August 30, 2016 | Blog

5 Pillars of Tech Nonprofit Product Design

Try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, win…repeat. If that sounds familiar, chances are you’re in product management or work closely with that team. Product teams are constantly challenged to balance the needs of their users with the goals of their business within the limits of their resources.

Last week two of our favorite product gurus, Seema Shah of AngelList and TaskRabbit and Barb Chang of Mint and Samasource, came back to speak with our 2016 cohort. Seema and Barb walked our teams through strategies and tactics for finding that product market fit sweet spot, a process that can take a multitude of iterations, an open mind, and a lot of patience. Running product at a startup is no simple endeavor, and we are grateful to have experts like Barb and Seema willing to share their knowledge with our cohort to hopefully make the product journey a bit easier. Here are some of our favorite pieces of advice from these product rockstars.

social impact product design

To design for your customer, you must be your customer

Talk to your users through user research, surveys and usability studies. But don’t stop there. Use your own product as a typical customer would. If you want to know what would make your product better, you have to put yourself in their shoes. At TaskRabbit, Seema regularly served as a Tasker. Why? Because as a two-sided marketplace TaskRabbit serves two different customers and it’s important to have the perspective of both to better serve those markets. Firsthand usability testing allows a product team to build a much better app.

It is also important to talk to your customers. Monthly or quarterly forums with customers often end up focused on features. Your job as a product lead is to filter through those requests so you don’t end up with a Frankenstein – a feature rich product that will perform terribly over time. When assessing user issues,  you first want to make sure these come from your target customer. Then get to the core of the problem you want to solve. Think about vision and what is going on in the market before making any major product changes.

Product teams should also be customer support

Just like you need to have the user experience first-hand, you also need to hear about the product issues that are arising first hand. You cannot empathize with your customers if you are not directly supporting them. While Seema was at AngelList everyone at the company pitched in to manage customer support, versus having a siloed support team. During Barb’s time at Mint, customer support was under product so everyone received the same inquiries. However you set it up, make sure product employees are touching support tickets on a regular basis.

social impact product design

Define smart goals

Your goals need to be smart – measurable, actionable and achievable. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, instead think realistically about what you can actually accomplish in three months or six months. Make sure any goals you set align with your vision and mission, and make sure everyone in your organization is aware of these goals. Creating actionable KPIs helps you stay on track with your goals and enables you to gather the right data for developing future product hypotheses.

Experiment and learn

In product management, it’s inevitable you will have some launches that don’t go as well as hoped. However, this is part of the process and it’s important you use this experience as opportunity to experiment and learn. First off, make sure you go into any new product endeavor with a well formed hypothesis. This is essential when you have a big, open-ended goal. Identify the target segments with the highest potential. Start broad when considering your target segments, but once you develop your hypothesis you need to go deep and figure out what assumptions need to be true for this hypothesis to be valid. You should be asking yourself questions around awareness, brand, perception and interest conversion. These will become the basis for your testing roadmap. Remember that great ideas can come from anyone, and if you feel like you are constantly trying new things and failing, you’re doing it right.

You’re probably wrong, and that’s okay

Even if you’ve done all the research in the world, your best, most educated hypothesis is still just a good guess. When it comes to product development, you can theorize about whether certain changes will improve your impact outcomes, but you won’t know for sure without A/B testing (which comes with its own challenges). Sometimes you have to test things through mock ups on a testing site to see what resonates with your user base. Consider agile development – making frequent small product changes rather than releasing a slew of changes all at once. Social impact product design is all situational and sometimes it’s the least expected solution that actually works best. During Seema’s time at AngelList, she and her team were shocked to discover that a small change in increased email personalization helped startups close funding quicker. 

If you’re still feeling in the dark, check out Barb and Seema’s recommended reading, “Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance: The A/B Testing Lifecycle” by Ben Plesser. Thanks again to Seema and Barb for sharing their knowledge with our teams!