This article was also featured in Built In.
Tell us about Zipwhip’s overarching product vision. What is it, and how do you communicate this vision across the business?
Zipwhip’s vision is to be the world’s leading business texting software and API provider – the easiest to provision and the simplest to use. Zipwhip has remained true to this ambition ever since it first created the capability for businesses to text using their existing landline, VoIP or toll-free phone number in 2014. Since then, an entire industry has mushroomed on the foundation of this innovation. We strive to be the leader in enabling businesses to communicate with their customers through texting.
Earlier on in Zipwhip’s history the core challenge was to educate businesses about the benefits of text enabling their business lines. However, in the last year, there has been a tremendous inflection in the use of texting by consumers and businesses. The challenge for our customers is to figure out how to capitalize on this new important channel of communication with their customers and how to operationalize text-based engagement to create customer value and business growth.
Communicating any vision to your company requires three main things: powerful visualization, metaphors that people can relate to and customer stories that highlight and validate the need. You need to paint the picture and show through visualizations and imagery how exactly your vision will be executed. Otherwise your ideas remain abstract and hard for others to picture. You also need metaphors so that you can relate your vision – which at this point isn’t proven – to situations your team recognizes from everyday life. Lastly you need customer stories to square your vision directly with reality. Your work revolves around your customers’ needs and their successes. Customer stories showing the amazing things your product does for them will provide real, tangible examples that anchor your team and motivate them toward your shared vision. A well-crafted vision is the north star for your team and company. Painting the right picture and creating belief is a key goal for any leader. It is critical to build the trust needed for the journey ahead.
How does this vision help inform Zipwhip’s product strategy and development?
Your product vision is a milestone years in the future; something you’re working toward in the longer term. Your product strategy is the map to get to that vision, and your product execution are the tactics – the nuts and bolts, and the details on how you’ll exactly implement that strategy.
Product development takes time, but businesses and their needs change overnight. That’s why it’s important understand not just what your customers need now to be successful, but what they’ll need tomorrow. Vision is a forward-looking goal, and a successful vision is one that foresees your customers’ needs even when they may not fully articulate it.
And it’s not as easy as waiting for your customers to tell you what they want next. One of Steve Jobs’ most infamous quotes is, “Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” As a product leader you need to intimately understand your customers’ journeys so that you can preempt their wants and needs years into the future and understand how you fit in to provide unique value. Otherwise you’ll always be lagging behind your customers’ needs and your competitors’ offerings.
How do you stay true to your product vision while also taking into account the wants and needs of various stakeholders?
As a product leader you must never forget that your most important stakeholder is your customer. Your team, your engineering partners and others in your organization are also important players whose needs you should bear in mind, but if your vision doesn’t ultimately serve your customers’ business needs it’s not a vision that will bring your company success.
Start having informal conversations with your customers early, even as a first step. Ask them how they use your product and what they want to see in the future, but more importantly, ask about their business challenges and long-term strategic plans for growth. By understanding your customer’s own vision, you can make informed guesses on how their strategies may change in the future and how external forces may affect the market.
Keep them engaged throughout your product journey and ask for continual feedback. This will help you iterate and experiment along the way so that you don’t end up launching a product that doesn’t fit their needs. Just as you might take an agile approach to your engineering work, take an agile approach to your vision and overall product strategy.