Not just a digital design agency building apps and disruptive tech products for the likes of Vodafone and BNP Paribas, Despark, the Bulgarian start-up with an increasing presence within London’s thriving tech scene, are on a mission to “engage, educate and inspire” led by passionate CEO Hristo Boyadzhiev.
Last night at “The Den”, the co-working space in Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, run by the Collective Elevator, Despark’s UK marketing manager Lauren Goodenough produced a panel consisting of 3 prominent London based social product evangelists – the latest iteration of Despark’s Ignyte series of events, aimed at gathering the thoughts of leaders and entrepreneurs in the tech start-up space.
Timothy Armoo is CEO of Social Influencer Agency Fanbytes, who create mobile video campaigns for the likes of Nickelodeon and GoPro, Pete Trainor, a “behavioural designer and accidental polymath”, author of “Hippo – The Human Focused Digital Book” and founder of Nexus, the “Human Focused Digital Company”, and Jessica Riches, a Digital Strategist specialising in social media, content and growth, and a self-confessed social media addict.
Chaired by Boyadzhiev, a resourcefully inquisitive and penetrating questioner, a crowd of more than 100 London entrepreneurs and techies pitched up to sip / neck Prosecco from food and drink start-up Maple and Fitz and listen to the three drop pearls of wisdom on everything from how to build the next Snapchat, to why Facebook Workplace is doomed to failure. Here’s how it went down.
So how do we begin to build a product?
Boyadzhiev entreated his panel; “do we take an Apple style approach – we’re the most innovative and biggest company in the world – if we build it, you will like it! Or do we ask our customers what they want and try to build that?”
Answer – you do both, of course. Rattling off two memorable soundbites in succession, Pete Trainor defined the genesis of a new product as a quest to identify its “minimum viable personality”, before the “minimum beautiful product” can be built.
“It has to look good”, agreed Jessica; all the information and feedback is there if you are prepared to look for it in Twitter feeds, social media shares, trending topics and Instagram uploads. Don’t guess, in other words, know! Don’t build something for yourself and hope everyone else likes it, however tempting this may be.
For Timothy it is all about generating feedback throughout the “iterative process” of designing and building the product. Launchrock, for example, is a simple way to create a landing page, sharing it with others, and obtaining valuable feedback.
What aspects of user behaviour should you be looking out for?
This drew a surprising, albeit humanistic response from Trainor; they are not your users they are human beings!! Let’s get away from referring to our customers, fellow humans, in the same terms as we refer to drug addicts – it’s helping nobody, least of all new product designers.
“Anti-archetype”, Trainor calls it – a product’s evolution must track and evolve the more it is exposed to an individual or group’s behaviour. Trainor is a chatbot fan – not the paradigm – chatbots have the potential to be intensely irritating – but as part of a psychology driven AI research technique, they more than have a place.
“Please your niche!” was Jessica’s succinct response. Building a product that will please everybody will ultimately please nobody, as we should all know. Personalisation (or “hyper-personalised interaction” as Trainor refers to it) is key to success in today’s market where sophisticated data analytics gives designers more information than ever before from which to build a superior product.
“Big data is a term that is overused”, opined Trainor, but its value and potential is obvious. It can make us more socially aware – it can help us understand ourselves better – and that, concludes Trainor, is the single most important aspect of modern-day tech.
A word of warning, however, to the audience (and world at large). Think extremely carefully, people, about what data you are prepared to give up about yourself, and how that data will wind up being used.
So much for “big data”, what about “small data”?
probed Hristo – is the devil really in the detail? What aspects of user, sorry human, behaviour, should you be paying special attention to?
Companies often overlook the simple things, Jess suggested, citing ASOS, a company she adores. “They should understand my spending habits, viewing habits, they should know I spend most towards the end of the month – heck, they should just send me a box of clothes every month and I’ll keep and pay for the ones I want, return the ones I don’t…and yet, they do nothing, and I spend half what I would like to as a direct result.”
“Look at retention data”, said Timothy, before shocking most of the marketers and especially admen, people Armoo disparagingly refers to as “White haired old men “by declaring that “impressions are bullsh*t!”
“When I tell them this, media people say to me ‘how dare you!’”, Armoo explained, “but you can have a zillion impressions and a colossal reach and it won’t mean a thing if they take one look at your product and never come back.”
Good point, strongly made.
That’s right reader, things were getting livelier.
On the subscription versus free (or freemium) debate?
All parties were vocal – “you have to give them a taste for the product first”, says Jess, apparently favouring the freemium model.
“Subscription works for utilities, not for services”, opines Armoo, citing the example of Fanbytes subscription service, which the team abandoned after deciding it was too much hassle to come up with new features every month just to keep clients interest piqued.
“Let them spend only when they want to spend, and they will spend five times as much!”
Pete recalled a music streaming start-up he had launched in 2008 which had been “destroyed, wiped out by Spotify – because initially they gave away so much music for free.
“Beware start-ups with deep pockets and generous investors who can wipe out the competition by offering ludicrous amounts of product for free!”
Can Facebook Workplace succeed?
Trainor: “I’ll make you a prediction right hear and now – Facebook Workplace will fail! “Facebook is where I post pictures of my cats – Slack is where I discuss projects with my workmates.” 2 different platforms, 2 different purposes, and never the twain shall meet, it seems.
“Investors love a subscription model” reacted Armoo. “There’s nothing like 30k subscribers to boost a company valuation.” Trainor pointed to the unexpected success of paywalls introduced by publications such as the Times newspaper online, which, Trainor learned first-hand over drinks with the man responsible for creating it – has been a runaway success.
If you pay, you get content tailored to you.
And how do you measure the value of your product?
You ask, “how do I want my customer to feel”, and you judge a product’s success (and value) by how close to that feeling you achieve, says Trainor.
Jess gave the example of Dubai’s happiness index – a measure used by the cities authorities in order to judge the success of their tourism initiatives – how happy did we make our visitors?
But self-confessed “contrarian” Timothy disagreed – “it’s all about hard metrics – we judge our campaigns, for example promoting Nickelodeon’s TV channel by how many returning viewers we generate for them.”
So you judge the success of a TV show by how addicted people get to it?”
Fair enough, at least you’re honest Tim.
On the night, the discussion went on, but time and column inch restraints mean we will end our coverage at this point, which means, reader, you missed some of the best bits, the networking, the crackling atmosphere, the “Tweet Wall”, provided by Social Media management Agency Consorcio, the Prosecco (did I mention the prosecco), the nibbles, and the panellists answer to the HT’s question, brazenly plagiarised from the great Elon Musk himself, “are we living in a computer simulation?” Two thirds of the panel said no.
Despark have a knack for creating events with atmosphere that genuinely do seem to deliver on its ambition to “engage, educate and inspire”, largely thanks to the determination of Lauren, of Hristo, and the rest of the team, who are celebrating a recent awards win, securing Vodafone as a major client, and the enduring ability of its development teams to deliver on their customers projects and exceed expectations.
Perhaps they should be on the panel at the next event, slated for early next year.
To keep you going between now and then, you could always drop Lauren a line, or you could bear in mind the panellists key pieces of advice, distilled, at the end of the evening, into a handy bite-sized slogan.
Pete – stay curious!
Jess – Just Start!
Tim – Magic Happens at The Edges!
Definitely one of the better after hours techie / product / maker meet-ups, as evidenced by its “techerati” attendees – nice venue, too.