Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I love Product Development Startup Style

My career has been shaped by my at-sight love of the Web and its potential. I have introduced the first Web applications at several firms I worked at. Each time it has been a new product development effort along with an evangelist role getting buy-in from several constituencies.

At Harcourt, I built out the product catalog integrating 27 divisional products of a $2billion company into, with a great team of people.

So, I came into my own startup thinking I know the tactical steps to make it all happen!

At Coola, we started with building a server software (ASP hosted server) and a client piece sitting on a Palm pilot. We launched this with a Press release saying "World's fastest way to Palm enable your web-site" and signed up 500 sites to put a button, which we called "Coolets" which encoded the information that the site owner wanted their users to take mobile, like an address, event, recepies, maps, documents etc. A user could click on any coolet from a site and the information will wait for them on Coola's site. Then when the user synched their Palm from anywhere (home or work or wirelessly), Coola would put the information onto the Palm into the right application for the type of information. For example, a Comdex Coolet will goto a calendar entry, while a map will go into an image reader on the palm and a document would go into one of 21 Doc readers on the Palm.

It was a chicken and Egg game to get people to put Coolets on their sites and users to download Coola clients to their Palms.

The fun and unexpected part of this ride for me was that the Product Development cycle was full of options to innovate. We signed Palm User Groups all around the country. Then we formed a product advisory of key Palm user group leaders to beta test each release of Coola, and give us feedback and new product requirements and iteratively built Coola and released each feature with a positive review from the Palm User Groups. They helped communicate product features and were a market extension of Coola team. I had a stellar team at Coola who worked with so much energy and synced with the market feedback.

I am so thankful to the Palm User Groups for Competitive analysis and helping us communicate our positioning to the world.

We started with a core server and client and added so many new products like "Send to a Friend" where one could click on a Coolet on a site and sent the information to the Palm of a trusted list of friends.

We added "1-Click"to add an entire site content to a Palm document reader.
We added "Coola's right-click" to scrape pieces of content from a site when a coolet was no present. We added "Doc Coolets" to sync Web content into 7 Document Reader softwares on the Palm and signed partnerships with all the Doc reader companies.

With each review and fan page giving direct market feedback, it was so easy for Engineering to work in the Product Developmentt Cycle with Extreme Programming, which usually takes tact on the part of Product Managers.

Of course, we kept our goals on getting market support to sign paying customers in Publishing sites like (or New York Times),, Coldwell Bankers etc.

The market feedback and support of earlier partnerships with Palm Software players helped us as we moved out to Enterprise market packaging Coola Server as a Mobile EAI Server for companies to integrate their corporate databases to sync into their own Applications into the Palm for clients including NIH, GE Medical, Wharton and Albany Medical. This was a new product, but a brand extension of Coola with a published APIs on both the server (J2EE) and client(on Palm OS. The Palm software players integrated Coola's Palm APIs into their Apps making it easy to establish credibility into the new Enterprise market.

Now, I cannot go back to old style Product development. I have such a hunger for listening to the market and executing in an interative style, which I believe suits any new company well, and oh! its soo much fun!