulate surveys.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about what Qualtrics is?
Ben Holland: Yeah. Qualtrics is, they call themselves experience management. It’s really understanding customer experience, understanding the customer sentiments, things like that. So they’ve got a whole suite of products. It’s Q-U-A-R-L-T-R-I-C-S. And it’s really like SurveyMonkey on steroids with a lot of other tools, but they’ve got free tiers to most of their tools. That’s a tool I rely on heavily. Then when you get into product analytics, we use things like Segment to track customer events and behaviors and things like that. FullStory is a really good one too. You can actually replay a customer session on a web app or something like that, which is really cool.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you give examples of the questions that you’re asking? I think some people, to your point, extroverts, awesome chance to talk to people about anything. For somebody who’s like, ah, I know that this is important, but I wouldn’t necessarily be super excited to just spin up a conversation and talk to somebody off the cuff. What are some reusable questions that could exist regardless of the product or the thing that you’re trying to learn more about? Or is it really specific to the niche and the product?
Ben Holland: There are some broad questions. I actually recently wrote a blog post about this. I’ll read a few of them because these are ones that have been tried and true that I’ve used a lot, especially in that discovery phase. I think it’s most important to start out by establishing context. Like, “Hey, this is the space we’re in. I don’t want to hear about this, not that I don’t want to talk about it, but this is where we’re focusing.” Asking questions like, what problems do you face when it comes to writing a blog or optimizing your content? That’s where you plug and play whatever you are working on at that time. What problems do you face when cooking a meal at home?
Ben Holland: What problems do you face when using an instant pot? Things like that. What are you doing today to resolve that problem? Are you watching a YouTube video? Have you had to rely on somebody else to help you through that? Did you build your own tool? What did you do? How do those problems affect your goals in that area? What are your goals in that area? What are you trying to accomplish when this becomes an issue? What’s the thing you’re trying to… I’m making dinner for my family and I’m trying to do it between baseball practice and basketball practice. And I’m trying to make sure that my kids have something healthy, that’s quick and easy. I don’t have a whole lot of time. Something like that. What are you trying to accomplish? And then the classic, if you could wave a magic wand or if this problem were just to disappear, what would be the one problem you would choose? Things like that.
Bjork Ostrom: To disappear, yeah.
Ben Holland: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think one of the other valuable things that comes from that is being able to then take some of that language that people are using to then format some of the copy that you have to mirror back to the customers that you eventually talk to. So if everybody’s who has an instant pot is always saying, I don’t have that many let’s say, I don’t know what half of these buttons do. If everybody says that, then the copy that you can be creating is something like, understand every button on your instant pot or 30-minute guide to instant pot mastery, or something like that. Not only are you learning about what the thing that you should create should be, but you’re also able to learn about how you should talk to people when you do eventually create that thing, that product, or that content. There’s multiple levels of value that you can get from those conversations. Whether that be product development or copy and marketing which are both super helpful and valuable areas.
Ben Holland: So if somebody wanted to get started, if they wanted to dip their toe into this, what would be the best way to start? Would it be like, Hey, experiment with sending out a survey, getting responses? Or would you say, Hey, if you have people on Instagram who follow you, if you have an email list, send them a message and just say, we’d love to do a half an hour call with you so I can start to learn a little bit better about what would be most helpful? What does that look like and how do you do that? At some point, do you stop doing it? Or is this something you should always be doing?
Ben Holland: I think that it can come and go in waves where it’s about that customer intuition. That core, making sure that that’s calibrated, that you understand. If you feel like you’re off center, then it’s time to talk to a handful of customers and get that calibrated and then do it fairly regularly. It doesn’t need to be this big burst all the time. I would say, the best place to start, if it’s been a while since you’ve had a conversation with someone in your audience or one of your followers or one of your customers, get on a quick call with them, get on a quick Zoom with them, compensate them in some way, give them free access to something or early access to an ebook or early access to a product or something like that. If you have the budget, give them a gift card.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Ben Holland: Jump on a Zoom, jump on something, just talk to them about their experience with what would you have and learn about it. Be willing to take feedback and say, you know what, I don’t really like this part or these things aren’t really interesting to me, or they aren’t applicable to me and take note of those things and be open to that. And then pivot along the way. But I think the best place to start is just start talking to people, find a way to talk to the five people in the next month.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. There’s a time specifically that I think at Food Blogger Pro, where this isn’t a great example of it, but it is example of how valuable it was with the conversations that I was having, where I would use Intercom as our chat support tool for Clariti Food Blogger Pro, all the different brands that we have. I would go into Intercom and I would see somebody who’d be logged in and I would just send them a message. I’d be like, “Hey, what’s up. This is Bjork. Just wanted to check in quick, how’s it going?” And then we would start up this interaction. And one of the questions I would ask is, “Hey, any feedback on how stuff is going here? What are you trying to solve, the problems that you’re trying to use Food Blogger Pro to solve?”
Bjork Ostrom: Inevitably, people have feedback that I didn’t think about or have insight that I wasn’t aware of. That informed some of the decisions that we made along the way like, “Hey, this was a super helpful course, but on this step, this screen was outdated. I didn’t know what to do at this point.” “Oh, great. Let’s make note of that and update it.” It’s not necessarily product development, but it is customers giving you guidance on what it is that they want and what would be most helpful for them. I know that you’ve been doing a lot of this, but two questions for you, Ben, as we come to the end here. Number one, do we still need people to do some of this? If people want to learn by being on the other side for Clariti, are we still doing that? Do we need people who would give insight and feedback on Clariti as a tool? And if so, if people are interested in being a part of that, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?
Ben Holland: Yeah. If you are interested, please sign up for the waiting list. If you want to send us an email through support or anything like that, please go ahead. Yeah, we’re always looking for people to talk to. The people we’re looking to talk to are the people who have a lot of content, over 500 posts at least, and who are interested in optimizing that content to perform better. Whether that’s… Yeah, there’s lots of different ways to optimize. That’s what we’re looking to get feedback on.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That was the other thing that was interesting as we were working with you to formalize what Clariti would be, really saying here’s who our customers are. That always will shift and change, but it was a helpful thing, like the Target example for Pinch of Yum. If we have a really unique, weird ingredient, that framework of saying, can somebody buy this at super Target? Is helpful in informing where we go with it. Similarly, for Clariti saying like, Hey, this isn’t necessarily for somebody who has five blog posts. This is for somebody who has been publishing for a while and has some decent traction or wants to increase the traction that they have by doubling down on the success of certain posts. That being another important piece of the customer development process, is formalizing who that is, which I think is really valuable.
Bjork Ostrom: Obviously people can sign up and follow along with what we’re up to there. Even if it’s not a tool that you’re interested in using, we’ll send you updates of how we’re evolving the tool just if you want to follow along and see what that’s like. Number two, you talked about a couple of blog posts. You have your site, Kree product management industry that you’re doing there. If people want to learn more about, read some of the blog posts that you’re publishing and the content that you have, we can link to that in the show notes, but can you just share where people would find that?
Ben Holland: Yeah, so it’s gokree.com. Kree.com is owned by some interior design company in Germany. So it couldn’t get that. It’s G-O-K-R-E-E-
Bjork Ostrom: Those four letter domains are just impossible.
Ben Holland: They’re all snatched up. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Pronounceable four level. Yeah, four letter.
Ben Holland: I’ve only recently started the actual blog posts. It’s one of those procrastination things I’ve been trying to do it. I’ve got hundreds of drafts, just started deciding to just publish them in the form that I could finish them. Preaching to the choir here. So yeah, there are some blog posts. In fact, the last few blog posts have been specifically about customer research. We have a four-part series on customer research there that we’re publishing. So any feedback on that to ways we can make it better, ways you can make it more informative. I would say there’s a lot of links in there of things you can look at that apply to all areas of just creation in general, whatever you’re creating.
Bjork Ostrom: Your goal can be to get your site to the point where you can be a customer, you can fit the customer the segment for Clariti as somebody who could use the tool. That’ll be a where you can shoot for 500 blog posts. Yeah, that’s great.
Ben Holland: I aspire for that. Yup. I aspire for that. One note about that that I think is really important is I talked to a lot of people who say, well, my customer segment is millennials, or my customer segment is anyone who likes healthy stuff or whatever. Privacy aware. The way you know your customer segment, and this isn’t one of my blog posts, the way that you’ve got your customer segment outlined is if you can write a paragraph about them. If you can write a paragraph about your customer segment, you’ve got it. If you can’t, you don’t understand your customers.
Bjork Ostrom: Meaning you need to know enough about them to do the equivalent of long Twitter bio, like here’s who this person is. Yeah.
Ben Holland: Yeah. And if you can write three to four sentences about them, it doesn’t even have to be age and gender or anything like that, but this is the type of behaviors they are. This is the type of tools they use. This is whatever. For Clariti, for example, we’re targeting people who have over 500 posts, people who have a certain income level from that that they’re generating from their posts and so on. And we have a whole framework around that. That’s really important for anything you’re developing, is if you can write a paragraph about your customer segment, then you’ve got it. You know who they are.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. And probably a good takeaway as we wrap up the podcast a little action item for people to be able to do is to say, Hey, if you’re doing this, if you’re taking the time to write blog posts and publish pages and work on your content, probably worth it to take an hour to instead of write a blog post, write down that paragraph. Who is it that I’m creating this content for and what are their needs and wants? To use some of those conversations to then craft and to develop that over time, doesn’t have to stay like that forever. It can evolve and change, but to take a stab at it would be a great thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Ben, really fun for me to have a conversation with you to learn a little bit more. I know that it’s going to be valuable for our audience as well, and excited to be working on Clariti together. Maybe in a few months, whatever the time period would be, we can have you back and learn about what the update is and where things are at. So thanks so much for coming on the podcast, Ben.
Ben Holland: Yup, thanks for having me. It’s been great.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s a wrap for the interview with Ben Holland. Really appreciate Ben coming on, sharing all things product management. The takeaway for me is the more that we can think about the content that we’re creating as product, product for a certain group of people, the better it’s going to be, because really that’s what it is. We are creating something, putting it out into the world and people might not be buying that with their money necessarily, for some people that’s true, but some people probably aren’t buying it with money, but they are buying it with their attention. The better that we can get at creating product or content that people actually want to consume, the more likely they are to give it their attention. In a lot of ways, that’s the business that we are in as publishers, as content creators, is the attention business. We are trading free content, not always, but most of the time free content for attention and monetizing that either via sponsorships, advertisements, maybe affiliate or sometimes with our own products.
Bjork Ostrom: Some of those frameworks that Ben talks about, I think are really, really helpful. And especially the idea of just having those conversations. I think it’s validation for the time spent in comments or interacting with people or following up on emails, or like we talked about, maybe doing a survey and proactively hearing from people and getting more information. So a big thank you to Ben for coming on. Also, thank you for me to Ben for his leadership as he’s moved the Clariti product along. Again, if you’re interested in that, it is C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com. You can check that out. You can join the waiting list there and you’ll get a confirmation. Even if you don’t want to sign up and start paying for it, you can just follow along with the product updates that Ben will be sending out.
Bjork Ostrom: So you can get a feel for what it is that we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We’re using it for Pinch of Yum. We have some early beta users who are using it as well, and excited to welcome people on soon here as we start to ramp up Clariti as its own business. So, excited to be working on that with Ben. Thanks so much for tuning in. Our hope is that this podcast can help you get a tiny bit better every day forever. I know that that was true for me as I listened to this interview with Ben and my hope is that it’s the same for you as well. All right, we will be back here next week. Same time, same place. Thanks.