Leland Maschmeyer, chief creative officer at yogurt maker Chobani, enjoys the chaos of the creative process. The commotion allows creativity to thrive, he says, but he tempers that with processes to keep things in check.
Maschmeyer came to Chobani nearly four years ago to help overhaul the brand’s imaging, packaging and marketing direction. As its chief creative officer, he has helped the company expand its product offerings and create packaging to fit the brand’s healthy-yet-joyful food-focused lifestyle brand.
He spent over a decade as co-founder and chief creative officer at design agency Collins, but saw a chance to help prop up a growing brand in Chobani. He shared some of his ideas on creativity in marketing with The Drum and with an audience at the Adobe Max conference in Los Angeles.
Listen to the customers
Chobani interacts with its consumers often, getting constant feedback, and Maschmeyer says the idea of natural and wellness are the two big topics that consumers talk with them about.
“We've positioned ourselves as a food-focused wellness company, with the idea that we're always bringing real, natural, healthy and affordable food into categories where it hasn't been before. So, the fact that people are getting a key product characteristic that drives our innovation, as well as a broader idea of what we stand for, as we come into a category or even just behave in the world are two critical ideas for us to have achieved,” he says.
Over the last three years, the company has invested heavily in building a first-party database of relationships with consumers through digital and social channels, which allows the company to reach out to a broad focus group when it sometimes has no marketing budget to launch a new product to market, which helps build buzz on some of the smaller products Chobani may release.
Process through chaos
“I'm actually a huge fan of chaos,” says Maschmeyer. “But that doesn't mean that I don't like the process. I think there are moments in the process where you have to allow chaos to bloom and to let it do its thing. Because at the end of the day, chaos is the only thing that wants you to be creative, that shoves ideas in front of you and makes you reckon with them in some way. But at the same time, process is very necessary so that chaos can be productive. One of the things that we've done is, from a process standpoint, we've actually kept it very simple. We haven't over-engineered the process.”
Maschmeyer says trying to over-engineer things was a big mistake that he made early on. “You just end up teaching people and then every project that comes through is an edge case that doesn't fit the process, then you have to rethink them. So, I just threw the whole thing out,” he says.
Chobani now keeps its teams “incredibly small” with no more than five people. There may be more people working on the project, but there are no more than five people who are ever responsible for ushering a project all the way to completion. Those teams gets a background on why a product is important, what success looks like, and then they are left to figure out the how.
“That how is where the chaos kind of starts to happen. But rather than just leave it to chance that the chaos turns into something, we've also tech-enabled the process. We have some different software, data asset managers, so a lot of the process or a lot of things that people in the organization need can be self-help…We don't have to burden the creative teams with doing all this kind of small, non-strategic, non-financially important work,” says Maschmeyer.
Chobani also employs a tracker program, so the team knows where projects are, what may be blocking them and how many resources are being put to them. Data is the other part of the equation, along with learning and logic. But, he says that it's “not in a way that suppresses the necessary chaos of creativity and the fluidity that's right there. We really prioritize that chaos in what we do. But also know that there needs to be some tightness around it so that it can work.”
No prototype, no meeting
“If there's no prototype, there's no meeting. There's no reason to have a meeting. You can have a conversation in the hallway…but if there's not something that has been designed, whether it's an Excel spreadsheet, or it's a media plan, or its some physical design, there is no reason to have a meeting because it hasn't progressed far enough for people to get what's being learned from that prototype,” says Maschmeyer.
In shifting from the agency model to in-house creative, he also had to learn to be hands-off. The agency model, he says, finds that “if you're not billable, you're not important,” which also means making things all the time. At Chobani, Maschmeyer says he’s always communicating, sharing stories, examples and conversations. With that, he says that over time, everyone starts to have a “conceptual understanding of what reality is” in the organization, “because when things do start breaking up into their different departments, each of those departments has its own reality of what's happening in the business, and so it's my responsibility to fight that…by helping craft those stories and sharing information and creating that transparency.”
Outside the Chobani bubble, Maschmeyer sees a creative trend in the convergence of earned media and paid media campaigns.
“With the attention economy the way it is, the sort of financial pressures that every company is under to create growth with fewer resources, the idea of earned media is increasingly important,” he states.
A challenge with that trend, he says, is that earned media doesn't give a predictable reach, frequency nor predictable targeting of people.
“There's no guarantee that it's actually going to affect the business. But it's much, much cheaper. So, I think companies are more comfortable with throwing that in the mix as opposed to just depending on it,” he says.
In that convergence of those two types of campaigns, Maschmeyer sees a lot more creative work that is being engineered to work in both paid and earned areas, which he thinks is a good thing for companies who want to bring more cohesiveness to how they're building their brands, especially in a fragmented consumer marketplace “where I think the historical point of view has been everybody needs to get their own personalized one-to-one message,” he says.
“If you follow that logic out the door too quickly, you become a fractured brand that doesn't add up to a singular evergreen brand story that brings you that financial value. So, I think this this trend of bringing things together, trying to create more of a cohesive story that can work in different types of media is a really important creative trend because it puts a different criteria on the types of ideas that are being generated.”
New market strategies
Chobani, says Maschmeyer, is trying some different strategies to rolling out new products, including starting at a regional level rather than rolling out nationally. That even bleeds over into manufacturing, where they might decide to take it out to a co-packer.
“Or…how do we buy a very small company whose team and culture and products we deeply respect and then potentially even rebrand them so that we can move into the space with a lower risk, higher velocity type of way? And then do the investments there, so in places that we know are going to have an immediate return on value for us, rather than trying to build everything in-house.”
Maschmeyer thinks that through a combination of minimizing risks, using existing assets and being smarter about the types of products Chobani is taking to market will, over time, add up to an ability get small but sustainable footholds into the market for a lot of its new products, like its new oat-based line.
This showed up in my Facebook feed on the sidebar this morning.
A perfect top of funnel ad for music and data nerds like me.
Check it: Tableau builds community, credibility and useful entertainment with a curated set of awesome visualizations.
Be it proven methods for optimizing songwriting for success on Spotify, reminiscing on rich careers like Prince's and Fleetwood Mac's, or romancing the metal, here's proof that there's joy to be made and had with Tableau's tools.
Product-market fit also strongly tends to generate word-of-mouth.
If you’re solving a real need in someone’s life, it’s only natural that they’ll talk to other people about it.
By Gigi Levy-Weiss
The entire article:
Product-market fit is a prerequisite for sustainable growth. There’s no point in pushing a product which brings no real sustainable value to customers.
Founders are often misled by good acquisition numbers into thinking they’ve found product-market fit (PMF). But just because people are signing up for your product or downloading your app at a low acquisition price doesn’t mean you’ve found PMF.
Engagement and retention numbers will tell the real story. If your product doesn’t have real value for customers, you’re going to see horrible engagement numbers and even worse retention metrics. Real PMF shows up both in user acquisition and in user retention. Top-of-funnel growth means nothing if the users all churn.
If you think about why startups fail, in a way it’s very simple: startups fail because they run out of money before achieving PMF. Like a fighter jet taking off from an aircraft carrier, it’s a simple race between how much runway you have left and how fast you can achieve liftoff.
But once you’ve achieved PMF, failure isn’t as pressing. 99% of the time, once you have real PMF, your startup will have no problem fundraising (at least in the short term) — at which point it becomes more about getting to a faster pace of growth than just survival. It becomes an execution play.
So PMF is the key focus as an early-stage startup. But how do you get there?
The Product-Market Fit PlaybookMuch has already been written about the playbook for attaining PMF that you can find in well-known books like Eric Ries’s Lean Startup. The basic theoretical framework is fairly simple. We summarize it as follows:
Where can you find underserved needs or desires?There are two places that it’s commonplace for Founders to hear they should look for startup ideas. They are told to either a) find a customer pain-point and find a way to relieve that pain, or b) find a potential way to benefit the customer and present them with a “gain creator”.
While that’s not false advice, it’s not complete. It’s too general to be really useful and generate great ideas.
That’s why we’ve developed 10 more specific places where Founders can look for PMF. This is a list that we’ve found very useful in generating ideas as multiple-time Founders ourselves, and today we’re sharing it with the Founder community. The way to use this list is as a sounding board for your startup ideas – to better understand where your idea sits in terms of PMF potential.
1. Taking an existing activity and making it 10X easierIf there’s something people already do that you can make dramatically easier, it’s likely to find product-market fit. You’ve already de-risked from a market standpoint because you have evidence that people actually do the thing your product enables.
The catch is that, for people to adopt it, your product has to make the activity dramatically easier. You have to hit a critical mass of ‘easiness’ to motivate people to switch from their existing habits to start using your product.
DocuSign is a good example. People were already using digital forms of signatures for contracts and other important documents, but DocuSign made it more than 10X easier to do this as compared with faxing or scanning and mailing. Zoom is another recent example: video conferencing have been around for two decades, but the ease-of-use and quality of the Zoom solution got users to simply switch over.
2. Make an existing activity 10X better (& networked) As with making an existing activity 10X easier, taking an existing activity and making the experience dramatically better — especially if it’s better because you made it a network — is also likely to find product-market fit.
Slack is a great example of this. Water-cooler conversation and chatter amongst employees was already something people did, and various enterprise social-networking and messaging solutions already existed, but Slack made the experience 10X better with its intuitive interface, threading, emoji usage, and other features. It brought the activity of workplace socializing online and made it even more networked by creating versatile clusters like workspaces, channels, and group DMs — all accessed through a seamless signup process using work email addresses.
Slack also shows the benefit of creating a better experience that’s networked at the core level of the product because it makes your traction defensible thanks to the network effects. The 10X better experience you’ve created will get copied, but the network you build using it will be much harder to replicate. For every good idea, you should always ask yourself: ‘how can I create defensibility through network effects?’
3. Create new inventory to be sold in a marketplaceWhen you find significant new inventory that people couldn’t access before, and you’re able to unlock it for them, you’re likely to see the magic of product-market fit. This was the basic model of companies like Lyft, Etsy, Airbnb, Poshmark, etc. This new inventory adds value to the buyers by making something available that they couldn’t get before. Before Lyft and Uber there were fewer cars to drive you around; before Airbnb sleeping in apartments instead of hotels was hardly possible, inventory was minimal, etc. Likewise, sellers of the inventory often get to monetize assets they could never monetize before, such as their driving time, their used clothes, etc.
My colleague Pete Flint alluded to a similar idea in writing about Fintech-Enabled Marketplaces, where he called it unlocking latent supply. In the case of Fintech-Enabled Marketplaces, the way to create new inventory is by utilizing debt capital. But other online marketplaces, like Poshmark, have been able to unlock new sources of supply by creating a vertical-specific online marketplace and mobilizing supply-side users who hadn’t previously had a distribution platform.
Inventory can be created in any area where assets are being under-utilized, including in a B2B context as with machinery or shipping. We believe that unlocking currently ‘trapped’ B2B inventory is an area where we are likely to see very interesting companies emerge.
4. Discover new willingness to payThis happens when you do something so well that users will pay for something that they hadn’t previously been willing to pay for.
Get people to pay for things they have mentally classified as “free” obviously isn’t easy. You have to be much better than the free alternative for them to be willing to do it.
But it’s also not as difficult as you might think to discover a new willingness to pay. Zynga was an early example. There were already ways to play poker online for free (with fake currency), but Zynga came up with the idea to charge real money for in-game chips — and people were willing to do it because the experience was good enough to entice them. The act of paying real money for this virtual currency is what made it valuable (though cheaper than playing poker for real money) —- giving a poker game with virtual stakes some of the same excitement as a real-money game.
My company Playtika, for another example, had a slot machine game where you pay money to play the game, but unlike in a real casino, you can’t win any money. When the Founder came up with the idea for this game, I was initially very skeptical. But the product was so good and psychologically compelling that the game ended up making literally billions of dollars.
Discover a new willingness to pay, and it’s fertile soil for finding product-market fit.
5. Connect a group of people that were not visibly connected beforeThis is getting harder to do as we go deeper into the era of social networks, but if you can find ways to connect new, previously disconnected communities of people, it’s often very fruitful.
This is what we’ve seen for vertical-specific social networks like LinkedIn (professionals), Github & Stackoverflow (developers), MapMyRun (runners), etc. Bringing communities together creates real value, and products that create real value tend to find product-market fit. This requires understanding the emotional drivers of the target audience and delivering them features which they can’t get in the more ‘general’ social networks.
6. Give people a new or easier way to make moneyIf you can actually fulfill the promise of making money for your users, they’ll love your product. It’s especially relevant if your users are individuals or SMBs, as for enterprise users it’s harder to attribute making more money to your product (and sometimes enterprise users care less about the organization’s overall financial wellbeing).
For example, when people first realized they could make real money driving for Uber and Lyft, the pace in supply-side growth went up astronomically. Fiverr is another great example: let freelancers offer services in areas they couldn’t in other marketplaces, and you get amazing love from people who can now make money where they couldn’t before.
The minute Honeybook made it easier for people in the event industry to make money, they were overwhelmed with growth. NFX company Duco is another example of this — their platform unlocks more opportunities for experts to make money via consulting and so they get lots of love from their supply side.
7. Turn something digital that isn’t digitalThe first wave of companies in the digital era was mostly focused on this, so a lot of the low-hanging fruit has been picked. But where there still exist opportunities to digitize areas that still remain analog, products have a high chance of finding product-market fit.
The opportunities today for finding non-digital ‘islands’ are much smaller in the past. However, especially in the B2B space, we’re constantly surprised by how many processes are still manual or digitized only at the level of the spreadsheet. It’s enough to interact with many government services to see that opportunities still exist. Also, there has been a wave of investments in Latin America, Asia, and Africa focused on digitizing services that had remained analog up until recently in these markets.
More recent examples include DocuSign and Evernote. By bringing offline processes like document signing and note-taking online, they created a first-mover advantage and an initial competitive edge. But as we’ve seen with these examples, businesses that start out like this will need reinforcement over time.
8. Find a way to offer 0 pricingThis is a short term driver of product-market fit, and it only works in situations where the prices were higher before. 0 pricing or low pricing is only sustainable if it’s used to bootstrap a network past the critical mass point so that you can get network effects going, or if the 0 price product has a high conversion rate to paying users.
WhatsApp is a good example of this — in Europe, SMS prices were high, so offering WhatsApp for free really took off. But it didn’t transition as quickly to the US because of unlimited SMS plans available on traditional carriers. Other examples include Dropbox offering a limited amount of free filespace or Spotify’s initial free product without ads (somewhat because they didn’t yet have ad inventory). The outcome is that when users get a product they really want for a zero price, you may see mass adoption. You’ll need to use this mass adoption to build a network or find a way to make your paid product 10X better so you can monetize the free usage.
9. Create a young version of a proven productSome products that have been proven to work for one generation don’t work well for the next. Younger generations have different needs, and they especially don’t want to be where their parents are in terms of the products and networks they use.
Consider Tinder and Instagram/Snapchat. There is no chance that a younger audience will be on the same dating platform as their parents… and Instagram’s / Snapchat’s success, more than anything, came from the fact that young kids didn’t want to be on Facebook with older generations. Often going after these younger versions is a very big and scary task; but when it works, it’s magic.
10. Find a new ‘pleasure center’ in the mindThis is when your product is something that makes it so fun for people that they become completely ‘addicted’ to it, even though they didn’t know they had such a desire before they encountered your product. It’s tough to predict products like these hitting well, and often it could just be a wild bet.
For example, riding an Uber Black became a ‘thing’ because suddenly, for very little money, it became possible for me to ride (and arrive somewhere!) with the same car a billionaire may use. It’s not a need I knew I had, but the fun of enjoying this experience created a new addictive layer on top of the usability of the service.
How to know when you’ve found product-market fitIt is important to note that not all the ten “anchors” of product-market fit listed above are created equal. Some are easier and harder to predict, and they have different levels of defensibility. For all startup ideas, network effects create the best defensibility and we strongly believe that the percentage of successful startups with network effects will only increase in the coming years.
One test of product-market fit: think about all the products that you are using in your life. With any particular product, when you ask yourself “if this was to be taken from me, would that be a problem? Would my life be worse?”
If the answer is no for that product, it doesn’t have real product-market fit.
The strongest product-market fit comes when users find they can’t live without a product. When Slack was in its early stages, oftentimes companies would try to shut down employees from using Slack, saying it was against corporate security guidelines. Employees were so unwilling to do without the product, though, that companies were forced to find a way to accommodate the demands of their employees.
Products with product-market fit should bring real value to users. At the end of the day, products that don’t bring value are not sustainable. Value can take many guises — money, time-saving, enjoyment, etc. But it has to produce real value for users in order for product-market fit to be genuine.
Product-market fit also strongly tends to generate word-of-mouth. If you’re solving a real need in someone’s life, it’s only natural that they’ll talk to other people about it.
If you try to scale before you hit product-market fit, you will experience the leaky bucket phenomenon. All that work you’ve done to bring people to your product will go to waste as they’ll just end up churning right out. So make sure you have it before you turn to scaling.
In a world where youth is often celebrated for synthesizing all that is new, there's something delightfully grown-up about Amazon.
From Inc. 4.14.17
Amazon is a remarkable company.
It's no surprise that it was built by a remarkable mind.
The brilliance, philosophy, and quirks of founder and CEO Jeff Bezos are deeply baked into Amazon, which is what makes his pronouncements about his approach to business so fascinating. Each utterance offers insight not only into Bezos's thinking, but also into how things get done at the wildly successful company.
Bezos's annual letter to shareholders is the latest peek inside his brain (and his company), covering all the ways Bezos is battling mightily to keep Amazon as quick, hungry, and innovative as a startup despite its now behemoth size. The complete letter is worth a read in full, but the section in which Bezos outlines his approach to churning out "high quality, high velocity" decisions may be the most interesting sections for leaders.
1. Know what kind of decision you're trying to make.
Not all decisions are created equal. Some require deep thought. Other, less weighty choices just demand speed and basic competence. "Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors. Those decisions can use a light-weight process. For those, so what if you're wrong?" (There was much more on this distinction in his last shareholder letter.)
2. 70 percent of the information is usually enough.
In a perfect world, you'd wait until you had all the relevant information before making tough calls. But we don't live in a perfect world, and in our current business environment, holding off until you know everything will just make your decision-making process too slow. Bezos offers a handy rule of thumb to deal with this conundrum.
"Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70 percent of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90 percent, in most cases, you're probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you're good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure," he writes.
3. "Disagree and commit."
Healthy disagreement is essential for excavating and evaluating a full range of ideas, but infighting can also slow down implementation of whatever is decided. Balance these competing realities by using the phrase "disagree and commit," recommends Bezos.
"If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there's no consensus, it's helpful to say, 'Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?' By the time you're at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you'll probably get a quick yes," he explains.
To work, this approach needs to apply all the way to the top -- "If you're the boss, you should do this too. I disagree and commit all the time," Bezos adds -- and needs to be more than empty words. Don't just say you commit. Actually commit.
4. Quickly escalate deep disagreements.
While there are lots of times teams can "disagree and commit," there are also more fundamental disagreements that need to be hashed out before decision making can proceed. It's essential you quickly separate one from the other and take deeper differences up the chain of command.
"Recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views. They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion. Whoever has more stamina carries the decision," says Bezos, who adds: "'You've worn me down' is an awful decision-making process. It's slow and de-energizing. Go for quick escalation instead."
Next time you have a brilliant content idea and a friend says, but what's the business model?
From the producer:
A new ecosystem is forming around the direct relationship between consumers, content creators, and the tools and business models to facilitate all that.
We're not just seeing this phenomenon in newsletters and podcasting, but also in people setting up e-commerce shops, video streaming, and more. Are the stars and the incentives finally aligned?
Produced by Andreessen Horowitz the a16z | Podcast demonstrates of how great design can and will find its way into the audio-first space. It's an incredibly elegant series, even more appealing day after day than... The Daily.
Often held in one-on-one interviews, the series covers tech and culture trends and hard news.
And typically one of the two at the mic is a VC, bringing an ever-valuable perspective to the world of tomorrow.
From The NY Times this morning.
This will be one to track - will dorms like these - where vocational skills are taught on the job - revolutionize higher education?
Can the FaZe Clan Build a Billion-Dollar Business?
LOS ANGELES --
FaZe Clan could be called a media company, or an esports team, or an influencer marketing agency, or all of the above.
“Something like who we are has never existed before,” said Lee Trink, the organization’s chief executive. He comes from the entertainment world (he helped discover Kid Rock) and his best attempt is to describe FaZe Clan is the Dallas Cowboys meets Supreme meets MTV.
But it’s more than that: a direct-to-consumer e-commerce business, releasing merchandise and apparel; an in-house content production studio; a talent-management business; a sales team acting as a mini advertising agency negotiating brand deals; and a technology arm that develops software to meet the demands of talent.
Teenagers find this corporate conglomerate incredibly cool. FaZe Clan fans get FaZe tattoos, doodle FaZe logos on their notebooks at school and show up outside the group’s Hollywood Hills house begging for pictures. When a group of members visited SoHo in New York City this summer, multiple city blocks were closed after thousands of fans flooded the streets. This weekend, they’ll open their first storefront, on Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles, and it threatens to be a “legendary moment,” as a FaZe member put it...
I interviewed a remarkable VC for Current TV some time ago - among his advice for was this nugget:
Be absolutely generous with what you are good at with zero expectation of payback.
Just give. Rewards will find you in surprising ways.
Noble guidance, and something I believe Ms. Malena Mesarina embodies.
Malena hosts a sold-out* roundtable one Tuesday each month. Thirty people pile into a google chat while she drives a whiteboard discussion framing up problems 'to help each other prepare for the toughest interview questions so that they can land their dream jobs.'
But it's more than that.
It's a place to witness the smarts and civility we dream of in the office world...without the undercurrent of politics and such. It's why I love the practice of product management so much - proof that ideas are merely seeds until cultivated.
And proof that rarely, if ever, will a complete solution come from one person, no matter how inspired one may be.
She could monetize, but explicitly states these roundtables are not about that.
Demand is high: while there's always a waiting list into the triple digits, attendance is free*.
Curious? Joining StellarPeers gets one access to a host of videos from sessions going way way back.