This final look back at some of the stand-out talks from mtpcon London takes us back to last year and a talk from WhatsApp Product Director Alice Newton Rex on the common trends adopted by those who’ve found success making big product bets.
Alice describes big bets as “innovation rather than an optimisation”, offering something more than a company’s core service, while simultaneously being high risk in terms of failure and potential reward.
No single playbook
She says there is no single optimal playbook for making a big bet. At most you can understand “common themes, common patterns, and different pathways” to attaining success. The ideas behind these big bets are rarely new – for example the BBC iPlayer came about two years after the team had decided to put radio online – and after that, “putting TV online, it was kind of obvious”.
What’s key, Alice says, is choosing when to place your bet.
Bottom-up or top-down
Alice also talks about bottom-up and top-down bets.
Bottom-up bets are bets which are championed by employees outside management, frequently built within pre-existing teams alongside core services, later being accelerated after receiving business backing. An example here is Deliveroo Plus, which came about after a team brainstorming session. Bottom-up bets need a champion who will put themselves on the line. They also need to be validated early on.
Top-down bets come from management and usually happen in older, non-tech companies or start-ups. Examples here come from Revolut and FutureLearn. Alice says that top-down bets can be as satisfying as those which come from team brainstorming or user research.
Alice finds that successful bets are often launched early, and says that we should remember that the risk of failure is high. She says most that the most wasteful and costly bets are not those that fail outright, but those that show some promise, but never really take off nor flunk out either.