Confronting Assumptions & Reducing Risks

I have just got back from App Promotion Summit London – one of my favourite events of the year – which the very smart James Cooper (alumni of the Academy) has been running for the past 3 years. Over-subscribed and full to the brim – even on tube strike day! I was given a great opportunity by James to run a workshop where I got to try out a new framing for my campaign to keep people at the centre of digital innovation. Through my work with Pearson I have recently been introduced to the language of “Experiments” and “Experiment Boards”. It was a brilliant opportunity to try out a new tool – I am pleased to say that it worked well and I shall definitely be including it in my session at the next Academy. Thanks to all the participants of the workshop for helping to validate my own experiment and to Pearson for the fresh thinking. An experiment within an experiment – how exciting!

The job of an Experiment is to test out things that we believe to be true today so that we can save time and money tomorrow. 

APSLondon 2015

Some of the Workshop Participants – @fleurelliott @mercerjamie (me:@jewl) @wongston @designrichly @vestorach

We start in the same place – the challenge is to first list out all assumptions that you have made; then identify which are the riskiest. Work out where the assumptions can be corroborated, in other words, where you can find evidence to reduce the risk. That could be desk research – market stats / proof points already established from “similars”. Understand then that the riskiest assumptions are often those about how people feel and how they are going to behave and so you need to go find evidence to reduce them.

Enter the “Experiment Boards”, listed below in “references”. Having studied these, I have devised this short list of questions to help with the definition of the experiment. Behind each one, is a discussion of course.

1 Goal: What is it that we’re trying to learn / prove? Have we assumed a customer problem or behaviour?
2 People: Who is our customer / user? What are our recruitment criteria? Where will we find them?
3 Logistics: How are we going to conduct our experiment? When? Who will carry out the experiment? Where?
4 Measurement: What will make our test a success?
5 Outcome: What did we learn?

Here is the presentation that I used to facilitate the session that includes the design of the experiment.

I asked the group to offer up case studies based on the products that they were working on and I asked them to talk about assumptions they had made and how they could test those out. They then got the opportunity to work with others in the room to help them define experiments.

Some great examples came from Rich Brown, Co-Founder at I know this great little place in London. They wanted to test out their proposition and see if the appetite was there. They put up a Facebook Page and a a single pre sign-up landing page with a “free forever” message. They managed to get 40,000 Facebook fans and 110,000 pre launch sign ups. Rich also talked about a small Facebook advertising campaign that he ran and the high levels of success he gained there.

Simon Wong, Marketing Manager at What Now Travel talked about how he can be frequently found on Leicester Square, talking to tourists about features and showing his App with well constructed, uniform research scripts – like it!

The specific assumptions that were offered up to work on included

  • Have we focussed too closely on one target segment so that we may alienate others through our product positioning, marketing and design?
  • How do we know that our App will be habit-forming (necessary for the business model) rather than just used as a one – off?
  • Have we chosen the right feature to major on? It felt like the decision has been made without data.
  • Will what worked in one geographic market translate to another?

Attendees found it useful to get help from others in the room to work through the design of their experiments. One of the most challenging parts was to identify the “Goal” in a small enough component part to test. The group realised that a number of experiments may need to be defined and carried out and so they got involved with breaking down assumptions to a more granular level. There were deep discussions around how to design experiments to check assumptions made about people’s sentiment – but that is another session and blog entirely.

Talking to users / customers face to face is a good way to crack many of these experiments – in the presentation is also a check-list for how to carry out good customer conversations. The point about this particular session is that here is an approach that makes you stop and question your assumptions. It can be used at any point of the product development process, but best that you start early on (yes, before anything is even built) and then keep checking yourself as you move forward.


Get involved on Twitter with #need­to­know­mobile and copy us in @Moblacad. Our next pro­gramme starts on 1st October — you can sign up here and if you are quick, you can get £100 off with our Early Bird Discount (enter: EARLY).

Summer Update with yummy stuff!

Hello All – It’s time for a Summer update from The Mobile Academy…

£100 off our Autumn Academy for Early Birds
Today we launch the early bird ticket to our next Academy: Tuesday and Thursday nights, 1st Oct – 3rd Dec. We are very excited to be returning for a sixth time with updates to the programme and new tutors as we continue to evolve with our fast moving industry. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about the course or any crazy thoughts on how to spread to word!

A Super Special Deal to the brilliant App Promotion Summit, July 9th
On Thursday 9th July, alumni James Cooper is putting on another App Promotion Summit. This is my favourite conference of the year – not just for the incredible food throughout the day and creative immersive formatting, but for the no bullshit information you will receive about how to best market your App from people that seriously know their stuff.

Delighted to let you know that James has offered a 50% discount for startups and independent developers using code APSMOMOD. Register here. And what’s more, you can win a free ticket by tweeting this:
Innovators: #needtoknowmobile? £100 off @Moblacad Autumn Course: straight talking from industry experts in Biz, Design & Tech. Code: EARLY PLS RT
Enter by close of play Thursday and I will pick winners out of a hat.

Also, there is an opportunity for me to include your product as an working example in a workshop session I am running, so shout if you fancy it!

Some news from Alumni
2015-05-27 17.51.29Lovely to see people from all five academies at our regular drinks evenings – we love it when people from different academies meet. There is also chat from alumni and tutors on our private Linkedin Page.

I have been asked for a shout out from a couple of alumni – so here goes:
* Rohini Contractor wants to share a white paper with you all about how iBeacons can drive Customer Engagement. She is a co-founder at Beura, an iBeacon Platform, with people she met through the network of tutors at the academy.
* Des Gayle has also launched a new product: BibShot – a sports photography marketplace athletes can buy photos direct from spectators – he is looking for beta testers, early adopters and potential product champions – sign up here.

As always, I would love to hear from anyone with ideas about the course programme, any new / wacky marketing approaches and of course happy to connect with anyone thinking of signing up.

Warm wishes

Julia Shalet
Course Director
@Moblacad (

Start Up Advice from @jewl

Yesterday I returned for an afternoon of mentoring on the first day of the new FFWD London Pre-Accelerator cohort.

Here are six themes that recurred:

1). Where is it you personally are trying to go?
I asked a number of founders where they actually wanted to go with their product – what was their personal vision? Some were after an exit and others wanted to be the CEOs of their business seeing their roadmap through to highly profitable businesses.

The responses were interesting in that not many had considered this question and once we played out the various answers, the relevance of asking the question early on became apparent. For example, take a business offering software packages to automate accounting processes: If they were building to sell out to one of the big four, they are more likely to focus their product set and proposition to client and personnel within those large organisations. If they were to be a self-managed independent business, they might be more likely to adopt a licence fee business model that caters for smaller sized firms and even to consider targeting the end clients / companies who employ the accountants, with offers that could reduce their accounting fees.

2. The Gift of a Physical Offering in a Digital Space
If your offering has a physical element to it there are a whole range of opportunities open for you to engage with and market to your end customer. Example: a “find a flatmate” business – why not set up a Meet Up group that invites those looking for flatmates to get together and meet each other? What a great way to find out what questions they ask each other – informing the questions you are going to build in to your online / mobile form. You will also be able to spot trends that help you to identify your market segments – as an example, perhaps this is very attractive to females of a particular age and situation?

It is interesting to draw a parallel with, who started fully online and have now integrated physical meetups and events to bolster their offering. As an ongoing strategy, having a physical element to your offering helps people to engage more deeply with your brand as they meet you, feel the atmosphere that you create and at the same time, help you to develop your offering. Win Win!

3. Understanding all the People in your Universe: People Centred Innovation
As we try to identify our target user and customer, we also come across different people that are in our scene / our “universe”. I tried out a quick exercise where some of the founders listed out the different groups of people that are in their universe. These are not necessarily customers or users, but potential collaborators, influencers and people in the value chain. Understanding all of these different people is incredibly useful. Profiling who is in your scene is an important piece of research – it can challenge what category you have put them in to – perhaps you discover new distribution channels or new end customers. This really can only be carried out in person. Look in to the eyes of people; feel their emotion; see their response; understand their motivation; then you can talk from a position of knowledge rather than assumption. I guarantee you will always find out something that you didn’t know.

Example: A discussion around the accounting landscape identified that a group initially thought of as potential customers could actually be a distribution channel.

4. Start on your Doorstep
The start up London scene is immense – with so many accelerators, courses, incubators and so on. If you are lucky enough to have a proposition where your target user is in this scene already, then it is somewhat of a gift – you are already on the inside! For example, the people that run the FFWD London programme are linked with a lot of the other players on the scene and no doubt have ways to get to the various co-ordinators of the many programmes and their databases. So, use it!

Another variation on this theme of doorstep starting with a fashion duo working on a new idea to offer affordable but high end dresses. They suspect their prime segment to be working women in their early 30s – many of whom you will find in this scene – a great place to start. An interesting follow on question came from this fashion duo – they knew that it was not a great idea to carry out early concept testing with their friends – although they are target market. The advice in this case is to ask friends and colleagues to introduce you to someone that fits their particular profile, so you are quite rightly more removed from the respondent.

5. Opening the Kimono
Creating an MVP is critical to getting your product out of the door. As we all know, it enables you to gather early feedback, create an early adopter base who will help co-design your future product and it starts your brand journey. I found myself encouraging some of the founders to be bolder in their brand vision. I think that it is good to sell a vision as long as you are not making promises to deliver particular functionality in specific timeframes.

Example: An App that enables restaurant go-ers to find out more about the menu is part of a broader vision to bring smaller restaurateurs the kind of analytics that are available to larger establishments, without the accompanying price tag. The business model is that the restaurant will be paying to be on the system. So why not sell them the broader vision; they are an early adopter of the first feature set and the intention is that they are in for the long haul journey.

Open the kimono – give them a flash of what you have – there is a strong marketing message associated with being the first in. Often benefits (usually price related) will follow for them in the longer term. Again, these early adopters will be the ones that inform your future product. Stay close to them. There is no harm with labelling your MVP – “BETA” is a known and accepted label for example – it means that there may well be clunks and a limited product set as this is an early stage of the product.

6. Don’t hide your Light under a Bushel
I met three founders who were building products based on their own insider-industry experience. With so much digital innovation out there, it is really important to show credibility and not be afraid to shout about it!

Example: One of the founders is 25 and is building an online training offering for entrepreneurs of “lifestyle” businesses. It sounded initially clichéd, with concepts like “gamification”. I boldly asked his age and what experience he had that qualified him to be coaching others. He went on to tell me (in a very modest way) how he had built up three successful offerings all profit-generating. I suggested that part of his elevator pitch would be to start with a bio of his top three successes (I don’t apologise for always thinking in threes!). Instant credibility. Not just another online training platform: a business built around sharing his personal experience.

Julia is Product Doctor and Course Director at The Mobile Academy.

Drop In Night Reflections

Some tweets from the night: Sitting in with pal @Smart_Dresser on a session with the awe inspiring @AnnZitterkopf was invaluable. @jewl you were right, she’s #awesome …thanks to Viji Pathy whose amazing wealth of knowledge for #Android & Tech helped reaffirm my plans…Marc Abraham was my first session, but his advice followed me through all the others. #awesomeness  I hope he sees this!…I see @sdevo as one of the most #awesome#tech minds I know. If I had to speak with someone last night @moblacad Steve was it….Last night @moblacad #amazing .If I could put a price on the advice from the I#awesome business people & their experience I’d be bankrupt!

Tutors in view: Tom Hewitson, Ann Zitterkopf,

Tutors in view: Tom Hewitson, Ann Zitterkopf, Michel Sabatier, Dave Slocombe, Karen Barber, Rick Chandler, Steve Devo…

Tutors in view:

… and Marc Abraham

Tutor Elliot Dell talks straight as per...

Tutor Elliot Dell talks straight as per… Jo Rabin and Niall in the background.

Drop in Night Tips

Drop InAt Drop In Night, 27th November, you will each be able to select 3 x 20 minute sessions. This will be on a first come first serve basis from 6.30pm – so best turn up on time to get your first choices.

As we go through the night, you will be able to grab additional sessions as you see tutors are available.

To make the most out of Drop In Night:

  • Take a look at the list of experts (check out the Who’s Who) and think through who you most want to get a session with
  • Practice your elevator pitch – with only 20 minutes, you want to get to your questions as quickly as you can
  • Consider teaming up – perhaps you have the same question as someone else and you can share sessions … more bang for your buck
  • If you do not want any advice on a specific product or business idea, you can ask others if you can sit in on their sessions or just have a general chat with the Experts

Here are the list of surgeries on offer (there may be some changes to this list)

Jo Rabin – Business Strategy & Tech
Ann Zitterkopf – Business Strategy
Karen Barber – Marketing & Business Development
Tom Hewitson – Developing Content for Mobile
Rick Chandler – Technology Strategy
Steve Devo – Technology Strategy
Sean Bedford – Tech Architecture, iOS, Hybrid Apps
Niall Roche – Android & iOS
Viji Pathy – Android & iOS
Dave Slocombe – Product
Julia Shalet – Product
Marc Abraham – User Insights
Elliot Dell – Career Management
Michel Sabatier – Angel Investor
Sam Harper – Legal

A slice of innovation pie from Appsworld Europe, London 2014 by Lawrence De’Ath

Lawrence De'Ath, Technical Programme Manager & Participant of our 5th Academy

Lawrence De’Ath, Technical Programme Manager & Participant of our 5th Academy

Now in its 5th year, Apps World claims to have “grown to be the leading global multi-platform event in the app industry”. So did it live up to the hype?

Here’s what I learnt in two days at Apps World Developer Conference & Exhibition.

Customers expect mobile to be beautiful and Product Managers are focused on responding
Mobile is personal technology – closer than any previous generation and intimate like only our wallets and jewellery has been in the past. So, the User Experience, UX, is critical to success since consumers are fed on a diet of beautiful looking products. You know all this, so what does it mean for innovation ?

This means Product Managers are centre stage calling for ‘user value’ – if people get something back from engagement with a App, they will keep on using it and not be part of the extra-ordinary high rate of App abandonment in the first month after installation.

Again, mobile is different with consumers not just consuming, but sat at the co-creation table influencing development decisions. This may not be the lengthy market research of old. Organisations able to gather critical feedback and respond will be winners. In a panel discussion centred on retail applications, Kate Cuthbertson, former Head of Mobile Innovation at Asda gave a nice case in point “If we couldn’t decide between options, we would just write directly to our most frequent users and say ‘we need your help’, we would always get a response”.

This rapid and focussed approach seems to have paid dividends with claims that the Asda App came to market in just 16 weeks. Pair-wise (or multi-choice) comparison can be a great tool.

Users at the centre is changing how organisations innovate
After the ‘users have spoken’, the response needs new ways to manage development and innovation. A free-for-all or trying to do everything is not a recipe for launch success. However, the democratisation around customers is encouraging organisations to gain traction for their ideas before a first release or look-and-feel choice by exposing their development plans and projects earlier and more than ever.

On the Enterprise stage, HMRC presented some ideas for exposing their API explaining how they would encourage developers to make the process of submitting our tax return easier. No surprises on the API idea, but the session got into some interesting issues.

Mark Dearnley, Chief Digital and Information officer at HMRC set the scene by explaining they had a “only 41 Million customers in the UK”. With this number of accounts, they can’t afford to get things wrong. Yet they are not technology laggards, having processed the UK’s first electronic money transfer more than four decades ago.

Questions from the audience got to the heart of the business and market opportunities that have opened up by virtue of the presence of the API. However they also revealed some of the confusion around how to build an API eco-system. Hinting at the old style planned economy of Government services one questioner asked “How will you marshal all the developers that want to use the API ?”. Mark Dearnley’s answer was simple “We won’t, they develop what their customers want”. He did explain that they had a responsibility to consider technology compliance to the API, but this was a separate issue. The HMRC stance is typical of progressive organisations looking to get the best benefits of ‘market-led’ innovation. Standards are needed, and are a great aid to fast-track innovation, but the standard setter should not see it as their role to determine the details of an implementation.

On a smaller scale Ashley George, Head of Innovation CoE, GSK lifted the lid on how the global pharmaceutical giant is asking their staff to bring their consumer technology experience to work. He explained how he and his team were bringing these strengths together with the full gamut of Lean and Agile to bring new products to the internal IT offering.Blog LD 1

His case study was rapid development and ‘user-led deployment” of a video messaging and sharing application – allowing staff from the CEO through team-leaders and regular desk staff to post their communications in video. What caught my innovation-eye was that this work was itself driving innovation at the firm – doubtlessly a shrewd choice from the Head of Innovation. Peak use of the service was hit at Christmas where now a cheery message in video can come not just from the CEO, but from your team leader in another country or time-zone. It not radical stuff, but if this can become a habit of effective management – why not post regular updates to your team?

Communication is a key ingredient of innovation and making that easy to produce, more informative and easy to access may help improve quantity and quality. As for concerns about postings of ‘cute cat videos’, Ashley George was frank “It was bound to happen and it does, you can’t stop people”.

Technology – it can be devilishly difficult to see where the best benefits sit, but bare with us

Seeing the potential of new technologies is always tricky, but you’d have to be a real naysayer to disregard the opportunities that HTML5 is addressing. With HTML4 dominant for around 15 years, now is beyond the time for 5 to take hold.

With recent reports of more teenagers today having access to a tablet than a radio, the pressure to connect all media in a “served” format is there. This is one of the drivers encouraging the BBC to use HTML5 as part of their drive to meet their commitment to universal access. So, HTML5 is gaining strength as a prime non native platform using the format’s potential for easier “any screen” applications. Though native iOS and Android applications continue to lead the field in prettiness and functionality, there are reasons why HTML5 is being supported to catch up. A substantial benefit for the BBC is that their “design for compatibility” is hugely simplified by using browser technology rather than having to maintain many different applications with differing code bases and levels of functionality in order to support hundreds of different set top boxes, smart TVs, mobile and desktop environments.

Two other key benefits land with HTML5 – both help mobile and tablet users as well as simplifying things for content providers:
1. HTML5 will bring to an end many of those annoying bolt on application environments like Flash and Java. Cutting the plug-in saves on CPU and therefore battery power – another challenge unique to mobile which is in dire need of a solution.
2. The capability to run HTML5 applications off-line but in standard (HTML5 compatible) browser is a second benefit particularly suited to addressing one of the weaknesses of Mobile – lost connectivity.

Payments – let innovation battle commence !
Payments are a vibrant area sector for innovation. It would be folly to attempt to summarise or find the highlights in the competing offers – or even try to categorise them. Tim Green of Mobile Money Revolution speaking at The Mobile Academy identified 38 mobile payment routes.

Why so complicated for such a fundamental thing you ask?

Most mobile money solutions add one or more additional layers in the “stack” that ends up with traditional banking – where most people’s money sits. Each has some nuance of added value.

More radical web/mobile money offers to trade in a new currency, without further involvement of your bank after you “invest”. Potentially radical benefits in low cost transactions and single “global currency”. It’s a big step however, so here’s one thought.: Banks tempt us with real cash to switch to their account – and standards try to make it risk and pain free, yet people don’t switch, more than every few decades even though it may save them money and hassle of actual bad service. Switching out of that system altogether needs a whole new level of trust.

How much Bitcoin would convince you to dive into an alternative currency ?


Thanks Lawrence, for this great blog post and for joining our trip to Apps World. Good on Mobile Monday London too for securing all those free stands for StartUps –

Nana, Gary & Cathleen from our current academy.

Nana, Gary & Cathleen from our current academy.

And the 5th Academy is up and running!

Back to our lovely Idea London venue with a brand new first night session. We tried out a new format where Steve & Sean lead the drawing of some technical architecture diagrams with input from the techies in the room and plenty of questions from the rest! We came away with some understanding of infrastructure and nomenclature. Ready to delve further as the course progresses.

Great to have Sean and Steve back as experts in their field and alumni of previous courses.

Steve Devo & Sean Bedford give us the Tech Overview on our first night.

Steve Devo & Sean Bedford give us the Tech Overview on our first night.

1st Night

Participants of our 5th Academy take in the technical definition of a “framework”

Great also to see alumni Chris Michael and Niall Roche as well as a lovely surprise visit from Viji, our Android Tutor. Looking forward to more alumni popping in as we progress.