5 Product Development Lessons from Wes Wasson, former SVP and CMO of Citrix

MEST, Friday May 23rd 2014

This guest post is by MEST Entrepreneur-in-Training Elorm Adjaho. Elorm is a software entrepreneur, CEO of DevCongress and Business Development lead at Mavericks Technologies. He is a blogger and loves theatre.

The Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology was privileged to host Wes Wasson former Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Citrix, an industry leader in collaborative cloud computing, and one of the top ten SaaS vendors in the world.

[caption id="attachment_1880" align="aligncenter" width="394"]Wes Wasson Wes Wasson, former SVP and CMO of Citrix[/caption]

Wes shared insights from 20 years on the Silicon Valley frontlines as a member of both small, fast-growing startups and large, multi-billion dollar global enterprises. He also shared his plans for how we intends to cap his distinguished career with the launch of a project that aims to support social entrepreneurship in Africa.

Here’re the main takeaways from Wes’ guest lecture at MEST.

1) On Innovation: Connect the Dots

Wes challenged the idea that innovation is doing completely new things all at once. Instead, he defined innovation as doing similar things in ways that solve a problem in incrementally more effective ways. Over time, those small improvements add up to the massive successes that people come to recognize as revolutionary.

Real innovators dabble in many totally different fields and draw inspiration from them. More importantly, they’re able to take a step back and observe how the dots connect. Innovators are able to relate to various issues and find a creative way to connect them.

TAKE AWAY: Take a step back, see how the dots connect, and zoom back in and apply what you’ve learned to solve a problem.

[caption id="attachment_1881" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Wes with MEST Entrepreneurs-in-Training[/caption]

2) Build Lots of Paper Airplanes

Wes noted that one of the single biggest mistakes he has seen small startups and big corporations make is over-analysing ideas in an attempt to figure out all the details at the very beginning.

There’s a saying: “Being an entrepreneur means jumping off a cliff and building an airplane on your way down.” Instead of attempting to build a fully fledged plane, you might want to build a paper plane and send it out there for potential users to give you invaluable feedback.

Wes echoed advocates of the lean startup methodology when he encouraged entrepreneurs to seek out and engage potential customers, and collect feedback early in the process. This saves time, money, and increases the likelihood of making something people love.

TAKE AWAY: Test your ideas and iterate quickly. This gives you room to change course if you realize that your initial assumptions were flawed.

3) Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

The more complex your idea, the more difficult it is for people to understand that you are solving a real need for them. He advised that even if your idea is a complex one, make sure the presentation passes what he calls “the backyard barbeque test”: can an ordinary guy who shows up for the weekend barbeque understand it? Can he appreciate the pain it is solving? Can it get him excited?

What many founders forget is that how you communicate your your vision is as important as the product itself, if not more. The simplest, most compelling story story usually wins.

TAKE AWAY: Simplify! If an ordinary person can’t get it, simplify it some more.

[caption id="attachment_1882" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Wes with MEST Entrepreneurs-in-Training[/caption]

4) Change the Rules

Many entrepreneurs obsess over their weaknesses. They paralyze themselves by thinking too long on the ways in which they fall short.

Citing the fable of the tortoise and the hare, Wes encouraged MEST entrepreneurs to do an honest evaluation of their strengths and weaknesses, and play to their strengths while working making up for any weaknesses.

TAKE AWAY: It’s difficult to battle an incumbent on their own turf, but by redefining the rules, a skillful team can give themselves a fighting chance. It all begins with not letting yourself obsess over all the ways in which you’re lacking, and rather focusing on your advantages.

5) All Great Success Comes From Understanding Human Nature and Behaviour

Steve Jobs observed how people interacted with objects and used that understanding when designing devices.

Likewise, successful founders are able to read people, have a keen understanding of pain points, and correctly anticipate responses. If you attempt to build for people you don’t understand, you’re sure to misfire.

TAKE AWAY: The first step in making something a group of people will love is having a deep understanding of those people. This is especially challenging because some people are unable to properly communicate their needs.