In this episode of Product Chats we explore how Kelsey Ruger, Vice President of Product at Hello Alice, builds tiny products. Using this approach, Kelsey is able to quickly test ideas to see which are worth pursuing. We also discuss finding your product soulmate, building minimum lovable products, and building products for specific personas.
Time Stamped Show Notes
Listening to your customers and not making assumptions [02:18]
Building tiny products [04:47]
How tiny products can lead buyers to buying bigger products [06:29]
Kelsey’s framework for building tiny products [07:37]
Identifying what tiny product to build [09:33]
Validating that your tiny products are relevant [10:08]
Tools for tracking tiny products’ performance [11:17]
Finding your product soulmate [12:59]
Minimum lovable products [14:02]
Do people really buy on need? [15:36]
Designing products desirable to your personas [18:20]
Creating positive emotions for users [19:36]
The importance of trust in product management [20:56]
Building products for specific personas [21:30]
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Kayla: Thanks for tuning in to Product Chats. On today's episode, I talk with Kelsey Ruger, who is the VP of Product at Hello Alice and we chat about building tiny products and finding your product soulmate so hope you enjoy the show and don't forget to leave us a review.
Kayla: Hey, Kelsey, thanks so much for coming on today.
Kelsey: Thank you for me. It's great to be here.
Kayla: So in a minute or less, can you tell us about yourself?
Kelsey: In a minute or less? My name's Kelsey Ruger. I am the Vice President of Product at Hello Alice and we are a company that focuses on helping small businesses find a network, access to capital and resources that they need to either start their business or grow their business to the next level.
Kelsey: And I've always been a product person. Even when I was a kid, I started out as an engineer. My passion was always design. So eventually I transitioned into UX and sort of that combination led me down this path of product and really being able to envision what people use and build the things that they want to use to either improve their business or their life.
Kayla: So can you tell us a little bit, I know that's kind of about like your path. Can you tell us a little bit about that moment where you were like, product is the thing for me, or this is what I'm meant to do?
Kelsey: You know, I think the moment probably happened really early on for me, because I was always a tinkerer and a builder, but we never had a term like product manager in, in at least in technology until later in my career.
Kelsey: Right. And so I think when it really dawned on me was when I realized that I spend part of my time really thinking through like, what is it that people want? Like, what's the problem and how do you solve that?
Kelsey: And I think working in entrepreneurial environments helped because a lot of times when people think about product, they think about the thing you're building and not the business that sits underneath it.
Kelsey: And so I think being exposed to entrepreneurship and products and being a designer, all sort of led down that path where this was the career path where you could do all of those things and utilize it to build things that people wanted to use.
Kayla: And on that piece of like listening to your customer. I know where we're going to dive into that a lot with listening to your customer.
Kayla: I know that's something, when I talk to a lot of product leaders, there's like when I hire for my team, it's about listening to your customer and being able to kind of go out and listen to what those customers want versus not listening to your customers and just assuming, so like, how are you doing that at Hello Alice?
Kelsey: So we, you know, as a growing company, we have a lot of mechanisms. So we get a lot of input from our support team. We get a lot of input from our marketing team and then the product team also looks at the different metrics that are happening, either in how things are being used, which things are not being used.
Kelsey: So we might get data from our data science team in that respect. But I think when you think about listening to customers it's not just capturing all of this data, it's also being able to listen to what is the problem that they've articulated and not just jumping to the assumption that you know how to fix it, but really understanding the problem and I think if I were going to say one thing that a product manager should have is the patience to sit with the problem long enough to understand it, to create the right solution and not just a solution.
Kayla: And I think that's what we talk about a lot. Right? Like not solutioning, but actually understanding because if you actually take the time to sit down and listen, like you mentioned, right, you could come to a different solution than you had originally thought of, because maybe it's a different problem that you're solving than what you originally thought it was.
Kelsey: Exactly. Or the person who is articulating the problem, didn't have enough information to articulate what was really happening. They can only articulate what they know. You know, it's so funny because a lot of great products are built that way where you watch what the person is doing, or you see what they're doing and you create something for that versus what they say.
Kelsey: It's kinda like if I asked you, hey, let's design a new computer. Your input to my product process is only going to be based on what you've experienced with computers, not necessarily what's possible. And so I think as a product leader or as a product owner, it's important for you to know enough about what's going on in the wider ecosystem to take that information and then build something that people actually want.
Kelsey: Just kind of be within the realm of what they know, because I think sometimes you can go a step too far and because it's unfamiliar, there's not adoption on it.
Kayla: And I think let's talk about adoption and kind of dive into the subject of building tiny products.
Kayla: So tell us a little bit about that.
Kelsey: Tiny products for me started, um, sort of out of a necessity, right? We were dealing with customers that needed something really quick to infuse cash, or they had a really quick idea and we wanted to test the idea and make sure they had the right marketplace. And so with a tiny product, our goal is one, make sure they understand what they're doing.
Kelsey: Two, we establish some guard rails, and usually guard rails are things like it's gotta be a low cost, a low commitment, quick turnaround type of thing that we can use to test the market or an audience with that particular customer or internally.
Kelsey: I think it's a great mechanism for early stage businesses or even companies that are established that want to test out an idea, to test that idea without, you know, blowing the bank.
Kelsey: And I think for those of us who came up in the early years of this, what we call design thinking today, it's this concept of being able to settle for hits versus home runs.
Kelsey: Because you don't know how often you're going to get a hit and you're more likely to strike out more if you only seek out those home runs.
Kelsey: So the tiny products are really a mechanism to help us one, find that what's the big idea and then really hone in on that problem that you're solving for that customer.
Kayla: And I think that goes to like the concept of failing quick, right? Because if you build all these tiny products and one doesn't work out, then it's not the end of the world.
Kayla: Right. And it allows your team and gives your team space to feel comfortable failing.
Kelsey: Right. And I'll give you, cause we spend so much time at our company working with small businesses. I'll tell you the small business side of this is a tiny product can serve as a revenue source and also as a lead to buy bigger products.
Kelsey: Let's say you were a consultant and you had this big sort of roadmapping process that you sold to people to help them flesh out a business idea, but it costs $25,000.
Kelsey: Well, one of the things you could do is build a smaller product that only serves one part of that. And I think that's one thing to remember about tiny products is it shouldn't try to solve or boil the ocean.
Kelsey: It's one little thing that solves that need that the person knows they have right now. And that's sort of the same thing we should be doing with all products is sometimes what someone needs is not always visible and this kind of goes back to what we were saying earlier is you could show someone something, they may not see it, but if you give them what they're looking for and then expose them to this wider world, now you can upsell them potentially more expensive.
Kayla: And with that, like what frameworks are you using to allow people to kind of build these tiny products? Is it using frameworks around prioritization or like, what do you actually use in practice?
Kelsey: It's really much simpler than that. I think that the three pieces that we talk about with the best type of tiny product, and sometimes it's geared towards more towards service companies.
Kelsey: But the first thing is the guard rails that I talked about. Like you got to have guard rails. And the things that I always say are probably the most effective is low cost, low commitment, has to be something that's evergreen that can be ready all the time.
Kelsey: I also like it to be something that's automated. So the minute you get into, I've got to put a person on this to customize this, or I have to build, or hire an engineer to go do this part. Then the cost starts to get outside of what I think you need to test that idea. For most of these, they also have to be what I call a self-liquidating offer.
Kelsey: Meaning, it's something that the sale of the thing pays for how you get the traffic or the leads into the system. So for example, for those who are in the marketing world, we talked a lot about lead magnets. I'm not a fan of lead magnets because I think lead magnets, if you take a little bit more, you turn them into something that people will actually pay you for, which is actually a better validation of that person as a customer than lead magnets.
Kelsey: I tell people all the time, if you put a free lead magnet out there, you actually don't know if they're interested in your company. You only know if they're interested in that lead magnet. And if you, if you turn that lead magnet into something, that's self liquidating now, you know, they're interested in this and they're willing to pay for it at least at this level, which gives you an additional level of understanding about that person.
Kelsey: So after that, we look for what are the common problems they're solving? We think about things like if I saw this on a bookshelf or if I'm drowning and I could only tell them one thing, what's the one thing that they're going to get out of this.
Kelsey: And that's what we focus on for the tiny product. And it's hard for a lot of companies because they're like, well, if we do that, then we can do this. And then we can do this thing over here and before you know, it, that thing has blown up into something that's so big that you can't quickly test whether or not it's of value to anyone.
Kayla: So on that subject of testing, once you've built these tiny products, how do you continue to validate that they're still relevant or that they still hold value after the building piece?
Kelsey: If I were building one it's going to partly be based on whether or not it's continuing to make sales on the backend or whether or not it's leading people into my higher value offers that I have.
Kelsey: And so if we're applying this to a technology company, right. Like you could effectively have something like a mini training course that leads them into your bigger product so that they're willing to pay.
Kelsey: And so I think a lot of times with technology companies, we miss out on this, because we force people to pay into something, especially with new tech, pay into something that they're not quite sure what it is.
Kelsey: They aren't quite sure what the value is, but there's also no mechanism on the front end to give them more information about the value that they're going to gain. And so for a tiny product, I'd look to see, am I continuing to get traction on this?
Kelsey: And the great thing is there's so many tools to do this today that it makes it much easier to do that.
Kayla: And with that, like what tools are you using to track this?
Kelsey: Most things you could do a lot with Google. I think as you start to get into more sophisticated experiences, you need tools like a Full Story or a Hot Jar that you can use to see what people are doing in your product or in your experience.
Kelsey: But I think if it's a technology product you use those. If it's just, you know, something that you're selling as a service, there's other tools that you can use, like Google Analytics that will help get you the information that I think will help with that.
Kelsey: Plus most of the tools that you would build on, probably come with some component of tracking built into them as well.
Kayla: Definitely. And so I think something you also talked to, which I want to kind of hone back on, is you talked about revenue, right? Tying these kind of tiny products into revenue. So I think that you just have to make sure that you're tying these tiny products into those bigger company goals.
Kayla: Is that like, how do you make sure you're consistently aligning to those bigger company goals?
Kelsey: Well, you got to know what the company goals are. And then if you can break those down into smaller components that are small enough to get out really quickly. The example I might give to a product owner or product manager is the same concept they go through when they're looking at their user stories.
Kelsey: Can I get this small enough to get into whatever time period we need to deliver this story? It's sort of the same concept, right? Like you've got to break down your goals or your OKRs into something that's actually digestible and measurable in the time period that you have.
Kayla: And I think we're taught, we continue to talk about customers, right? So let's talk a little bit and transition into finding your product soulmate. So do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Kelsey: Sure. So let me kind of give you the background on how I came to this. We were in a conversation one day and I asked one of the product managers, like what was the first product you loved?
Kelsey: And when he talked about it, he didn't describe it in the terms that we would use internally. Like, what is the conversion? How much is the retention? How much are, what is engagement? He talked about it in terms of emotions. And I would ask you the same thing.
Kelsey: Like if you thought about the first product you loved, do you think of it in terms of what we typically describe product experiences with?
Kelsey: And so that's sort of where that came from is human relationships. Relationships between humans are relationship driven right? Like as humans, we're relationship driven, but businesses, we typically are transaction driven.
Kelsey: So we look at a lot of the metrics and so it started to dawn on me that we needed to shift the way we think about products and really don't think of them in parts. And the the biggest part about these products people love is don't think of MVPs. Think of what I call an MLP. What's a minimal lovable product?
Kelsey: Like what do you have to do to get someone to fall in love with your product?
Kelsey: And the best example I can give you is if you've ever gone to a restaurant and they get your order wrong and the waiter comes back and he's like, oh man, I'm so sorry, the kitchen got this wrong. In your head, you're like, I don't care.
Kelsey: My order is wrong. Like the kitchen is a part of this. You're a part of this. Like as a consumer, that's what you see. And I think the way we as companies shift in that direction is really starting to think about like, what are the things that will concretely make someone fall in love with that product? And sort of that soulmate is the first part of that, right?
Kelsey: Like you don't want to just look for beauty. You don't want to just look for function. You want to make sure it's usable, but the products that people love aren't reasoned into existence. They work because the person who created it actually puts something into it that made it sort of an emotional connection.
Kayla: And I think that's like, that's so interesting because like a lot of we talk in business, like people purchase on a need, but I guess in some way it's also people purchasing on like a love or like a want and what they really need and what feeds their like product soul. Right?
Kelsey: You know, what's so funny is I am one of those people that challenges whether or not people ever buy on need. I think people buy on emotion and they find the reasons to support that emotional decision. And I get lots of challenges from this, but if you look at the data on how people decide and how we use things like Facebook and Twitter and TikTok, those things are not driven by logic.
Kelsey: Those things are definitely driven by some underlying emotional void that people are feeling with that.
Kayla: Definitely. And with that, I think part of this also is like the user experience, right? That's what it kind of taps into. And when we previously kind of talked over what we're going to talk about in this episode, we had talked about the different steps to tie it back to user experience.
Kayla: So can you kind of dabble in those different steps to tie back to UX?
Kelsey: Let me kind of give you the sort of three stages that I think of this in. So if you think about when people are falling in love, there's lust, attraction and attachment, right? Like you see something, you want it.
Kelsey: On the product side, that's a longing. Like I see this thing, I want it.
Kelsey: For attraction, what is appealing about that thing that you want? And then the attachment is the loyalty. So that means, from a company perspective, you have to follow through on whatever you've committed to that person.
Kelsey: So you can draw them in with pretty graphics, great flows, but at the end of the day, they came there because of something that they need and you gotta be able to close the gap on that thing that they need.
Kelsey: And it's the difference between dating and marriage? Like you've got your new users, that's dating. Your existing users, that's marriage. Those are two different experiences that you have to account for in this process. I like to draw those analogies because when I say that people immediately get it, right?
Kelsey: Like if you're dating someone new, there's this period of this sort of grace period that they give you as they're finding out. But once you get into a relationship, it goes beyond those things that attracted you. Like it's gotta be a deeper thing that's being delivered.
Kayla: And so how are you treating those two types of dating differently?
Kayla: Like, do you have frameworks around it of, hey, this is how we kind of nourish our married customers? And this is how we nourish our customers that we're just starting to date?
Kelsey: I think in the product world, we have a mechanism with all of the things that we have for tracking and building and testing that gives you a leg up that you don't have in the real world, like if you're dating.
Kelsey: So when I say the first principle is finding your soulmate, it's really, really honing in and being okay that someone might be right on the edge of who you could serve, but being okay that you're not actually aiming at them. And then you design specifically for that person and you be desirable for that particular persona.
Kelsey: I think that's the first part, the dating part. Then as you get into it and you're past that initial appeal, are you offering something of value? Like, is it something that after they get past the outer wrapping, that they're like, hey, I like this. And I'm going to use Facebook as an example. And I'm gonna use TikTok as an example, because a lot of times people are like, I don't get it.
Kelsey: Why do people get on Facebook and TikTok? I think it's because most people think that the need that TikTok and Facebook fill is different than the need that they're actually filling. So people look at TikTok and Facebook as what I would consider to be nice to haves, but there's definitely a connection piece that those things are filling.
Kelsey: And that the thing that they're offering of value is probably different than what I think some people think it is.
Kelsey: Next, as you're moving further, further along this sort of relationship timeline, you got to create positive emotions.
Kelsey: And so think past your dating. Now you're into the relationship.
Kelsey: How do you continue to create those positive emotions with the person that you're serving so that they'll continue to want to be in that relationship?
Kelsey: Next, I would say meaningful emotions or meaningful connections. And so this kind of, you and I talked a little bit about artificial intelligence in the lead in to this.
Kelsey: And I think one of the things that we do when we think about like some of the things that we talk about around making recommendations and using AI is there's three stages. There is where should you allow existing heuristics to drive it? Like you let that person just, it's something that the AI is not going to improve.
Kelsey: Then there are things that the AI will improve around efficiency. How do I get things done? And there's that bucket, but there is a group of things that you do want the user to remain autonomous on. And so those are the things that you've got to make sure that you're bucketing your features in your approach into the right stages or areas so that you can actually create a meaningful connection with them.
Kelsey: And sort of my last principle in all of this is not even tied to the technology. This is more of a cultural sort of company approach is be trustworthy. Like do what you say, say what you're going to do and make sure it's very transparent to people, especially around privacy and how you use their data.
Kelsey: Because at the end of the day, if you do all of that stuff, I've talked about earlier and they don't trust you, then none of the other stuff matters.
Kayla: And I think that's the basis of a relationship, right, is trust. And if you don't have that, then what are you building on? Right?
Kayla: And I kind of want to go back to something you mentioned was building the product out for a specific persona, right? And not kind of going out for those outliers in like a relationship analogy. That would be like, I think I could potentially date this person, but I know deep down inside, they're not right. So how do you really focus and make sure that you're building up a product for that core user group and you're not kind of getting distracted by, we could do this or maybe, if we did this, we could reach this audience?
Kelsey: You know, I think a lot about this, even in our own business or businesses that I've been. I've worked in, in the past. I think it takes some level of discipline. It takes some level of everyone in the organization being willing to say, this is who our core audience is.
Kelsey: And I'll pull an example from our world to kind of illustrate this. We work with small businesses. And if you look at the definition, a small business, it's pretty broad, right? You can have a small business that's a tech startup that has 15 people. You can have a small business that is a restaurant that is also 15 people.
Kelsey: You could have a small business that is a clothing store that's also 15 people. And all three of those businesses have different approaches.
Kelsey: And so I think for a company like us, we have to decide, are we Main Street? Are we Wall Street? Are we tech-focused? Are we sort of community service or retail focused? And those types of questions for any business, that's trying to hone in on who they serve is really, really important.
Kelsey: And I think that the analogy that I always draw is back in the days when companies, and it really was just Samsung that would make these commercials where they would actually make fun of the Apple fans who would stand in line to wait for the phones. And when I would see these commercials, I would immediately think Samsung does not understand that user because it's one thing to say, you can get our phones without waiting in line, but it's another to not understand why those people are willing to stand in line and that you've got to build on that if you want to attract that audience.
Kelsey: And so I think being able to really hone in on who your user is and understand them at an intimate level is really important.
Kayla: And I think that also ties back to, right, that curiosity of always understanding your customer and what they want and what they need.
Kayla: And like the Samsung example you used is it's about feeling again, right?
Kayla: So, anything else you want to touch on about finding your product soulmate or any advice around that before we hop into our last piece of advice?
Kelsey: You know, it's really funny because we talk about, I think you and I might've mentioned this, or talked a little bit about this in our intro call, but when you're really thinking about like things like dating apps and whether they get it, I always use that as sort of the example of are they actually pulling us along those lines and can we take lessons from what doesn't work in a dating app and apply it to what we're doing in our product to really actually help people connect and find that solution.
Kelsey: And I think if I had to sum this all up is people don't just fall in love with the exterior thing. They fall in love with a combination of things that come together to create a thing, right?
Kelsey: Like that's why you might, you see two people together and you're like, I don't see how those two people match, but it's because there's some other things going on besides what you can see externally.
Kayla: Yep. And I think that goes to the point of understanding the customer, right? Listening, asking questions, and having that curiosity around what is the actual like basis of this, right?
Kayla: There's things we don't see, and if we don't know, we have to ask those questions, right?
Kelsey: Right. Exactly.
Kayla: So on that note, what is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring product leader?
Kelsey: If I were going to give advice to an aspiring product leader, I would say, look for people who understand the balance. And the balance is like, you're going to have your roadmap and you're going to have these things that you've planned out. But as a business, especially a small growing business, or even a medium sized growing business, there's going to be shifts that happen that you have to be adaptable to as long as they're in line with what you're ultimately leading to in a company.
Kelsey: So you've got to find people that understand the balance between here's what's on the roadmap. Here's what we're technically doing. Here's what the business is doing. Here's what we need to maybe shift and take ownership of that so that they can actually drive that process and be sort of at the forefront of looking at that for the company.
Kayla: Awesome. And then where can people find you?
Kelsey: Definitely on LinkedIn. That's the easiest way to find me. I'm also on Instagram and occasionally I will drop into Clubhouse chats, but that's a whole thing about, you know, the whole Clubhouse story.
Kayla: And then are you hiring?
Kelsey: We are hiring. I'm hiring for a lot of stuff.
Kelsey: So in my company, the engineering, product design, product management and data science teams report to me. So we have roles in most of those groups and they can find those on our career page at helloalice.com.
Kayla: Awesome. Well, thank you for coming on Kelsey.
Kelsey: Thank you.
Kayla: Thanks again to Kelsey for joining us on the show today.
Kayla: If you want to find more product management resources, feel free to go to canny.io/blog, and we'll see you next week.