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How we make it: A peek inside Dovetail’s product

22 August 2022
Michelle MacRae

Our mission at Dovetail is to improve the quality of every thing. To quote Benjamin Humphrey, our Co-Founder and CEO:

“Through the power of customer research, we go further than just enabling customer understanding. We help our customers create better products for people to use; better experiences for people to engage with; and better services for people to rely on. Customer understanding is simply a means to an end—the end is creating better things.”

We currently have three products in the market that are designed to solve specific challenges in the customer understanding space. However, we are only scratching the surface… We know there are many, exciting and challenging opportunities surrounding customer knowledge yet to be solved - so you can expect to see our products evolve in the future.

Our open source approach to building new products

📡 Our goal is to quickly understand an opportunity and start executing on an MVP. We have a few, simple philosophies that help us achieve this goal:

  1. Startup within a startup

  2. Focus on the customer

  3. Pragmatism wherever possible

  4. Tangible > conceptual

These philosophies help us identify where we can create the most value, enable informed decisions and ensure we learn quickly and fail fast.

Startup within a startup

One of the cool things about working at an early-stage startup is the opportunity to shape the company. This means that each product team member needs to be able to take off their product/design/engineering hats and put on their founder caps.

We are empowered to continuously ask ourselves:

  • Is this the most valuable way to spend our time?

  • Will this create the most value for our customers and for Dovetail?

  • Can we achieve product-market fit?

To answer these questions effectively every team member has developed a deep understanding of our customers’ needs, the total addressable market, competitors, and available technologies. These questions enable us to stay focused on our mission and iterate towards building something valuable (or decide to kill the product).

We also adopt the below frameworks and ways of working to help us to be successful:

  • Assumption tracker. The team holds ourselves accountable for what is known vs what is assumed. We are continuously prioritizing and testing assumptions, so we can make informed decisions about where we should spend our time

  • Understand the market & opportunity. We know the standouts and are clear on how we will compete

  • Go/no go decision points. We don’t fall into the trap of sunk costs

  • Quick decisions. We hold each other accountable for not allowing bloat in decision-making

Focus on the customer

We know who our target customers are. We seek to deeply understand them. We feel their pain and are in love with their problems, rather than our ideas or solutions. We talk to our customers continuously and ask questions exploring:

  1. What are their greatest challenges? How are they currently solving their needs?

  2. What tools are they using, and what do they like/dislike about these tools?

  3. What are their manual workarounds and how much time do they take?

  4. If they had a magic wand, what would they do?

The product my team is exploring is solving for the needs of customers adjacent to our current customer base. We get creative about how to connect with these customers, including; interviewing our investor portfolio peers; reaching out to team members’ networks; and speaking with new roles within our existing customer base.

In addition to connecting with our target customers to conduct research, we treat every conversation as an opportunity to test our GTM strategy and pitch. We make sure we’re continuously improving how we position the product.

Pragmatism wherever possible

In the interest of moving quickly, we have consciously focused on not getting lost in the big picture. We ensure pragmatism by not wasting time with stand-ups and retros, and instead prioritizing continuous conversation. We’ve eliminated the need to manage an over-groomed backlog and instead we start each week fresh. Every Monday, we make a commitment to each other on the value we plan to ship that week.

Questions we ask ourselves to encourage pragmatism:

  • Do we need to solve this right now? Why?

  • How can we descope? Could we do this more scrappily?

Remember that almost all decisions can be undone and that quick validation is more important than perfect data.

Tangible > conceptual

“Make It” is Dovetail’s quarterly hackathon, where everyone at Dovetail stops what they’re doing for 36hrs to build something they’re passionate about. But this isn’t the only time we Make It… making it is a part of our DNA! It’s how we explore new products and bring them to life. My team has prioritized ensuring that we always have at least one tangible product artifact that is a source of truth and we can put into the hands of our customers. Our artifacts are our landing page, and a working, experimental iteration of our product. We prioritized these artifacts as they enable us to learn as much as we can, as fast as we can.

We intentionally keep our experiments scrappy, as we know we aren’t going to get them “right”. By taking this approach we are able to quickly test our hypothesis, compound our learning and spin up a new experiment super fast; meaning we are in an even better, more informed position when deciding what to do next.

There are many artifacts you can choose from. We considered all of the below before landing on ours:

  • Product landing pages

  • A public roadmap

  • Customer journey maps

  • Wireframes

  • Clickable prototypes, or

  • Working iteration of your product

The most important thing is choosing the artifacts that will help you to best understand your customers and compound your learning.

Are you interested in joining Dovetail’s product design team? We’re hiring a world-class team to help build the best products and do our best work. Check out all our open roles and learn more about Dovetail here.

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