Afraid of Changing Directions and Speaking Up? This is Why You Shouldn't Be.

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Last updated:
October 14, 2020
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7 minutes
In the role of a Product Owner we can be sure of one thing:
We will face challenges that will require a lot of courage from us.
There will be moments in which we will need to change direction completely
... so that we can reach what is the best for the product.
This post is about a personal experience in which I learned a lot. I hope you enjoy it.

Are you afraid of changing directions? If you want to be a great Product Owner you shouldn’t be.

The story happened back in 2016. I had been working for 4.5 years at a huge company (50k+ employees) in Brazil and decided that I needed something new, something more audacious.

So I decided to jump into a new adventure, accepting a job offer as a Product Owner at a startup (50 employees).

The business was in Brazil while the development team was located in the Dominican Republic.

That was exactly the challenge I needed.

The Beginning

As a PO surprises will always come our way.

The beginning of this new challenge was no different.

It was Sunday, the very day before my start, when I got an e-mail from the CEO.

“Sorry for writing to you today, but my wife is sick and I am with her in the hospital, so please come here tomorrow and I will onboard you from here.”

I felt a bit like the movies about Silicon Valley, where the founders have a Dream and nothing can stop them.

The next day I went to that very hospital and met my new boss. He guided me through everything they had done so far and what they were still aspiring to achieve.

The talk ended with a clear message.

“I want you to engage our users in the usage of our APP.

In the next 6 months I expect to see a minimum growth of 20% monthly.

I don’t want excuses, make it happen!”.

Once I walked away from this conversation I was sure that my adventure at this start-up would be considerably intense - precisely what I wanted. What a fascinating start to my new adventure - A motivating pep talk in a hospital lobby.

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The Business

Before I jump into my approach to reach my new goal, let me give you a quick introduction on the business.

The value proposition was “We sell your car in 90 minutes, you come here, get paid and go home by cab”.

The owner of the car would go there, the team at the shop would inspect the car in 30 minutes and put in an auction platform for 30 more minutes, dealers all over Brazil could place bids.

After the auction was done, the best offer would be presented to the customer. He or she could take it or leave it.

By taking the offer, the money would be paid immediately. Leaving would mean that no deal is taking place.

We were facing the problem that only few dealers were engaging in the auction.

Therefore the amount of decent offers was very limited and customers would walk away without a satisfying deal taking place.

That was not good. But I went deeper.
I didn’t want to understand why the dealers were not using the App as often as we expected.
I wanted to know what was important for them, how they work, and what problems they face.

But how to find that out from your office ivory tower?
Well there is just no way.

So I decided to get up and visit some dealers.

Going and finding the answers

I decided to visit dealers who were active, but never bought a car or even worse never even placed a bid.

Instead of asking them about their opinion on the app, I asked questions like:

  • How do you find the cars you want to buy?
  • What holds you from buying a car?
  • Imagine you have no boundaries, which would be the best way of buying a car?
  • What problems do you face while finding a car?

Sometimes I asked questions, sometimes I observed only. I visited 20 dealers in two weeks. Soon, some crucial points became clear:

  • None of them were happy with the way they find cars.
  • All of them used a desktop with a screen of at least 21”.
  • None of them was interested in finding cars through a smartphone.
  • Most of them had problems trusting the offer.

As a consequence I came to some conclusions:

  • There was a clear market opportunity;
  • The App wouldn’t be the solution for their problem. At least not in a short-term perspective;
  • They expected some guarantee in order to trust the offer.

The insights were promising.

But now I needed to deal with the CEO.

I needed to take action, so I decided to ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission.

I knew my new boss was picky about increasing the App usage and it would be a tough conversation.

But I was willing to have it.
I decided to be bold because at the end of the day what matters are the dealers engaged and better offers for the customers.

The Change

Whenever we make valuable discoveries we need to talk to the team.
Therefore I called a meeting with the whole development team and I shared the outcome of my talks with the dealers.
They told me that there was already an online platform used by the sales team, which they could place bids on the behalf of the dealers.
Apparently they could extend this platform in order to allow the dealers to use it as well.

So that became the goal of the next Sprint.

Once it was finished, we decided to have a workshop with the dealers I talked to and we presented them the new platform.

They were amazed by it and were all of a sudden really willing to engage with it.
Now it was the time to monitor the results.

After a couple of weeks our auctions started receiving double the amount of bids, the dealers started engaging in the platform and new dealers started coming to it.

What is the take away of this story?

  • Focus on the problem, not on the solution
  • Empathize with your target audience
  • Don’t rely only on numbers, go and talk to customers
  • Be bold, take tough decisions
  • Don’t be afraid of pivoting

In summary, the customer always comes always first.

The wrong approach for the right opportunity is doomed!

First you need to understand your customer, then you can talk about solutions, not before.

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