Paul Yokota talks to ProductTank NYC about the process of launching products and discusses the many associated challenges, reflecting on the challenges he faced when launching Animoto’s Marketing Video Builder app. Paul started his career at Mixbook as a product manager for Mosaic, a mobile app for creating photobooks. He currently works as a Senior Product Manager for Animoto – a company dedicated to giving people an easy way to create professional videos.
Launching Products – V1 Products is Different
While launching updates and/or ports to new platforms can feel like launching entirely new products, there are some fundamental differences between existing products and v1 products, especially with the launch.
Many product managers don’t get to work on v1 products right away in their career. Many wait years before finally seeing one. When you finally do work on a v1, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Existing product updates or ports tend to be easier, because there is already a base product to work with. With v1 products, you’re putting every piece of the project together at once. It is similar to the difference between a mechanic working on a car, and an engineer designing an entirely new car all together.
Not only have to work on each individual element, but you also have to work on the relationships between the elements and how the entire product will come together as a whole. This adds much higher chance of failure. In fact, Paul states that his first v1 product did not come together as he had hoped. The project missed deadlines, his team’s morale suffered, and team members quit. However, he was eventually able to launch the product, and he was able to learn a lot from his experience.
Time is Not on Your Side
One thing he learned was to manage time as efficiently as possible. When launching products, especially a v1, you will have to consider things like marketing, press, and seasonality. Paul explains that even if your entire team is agile and not pressured to release by a certain date, it helps to set a date anyway.
He states that it is important to think beyond your launch. If you truly believe in your product, then your launch will simply be a point in time. The product’s (and your) actual success will come after launch, once users have had a chance to experience it the way you intended as well as in new ways you didn’t anticipate.
You Need More Time
Even if you sit down with your team, plan out your project, come up with time estimates, and figure out how long it should take to get to launch, you will most likely need more time. Paul explains that all of the additional development and integration that goes with v1 products creates an unpredictability that needs to be taken into consideration. The more time you allow yourself, the wider margin of error you create.
Paul goes on to reference the resource triangle, stating that scope, schedule, and resources are all inextricably linked. You cannot change one without affecting the other two. What this means, is if you don’t have enough time for a project, you need to increase your resources (team members). If you can’t get more people on board, you need to scale back your original scope. The best time to be doing this is at the very beginning of your project. Obviously you will face challenges that will force you to react by reducing your project’s scope or making changes to your team, but you can minimize substantial changes by planning early on.
As you build your product, you need to be validating it. Paul states that you really only need to build enough to launch the product and get it to users. From there, you can get feedback and troubleshoot any bugs or interface issues. This, again, is something that you will need more time for.
One of the most important parts of the validation process is customer interviews. What’s more, it is just as important to talk to the customers that are happy with your product as customers who are unhappy. It can be easy to focus on the success stories because they lift your product up, and those customers tend to be more open to discuss your product. However, talking to unhappy customers is vital to learning where to improve the product and make it more widely successful. Talking to everyone will give you the full picture of your product, versus just one side of it.
Once you understand the different challenges that come along with a v1 product and give yourself enough time to develop it, react to those challenges, and receive as much validation as possible, you will hopefully have a successful product launch and continued success after.