April 18, 2014
In 16 or so years of designing and managing consumer and enterprise products in a range of markets and fields, one of the mantras in product management that I repeat the most is that you should “eat your own dog food,” or it’s way more sophisticated counterpart, “sip your own champagne.”
For those who are not in the know (and I’m hoping you’re not product managers!), this simply means that you must use your own product. If your product is chocolate chip cookies, you should eat them. If your product is a photo organizer, you should use it to organize your photos. If its a sock rack, put your socks on it. The benefits are obvious- a team who uses their own product is always on top of what bugs are most important to fix, which features are must-haves and which are nice-to-haves.
But wait a minute, what happens when you can’t be a user of your own product because your own product is not designed for you? This can happen because you are not a Fortune 1000 Enterprise or you have never worked in a corporate environment. It can happen because your product is aimed at a market you don’t live in, or created to fight a disease that you don’t have. Personally, I have managed the design of a fleet management tool for some of the largest trucks on the road (and no, I’ve never driven one but I visited the factory a lot, and they are very cool), data lineage software to enable compliance with Sarbanes Oxley / Basel II-III / HIPAA (which I could not find any use for personally), and a German interactive multimedia encyclopedia (nope, never used it). In such situations, you have to do your utmost to get to know your users personally, visit them in their workplaces, and step into their shoes when you are prioritizing work on the product.
For this veteran product manager, building Zula was the ultimate fulfillment of the mantra. About a year ago, as soon as we had an early version of the product, the team abandoned email, Skype, Gmail Chat, SMS and phone calls. We were left with Zula.
We quite literally built our product using only Zula’s team communication features to plan, prioritize, arrange meetings, discuss design, communicate bugs, keep up to date on competition, and discuss the vision with investors. Feedback that we receive from our users out there never comes as a surprise and has usually already been discussed and prioritized by the team. It comes as helpful reinforcement, but at the end of the day, the Zula team are the ultimate early adopters, the outspoken critics and the crazy groupies of our product. Zula is a reflection of our own team’s teamwork, and we hope that your team will consider sipping our champagne too.
– Jo Friedman, VP Products