Product review: Pinduoduo

Pinduoduo is China’s second largest shopping app; the company has only been around for 5 years but is already following closely on the heels of Alibaba which dominates the Chinese market through apps like JD.com and Taobao. For me there are four aspects of Pinduoduo’s product and proposition which make it stand out: team purchase, mini games, daily check-ins, and price chopping.

Team purchase

Pinduoduo adds a new spin on ‘social commerce’ motivating customers to form teams around a desired product. Consumers from groups in order to receive discounts directly from supplier. Pinduoduo users can proactively create an audience for a product that they want to buy or join an existing team. This all happens on relevant social media platforms, mostly on WeChat which is China’s most popular messaging app. The network effect thus created around a product or brand, driven by the customer, naturally carries a great appeal for suppliers and Pinduoduo’s customer-to-merchant (‘C2M’) model.

 

From: Pinduoduo

Alternatively, customers can buy a product individually and pay a higher price for the product compared to when they’d joined a team. In the example below, the user can buy this infant formula as an individual shopper for ¥59 (about 8 USD), or they can for a team with other shoppers and get it for ¥35.5 (5 USD) instead.

 

From: Clark Boyd on Medium

 

Mini games

Another social element of Pinduoduo’s app is the heavy focus on multi-player games. Take ‘Toto Orchard’ below as a good example.

 

From: UI Sources

The inclusion of games to kill time or play with others is not a groundbreaking concept. What I find interesting is the direct link with shopping and rewards. For example, see ‘Duo Duo Orchard’ below, which feels like Farmville except that players will receive real physical products as rewards

The game is simple: A user creates and nurtures a virtual fruit tree until it yields a real box of fruit, which would then be shipped to their address. The more they shop, the more water droplets they receive to grow their tree. Duo Duo Orchard now has more than 11 million daily active users.

From: Pinduoduo

Daily check-ins

Simple but effective. By clicking on the daily check-in icon, a user starts accumulating rewards. The rewards each time are small, but like all rewards they do add up 🙂 and I can see how checking-in can become a habit for Pinduoduo users.

Price Chopping to Zero

As long as you get a big enough team it’s even possible to get a specific product for free. If a user goes to the price chop section in the app, they can select products that they want to get for free, which will set of 24-hour timer. Within this timeframe, the user must then share the product link with as many friends as possible. The way it works is that each friend who clicks on the link, the person who started the chain will get a discount, with this user only getting the product for free if the price has been driven down to zero within 24 hours.

From: Pinduoduo

Main learning point: In this brief review I’ve deliberately not explored potential downside of their product and proposition, such as stimulating addictive behaviours or promoting counterfeit goods. Instead, I’ve mostly zoomed in the social aspects of Pinduoduo’s ecommerce model since some of these aspects haven’t permeated more ‘traditional’ ecommerce models yet in my view.

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.techinasia.com/pinduoduo-rise-social-ecommerce
  2. https://techcrunch.com/2018/07/26/the-incredible-rise-of-pinduoduo/
  3. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/22/what-is-pinduoduo-chinese-ecommerce-rival-to-alibaba.html
  4. https://www.voguebusiness.com/consumers/lessons-on-chinese-shopper-from-discount-app
  5. https://www.sekkeistudio.com/blog/pinduoduo/
  6. https://www.uisources.com/china/pinduoduo
  7. https://blog.lengow.com/pinduoduo-chinese-ecommerce-platform/
  8. https://medium.com/@clarkboyd/pinduoduo-everything-you-need-to-know-about-pdd-chinas-third-biggest-ecommerce-site-38ac42086e47

Book review: Questions are the Answer

In ‘Questions are the Answer’ Hal Gregersen has a written an invaluable, counterintuitive book about the power of questions. “Better questions unlock better answers” is what drives Gregersen’s book; by getting better at questioning, you raise your chances of unlocking better answers. I love the related Elon Musk quote which accentuates Gregersen’s point: “A lot of times the question is harder than the answer.”

 

 

Reframing

In the book, Gregersen homes in on so-called ‘catalytic’ questions; these questions dissolve barriers and break down assumptions. He talks about the power of certain questions to remove one or more of the “givens” in a line of thinking, thus opening up space for inquiry that had been closed off. This is often referred to as “reframing”, which involves taking on the perspective that someone else would take on the situation. As soon as you start reframing, you almost automatically start challenging assumptions. Also, reframing a question helps to engage to audience’s attention or energise a conversation. Gregersen encourages us to pause to reframe and revisit our questions before we formulate new answers. Coming up with the right, breakthrough questions thus becomes a deliberate practice, generating a clear space for inquiry and learning.

Being Wrong

I like how Gregersen stresses an important prerequisite for our ability to ask good questions: one’s willingness to be wrong. “If you want to find a new angle on a problem and ultimately find a breakthrough solution, you must rid yourself of the impulse always to display deep competence” argues Gregersen. This means being comfortable with not having all the answers or letting go of previously held beliefs.

In the book, Jeff Wilke, a top executive at Amazon, mentions two ways in which we can challenge and reset our mental models. Firstly, through “crucible experiences” which are intense episodes of adversity that push us into intense periods of self-reflection. In crucible moments, people are forced to question assumptions they’ve made and get more clarity about what they value. Secondly, the deliberate practice of raising questions to challenge our mental models. As Wilke says “(…) if you seek out things that you don’t know, and you have the courage to be wrong, to be ignorant – to have to ask more questions and maybe be embarrassed socially – then you build a more complete model which serves you better in the course of your life.” It’s particularly the ability to be wrong which may feel counterintuitive and less accepted in today’s society, where “certitude” tends to be valued highly.

Take Time

Finally, Gregersen makes the point that creative questioners take their time to clear their minds and reflect deeply on unresolved issues. They often do this silently and in solitude, to try and come up with the right questions. They can then, for example, come up with the appropriate breakthrough question or figure out how to best cascade their questions, going from a broad objective to a small operational detail. Again, this concept of silent thinking time might feel counterintuitive and contrary to how people typically work. “I can’t just sit there thinking, not doing anything?!” you might be thinking or “If I sat there behind my desk just thinking about questions, my boss and colleagues might be thinking that I’ve downed tools!” The point here is that taking time to reflect on your own thoughts is crucial, and gives you the opportunity to work through unresolved problems and come up with new perspectives.

 

Main learning point: “Questions are the Answer” definitely helped flip my thinking from displaying deep expertise and having all the answers to investing time and effort in devising the right questions. The underlying ability to be vulnerable and accept that we could be wrong feels just as pivotal.

 

Related links for further learning: 

  1. https://halgregersen.com/
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SZ3w6et9zQ
  3. https://www.fastcompany.com/1672354/how-reframing-a-problem-unlocks-innovation
  4. https://seismic.com/company/blog/malcolm-gladwell-on-the-tranformational-power-of-reframing-at-siriusdecisio/
  5. https://education.asu.edu/sites/default/files/chi2008activeconstinteractive_3.pdf
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98C8bOv_TNE
  7. https://hbr.org/2007/06/how-successful-leaders-think

Product review: Ola

Does the world need another ride hailing app!? Ola, one of the many rivals of Uber, recently got a license to operate in London and are looking to take over from Uber as London no. 1 ride sharing service.

My quick summary of OIa before using it? I expect to see an app which looks and feels very similar to Uber.

How does Ola explain itself in the first minute? When searching for Ola’s app, in the iOS app store, if find an entry which says “Ola – Ride the change. Smart, safe rude hailing.” Wondering whether this strap-line refers to the safety issues that Uber has been plagued with in London and elsewhere, and whether Ola will use this as a main point of differentiation.

 

 

Once I’ve installed the Ola app on my phone, the opening screen doesn’t explain about what Ola is, but instead encourages me to join Ola in return for a £15 voucher.

 

Getting started with Ola? Getting started with Ola is painless and feels very similar to on-boarding many other apps. Call me a simpleton, but I do like the little animation at the end, which celebrates my completing Ola’s signup process and receiving a £5 voucher in the process. Hold on though, didn’t the opening screen of the app mention being able to receive vouchers up to £15!? What else do I need to do in order to get an additional £10 worth of vouchers?

 

 

 

Did Ola deliver on my initial expectations? Yes, from a digital experience point of view. Helped in a large part because the entire online on-boarding and ride-hailing feels so similar to that of Uber. I guess Ola isn’t necessarily trying to differentiate though its online experience but instead aiming to let the actual offline experience of using an Ola do the talking …

 

 

Product review: Ray-Ban virtual try on

I was keen to try Ray-Ban’s recently introduced virtual capability to see if it helps in figuring out the best sunglasses for me:

 

 

I have to admit, it initially wasn’t obvious to me how I could try on this pair of sunglasses, the “try them on” call to action underneath the product didn’t stand out to me. When I click on this call to action, I’m first being asked to enable my camera:

 

The process of putting your head within the exact dimensions of oval feels a bit fiddly; perhaps it’s the funny shape of my head which makes it harder to figure out where to best position my glasses? As soon as even the tiniest fraction of my head appears outside of the oval, the “Is anyone there?” message appears.

 

 

Even when it seems that my dimensions have been grasped – indicated by the “Good, stay still while fitting glasses” – as soon as I move my head, the the “Is anyone there?” message appears again.

 

 

Perhaps I should set my expectations more realistically, but it feels that the sunglasses are simply slapped onto my face, and I feel I’m not getting the best sense of how these glasses would look on me (in real life).

Adjusting the frame or changing the colour of the glasses, involves going through the process of the virtual mirror capturing my dimensions. I expected this process to be a one-off exercise, making trying on new glasses, in a variety of colours or with frame adjustments, more seamless.

 

Main learning point: While the experience of trying on sunglasses virtually feels a bit clunky and unrealistic at times, it still provides a good first indicator of which sunglasses could be a good fit for the customer.

My product management toolkit (40): managing time

“Time Management” comes up in lot in conversations that I have with other product managers. The concern is about their ability to be a good product person, managing a product end-to-end while being short on time and fighting lots of different, and often conflicting requests. We’re busy* all the time but are we busy working on the right things? Are we able to focus on the things that really matter? How much control do we have over our own calendars? If not, are there ways to regain some of that control?

 

 

Since moving to the UK over 14 years ago I must have come across at least ten different ways of saying that you’re busy, almost like a badge of honour 🙂 From being chock a block to being slammed to up to your eyeballs, it definitely took me some time getting used to these expressions 🙂

Especially given the fluid nature of the product management role and the associated risk of being pulled in lots of different directions, it’s important to consider how we spend our time and what we should say ‘no’ to. I will share a number of tools and techniques that you might find useful when prioritising and managing your time, based both on my own experience and the great work by Jake Knapp (Make Time) and Greg McKeown (Essentialism):

  1. We’ve got a choice (1) – Sometimes I can’t help scratching my head when we talk about empowering people. In my mind, people are empowered when they enter the workplace, but collectively we inadvertently end up taking some of that power away, e.g. by entering meetings in people’s diaries, setting recurring tasks, etc. Understandably, we don’t always feel empowered or comfortable saying no to things, instead saying things like “I have to” or “They want me to”. In the great book “Essentialism” Greg McKeown reminds us that we have the power of choice and that we can say “I choose to”.
  2. We’ve got a choice (2) – The ability to choose can be applied to tough tradeoff decisions on how to best spend your time. Instead of asking the question “How can I do both?” we should wonder “Which problem do I want?” or “What can I go big on?” We thus put ourselves in a position where we decide about the tradeoffs that we’re prepared to make. Ultimately this comes down to establishing what really matters and why.
  3. Identify what really matters – McKeown suggests that a ‘non-essentialist’ says yes to almost every request or opportunity, based on very broad criteria. In contrast, an ‘essentialist’ will say yes to only the top 10% of opportunities, using explicit criteria to (de) prioritise opportunities. I like how McKeown tries to keep things simple by suggesting that “if it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.” You can also use Suzy Welch’s 10/10/10 test to decide whether something is worth prioritising or not: How will I feel about this 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months from now? How about 10 years from now?
  4. Saying “no” – Saying “no” is a valid option when presenting with conflicting requests, and there are a number of ways to say no graciously but firmly (see Fig. 1 below).
  5. Reflect on how you currently spend your time – Particularly if you’re feeling chronically overworked or that you’re not getting anything done, it’s worth keeping track of how you’re spending your time. Over the course, you could track how much time you spend in meetings, checking and responding to email or Slack messages, reading a book, doing exercise, doing admin tasks, etc. This exercise isn’t about accounting for every minute of the day but about building up a more global picture of how you spend your time. For instance, if you find that 80% of your time is spent, it could be worth reflecting on the different meetings you attend. How helpful are they? Why (not)? What are the opportunity cost attached to attending these meetings? Reflecting on such findings will help you in making tweaks to your schedule or ways of working.
  6. Carve out time (1) – Naturally, it’s hard to cater for unexpected events or things taking longer than planned if your schedule is fully packed with meetings or other activities. Keown recommends building in some buffer time – daily or weekly – to deal with unexpected events or to start preparing early for future priorities or commitments. Generally, blocking out time is extremely important if you want to retain a sense of proactivity and doing those things that really matter to you. For example, no one is going to schedule in regular time slots for you to study competitors or to look at product performance data, and you might well have to block out dedicated time to ensure this happens on a regular basis.
  7. Carve out time (2) – Similar to how you’d carve out time to do specific things, it can help to block out time to respond to email instead of constantly being distracted by new messages coming in. I find that if you only go through email twice a day, e.g. from 9-10am and 4-5pm – you’ll capture most of the important stuff in your inbox while still being responsive. To make the most of the dedicated that you carve out, I suggest minimising distractions e.g. by temporarily turning off email, Slack or text notifications. I know it involves using technology, but apps like Forest can be a great help if you want to create focus time.
  8. Pick and plan your highlights (1) – In “Make Time” Jake Knapp distinguishes four steps to making sure we focus on the right things, repeating these steps every day: highlight, laser, reflect and energise (see Fig. 2 below). Knapp stresses the importance of thinking upfront what you’d like to be the highlight of the end of each day, making sure that you spend time on things that matter to you instead of losing the entire day reacting to other people’s priorities.
  9. Pick and plan your highlights (2) – Knapp suggests three different ways to pick your highlight: urgency, satisfaction and joy (see Fig. 3 below). I have seen other people apply a similar approach, whereby they select a few big ‘rocks’ that they really want or need to do on a given day, complemented by a small number of  ‘pebbles’. Similarly, when I plan my day, I typically have a small number of items above the line and a certain number of items below the line, trying to make sure I do the above the line items first.
  10. Apply made up constraints – Even if a deadline or another type of constraint hasn’t been set, you can apply one to make sure you achieve your goals. For instance, if you’re preparing a work presentation and are worried about spending days on the largest PowerPoint deck the world has ever seen, you can set yourself a maximum number of slides that you can’t go over. Naturally, the trick is to then stick to the deadline or restriction that you’ve made up, but I know from experience that applying these constraints goes a long way in being productive.

Main learning point: I know full well that there are plenty of great books, blog posts, etc. on the topic of time management, and the approach that works for one person might not work for someone else. Writing this post, however, made me reflect on the key thing about managing your time: proactivity. Time management is all about being more on the front foot with respect to adding value to your life, your job, relationships, etc. and therefore a topic worthy revisiting on a regular basis.

 

Fig. 1 – Ways of saying “no” graciously but firmly – Adapted from: Greg McKeown, Essentialism

  • Pause – Pause for a moment when a request comes to you. You can take a moment to count to three when you’re being asked in person or not responding immediately via email. Doing this gives you the time necessary to decide whether you can or want to honour the request.
  • The soft “no” (or the “no but” or “not now”) – Instead of a blunt no, you could say something something along the lines of “I can’t do it now, but can I do it by the end of this week instead, as I need to finish a few other things first. Would that work?” or “No, but let me check with my team whether someone else can do it.”
  • Let me check my calendar and get back to you – To avoid committing to something and only afterwards realising that there’s a diary or priority conflict, I will often give myself time to check my calendar and priorities before confirming.
  • Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritise?” – No one has said that prioritisation is a pure solo effort. By indicating that something will have to give if you say yes, you can have a constructive conversation about your priorities and an opportunity to further explain why you prioritised these things in the first place.
  • Say it with humour –  Having lots on or saying no doesn’t mean that the world is falling apart 🙂 Sometimes, I will joke about needing to get creative to make things happen or doing some time-travelling to indicate that I can’t satisfy the request (now).
  • Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to X” – Not only does the phrase “You are welcome to X. I am willing to do Y” provide clarity about what the other person can expect, you’re also being explicit about what you can’t or aren’t willing to do.

 

Fig. 2 – Make time consists of four steps – Taken from: Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, Make Time

  • Highlight – Choose a single activity to prioritise and protect in your calendar.
  • Laser – Beat distraction to make time for your Highlight.
  • Energise – Use the body to recharge the brain.
  • Reflect – Take a few notes before you go to bed, adjust and improve your system based on your reflections.

 

Fig. 3 – Make time consists of four steps – Taken from: Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, Make Time

  • Urgency – What’s the most pressing thing I have to do today?
  • Satisfaction – At the end of the day, which Highlight will bring me the most satisfaction?
  • Joy – When I reflect on today, what will bring me the most joy?

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://jakeknapp.com/make-time
  2. https://svpg.com/coaching-managing-time/
  3. https://gregmckeown.com/book/
  4. https://medium.com/@christopherjones_12942/aligning-a-product-managers-effort-with-their-priorities-3af576f2dfa1
  5. https://www.oprah.com/spirit/suzy-welchs-rule-of-10-10-10-decision-making-guide/all
  6. https://www.businessinsider.com/time-management-productivity-rocks-pebbles-sand-2019-2