ProductCamp Austin, August 2009

“Ask customers ‘What is the stupidest thing you’ll have to do today?'”

I attended an un-conference today, the ProductCamp for marketing and product management held at McCombs School of Business on the UT campus in Austin, Texas.

Over 480 people signed up to attend, and over 300 were in attendance (on a Saturday). I couldn’t possibly convey all of the information that came out of the discussions, and only captured segments of the sessions I attended. These are some of the ideas that captured my attention. Hope they are helpful to you.

Introductory Comments:

A great discussion, of which I only picked up segments because I was messing around with some annoying computer issues which I finally resolved. One idea that stood out for me:

For product innovation research, talk to the people who haven’t bought your product. They will have more insight regarding the barriers you have to overcome.

Session One: Down and Dirty Marketing Strategies to Prove or Disprove Your Ideas.

Jonas Lamis, presenter, is from Tech Ranch Austin:

He began by drawing on the model of the old world farming communities, in which the community relied on the hard work and contribution of each individual. The next jobs we have will trend toward that model. The massive corporate structures will give way to smaller groups of people working on niche endeavors. The ability to access knowledge, without cost, is driving that trend.

There are three ways to get paid:

  • Get paid for what you do (Advertising)
  • Get paid for what you know (Thought leadership)
  • Get paid for who you are (Social Awareness)

Test your ideas with Google and Facebook Advertising.

Case History: A company created a couple of websites with brief description of their product, and no one clicked on it. The product manager then went back to Google and looked at what keywords people were using to search for that type of product or service. What are they already looking for?

The manager then put $5 a day into Google Adwords on a few key words, and measured the response. He was able to figure out what people would click on, and what they would not click on, saving tens of thousands of dollars, and it took only a day. The company was then able to change the “pitch” to fit what people were actually searching for.

Someone in the session suggested that this is a discovery tool, not for statistically-sound analysis.

Another tool for testing is Facebook. Pricing and analytics is almost identical to Google. It costs virtually nothing to try, a couple of dollars per day.

Google has some tools for allowing testing of different messages.

How to get followed:

  • Talk about what’s happening in the industry
  • Profiles and successes
  • Talking up other ideas
  • Tricks and tips
  • Predictions for the future
  • “We’ve got News” posts
  • Talk about everything except yourself

Session Two: Roadmaps, The Bridget Between Strategy and Tactics

Byron Workman is the presenter.

(I’m a brand guy, not a product manager, but this discussion is of interest to me because of our efforts at McCombs to launch a new business information community that draws on the expertise of the university. I’m looking for ways to better manage our development process.)

Byron kicked off with a group discussion.

What is the value of a roadmapping effort?

  • Alignment of the tactical efforts
  • Learn about your own current state of business (assessment)
  • Increase customer confidence
  • Forces you to think beyond the current release
  • Internal communication and adoption/socialization
  • A rolling 3-year plan (depends on your development speed)
  • A written plan (danger is that it will be interpreted too literally)

Roadmapping Issues

  • The visual model (what is it?)
  • Who owns the road map?
  • What is the purpose?
  • Using the roadmap as a sales tool (finding it attached to a sales contract)
  • Complexity of multi-product roadmap
  • Overthinking or underthinking
  • People who make the roadmap don’t always have strategic intent (or haven’t been given the strategy)

One way to get strategic intent into the roadmapping process is to identify key criteria (such as cost reduction) that do track to the strategy.

Case Study Discussion from Bazaarvoice Project: What are the major steps of roadmapping?

  • Identify strategic variables
  • Get buy-in and feedback from everyone (engineering, design, marketing, etc.) at each step of the process (not just at the end)
  • Audit of product capabilities, needs, features (ranking them)
  • Roadmap does not require a lot of detail and formality in the beginning
  • Beginning to hone down the data and prioritize features
  • Scheduling
  • Roadmap is internally published and revised continually

Byron suggests beginning with a Charter of the roadmapping process. What is the focus? What is the end value? Who will read this? It gets everyone on the same page and resolves issues down the line. Should capture the strategic intent of the company.

The firm must identify the development resources before slotting goals on the timeline.

Resolve concerns and have milestones that everyone can feel good about. This has to be done more than once in the process. Plot the milestones, and then resolve concerns again about timing.

Session Three: How to Build Online Community

Presenter is Matt Genovese from door64

If you’re going to start a community it should be to solve a problem.

What can go wrong when starting an online community:

  • Too much assuming, too little research or reflection
  • Too many website features too soon
  • Assuming everyone grasps the vision
  • Vision not focused
  • Building a website, not a community

As he began his community Matt ended up begging people to post content. He had created the venue, but didn’t have a clear vision of what he wanted to happen. “In the end, I would loathe going to my own site.”

In the end, what turned things around?

It began with developing a process. Like a flywheel, it takes a while to get momentum worked up, but then it keeps going on its own for a while. To build an online community, expect slow beginnings, it takes incremental effort.

The attractor is the value offered to those who participate. The value can’t just be the chance to get together. You have to answer the question, what is the reason to participate?

For door64 the producers of content became recruiters. The consumers became job hunters. At that point the community had value.

Social Momentum: p=mv

m=mass of member base

v=amount of interaction

As more people get involved that becomes the attractor for others.

Accelerators to participation:

  • Event calendar
  • Personal welcome for new members…really personal, not an “admin” account
  • Weekly newsletter
  • Face-to-face events–every time I put on a site happy hour the numbers of members went up

Matt was most excited about the idea of getting people to interact online, and that was the LAST thing to happen. They first got involved in other things, events, etc.

To continue the process of adding value, it was important to focus the member base. Not to reject others from participating, but to focus on a set of specific targets. Kept those specific targets in mind. Didn’t go after quantity, but quality.

(As an editorial note, this previous point is very useful to me as we try to figure out the model for our business information community that we are launching at McCombs. I’m drawn to the idea of beginning with a very specific target audience. We’ve been thinking about how to attract a LARGE audience, but I am very excited about the idea of developing something that is much more targeted and useful for specific people.)

Communication: Evangelize

Communicating through e-mail was very difficult. Do face-to-face whenever possible. Hone the message through conversation. Get “converts” involved in the evangelizing process.

Send welcome e-mails to all new members. Give the vision, features, and what to do next. Make it personal in every way.

Newsletters were sent as reminds. Invitations to return, and give them items to forward to others. The activity always spikes after every newsletter.

Content: Moving from me to user generated content (UGC)

In the beginning Matt seeded much of the content. Now, there is no seeding required. The community posts events, for example.

Matt incentivizes members to value, through events, happy hours, etc.

Technology: CMS

Picked a new content management system (used Drupal).

  • Solid code base and active development
  • Plethora of add-on modules
  • Well thought-out and extensible data model increases usefulness of modules
  • Drupal-specific developers are readily available
  • Disadvantage: a bit of a learning curve, being left behind in versions (upgrade so quickly)

Thanks Matt for some great insights! I’m going to have a hard time taking notes on the next session because I’m still thinking about what you had to say.

His blog is at

Session Four: Voice of the Customer

Steven Haines, presenter.

We think we understand needs, but customers are not “types.”

“Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship.” Peter Drucker.

Do you think of yourself as an investment manager, because you are managing a major investment of your company (new product innovation).

What does innovation mean to you?

  • Balance between market driven and design-driven decision-making
  • Adding value
  • Solving problems
  • Creative solution
  • Should drive profits
  • Gives competitive advantage
  • Creates demand that did not previously exist
  • Newer, better, faster, cheaper
  • Targeted to specific people
  • Involves style, packaging, eco-system, cool, user-interface
  • Fits a specific window of opportunity
  • Changes the distribution model
  • Combination of people, process and culture

Example: Starbucks

They take learning journeys. Product development and other cross-company teams take “inspiration” field trips to view customers to identify trends.

Innovation can sometimes just be operational improvements.

Ask customers “What is the stupidest thing you’ll have to do today.” (One participant said that when he asked that question of a customers and the answer was “use your product.” Ouch! But, it turned out to be one of the most informative visits.)

Innovation—-Make a Lot of Money—-Innovate

Just because you say you are innovative doesn’t mean you are innovative.

Don’t cut costs by eliminating travel budget, while eliminating the opportunity to listen to customers.

Why innovation seems to be a challenge: last on the list, there is no recognition or reward system for new ideas.

Be willing to cannibalize your own market, because if you don’t someone else will.

Discovery activities:

  • Field visits
  • Listen to call center tapes
  • Reverse engineer competitor products
  • Exploring university and other patents and IP
  • Talking to employees and other cross-functional team members
  • Interviewing executives
  • Reviewing business metrics/KPIs


  • Brainstorming
  • Creative problem solving sessions
  • Experimenting
  • Exploring
  • Prototyping
  • Designing

Looking, hearing, listening…raising your sensitivity to customers so that you can do a better job at hearing the customer’s voice.

Session Five: Success Factors in Applying Social Media

Pat Scherer, presenter. @pscherer

Why engage in social media?

  • The relationship and the presence
  • Dissemination of ideas and thought leadership
  • Awareness, to get in the conversations about your company

Concerns about social media?

  • How to monetize, payback, ROI
  • Lack of control, too much transparency
  • Lack of time, resource issues
  • Lack of understanding of the model: bottom-up rather than top-down
  • Negative perceptions of social media within organizational leadership (it’s for kids, stay-at-home moms, etc.)

Case Study Discussion:

At Emerson: social media coordinator began slowly, started to get visibility with reporters, trade journals, more recognition within the company. Don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter at my desk, but when I’m waiting for the elevator, at home after work, etc. Twitter gives an opportunity to reconnect with people, and exchange ideas with people that normally I wouldn’t be able to meet.

At Scott & White Health Plans: created new website, launched in January. Converted newsletters into blog articles, and then sent electronic newsletters out to draw readers back to the site. Searched key words on Twitter and discovered that there were some community concerns that were being discussed on Twitter (which they did not know). Set up a TweetBeep (correct?) monitoring system to search for relevant discussions.

At JetBlue: in the beginning the person who was Tweeting for JetBlue was not identified by name. That has changed. Based on the Dell model, JetBlue has now started a sales channel targeted specifically to Twitter. That is the only channel for these “fire sale” offers.

Social media takes time, the desire to write, commitment and a certain personality. Must match the social media channel with both the client and the person who will be handling the social media.

Must build both a pattern and trust.

Question from attendee: How does Facebook work for B2B applications?

On the negative, a lot of people associate Facebook with personal use. In B2B a Facebook page might be part of the communication options, along with e-mail, articles, etc. Facebook might accelerate some of the information flow.


10 thoughts on “ProductCamp Austin, August 2009”

  1. Thanks for attending my session and posting the great set of notes…in addition to retweeting, may I add the notes you took of my session with other attendee’s notes to post to the Product Camp site?


  2. Hi David — I appreciate your thoughts for the community building session. Your notes help me to realize what points came across. I enjoyed meeting you after the session, and perhaps we can follow up so I can learn more about your efforts at McCombs.

    1. I would like to have you share your experiences with my development team for our new online community. I’ll be in touch soon.

  3. Great Notes! I started a discussion in the LinkedIn Group ProductCamp Austin to keep conversation going on roadmapping. I added your notes to get things going. Thanks Again.

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