Four ways our tool won’t help you

Picture of a wrench and a screw

As a tool maker, Ken Norton’s latest post “The Tools Don’t Matter” stung at first. After a bit more reflection, I realized what he was saying.

In his post, Ken made the point that you won’t play like Serena Williams just because you use the same tennis racket. That’s true. But, that doesn’t mean Serena is going to show up to Wimbledon with any racket and win the whole thing. Similarly, a super talented product manager isn’t going to perform their best with just any tool. It’s more like the way Marc put it, Serena needed to be skilled to even know what the best racket was for her. Not the same as tools don’t matter, but Ken’s main point is still valid: If you want to be a great product manager, tools alone aren’t going to make you one.

In that spirit, we thought we’d take an opportunity to point out all of the ways our tools won’t help you be a great product manager. To put it another way, these are the skills you need to bring for the tool to be useful. Or, perhaps more importantly, these are the skills you need in order to know if our tool is right for you.

1. Upfocus won’t help you set goals

In Upfocus, you can assign a company goal to an idea you’re thinking about building. It’s helpful for your teammates to see that an idea aligns to a goal. But, just because you aligned an idea to a goal, doesn’t mean you’ll make a great product. There are at least two things that could go wrong outside of our tool:

  1. The goal might not be good
  2. Your idea may not achieve the goal

Melissa Perri offers some good insights about creating an effective product strategy. Based on the Unified Field Theory from Toyota Kata, she explains that a good strategy should align the team around desirable outcomes for the customer and business. The elements of a good product strategy are:

  • Vision: Where the company or business line is going long term.
  • Challenge: The first Business goal you have to achieve on the way to your longer term vision.
  • Target Condition: A smaller problem you need to tackle on your path to accomplishing the challenge. These are set in terms of achievable, measurable metrics.
  • Current State: This is what the current reality is compared to the Target Condition. It should be measured and quantified before the work starts to achieve the first target condition.

Some additional advice Melissa shared with me when thinking about how to apply this strategy:

  • For product leaders:
    • Challenges = Strategic intents
    • Target conditions = Product initiatives
  • For product teams:
    • Challenges = Product initiatives
    • Target conditions = Options

Even with tools to create the elements of a good product strategy, you’ll still need the kind of skill that comes with experience. So, if you’re not an expert at this, you should seek out someone who is, like Melissa. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth your time to watch her talk about The Build Trap.

Product Strategy Animation from

2. Upfocus won’t help you form new habits

Upfocus allows you to turn feedback from customers and coworkers into dev ideas that can be prioritized. We give you a workflow to make it fast to group feedback into themes. We give you prompts to help with things like effective problem statements and estimates. We make it easy to connect releases all the way back to the original feedback that inspired it. But, if you’re not gathering and summarizing feedback today, starting is a behavior change. And, forming new habits is hard.

We offer concierge onboarding to help you get started. We can send you notifications to take action. However, some companies are going to need more help than that. It might not be because you have a lack of discipline. It might be because you need other team members to get on board. This is why there are coaches for frameworks like Scrum, EOS, etc. If you need help with implementation, let us know and we’ll share some referrals.

3. Upfocus won’t help you come up with good solutions

Upfocus allows you to capture your dev ideas in a well structured way. We can help you spot feedback trends. We can guide you toward writing effective problem statements. The solution description, however, is just a blank text area. It’s totally your canvas to fill. Coming up with good solutions takes talent, skill, and practice. We don’t help with that part at all.

We may be able to point you in a helpful direction. Have you read Shape Up? It’s from the team at behind Basecamp. It’s a quick read and free online. They have some insightful ideas for how to iterate on solutions using:

  • Breadboarding – A mash up of an outline and a flow diagram, which includes:
    • Places: These are things you can navigate to, like screens, dialogs, or menus that pop up.
    • Affordances: The things users can interact with such as text, buttons, and fields.
    • Connection lines: These show how the affordances take the user from place to place.
  • Fat marker sketches – A low fidelity mockup. Sometimes these are embedded in an actual screenshot.
Example of breadboarding from Shape Up

Even when you use Shape Up, it still won’t make you creative. It also won’t address your knowledge of what is technically possible/feasible. If you need help with that, consider taking online courses.

4. Upfocus will still let you make bad decisions

If feedback is scattered across help desk software, stuck in inboxes, and not summarized, you’re much more likely to satisfice, which is to choose or adopt the first satisfactory option that one comes across. People have all kinds of cognitive biases, such as recency bias, which over emphasizes the value of something we heard recently.

When we talk about the value of Upfocus, we say it helps you see your universe of options. And, since ideas are more systematically formed, it’s easier to compare them. The goal is that you’ll make better decisions compared to when the options aren’t clearly visible or comparable. You don’t even need to be perfect. You just need to increase your rate of good decision making. But, Upfocus is not an AI with decision making authority. So, making good decisions is still up to you.

Is Upfocus the right tool for you?

If are already experienced with:

  • Creating product strategies
  • Collecting customer feedback
  • Coming up with good solutions
  • Making good decisions when all options are in front of you

Then, you are in a position to know if Upfocus is your tool or choice or not. You can try it risk free for 30 days or schedule a demo with us.

Zoom should be really worried about Facebook and Google [survey]

Fueled by the pandemic, Zoom grew from 10 million daily active users to 200 million in 3 months. At Upfocus, we help companies find, grow, and maintain product market fit. We were curious how well positioned is Zoom to retain these new users. At the beginning of April, we surveyed 62 Zoom customers. The results were worrisome because many of their new users are consumers, which transforms Zoom from a video conferencing solution for businesses into a consumer video chat application.

Here is what we’ll cover in this business breakdown:

  • Zoom isn’t as well-positioned for the consumer market.
  • Zoom only delivers the basics, and doesn’t yet have enough competitive differentiation.
  • Google and Microsoft are a threat because they deeply integrate with core business apps.
  • One way Zoom can keep its market position is to focus on shared experiences.

One question our Upfocus survey asks is “What types of people would most benefit from Zoom?” In order of popularity, here are the types of people Zoom users think the product is for:

Most of these personas are not businesses.

Over half of our survey respondents think that Zoom is not just for business owners. In order for Zoom to keep its new daily active users, it will need to find and maintain product/market fit across all of those personas, while fending off two of tech’s largest players: Google and Facebook.

Gallery view is one of the features Zoom customers said they liked in our survey. Seeing everyone during group calls is nice, especially during a quarantine. However, that is no longer a differentiator for Zoom.

On the heels of Zoom’s meteoric growth, Google announced Meet (the successor to Hangouts) would be free. Just days prior, they also released a copy of one of the key things people like about Zoom, tile mode: gallery view.

Google Meet has a tile mode that works like Zoom’s gallery view.

Similarly, Facebook released Messenger Rooms. It, too, has a gallery-like view.

Facebook’s Messenger Rooms also has a Zoom like gallery view.

So, can Zoom keep its position on top?

Zoom should be worried about its product/market fit

Less than 40% of Zoom users would be
very disappointed to lose access to zoom.

To determine a product/market fit score, the first question in our survey asks “How would you feel if you could no longer use Zoom?”

  • Very disappointed.
  • Somewhat disappointed.
  • Not disappointed.

Sean Ellis asked this same question to about 150 companies. He found that companies with a strong product/ market fit will see 40% or more of their customers say they would be “very disappointed” to lose access to the product.

From our survey, only 38% of people said they would be “very disappointed” to lose Zoom. That’s not a strong product market fit. For comparison, over 70% of people say they would be disappointed to lose access to Google Analytics.

Zoom only delivers the basics

Survey respondents said they like Zoom for the following reasons:

  • Quick and easy to host a meeting.
  • It just works/reliable/stable.
  • Better quality than Hangouts/quality audio and video.
  • Moderation controls.
  • Gallery view and integrated chat.

The top three reasons are because Zoom actually delivers on the basic functionality of video conferencing. After that, the reasons are also pretty basic features.

Zoom’s leadership position is precarious because it’s very likely that tech behemoths like Google and Facebook will deliver reliable audio and video. In fact, they are ramping up investment now, so it might not take long.

And, while people like the ease of use and quality audio and video from Zoom, they still feel like it needs more work. Here are some of the responses we saw:

“increase video quality and recording quality”

“The video quality is not always that great. Even when using higher quality cameras and equipment.”

“Make audio work even better. Foolproof.”

Zoom needs to improve its security, duh, and user experience

Zoom’s real challenges become apparent when we focus on what people dislike about Zoom. Just over half of our respondents said they would only be “somewhat disappointed” to lose access to Zoom. That’s a large amount of customers to be on the fence about a product. One third of those people said the top improvement area is security and privacy. Since our survey came out, Zoom has made some improvements to address these concerns.

It’s not surprising to see that Facebook made security and privacy a core part of their announcement for Messenger Rooms. Similarly, Google’s announcement to make Meet freely available also outlined 9 key reasons they are secure and private.

Zoom’s next largest area for improvement is their UX/UI. Zoom is considered easier to use than some alternatives, but people still find it quite clunky. Some of these quotes exemplify the concern:

“Better design/UX? They seem to have mostly nailed the technology side as far as maintaining well-synced audio, high quality video, low latency. Their design and UX is generally pretty clunky though.”

“Zoom works decently well. It’s not a very well-built Mac app in terms of how it fits and feels within the wider OS. But its core service (video connection) is stable. It also doesn’t engender a lot of loyalty feelings for me so if I couldn’t use it I’m sure I’d adapt to something else.”

“The UI/UX feels a bit clunky and outdated. While the “bones” of Zoom are really solid (reliable connection, consistent quality, no noticeable down time), it feels a bit outdated from a UI perspective.”

“Anything that helps first time users figure out their audio/video settings, do that.”

Since our Upfocus survey was conducted, Zoom has been making UX/UI improvements. Time will tell if they have gone far enough to please consumer customers.

Facebook emphasized multiple times in their Messenger Rooms announcement how easy it is to use. No meetings to create. No additional software to download. It has integrated chat. And, you’re already connected with family and friends on their platform.

If you visit Zoom’s website, all of the content is focused on business use cases. This makes all of the consumer customers they picked up vulnerable to competition.

Zoom is not currently speaking to their consumer customers

Facebook, by contrast, is already focusing on the consumer side of the experience by offering AR effects like bunny ears, and new AI-powered features like immersive 360 backgrounds and mood lighting. People want more than video, they want shared experiences. 

Facebook is much more oriented toward consumers than Zoom

Survey respondents said they want Zoom to offer more shared experience features like:

Maybe interesting/fun ways to customize [Zoom].

Response to question about how can we make Zoom better

To be fair, Zoom customers could use Snap Camera to add AR effects to their Zoom calls. But, it’s a missing element in their native experience.

One fun element that Zoom has released since our Upfocus survey is the ability to add a background. Zoom backgrounds give customers a fun opportunity to express themselves.

Google and Microsoft are a threat because they deeply integrate with core business apps

While Facebook is flanking Zoom on the consumer side, Google Meet is coming for its business users. This means Zoom will either be fighting two battles or will have to focus on one. Survey respondents offer a bit of a backhanded compliment to how easy Zoom is to use. Here’s how they put it:

“Of all the video conference tools I’ve used, Zoom has the least friction to getting new (non tech savvy) users into a meeting.”

“Generally easy installation for those not particularly tech savvy.”

“…It is a great product. Initially I had to figure out how to invite others to the meeting as that was not intuitive…”

Translation: it’s less sucky, but still needs work. Google is trying to make it easier for business users to host meetings, especially it’s Google Suite users.

“Zoom is already a better product than Google Hangouts, but it’s generally easier for me to schedule a Hangouts meeting from inside the Google ecosystem, so Zoom would need to be WAY better than Hangouts in order for me to feel like it’s irreplaceable. For me, I think that would mean more intuitive tooling for creating breakout groups, an easier way to see the chat feed while screensharing, and (at least in these quarantine times) a feature that allows you to watch a movie together via screenshare while still being able to talk with each other.”

Meet’s integration with Google Calendar makes it button push easy to add chat. In fact, it can be added automatically, so no thought is even required. If Google can continue to improve their audio and video quality, then their integrations will allow them to capture market share from Zoom.

Google recently updated their calendar creation flow to make Google Meet more prominent. Not only is the button larger and in a bold color, but they also added a color logo for Google Meet in the icons. The add conferencing option also changed from a drop down to a button for Google Meet as the only option by default.

Microsoft Teams is built around, well, teams

Up until now, we’ve mostly focused on Google and Facebook. However, on the enterprise business front, Zoom is also competing with Microsoft. Microsoft Teams has deeply integrated video into Outlook and chat. And, since Teams are literally the list of coworkers on a team, invites are super easy. Grouping files, messages, and more is much easier since Microsoft knows your coworker contact list groups.

Microsoft Teams chat experience has video integrated into the context of the conversation
Teams also supports tiled video feeds now too

Zoom customers can get around some of the lack of native integrations through plugins. It will be interesting to learn over time whether those plugins are too much friction vs. the attractiveness of the native integrations.

Zoom can stay on top by delivering shared experiences

Zoom is still in a leadership position, so here are some things they can do to stay in front. The most obvious is to improve their security and privacy as well as their UI/UX. But, really, that’s just clean up work. To improve the attractiveness of their product (and create a moat around their newly acquired customers), Zoom could elevate their solution from a “video conferencing app” to becoming a “shared experience space”. The big opportunity to differentiate from all other video apps is to recognize that people use video simultaneously with other activities. Getting the simultaneous part right is a huge opportunity.

My son having a shared experience playing games while using FaceTime to chat with his cousin and uncle.

Enable shared experiences around games, movies, and music

If users could do these activities simultaneously without having to use multiple devices or overlapping, delayed audio; it would be a compelling feature that would drive extended usage. Here are some responses from Zoom users requesting shared experiences:

“…A feature improvement I would suggest is incorporating add-ins like games, movie or music services like Spotify so that groups of people can have shared experiences. Example: when the group of friends play cards together, one of us plays music in the background But the sound is less than ideal. It would be cool if we are all subscribers of Spotify to play through the native app on our devices for better quality of sound and shared DJ capabilities….”

“and (at least in these quarantine times) a feature that allows you to watch a movie together via screenshare while still being able to talk with each other.”

“…inter connected to Smart TV (might already be)…”

“…game interaction through zoom…”

Another way people will experiment with shared experiences is within virtual environments. Recently, Viviane Schwarz tweeted that she and her editorial team think Zoom sucks and are having meetings around the campfire in Red Dead Redemption 2. Viviane’s series of tweets were covered by numerous publications, which indicates that people resonated with the idea of mixing fun with business.

Have more fun with meetings in Red Dead Redemption 2 around a virtual campfire.

Consumers also will explore shared experiences in virtual environments. One commonly suggested idea was the ability to watch movies and TV together. XRSpace is offering such an experience by allowing users to watch a movie together in a virtual cinema.

Watch movies together in a private cinema in Manova

Zoom could also improve their experience for power users. Here are 3 key things we learned from their users:

Make breakout rooms easier to use

People really like this feature and not all video chat services offer breakout rooms, but our surveyed users said it is not intuitive. In my personal experience, many times I mention it on Zoom calls, people weren’t aware of the option, or they heard of it, but didn’t know how to use it.

Moderators want more options

For example, survey respondents said they want to be able to disable all virtual backgrounds at once. They want to be able to mute people by groups. Hosts are the power users. They drive the group interactions. Focusing on their needs, will lead to other people using the product who aren’t power users. Keeping hosts happy = moat around the business.

More options for arranging elements on the screen

People like the gallery view, which is why both Google and Facebook are copying it. But, people want more options for arranging the order and size of the feeds. Also, people like Zoom’s integrated chat and screen sharing. And, they want to be able to see feeds, shared screens, and chat all at the same time.

Powered by Upfocus!

To gather these insights, we ran a product/market fit survey with actual Zoom users via our Upfocus software.

After we captured the responses, we were able to use our software to extract feedback themes and to capture observations to make sense of the results.

If you’d like to learn more about the approach, contact us.