Product Hero is our bi-weekly series to highlight outstanding members of the product management community. These industry leaders share tips on processes, team building, how to be a better product manager, and who they are outside of their careers. This week our product heroes are Jeremy Bieger and Jeremy Dalnes, Co-Founders of Pulse Insights.
C. Todd: Today I’m joined by two product heroes: Jeremy Bieger and Jeremy Dalnes, co-founders of Pulse Insights. Thank you for joining us! Can you start by telling us about yourselves?
Jeremy B.: I’m one of the co-founders of Pulse Insights. I grew up in product, largely at American Express and then left to create a company called Uber Tags. I was the CEO, but what I loved doing most was being at the center of the company in product.
I sold Uber Tags to a company called X+1, which was shortly thereafter sold to a company called Rocket Fuel. I led a product team there and also continued to run the Uber Tags business.
Pulse Insights was started back when Uber Tags was still alive, based on the idea that companies were trying to listen to their customers better. Some of the listening tools that are out there are not that great. We tried to take a different approach to solving the same problem, to help listen to customers and make better decisions based on customer feedback.
Jeremy D.: I’ve spent most of the last 19 years on the client side, doing a variety of digital strategy roles at Fortune 500s as well as startups. My last role before founding Pulse Insights was managing some pretty large digital divisions, for example at Johnson and Johnson.
I spent a lot of time trying to create value for customers, prospects, constituencies, and more. I’ve been really challenged with bringing the voice of people who matter the most, customers and prospects, into our strategic thinking.
C. Todd: How did one of you spot the gap in the market to ultimately create Pulse Insights?
Jeremy D.: It was really through a conversation with Jeremy B. We were having lunch and he asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could easily get customer feedback in context, in the user experience without going to some wacky survey that asks you 40 questions that don’t matter?” It was ultimately a very simple idea, but has turned out to be extremely powerful in terms of the types of insights and the speed at which those insights can be generated.
C. Todd: Can you explain in more detail what Pulse Insights does?
Jeremy D.: Pulse Insights delivers surveys as content. Instead of the experience that many people are familiar with that says, “Hey, would you spend 10 minutes and tell us what you think about our website?” Then you’re taken off that site to a new site to answer 10 to 40 questions about your experience.
We ask questions in the moment, embedded within the experience. We enable our clients to ask you contextually relevant questions about you, the site experience, or the content in that moment.
You can answer the survey question, you can ignore it, or you can close it. It’s essentially the same cognitive load for all of those things. We encourage our clients to stay focused on the things that matter. That enables us to capture a tremendous amount of valuable data in a very short period of time.
C. Todd: How do you use data to make good product and design decisions for what’s new and next?
Jeremy D.: We see our platform as a new layer of the marketing stack for websites and products. Everybody does web analytics. Everybody does A/B testing. Everybody does session replay. We layer in the customer context: Who are you? What’s most important to you about a given experience? These types of visitor preferences or feelings are not something that show up in your analytics. If you know how your customers feel and then correlate that data with how they behave, all of a sudden your big data becomes much more actionable.
C. Todd: How do you use customer feedback to drive your product?
Jeremy D.: We have some internal metrics that we use like a scorecard for every client. We review that internal scorecard once a month. At the end of each quarter, we evaluate our performance given what stage of the engagement the client is in against a rubric. If it’s a new client, we focus on implementation and quality assurance performance.
We also make sense of the data to create some actionable next steps from the data for clients. In order to do that, I’m on site with clients as much as two to three times a month. We become an extension of their team. By doing that we can get early, informal feedback on potential upcoming features. Also, we can measure performance in terms of our renewals. If we’re doing well, our renewal rate is pretty high, which thankfully it is.
C. Todd: What’s the process for building product at Pulse Insights?
Jeremy B.: As Jeremy D. mentioned, one of the largest benefits about being enterprise B2B is having direct relationships with each of our users. A lot of B2C companies need to have all kinds of techniques to really understand what their users need, in our case, it’s based off conversations. It’s like a built-in focus group, because we’re talking to our base of clients all the time. Then when we launch, we get feedback on whether they want it or not.
In my view of the world, something like 70% of success is providing value to the people that are paying you. In other words, if they need something, you service them well and you give them features they need. Of course you take a step back and think how other clients will also benefit. It’s the job of product to internalize client needs, not just what they’re exactly asking for, but the root of their problem. In B2B, listening to customers and building in that feedback is tremendously valuable in creating product.
C. Todd: You mentioned a couple things like agile process, and things along those lines. How does your team work together? What’s a week like at Pulse Insights? How do you guys build and release products?
Jeremy B.: All of us coming from bigger companies, we take the best of both the large and small company worlds. We do an annual planning process, so we have an annual roadmap. There’s no shortage of good ideas, and we are bad with constraint, but if we do these things, we’re going to get outside leverage. This is what’s going to help differentiate us further and help us win in this space. We focus at the theme level, and we debate that quite a bit, and we really try to narrow it down to 2 or 3 themes for the whole year. We revisit that quite a bit.
In terms of more tactical planning, we plan a month out. Basically, we’re developing or launching the current month’s items, and we don’t wait for the month to release it, we release continuously, but we kind of plan one month at a time. While we’re delivering this month, we’re planning for the next month. Usually we have all the specs and all that stuff done for a month or two ahead. We’re putting the final touches on the subsequent month as we’re delivering the current month.
Once a quarter we go back and adjust the annual plan. We have an annual, quarterly, and monthly cadence, but in terms of releasing, we release several times a week.
C. Todd: How do you help define those 2 or 3 annual themes?
Jeremy B.: In my mind, there’s no shortage of products in the world. The thing that makes a product worthwhile is if you have a different point of view that solves the same need differently or a different need that is not quite addressed with existing products. To me, the differentiation that people will buy into is the key thing you’re searching for. When you’re thinking about all the things you want to do, it seems like we often have a challenge.
Do we go deeper and fill out, or polish the features and functionality that we currently have to make it even better, or do we instead push in the new direction, that will further create our own unique place in this space? The thing is, you can’t do only one or the other, or it’s hard, I shouldn’t say you can’t. We tend to do kind of 2 parts, we need to add the polish because we’re working with enterprises. You have to have the polish that they would expect. You have to fulfill that, you can’t leave half baked features that are undocumented and that don’t work.
Yet, if you only do that, then you’re not really carving out your space and why you exist. I don’t know if there’s an actual ratio, but at least this year, it seems like it’s about one third truly differentiating features that competitors aren’t even thinking about, or don’t have, or it’s just not really in their wheelhouse, and then one third is building out the nuts and bolts of what companies expect.
C. Todd: What’s missing in the conversation about product and design?
Jeremy B.: I guess that a product isn’t just the product, right? The line between the company and a product at a tech company, for instance, is very thin. Let’s say that you have an analytic software, but 80% of clients that use it have issues during implementation. A narrow view of that would be, well the product is good, but there’s implementation issues.
My view is each piece of the product is important to providing value to the customer. If the customer has difficulty with implementation, then it can detract from the overall product’s value.
If you have a sales CRM that salespeople don’t use, but it’s beautifully designed, works, and has all the features you need, is it a good product? I’d say maybe not, because people aren’t using it. The whole point of the product is to change the process and you have to evaluate the product’s value with a broader lens.
Jeremy D.: This is a lesson I learned not necessarily at Pulse Insights, but at a startup I was at before I was at J and J. It was this company called ZEO.
I remember we went to Constant Contact before Constant Contact was super big. We wanted to do this really intense email campaign with all of these if/then statements. During our meeting, an executive and advisor at the company looked at us and said, “Guys, just use Outlook to start with. Why are you being so complicated?”
As applied to product, that lesson was important to us at Pulse. Do one small thing and do it extremely well. Make that one thing your core and build onto that. You don’t have to invest the dollars to create a huge vision on day one.
C. Todd: Given you both have a lot of experience in a startup type environment as well as a large enterprise environment, what are some of the trends you’ve noticed in the last year, and where do you think product and design are going to start moving in 2017 and beyond?
Jeremy B.: The notion of UI is evolving. Before ‘product manager’ was a more prominent title, engineers built UIs to do operations on databases. You create the data model, and there was no focus put on the user experience. Then, companies like Apple came along and put a strong focus on thinking about the user. By thinking of how the user flows through an application, they could make experiences a lot better.
It’s still this notion of accessing and completing a task with some user interface. People put up with the idea that you have to go into a user interface to do something.
It’s more of a trade off users make as opposed to something they want to do. The thing they’re actually buying is the output of the software. UI isn’t necessarily going away or anything like that, but incrementally, automation will emerge to complete more tasks and the UI component becomes less and less important.
For Pulse Insights, for example, do we care if people would rather come into our UI to look at reports, versus e-mailing it to them? No. Either way, they get the information. In some ways, that’s design, right? We’re looking to design the best way possible for customers to get the information they really need.
Jeremy D.: Relative to our business, the things that I get curious about are these things with zero UX, the whole Siri model where you ask for something verbally and it shows up. How do we provide the customer context layer in a world with zero UX?
That to me is a very interesting trend. I don’t know how long it’s going to take before it’s reliable. I’ve been surprised at how good it has gotten in the time that it’s elapsed since I first started using Siri. That one to me is really fascinating.
C. Todd: What advice would you offer to someone who wants to enter the product and design space?
Jeremy B.: Sure. I view product as the ultimate leadership role. It’s an amazing place to be in, especially if you ever have aspirations to run a company. To get into it, because of that, it requires some broad thinking, and makes it somewhat hard for somebody that’s relatively junior to get into. I guess what I would say is that you don’t have to get into it on step 1. I’ve hired people that are in roles that support product, and they are often some of the best product managers, because they grew up pulling the levers, and they understand how things work. They have a different perspective.
If somebody were interested in getting into product, what I would recommend is go into a role that supports product, like a product operations role, or a product marketing role, to see how product managers make decisions and run a team and run the development process while actually pulling some levers. Then, on step 2, get into a product role. If you can get into a product role on step 1, that’s great, but it might be kind of hard, because there’s not that many of them, and it tends to be a more senior type role.
Jeremy D.: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Some of the real world lessons of launching a company and your own product, especially if you’re working on enterprise, revolve around the life cycle of these deals, the time it takes to get signed and get paid could be months and months and months. There’s a lot to be said to just shipping something that’s good enough. Once you get going, starting to build additional features or functionality as needed. Get out there early, get the feedback.
Even before that, if you’re really starting from scratch, find your beta customers. They shouldn’t be the big companies because often the big companies are scared of doing something with some company they’ve never heard of before. There’s all of the security requirements, etc. Big enterprise has a lot of checks and balances before you can work with them. Start smaller than that.
We didn’t start with clients at Fortune 500 companies and now we primarily play in that realm. We started with small sites that are operated by our friends and former colleagues that are doing their own entrepreneurial thing. That’s where you get the proof that the architecture works, all of the pipes function as you think that they do. You can work out the kinks and then you have a real world example that you can point to to do that first real sale.
C. Todd: Fantastic, thank you both for joining me today and being our product heroes!