Friday, December 27, 2013

From Idea to Market: Some Best Practices to Follow!

From Idea to Market: Some Best Practices to Follow!

By C. Todd Lombardo, principal innovation catalyst, Constant Contact

As an entrepreneur, you’re likely all too familiar with the challenges that come with bringing a new product or service to market. Chief among those challenges is finding a winning strategy to get your idea in the hands of potential customers. So, what best practices should you follow? What steps should you take? And how can you avoid some common challenges to bring your idea to life? 

At this year’s MassTLC unConference, I had an opportunity to moderate a session focused on these challenges. Titled “From Idea to Market: Best Practices in Product Development,” the session featured three panelists from local tech companies: Andy Miller, director of innovation at Constant Contact; Katelyn Friedson, mobile product manager at; and Josh Berkowitz, product manager at RAMP. Following are some of the key takeaways:

The value of a Minimum Viable Product. Not surprisingly, the term “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) was mentioned many times as a strategy for fast, quantitative market testing of a product with just its basic features. As you’d expect, the age-old concern about releasing a less-than-fully-baked product surfaced. Many engineers, designers, and product managers fear the MVP. They feel like it’s an incomplete product. However, it’s important to note that MVP does not mean a poorly crafted product; it means a limited, but still functional, product – an important distinction. And it is possible to release a solid product that is limited in scope, features, and functionality so that your customers can further push its direction.

Talk to the end-user. Friedson stressed not being afraid to talk to customers, even if it means learning that your idea is terrible. Oftentimes, we don’t show early versions of our products to potential customers for fear that they aren’t “done.” But let’s not kid ourselves; what we really fear is being told the idea isn’t valuable. By creating that MVP, you are able to have conversations with customers to get that feedback. 

Miller introduced another customer-focused process we use at Constant Contact called Minimum Viable Concept (MVC). Before building much of any product, we work out the concept through a customer-centered process, gaining critical feedback along the way to build something our customers find valuable. Whether you decide to use MVP, MVC, or both, you’ll gain important customer insights, helping to inform the best direction for getting your product to market.

Size matters. The size of your team or organization will also have an impact on getting your product to market. In small startups, teams can have a conversation in front of a whiteboard and then go execute. In larger organizations, creating visuals becomes important so that others can quickly get up to speed about the project. At Constant Contact, we take a page from design consultancies and use large 4’ x 8’ foam cork boards to post up our innovative ideas as we work through MVCs and MVPs. 

Don’t forget about data. The old adage that you can only manage what you measure is important, because having measurements allows us to track progress and do something about it. Berkowitz cited an example of getting one of his RAMP apps into the Microsoft app marketplace. He leveraged the vetting process that Microsoft uses to run some quality assurance testing on the app before final submission into the marketplace. This feedback provided him with key metrics that his team could track to get the app successfully published. The key learning here? Measure everything you can!

Don’t forget why you are here. Miller said it well with his final comment: Have fun! When you love what you do, you’ll have pride in what you produce and you will strive to do the best job you can. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

2013 Future of Robotics Summit

Future of Robotics Summit

The summit brought together university professors, students and industry to learn about innovative and diverse research happening in our Boston Robotics Hub.  Tom Hopcroft, President and CEO of MassTLC, kicked off the summit speaking about the “Massachusetts Robotics Revolution”, the diverse robotics areas ranging from consumer, agriculture, education, and entertainment to industrial, medical, marine, military/defense, public safety and transportation.   He stated that Massachusetts and New England are the “Epicenter of Robotics R&D” and cited The Massachusetts Robotics Revolution Report’s listing of 17 academic institutions with ties to robotics research as well as 150+ companies touting ties to the robotics industry.  
Top robotics research presenters represented Boston University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Northeastern University, Tufts University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Steve Kelly, president and COO of Myomo and Mass TLC Robotics cluster Co-chair, introduced the speakers, telling humorous robotics jokes!    The research presentations were bookended by two engaging panels.

Discussion with Industry Thought Leaders – panelists discussed their views and needs for robotics in the future:

  • Tony Lennon from MathWorks spoke about a futuristic “Smart Factory” and industrial automation
  • Lt Col Andrew Platt from the Massachusetts National Guard spoke about the military’s robotics needs in the area of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance
  • Dr. Joseph Coughlin, Director MIT’s AgeLab, talked of the future of robotics for our ageing population

Rachel Emsley, intellectual property attorney at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, presented information on intellectual property rights, patentable vs. non patentable inventions, and patent challenges for robotics companies.  She assembled a panel representing 4 diverse companies to get their opinions, stories and recommendations on intellectual property protection. There was no lack of audience participation and questions on this topic!

Intellectual Property Protection Discussion Panel:

  • Ted Acworth, Founder & CEO, Artaic Innovative Mosaic
  • Andrew Hoffman, Principal Software Architect, Kiva Systems
  • Tom Ryden, Co-founder & COO, VGo Communications
  • Glen Weinstein, EVP & Chief Legal Officer, iRobot Corporation

Students from several of the universities were at the summit showing off their projects and sponsor companies showed their products and discussed their programs during the breaks.

The summit concluded with a sponsor/student lunch and Kiva Systems, MathWorks and Boston Engineering spoke with students interested in employment.

Thank you to all of our speakers.  Thank you to our supporting organization, the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center, and to Microsoft NERD for providing a wonderful venue!
And THANK YOU to our event sponsors: Aldebaran, Boston Engineering, The Boston Globe, DecisionOne, Finnegan, First, Kiva Systems and MathWorks.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Uncovering Talent Strategies to Create the Competitve Advantage for your Organization

The 2013 Workforce Development summit brought together a great crowd of the who’s who in HR and talent management in the Boston area.  The event kicked off with forward thinking keynotes on how to use data and analytics in the hiring process followed by a second keynote on employee engagement and productivity.  We then broke out into smaller groups for peer to peer discussions on managing change and developing great leaders. 

Brad Warga and Sheeroy Desai joined us from GILD to talk about their innovative approach to using data to establish a better recruitment process.  They noted that the resume is dead and it’s all about one’s social profile and mining this profile to find the best talent for your organization.  More on this technology can be found at

Next, Ben Waber, Co-founder of Sociometric Solutions and author of the book on “People Analytics” presented on using data about behavior to build a team or organization.  Billy Bean did this in baseball, how do we use this data within an organization to maximize a team and productivity.  Sociometric Solutions provides wearable sensing devices for consenting employees to monitor speaking time, turn taking, interactivity, posture, energy levels, tone of voice and voice volume.  By monitoring this data over time, it is possible to predict how an individual, team or organization works best to maximize results.  Ben provided great case studies from a leading financial call center, Boeing and Yahoo.  Take a look at his presentation here. 

Tom Hopcroft, President and CEO of MassTLC presented an initial view of research being conducted by MassTLC’s education foundation on the “Truth Behind the Talent Crisis”.  The purpose of the research is to identify short and long-term solutions to address tech sector talent needs.  In addition, the goal is to develop insights around the extend of the the perceived talent crisis, how tech leaders are addressing it and possible public-private interventions.  The presentation is here.  The final results will be presented at MassTLC’s annual meeting in February.  The survey is still open and we encourage your participation.  Please take a few minutes to complete the survey now!

Next we broke into smaller groups to encourage sharing of ideas and strategies.  The first session was on preparing your people to lead.   Margo Hendrickson, VP of HR at athenahealth and David Almeda, Chief People Officer at Kronos, presented case studies.  Both organizations are thought leaders in the space and shared some great strategies for success. From Margo, you have to create an environment that values developing people.  Provide people room to experiment, offer new skills training and challenges and value talent management!  David spoke about aligning a clear talent management strategy with your business and the need to measure.  Both agreed that measuring is key to success.  Two important KPIs: voluntary turnover,  and % of leadership filled from within.  Click here for the presentations:  athenahealth and Kronos.

Edith Onderick-Harvey from Factor in Talent lead a great discussion on how to manage change.  Edith introduced us to the real employee engagement creators: choice, competence, meaning and progress.  Most of our audience is involved in businesses that are currently undergoing huge change due to high growth rates, mergers and acquisitions, and startup environments.  Managing this change through transparency with your team is critical to coming through it without too many bumps and bruises.  Edith's presentation on why change kills engagement can be found here

Join the workforce development community again on February 7th for an intimate conversation on employee engagement (is unlimited vacation the answer?).  Registration is open.  Sign up now!

Thank you to all of our speakers, Kronos for sponsoring the event and to Microsoft NERD for always providing a fantastic location to host the tech community!