Event Thoughts: The Product Group 1/7/16

The Product Group | Organized by Jeremy Horn | Featured Product: Memo

From Ryan Janssen at Memo:
“I’m the founder, CEO, and product person for Memo (http://getthememo.com), an anonymous messaging app for companies.  We’ve spent the summer building a suite of Enterprise tools to help companies harness the power of their Memo communities.

This is, essentially, the third direction for this company in the past two years, so I’d like to discuss the only thing I seem to be really good at as a product manager–failure.  Let’s talk about how to recognize when our genius ideas are anything but, and how to respond to impending doom!”

My Takeaways:

  1. The Event Format is Difficult: Its hard to run a discussion focused event once you get to 200 participants. The format of going around the room took a while although I’m not sure if there is a better way to do it. It is nice that people all had an opportunity to introduce them selves and thus possibly start a discussion afterwards.
  2. Product Ideation Can Fail: Before starting Memo, Ryan spent 6 months with 4 colleagues brainstorming nearly 1,000 product ideas in a spreadsheet that were split into 10 industries and ranked according to a variety of factors including “marketability”. After going through the entire process they decided not to move forward on any of them.
  3. Initial Product Version Failed: The first version of Memo was a “slack style” chat app to give freelancers or other professionals a way to meet new people through their careers even if they work remotely or at home. It grouped people with similar experience levels and in similar industries and had them chat. Money was raised, a team was hired and over several months a product was built. The issue was that people were too competitive and guarded in the chats. They saw these other people, whose detailed identities they could see on LinkedIn, as competitors, not friends. Conversations were inane.
  4. They Made it Anonymous and Targeted Corporations: Since users seemed hesitant to open up to each other, the product was changed to make all posts anonymous. To give people something to talk about, posts are now made within your company (verified by email address). Users loved it. Asking all the questions they were afraid of asking like “How do promotions really work?” or using it to vent frustrations “This new initiative is destined to fail”.
  5. The Growth Strategy is To Hold Companies Hostage: Although now Memo had significantly more users it still didn’t have a business model. Enter enterprise subscriptions. Just launched last week, Memo is no offering companies tools to organize and glean insights from their employees posts. Employees are completely anonymous but can provide valuable knowledge to executives in an environment where there is no blow back. This in turn, allows Memo to build a user base within big companies and then approach management to offer them the opportunity to have some control or at least insight into the conversation (for a small monthly fee of course).
  6. Lack of Candor is Biggest Threat to Corporations: Ryan believes that almost all big mistakes that big companies make can be prevented by increased candor of the rank and file. Instead of complaining to each other, Memo gives employees an outlet that can lead to actual change. I agree 100% as candor is known to be good for business with such luminaries as Ed Catmull of Pixar praising it in his book Creativity, inc and Ray Dalio of the Bridgewater Associates championing Radical Transparency in his written principles.

The full event page is here and a full audio recording of the event can be found here.

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