Understand, Experiment, Align: Three Steps To Better Products And Services

Vasily Starostenko was a product manager on the driver team at Uber before taking over the customer acquisition team at Tesla. In a Lean Startup interview (“Three Keys to Building Better Products”) he talks about the importance of building products and services around customer impact with three steps.

Step 1 – Understand: The goal is to actually solve a customer problem in a way that will make their life better. It sounds noble because it is. It means we have to start from the customer’s frame of reference, not what we think we want to do (negative example: “If everyone gets a(n) ______, we’ll hit our numbers!”). As Vasily explains, we want to avoid “feature fetish.” It’s easy to feel good about creating a feature or pushing a product that doesn’t actually address or solve a customer problem. He suggests exploring at least 50 problems before deciding to solve one to make sure we really understand where we can add value, not just mistaking our busyness for progress.


Step 2 – Experiment: Now that we have a question, we can start testing solutions. We need to be sure to define our metrics. Our point here is not to be overly scientific, but to have an open mind that our question and answer both need to be viable if our idea is going to eventually find traction. If they’re not, we’ll be able to move on quickly. Vasily says the power of always having a hypothesis is that it forces us to keep this link between our questions and expected answers. It means we’re going to risk being wrong, which will make some uncomfortable, but it also avoids the deadly sin of staying wrong.

Step 3 – Align: Finally, we want to institutionalize what works by putting our money where our mouth is. If we’ve demonstrated success, we need to get out there and do more of it. Vasily explains that as more real-world details are added while scaling the effort up, the original question and understanding will still be extremely important. By maintaining the focus on the value we create for the customer throughout the alignment phase, we can keep our people, teams, and company organized and communicating.  

As Vasily stresses, the key to all of this is to remember that value starts with the customer’s perspective. Our growth targets are not customer problems. Without a client problem to solve, we’re not going to make the progress we seek – so, seek out the problems, understand them, create experiments, and align the resources to drive results.