Hello, my name is Vladimir Babarykin and I’m a founder and the CEO of SpatialNote. In this post I would like to share my reasons for starting this company and this blog. But first let me share one of the most interesting insights I got from my experience of running an IT company.
Complex business environments consist of so many factors that it is hard to objectively name the most important ones. Even within a large sample of companies the following factors vary too much to provide data that could allow for reasonable conclusions on this matter:
• The time it takes a startup to succeed;
• Team size, skill and motivation levels;
• Market situation;
I was lucky to run the company with most of the variables unchanged for long enough time to isolate the key factor for success of a product.
The astonishing insight was that there can be a tremendous (up to 1,000 times) difference in success rate of products developed in similar conditions by the same team. Let me tell you how we arrived to this data.
By the time my business partner and I realized we needed a product strategy, our 50+ employee company with a few years of custom web-development experience wasn't quite ready for a big product of our own, so we adopted an intermediary strategy.
We decided that we would start building small products/extensions to some popular products that have good communities and marketplaces around them.
We tested couple of such product markets to see if they could serve as a good platform for our own solutions. We found one that allowed us to get reasonable income to gradually switch all our employеes to work on this market and this business model. And this new way of doing things helped us get the insight.
While a typical product takes several years to develop and see the result, our average cycle time for all the phases of developing a product were 2 to 4 months. With up to 1 being spent on finding an idea for a new mini-product and getting all the requirements ready , and 1-3 months being spent on development. We had 5 product managers each working on 1-2 products simultaneously. Majority of the factors were pretty stable - we used very little variation on the process to choose ideas for development, we had the same development and quality assurance processes, we had the same process for creating technical documentation, as well as marketing one. We marketed the products in the same way using the same marketing channels. Of course, there was some variation in the productivity between the teams, each consisting of 1 product manager, 1-2 developers, 1 QA officer. But it was not that significant and the developers and quality assurance professionals migrated between product managers, making their influence not that strong. Within several years of operating this way we’ve worked on around 100 of these mini products.
It soon became evident that there could be a 1,000 times difference in success rate of the mini-products developed in similar conditions. That is 100,000% difference. And it did not depend on the team.
Even a somewhat better performing team (e.g. several times faster, better quality, etc.) could have a complete failure. While the next time they could do a mini-product that would break all the previous sales records. Same could be true for the relative “low performers” - they could have a much more successful one than the average products. Thus, in our case the key factor for the product success was the product idea.
Of course, I cannot guarantee that this same result would be true for any other situation or market. E.g. maybe in longer periods of time the ability of the team to learn, to be able to adapt to changes in the market, pivot their original ideas would be a more beneficial factor and will lead to better results. However, it’s hard to check if for longer periods of time the team would become more important. And my intuition suggests that even in longer periods and more complex scenarios the idea would be the most important factor. In fact, I would not be surprised to find out that the importance of the idea in situations with more variability in such factors as market size and right timing could make the influence of the product idea even more prominent, maybe even multiplying the original 1000 we had by another 100 or 1000. There are many startups that are unable to show any reasonable revenue, while some are able to grow to revenues and valuations of dozens of billions US dollars.
In fact, after thinking a little bit more about this in a wider context it came to my mind that the result was predetermined to be in favour of ideas. If we glance at the history of humankind, we will notice multiple examples of ideas becoming so powerful that they can “infect” millions of people, sometimes for multiple generations. History knows very bad examples, like the ideas of nacism and communism leading to millions losing their lives. Ideas very often transcend people and use them as hosts and transmitters. Not all of the ideas are bad, all the human culture and science are products of someone’s ideas. In fact, each of us is a “host and distributor” of thousands of ideas that were “planted” in us by other people and originated long time ago. But how many of us are able to give birth to ideas that would spread and motivate other people, especially for a long time?
Getting back to the story I want to mention once again that our experience allowed us to get to this important conclusion that is hard to see in majority of other business settings. We decided to get deeper into how to increase probabilities of finding successful and valuable product ideas. Within the next couple of years we explored the options for improving the quality of the innovation process.We also realized that we got valuable expertise working on the small products for other platforms. And if we continued doing this, this would be a huge limitation of what we can do. We understood that we are ready to deliver much more value to all the people involved - our employees, customers, investors and society, but were limited by the assumptions we had at the moment we chose the intermediary product strategy. It was the right time to move forward. We were ready for our next big thing - a serious stand-alone product.
How we chose our product idea
There are several components that played important role in how we chose our big product idea.
Last couple of years of working on the mini-products we’ve been utilizing a deep root-cause analysis for the problems that our mini-products could solve. For some products we’ve been some 20 layers below the level that the end users typically voiced themselves. We also tried to combine the results of various products and causes of problems into a unified, even deeper holistic picture of the causes of many undesired effects people have. We went so deep in this analysis, that we had some root causes of the issues not only of the platform we originally made our products for, and not even the industry our platform belonged to. We got to those issues that caused problems in most of the industries and were quite universal for people as a whole.
When we had this picture or, as we can say, map of low-level causes and their connections to multiple possible problems in various industries, we started applying a number of criteria to narrow down possible search of where we want to apply our expertise and talents. Some of the factors we considered were - big enough market size, our personal interest and motivation to work in such market or such idea, freedom of entry, our expertise, etc. As a result of this process we came up with about six ideas to investigate further.
We applied Steve Blank’s popularized model to the rest of the ideas in order to voice all our hypotheses and assumptions about the ideas and have them checked to see what is really worth doing.
In the beginning of 2014 we chose our winning idea that was not only valuable from many criteria important for business, but the one that is very motivating for us. We named this product SpatialNote.This blog will only occasionally contain information about our product, with the majority of the future posts being devoted to sharing information that we believe will be interesting and valuable. But this time let me make a small intro into why we decided to create our product and why we are so enthusiastic about it.
Being life-long learners and having a wide range of interests, we’ve been motivated by people with outstanding mental abilities. We also tried to use some software that would allow us to be more effective learners to successfully handle difficult situations we periodically happen to place ourselves into. The discrepancy between the abilities of outstanding people and what the majority like us have, as well as motivation to be top performers, helped us look deeper into the situation with learning and education.
The problem of learning is not something that bothers us only . With the exponential growth of information people get overloaded with it. They spend huge parts of their lives on education and the knowledge they get becomes obsolete very quickly. People need to study and learn new things all their productive lives. At the same time the education industry has huge problems. The cost of education grows very fast, much faster than the cost of housing and other costs of living. Around 37 million people in the US alone are estimated to have educational debt which amounts to around $1 trillion.
And the problem is not only with the amount of time and money we spend on learning. The most important factor for growth of economies, as well as for success of companies is innovation. New breakthroughs and new perspectives are things that drive economies forwards. Not very high growth rates of developed economies are explained by lower than needed level of innovation, which in turn primarily depends on education.
The facts that people currently cannot successfully handle information overload, educational system has huge problems, and economies are barely growing suggest that the current paradigm in these areas approaches its limit and needs a substantial change.
Information technology tries to help, but in many cases it looks like the results are best described by this quote from Plato’s Phaedrus, where an ancient god Theuth shows, among others, his primary invention - the use of letters - to the god Thamus, the king of Egypt:
“SOCRATES: ...But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”
As we see it quite often both the IT products and education that we get is not quite aligned with natural abilities of people.
The idea behind this blog is to be of interest to people from IT, business, education and science by providing new perspectives that could help generate insights and lead to really innovative breakthroughs in learning and education.
On our end we decided to leverage not only our experience in business and IT, but also our linguistic education as well as general interest in cognitive sciences to come up with a solution for non-linear learning and spatial (3D) thinking.
Any type of education and learning results in a network of concepts that a person creates in her head. It is also well known that substantial amount (tens of thousands) of words are metaphorically rooted in a very small amount of basic concepts like space, time, force, causation, etc. And all of them are based on some variation of the concept of space.
At the same time, people are still using conventional ways to take notes with pen and paper or regular note-taking software that is far from using most of our cognitive abilities. We believe that substantial improvement of the way people work with concept networks to turn on multiple layers of spatial cognition will have strong impact on memory and comprehension of information, ability to learn and transfer knowledge. This in turn will impact the economies.
We hope that both our product and the posts we will share in our blog will be helpful to drive more interest to the topics of learning, handling information, spatial and 3D thinking, knowledge transfer and eventually lead to more interesting products aimed to help people maximize their potential.
January 17, 2014