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My product management toolkit (17): Assess market viability

Whether you’re a product manager or are in a commercial or strategic role, I’m sure you’ll have to assess market viability at some point in your career. For that reason, I wrote previously about assessing markets, suggesting tools that you can use to decide on whether to enter a market or not.

A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast interview in which Christophe Gillet, VP of Product Management at Vimeo, gave some great pointers on how to best assess market viability. Christophe shared his thoughts on things to explore when considering market viability. I’ve added my sample questions related to some of the points that Christophe made:

  1. Is there a market? – This should be the first validation in my opinion; is there a demand for my product or service? Which market void will our product help to fill and why? What are the characteristics of my target market?
  2. Is there viability within that market?  Once you’ve established that there’s a potential market for your product, this doesn’t automatically mean that the market is viable. For example, regulatory constraints can make it hard to launch or properly establish your product in a market.
  3. Total addressable market – The total addressable market – or total available market – is all about revenue opportunity available for a particular product or service (see Fig. 1 below). A way to work out the total addressable market is to first define total market space and then look at percentage of the market which has already been served.
  4. Problem to solve – Similar to some of the questions to ask as part of point 1. above, it’s important to validate early and often whether there’s an actual problem that your product or service is solving.
  5. Understand prior failures (by competitors) – I’ve found that looking at previous competitor attempts can be an easy thing to overlook. However, understanding who already tried to conquer your market of choice and whether they’ve been successful can help you avoid some pitfalls that others encountered before you.
  6. Talk to individual users  I feel this is almost a given if you’re looking to validate whether there’s a market and a problem to solve (see points 1. and 4. above). Make sure that you sense check your market and problem assumptions with your target customers.
  7. Strong mission statement and objectives of what you’re looking to achieve  In my experience, having a clear mission statement helps to articulate and communicate what it is that you’re looking to achieve and why. These mission statements are typically quite aspirational but should offer a good insight into your aspirations for a particular market (see the example of outdoor clothing company Patagonia in Fig. 2 below).
  8. Business goals  Having clear, measurable objectives in place to achieve in relation to a new market that you’re considering is absolutely critical. In my view, there’s nothing worse than looking at new markets without a clear definition of what market success looks like and why.
  9. How to get people to use your product – I really liked how Christophe spoke about the need to think about a promotion and an adoption strategy. Too often, I encounter a ‘build it and they will come’ kind of mentality which I believe can be deadly if you’re looking to enter new markets. Having a clear go-to-market strategy is almost just as important as developing a great product or service. What’s the point of an awesome product that no one knows about or doesn’t know where to get!?

Main learning point: Listening to the interview with Christophe Gillet reinforced for me the importance of being able to assess market viability. Being able to ask and explore some critical questions when considering new markets will help avoid failed launches or at least gain a shared understanding of what market success will look like.

 

Fig. 1 – Total available market – Taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_addressable_market

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Fig. 2 – Patagonia’s mission statement – Taken from: http://www.patagonia.com/company-info.html

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Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.thisisproductmanagement.com/episodes/assessing-market-viability
  2. http://www.mindtheproduct.com/2013/05/poem-framework/
  3. http://smallbusiness.chron.com/determine-market-viability-product-service-40757.html
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_addressable_market
  5. https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/inspiring-company-mission-statements
 

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App review: Cleo

I wrote about virtual assistants a few weeks ago, which made me realise that I hadn’t yet explored Cleo in more detail. Cleo is a virtual assistant that I believe can help me save money. However, my knowledge of Cleo ends there, so let’s have a closer look at Cleo and its onboarding process:

  1. How did Cleo come to my attention? – I came across Cleo a few months ago as I was looking at so-called ‘robo advisers’ like Betterment and Nutmeg.
  2. My quick summary of Cleo (before using it)? – When you search for Cleo, Google will tell you that it’s an “Intelligent assistant that helps you save money”. I therefore expect a virtual assistant that will give me a better view of my expenses and gives me tips on how to spend less. I expect an app that’s highly personalised, aiming to making saving fun. I guess a bit similar to Qapital, an app that I reviewed a few months ago.
  3. How does Cleo explain itself in the first minute? – I like how how the homepage of https://meetcleo.com/ talks about Cleo being “The simplest way to manage your money” (see Fig. 1 below). The page also mentions “bank level security” although I must admit that I’m not entirely sure what that means in the context of Cleo.
  4. Getting started, what’s the process like (1)? – Cleo’s onboarding process feels very intuitive and easy, particularly the part where Cleo syncs with my bank account (see Fig. 3 below). The messaging about how Cleo will treat my current account data instills trust and is clear, even to the point where I get a text from Cleo to say that banks are a bit slow when it comes to synching (see Fig. 8 below). However, when I’m asked to set my monthly income, I’m not sure what purpose this will serve and how I’ll benefit from sharing this data with Cleo (see Fig. 4 below).
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like (2)? – The simplicity of the onboarding process is reinforced by the text messages that I’m getting from Cleo on my mobile whilst onboarding on my laptop (see Fig. 8 below).
  6. Did Cleo deliver on my expectations (1) – After completing my onboarding with Cleo, I get a pretty comprehensive overview of my bills and spending (see Fig. 7 below). Perhaps I hadn’t fully set my own expectations when signing up with Cleo, but I’m left with a faint feeling of disappointment, expecting to receive more insights around my spending patterns or be able to ask Cleo specific questions about my balance. For example, when I ask Cleo about how to best increase my balance, she refers me to the generic balance call to action which she’d shared with me 3 seconds prior in the same exchange on Facebook Messenger (see Fig. 10 below).
  7. Did Cleo deliver on my expectations (2) – Some of the machine learning parts that underpin Cleo feel like they’re working pretty well, and getting started with Cleo felt very seamless and self-explanatory. I’m, however, keen to see how Cleo will develop further over the coming months, in becoming truly ‘intelligent’ about my spending habits and ways for me to save money.

 

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Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the homepage of https://meetcleo.com/

 

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Fig. 2 – Screenshot of the first step of the Cleo sign-up flow

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Fig. 3 – Screenshot of the second step of the Cleo sign-up flow

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Fig. 4 – Syncing a bank account with Cleo

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of setting a monthly income in Cleo

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Fig. 6 – Screenshots of the workflow around adding bills

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Fig. 7 – Screenshot of the ‘outputs’ of the info entered into Cleo

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Fig. 8 – Text updates from Cleo throughout the onboarding process

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Fig. 9 – Chat message from Barney, CEO and Co-Founder of Cleo

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Fig. 10 – Chatting with Cleo through Facebook Messenger

 
 

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How Alipay and WeChat are setting the tone for payments

I recently had to think back to the words of a well-known London-based Fintech CTO who talked about how in Asia, the Fintech playing field is miles ahead compared to some of the things that are happening in Europe and in the US. His comments came to mind when I overheard a conversation between two, ‘more traditional’ shall we say, senior financial service people, talking about  “definitely worth having a mobile app, since that’s what people want and expect.”

To be clear, I’m not trying to knock apps, especially if you look at the amazing apps that the likes of Revolut, Simple and Monzo have created. However, I can’t help try to look ahead and figure out what could be around the corner. For example, I recently looked at PayKey, which integrates payments with messenger apps. The likes of KakaoTalk and Line are already doing this successfully.

I do feel though that all these products are simple dwarfed by the scale with which WeChatPay and Alipay have been adopted, predominantly in Asia:

WePay by Tencent (Tencent is known as Weixin in China)

Even though the functionality of the continental version of WeChat feels quite limited, it’s easy to see how WeChat has evolved rapidly from just a messenger app to platform which incorporates gaming, shopping and payments. WeChatPay, the payment functionality built into WeChat, enables peer-to-peer money transfers, make payments online and with participating offline retailers.

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Fig. 1 – Screenshot of WeChat payment interface – Taken from: https://walkthechat.com/wechat-payment-5-reasons-tencent-might-kill-alipay/

There are a number of different types of WeChat payment applications:

  • App Payment – For Android / iOS apps wanting to include WeChat as a payment option
  • Offline Payment – WeChat Offline Payment is meant for brick-and-mortar stores wanting to add WeChat payment via QR codes
  • Official Account Payment – This application is used in order to embed WeChat payment within a mobile website

By integrating with WeChat messaging and payment functionality, brands are creating a very seamless user experience and are interacting where their (target) customers already are. Soapnut Republic and its integration with WeChat’s payment functionality is a good example (see Fig. 2 below).

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Fig. 2 – WePay screenshot, once a user has completed shopping, she can either use her card to pay or use WeChat’s mobile wallet – Taken from: https://www.clickz.com/how-coach-and-moleskine-use-wechat-for-ecommerce/100300/

JD.com – a big Chinese ecommerce platform – has got redirects with WeChat. For example, when customers following the Moleskine account on WeChat want to make a purchase, they are redirected (within the WeChat app) to the brand’s mobile-friendly store on JD.com (see Fig. 3 below).

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Fig. 3 – WePay screenshot, once a user has completed shopping, she can either use her card to pay or use WeChat’s mobile wallet – Taken from: https://www.clickz.com/how-coach-and-moleskine-use-wechat-for-ecommerce/100300/

I can imagine that when WeChat launches its new “mini-apps” service in a few days time, its market presence will increase even more. These mini-apps are a type of app that one can use immediately, without having to download or install anything. Users scan a QR code or search and can immediately open an app.

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Fig. 4 – Example of WeChat mini-app as created by Walkthechat – Taken from: https://walkthechat.com/wechat-mini-apps-look-like/

As WeChat has only launched a developer Beta version of its new mini-apps, I haven’t yet had a chance to play with the apps. However, I’ve learned that through mini-apps users and businesses will most probably be able to (1) do voice recording (through the WeChat API) (2) login (the app will also enable voice recognition) (3) send messages to users and (4) build web apps and services on top of the app.

One will be able to access mini-apps through a special panel, which will be accessible from the “Discover” section of a user’s WeChat account. These mini-apps enable storage of some of the data and code directly on one’s phone, which no doubt will help with app performance and speed.

 

Alipay by Ant Financial

Forget about traditional banks, Alipay’s ascension and reach has been incredible. Its parent company Ant Financial is controlled by Jack Ma, the founder of ecommerce platform Alibaba. This gives Ant Financial access to all of Alibaba’s ecommerce businesses and the merchants who sell through the platform. Through ownership of Alipay, Ant Financial plays a part in about 65 per cent of China’s online payments and about 80 per cent in the mobile space.

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of Alipay’s mobile wallet – Taken from: https://www.techinasia.com/day-with-wechat-payments-in-stores

Given the role that Alipay plays in the ecosystem of online buyers and sellers, it’s interesting to look at how Alipay facilitates cross-border mobile payments and how it supports settlement with overseas merchants in 12 foreign currencies (see Fig. 6 below).

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Fig. 6 – Introduction to Alipay’s cross-border mobile payment capability – Taken from: https://global.alipay.com/product/mobilepayments.htm

Until writing this piece, I hadn’t realised that Ant Financial has a stake in Paytm, which is claimed to be India’s largest mobile and ecommerce platform (see Fig. 7 below).

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Fig. 7 – Screenshot of Paytm’s iOS mobile wallet

Main learning point: Call me a clairvoyant, but I can see how the likes of Alipay and WeChat will soon take over the world – from a payments perspective at least – purely because of the scale at which they operate and the way they’re nested in a large, diverse ecosystem of online services and users.

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://intheblack.com/articles/2016/07/01/alipay-and-wechat-are-making-china-a-global-payments-power
  2. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11347387
  3. http://en.people.cn/n3/2016/0902/c98649-9109330.html
  4. http://www.fintechasia.net/alipay-vs-wechat-war-of-chinese-payments/
  5. https://walkthechat.com/wechat-payment-5-reasons-tencent-might-kill-alipay/
  6. http://www.beyondsummits.com/blog/alipay-vs-wechat-how-does-alipay-overturn-world-through-scenario-based-payment
  7. http://www.wsj.com/articles/china-mobile-payment-battle-becomes-a-free-for-all-1463945404
  8. http://a16z.com/2015/08/06/wechat-china-mobile-first/
  9. https://www.techinasia.com/kakaotalk-kakaopay-mobile-epayments-korea
  10. https://techcrunch.com/2016/11/16/tencent-q3-2016/
  11. https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/17/messaging-app-wechat-is-becoming-a-mobile-payment-giant-in-china/
  12. https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/08/alibabas-ant-financial-raising-new-funding-at-60b-valuation-ahead-of-ipo/
  13. https://www.techinasia.com/day-with-wechat-payments-in-stores
  14. https://intheblack.com/articles/2015/12/01/how-wechat-is-reshaping-facebooks-social-media-future
  15. https://walkthechat.com/wechat-payment-5-reasons-tencent-might-kill-alipay/
  16. https://www.clickz.com/how-coach-and-moleskine-use-wechat-for-ecommerce/100300/
  17. https://curiositychina.com/blog/archives/3095
  18. https://stripe.com/docs/alipay
  19. https://global.alipay.com/product/mobilepayments.htm
  20. http://blog.grata.co/new-wechat-mini-apps/
  21. https://walkthechat.com/wechat-mini-apps-look-like/
 
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Posted by on December 29, 2016 in eCommerce, FinTech, Mobile, Technology, User Experience

 

Some good conversational UI examples to learn from

It was Dennis Mortensen – CEO/Founder of x.ai – who made me aware a few years ago of the concept of ‘invisible interfaces’. He talked about applications no longer needing a graphical user interface (GUI), taking “Amy” – x.ai’s virtual personal assistant as a good example (see Fig. 1 below).

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Fig. 1 – Amy, x.ai’s virtual assistant – Taken from: http://www.agilenetnyc.com/business/x-ai/

Since then, I’ve been keeping more of an eye out for bots and virtual assistants, which can run on Slack, WeChat, Facebook Messenger or Amazon Echo. Like “Amy” these applications can be driven entirely by complex machine learning algorithms, or can be more ‘smoke and mirrors’ and operated entirely by humans. Let’s just have a look at some relevant examples to illustrate where I think some of these virtual assistants and chatbots are heading.

Example 1 – Nordstrom Chatbot and Operator offering personalised discovery:

US based Nordstrom recently launched its first chatbot for the 2016 holiday season. If you’re already on Facebook Messenger or Kik, Nordstrom’s virtual assistant is only a click away. Users who engage with Nordstrom’s bot will be asked a number of questions about who they’re shopping for. The bot will then respond with bespoke gift suggestions based on the user’s responses.

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Fig. 2 – Nordstrom Chatbot – Taken from: https://chatbotsmagazine.com/the-complete-beginner-s-guide-to-chatbots-8280b7b906ca#.l5e2i887r

You can get a similar experience using Operator, which is driven entirely by human experts who’ll provide you with personalised advice on what to buy (see Fig. 3 below).

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Fig. 3 – Operator’s experts providing tailored advice to its users – Taken from: https://www.operator.com/

Example 2 – KLM sharing flight information via Facebook Messenger:

KLM, the well known international airline, now enables customer to receive their flight documentation via Facebook Messenger. After booking a flight on KLM’s website, customers can choose to receive their booking confirmation, check-in details, boarding pass and flight status updates via Messenger. It’s built on a Messenger plug-in which customers only have to enable in order to receive ‘personalised’ messages from KLM (see Fig. 4 below).

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Fig. 4 – Screenshot of KLM’s Messenger app – Taken from: https://messenger.klm.com/

Example 3 – Telegram using buttons for discovery and shortcuts:

As much as it’s great to have a very simple ‘single purpose’ conversational user interface, there are messenger apps and virtual assistants out there that do offer user functionality that works better with buttons to click. A good example is the Telegram app, which has buttons for specific actions and shortcuts (see Fig. 5 below).

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Fig. 5   – Screenshot of the buttons in Telegram’s messenger app – Taken from: http://alistapart.com/article/all-talk-and-no-buttons-the-conversational-ui

Main learning point: I’ll no doubt learn more about conversational user interfaces over the coming months and years, but looking at simple examples like x.ai, Nordstrom’s Chatbot, Operator, Telegram and KLM’s Messenger feels like a very good starting point!

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://alistapart.com/article/all-talk-and-no-buttons-the-conversational-ui
  2. https://uxdesign.cc/10-links-to-get-started-with-conversational-ui-and-chatbots-3c0920ef4723#.yqpfdz5re
  3. https://chatbotsmagazine.com/the-complete-beginner-s-guide-to-chatbots-8280b7b906ca#.l5e2i887r
  4. http://www.geekwire.com/2016/new-nordstrom-mobile-chat-bot-ready-help-shoppers-find-perfect-holiday-gift/
  5. https://www.techinasia.com/talk/complete-beginners-guide-chatbots
  6. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/07/conversational-interfaces-where-are-we-today-where-are-we-heading/
  7. http://www.theverge.com/2016/3/30/11331168/klm-facebook-messenger-boarding-pass-chat-integration
  8. https://messenger.klm.com/
  9. https://www.operator.com/
 

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My product management toolkit (16): How not to become a “Product Janitor”?

It does make me feel sad at times. It does frustrate me occasionally. Sometimes I even want to shake them. “Product Janitors”. I’ve conducted countless job interviews where the candidate came across as as Product Janitor instead of a Product Manager. Let me outline what I think makes someone a Product Janitor and I’ll provide some tools to stop yourself from becoming one!

Tool 16 – Ways to stop becoming a Product Janitor

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Fig. 1 – Don’t become a Product Janitor – Taken from: https://www.lego.com/en-gb/minifigures/characters/janitor-4e9937bd82524499bdd36f44705f08c3

In my view, there are two key behaviours which make someone a Product Janitor:

Mopping up all the things that the other team members don’t want to do  I believe that as a product manager there’s a risk of doing things that you’re not necessarily supposed to do or which take precious time away from things like product strategy or engaging with (potential) customers. For example, I’ve seen good product people ending up as a Scrum Master / pastoral carer / tester / dogsbody for the product development teams that they’re a part of. Whilst I’ve got absolutely nothing against about helping each other out and collaborating, I’d be careful about picking tasks or responsibilities purely because no one else is doing so!

Saying ‘yes’ regardless – Granted, it can be hard to say ‘no’ to people. However, I’m afraid that as a product person, you’ll simply have to! If you don’t say ‘no’, or at least ask ‘why’, there’s a risk of you becoming a shepherd of a bunch of someone else’s user stories or requirements and that’s it. When I’m looking for good product people, I want to meet people who feel comfortable saying ‘no’. People who have a clear product vision and strategy and aren’t afraid to make tough decisions (see Fig. 2 below).

 

 

 

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Fig. 2 – “Big” Product Owner vs “Small” Product Owner – Taken from: http://www.romanpichler.com/blog/big-product-owner-small-product-owner/

This raises the question about what one can do to avoid becoming a Product Janitor:

Carve out time to create a product vision, strategy and roadmap – Having a clear product vision, strategy and roadmap can really help in safeguarding yourself becoming the steward of someone else’s backlog. The chances of you just cleaning up someone else’s mess become slimmer if you have a clear vision, strategy and roadmap that drive your everyday activities. Especially if you’re working at a small startup, you’re bound to wear multiple hats. However, I believe you can still be selective about the number and types hats you decide to wear, or balance them. Having a clear rationale to what you’re trying to achieve will definitely help you with that.

How to best say ‘no’?  Saying ‘no’ doesn’t have to be painful in my experience. There are tonnes of reasons to say no to an idea or request, even if it does sound really good or compelling. Learning how to best say no, is one of the key things that I’ve learned over the last few years. Even though saying ‘no’ warrants its own blog post, these are some of my suggested ways in which you can say ‘no’:

  • “We’re not doing that, instead we’re doing this” – “Instead” is the key word here; explaining to others why you’ve decided not to do a certain thing and highlighting what you’re doing instead, its value and rationale. This is where your overarching product vision, strategy and roadmap will come in very handy, as they act as key communication tools.
  • “Let’s look at the expected impact first” – This is a catchphrase for investigating the expected impact of creating a certain feature or solving a specific problem. Whether it’s looking at expected ROI, impact on other systems or cost of delay, the point here is you creating the ability to say ‘no’ in a well informed way, using data where available to assess tradeoffs.

Main learning point: As a product person, I believe there’s so much value that you can offer. Don’t do yourself a disfavour by becoming a Product Janitor, and solely cleaning up someone else’s mess. Having a clear plan for your product and the confidence to say ‘no’ are critical tools in stopping you from becoming a mere custodian of other people’s mess or their unwanted tasks.

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://280group.com/product-management-blog/be-a-product-manager-not-a-product-janitor/
  2. http://www.slideshare.net/cmyers4/product-manager-or-product-janitor-its-your-choice
  3. https://medium.com/@matbalez/product-manager-you-are-664d83ee702e#.2qkjkft1k
  4. https://280group.com/product-management-blog/product-management-new-years-resolution-say-no-gracefully/
  5. https://blog.intercom.com/product-strategy-means-saying-no/
  6. http://www.jamasoftware.com/blog/product-managers-you-can-say-no-and-still-make-people-happy/
  7. http://www.romanpichler.com/blog/big-product-owner-small-product-owner/
  8. http://www.mironov.com/strat-priority/
 
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Posted by on December 7, 2016 in Product Management

 

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App review: Zuora

One of the product areas I’m keen to learn more about is billing; understanding how small businesses go about (recurring) billing. A few years ago, I used Recurly to power subscription management and payments for a music streaming service. I’ve now discovered Zuora, who aspire to “turn your customers into subscribers.”

“The world subscribed” – I really like Zuora’s vision – “the world subscribed” – and its 9 keys to building a subscription based business (see Fig. 2 below). Zuora aims to make managing subscription payments as intuitive as possible. For example, when I look at the info that Zuora provides on a specific customer account, it feels clear and clean, enabling the user to digest key account information at a glance (see Fig. 3 below).

Part of an ecosystem – The thing I like best about Zuora is the numerous integrations it has with partners and marketplace apps. As a result, Zuora users can integrate easily with payment gateways such as Adyen and link with accounting software packages such as QuickBooks. Similarly, there’s a whole host of apps and plug-ins that Zuora users can choose from.

Main learning point: Even though subscription management / billing forms the core of Zuora’s value proposition, I feel that there’s much more to it: helping people run their business operations as efficiently as possible. I don’t know whether the people at Zuora would agree with me on this vision, but I believe that, especially through it’s 3rd party integrations, Zuora can support its users more widely in their day-to-day operations.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Zuora’s “Quotes” overview – Taken from: https://www.getapp.com/finance-accounting-software/a/zuora/

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Fig. 2 – Zuora’s 9 keys to building a subscription based business – Taken from: https://www.zuora.com/vision/the-9-keys/

  1. Price – Find your sweet spot. Dynamically adjusting pricing and packaging is the surest way to attract and retain customers, and multiply the value of your relationships.
  2. Acquire – Boost subscription rates with tools like flexible promotions, integrated quoting and multi-channel commerce.
  3. Bill – Subscriptions mean more invoices and more payments. Automatically generate fast, accurate bills and deliver them online.
  4. Collect – Get paid. Collect payments instantly through automated and manual channels, while maximising completed transactions and minimising write-offs.
  5. Nurture – Build beautiful relationships. Keep your customers engaged and happy. Seamlessly manage rapidly changing upgrades, conversions, renewals and other orders.
  6. Account – Measure everything. Twice. Zuora plugs straight into your accounting software and General Ledger. Register subscription and process deferred revenue with ease.
  7. Measure – No paper, no worries. Analytics make forecasting, accounting close and audits a breeze. Plus, it gives you the right insight your subscribers, so you can make smarter decisions.
  8. Iterate – Try something new every day. Subscriptions can involve complex customer relationships. Zuora lets you iterate and test what’s working with just a couple of clicks.
  9. Scale – Get growing. Zuora is built on a secure, scalable technology infrastructure. So wherever you start out, we’ll keep the system running as you grow.
Fig. 3 –  Screenshot of Zuora’s “Customer Accounts” page – Taken from: https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/zuora#/entity
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Related links for further learning:
  1. https://www.boomi.com/solutions/zuora/
  2. https://www.zuora.com/product/partners/
  3. https://connect.zuora.com/appstore/apps
  4. http://fortune.com/2014/06/10/10-questions-tien-tzuo-founder-and-ceo-zuora/
  5. http://www.forbes.com/sites/edmundingham/2015/10/13/why-own-anything-anymore-zuora-founder-explains-rise-of-subscription-economy-at-subscribed-ldn/#735812d65a49
  6. http://blog.servicerocket.com/podcasts/episode-7
  7. https://www.zendesk.com/customer/zuora/
  8. https://medium.com/the-mission/the-greatest-sales-deck-ive-ever-seen-4f4ef3391ba0#.xbezrudzi
 

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What Visa and R3 are doing with blockchain technology

In the online Fintech course that I’m currently doing, every other course video is about blockchain and the possibilities it offers. Earlier this year, I wrote about blockchain, trying to demystify some things I’d heard about it up to that point. If anything, watching my course videos with Blockchain experts such as Shaul Kfir, CTO at Digital Asset, has raised my curiosity about blockchain technology even more. In the past week alone, I came across two interesting blockchain related developments, which caught my eye: (1) Visa B2B Connect and (2) R3 Corda:

Visa B2B Connect

visa-b2b-connect

Fig. 1 – Visa B2B Connect diagram – Taken from: https://usa.visa.com/visa-everywhere/innovation/visa-b2b-connect.html

Recently, Visa has started partnering with Chain, a US-based blockchain technology company, to create a proof of concept called “B2B Visa Connect” (see Fig. 1 above). Instead of building a more ‘correspondent’ type of integration between Chain’s core blockchain technology and Visa’s infrastructure, it’s looking to create a peer-to-peer relationship between banks. The essence of Chain’s blockchain network is a shared ledger that allows banks to move assets more securely and efficiently.

I listened to Adam Ludwin, Chain’s CEO/Founder, explaining on a recent podcast that Chain are effectively building “a business-to-business payment network.” Adam highlights that, in essence, Chain are applying cryptography to financial services. As result, entities – whether’s its financial institutions or customers – can have direct control over their financial assets, using a (private) cryptographic key. Adam stresses that there’s no single currency on the different Chain networks. Instead, the currency is specific to the currency issued by the participants of the network in question.

The main thing that I’m taking away from Visa B2B Connect is that Chain is looking to “digitise Visa’s existing currency” by building blockchain technology for Visa from scratch, aiming to design an architecture to solve Chain’s specific problems in mind. In contrast, the likes of Digital Asset, Ethereum, R3 and Ripple, are more like existing architectures which can be modified to meet the needs of specific financial institutions and their customers.

R3 Corda

Last week, R3 – a consortium of 75 banks – announced the introduction of an open source blockchain, to be used by banks. It was announced as “distributed ledger designed for financial services”, called Corda. The ledger hasn’t been built yet, but it was interesting to already get a flavour of its underlying principles:

  • Corda has no unnecessary global sharing of data: only those parties with a legitimate need to know can see the data within an agreement
  • Corda choreographs workflow between firms without a central controller
  • Corda achieves consensus between firms at the level of individual deals, not the level of the system
  • Corda’s design directly enables regulatory and supervisory observer nodes
  • Corda transactions are validated by parties to the transaction rather than a broader pool of unrelated validators
  • Corda supports a variety of consensus mechanisms
  • Corda records an explicit link between human-language legal prose documents and smart contract code
  • Corda is built on industry-standard tools
  • Corda has no native cryptocurrency

Fig. 2 – Overview of Corda’s underlying principles – Taken from: http://www.r3cev.com/blog/2016/4/4/introducing-r3-corda-a-distributed-ledger-designed-for-financial-services

The other thing that I took away was the business problems that R3 Corda is looking to solve:

  • Bank A and Bank B agree that Bank A owes 1M USD to Bank B, repayable via RTGS on demand.
  • This is a cash demand deposit
  • Bank A and Bank B agree that they are parties to a Credit Default Swap with the following characteristics
  • This is a derivative contract
  • Bank A and Bank B agree that Bank A is obliged to deliver 1000 units of BigCo Common Stock to Bank B in three days’ time in exchange for a cash payment of 150k USD
  • This is a delivery-versus-payment agreement
  •  … and so on…

Fig. 3 – Business problems R3 Corda is looking to solve – Taken from: http://www.r3cev.com/blog/2016/4/4/introducing-r3-corda-a-distributed-ledger-designed-for-financial-services

In essence, R3 Corda is looking to significantly improve the way in which banks share and managements agreements between them. The goal is remove any duplication of data or confusion about inter-bank agreements or transactions. Given the immutable nature of blockchain technology, it’s easy to see why banks are collectively developing Corda:

“What I see is what you see and we both know that we see the same thing and we both know that this is what has been reported to the regulator”

Main learning point: Understanding how blockchain applications are built to solve specific problems (R3 Corda) or improve existing experiences (Visa B2B Connect) really helps in painting a better picture of the tangible value that blockchain technology will deliver.

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://usa.visa.com/visa-everywhere/innovation/visa-b2b-connect.html
  2. https://chain.com/technology/
  3. https://sharetheledger.com/reading-list/beginners/
  4. https://chain.com/docs/protocol/papers/whitepaper
  5. http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2015/06/24/nasdaq-selects-bitcoin-startup-chain-to-run-pilot-in-private-market-arm/
  6. http://www.the-blockchain.com/2016/05/03/chain-inc-rolls-open-standard-blockchain-capital-one-citigroup-fidelity-first-data-fiserv-mufg-nasdaq-state-street-visa/
  7. http://bankinnovation.net/2016/10/chain-releases-open-source-code-partners-with-visa/
  8. https://chain.com/press-releases/visa-introduces-international-b2b-payment-solution-built-on-chains-blockchain-technology/
  9. http://www.r3cev.com/blog/2016/4/4/introducing-r3-corda-a-distributed-ledger-designed-for-financial-services
  10. http://www.ithome.com.tw/news/105319
  11. http://11fs.co.uk/podcasts/ep119-back-blockchain-gang/
 
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Posted by on November 14, 2016 in FinTech, Product Management, Startups, Technology

 

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