Is your start-up fit to launch?

About the interviewee:

Cinnamon Pollard has been passionate about digital since 1995 when she landed the role of Unit Manager / Webmaster of the ABC Multimedia Unit.

Working with start-ups in particular has ignited Cinnamon’s passion for tech and all things digital design leading her to start her own consulting company specialising in the early phases of the business cycle where big decisions have to made fast!  

I had the pleasure of working with Cinnamon on the launch of Hijacked - a platform for students to share their voice across every campus in Australia.

What do you look for when assessing a brand's product-market fit?

There are four key ingredients I look for:

1. Does the product solve a tangible problem for a well-defined target user?

Entrepreneurs are usually very excited about their concept but don’t have a defined target market and value proposition for their users. 

2. Does the product disrupt the market or improve on an existing solution?

The only way to know the answer is to research, build, test and iterate!

3. Do I see a Product – Market Positioning?

I look for a message the brand can position in the mind of the user and a defined market-entry strategy to ensure you can hit the right people, at the right time with the right message.

4. Do they have the ‘A team’ in place to execute on the plan?

You can have the best product and marketing strategy in the world but if it’s not executed and optimised well by an experienced team it will most likely fail.

Product Market Fit

Can you explain the steps in your process? 

Every project is unique and I am engaged to work on projects at various stages in the product lifecycle.

As a result, I try to keep my process flexible to suit each project and compliment each entrepreneur’s skill set and requirements.

My consulting style is collaborative and whilst my approach is always user-centric, I like to keep a holistic view of each project - the team, culture, product, marketing, customer experience, data requirements, finance, legal and HR systems and the technology infrastructure that will support the business - all inform the process.

I firmly believe that you can never truly know whether your concept will work until you have tested it with actual users.

My advice is get a minimum viable product an ‘MVP’ or minimum loveable product into the market as quickly as possible so the real testing and learning can start before you have committed to a product roadmap.

I use a combination of Lean Startup principles and Agile project methodology. I am a real stickler to process.

The 10 steps in the product development process I undertake:

10 steps in the product development process

Can you explain why ‘Design thinking’ tools are such an important part of your process?

I draw on the Human-Centred Design Approach. It's a process that starts with the people you are designing for and ends with new solutions that they love because they are tailored to suit their needs.The result is innovative solutions that are grounded in market desirability and business viability.

Design thinking tools allow you to develop a clear picture of the particular audience for a product or service you are designing.

They help you capture a user’s motivations, frustrations and the “essence” of who they are.

They help you understand who will actually be using your service or product and can be used to make key design and functionality decisions during the UX process.

For example, personas are handy to pull out when you are trying to communicate what the user experience should be like to stakeholders, designers, developers and anyone else involved in a project. They are also really useful in helping you create realistic user journeys.

 One of the personas Cinnamon & I developed for Hijacked

One of the personas Cinnamon & I developed for Hijacked

Market research can feel lengthy and expensive. When has it shaped or changed brand strategy?

Market research can be lengthy and expensive but it can also be quick and cheap if you are clever about how you go about it.

Research has informed, shaped and changed product and brand strategy in every project I have worked on over the past 20 years.

Just yesterday a client and I decided to change the target market and MVP of an online building and construction tool.

We originally set out to build a product that we thought was going to solve a problem for commercial and residential builders. After delving a little deeper with some in-depth interviews we discovered it’s actually the demolition contractor who we are solving the problem for - which of course changes everything!

 On campus research with real students was essential when preparing to launch Hijacked

On campus research with real students was essential when preparing to launch Hijacked

What are the biggest mistakes brands make when transitioning from launch to a high-growth period?

Brands and businesses are like living things in that they transition through life-cycles. Brands go through four broad stages – new, growth, mature and revival.

Brands have unique marketing requirements at each life stage.

In the “new” stage the key challenge for the brand is building differentiated and targeted awareness - ‘What is it?’ and ‘how does it appeal to the highly targeted group of early adopters?’ are the two key questions a new brand must answer.

When a brand transitions from start-up to high-growth the biggest challenge is alienating their core user group as they move from early adopters to mass market.

Early adopters, by their very nature will drop your brand for the next big thing, but you need them to stay supportive long enough for it to penetrate a mainstream audience.

 Always a challenge; crossing the chasm of the technology adoption cycle

Always a challenge; crossing the chasm of the technology adoption cycle

Two key reasons why early adopters will drop a brand like a hot potato in its growth life stage:

1. Not having strong, clear and consistent brand

This includes guidelines, messaging, personality, purpose and voice.

2. Failing to stay focused.

They begin to see the business growing successfully and start looking for expansion opportunities too early which can be fatal.

With limited resources businesses must stay focused on capitalising on the original market opportunity. 

Keeping focused and not stretching the brand too wide or too thin too soon is what separates a successful brand from a passing fad.

A huge thanks to Cinnamon Pollard for sharing her wisdom and experience.