Building a product as a Venture Capital Associate
My journey and learnings in launching a live AI-based product in 10 weeks
Loqui is a product of an AI-powered speech coach company. It provides live, private, and encouraging feedback on-demand to professionals. After the video meeting, a brief but insightful summary of the user’s performance is sent along with actionable feedback to the user.
Fun fact: Loqui means to speak in Latin
My team and I worked hard over the past 10 weeks on this solution to help professionals improve their verbal communication skills. We’d love for you to check it out and provide your valuable feedback!
Check out our live product here: https://loqui-mvp.bubbleapps.io/
I embarked on a learning journey with PMDojo to understand and live out the experience of how product managers face and tackle real-world problems. My exposure to many inspiring startups in my current venture capital role has inspired me to pick up the relevant skills and experience to build products that directly provide value to end-users.
This led me to join PMDojo, a product accelerator established and run by the highly experienced Bosky Mukherjee. I consciously chose the Industry Track due to its approximation to/simulation of the real-world experience of PMs in companies, who usually face the tension of developing products and features that need to be aligned with the overall company strategy and mission.
I was teamed up with four other PMDojo Fellows with diverse backgrounds and a complementary set of skills to work with our partner company, Company Y (protected due to NDA), an AI-powered speech coach company:
Adrienne Moench, the designer. With her incredible product marketing and design background, Adrienne kept the design of all our prototypes, videos and slides sleek, professional and user-centric.
Bhagyashree Deokar, the technical expert. Her deep technical background helped us to understand the technical feasibility of our solution, and ensure a clear handoff to our developer.
Ebrahim Zakaria, the salesman. Vast experience in sales helped us to sharpen our pitch throughout. His leadership also kept us honest through productive meetings.
Rhenita Brade, the thinker. The spark in our debates, never shying away from being the devil’s advocate to make us dig below the surface to ensure that we’ve thoroughly thought through our options before proceeding.
Through the 10 weeks, I was known to be the one to “cut through the BS***”, thread through disparate threads of information and structure/frame everything in a logical and easy-to-understand manner. With my background, I also put on my business cap, balancing user needs with aligning our product with Company Y’s business goal.
Special mention to Hari Prasid, our developer who joined our team. We also owe our gratitude to Rakshith Prabhachand, our mentor who never spared any teaching moment to show us the ropes, teach and guide us through the process. His advice on the Product Requirement Document (PRD), one of the core outputs of PMs, is valuable.
Of course, thanks to Bosky, for the weekly lessons and for bringing these amazing folks together. I am still figuring out how we managed to reach this point despite being spread out over 5, sometimes even 6, time zones.
Here’s a snapshot of how we got here.
There is a mismatch in expectations of good communication skills by both employers and employees. According to research in North America by research firm Grandview, 95.9% of employers find communication skills essential but believe only an average of 41.6% of their employees demonstrate efficacy in such skills.
One thing is clear though, good communication is valued by both sides. In our user survey, all our respondents felt that verbal communication is important in the professional setting.
Why does this matter?
The way in which professionals communicate has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Professionals now participate in more video conference meetings, where they communicate through a camera and are seen by others through digital screens.
The manner in which they hone their communication skills is also often ineffective, costly and time-consuming.
The new normal trend of hybrid working arrangements provides us with a timely opportunity to help professionals improve their verbal communication skills, achieving the twin outcomes of facilitating individual professionals in their career growth and delivering upskilled employees to employers.
Meet Sam, a target proto-persona based on the user interviews and surveys we conducted:
Sam is a multilingual professional, who communicates predominantly in English in his work environment. He can’t help but be anxious that his messages are not being received as intended and that he is not being considered for growth opportunities due to a perceived lack of communication skills. Sam is looking for ways to communicate confidently, and effectively and grow into roles where his competence and intelligence can flourish.
Balancing both technical feasibility and user desirability, we decided to split our MVP release into 2 phases. We prioritized functionalities that were immediately technically possible while figuring out the technical requirements for subsequent releases. Our use cases are as follows:
Phase 1 Release
Post-meeting in-platform feedback, which appears after the meeting ends. This entails a quick summary of metrics for pacing and filler words
Post-meeting email feedback, which will be sent a minute after the meeting ends. This provides the user with a historical comparison of his/her performance, with tips to improve included in the summary
Phase 2 Release
Loqui will include all of Phase 1’s features above while adding the following functionalities
Real-time feedback, with 1 piece of feedback of the User’s choosing
Access the dashboard on Company Y’s website for further in-depth analysis and performance
Other options as determined by user feedback and testing
We came up with our top user stories and acceptance criteria for the MVP by categorizing them in alignment with each of the user journey/flow and prioritizing them according to our release plan. A list of user stories below (non-exhaustive) provides a quick snapshot:
As a Professional who works for an enterprise, I want to review & sign the user consent agreement to understand what data Loqui will be accessing
As a Professional who works for an enterprise, I want to use the Loqui plugin in Zoom meetings so that I can receive feedback on meetings at work.
As a user, I want to easily and quickly be able to access my post-meeting report so that I do not have to spend time searching for insights.
As a user, I want to see a post-meeting Loqui summary in email when I have back-to-back meetings so that I can look at summary insights at my convenience.
As a user, I would like to be notified of a failure or error in starting the Loqui plug-in as soon as possible so that I can restart or ignore it.
As a user new to Loqui, I want to be able to understand different real-time feedback symbols so that I can understand the feedback real-time
Design glossary of real-time symbol icons & corresponding meaning to educate users.
As a self-conscious user, I want real-time feedback without my audience knowing that I’m using Loqui so that I don’t feel self-conscious
Design & implement real-time feedback experience that should not be visible to audience when user is presenting or sharing their screen
As a Professional who aspires to improve 2 verbal communication attributes, I want to update the type of feedback that I would like to receive so that I don’t receive feedback on things that are not important to me.
Note: There were a few other user stories that were identified as a lower priority for our MVP release.
MVP Release Plan
For our MVP release, we decided to split it into 3 phases, the first entails creating an integration plan by collaborating with the Zoom partner team and implementing the integration so that we can provide the functionality of post-meeting insights through email that is sent by Loqui. The second entails building an analytics dashboard to track the metrics captured in Phase 1 and implementing integration with Zoom to provide real-time feedback. The third will entail revisiting the integration platform technical design to ensure the design is flexible to integrate with multiple videos and audio conferencing tools in order to scale growth.
To ensure product-market fit, we chose to prioritize retention for our MVP release, to be measured by the # of times used by users per week when the user is presenting.
Such data will be telling since the aim is for Loqui to be embedded in users’ daily professional lives and not a one-and-done tool used only in ‘high stress’ situations such as job interviews or company-wide presentations.
We agreed that once we have established PMF, we would have to consider adding growth metrics. This would for instance entail setting a baseline user base, and measuring the % increase in active users over time, such as per month.
Along with our release, we had designed a survey to gather feedback on how useful users would find the functionalities that we had designed for Loqui. After our release, we took stock of the responses and found the following results:
Real-Time/Live Feedback: 3.5 / 5 rating
Post-Meeting In-Platform Feedback: 4.4 / 5 rating
Post-Meeting Email Feedback: 4.4 / 5 rating
About 80% thought that the whole Loqui experience would be useful
From our preliminary post-release feedback, we can see that users rated the post-meeting feedback features to be valuable. This bears further research on what particular value they find in the post-meeting feedback feature, and how we can improve on the real-time feedback feature to make it more useful for users.
Just as we had when coming up with use cases, we also considered the factors of technical feasibility, user desirability, and impact of features when planning out our product roadmap as follows:
Some key learnings are as follows:
1. Importance of framing. Choose words carefully depending on the stakeholder, otherwise expectations may be set in a way you did not intend it to. I realized that this can be applied not just in Product teams, but in virtually every role that involves managing different stakeholders.
2. Shut up and listen. This may seem counterintuitive in a world where we are constantly told to speak up, be heard, and be “visible” in the workplace to help with our career progression. However, it is crucial in the user market validation process to suppress our bias and not share our own thoughts in order not to influence the interviewee’s thought process.
3. Invalidation of assumptions is as important as validation. In our user testing sessions, I realized how important it was to not just validate what we hypothesized, but also for users to hammer our assumptions. That way, it would help us to move in the right direction later during the solutioning stage building something that users need and want, not what PMs need and want.
4. Ideal situation vs reality. A product or product feature can be desirable to users and viable for the business but not feasible at the point in time simply because the tech is not at the level needed to deliver a good experience. With limited resources and tech capabilities, prioritization is important.
5. Working across time zones. Coordinating across 4 to 5 different time zones is challenging to say the least. That can be turned into a positive, however. For instance, a piece of work started by a team member can be handed off to another team member in the next time zone to continue/complete while the former rests. And with that, we have come full circle with the first lesson, the importance of framing…
My learning journey with PMDojo has been nothing short of incredible. Incredible not just in the sense of learning from product veterans (Bosky and the experienced mentors), but also from the inspiring teammates one would be matched with. Seeing is believing, but in this case, doing is believing. By being able to work on a real-world product with a team of diverse teammates, one gets to live out the experience of product teams, not just reading about it.
I would highly recommend this program to anyone who would like to gain real-world experience working on tech products, be it those who want to understand what the process is like, those who want to pick up a career in product, or those who want to hone their product skills.
Happy to connect through LinkedIn and share further details of my learning experience.