“We all need to become software companies!” That’s the message from John C McCarthy in his latest Forrester Research report which in a nutshell proposes that software is a central driver of brand and financial growth.
In his post earlier this week, our CEO Andrew Needham discussed the “business of products” and how to build them, touching upon ‘Lean Startup’ methods and Marc Andreesen’s quote that “all companies are now software companies”.
The big question you are left with is how the heck do you become a software company?
At FACE, we’re now a software company (as well as a research & innovation firm). Many of you reading this will have followed our journey over the past 5 years, culminating in the 2013 launch of Pulsar, a SAAS (software as a service) social data intelligence tool.
In this blog post, I want to share how we did this.
Why? As an innovation consultancy, we’re advising brands every day on how to build products and services. Yet unlike almost every other company in this space, and even many product design firms, we have first hand experience of building products ourselves – one that’s succeeded at scale, growing seven-figure sales revenues in its first year. The story of how we built Pulsar is inscribed deep in the DNA of what FACE is as a brand, and it’s a story we want to tell much more powerfully going into 2015.
So here’s the first installment: 5 ways we turned ourselves into software thinkers.
1. We challenged ourselves to do our jobs better
As researchers with a passion for technology we were early users of social analytic software and we quickly learnt the limitations of the tools in the market. As part of a research innovation exercise, the team led by Francesco D’Orazio identified the key areas where we had to develop manual workarounds on client projects such as topic, network and audience analysis. A lightbulb went off when we looked at the results, which showed we could both reduce the amount of time spent on analytics and improve the quality of our work if we could automate these steps. Then we realised that no tool was offering this…
2. We became obsessed with other people’s jobs
We then looked outside of our company and our own jobs as researchers, and set about evaluating which other jobs could be improved by a tool that could automate these analyses. It was a long list: social media marketing, PR, brand management, corporate relations, advertising agencies, financial forecasting, media planning…And so on. It started to look like a viable market opportunity.
3. We started to build
Looking outside and seeing the opportunity to improve jobs across so many industries gave us the confidence to start the pilot build of tour own social analytics product. For 18 months we built Pulsar with a small budget and team, working all the time with our clients to pilot a wide range of research projects to understand needs, features and use cases. Without having a research team in house who served as ‘internal customers’, this “listen to your users” process would have been much harder and much less powerful. To our delight, after 18 months, a lot of hard work and development, we had happy clients, happy researchers and most importantly a working product prototype – which we named Pulsar.
4. We thought BIG…
In the summer of 2012 we were so excited by the prototype of Pulsar that we started to think big. What if we scaled up the product? What if we could sell this to other companies and work with them on an ongoing basis?, What if we could sell this to lots of people all over the world doing lots of jobs? We then developed a plan to turn Pulsar into a leading platform for social intelligence. In 2013 we rolled out our big thinking by creating new teams in the company under the Pulsar brand: product, development, sales, marketing and account management. Now we really were a software company.
5. …But fought to stay Agile
After 18 months of launching Pulsar and hundreds of clients later what we have learnt about being a software company? It’s really incredibly simple: to win and keep customers as a software business, you have to be obsessed about how you can make your customers’ jobs better – and you have to keep innovating. Our development team follow Agile ‘scrum’ methodology, working on a rapid response development cycle where every aspect of development — requirements, design, and so on — is continually revisited and recalibrated to ensure it’s both deliverable and meets customer needs.
But it becomes something we’ve embraced deeper into the business too.
We’re developing continuous delivery research models, delivering social insights not just through big category landscape reports but also monthly newsletters & the Pulsar dashboard itself.
We passionately believe that “business people and developers” – that is, clients and customers, brands and consumers – have to work together to create products of value, and that’s why we still champion co-creation.
And our version of “working software” is actionable, direct recommendations that provide very specific guidance for what to do and how to change your product or brand.
So that’s how we built Pulsar – and changed ourselves as a research business in the process.
If you’d like to talk further about how we can change your business, whether that’s service design or new product development or just a difficult problem you need to solve – send me an email: Job.Muscroft@Facegroup.com
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