The product concept: the key ingredient to launch a successful app!

In May 2021, I discovered the fascinating and complex world of auctions. Total immersion in a profession with a very dense history and management rules, to support the iconic Hotel Drouot in its race for digitalization.

It was also the moment when I learned to master the product concept gesture, a tool inherited from Lean Engineering that 1/ changed my product life; 2/ was the magic potion of my experience with Drouot.

A short minute storytelling to put the context back in place (and for you to grasp all the beauty and strength of the product concept).

Dematerialize auctions in 8 months

Drouot, a reference in auctions since the 19th century, had been able to catch the online auction train very early, in 2007, with the launch of its auction website, thus taking the lead in the market. In the midst of the Covid pandemic in 2020, online auctions represented 50% of Drouot's overall turnover. At the beginning of 2021, while mobile applications are becoming the new spearhead of competitors, Drouot wants to maintain its leading position and launch on mobile very quickly.

An auction room at the Hotel Drouot, where physical auctions and online auctions meet

But launching an app quickly, with a very complicated business, and making sure we made the right product for very demanding users, we knew it was a big challenge! Challenge that we were able to meet thanks to the strengths of BAM:

  • pragmatic and powerful tech choices to quickly deliver a quality product (Hi Flutter team)
  • Lean working methods to deliver a bug-free product on time (or almost) despite the hundreds (of thousands) of management rules in our app
  • the strength of Lean Engineering to guide the construction and implementation of our product strategy
  • including the star of our methods who saved us on this project, I named the PRODUCT CONCEPT! ⭐️

Product concept: what is that?

The product concept is a sentence that simply summarizes the challenge to be met with the product. It is the result of all the work to build the product strategy and it is above all a communication tool for the team.

When everyone knows what you want to succeed in, it's easier to stay on track, especially during difficult times. In addition, it will help to prioritize and make decisions on the roadmap. How do you define a good product concept?

So, in a hypercondensed and simplified way, we can summarize it in 4 steps.

Step 1: the discovery

  • To understand the market, the place we want to take in it and especially what our users need

For Drouot, it was necessary to regain modernity in order to face the increasing number of competitors, which would make it possible to conquer a younger target of bidders, but this without disappointing the steadfast followers of in-room auctions.

Step 2: product architecture

  • We can build a matrix that summarizes user preferences and the opportunities that this represents for our product.
  • This allows us to have a very clear support that helps us to define what we should and should not put into the product to satisfy users.

Bidders need to feel safe on the platform.

We learned that there are plenty of bandits who raise the stakes but never get the lots 😱😱😱, which puts auction houses in a bind. As a result, identity verification has been strengthened with an advanced KYC solution.

Step 3: the trade off

  • Trade off is the challenge we are trying to solve with our product, i.e. what user preferences are we going to address to ensure that they are happy? These are not always easy to reconcile and address at the same time.

Succeeding in responding to a trade off with our product is key because if we manage to reconcile two user preferences that no other of our competitors has managed to reconcile, this puts us in the lead on the market while making our product a unique proposition!

  • A good challenge for the product will never be something that is super easy to do. This means that among user preferences, if you really want them to be happy, there are some that are difficult to reconcile: we call it a trade-off.

Our favorite bidders wanted security and control to make sure they weren't dealing with fake users or hackers. But on the other hand, they also wanted to rediscover the classic codes of auctions and the thrill of auction houses, in which anyone can enter and start bidding: difficult to reconcile this freedom with online issues.

Step 4: the product concept (aka the key to success)

  • And finally, the famous one! This sentence is the medium that summarizes the trade-off that we draw from the product architecture, that we were able to build thanks to discovery - that is, the challenge to be met with the product

Our challenge was to make, from V1, an auction app that was super secure to reassure, but also fun and easy to access.

Spoiler alert, it wasn't that easy.

The difficulties we have encountered and what we have learned

One thing I have noticed since the discovery and practice of Lean Engineering is that with theory and methods, we have clear and reassuring frameworks that could deceive us into believing that it is simple. In fact, not so much.

Pulling the worms out of users' noses, understanding what we can really do better, is quite sporty. Appropriating a market with numerous players, a market whose physical and online dynamics are complex, is tedious but key to building an effective and solid concept.

1st apprenticeship: the product concept can be built by several people

  • Hand in hand with the loom
  • Thanks to the kindness of users (and Nicolas Berthet's unparalleled negotiation skills to obtain ITWs)
  • In partnership with the designer (hello again Nicolas B) to challenge himself, and build a solid product vision, of which we are sure

2nd apprenticeship: a good product challenge combines business challenges and user needs

This was all the more important for Drouot who was looking to make a real competitive move.

But if in the construction of product strategy, we always remain user-centered, the strength of product management is to align this strategy with business challenges, in order to think and make a successful and profitable product.

Example: security was an issue for users AND for Drouot (risk of losing B2B customers if fraud on the platform) so we prioritized this need.

3rd apprenticeship: a product concept lives

When you formulate your challenge, it is only the first version of a concept that you will iterate on, iterate on, and iterate on.

  • On the same version → you have to perfect it until it is crystal clear for everyone, until the trade off is obvious, until you are proud of it
  • Each version of your product = a new product concept → at each iteration, you will want to take on a different challenge, respond to another trade off for your users, address another need of your users or your market

Feel free to share it with your team, with outside people - as the good Pascal would say:

What is well designed is clearly spelled out.

I honestly think I have rewritten the Drouot product concept about ten times!

Why was it essential?

Once we had our concept produced in hand, we never stopped using it at every opportunity.

To onboard newcomers, to think about our App Store Optimization strategy and choose the right keywords, to define our beta and launch goals, but above all to prioritize.

We knew what we wanted to achieve with this first version, and when the roadmap started to be a bit throttled, when we had to decide between a complex but complete version and a quick version of a feature, we could go back to our concept.

“Will this feature help us succeed in the challenge?”

“Was it a user need that we chose to address with this version?”

This will have served us as early as v2 of the roadmap, completely revised thanks to this concept, but also to each product decision throughout the project - to create a great product. (Big Up to Matthieu Pernelle who redid the entire roadmap with me after 3 weeks)

THE END: an app rated 4.5 on the stores in a few months, a successful bet!

In 8 months, we were able to:

  1. To bring product methods and to be super agile on a project that started from specifications
  2. Release a complete auction app that met our challenge in 8 months
  3. Launch a mobile app that won our dear bidders a lot more and that quickly made a good impression!

(It's not me who says it)

And without the product concept, I am quite convinced that we would not have succeeded as well.

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