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As a serial entrepreneur who has worked for start-ups and major corporations (including MapQuest, Reuters and Ogilvy Interactive), Jeannette McClennan has experienced first-hand the highs and lows of bringing new digital products to market. In this podcast, she breaks down the process of what it takes to deliver a successful product, while avoiding some of the headaches that can result from poor planning and execution.
Jeannette McClennan is the President and Founder of the McClennan Group and co-author of the book Innovators Anonymous: Seven Steps to Get Your Product off the Ground.
Greg Corombos: Hi, I’m Greg Corombos. Our guest this week on Expert Insights is Jeannette McClennan. She is the President and Founder of the McClennan Group. She’s a digital technology executive, and she is the co-author of the brand new book Innovators Anonymous: Seven Steps to Get Your Product off the Ground. Jeannette, thanks so much for being with us.
Jeannette McClennan: My pleasure.
Greg Corombos: It seems to me when you put together a book like this, it’s because you’ve learned a lot about this, you’ve experienced some of the frustrations earlier on in your career. So talk about the inspiration for really diving deep on this topic.
Jeannette McClennan: Sure. As a serial entrepreneur in start-ups as well as major corporations, I’ve definitely seen it all. I’ve seen teams struggle with getting the product out. I’ve seen teams fall apart—emotionally or in a sense of collaboration. And I’ve seen a lot of wasted dollars because some of the unknown, or in some ways disorganization, that seems to happen when you’re creating something from scratch, which is really understandable. So we decided to codify an approach that would take some of that sort of pain and lost dollars, poor-spent investment out of the process.
Greg Corombos: How much trial and error was there in this? How many lessons did you have to learn the hard way, and which ones came pretty easily?
Jeannette McClennan: Well, I’ll tell you, my first startup was actually MapQuest. There I was interfacing as the sales and marketing lead with a series of very talented developers, and in this case, specializing in cartography. And it just became everything from almost like a language translation to how to work collaboratively, and most importantly keeping everything customer-centric, and really making sure no matter what seat you’re in for the development of a new product, that everyone is thinking customer-centric. Those were some of the challenges I saw over the years.
Greg Corombos: Well customer-centric sounds like this is not just something for mass producers, this could work for businesses at any level.
Jeannette McClennan: Definitely, most definitely. This is so agnostic in that whether you’re the Fortune 1000 looking to develop a new line of business—I can’t think of an industry that isn’t dealing with digital disruption—or if you’re a pure start-up. These steps are so proven to take a lot of the grief and the disorganization and the wasted dollars out of the process.
Greg Corombos: We’re talking with Jeannette McClennan. She is the President and Founder of the McClennan Group, and she is the co-author of the brand new book Innovators Anonymous. What this book does it put together a kind of checklist for entrepreneurs to work in a way that brings together a unique streamlined process to produce and bring new digital products to market both rapidly and cost-effectively. So how do we do that?
Jeannette McClennan: Well by following the steps I would love to take you through.Greg Corombos: Go for it.
Jeannette McClennan: Some of the key points are work with paper, don’t spend a lot of money upfront, find ways to be really honest with yourself about the things you know and have going for you, as well as the things that are unknown territory. We actually outline that in our assess and observe stages in that we’ve used a metaphor for a scale. Thinking of it as a way to really evaluate, like a scale, the things you know, and the things you don’t know, about your category, your product, of course, your customer. And line them all up and play with this, if you think metaphorically with the scale, you could see how much risk you have in your ideation stage. You can do this with paper and pen, and you can do this with simple exercises to do that kind of evaluation.
We also encourage a lot of simple experiments, where you go out in the field, and maybe it’s as simple as observing what consumers are doing now and how they’re doing it, so you could understand how you might modify or change their current behavior, being able to really understand your competitors, being a student of what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and obviously finding ways for you to do it better. Those are all very simple things that often get ignored in the excitement of a new business opportunity.
As we move into imagine and create, we recommend a lot of prototyping work. And again, sometimes that prototyping can be on paper, it can be sketches, it can be emulating a behavior in a live environment. So all those kinds of tools, people seem to forget about them in the excitement of getting to the big dev development cycles.
So do your homework, do that observation, assess what your strengths [are], do a little bit of imagining what you see in the future, and create prototypes as cost-effectively as you can. You’d be amazed with those four steps how much you can enhance your opportunities and your ability to be successful.
From there, we talk a lot about working in agile, which is a very popular method these days of development, in that you work in what’s called sprints. It’s almost like two-week or three-week cycles—you get to decide the duration. And it allows you to see the product evolving, as opposed to waiting several months out when the market could change, your ideas will be evolving. Trust me, that will definitely happen. And you’ll be wondering, why did I spend those dollars that way.
We also believe quantification is super important. Laying out metrics. Being really honest with yourself about what you see as high, medium, low metrics. Ways you would measure success in how you see yourself coming to market and ultimately making money from your initiative. We find metrics often get put to the back of the pile because they’re not as fun, I think, as the idea of a developing product. I’ve yet to see what we call an MVP, which is your minimum viable product, ever be the product that you end up with. There will be twists and turns and changes and pivots along the way. You’ve got to be in a mindset to deal with those types of changes.
I was just reading that Facebook, huge Facebook, took seven years to get Facebook Messenger and Facebook Groups right, to get the type of adoption they wanted. Now hopefully, lots of startups can’t wait seven years, but my point is you’ve got to follow the customer, you’ve got to follow that end user, and keep perfecting what it is you want to bring to market.
The last one which is act, is very much about leadership. We often find that whether you’re a startup or a major corporation, everyone wants to put a happy face on their end product. And you’ll gain a lot more by being dead honest with your investors or your management team about what worked and what did not work, how you plan to innovate further, the idea of being strong enough and confident to decide whether you’re going to scrap a product or continue to innovate on it.
We call it the roller coaster so that roller-coaster ride is just what you would imagine in a theme park. There’s highs, there’s lows. There’s times you’re scared to death, and there’s times you’re ultra confident. When you think about that, it should give every entrepreneur the confidence to say there is going to be good parts to this journeys and parts I have to course correct. If you have that mindset, it can be a heck of a lot of fun.
Greg Corombos: Just going over the list again: assess, observe, imagine, create, quantify, learn and act. Two quick questions before we let you go, Jeannette. I would imagine for serial entrepreneurs, the imagining and the creating are the most exciting part[s] of this list, so how important is it folks that they don’t give the other ones too little attention?
Jeannette McClennan: You’re absolutely right. You have to balance yourself across all of these steps. And part of what the book is looking to accomplish is to make them all equally fun so that you can stretch your mind, imagination, creativity across even things like metrics. They too can be a lot of fun.
Greg Corombos: Outstanding. And from your own personal experience or folks you’ve consulted with, how much better is life when you’re following this checklist in terms of the roller coaster.
Jeannette McClennan: I’ll tell you, I’ve yet to see an initiative that wasn’t grateful for this process, because this process, it gives you something to hang on to through the ups and downs. And it has done a lot to mitigate risk and also to direct our spending at the right time and at the right level. We’ve seen nothing but happier clients. We can’t promise that the product will be a winner. No one has a crystal ball. But the idea of getting through it in a way that reduces the pain and grief, we’ve seen lots of success.
Greg Corombos: A lot of folks are going to be grateful for that. Jeannette, congratulations on your success and on your new book. We appreciate your time today.
Jeannette McClennan: Great, thank you.Greg Corombos: Jeannette McClennan is the President and Founder of the McClennan Group. She’s a digital technology executive, and she’s co-author of the brand new book Innovators Anonymous: Seven Steps to Get Your Product off the Ground.
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