Table of Contents
The Steve Jobs Moment
Andrew is just coming off his best project ever: a skills assessment and professional development plan for his company’s IT and product development departments. His company Nice Move Logistics, which supplies software and solutions in the logistics space, is undergoing a major technology platform change. Winston, the head of IT, and Aerika, the head of product development, wanted a way to both understand where their 1,200+ employees were on the new skills they would need with the platform change so they could make sure their staff have the time and resources to develop those new skills.
The project was a great success, and as an HR manager focused on tech/digital, Andrew knows Nice Move is not the only company making big changes in the technology they’re using and the skills they need. The technology infrastructure for this project was relatively manual and labor intensive, but what if there was software that did the whole thing? Once he asked himself the question, Andrew couldn’t stop thinking about it.
And then he had his Steve Jobs moment: He was going to start a company and it was going to be awesome.
With the CEO’s blessing and some friends and family money, he moved halfway across the country, from Chicago to San Francisco, to participate in the digital revolution and disrupt enterprise skills management. He designed a business model that is supported by SaaS fees from use of his skills management platform and further propelled by advertising and promotion from applicable service providers (like those that offer online courses, local programs, etc.). See the enclosed Business Model Canvas for more details.
Andrew decided his next step was market validation, which he did through a survey for HR managers. He distributed the survey to his list of personal contacts and through applicable LinkedIn Groups. To his delight, he found that 86% of respondents would be ‘likely’ or ‘highly likely’ to purchase a tool like the one he was producing. On the basis of this evidence, he felt ready to proceed to the next step.
After taking a UX (user experience) class in San Francisco, he was able to create prototypes in Sketch to validate his idea. Based on what he learned, he built a pair of prototypes for testing, which you can find in Appendix C. In the UX class, he learned it’s important to go out in the field and talk to users. By hook or by crook (and not always by the book), Andrew got in front of HR managers for discovery interviews. You can find one such transcript in Appendix D. Of all the HR managers he spoke to, 100% agreed that professional development and lifelong learning was important and 100% liked his prototype and said they’d be interested in such a product. On the basis of this evidence, he felt ready to proceed to the next step.
Andrew found a freelancer to code his MVP. They had some work to do to ‘get on the same page’ about what Andrew meant by certain elements of the prototype and the PRD (product requirements document) he wrote, and they had to defer about half of what Andrew was hoping to add. However, after seven long (and expensive) weeks, they got something online that Andrew felt was sellable as an ‘MVP’ (minimum viable product).
And with that, he launched!
The Uh Oh Moment
Not a lot happened in the first week. Based on the survey and interviews, he had expected quick action, but he assumed this was just normal- people are busy, they can’t sign up right away.
In the second week, there was still very little activity- a few trial sign-up’s. He had to keep asking his freelance developer to parse the logs and put them in a spreadsheet- and the figures out user activity were so low and so idiosyncratic that Andrew just wasn’t sure what to make of it.
He emailed and called a few HR managers he had interviewed or had some kind of correspondence with. They were nice enough but the conversations tended to all go the same way: It was very interesting, the HR manager was just ‘slammed’ with work at the moment, the development manager who would have to decide to undertake the project was even busier, and the HR manager hadn’t heard back from them.
One of the HR managers that Andrew followed up with more persistently, Helen, initially responded along the lines of the above, but she did eventually give him some more specific feedback from Francine, the functional manager responsible for the company’s development teams. Francine essentially said that the developers were relatively happy finding out what they need to learn on their own. They like being reimbursed for the expense if they took an online course, but Francine didn’t really see a short term need for a more systematic approach.
The only big bite Andrew had gotten after launch was from a friend of a friend who worked at a consultancy that was interested in having him develop internal software they would use for their practice- but they would need to own all the intellectual property.
Designing the Win
Andrew would like to make the venture work, but he’s thinking about retreating and heading back to his old job so he doesn’t end up buried in credit card debt.
Andrew went into his launch with data and insights that made him confident he’d encounter a lot of demand, but he didn’t. Why?
What do you think he should do? Why?
What do you think went well with his process for developing the venture?
What do you think could have gone better? What would you do differently?
How do you think he should develop the venture from here?
Specifically, what should he focus on next week?
Exhibit A: Business Model Canvas
Positioning Statement (For the Enterprise)
For companies with digital engineering and IT teams who need to assess and plan updates on technical skills, Enable Quiz is an enterprise application that helps managers assess skills and plan learning journeys at scale. Unlike ad hoc learning, our product helps managers, teams, and individuals make purposeful plans and decisions about skills development.
Positioning Statement (For Advertisers)
For e-learning vendors who are in search of qualified business leads, Enable Quiz is an promotional platform that offers focused, qualified leads at a key buying moment. Unlike search or affinity driven advertising, our product offers access to qualified buyers when they’re at the point of making key e-learning investments.
Exhibit B: Market Survey
Exhibit C: Prototypes
Exhibit D: Interview Transcript (Helen the HR Manager)
Andrew: Hi Helen. Thanks so much for making the time.
Helen: Oh, sure. No problem. I just think professional development is so important. I’m glad to help. You want to sit at the table here? [points off camera]
Andrew: Sure, or, I can just sit here if that’s easier.
Helen: OK, sure.
Andrew: As I mentioned, we’re working on an application that helps companies do skills assessments that are closely paired with plans for professional development. I was an HR manager myself, and when we did a big technology platform switch, we found we really needed this and that was kind of my inspiration for this whole thing.
Helen: Got it…[nods head]. That’s great.
Andrew: I have a few questions about all this that I was hoping to ask you.
Helen: Sure. Shoot.
Andrew: How important is lifelong learning and professional development to your company?
Helen: Oh, I just think it’s so important. I mean, what isn’t technology driving today? And it changes all the time. I wish I had more time for it myself.
Andrew: Would you say it’s one of your top priorities?
Helen: That and recruiting. They’re always are looking for more people in engineering and IT. I spend a lot of time on that.
Andrew: Have you undergone any technology platform changes that required skills updates for your various teams?
Helen: I think so, yes. Change is kind of a constant over in development and IT. I’ve been here awhile and I have a general sense of the platforms, but I’m probably not really the right person to give you all the details.
Andrew: Got it. I was the same way. But so generally, you’d say ‘yes’?
Andrew: Got it. And would you be interested in using a third party tool to asses skill sets and plan for professional development?
Helen: Willing…I guess so, sure. We certainly aren’t uninterested.
Andrew: [nods head] If you were to use such a tool, how much would you be willing to pay?
Helen: Oh gosh, I don’t know.
Andrew: I mean, just as a number, does $5 per user seem reasonable for something like that?
Helen: Probably not unreasonable, no…I don’t decide these things myself, just to be clear about that.
Andrew: Roughly how many people do you have working in software development, IT, and project management?
Helen: Oh, that I can tell you- across the whole company about 1,200. I don’t deal with all those groups- just a couple, but that’s the total.
Andrew: If you were going to use a third party tool, what technologies and skills would you most want to assess? This is so we can decide which ones to develop.
Andrew: That’s OK for now.
Andrew: What features would you want in such a product?
Helen: Well, security is always important. The ability to reset passwords by email helps- we had an application once where the password management was a mess and I had to keep resetting passwords. I didn’t enjoy that. Reporting is helpful- I like export to Excel because I end up needing to consolidate a lot of my reporting in Excel.
Andrew: Got it. Do you think individuals at your company would use such an application?
Helen: Sure. Why wouldn’t they?
Andrew: Great, great. What e-learning services do you use at present?
Helen: Right now, it’s pretty ad hoc. Coursera, I know some of them use that. I known they like Stack Overflow, but that’s more for answers and tips.
Andrew: [interrupts] I know at my last job, the managers really liked being able to work with their teams to plan this stuff.
Helen: It sounds great. Anything that helps with professional development, I can’t see how that’s not a plus.
Andrew: Great, great.
Andrew: I’d like to show you a couple of prototypes.
Andrew: [shows A] On a scale of 1-10, how likely would you be to use this one?
Helen: Well, this is nice. You’ve been working hard. Maybe an 8?
Andrew: [shows B] On a scale of 1-10, how likely would you be to use this one?
Helen: This one looks good, too. I think I like the other one better. Maybe a 7?
Andrew: Great. Thank you so much!
Helen: You bet. Good luck with your project!
Funding for This Case Study
Funding for this case study was provided by the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.