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November 9, 2020

Can an agency move into product?

Can an agency move into product?

Am I crazy? Can we, an agency, move into products? Something that so many have tried and failed at (including myself)

Well, here’s where my head is at. I’m hoping to continue to share the journey as we go through this process. I hope you enjoy following along.

I promise for my next video I’ll make it shorter 🙈. And have a green screen 🟩


Hi, everyone. You might have seen the announcement last week that I’m moving into the Innovation Director role at Space. Primarily to work on products. So looking to build out a product arm, product library, particularly for the BigCommerce app marketplace now. I want to do this as transparently as possible, the idea being every week or so to share the conversations that we’re having internally, the problems we might be facing, the questions that we’re looking to answer, just to share the journey. So obviously the first question is: an agency doing product, that’s been tried many times before and a lot of people have failed, so why do we feel like we’re any different?

So can an agency move into product? Is that possible? I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Obviously the main thing is that client work is always the priority. Particularly, every agency is a customer service-based business. you’re a service oriented business here. We want to be providing the most responsive, uh, kind of we’re going to want to respond to work, as quickly as possible.

So, you know, when priority issues come in, that’s what we’re going to be working on. When paid work comes in, that’s what we’re gonna be working on, which is one of the biggest challenges with agencies and many of them having sort of products or things that they’re building on the side. How do we actually make that successful?

So recognizing that, while there is a path to success here, that others have followed , we’re also going in eyes wide open with multiple people within the management management team at Space, having tried this before and, arguably failed. So, it’s one that we’re very, very concerned about and we’re thinking about how to tackle it.

I also recognize that the skills required are different. Like it can feel like the two businesses are very similar, where the things we do day-to-day we might be building a Shopify app or we might be building a, BigCommerce app for a customer.

So is building our own that far detached or that far removed from, from actually, from the day-to-day work we already do? But there is different skill sets. I mean, particularly in and around that development work. Development work is easy, so to speak. There’s the planning, there’s lots of product management decisions that we’ve never partaked in. Partaked.

Wow. Is that word?

The research, market research or what options are available? What are other people doing again? Again, we provide a certain level of consultancy and advice to our customers, but most of them come to us more from that kind of obviously the e-commerce merchant side, rather than the technology and product side.

So certainly in advance of doing development work, the whole research piece and planning piece and prioritization piece, is quite new to us. So there’s gonna be a lot of learning there. Yes, the development there’ll be crossover there and certainly some form of prioritization, impact mapping, discovery, all that sort of stuff.

Breaking pieces of work up where we’re really familiar with. but then even in launching it to a marketing, a product, Like support the support that you give, on the app store is very different to the support that we give. We’re very much a relationship based business, which can be one of our sort of go-to market strategies, building up relationships with, with other partners to get referrals and things.

But, we have a small number of customers and we get to know them really well. We get to work for a long time with them. The app model doesn’t work so much like that. So we are recognizing that there’s a lot of crossover, but there’s an awful lot, for us to learn as well. So that’s going to be a challenge.

And as I say there are other people that have succeeded in this, the most obvious ones, if you’re in the agency space, the most obvious one is Basecamp or a 37 signals. So initially an agency, as almost every agency does, has struggles with their project management system so went and built their own, obviously Basecamp is an incredibly popular company and leaders in the space. One of the other ones that comes to mind is, particularly in our space, is DotDigital or DotMailer, or, I forget what they were originally called, but they were originally an agency way back when, and then as I understand it, went into product and went into that email, created that email marketing tool. And so, and it’s been many years since, I don’t have the history, but obviously they’ve managed to do that.

All credit due to them. but I’m also aware there are probably thousands of thousands of agencies that have tried and have failed. So recognizing we may be in the list of thousands, but certainly hoping to kind of go about it a little bit differently.

So, what are we doing to address this? As I say, going in eyes open. I think one of them is about degree of separation.

So this is very much like an alignment between what Space 48 the company wants to do next, but also for my personal objective, I’ve been in the agency space for a long time, it was a sort of personal goal of mine to try something new and products being that new thing, and a new challenge.

So there’s a degree of separation because I’m pulling back from the service side. I’m not immediately looking to get developers or designers from the service business to work on it. Initially, while my coding skills are a little bit rusty, it’s going to be me sort of splitting my time between product development and sales and marketing and all the other skills in between, all the other tasks in between.

From a certain portion, we’re trying to get kind of get around that and then we’re going to essentially delay the decision of how do we get the team involved. It might be an initiative on a consulting basis, and when they’ve got spare time, But certainly we are aware that we can’t, very easily say, okay, I want two weeks worth of this dev’s time.

We know that’s very difficult to manage. So we’re going to be evaluating that. And we may be looking to grow my team, as we build up some momentum as well.

I’m also really happy, while this is a sort of a personal thing for me, there’s a lot of people in the business that, are wanting this to be successful.

I’ve spent a lot of time with the board talking about it and they’re 100% behind it and felt like this is an exciting time for us, for a business for multiple reasons. We feel, we all feel like there’s real opportunity here in the BigCommerce space. So certainly a commitment thing. This isn’t a we have to turn a profit on this in the next three months.

Which is nice. It’s good that I’m going to actually to keep my job after that. We appreciate it’s for the longer term, but we also appreciate those there’s other benefits to doing this than just revenue in the short term as well. We do hope that it helps our own the service side of the business from a reputation point of view, obviously.

Other than that, we are going in eyes wide open is the phrase of this video where we just want to continuously learn. None of us have done this in this way before, so we’re going to take it easy. I always think back to the story of the ceramics class, where the Ceramics class was split in two if I remember correctly. They’ve all got to make a vase.

One group spends all their time and they make one vase and they try .and spend a lot of time planning, and reading up and researching this one vase. Where the other group is more, gets to have fun and makes as many vases as possible without the planning.

And it’s that group of people that have lots of tries that actually produce the better vase. And so that’s kind of the approach I’m going with this. I really don’t want to, as many product companies do, go away for six months or 12 months and build some grand idea. And then for it just turn up on the scene in a flash, and then disappear.

I,as part of the learning experience, I really want to get started just with very, very small apps, build up a library of very small, but useful apps on the BigCommerce space. And we’ll use that to get exposure to different areas, understand the problem space, spend more time talking with merchants perhaps using those apps to understand some of the bigger issues that they have.

And we’ll, we’ll work our way up, but we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew. So that’s how we think we can do it. I’d love to hear some of your stories about how you’ve maybe tried to failed or tried and succeeded when building products within your agency. How did that go?

What advice would you have for me and for us?

Anyway, this was something a little bit new. Thanks very much. Bye.

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