NewsCred, Skimm reveal product management process

NEW YORK —  The Product Council’s meetup last May 24 at the Pivotal Labs featured guests from the news business, Benjy Boxer, former staff of NewsCred, which offers content marketing software, and Dheerja Kaur of The Skimm, the national news as email newsletter.

Now doing his own thing at Parsecloud, Boxer walked us back to five phases NewsCred underwent to improve a process aimed at helping content marketers out there.

In phase one, Boxer said NewsCred tried to truly understand and empathize with content marketers, prospects, and partners, taking very detailed notes wherein they “abstracted 700+ informative comments to drive our understanding of the customer challenges and solutions.”

As they analyzed the feedback in phase two, Newscred identified four particular jobs its customers were trying to accomplish via its software:content management, project management, analytics, and integrations.

In phase 3, it broke down “each of the 700+ comments and bucketed them into the four jobs and created thematic categories.” This was for product managers to decipher themselves.

Boxer said they designated a room where every member of the NewsCred team contributed feedback. “We lock 10 to 15 people in the room…where product council debates all challenges for 3 hours,” he said.

Should they have had non-staffers be in that room, someone in the audience asked? The exercise, he said, was about establishing trust and transparency about its R&D and product organization and in (making) better decisions and (fulfilling) commitments.

“Consensus builds trust in the organization,” he said. “We were trying to understand why we were making the choices even if we knew what would be chosen.”

In phase four, he said the design and engineering teams broke this experience down into smaller tasks as they created wireframes, selected success metrics for the experiences, and assigned prices to each experience based on the level of effort. The price was important because it wanted to implement the auction process that Pandora used to prioritize product development. They distributed these experiences to the entire company to have managers force rank the experiences with their teams. .

In phase five, the auction process helped them prioritize across the competing interests of its stakeholders. “The market dynamics forced every member of its voting committee to consider exactly what they were spending their limited money on…,” he said.

In the end, we come to a consensus on the most valuable challenges to solve for our customers

The group prioritizes valuable challenges. We call them challenges, not solution,” he stressed .

In closing, he said a great product team should have its engineers talking to its customers.

Dheerja Kaur of TheSkimm presented next, talking about how it has amassed 3.5 million subscribers to date with over 12,00 Simmbassadors in 20 cities.

Kaur talked about how how it came to build the Skimm iOS app with email, messaging and a calendar.

In Phase 1, tts team conducted a focus group as they tried to identify challenges. In Phase 2, it had a pre-MVP test. They tested editorial ideas and heard weekly feedback. They even put news in its calendar.

In Phase 3, they started building the app by finding out how to create a seamless experience where users can experience SkimmAhead content. “We did polls on Facebook and communicated constantly with users,” he said. They also recruited 300 beta testers testing via TestFlight. They also collected engagement data.

In Phase 4, they tested pricing. “Testing pricing is hard,” she said as she mentioned going over .99 cents to 1.99 cents to $2.99 a moth. They also tackled reminders when people need to pay again. In Phase 5, the team launched the app with the help of its 12,000 Skimmbassadors. They also showed an insider look of their process to generate some PR mileage.

The team worked closely with engineers with them to build the app from September to December. They figured the money and accounts part in January and April.

What’s next for them? They will continue to iterate, as they also target more platforms and grow the larger Skimm audience.

Going back to its audience of 3.5 million subscribers, Kaur said, “I would not have done an app first if we didn’t have an audience.”

Dennis Clemente

Shuttling between New York and other US cities, Dennis writes about tech meetups when he's not too busy working as a Web Developer/Producer + UX Writer and Digital Marketer.

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