Ben Yoskovitz on using metrics to build successful products and companies

The O’Reilly Design Podcast: Build measure learn, the One Metric That Matters, and balancing hubris and humility.

By Mary Treseler
April 28, 2016
Tape meausures in Cildo Meireles exhibition. Tape meausures in Cildo Meireles exhibition. (source: antony_mayfield on Flickr)

In this week’s Design Podcast, I sit down with Ben Yoskovitz, investor, entrepreneur, and former VP of product at VarageSale and at GoInstant. We talk about using metrics in product development and why anyone building anything new needs to have both hubris and intellectual honesty. Yoskovitz is co-author of Lean Analytics, and is teaching a live online course, Product Strategy for Designers, on June 9, 2016.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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Hubris and humility: A winning combination

We’re all liars. I say that almost every single time I present. I think as an entrepreneur, you have to be a bit of a liar. There’s a number of reasons for that. One is, you’re creating something that doesn’t yet exist. You’re selling it, whether you’re actually selling it or not, but you have to convince others that your vision is real and important. That might be for recruiting people. It might be users. It might be customers.

In many ways, you’re saying, I believe this thing is true. I’m going to create something to solve this problem or realize this vision. You have to believe me. Let’s all agree that we don’t really know if the vision is true. There has to be a little bit of lying there. Let’s call it a little bit of sizzle before the steak.

Entrepreneurs need what I call ‘a reality distortion field.’ We need to surround ourselves, and I put myself in this bucket as an entrepreneur, because being an entrepreneur is hard. You have to get up every morning and fight the good fight for what you believe to be true and your vision that you’re working toward achieving; you have to surround yourself in this reality distortion field.

Now, having said that, I think where the risk comes is when that reality distortion field gets so strong to the point where you’re deluding yourself. That’s when, as an entrepreneur, you’re running 100 miles an hour. You crash and you burn and you die. I actually think, that’s where intellectual honesty comes in. Frankly, we say this a lot about the Lean Analytics book, which is: it’s not about exclusively using data. It’s not about being so wholly data-driven that you ignore your gut or insights or anything else. It’s just about poking holes in that reality distortion field, so you don’t crash, burn, and die.

Entrepreneurs need the ego. You need to have a strong vision for what you’re trying to accomplish. You have to be able to get up in front of people and fake it until you make it. Having said that, when that goes too far, then you are doomed to failure.

Product management, product design, and product strategy

The product manager role, and even how we build products, changes company to company. There’s obviously some similarities. For me, this is about helping product designers understand the different approaches to building products, and hopefully relating that to the experiences that they’re having at the organizations where they work, whether it’s large or small companies.

I think it’s important for everybody at a company to understand how a business functions and operates, and how it makes decisions, so that I can tie my work, day in and day out, and the value that I’m creating, to the value for the whole company.

In the class I’m teaching, we’re going to cover things like business models. On the outside, that can sound pretty easy: my company builds a widget and we sell a widget. There’s just so much more to business models than that. A customer or user’s experience, the minute they start with us to the end. We’ll address questions including: How does this business function? How does it make money? How do users experience the product or the services?

Understanding things like pricing. Understanding the whole ecosystem of what has to happen for a business to function and be successful. Then, try to bring that down to my job as a designer and how that relates to product teams. Nobody in a company works in isolation. A product designer has to work with a product manager, has to work with a developer, has to work with customer support, has to work with sales. How do these things tie together so I have better idea of how a product gets built, so I can provide more input and insight into that and increase the value of the work I’m producing for that company?

There’s no formula for success, but there’s a methodology that you can work your way through in order to, hopefully, find success. We will cover this in the course, too.

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