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Product development challenges

“The best products are built on solving a real everyday problem”

Four bright UK business minds take us behind the scenes of product development.

From that first spark of the initial business idea, challenges in product development and where entrepreneurs get their next big idea from, explore insights on product development.

Find out how our High Growth & Entrepreneurs team can help you with your product development needs.

Watch what our entrepreneurs had to say and read the interviews below.

Who came up with your initial business idea?

Polly McMaster, CEO and Co-Founder, The Fold
Polly: The idea for The Fold came about when I started work. I started work in finance and consulting and not in retail or fashion, in fact. And really it came from getting dressed in the morning for work and being in quite a corporate environment and needing to be very smart and feeling like every day I’d get dressed for work and just feel very uninspired by what I was putting on, like I’d have to park my personality at the front door. The clothes were always a bit too masculine or a bit too frumpy, and when I was at work I felt slightly undermined by the clothes rather than empowered by the clothes, and it started to bubble away as this idea of thinking maybe there’s something that could be done better about this because I’ve got money to spend, I want to feel empowered by my wardrobe when I’m at work, and I looked around and saw other businesswomen and really felt that they were going through the same thing, so when I went to business school it really started to become more of fully fledged concept of ‘Could we actually build a brand around this and could we do it better?’ and that was really where the idea of The Fold came from.

Anthony Eskinazi, Founder and CEO, JustPark
I’m one of those really annoying people who, when I see problems, I’m the first person to say ‘Well, how do I solve it?’ and drive my wife absolutely nuts. But I was driving around in San Francisco, I was going to a baseball game, and I noticed that there was an empty driveway very close to the stadium and we’d been driving around circling the block for ten, fifteen minutes, and I think I just made some flippant comment to my friend, saying ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could just knock on that person’s door and ask to park on their driveway, pay them ten dollars and everyone wins?’. I didn’t, but the idea started stirring in my brain, and over the next few days, I started asking people, people who were sports fans, people who were commuting, how big the parking problem was over there in the US, because I was very aware of what it was like in the UK, and every time I started talking about the problem, people got very emotive about it and started reacting in a way that [showed] this is a real pain point, and so I didn’t do any formal research, I had a look at what competition was out there, but I trusted my gut, but also my own experience of a problem I faced on a semi-regular basis and the fact that parking is one of those topics or conversation starters at so many of the places you go, be it a concert, the theatre or even at a restaurant, so the problem was quite apparent and I was like ‘OK, how can I build a product that helps solve this problem, not just for myself, but actually can it be a mass market proposition?’

Steven Dring, CEO & Co-Founder, Growing Underground
The initial business idea for us was actually born in academia by a professor called Dickson Despommier who wrote about using a very small footprint and growing vertically. We took that idea and grew horizontally in a tunnel. So the idea came from my business partner originally and then we’ve developed it from there.

Researching the idea and the business opportunity was two years of business planning, and that was reading

Mintel, Euromonitor reports, sat in the British Library understanding the fresh produce market, but at the same time, boots on the street, getting down to New Covent Garden Market, understanding retail prices, understanding food trends, understanding eating habits and where the diet of the nation was tracking – all of this research was necessary before launching a business and that was two years in the making.

Will Corby, Head of Coffee, Pact
Ten years ago, coffee was available everywhere, but specialty coffee had begun to creep into the market. There were great coffee shops springing up in London and across the UK, places that began to get amazing reputations for serving coffee that you couldn’t get anywhere else. But there was still a huge gap in the market – people couldn’t drink this great coffee at home. And when they could get it at home, they were buying it from somewhere where it might have been sat on the shelf for a while, it might not have been ground exactly as they needed it. Stephen [Rapoport, founder] recognised the gap in the market for that, and then we joined coffee farmers with consumers. In the middle we put Pact, a company that could roast coffee exactly when customers needed it, they could grind it exactly to the customers’ needs, and within two days of that roast day, a day after it had been ground, it was in their kitchens, it was ready for them to drink, ready for them to brew, in most cases giving them the ability to brew and drink better coffee than they could drink on any high street in the UK, and that’s where we got to.

Where do you get new product development ideas from?

Polly McMaster, CEO and Co-Founder and Katya Maschenko, Head of Design
Polly: From the very beginning, I guess partly because it was my experience very much as the customer when I was thinking of the concept for the brand, the customer’s always been very much the centre of what we do, so from everything from the product all the way through the business, so when we think about the product we always think about the customer and what is it that she needs, so from a design perspective we try and really get into the mind-set of the customer and think about what she’s doing every day - what’s her routine?, what are the events that she’s going to?, what are her needs?, is she running from the school run to the office to then having to go to an evening event and look really put together? and when we’re brainstorming as a creative team we’ll start with that, and then Katya our head designer will be translating that into a more creative-led vision on the actual product itself, so I suppose from your perspective the design concepting starts at the beginning of the season and also with the fabrics?

Katya: We’re based in London so it’s the most amazing city to be in if you want to get inspired, you can go to the Tate or the Victoria and Album Museum, which is usually the starting point of the season when I look for inspiration, and the energy of the city itself is just the most inspiring thing to have at the beginning, and we’re looking at the colours, we’re looking at the paintings, and then fabrics when we go to Paris to choose our fabrics, it might be French, it might be Italian, we always strive for the best quality in everything, including our textiles.

So that is the second step in the journey of the collection when the colours have been selected, the fabrics are chosen and you start thinking about shapes, you start thinking about what else we can give to our customer that she might need, because we’re now pretty much successfully covering her daytime life, so if she’s going to the office she feels confident, if she’s doing a presentation, she feels empowered and beautiful in her dress or her jacket, we really create something beautiful and high quality, so she always feels confident because she doesn’t have much time to shop around and look for something unusual and high quality in the High Street, for example, but she knows that if she goes to The Fold she can find a perfect dress, the best quality, colouring that will be on trend, not too out there or fashionable so that she will feel a bit awkward tonight when she does a presentation, and at the same time we looked at her lifestyle bit based on our research, and realised that she also goes to a lot of events, for example, it might be a wedding in the summer or it might be a birthday party or a huge conference that she flies to with her company and she might need to pack all her dresses, all her outfits in a suitcase and how do we cater for this, what do we do to make sure that when she opens her suitcase in New York, she finds a beautiful jersey dress that will be just perfect to put it on and walk away for dinner.

So we also do occasion wear which you might have seen we started last summer and we had quite a phenomenal response, and we’re now looking into more of the lifestyle, when she’s at home, when she’s on holidays, when she is dressing up in July to go for work or if it’s hot in London, she would like to have something in cotton or in linen which we’ve never done before, so just tapping into all of this, just thinking of her life, what else can we give her and what else can we design, so she goes to The Fold as her destination brand for any occasion, for any event that she might need to go to.

The advantage of working in a small company is that everybody brings their energy and enthusiasm to the business. And because it’s so small, and it’s family-like, so although we’re in two different offices, the energy of the marketing team inspires me to think about the next photoshoot, because the photoshoot is very much at the heart of our collection. We don’t do a catwalk, instead we do these beautiful images to summarise the collection and translate our vision to our customer and fundamentally that is something that the marketing team are working really hard on, so I always find it very inspiring to come upstairs to have a little sneak peek, a preview of what they think, and downstairs is very much a creative process of fabrics arriving, mood boards everywhere, sketches on the walls, so with all of this energy and everybody’s input into what we feel the next season should be about, and what colours we all love, so sometimes we say ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t look at navy and black any more’ and we’ll brainstorm what should be the next colour, for example, the key colouring, and I guess Polly’s vision is something that inspires us all and enthusiasm and we feel that as a team we are very much driven to delivering the best, most beautiful collection we can. So, I would say it’s very interesting to be in a small company like this when everybody is included, everyone is involved, and because it’s so small everyone can see what everybody else is doing so you learn a lot.

Steven Dring, CEO & Co-Founder, Growing Underground
New product development ideas and initiatives come from customer insight. It’s that local connection and direct connection that we have with restauranteurs and retailers, and then taking that real big insight that comes from the national retailers in terms of food trends for 2019/2020, and we grow towards what those food trends are going to be, and then also outside of that looking at trends in society, certainly wellbeing, we’re looking to develop products that can, say, promote sleep, so we’re always looking at those new products and wherever that information comes from to help us develop those ranges.

Will Corby, Head of Coffee, Pact
Product development’s been really interesting for us, because we’re a company that from the outside you’d expect just to concentrate on coffee, but we’re using technology to make getting the world’s best coffee as a consumer as easy as possible. So we’re constantly relying on our customer service team to feedback, complaints from customers that will tell us and teach us how to make our technology format better, and how to change our coffee offering to make everything more enjoyable and better for consumers.

Product development for us over the past seven years has been predominantly about listening. We’ve got a fantastic customer champion team – they interact with customers every day and they tell us what we need to know, whether that be changing the way our subscription service works or asking for more variety in terms of tastes and flavours, or price points within our coffee range.

Over the last six, seven years, we’ve never been a traditional subscription service, we’ve offered people the ability to cancel at any time, to change their orders, but we’ve had feedback back that ‘What if I actually want to do the reverse and have my coffee delivered tomorrow?’ - we introduced the ASAP feature, so customers can decide they want a bag of coffee at lunchtime today and it will be with them tomorrow morning, we’ve given them the ability to delay an order for three months if they’re going away on holiday or on a long trip, we’ve given them the ability to have coffee shipped to multiple locations, so a customer can have their coffee delivered to home or to work or if they’re going home for Christmas, they can create a new subscription to their parent’s house, say, for a couple of weeks and then cancel that when they come back. All of that comes from listening to what people want. At the same time they may say ‘I want to spend a little more’ or ‘I want to spend a little less’ – that’s resulted in different price plans, so we’ve expanded our product range of coffee to increase the choice and availability and variety of coffee that’s available at any given moment. Whilst we’ve been doing that, we’ve been concentrating at origin on differentiating the different products produced by each farmer. Farmers don’t produce a single quality of coffee, they produce multiple different qualities, and if we’re going to change the world, we have to work out how we can get their total price of coffee up and how we can really generate a positive income for those farmers, not just by buying the top 1% of the coffee they produce, or the top 10% of the coffee they produce, but working out how we can help them earn a really great price for 80% of the coffee they produce. That’s all fed through into all the different products that we create.

Anthony Eskinazi, Founder and CEO, JustPark
A key thing that my friends and family always ask me is how do you come up with ideas? And I think within JustPark people do see me as the ideas guy, sometimes they’re very wacky and they’re like ‘Oh gosh, Anthony with another one of his ideas’. But the way I see the world is, if I’m encouraging an entrepreneur, or someone whose interest is to start their own business, how you come up with the idea is you walk down the street and the number of problems, pain points, frustrations that you may feel, anything from congestion, or a shop that you want to go into isn’t open, little things, immediately start racking your brain saying ‘Is there something I can do, I can build, that can help solve this problem or make this small event a little bit less frustrating?’, and do it on a very micro level.

And then, when I think about doing that for JustPark as a business, yes, we’re a technology company serving the parking sector, yes, we’re helping drivers find convenient and affordable parking, but let’s take blue badge users as an example. Now there’s a huge problem with blue badge fraud in the UK, and I think in Europe as well, there’s also the problem that blue badge use is very analogue - you have to put a badge in someone’s window. And so there are two problems there and it’s how can Just Park as a business help reduce the frustration for blue badge users, but also help local authorities and private operators reduce fraud? And so suddenly then you come up with your own ideas, then you speak to your product team, you again have more ideas, and then you work out, right, can we build something, can we utilise the resources and expertise we have, and the huge customer base, and build a product that actually helps solve that problem or reduces that frustration? So there’s just an example of one product and how I approach problem solving and ideation, idea generation, it’s just in your everyday life, just think about does anything bother you, if it does, there’s an idea there somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, it may not be commercially viable, but if you have enough of those ideas and start making a habit of every day writing down two or three things which have annoyed me, frustrated me or have frustrated someone else, then suddenly you’ll start to build up a picture of a type of opportunity which maybe there’s a really big business behind.

So for someone looking to start their own business, a piece of advice which I always give is think about some frustrations or problems that you’ve experienced today, yesterday, but also on days coming forward and write down one or two of them. Think about the problem and then also think about a potential solution to this problem. If you write down two or three of these every day then over time you’re building out a really incredible idea bank which you can then use to potentially start your next business, because in my opinion the best businesses, the best products, are built on solving a real and everyday problem.

How would you summarise your challenges with product development?

Polly McMaster, CEO and Co-Founder and Katya Maschenko, Head of Design
Katya: I would say the biggest challenge is not to compromise on quality. We always strive to get the most perfect fit, beautiful colour, fabric that performs at its best. We are always keen to make sure that our customer can rely on us, and when she receives the parcel it’s the most beautiful dress, or jumper, or trousers. She can trust us, she knows that that will be the best quality she can get and it will be a beautiful fit, which is something that we’re working really hard to achieve.

Polly: Another challenge is probably finding the right balance between how far we can push ourselves on design and push our customer in terms of the direction we take every season, but still keeping her comfortable and relevant and confident, so we don’t want her to feel like she’s being stretched too far, but we also want to make sure we’re pushing her enough that she’s got something new and exciting, so that every season there’s a real reason to get excited, to push her look and her style to make sure that she’s current and relevant for the trends that we’re seeing as well more broadly in fashion.

Steven Dring, CEO & Co-Founder, Growing Underground
The challenges with product development are you’re trying to read the future and identify what the future demands of customers are, so it’s always a challenge - you never know how people are going to react if you’re developing a product now for Summer 2020, but with lots of testing and lots of trialling and customer insight, you’re able to push through that and make sure you do get it right for when it’s on the shelf in the future.

Will Corby, Head of Coffee, Pact
One of our biggest issues is creating a new supply chain, moving it from a history of homogenisation and long storage periods to create one product that tasted the same, to a new logistics system that treats coffee like you might treat fruit and vegetables, and creating within that system an ability for absolute personalisation for all of the customers we serve at home and in offices. It’s been a massive undertaking and every year new issues crop up, but our job is to find new ways to solve them.

The way coffee’s ground is really important to the way it tastes. You need to grind your coffee in exactly the right way to make it brew well in your V60 or your aeropress or your filter at home. Having 13 different coffees live, four different grind sizes and whole bean available at any given time makes for some real technological challenges, but we have a great team who are able to work those out every day.

Anthony Eskinazi, Founder and CEO, JustPark
Back in 2006, I came home from my gap year where I’d had the idea, I was waiting to start a job at a top four accountancy firm. I started there, but I’d started building the JustPark product, or Park at my House as we called it back then, I started my job, quit after six weeks and the rest was history because I then spent the next four or five years trying to work out what the hell I’m doing, made tons of mistakes, but enjoyed the ride and realised that this was my passion – the internet, technology, problem solving. Then I was like how do I build the right product without any experience in fundraising, any experience in product management, development? Everything I had to teach myself, and one challenge entrepreneurs have in the early days is you have to become good at everything. You have to be a good marketeer, a good sales person, good at business development. I taught myself how to code, a lot of people would use an agency, or raise some money to do that, again, I’d never done any fundraising before, I’d never been employed, been managed, or managed anyone, so I was very much starting from scratch and a lot of young entrepreneurs especially are in a similar boat.

And so it was a whirlwind ride, a really big adventure, a really great adventure, but it was only in 2011 when I hired my first employee and made tons of mistakes with them, it wasn’t their fault, I’d never employed someone before, I didn’t know what I was looking for, and then over the years when you start meeting people and learning from your mistakes does your decision making get better. And then over time we built the team, raised finance, built enough of a network within the London start-up community, was able to fundraise and over the next three, four years, built JustPark into a team that is seventy people strong and we now have over two and a half million customers using the product within the UK. It was initially a very slow start, but over the last three, four years, as we’ve accelerated, as the team’s grown bigger, as the opportunities have grown exponentially, it’s become a really exciting product and project to work on.

The views and opinions expressed in this content don’t necessarily reflect the views of Barclays Bank UK PLC, nor should they be taken as statements of policy or intent of Barclays Bank UK PLC. Barclays Bank UK PLC takes no responsibility for the veracity of information intimated by a third party and no warranties or undertakings of any kind, whether express or implied, regarding the accuracy or completeness of the information given. Barclays Bank UK PLC takes no liability for the impact of any decisions made based on information contained and views expressed in this video or article.

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