At Mind the Product 2013 you could learn how to build a billion-dollar app, think differently about the future, take risks and figure out if your company is disruptive or sustaining. No wonder the attendees’ heads were swimming with information as they headed to the post-conference drinks.
“It’s great to get some hands on advice,” says Iris van de Kieft, who runs Product Tank in Amsterdam. “I really enjoyed hearing more about marketing, how to get your product out there. I also really liked Tim Harford’s talk about how we need to share the risk and dare to think more radically.”
Many attendees remembered Financial Times columnist and bestselling author Tim Harford’s talk about going for the long shot. Harford used a couple of examples to explain how the safest products aren’t always the best.
“We’d not had an air war before the Second World War,” said Harford. “No one really knew what the technology was capable of or how it could be used. The perceived wisdom was that the one thing a plane could do was to bomb people, so the strategy was to build a lot of bombers and strike before the enemy strikes. But if you think outside the box and build a fighter plane – how would you do it?”
Several solutions were suggested, but even Winston Churchill stood up in parliament and condemned the idea of a single pilot plane with a gun pointing forward. Then a late proposal was sent in by a company run by a colourful independent MP. His prototype looked interesting and the government said: “Let’s build it – it will be a most interesting experiment.”
The final product became the Spitfire. The cost of the experiment was £10,000, the price of a London house at the time. It was a project that could easily have failed, instead the Spitfire helped win the war.
According to Harford, product managers and designers need to dare to take risks and they need to share the risk. A message that resonated with many in the audience.
“It’s interesting to hear that we should learn from failure, even invest in failure and that marginal gains might not always add up,” says Péter Gyongyosi a product manager from Hungary.
What Makes a Great Product? Simplicity + Beauty
Another speaker who made an impact was Aziz Musa, digital director at Pegasus, with his energetic talk accompanied by lots of rapid-fire slides of everything from the A-Team to Kate Moss to himself licking an iPhone.
Musa talked about ‘pure’ products – products that are both beautiful and simple. Simply put, products that we love and remember. According to him the most important question a product designer can ask themselves about their product is – is it beautiful? And the answer should never be ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ or ‘I don’t know’.
How to Build the Next Instagram
Another speaker offering advice to the audience was George Berkowski, former head of product at Hailo, who talked about how to build a billion-dollar app. According to him, the way things are going now, it wouldn’t be surprising if some of the companies in the room turned into the next Instagram.
But how do you build a billion-dollar app? Well, it’s not too difficult really. Berkowski says the only thing you have to do is to build something people will need, a fresh product or even a new product category. You have to validate the business model immediately, figure out how to scale your product and make the business model agile. Finally, remember that lean is key and that copying isn’t evil. Easy, right.
What to do With the Billions?
But then what? What are you going to do with all your billions, where will your company go next? That’s where Patrick Vlaskovits and Brant Cooper, authors of The Lean Entrepreneur, come in.
They talked about the difference between sustaining and disruptive companies (have a look at their slideshare) and the importance of understanding where your company is on the spectrum.
A disruptive company that is successful quickly becomes a sustaining company. And both need to think differently when it comes to everything from marketing to how to develop new products. You can have a look at a list of attributes for each category on the live blog feed from the event.
One of the speakers reminding us to take a step back and look at what we’re doing and what other people are doing was Kelly Goto, founder and principal of gotomeadia. She talked about ‘yoyu‘ – the space between things.
She says we need to start looking at and understanding ritual and how people move through their days.
” Companies that provide meaningful experiences will be the companies that survive, because there is so much going on right now. We need to go from pleasure addiction to meaning,” said Goto.
Another attendee enjoying the day was Jo Packer, a head designer working with Cambridge University, who liked the message of stepping back, which other speakers had picked up on as well.
“I thought Tim Harford was really good. He reminded us to always innovate and step back from a project and think about what we’re doing.”