I’m Marie, my startup just pivoted and rebranded, AMA 🔥
Marie Prokopets in Ask Me Anything
I've had a wild ride of a career as an exec in large corporations and as a startup founder. I worked with celebrities in the alcohol industry and on $26 billion worth of M&A deals. Then I built multiple products (some of which are 💀) as part of my own startup journey. I’ve won awards for my comedy writing and was named Product Hunt Maker of the Year in 2019 😺. Recently I pivoted my business from a document search tool to a product for IT teams to protect company documents from unauthorized access. Also, I like to meditate, burn sage, commune with nature, and collect crystals. 👋 I'll be here on 06/10 at 11 am pt to answer any and all questions about startups, pivots, product development, remote work, personal development, transitioning from corporate to startups, writing, the future, and me 🔮. Drop your questions below 👇
posted by Marie Prokopets in Ask Me Anything
Comments (136)
founder, Animalz. previously, iDoneThis
hey @marie_prokopets! you've built a ton of products on your journey. one problem i encounter is getting really excited about an idea, then getting down half way through building it, then getting excited on launch, then getting down on it when it doesn't have amazing product-market fit and deciding to pivot. then repeat! how do you stay focused on learning and building each iteration on what you learned from the last? really excited about nira 👍🏼
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
Hey @smalter! Thanks for describing the cycle you go through - sounds exciting and also a bit maddening 🙃. And I can totally relate! Our path went like this… dogo (pitch deck software) ---> Draftsend (PDFs with audio) ----> FYI (document search) ----> Nira (document access control for IT). For the first two of those ideas our excitement fell off a cliff as soon as we launched. I attribute the drop in excitement for us to a lack of understanding of the customer. With those first two products, my co-founder and I did minimal customer research. We really didn’t deeply understand their problems and existing solutions to the problems. We were shooting in the dark a bit. And so once we launched, there was nothing solid supporting the products. We could have made them work with a bunch of effort and time, but the foundation of customer needs was missing, which meant the products were doomed. FYI and Nira were totally different. We lived and breathed the customer. This focus on the customer automatically bakes in learning, and also begets constant improvement of the product. We did all the research you can think of. Surveys (NPS, product/market fit, feature value analysis, pricing), customer research calls, sales discovery calls, user tests, user research calls, analyzing usage and funnels, competitor research. Because FYI and Nira started with the customer, our excitement never waned. We did, however, end up pivoting away from the document search product. That’s because we found a much bigger opportunity to pursue, and were pulled there by the customer (IT teams). And thanks for the excitement about Nira :) We’re excited too! And I can’t wait to see what you’ve been building too.
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founder, Animalz. previously, iDoneThis
@marie_prokopets huh! that's really interesting because i saw a high level of customer obsession and research with dogo and draftsend, at least compared to what i would normally do 😛
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@smalter Definitely not that much for dogo and Draftsend :) We just did a bit of UX research, and had a few conversations with users and potential customers but they were pretty biased.
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Creator
@smalter @marie_prokopets Thanks for sharing the journey of learning. From the perspective of Activity Theory, Pivot means the Transformation of Object.
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Co-Founder of Sideby.io⚡Waitlist Open
@smalter @marie_prokopets this is so excited to read, It actually normalice the different stage of struggling but how we need to keep going and focus on the customer until finding the right path.
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Head of Marketing @ Frase.io
Hey @marie_prokopets thanks for dropping in. Also, thank you @hnshah for letting me know about your AMA. You've had access to tons of M&A deals throughout your career. When you're looking at a startup investment/M&A, what do you look for that separates the best deals from the average? Team, finances, IP, growth rate, etc? PS - I'm a big meditator myself!
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
Hi @inboundy! Here’s what I look at when it comes to M&A and investment. I may have missed a few things, so feel free to ask followups :) Market - How large is the market today? How large can it be in the future? - What characteristics does the market have? - What about margins / financials? - What kind of complexities does the market have? (for example, lots of regulations, supply chain issues, high costs, etc.) - Are there tons of competitors? - Are there no competitors? Why? - What are the barriers to entry? - What are the market risks? What is the likelihood of those risks hurting the company? - Can the company overcome negative market dynamics? Why/how? Team - How kickass is this team? - Are they flexible? - How quickly do they learn? - What competencies does the team have? - What deficiencies does the team have? Can they overcome them? - How mature is the team? How well do they take feedback and evolve based on it? - Have they done this before? - Are they thoughtful? - Do they move quickly? - Do they handle setbacks gracefully/bounce back quickly? - What are their values? - For an acquisition, will the founders be involved? In what capacity can they help? Are they a valuable asset for the brand? Product and customer - What makes this product special? - Who is the customer? What are their attributes? - Who is the buyer? What are their attributes? - Does the buyer/customer have budget for this product? - What do customers think about the product? - What is the customer pain this product is solving? - Is the product hard to build? Growth potential - Why will this product become huge? - What is going to propel company growth? - Is the brand well known? - What can be done to grow the product even more? If the deal is an acquisition, there are also a bunch of considerations around why the team/brand/product is a good addition, like cost savings, upsells for customers, the addition of technical expertise, etc. All of this said, acquisitions and investments are often more emotional and less fact based. A competitor might be ominously looming, ready to snatch up customers, and so a company makes a less than rational decision to acquire it or another similar business. A brand has a cool factor that an executive really wants, so they make the deal go through. Someone wants a piece of technology, so they overpay to get it. As much as people try and try to objectively quantify, numbers can help tell the story that someone wants to project.
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Founder & CEO, Any.do
Thanks for doing this Marie! Universal search for all your saas applications seems like killer idea from the outside, with dozens of start ups going at it worldwide. What made you change your mind and pivot?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@omerperchik thanks for the question! Hiten and I loved building the document search app, and would have continued working on it, except a better idea presented itself. We stumbled upon the idea for Nira (our new brand) when we were talking to one of our document search app customers. He was literally freaking out because people who shouldn't have had access to his company documents still did have access. Our tool showed him that, even though it wasn't what we built the tool for. In some cases, the people who were able to get into his documents had maintained access to company documents for years, even though they no longer worked with the company. We created some mock up designs for a new product that would solve the access issues, and shared them with some IT folks. That's when we realized that we were really on to something. Every IT team we talked to had the issue we wanted to solve. We were completely pulled to pivot. The toughest choice was deciding if we should build the IT tool in addition to document search, or focus entirely on the IT tool. So we took a bit of time to think about whether we should drop the document search tool. Here were a few things that helped us decide to focus entirely on the IT tool. - Committees ruled the buying process: In trying to sell our product to companies, we quickly learned that there was no one buyer or single owner for document search tools. Instead, there were committees. The committees, unfortunately, struggled to get consensus and make decisions. We met with committee after committee and saw enterprise search initiatives die again and again. - Too many apps: The need to build integrations for different collaboration apps was huge because every company used a different set of apps. Google Workspace, Office 365, Box, Dropbox, Dropbox Paper, Miro, Notion, Coda, Figma, and more. This meant we had to integrate with app after app. We ended up building 24 integrations before we paused the effort. - Inadequate APIs: We learned that early and new APIs, while exciting, are a drag. Some products took years to add APIs, and once they were ready we quickly realized their functionality was inadequate for what we needed to build. Plus, even the APIs of more established apps were missing information we needed to populate our interface. It became a never-ending mountain of work and even then it would lead to an inconsistent experience for our customers. - Adoption issues: Our goal was to have widespread adoption of our tool across an organization. It’s usually called “wall-to-wall” adoption. But oftentimes departments use specific tools in isolation from the rest of the company. Even though a company might use G Suite, the legal and finance teams might refuse to use it and instead collaborate on Office 365. How could we expect our search tool to get full company adoption if the collaboration apps can’t in the first place? - Locked down auth: Our strategy was to get adoption from the bottom up within companies. A groundswell of employee app usage would mean that we’d be able to sell in at the company level easier. Except many companies lock down the ability for employees to authenticate with apps without permission. Some even lock down the ability to download apps or install chrome extensions. We realized we wouldn’t be able to scale the business and get wall-to-wall adoption without a top-down sales motion.
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@omerperchik @marie_prokopets Hi Marie, Typically (at least in my view) companies store documents internally and delegate employee access via Active Directory group membership/account. So your solution is for companies that store documents outside their networks correct?
Co-founder and COO of Nira
@omerperchik @john_mirochnik you can check out our website here to learn more about how we solve the problem for IT teams: https://nira.com/. this is a problem that companies of all sizes have with their cloud-based document apps. as you can imagine we've built our product based on a ton of customer research, the method you mentioned where access to documents is clean and based on Active Directory groups isn't one that we've heard used by companies. in reality, document access is extremely messy and there's a ton of risk that companies are managing.
Product @ Lovingly
@marie_prokopets you mention that you and Hiten " loved building the document search app, and would have continued working on it, except a better idea presented itself." >> I'm curious what advice would you give someone entering the document search space? Is it a dead-end? It seems that the problem is real (I've seen it first hand!) and there aren't really good solutions out there (except for usefyi of course).
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@dmarquez we believe that document search is still a massive opportunity. what we discovered is that in order to create the best possible experience possible for customers, it would take a level of engineering and product effort that - at the time - we were not willing to invest once we found the opportunity with Nira. The advice I would give to someone who is trying to build in the document search space is to really narrow down what apps they integrate with, deeply understand what the user and buyer personas are, and make sure the APIs they need to work with can enable the functionality for their target customers.
Writer at https://lyle.substack.com
Hey @marie_prokopets! As a writer myself, I'd love to learn more about your writing. What does writing mean to you and how does it fit into your personal and professional life?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
Hi @lylemckeany! Love this question! Thank you! I've found that my writing goes in stages, depending on where I'm at in my life. - When I was a child, I loved writing poetry. And angry notes in my diary about my parents (sorry Mom and Dad). The writing was essential in helping me process emotions. - When I was working in consulting, I wrote bits of a few satirical graphic novels about the corporate world. I loved creating fantastic worlds out of the mundane. - During my time working in the alcohol industry (and after), I wrote multiple comedy screenplays and TV pilots. Though I loved my job, I wasn't fully satisfied. I used any extra energy I had outside of work (and my social life) to write. It was glorious and brought me so much joy. I do hope to get back to this type of writing again soon. - As a founder, it's challenging (at least it is for me) to devote large swaths of time to creative writing. Plus, I am pretty singularly focused on solving painful problems for customers and building a massive business. So my writing has shifted to blog posts, all the things I write for work (I love making documents!), and then - and this is key for me - journaling / self development work. I do a ton of writing about what's arising in my life and what my emotions are. It helps me work through issues, realize things about myself, learn/grow, be able to reflect. It comes out in a variety of ways - sometimes poems, sometimes regular journaling, sometimes stories. For me, writing means exploring the self. It's about processing experiences, observations and thoughts. Writing needs space and time, and I do believe that creativity can be forced (i.e. scheduled for a certain time). I believe that the more we write, the more we can process the things happening in our lives and grow as people. It's also a brilliant method for capturing one's state of mind in order to look back at it later.
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Writer at https://lyle.substack.com
@marie_prokopets Thanks for the thoughtful answer! Writing has done all those things for me too. I write what I call personal, vulnerable, and sometimes funny stories about the messiness of life. There's been a marked difference in my mental health since I've made creative writing a priority the past year. It's magic.
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@lylemckeany That's beautiful! Thank you for sharing :) Writing really does have the power to heal / help us grow / bring happiness! I'm so glad to hear you've made it a priority in your life.
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sell it and they will come
@marie_prokopets Totally agree with "the more we write, the more we can process the things happening in our lives" 👍 One Q about journaling: are there any routins around this? Something like weekly review when you re-read all notes of past week etc. Thanks!
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@pavel_ivanovsky I don't have a routine as it relates to journaling, but if you figure one out I'd love to hear it! Typically I just journal as things come up. Though your question makes me wonder if I should set some scheduled journaling time :) Another method I've tried is from The Artist's Way: https://www.amazon.com/Artists-W... You do what's called Morning Pages where every morning when you wake up you write down 3 pages worth of journaling, in order to clear all the crap out of your brain so you can have more room for creativity.
Founder, Stackraft
Hey @marie_prokopets! You've had a pretty wild ride, a lot of different stuff and following your desires & passions. How do you find focus in this world that is noisy and chaotic? We live in a world of unlimited possibilities but we’re also in a world of limited time. I'm curious how do you think about your life's work and purpose?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
Hi @vartikamanasvi, I really really love these questions, thank you for asking them! Q: How do you find focus in this world that is noisy and chaotic? I think of the world as having lots of channels that I can tune to, and I then choose the channels I want to focus on. For example, one channel I avoid indulging in too much is social media. I never have the Facebook app installed on my phone. I also delete Instagram every time I notice myself spending too much time on it. And I don't put Twitter on my phone either! Any social media apps go into a folder on my phone called "Say aloud before opening" so I remind myself to be present to the fact that I'm going on them by literally calling it out, out loud. I also know what channels I want to focus on, like my business, coming from my heart, being happy, productive, laughing, relaxing and filling myself up (like with nature), and my friends and family. When my life deviates from the things I want to focus on, I do a lot of reflection and look to figure out why and what I can do to get back on course. It's not easy work at all, but it's absolutely worth it. Q: I'm curious how do you think about your life's work and purpose? As a general rule, I believe that the more I work on myself, the better person I will be for all the people I encounter in the world. Even when things are tough, I hold on to this belief, and the knowledge that I will come out of tough situations as a better person who can make a bigger/better positive impact on the world around me. I do this through a lot of self development - things like journaling, identifying patterns I want to change, thinking about how I can evolve/grow, being present to how I am in each moment. Years ago a dear friend taught me about the concept of being a gift to the world - the aim is to be the best gift to the world that you possibly can be. This enabled me to be happy, go after achievements, learn, and live life how I wanted to. All because it would result in a positive impact for those around me. This is how I look at my life's work and purpose. So one simple question to ask yourself is, how can I be the biggest gift to the world? On a more practical level, I allow myself to have goals and desires, but also allow for my path to be shaped by chance (and perhaps a bit of destiny, too). I've had a bit of a meandering career (undergrad in business, MA in english literature, consulting, corporate strategy/innovation, comedy writing, startup founder). In some cases I failed to do the thing I wanted to do, which led me to change paths. And in others I chose a different path when something new was presented to me. What helps is to release attachment to the outcome, and to allow what arises to arise. I also think it's OK to not have a clear answer about one's life purpose and work. It's OK to figure it out as you go. The journey is full of learning and growth - and (in my opinion) that's really what matters the most.
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Nomad. Idealist. Believer in sharing.
Hi Marie, thanks for doing this! Your last AMA round was very insightful and I learned a fair bit. I would like to ask what would your approach to user research be if your product is a tightly integrated re-imagination of a number of existing apps? The end goal is further down the line but I am not sure if I should research for the current solution - the MVP for which I have built. The idea was to first get users onboarded to then take them on a journey to something they should have.... IMO, loaded statement I guess, but how do I conduct research for this focus on the current or the future which is what the solution aims to be?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
Hi Avinash, we use customer development to address these sorts of challenges at Nira. This video explains the basics of the process:
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Nomad. Idealist. Believer in sharing.
reddy2Go
hi Marie, more power to you on this recent pivot. what’s your take on the importance of comedy as a bridge between people in larger organisations (hierarchical disconnection) and in smaller startups (constant engagement) especially in the remote work era that we’re immersed in?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@reddy2go I love this question, thanks so much for asking it! Comedy can be a bridge between people in any organization, regardless of size or type. Comedy isn't something to purposely bring in to an organization, though. It shouldn't be forced. If you are funny, let it out at work. If you don't gravitate to comedy, then there's no need to find awkward jokes to tell. The idea is to be your authentic self, at work and in all areas of your life. I firmly believe that people should be themselves at work, or else they'll slowly become dissatisfied, leave for another job, and generally experience less happiness than they should. This was a struggle I had for years. I so wanted to be my authentic self at work. But for some reason I felt that if I let my weirdness out - my eccentricities, way of dressing outside of work, and humor - I would be shunned, skipped over for promotions, and looked down upon. This was of course as far from the truth as one could possibly get. Once I let my true self out at work, I excelled even more. This included my sense of humor (which I let out within reason, since it can be a bit raunchy), my love of writing, and dressing more like myself. The more I was myself, the closer grew to the people I worked with - in part because of our shared sense of humor. As for comedy in the remote work world, there are plenty of filters to add to your Zoom meetings that can help with that :)
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Product and Growth @nira.com
What's your favorite way to learn new skills?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@mrcpiras Hi Marco! Here is my favorite way to learn new skills: Do it! Diving right in to the new skill is the best way to learn it. Even if you feel uncomfortable. Even if you're worried that you can't do it. Just dive right in. The more you think "this is new and hard" the harder it will be to learn the new skill. If at all possible, don't even think about how you don't know much about the skill. My current Slack status is "Just get started" - the idea is if you just begin the task, you're more likely to get it done :) Repeat! Keep at it, even if initially you aren't as good as you'd like to be. Practice makes perfect :) Or at least, good enough. Be present! Observe how you're progressing at learning the new skill. Being present to how you're doing helps you understand where you should dig in even more. Observe where you can improve, and then focus there. Be kind to yourself! Don't get critical if you can't do something right away. Learning new skills can take time, and that's ok. Ask questions! This is key. Feel empowered to ask any and all questions you have. Getting answers to your questions helps you learn faster. Don't be embarrassed about the questions, and don't overthink it. Just ask! I do have to say Marco, you are great at this 😃 Seek knowledge! If it's possible, learn about the new skill from experts. Read about it from people who have done it before. At the very least, you'll feel more comfortable and confident, which will help you learn faster.
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Product and Growth @nira.com
@marie_prokopets thanks Marie! Historically I've been more focused on learning from experts rather than trying to do it myself. Now I'm trying to switch my focus and spend less time learning from others and more time learning from my experience. Surely there's a balance and I'm trying to find what that balance looks like for me :) Interesting that you mentioned to be present to how you're doing. I journal my progress in... you'll like this: documents! I've a document for any skill I'm learning and I write down my biggest learnings there.
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@mrcpiras I love this Marco!!! So good that you're keeping track of learnings. Also probably is helpful for you to see how much you're growing :)
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Product and Growth @nira.com
What are some differences between the way you meditate now and when you started?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@mrcpiras I started meditating as a kid! At the time, a thick paperback book about yogis drew my attention at the bookstore (this was back before buying books online was a thing or reading them on Kindles, of course). I really loved the pictures of people meditating in the book, and I would mimic the poses, sitting silently in lotus position with my eyes closed and focusing on my posture. I wasn't able to meditate for long periods then, but I did feel grounded and peaceful. So back when I first started, I didn't really have a knowledge base or discipline. Now, I'd say I'm much more confident and have a deeper understanding of what meditation means and does to me. Now, as soon as I sit down to meditate and close my eyes I drop in (to the quiet and the energy of it all) pretty quickly. I tend to meditate in silence without any specific methodology, but I do sometimes use a few practices (breath work, posture, visualizations, guided meditations). I do sometimes get caught up in my thoughts, though I do my best to be present to them and allow them to pass without attaching to them. I tend to like to meditate for 15-20 minutes at a time, though even a few minutes is quite helpful.
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Product and Growth @nira.com
@marie_prokopets funny that what drew you to meditation initially were the poses. They're quite fascinating indeed! I started meditating because of the general health benefits and I've never paid much attention to the poses. Maybe that can be my next step! :D
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Co-founder, Viralheat
Hey Marie, What does it take to start a new alcohol brand? Is it mostly celebrity endorsement / marketing to cut through the noise. Would love to hear your insights on how to launch a physical product and scale it?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@vishals If only starting a new alcohol brand were as easy as celebrity endorsement or marketing :) A ton goes into it, here are a few of the points: Category: Which category is the brand in? Is the category growing? Is the product you want to make going to fit well into the category? Will it be differentiated? Brand: What does the label design look like? What's the name of the product? What bottle shape will it have? Packaging design: What's the packaging going to look like? This includes the label, and any elements of the bottle like the glass and stopper/cork. This will need to all be considered with the lens of materials cost, too. Flavor profile and liquid: What's the product taste like? Is there a special way to produce the liquid? Does it take time and sit in barrels first? For how long? Are there special flavor notes you're trying to create? Sourcing / supply chain: Where are you getting the packaging? Is it cost effective? Is the quality there? Can they give you the quantities you need? In the time you need them? How about the liquid - how are you going to create that? Do you have a good facility to produce it? How do you get the final package to the distributor? Finance/Planning: You'll need to figure out how much everything costs, how much you need, how much you'll sell the product for. Sales: Who is selling the product for you? How do you get it to distributors? Are they incentivized to sell it in to retailers? Marketing: There's a ton of positioning work to be done on the brand before it launches. How much money do you have to spend on this? How will you reach people? What marketing are you doing in the store? There are a million ways to market alcohol brands, so there are a lot of choices to make. This is also where celebrity endorsements/deals come in. Legal / regulatory: There's a ton (at least in the US) to do on the regulatory landscape. You'll need approvals from the TTB and that can take time.
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Co-founder, Viralheat
@marie_prokopets Very very insightful :) Thank you.
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Product strategist & entrepreneur
Hi Marie. While much of product management is clearly focused on market-fit and delving into the needs of users, I am curious as to how you also generate ideas yourself / internally as a team - how structured or unstructured your process is for that. And how do you apply learnings from your different interests and activities to the others?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@dom_rodwell We don't have an explicit process today to generate ideas. So it's fairly unstructured. Ideas come in the midst of customer research, and either sit in our brains, in notes from discussions, or in documents about future features or learnings from research. This isn't scalable, but it works really well for us at this stage. Eventually all the ideas are translated into a feature prioritization spreadsheet which includes engineering estimates, and then prioritized based on difficulty to build vs. the business reasons for building them. As for how I apply learnings from my different interests and activities to ideas at work, I don't do anything explicit here. I've been lucky to have interests and a career that taught me how to spot patterns quickly, how to process tons of data and come to conclusions, and to be creative. So all those things are naturally at play for me while coming up with ideas for Nira.
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I've become a product person
Hey Marie! Did you guys do any quantitative evaluation that showed that the pivot made sense.
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
Hi Matthew! Absolutely, we took tons of qualitative data (about competitors, the market, features, sales discovery calls, user tests and surveys) and made it quantitative (by counting it all and assigning values to each item) to make sure we were solving the right problem. We didn't have usage when we first started to work on our new product, so the only inputs we had were external.
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Product Manager
Thank you @marie_prokopets for taking the time to answer questions. I would like to know the process you went through to move from large corporation to a start-up.
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sell it and they will come
@marie_prokopets @parasuraman_sethumathavan Hey @marie_prokopets, my Q is very similar to one of Parasuraman, I'd just tune it a little: what was the process you went through to move from large corporations (PwC then huge wine and spirits company) to a start-up? Seems corporate jobs you had are not exactly IT/SW/Tech-related: was it an obstacle during your "corporate -> startup" transition? Большое спасибо!
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@parasuraman_sethumathavan - happy to answer questions, thank you for asking this one! When I was going through the change from corporate to startup, I didn't have any kind of specific strategy or framework for making the switch. In hindsight, there were a few things I naturally did as I transitioned from working at large corporations to being a founder. Consider leaving (for way too long) - I spent 3 years considering leaving. This was far too long, though I don't regret the delay, as I had really brilliant experiences over those 3 years. There were a few stories I had in my head that caused me to stay for far too long (mainly fears about leaving) - I'd recommend watching what stories you might have about leaving a role and spending some time figuring out if they are real or just stories created by the mind to keep you safe. Think about what's next - Ask yourself: what would make you happy? What's the ideal scenario for you? Can you achieve that scenario? What's the worst case scenario? Talk to startup people - Speaking to people who have the job you'd like is incredibly helpful. Get their perspective about the pros and cons of what they do. Make sure you're not sugarcoating the reality. Being a founder is incredibly challenging, and also incredibly rewarding. Make sure you get the full picture. And of course, see if you can get connected to the right people. I met my co-founder because a founder friend of mine connected me with another founder, who I then met Hiten through. Make the jump - Get over your fears (or ignore them!) and make the jump to do whatever it is you want to do. You'll likely realize that all or most of your fears were totally phantom fears and there was nothing to them.
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Product Manager
Thank you @marie_prokopets for the insightful answer.
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@parasuraman_sethumathavan @pavel_ivanovsky Hi Pavel! Happy to help :) Check out the answer to your first question in this thread, let me know if I missed anything :). As for your question about my transition from non tech to tech and whether it was an obstacle - the answer is that it was absolutely not an obstacle! My biggest hack for learning new things quickly is to ignore the initial lack of knowledge and just dive in (see my answer to Marco's question about how I learn new skills). Had I approached learning software from the perspective of "oh gosh this is something I don't know, it's a huge new skill I have to learn, I'm terrified" I probably would have taken a lot more time to get up to speed. Instead, I just asked questions, listened, read a ton, and did the work. There will always be things that you don't know, and with time and effort, you can absolutely learn them.
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storyteller, marketing advisor
Hey @marie_prokopets! Hiten's newsletter sent me here. My question for you is which other brands / communities are you keeping an eye on these days to measure yourself up against for tactics, trends and new ideas? Thanks!
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
Hi @joel_hansen1! I'll be honest... I don’t keep an eye on any specific brands or communities. The work I do at Nira takes up a ton of my time and energy. And I have a co-founder in Hiten who keeps up with more things than most people I know, so he usually directs me to what I should look at. I like to stay super focused on our customers and internal company needs. New ideas come from our customer research, and we're able to keep track of trends that way too since often we hear about competitors from our customers.
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Working on product & AI
How did you handle the existing customers of document search when you pivot? You seemed to have acquired a decent amount of happy customers for FYI, did you worry about losing them?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@yunling_wang Hi Yunling. We're still servicing those existing customers, the only change they've experienced is the new brand name, so there wasn't anything to communicate to them. We aren't focused on adding more customers to the Chrome extension at this time, though. Had we gotten rid of our document search Chrome app, we would have communicated to them about it so they'd know we were winding it down. Our Chrome app is also a totally free product, so this makes any transition a bit easier.
On Deck, Marketing & Communications
Hi Marie! I am really enjoying reading your responses to some of these other questions! There seems to be a seemingly never-ending narrative in our culture that emphasizes the importance of having "a thing"—being passionate about one specific career path, company, or even product/service. I'm torn about this narrative. As a multi-passionate person, there is a part of me that deeply enjoys helping people and businesses with everything from writing speeches and books, to developing marketing and business optimization strategies. The variety is fun for me. But, it's also incredibly hard to explain what I do (which feels important for the sake of people knowing how to refer or hire me) and sometimes it leaves me feeling a bit directionless. As someone who is also multi-passionate and has been brave enough to test out many different startup ideas, what do you think about this cultural narrative? What advice would you give to someone who hasn't figured out what their "one thing" is—yet or ever?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@melissajoykong Hey Melissa! I love that you've identified the social pressure to have one "thing", and that you see yourself as a "multi-passionate person". Knowing you and your interests, I would absolutely call you a multi-passionate person, and I think that's beautiful. It's so wonderful that we as humans have the skills to be good at many things at once, to shift our careers and lives, to learn new things, and even start over in our 50s or 60s with new skills. I think oftentimes we can create lots of stories about why something we're doing is wrong or bad or will be negatively perceived. I've had my fair share of stories. "If I tell people about my raunchy comedy scripts, they won't think I'm professional" "If anyone finds out I'm into crystals they'll judge me" "How can I be bad ass at business and also woo woo spiritual?" "I need to dress uber professionally for anyone to take me seriously, even if I hate what I have to wear." These are literally just stories and not based in reality. It's your brain trying to keep you safe. You can either ignore the stories, or rewrite them. For example, I am a multi-passionate person and people love me for it. Or, I've got a lot of passions and I'm even more of a gift to the world thanks to them. You are awesome no matter what you do Melissa! And the fact that you can do so many things and have so many interests makes you even more amazing, because it's the truest manifestation of who you are. My advice to you and anyone else who has or hasn't figured out their "one thing" is just to be yourself. Unapologetically yourself. That's what will make you happiest and makes the world a better place!
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Product Manager looking for inspiration.
Hi Marie! I was wondering if you consulted your team before making the decision to pivot and how they reacted when they found out about it. Did you undergo a structural reorganisation as a result of the pivot?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@nollfyra Hey Jonathan! Great question. We're a small team of just under 20 at the moment, and Hiten and I are the two folks who are working with customers on a daily basis. He and I had to take some time to get good with the pivot and make sure it was the right thing for the business. Plus work closely with our CTO to make sure we weren't being crazy and had the ability to get there from a technical standpoint. And then we were able to get everyone else on board. Nira is super centered around customer obsession, so communicating changes to the team is very straightforward. At the time, we shared the customer learnings in enough detail to help the team get on board with the new direction. This is something we do when we’re pivoting, and also every time we iterate existing features or work on new ones. Here are a few of the questions we answered for the team: - Who is the target customer and/or user? - What problem does the customer have? - How painful is their problem? - How does the customer describe the problem? - Are our target customers willing to pay us to solve this problem? We did have 2 people leave the team because they didn't want to work on the new product, which was expected since not everyone can buy in to a totally new direction and sometimes people are bummed that the things they worked on either won't see the light of day or won't be the primary focus of the company anymore. Not everyone will be ready for a change in direction and some people will leave because of it. As for reorganizing the team, the changes we've made aren't a result of pivoting, but rather are born from needing to grow the business because of the scale of the opportunity we've hit on. We've been hiring a lot more engineers and we promoted a few of the team members to create focus areas within engineering so we can build more efficiently and faster.
Hi @marie_prokopets , thanks for taking the time to do this! Given your breadth of product verticals, what's the best advice you can give for building alignment around your idea, and more importantly, maintaining engagement on your team? I've solely focused on motivating developers which can have a unique set of challenges but I suspect the variance of team structures you've been a part of exposes you to potentially unique solutions or strategies.
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@aaron_chiandet Hi Aaron! Take a look at my answer to Jonathan's question above yours, which covers being customer obsessed and answering specific questions for the team based on customer learnings. The key for us at Nira is to focus on the customer and share learnings with the team. That way the alignment is automatically built in. And if you hire folks who really care about the customer, they'll be engaged too! Another thing to consider is, what makes you so sure about the idea/course of action? If you can help explain your thought process and what evidence is keeping you engaged and contributing to your decision, the team should be able to get there too. It's all about context and taking them on the same journey you've been on.
Hi, I'm Sanchit
Hi @marie_prokopets Thanks for doing AMA. What is the one insight that helped you to pivot your product... Whats the decision matrix you applied to ensure you feel confident about doing Pivot?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@sanchit_korgaonkar Hi Sanchit! The one insight was tremendous customer pull! We had an inkling of an idea, that came from - surprise surprise - a customer use case :) You can read about it more in my response to Omer Perchik. Once we drew up some designs and started sharing them with potential customers, we realized the problem of document access control was incredibly painful. By the time we had a working prototype, we knew we really had no choice but to go after solving the problem. It was a really simple decision in that sense, because we had all the evidence we needed from customer demand. The decision matrix for us went a bit like this: - Customer Need - Is there a customer problem and need? The problem was there and super painful. We had folks lined up to use our product, and had interest from large customers and hyper-growth companies. It was very clear, and the more we dug in, the more conviction we had to pivot. - Technical Chops - Did we have what it would take to build this product? And do it really well? The answer was absolutely yes! We had learned all about working with APIs from the search app (we integrated with 24 collaboration apps). And we had a ton of knowledge that we'd learned over the years that we could use on the document access control product. We basically had years of experience, knowledge and tech that fit perfectly with the new direction. - Our Interest - We as a team had to be interested in the new direction. Or else, why build it? We were already in the document space, so it was an easy switch. We also love solving customer problems, so in that sense it was so so easy to shift our focus, since the customer problem was clear. And very painful for customers!
Pivoted from Architecture to Product
Hey @marie_prokopets! I wonder if you believe your 💀 projects are truly 💀 forever? Or whether you might be able or want to revisit any in future? Perhaps in some subtly different guise should the context, market conditions, timing be right for a second go? Or do you believe on reflection, the fundamental foundations of these products was missing so much, best leave them RIP, and just take the learnings?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
Hey @makohn ! Very good question :) I don't like to close the door forever on products we've built... So anything is possible in terms of reviving older products or building new versions of them. Primarily it's all about the customer - is this something the customer needs? Is it solving a painful problem for them? Do we have the bandwidth to work on that problem? What are we sacrificing by doing that? We also still use the products ourselves, like Draftsend and what used to be FYI (the document search app) so in that sense we still get value out of the products ourselves. As for products we've pivoted from, I will take the learnings from those any day over changing history and not doing what we did. We learned so so much and every iteration got us to the next. We literally wouldn't have been where we are with Nira had we not build the enterprise search app and learned everything we did. So on my end, there are no regrets in terms of products that we stopped focusing on.
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