Brian Crofts – Innovation Requires Insights
Brian Crofts, Chief Product Officer at Pendo, believes uncovering and understanding client pain points allows him to build products that truly resonate. Brian joined Pendo from Namely, and formerly from Intuit, where he started his career in finance before finding his passion for product. He worked on new businesses for TurboTax and later led global expansion for QuickBooks, Intuit’s suite of accounting and payroll SaaS solutions for small businesses with 1.5M users. Throughout Brian’s career his unique perspective on product development is what led him to innovate repeatedly and successfully.
The Importance of Insights
During his tenures at TurboTax and QuickBooks, he’s had a lot of experience with innovating and gaining insights. For example, TurboTax was able to take something as complicated as a tax code, and make it not only understandable, but in some cases, enjoyable. Much of his work required him to gain insights and understand his customers on an empathetic level.
Namely, a startup software company in New York City, was the company he went to for about seven or eight months after leaving Intuit. When he joined, he noticed something that concerned him – They didn’t have very much data on how their customers were using their product. He ended up learning about another software company called Pendo, and actually found himself more interested in their product than the one he was working on!
Brian next mentions his daughters, and how they introduced him to the movie Moana which, in turn made him think about Disney from a product development perspective. They consistently deliver great products, so he began conducting research to figure out what they do differently. This research led him to the book Creativity, Inc, which focuses on managing in a creative space – a subject of study he highly recommends to anybody in management.
With all of his research into Disney’s development process, Brian found that a crucial part of their process was doing a lot of research. For Moana, Disney’s Chief Creative Officer – John Lasseter – challenged his team to deeply understand the characters, settings, and culture that they were creating. The team spent four years researching and gaining insights.
Brian decided to try and break down the insights that Disney found over those four years that ended up affecting the movie. He wanted to discover what they did, and how to apply that to his work at Pendo to bring out innovation in their product.
The Direct Impact of Deep Insight
One insight he learned about was the connectivity with water – the team at Disney brought out the personal relationship that the Samoan people have with water. So, to best represent that, they ultimately made the water a character of sorts in the movie. The profound insight into the Samoan relationship with water had a major impact on their product (the movie).
The Disney team also learned that navigation ties into the Samoan culture and heritage, and that they express that in many ways, such as their tattoos and activities of daily living. That insight turned into the theme of the film, and even the representation of specific details.
The final key insight that Brian draws attention to is the Samoan relationship with the land. The people have an incredible relationship with their island, and nothing gets wasted. It may sound simple, but that relationship with nature translated into an entire song and dance in the movie about the coconut tree, and a much more accurate portrayal of the characters and culture.
You Can’t Innovate if you Don’t Understand
Brian has been trying to find the difference between expected refinement (incremental product improvements) and true innovation. In this search, Brian developed the ‘insights arc’. You can gain insights in a lot of different ways – You can look at data, you can talk to customers, and you can get inspired in many different ways. Ultimately, your goal is to gain insights that you can turn into ideas or product visions.
The point that Brian is trying to communicate, more than anything, is that in order to create innovative, breakthrough products, you need to gain insights – whether that is through data or other forms of inspiration. Brian’s personal favorite way is to actually watch customers use the product in their homes or offices. Actually seeing your product being used by an objective user can provide you with fuel to improve your product, which can in turn improve the lives of your customers.