Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
We’ve recently completed the design of an interactive prototype of the Going Global service. We would love to take some UK firms through the current incarnation and get some initial feedback. If you’re interested in taking a look at the designs and can come and visit us in London next week, please let me know (mike at madebymany.co.uk).
Here are a few sketch designs we’ve been working on for the service.
First up, here’s what we are calling the Country Dashboard view. Essentially, you would be able to select a country to view statistics. Stats from doingbusiness.org such as Ease of Doing Business, Risk, Cost of Entry etc are visualised and presented alongside top-level info from UKTI such as opportunity industries, a map of the area or region, a brief description and an indication of some of the activity that is happening on the site relating to this area.
This view relates to a country, such as Turkey but this template may also be used to represent a region or a city.
We think this view is going to really help firms understand which countries are right for them.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
I spotted a couple of things in my personal Twitter feed today that I thought would be relevant to this blog. Here they are:
Looking for funding? Forbes.com’s Martin Zwilling reports on Seven Investors To Avoid
Trying to do something new… or do something old in a new way? The Heart of Innovation blog reports on 50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation (my favourite is number 5: ‘Make new mistakes’)
We’ve started referring to this service as a free peer-to-peer knowledge economy. Big name, but simply put, it’s a means for industry peers to share knowledge.
If you want information on, say, start-up success rates for a specific region of China, you can use the service to search for just that.
Your search will (probably) generate (some) results, as do most searches. So far, so ordinary.
But here’s where it gets interesting. If your search doesn’t turn up the information you’re after, you can ask for it.
We haven’t yet designed the pages, so we can’t show you those, but here’s the process — first in a slideshow…
… And now in words:
You fill out a quick request, specifying just what information you need.
The system fires off your request to the people best placed to answer it — so in this example, it might be the UKTI people on the ground in China, but also UKTI contacts in other regions that might offer an alternative option.
You get a heads-up as this information is created and uploaded onto the system.
You read the information, rate it and/or comment on it. If it does the trick, that’s it — job done. If not, you can request more information through the same process.
… So what do we think?
Mike and I attended TechnologyWorld 09 in Coventry this week to meet some people who we hope will use this service. We wanted to find out what they think of it, and ideally start to build a community of interested users.
We spoke with a lot of people who had some really positive feedback about the work we’re doing. One of the challenges we had, though, was explaining just what we’ve been doing.
From words to pictures and back again
I’ve been working ‘in digital’ (sorry, folks) for a while now, and something I find endlessly tricky is figuring out the right way to explain (in spoken words and — at least in my case — flappy hand gestures) exactly what you’re creating (out of written words, pixels, algorithms, etc etc).
I don’t know if there’s one best way to do this, but I suspect there isn’t — in fact, I reckon it’s a lot like teaching something, where you find that some people learn with a teleological approach, whereas others do better with a metaphor or hands-on learning or whatever other method.
And so, without further ado, here are my findings on how to get early feedback from future users, with nothing but words and hand gestures…
1. Whatever you do, don’t bore them…
Sometimes I walk the potential user through a possible user experience, but I find that to be a roundabout way of doing things. It’s sort of like telegraphing punches: by the time you finally deliver, your target has been anticipating it for so long that they’re almost bored… and needless to say, you don’t land the punch quite as powerfully as you’d have liked to.
I avoided doing this in my TechnologyWorld chats, as I thought it asked for too much time and commitment from the people I was speaking with (after all, they want to tell me about their work, too).
2. Problem-solving sometimes works
Another way of going about it is with a problem-solution method, where you can walk through a problem and show how your product solves it. The downside is that this can take a while, and you run the risk of losing your audience if the problem you spell out doesn’t resonate.
3. Answer the biggie: what’s in it for me?
Finally — and this is the method was very successful on Monday — you can try walking users (well, future, would-be users) through the benefits of what you’re doing. I found that people responded very positively to learning about how this could help them… even if they didn’t necessarily need all of the help it could offer.
One thing I have learned though is that it’s prudent to be really humble when you do this — it’s all too easy to alienate the people you’re talking to by sounding a bit overconfident about the horse you’re backing.
I’d like to know how other people approach this challenge. Ideally, we’d have hours to play with and all sorts of sketches and slides and user journeys to walk through… but that isn’t always the case. With five or fewer minutes to play with, what’s the best way to (really, solidly) explain a digital service?
Earlier this week I talked about this project on the Made by Many blog.
The thrust of my post, for anyone who doesn’t have the time to prowl through it, is that the people behind digital products and services tend to build them in isolation — behind a creative wall.
I think this wall should come down — or at least, be dismantled as much as possible, wherever possible. I believe we can create better things by soliciting peer feedback early and often. (Indeed, this blog is a means for doing just that.)
My post has elicited some feedback from my MxM colleagues, namely in regards to the feasibility of doing this.
Mike, who is also working on this project, says this open approach to product and service design is “less appealing for organisations in massively competitive markets, where marginal points of difference can result in enormous profits”.
Fair enough. He also points out that openness is not necessarily key for innovation or market success — and he cites Apple as an example.
But as far as innovators go, Apple is so far ahead of the pack that its product development methods are not really worth including in a conversation about how MOST companies can improve the way they work. There are too many other factors at play: I can train as much as Michael Phelps does, but I’m not going to swim as fast.
The issue, for most innovators, was put very clearly by Anjali: the creative wall is a mindset as well as a practice — a mindset she alleges won’t be easy to change:
“I met an FMCG company recently who were completely against being open because product development sometimes happen so slowly… NDAs and incentives will NOT work for behemoth places, period.”
Anjali’s got a point — but for us, it’s time to draw a new line.
We’re not a behemoth FMCG, nor may we be working on something where small points of difference will necessarily result in enormous profits, as Mike says. We’re also not asking for a bunch of NDAs to be passed around.
All the same, innovation is our lifeblood. It’s a risk, maybe — but the conversation is worth having. So over the next few days we’ll post one of the things we think makes our service unique.
In designing the service, we’ve tried to take into account not only our users’ needs but how businesses are currently served. And ultimately, how our service should be best positioned.
We began by working out what big goals SMEs tend to have when looking to enter new markets. These were mostly gleaned through conversations directly with UK SMEs that came into the office, through the LinkedIn group and through other desktop research. They are by no means exhaustive but they certainly cover plenty of ground.
We then started to look at how these goals could be grouped in terms of how current services answer those needs.
As you can see below, these categories are Insight, Planning and Connections.
Insight is all about knowledge and understanding.
Planning is about ensuring things happen on time and on budget.
Connections is about having the right relationships in place.
These aspects are all hugely important depending on the context, but we believe that a service isn’t likely to be everything to everyone. And why should it? Some of these needs are already served very well elsewhere.
We believe the service could do varying degrees of two of these things very well.
Perhaps one day it could do all three, but it doesn’t necessarily need to do all three.
What’s crucial is that it must address the needs that are least best served currently.
Lots of services in the digital world offer these things already, so we plotted where we think those services exist.
We also looked at various services that exist in the real world.
From this, we believe that there is an opportunity somewhere sharply positioned around insight but less on planning. A couple of reasons for this are as follows.
- The area of connections is already well served by LinkedIn, Twitter, trade organisations and other services. This stands to reason, as the concept of connections is commonly understood as hugely important in business of any kind.
- Many participants mentioned how fragmented information about internationalisation is.
- Business planning is still largely closed and confidential and isn’t something that necessarily would thrive in the social web (although the concept of open business planning certainly has legs and isn’t currently well served).
It would be possible to do this in a very scientific and quantifiable manner, however, we’ve used this technique more of a thinking tool than a research tool.
As ever, feedback is very much appreciated.
Today marks the first day of Global Entrepreneurship Week. No big deal? We beg to differ — here’s why.
1. These people are our customers
We’re building a service to help entrepreneurs turn their local businesses into global businesses.
This service will help small and medium-sized tech companies get to international markets faster, whether they’re staking out new territory or competing against already-established market leaders.
But however successful our service is, no small or medium-sized business is going to get far off the start line with stale ideas. Being as good as the competition just isn’t enough… which brings me to my second point.
2. Entrepreneurs have to be better
Global markets are crowded, competitive places — in technology markets this is especially true. Only the strongest, most clever, most tenacious entrepreneurs survive.
Look to some of our most successful entrepreneurs. Many of them have failed — badly. Fallen flat on their faces. Lost every penny. We know them today because they came back to succeed. And it’s by coming back with new ideas and better executions that entrepreneurs keep markets dynamic.
3. Only the strongest survive
‘Good enough’ stops being good enough when something better is out there — and the entrepreneurial spirit ensures that something better is never far away.
This means consumers get higher-quality goods and services, and in turn, the providers of those goods and services are continually challenged to push the bar higher.
… And this is good for us all.
Can you ever have enough customer input *before* you design a product or service? We don’t think so… and thus without further ado, we’d like to do a little matchmaking between tech companies and UKTI business support:
The aim is that UKTI will be able to help businesses make the most of the LeWeb tech conference to the end of helping them do better business.
The conversations that happen before, during and after the conference will hopefully yield some clear directives on what UK tech businesses need… which we will then factor into the service we’re developing.
If this sounds like something you would like to take part in, please get all the details on LinkedIn and reply privately or as part of the discussion.
We’ve spoken with all sorts of people (entrepreneurs, public sector employees, SMEs, service providers) about their experiences taking businesses to new markets. Among other things, we asked them where they struggled.
Surprisingly to us, the biggest hurdle they mentioned was about getting your hands on the facts you need. Just about everyone had a story that began with those fateful words, “If only I had known…”.
Here are a few snippets from the interview archives:
“There are so many issues you don’t expect, like the complexities of VAT in Spain, or how to get a bank account in France without an address… peer-to-peer advice would have been really helpful.”
“Frustratingly, the HMRC rulebook is unclear [on VAT in European markets]. For software the issue is complicated by specific rulings about ‘downloadable software’. I know that lots of sellers are basically putting their heads under the blankets, and just ignoring VAT. Anyone got any advice?”
“Sorting out ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ in French is just the beginning. Translation is not enough — you have to localise.”
“We wasted a lot of time and money assuming things would be as they were in the UK. Real advice from people who had done it before would have been invaluable.”
“I need to know what I have to do so I can do it and get to market. As an entrepreneur, I have to minimise the cost of failure.”
“Knowing about cultural differences is massively important. You’ve got to understand the etiquette, from how to deal with someone in seniority (do you get straight down to business?) to the dos and don’ts of greeting a lady (do you shake hands?).”
“It’s totally different working with people in Santa Cruz versus in Boston. Knowing the pace the market works at can be a real advantage when it comes to doing business with people there.”
“In US markets the costs of labour are different from state to state. You can do a bit of desktop research, but people on the ground with local knowledge make all the difference.”
“I spent two years trying to convince my Spanish customers to sign contracts before I realised this was just the way the Spanish market worked. Insight from someone who had been there before could have saved me a lot of money.”
What do you think — do any of these resonate with you?