Harriet Minter

Recommended event: 10/11/2021: The tech that makes hybrid work - webinar | Harriet Minter

Harriet Minter

A new breed of young companies offering tech solutions can actually transform the way way your business works and the results it gets.

Eighteen months of Zoom doom and feeling at the mercy of Microsoft Teams has rather taken the shine off workplace technology. But there are a new breed of young companies offering tech solutions that not only make hybrid-working easier but which can actually transform the way your business works and the results it gets.

In this one hour webinar, hosted by journalist and hybrid-work specialist, Harriet Minter, we’ll look at how tech can hinder or help our move towards hybrid-working. The panel will look at the impact hybrid-working is having on business culture, staff relationships and working practices.

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woman working from home in bed, IT professional

IT professionals are scared of making mistakes, (still) uncomfortable with seeing themselves on Zoom and hate making calls

woman working from home in bed, IT professional

A study has found that 31 per cent of IT and information research professionals are working in fear, scared of making a mistake at work. 

The nationwide poll, commissioned by Feel Good Contacts revealed some of the many concerns faced by people working in this industry.

The study of 2,000 UK workers, conducted by OnePoll, highlighted issues related to communications. Despite almost six months of Zoom meetings, a quarter of IT and information research employees are still uncomfortable with being on a video call, seeing and hearing themselves on screen and being in a virtual room full of people staring at their face. A total of 23 per cent don’t want to talk on the phone and would rather send an email.

In a climate of uncertainty, where IT and information research professionals are feeling on edge as we enter a second lockdown, 20 per cent are anxious about working with difficult colleagues. But it’s not just internal relations that are a concern, 19 per cent are nervous about dealing with antagonistic client and customers.

Not surprisingly, 30 per cent of respondents are scared about losing their job as the UK plunges into economic recession for the first time in 11 years. With such worries, it’s understandable that just under one sixth of respondents are too nervous to ask for extra support with a heavy workload and 18 per cent are anxious about seeking help with a difficult task. One fifth said that in the current climate, they would dread facing their boss in a performance review and a further fifth said that they would be too nervous to ask for a pay rise. Finally, 21 per cent are worried about being expected to work out of hours.

Speaking about the study, Acacia Johnson, Human Resources Advisor at Feel Good Contacts said, “With job losses on the increase, even the most productive workers do not feel immune.”

“Understandably, feelings of self-doubt plague employees.”

“‘I’m going to fail. I can’t work this out. I’m not up to the job. Everyone’s going to see me screw up. It’s only a matter of time before…..’ are just some of the thoughts going through the minds of anxious staff.”

“With this attitude, some people are working extra hard to deliver over and above what is expected of them to keep their job safe.”

“Others are keeping their heads under the parapet; they don’t want to be noticed, voice their opinions and get the blame if anything goes wrong.”

Business psychologist Jan P. de Jonge explains, “Neither approach is ideal.”

“By playing it safe, you are stifling creativity and innovation and not producing your best work.”

“You’re more likely to fail by resisting than engaging.”

“Instead try to adopt a growth mindset and see challenges as a way to develop, rather than as a threat.”

“Modern day culture promotes wellbeing.”

“So we really need to focus on what that wellbeing means, which is being accepting of imperfection.”

“If things go wrong, use it to create opportunities to learn and develop.”

“This may be a little bit counterintuitive, especially when we live in society that always tells us to do well.”

Jan added, “Decades ago, people all had to gradually get used to the phone, being available, accessible from afar and at the turn of a few buttons.”

“Now it feels like the working population – and others besides – are suddenly compelled to be visible online, representable, on-cue and on-message.”

“But an ‘always on’ approach won’t help you to perform any better in your job in the long run.”

“If you’re checking your emails 24/7 to stay ahead of the game, you won’t be coming to work feeling fresh and raring to start the day, plus you will always be distracted.”

Jan concluded, “It’s worth remembering that if you always reply to emails immediately, the sender will think you have nothing better to do.”

“So, ask yourself: will anyone care or even notice if you take some time to respond?”

“This approach is better for your health.”

“In fact, studies have found that people who were allowed to check their Inbox only three times a day had lower levels of stress compared to those who were allowed unlimited access to email.”

With these concerns in mind, Feel Good Contacts and business psychologist Jan P. De Jonge at People Business Psychology Ltd. have produced a Work Worries Toolkit to help you to tackle some of the issues you face at work.

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video chat on Zoom, product-led strategies

Zoom wasn’t simply in the right place at the right time - it has showcased that product-led strategies endure crises

video chat on Zoom, product-led strategies

Article provided by Itxaso del Palacio, Partner at Notion Capital

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will have a historic traumatic significance for many reasons.

Most pressingly for the loved ones of the hundreds of thousands of people who have sadly lost their lives, but also more long term for the world’s entire populace as we experience the ramifications of the pandemic’s impact on the global economy. Global shares are in flux, large percentages of the world’s populations are now unemployed and the majority of countries are on the brink of a recession.

In the VC world where I operate there was a slow down in deal flow and investment at the beginning of the lockdown, and while this is predicted to continue for the rest of 2020, we are now seeing an uptick in funding rounds closing as we appear to reach the “light at the end of the tunnel”, with many organisations succeeding despite the crisis.

So who are these winners? You’ll be unsurprised that the majority of these companies are tech-first, enabling people and businesses to live their lives (namely shop, communicate, work and receive essential services) completely remotely. On the public side we see the obvious Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and (maybe less obvious) Tesla leading those with equity value added in 2020. In the private market, Stripe and Klarna from the fintech sector, Coursera in online education and Tempus and Zipline in the much coveted medtech and health-tech spaces have been named as the year’s most disruptive firms.

 Many of these firms are doing well during this time because their strategies are product-led, something I believe separates an innovative idea from a truly successful business. Two of the most popular B2B firms, Zoom and Slack, are great examples of this - they weren’t just in the right place at the right time, they’re also the right product strategy and no doubt will continue to be successful post COVID.

In this article I’ll discuss what “product-led” really means and how founders can implement this in practice when building and scaling their businesses. I’ll conclude with some real-life role models, product-led firms at a scale-up stage that I’ve invested in and have continued to succeed through the pandemic.

What does “product-led” really mean?

Product led-strategies are the natural progression following the birth of software which occurred in the mid twentieth century. Consumers now expect easy access to a seamless, exciting user experience (ideally via the cloud) thanks to trailblazers such as Salesforce and Apple. As a result, tech companies (which most companies are now in some way) can no longer expect to “surprise and delight” simply with a flashy new product like the iPhone, rather they must listen to the demands of tech-savvy users who ask for beautiful, intuitive, powerful and affordable tools. It’s also important to note that while traditionally, product and UX has been a B2C focus, today it is also a requirement for B2B firms who should be working hard to make their customers fall in love with their products.

So, in sum, product-led strategies are user-led; they access, engage and communicate with the user via the product as the business grows as opposed to traditional organisations that use marketing and sales teams to reach out to customers. Product-led strategies empower customers from the bottom up, letting them discover the value of the products by themselves.

To give you a topical example, Zoom, the tech company darling of the last few months, has a product-led approach. Zoom was founded by an ex Cisco Webex employee, frustrated with the inefficiencies of video conferencing. Through Q1 and Q2 2020 we have seen it scale exponentially to become the company associated with personal and business communications during COVID because it is simply the best product. This is because it has always listened to its users and adapted its product accordingly.

How do I implement this in practice?

To start off with, you need to ensure that you are investing the majority of your capital into product development and customer experience teams - your people need to constantly have their ears to the ground, listening to what your users want, and everyone should be contributing to improve the product accordingly. The faster and better you can innovate, the more you’ll stand out in the market. Letting users try the product and making onboarding seamless should be a priority, while sales and marketing can be pushed to a second (or even third) level priority.

In terms of what this looks like tactically, product-led businesses need to take a “bottom-up” approach by kicking off with a freemium or free trial of their product - marketing centres should drive people to try the product and offer candid feedback, with teams ready to respond quickly to fix bugs and improve the product. Consumers are never going to be contacted by a sales rep when engaging with a product-led organisation. Onboarding experiences and ongoing in-product messaging within the solution embeds sales, customer experiences and marketing communications into the customer experience.

The product-led approach must also be core to the company’s culture and everyone within the senior management team especially must be aligned. Your team can’t just be bought into one feature of the product, or the future roadmap, but the product’s core raison d’être must be embraced by everyone. Case and point, as above, is Zoom’s CEO developing the firm because he was frustrated at the lack of a fit-for-purpose option in the video conferencing market and working with his team to create a solution that ironed out all the kinks.

Real-life role models

I’d like to now pull out two examples from my own portfolio which can act as role models to others looking to implement a product-led strategy.

YuLife is a B2B life insurance product with wellness at its core, rewarding employees on its plan if they are active and healthy. Sammy Rubin, who started his first insurance business with his father when he was 21, which they floated on the LSE in 1993, and more recently was the founding CEO of VitalityLife, had the idea for yulife in 2016. He joined forces with a stellar team, Sam Fromson, Jonathan Roomer and Josh Hart, all of whom are incredibly passionate about health and wellness and have relevant experience building high quality tech products, and all felt that the insurance market was in need of rapid disruption.

To contextualise this point, in the insurance sector traditional players are still dominating the space while consumers are looking for personalised plans and transparent prices, as well as a modern tech-enabled, user experience that brings insurance into the 21st century.  YuLife is doing just this, replacing old insurance packages in companies that are making health and wellness a priority for their employees. It also gives employees (users) the opportunity to try basic coverage through their employers as well as allowing them to buy additional policies for themselves and their families from the app.

Another example is ForestAdmin, which announced a $7 million Series A round at the end of last year. ForestAdmin’s founders, Sandro Munda and Arnaud Besnier, have created the first out-of-the-box SaaS platform for building admin panels. Admin panels are widely used by online businesses to connect and manipulate the data coming from their applications as well as to manage key processes in their operations including customer onboarding and inventory management. ForestAdmin is integrated with the likes of Stripe, Intercom, Zendesk, Google Analytics and Mailchimp which allows to visualise and manipulate application data.

I invested in ForestAdmin because Sandro is a product-led founder at his core, he is obsessed with building the best product, both from a technical perspective as well as a UX perspective. As a developer, Sandro has himself experienced the pain of building and keeping administration panels up to date. The company is using a bottom-up strategy to enter the market; developers can use Forest Admin’s building blocks to connect their applications, while business teams can pay for enterprise licenses if they want to get premium features.

Product-led strategies for winning in a crisis

Crises breed innovation and this crisis, which is being compared to the likes of World War Two, will be no different. In some cases, companies have been able to adapt their products and focus on solving the host of problems that have arisen from the pandemic. In other cases, we have seen companies take advantage of product-led strategies to keep growing and onboard new customers. Companies that don’t require users to go through lengthy contracts and have removed any sort of friction to get onboarded, have been significantly less impacted by COVID. As mentioned earlier, crises should be perceived as an opportunity - looking at building product-led strategies might be a winning option here.

Itxaso del PalacioAbout the author

Itxaso del Palacio is a Partner at Notion Capital alongside holding a PhD in entrepreneurship from UC Berkeley and a Teaching Fellow in Entrepreneurship at UCL. Her varied career has seen her launch Microsoft's M12 UK office, complete a masters in Engineering and spend a decade committed to classical ballet.

WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here.

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