Eating our own dog food..

The 3 of us love wine! As you can see from most of our posts, we love using Radhika’s company Likelli as our example as it’s too much fun to mix wine and product development — we recommend you sometimes try it at home! But the concepts of North Star and RDCL product strategy apply equally well when we talk about other companies — we have seen it being successfully apply to B2B companies, non-profits, insurance companies and legal businesses.

In this post, I will talk about how I could have used these tools to think about product development for qwikLABS — a company I co-founded in 2012 and sold to Google in 2016. qwikLABS tagline is “Get hands-on practice working with cloud technologies and software. Train on demand and learn at your own pace.” Here’s how we would describe qwikLABS vision using the RDCL vision template.

Today when [students who are interested in learning about hardware, system software or cloud computing and are not system administrators], want to [learn by trying it hands-on], they have to [set up the hardware/software infrastructure themselves or go to special instructor led class where the software is already set up]. This is unacceptable because [it’s hard to set up a system infrastructure you don’t know anything about and expensive to go to a instructor led class and leads to them abandoning the course]. We envision a world where [learning anything hands-on can be done from anywhere and students don’t have to struggle with setting up the infrastructure]. We are bringing this world about through [our cloud computing configuration management software that allows students to access online hands-on training labs where the hardware/software is pre-configured and tailored to the specific skill they are trying to learn].

Simple, Right? In reality, though we spent many days and months iterating over what our mission, vision and ultimately marketing tagline would be. And now as I worked through RDCL for qwikLABS, it was so much more efficient.

So now that we have the vision, let’s see how we would describe the four RDCL elements of qwikALBS product strategy:

  1. Real Pain Points — Now

When we founded qwikLABS in 2012, we had a deep understanding of the pain points. My co-founder had managed a professional services business for a large system software company. A big part of the professional service business was training. I was helping the system software company devise the future strategy for the professional services business. We both found that training was a strategic component to advance the product usage and sales but the students had a hard time learning without trying the software hands-on and trying system software hands-on was challenging due to the following pain points:

Customer Segment: Students who are trying to learn hands-on about hardware, system software or cloud computing and are not system administrators

Pain Point 1: Students struggle with setting up hardware/software infrastructure themselves when they are new to it

Pain Point 2: Students have to go to a physical location for instructor led classes which is expensive

While our ultimate target customer was individual students, we actually sold the software to training departments of large enterprise technology companies who then sold the content and labs they developed to the individual students. Separately, we licensed the content back from the tech companies and sold them on our own e-commerce platform. So for part of our business, where the person who was writing the check was different than the person who had the pain point we solved for.

2. Design — Now

Look and Feel: Technical but not intimidating for students new to Cloud computing, e-commerce inspired

Voice: Helpful and empathetic, guidance instead of lecture

Key Product Features:

  1. One click step in for a student into a hands-on-lab environment and automatic tear down upon completion
  2. All hands-on-labs configured on public cloud for 24x7 online access
  3. Step by step instructions for the hands-on-lab from the hardware/software provider

Because our target customer persona was someone who was trying to learn system software, we had to be technical to convey mastery but not be intimidating. Also, we found that as important as set-up of the system was, automatic tear down was even more important as students would typically leave the cloud instances running and rack up huge bills inadvertently and then have a negative experience.

3. Capabilities — Now

  1. Provide real Cloud environments and real time access for practice
  2. Specific recommendations for follow on labs that build upon specific skills called Qwests
  3. Authorized content from enterprise technology companies so that students can use proof of skill acquisition in a professional environment

Our differentiating capability was ability to create confidence in student’s mastery of the skill they were trying to learn. The combination of providing real environments and not video instructions to students, only providing authorized content from the technology companies selling the hardware/software and guided recommendation for follow on labs that developed on the skill helped build this confidence. The students would feel comfortable trying the specific hardware/software in professional settings.

4. Logistics — Now

  1. Students can easily buy each hands-on lab using an online shopping cart
  2. Sell qwikLABS software to large enterprise companies who will use the software to develop the lab content and market the authorized labs
  3. Subscription plan where students can discover new labs each month

We designed the lab acquisition process to be as easy as e-commerce — something our target customers were very comfortable with in their personal lives. The availability of only authorized content meant that the students didn’t have to do their own research for reviews on the labs to trust the quality of the instruction or the training they were receiving. We also developed a monthly subscription plan where the students could discover new labs each month to keep pace with the new Cloud technologies being launched.

Even as I realize that I have the benefit of hindsight, as I worked through describing qwiKLABS’ vision and product strategy using RDCL, I kept marveling at how much easier it would have been to guide our team’s conversations to be productive and help us have clarity qwikly (pun intended) if we had tools like the vision template and the RDCL elements of product strategy at our disposal.

I hope you can use these tools to be more effective in your product development. Share your experience as you put together your vision and Product Strategy!