Back in June 2014, I was looking for a new challenge, somewhere with space to create and lead and landed a role with a prelaunch social purpose tech startup.
There were just 3 other (pretty demotivated) staff. The product had been in development for over 2 years. Millions had already been spent (truly). Everyone seemed disenchanted. But I could see a way through and defined a new shared purpose and a vision. We rebranded and repositioned in the market.
It didn’t take long to realise the issue wasn’t a marketing problem but a product problem: no one wanted to use the platform, there was no product/market fit.
I started to turn things around by bringing a user focus to the product. Developing user persona’s and scoping needs from their perspective. Defining the problem. I kept reading, digesting multiple books on product development, user journey mapping, lean UX, and product management. We needed to pivot, fast.
We managed to secure a further 3 million in ongoing investment and mapped a path to success. I built the team up to 20 with 12 developers. I joined all the standups, sprint planning meetings, and retros sharing my insights from a customer perspective. At first I was only a participant – but over not much time I was leading them. I found my intuitive assumptions were often right. But still we continued to workshop and test with small mixed teams.
At first I got a lot of push back from the developers and producer. My input was disregarded. What could I know about tech? But I continued, leading with my user focused perspective. I didn’t need to know a heap about tech – because the real issue was understanding the problem from user perspective and ensuring the product delivered some value to the user’s world – otherwise why would they use it? We certainly would never be able to reach the level of virality required for sustained growth.
So we embraced customer development principles and I secured a partnership with a major university to collaborate with us piloting and testing the platform to ensure that it could at least meet their needs – they were keen – even delighted. The team also found this validating – somehow the platform had been in development for nearly 3 years and no one had ever even talked to a would be end user!
This was tough work – but the team started to really reach it’s stride. I couldn’t have been prouder of them. We took the prints of the walls in our boardroom and started mapping the user journey, rows of post-its, debating, questioning and testing each assumption. Sometimes just a few of us, sometimes all. This built awesome consensus and camraderie. It took a huge amount of energy to get it to here but it was worth it.
We secured international endorsement, and major support and interest from several large mutinationals. We were starting to see major wins in subscribers. Growth was happening. The Red Cross wanted to partner.
But the Founder was uncomfortable. He wanted it to be about his choices – and I disagreed believing we needed to meet customer demand if we were to scale.
And then one day after a lengthy discussion on future strategy the Founder said to me: “Rebecca, you know what, you are brilliant. I know if I got out of your way, you would smash this out of the park. But I am not going to let you.” True story. I started looking for my next opportunity the next day.
Walking away was hard. I was hurt. I had put a lot into that business – it had been a rollercoaster ride – and I had learnt more and found it to be more rewarding than any job I had ever done before.
And I had discovered a true passion for tech and digital product development it is all the things I love: collaborative, challenging, creative work.