I spend 15 minutes every morning peering into the following five real-time channels to hear from users in their own words what they like, don’t like, want, hate, and love about our products.
Twitter has become a common place for users to express their excitement or frustration for whatever new products they are trying. I have a saved keyword search for our product that I check daily to hear what’s resonating most with members, what frustrates them, as well as what new features they’d like us to add to the product.
We also have a feedback tab prominently placed on every page of our product that enables users in one-click to leave us feedback on their experience while right in the product. This lends itself well to capturing detailed usability issues that users experience while using the product. We often hear about features that are not discoverable, are not intuitive to use, as well as additional feature enhancements that would make their primary scenarios even easier to accomplish.
Our customer support team also provides a regular report that summarizes the top issues facing users as well as the verbatim questions that they have sent in to the support team. I peruse these to understand what we can do in the product to significantly reduce the volume of support requests by solving the underlying challenges in the product itself.
App Store Reviews
For mobile products, app store reviews provide direct feedback from users on what’s working and what’s not. A portion of each mobile release’s roadmap comes directly from addressing challenges users express in the app store reviews.
Crash and Exception Reporting
Quality is critical to a user’s experience and it’s important to automate reporting crashes and exceptions so they can be diagnosed and addressed. We use Sentry for our web app and Crittercism for our mobile app to do just that. We regularly look at new issues and appropriately prioritize fixing them based on frequency of occurrence.
I hope this gives you a sense of how you can spend just a few minutes every day gaining insight into the mind’s of your users.
It's customary in the design world to evaluate a designer's existing portfolio as part of the interview process to get a better understanding of their work and the process they leverage to develop their designs.
I find it equally valuable to evaluate a product manager's existing portfolio of products as part of a product management interview. When evaluating a product manager's portfolio, I'm looking to assess how successfully the product manager has owned the vision, design, and execution of their product and how that exhibits itself in the success of the product.
Here are the five key elements I am evaluating when reviewing a specific product in a product manager's portfolio.
1. Problem being solved
The first aspect I evaluate is whether the product manager can clearly and succinctly articulate the problem that their product is solving. Owning the vision of the product involves deeply understanding the underlying problem that you are solving for the user as well as being a top notch evangelist for the importance of that problem. I look to make sure the product manager can separate the problem from their specific product's solution to ensure they can fairly evaluate alternative solutions to the same problem as they come across them.
2. Unique solution
I then delve into the specifics of how their product uniquely solves the problem they have articulated. I assess whether the product does in fact provide a compelling solution, how it compares to alternative solutions in the market, and whether it provides enough of a differentiated benefit to compel users to switch.
3. Target audience
To ensure the product is appropriately focused, I also evaluate the product manager's articulation of the target audience for the product. While they may provide a total addressable market, I ensure that their initial iterations of the product are much more focused on an achievable audience demographic.
4. Product design
When reviewing the actual product design, I try to understand how the design decisions they have made reinforce each of the above aspects of their vision to ensure their is coherence in how they have taken their vision and boiled it into the specific product's design. Ensuring there is consistency in their design choices is also an important criteria.
The most important aspect of a product manager's role is successful execution on the product vision and design. To evaluate this, I look to understand the traction of the product. How successfully did they acquire users? How well did they engage those users? And how did they ultimately monetize those users? Performance along these KPIs is the ultimate measure of success for a product and a product manager should be able to easily articulate the meaningful movement they were able to make across these dimensions.
Last week we announced the launch of LinkedIn Contacts, a smarter way to stay in touch with your most important relationships, based on the acquisition of Ada and I’s startup Connected by LinkedIn.
The launch received positive feedback not only for being a better way to manage your professional relationships, but equally for being a successful acquisition story.
I received the following note from a fellow entrepreneur and many like it: “Congrats on the launch of LinkedIn Contacts! It's awesome that you got acquired and got a chance to bring your vision to a huge audience. That seems to be too rare with acquisitions these days.”
The course of this acquisition could have followed many others in which the acquired product is shut down and the team moves on to support the acquirer’s existing core products.
But instead the Connected acquisition is a story of deeply integrating the Connected code base, product, and vision into LinkedIn. It’s a story of growing from just Ada and I to a team of passionate designers, engineers, web developers, testers, data scientists, marketers, and more. And ultimately a story of taking our ambition to a scale we could not have easily achieved on our own.
I thought I’d share a few lessons on why I think we avoided the fate of many acquired startups.
Full executive sponsorship
While executive sponsorship is required for any meaningful acquisition, what set us apart was full executive sponsorship throughout the leadership team.
The Connected acquisition became part of the Core team at LinkedIn, led by Elliot Shmukler, who was the biggest proponent of the acquisition. But equally excited and supportive of the acquisition was LinkedIn’s head of product Deep Nishar, CEO Jeff Weiner, and even the original founder Reid Hoffman. Having their support on the vision and belief in the team’s ability to execute against it right from the start was critical in setting up the acquisition for success.
We then continued to maintain their sponsorship through a series of periodic internal milestones to continually validate their belief that we would be able to pull off our goals.
Deeply embedding into the company culture
While some acquired startups try their best to maintain their startup’s unique culture, we took the opposite approach of deeply embedding ourselves into LinkedIn’s. We knew that we didn’t want Connected to be simply a point product on LinkedIn, but instead woven deeply throughout LinkedIn. To achieve this we knew we would have to win over the product, design, and engineering leaders of the various products we wanted to integrate. And this wouldn’t have been possible without embracing the cultural norms, processes, and personality of LinkedIn.
You can see our success in doing so as Connected is embedded right onto LinkedIn’s pillar product - Profile. We’ve added a brand new Relationship module that enables you to remember the details that matter about your most important relationships right on their profile.
Focusing on core innovation
Many acquirers view acquisitions as an opportunity to extend beyond their core value propositions by acquiring a company that is already showing some traction in the value proposition they are seeking to add to their product. While it’s certainly a legitimate rationale, it can be a difficult strategy to successfully execute on.
The easiest acquisitions to integrate are those that double down on an existing value proposition that the acquirer already has. And that’s exactly what the Connected acquisition did for LinkedIn. LinkedIn is already the #1 destination for professional networking and many folks already consider it the place they keep their professional contacts. So when we redesigned the entire contacts experience based on Connected’s effortless contact management tools, it came as a welcome addition for our existing members.