Crossing the ‘product’ chasm or how to prioritise your product work to widen your audience
First product releases are always exciting; being the result of months of idea generation, product/market fit tests, prototypes, and betas. I remember very well when the first public version of Dashlane was released almost six years ago. At that time, we had a couple thousand beta users, and we knew little about them except for the very useful feedback they provided about our product.
As we grew, we gained knowledge about what types of users were likely to be more active and what types were more likely to churn. In order to optimize our acquisition, we targeted high performing users and searched for distribution channels that would enable us to reach them. Quickly enough though, we saw that our segmentation limited our growth rate and realized there was no way we could be successful by only focusing on our more successful users. This is something you will likely experience sooner or later in your product development. Whether or not you can adapt may determine the entire future of your company. When this happens, you need to ask yourself whether you have the right value proposition and whether your product delivers this value well.
As a password manager, Dashlane tackles one of the most shared pains on the internet — who has never been frustrated by a “your username or password is incorrect” message? Based on our market research, our value proposition resonated well with all types of users. So the issue was more on the product-side. Our product was only successful for people who joined with a high intent; people who experienced the pain of passwords in their everyday lives and were ready to exert some effort to solve it. If I look back at what we have done in the last few years, I think that most of it was around improving our product to widen our audience so we could grow faster.
Today, we just released the 5th version of Dashlane and have once again opened Dashlane to a broader crowd, so it feels like the right time to share feedback on how we improved our product.
As very well described by Kathie Sierra (https://vimeo.com/131407754), every detail in your product experience counts. Depending on the original intent of your users, you might get away with a few hurdles, but remember that every complicated or unclear step makes you lose users, especially if your product is free to start with. Refining your onboarding and identifying where and why your users churn is probably where you should start looking. For delivering instant benefit and overall quality, this is the first make-it-or-break-it experience in your product and the easiest to test. Whatever change you make to the first minutes (or seconds) of your onboarding, every user will experience (at least those that are part of the test), so you can maximize the speed of the reading.
We see many users stopping their experience at the app installation phase. They download the app but either don’t install it or interact with it. Perhaps users with less technology experience miss how to install the downloaded software, or maybe people get interrupted and just forget about the install. But clearly, these types of users would benefit from using Dashlane if it were simple and fast enough. For that reason, Dashlane 5 opens up something totally new for us: enabling people to use Dashlane with only a browser extension and without having to install an app. This is a major change in our architecture but one we believe can drastically change our funnel as Dashlane installation will just require one click.
As your business grows and as technology platforms grow, the platforms you don’t cover can limit your adoption as the likelihood of users changing their habit just for your product is low. When it comes time to consider platform expansion, be careful. It is better to first mature your product on one platform to make sure that you have crafted the right experience, before investing in creating the same mistakes everywhere. Not to mention, what is right on desktop may be wrong on mobile, for instance. Also, consider that every time you add a platform, it means slower release cycles and more maintenance. You need to take into account that your product might not be useful for all platforms, and adding support just for the sake of it or with a quick and dirty implementation is probably not worth it as it will reduce the overall confidence in your product and brand.
We started Dashlane as a Windows and Mac application that worked with a Chrome extension. Over the years, we created mobiles apps for iOS and Android and added support for Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. With Dashlane 5, we go even further — we are adding support for Linux, Chromebook, and Edge, thanks to our new browser extension architecture and a powerful read/write web application. (Our Chrome extension also works seamlessly on Opera, by the way.) All of this coverage comes at a cost, especially because each app follows different guidelines. But we know enough now about the return we get from opening new platform channels to know it’s the right time to make this investment. So now, no matter what device, operating system, or browser you use, there is a good chance that Dashlane is compatible with it. As a bonus, our new platform experiences can learn from our previous ones, and we hope that can make them, and Dashlane, better because of our breadth. When deciding whether to support new technologies, that type of cross-platform improvement is a critical factor — it is often the right time when your new products can enhance your current ones by challenging and expanding your thinking and technology.
Another good way to reach more people is to support more countries and languages. Here, also, you first want to make sure that you won’t get a better ROI by continuing to focus on your core market. But once you have the capability to expand to other markets, and you have the right organization to manage it — both technically and in terms of content creation — this is a great way to start reaching more people with a limited cost. Now, don’t think that just releasing an app in German is enough to get millions of new users. Scaling a product internationally is as much product as it is marketing, whether that means gaining press relationships, brand awareness, or paid acquisition.
The good news for us is that no matter your nationality, there is a good chance that if you use internet, you frequently create accounts and manage personal information online. But it does not mean we could just translate our app and launch successfully in new markets. The complexity was really around our semantic engine that enables Dashlane form-filling capabilities. Here, we need to interpret English code written by a Spanish person, for example, so we had some adaption to do. Plus, we had to localize our app to take into account country-specific items. For instance, there is no similar ID card in the US and France. Training our analysis engine to perform in one additional language gave us the repeatable skill to apply it to other languages, which is a technology investment that easily scales.
Dashlane is now available in 11 languages — English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Dutch and Swedish — and we are ramping up marketing very carefully depending on how successful our product is in each market. For example, from our experience, Germany is good fit for Dashlane, in terms of unit economics, and Italy has plenty of active Free users. So, take baby steps in your internationalization journey, and vet each country before investing resources.
Brand and values
Having a consistent and recognizable brand is something you should care about from day one, even though it does not pay off right away. This is not always easy to add to your plans as some might consider it as a costly nice-to-have. But once you have well-defined guidelines for your graphical elements, tone, and voice, plus a very strict line of conduct, it plays a crucial role in how people discover, use, and speak about your product.
If we had to summarize Dashlane in three words, they would be Simplicity, Universality & Privacy. Everything in our communications and designs try to reflect this. As we developed Dashlane 5, we went for a full redesign of our brand, updating our logo, fonts, illustrations, website, and a lot more — all with the goal of making it more reassuring, as well simple and trustworthy. In that process, we created our first brand book available here. But we did not wait for Dashlane 5 to start having a consistent brand. We are constantly repeating our core message to our team members, partners, and press, and every decision we make needs to be aligned with it. A good example of a strong brand, on the product side, is when some feature will take us way more time because we take the extra security step to make sure that the data of our users cannot be compromised, and we all know to choose that implementation.
On the marketing side, we know we are getting it right when our users repeat our brand message in feedback and word-of-mouth sharing. Remember that each choice you make, every day, is one brick you add to your culture and an investment for the future — good or bad — of your brand.
This is a tricky one. It might seem obvious that adding features will broaden your audience because you will cover more use-cases. But, as always, there is a cost associated with this; and it’s not only development-related. I used to think that even if I was creating a feature that was not used that much, it was still adding value to the product. What I did not take into account was that adding a feature also means adding complexity to the overall product. Even if this is just a new entry in a menu, it is one more thing for users to discover and understand. Take Evernote, for instance. For a long time, they were considered the ultimate note taking application, but small feature after small feature, the product became more complex and less efficient in its core promise — to the point where they started revamping their apps to remove things and focus again on delivering a simple experience.
At Dashlane, we now have one rule of thumb for anything we add: is the tradeoff between added value and added complexity good enough? When we added Password Changer to our feature list — a way to change your password in one click — we did it after enough user research to vet users’ interest and understand their needs. As Jeff Patton pointed out in his great book on story mapping, “The most expensive way to test your idea is to build production quality software.” Yes, Password Changer was a new feature, but a feature that was simplifying a tasks that our users where struggling with — updating their passwords once Dashlane reported a security breach for them. Therefore, it was worth the investment.
Dashlane 5 is not packed with new features. Rather, it is packed with improvements, simplifications, and a few new tricks that we know are valuable for our users, such as managing and filling OTP codes, or allowing our users to fix incorrect autofill contextually. That is how we know it is a major improvement to our core focus.
How to know when the chasm is crossed
I have never met any business person that would not be interested in reaching more users or reducing churn. Therefore, I would be tempted to say that in terms of product, the chasm is never crossed. No matter your stage of development, there will still be people your company might be able to help. You need to always discover why people are not using your product. Is it because it is too complicated? Then how can you simplify it or even create a simple version like what Adobe has done recently with Lightroom. Is it because you are not addressing their needs? Then what can you add to your product that can solve that without losing your main vision. Even a product like Facebook has to constantly reinvent itself, whether it is through UX improvement, new 360 videos, or bringing internet to people that are not connected to the web, and therefore cannot use their product.
For Dashlane, our path is as clear as ever. We are going to roll out our new extensions while refining the experience for new types of users. At the same time, we are working on exciting, new, unique capabilities that we are currently testing with users. Our goal is to make identity and payments simple and secure everywhere, and there is enough to do on this for more than a lifetime. Stay tuned, and even if you are not a Dashlane user yet, believe me when I say that we are working very hard to transform our product and craft it to your taste, whether you need a simpler experience or more capabilities. In the meantime, watch our Dashlane 5 video and have a look at the best Dashlane yet.