Sounds like a good idea! But do your users care?

February 22, 2022
Jennifer Paul
Christopher Hugentobler
Christopher Hugentobler
Jennifer Paul
Previously the Product and Design Lead at Bowtie Insurance, Christopher is relentlessly curious about defining problems and building solutions for them. He has worked across APAC and co-founded several ventures.

We live in a culture where we celebrate innovation and chase after “newness.” Ask any product manager, there is no shortage of ideas for what to do next. Then, why do 95% of new products fail? We had the opportunity to chat with Christopher Hugentobler, a passionate product leader, to learn 3 questions he challenges himself when building and improving products that will benefit the business and its customers.

If everything’s important, nothing is

While startups have advantages over incumbents to develop quicker and adapt faster because there are fewer technical debts, legacy features, or compatibility issues, this agility can sometimes blindfold startups and cause them to run around like headless chickens. By failing to focus on practical and purposeful actions, startups can get lost in a storm of chatter.

Prioritization of product opportunities is essential so that teams can focus on building and refining what really matters! We have all been there, brainstorming new ideas, finding opportunities for improvement, collecting consumer feedback, and feeling content with a wealth of promising ideas. Christopher shares three questions to ask yourself when navigating the course of product prioritization.

Prioritization of product opportunities is essential so that teams can focus on building and refining what really matters!

Where do we suck? Says who?

The best way to build a great product is to focus on what matters! Customers purchase a product because of its ability to solve their problems. It’s bad news if the product is inadequate at fulfilling expectations. It’s especially important to listen to your early adopters to ensure that key features don’t fall short on their promises. 

Christopher joined Snapask in 2016 as one of its earliest employees, tasked with building the product. Snapask is an on-demand tutoring app that believes the best learning experience is to receive guidance instantly and personally. Its innovative technology enables students to snap a photo of any question and match them with a tutor within 15 seconds!

Early on, like all startup products, there were various issues. Eager users reported problems like the complex sign-up process, pairing with an incorrect tutor, and inconsistent tutor quality. Despite a list of feedback, Snapask decided to prioritize tasks foundational to its unique value proposition - great tutor at great speed. Therefore, it was imperative to place urgency to strengthen the algorithm to ensure proper student-tutor match and develop a robust vetting system for tutors. Only then could Snapask fulfill its vision of offering the best learning experience.

Image Source: Tech Crunch
Important features that fail to deliver its promise will disappoint early adopters, while secondary features that are frustrating will be forgiven.

Early adopters take action because they believe in a product’s vision. This is why they will be the most critical when giving feedback. By asking, “where do we suck, says who?” it allows you to sort through feedback and priortize issues that are valuable to growth. Important features that fail to deliver its promise will disappoint early adopters, while secondary features that are frustrating will be forgiven. Prioritizing what matters, teams can dedicate more time and resources to features demanding improvement, creating opportunities to enhance the user experience, increase satisfaction, boost retention, and attract newcomers.

Is the effort worth it?

The bugs that need to be fixed will compete with features that must be finished. The features existing customers wish for will fight with the ones potential customers need. When facing a long list of demands, asking yourself, “is the effort worth it?” will empower you to confidently prioritize and allocate resources to those products that will grow the business.

Snapask’s unique value of tutoring on-demand was attractive enough to acquire digitally-savvy and self-motivated students. However, Christopher knew that to achieve mass adoption, Snapask would have to create other products that are more than beneficial for students but, more importantly, appealing to parents - the real decision-makers! 

Snapask invested heavily in developing a range of educational products such as interactive lessons, courses for specific exams, and learning tools to satisfy the demands for a personalized learning experience and a comprehensive one-stop learning solution. The process was anything but a walk in the park. It was worth the time and resources because the transformative expansion established Snapask as an education total solution provider and ultimately forged a new subscription business model.

While some product improvements will increase benefits and secure existing customers, other product decisions will introduce new values and seduce new customers.
Image Source: Snapask

Product prioritization is built out of hard decisions. While some product improvements will increase benefits and secure existing customers, other product decisions will introduce new values and seduce new customers. Being in tune with one’s adoption cycle will enable startups to distinguish what course of action will generate the most meaningful impact and strategize a product roadmap worthy of everyone’s time and resources. 

What’s the point of this?

No one enjoys working on products as if they’re robots in a factory, cranking out features and pushing them down the line without knowing the impact. Asking “what’s the point of it?” enables one to define the purpose the products bring to the business and the outcomes they drive for customers. Priorities can then be crafted so teams align to pursue products with desired outcomes.

Christopher joined Bowtie Life Insurance in early 2020 to lead product management and design. Bowtie first launched  in December 2018 after receiving one of the first virtual insurance licenses in Hong Kong. With the vision to offer transparently priced and zero-commission insurance products, Bowtie harnesses revolutionary technology to boost operational efficiencies and reduce operating costs.  

Image Source: Bowtie

To create customer-centric products, the team had to prioritize ideas based on whether they could bring customers insurance-related benefits directly. Frequently requested ideas like building a native app and introducing facial recognition for login were deprioritized for features that enhanced how customers experience virtual insurance. 

However, in due time, the insurance regulator in Hong Kong outlined more robust KYC guidelines to be implemented by insurance providers. With this new compliance directive, the priority of facial recognition was revisited. Bowtie now had the reason and drive to design a facial recognition features that not only meets compliance goals but integrates, without disturbance, seamlessly into the current sign-in process.

One can get vortexed into the latest trend or influenced by what competitors are doing if not mindful. Taking the time to ask “what’s the point?” allows one to identify the purpose of the action and prioritize those with meaning to ensure the outcome can be of real value.

With ambition and agility, startups can sometimes develop a fixation with constantly shipping features, without setting actual outcomes that benefit customers and businesses.

With ambition and agility, startups can sometimes develop a fixation with constantly shipping features, without setting actual outcomes that benefit customers and businesses. It is not being cynical, but critical to take a moment and ask oneself the three questions above - “where do we suck, says who?” “is the effort worth it?” and “what’s the point of this?” to evaluate the tasks on hand and prioritize strategically. This will empower teams with a sharper focus and stronger alignment towards building and refining products that matter!



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