Accelerating Early Product

with Amy Jo Kim

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Product Value

Creating a narrative sketch

Amy Jo Kim

Game Designer, Social Architect, Startup coach

Lessons Learned

A customer narrative is a story told from her point of view, using your product over time.

Create a narrative sketch using job stories: discovery, onboarding, habit building, and mastery.

Ask: What is your customer’s mastery experience?


Lesson: Accelerating Early Product with Amy Jo Kim

Step #7 Product Value: Creating a narrative sketch

Back in 2007 I did a startup. It was very innovative. We were probably a little too ahead of the curve, but we sold to Lumosity. I got to work with them, they're awesome. But we wanted to develop a new kind of brain game. We're game designers and we had been blown away by Brain Age by Nintendo which came out in 2006.

What we found out was that that software actually sold new hardware to a whole new demographic, which was old people in Japan. They made this thing called Brain Age and all these old people bought Nintendo DS's, and that made a big impression on me. They opened up a whole new market segment. That's amazing. So we got excited about that. I have a background in neuroscience and I'm a game designer. It's natural to give a shot at brain games.

We said what would a next generation brain game look like? I did a few interviews but then I just jumped ahead and built it. Took some money, took some seed money, built it, released it on Facebook, it won some awards, we got to 10,000 people, they were loving it, and then we sort of hit a wall. It was a little too innovative and to take it to the next level I needed a lot more money, and I had sort of run through my seed funding and I wasn't that crazy about being CEO. I like being a designer.

So we found again that market need. People absolutely loved it but the larger market, which was the brain games market that we 'cessed out, it was really hard to say, "Okay. Well, what do those people need?" And then we looked around and saw that people doing much more conservative things than us were doing much, much better and getting more traction. So we scaled back on the innovation, sold to the more conservative company, learned a lot by working with them, and at this point a lot of what I do is shaped by all those mistakes.

I didn't do enough to really find that early market niche and then exploit it. I took venture money that expected me to grow fast when what I really needed to do was work on that early market and getting a foothold there, and really finding out what they would actually pay for. So what I learned was that I tried to leap over that early stage and it didn't work for me, because I was doing something innovative. So one, I needed a different funding model, but I also learned that sometimes you're too far out.

We definitely had core product value. That game was really interesting and fun and delivered core product value to early adopters, and it actually illustrates the flip side of not finding your early adopters, which is why Geoffrey Moore wrote "Crossing the Chasm." Which is we had trouble then finding the next wave of people, because what we were doing was so innovative it was hard to explain. So the early adopters got it and, "Oh, this is amazing," right?

And I actually had some investors that wanted to invest but we ended up wanting to sell instead because I just didn't want to keep running a company as a CEO. But they got it too and they were like "Oh, this is amazing! I could see where this could go here and there!" But then that next wave, we weren't reaching them and we're not marketing experts. That's the other reason. I didn't want to hire a marketing expert, I wanted to join someone who had a marketing expert and we couldn't figure out how to do that next piece. But we were very good at getting the early adopters and we were very good at getting that value.

It's not clear to me that what we built would ultimately be something people would pay for standalone. They would pay for it probably as part of a larger offering, and conceptually that's a different kind of a product strategy. And there are a lot of companies that make sense like that. Not as a standalone thing but as something really cool that a bigger company could incorporate, and that's a perfectly fine thing to do.

The narrative is a story that happens over time. A customer narrative is a story told from your customer's point of view about their experience over time using your product, and if you use my four-stage model you say, "What's the customer's experience during onboarding? What's the customer's experience during discovery? What's the customer's experience on day 21, month 3?" That's the habit building phase. "When they know the ropes, what's their experience? And then what's their mastery experience? What is it that once they've learned the ropes and mastered the system, what next? What else can they do?"

I learned about scenarios doing UX work and I learned about writing narratives doing game design. Many game designers who do online MMOs and online multiplayer games, which are the kind of game I specialize in, write day in the life, month in the life narratives of their player experience to help them understand what is a very complex experience that by necessity needs to unfold over time. So that's where I first learned the technique, and what I've done is boiled it down to make it like a short cut, because people are busy.

So I use job stories, which is a variation on jobs to be done that Paul Adams and the folks at Intercom have been using a lot. I use those as another awesome design short cut and design hack, and I tell a narrative just with four job stories; an onboarding one, a habit-building one, a mastery one, and a discovery one. That's what I call a narrative sketch. Very, very different than a thorough scenario but it's kind of like magic because it focuses you on the most important stuff, and when you're trying to do an MVP and you're trying to do needs finding with your customers you need to focus on the important staff and be able to set the wheat from the chaff.

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