Kwaku Owusu | Crain's St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kwaku Owusu

Background:  

Ilerasoft's technology consolidates health systems' equipment data on one platform to boost efficiency and more effectively manage U.S. Food and Drug Administration and manufacturer recall data. The St. Louis-based company's software and logistics platform identifies and reallocates underused medical equipment, and quickly and accurately flags recalled products. Ilerasoft won a $50,000 non-equity grant from Arch Grants in November 2016.

The Mistake:

Developing a product feature without fully testing it with the customer.

We developed a feature we thought was going to be an asset. We spent a lot of time developing this feature with the whole engineering team. We thought the feature would make it easier to manage workflow. Then, when we tried it in the market and showed it to potential customers, they were not as excited about that feature as we were.

The customer base found things were not easier and the feature was unnecessary. It ended up being more than they needed when what they really wanted was a simple product that would help them get what they wanted to accomplish done as fast as possible. In the development, the new feature seemed logical, but it didn't make sense to the customer. We spent about an unnecessary two months on this feature.

We wasted a lot of time trying to develop something without really doing as much market research as we should have because we thought we knew that particular market. That's a mistake we made early on and it's something we learned a lot from.

In the development, the new feature seemed logical, but it didn't make sense to the customer.

The Lesson:

Now we do a lot more customer engagement and customer discovery to make sure a feature is something the customer wants. We also do a lot of wireframing and mockups and show customers so they have a very good understanding of what the product is going to look like before we build it. The experience taught us to be more customer-focused and also engage them more in the process.

In developing a feature, we start with mockups where we get potential customers in a room to show them and explain our thinking on why we need this feature. Then we get their feedback on whether they think it will be something they'll find helpful or not. During the actual design of the product, we allow the customer to sit in the room and make changes to the mockup to say, “This is how I want it to look,” or, “This is something I wouldn't want.” So they have a stake in how the product is developed.

We have become more receptive to them because we figured out product development is something like 90 percent listening to customers to make sure you're really understanding what they are saying before you start building and 10 percent is the actual development. If you have a good customer — we have long-term customers — they will work with you to make sure you have something that makes sense to them. And our particular customers work day-to-day in the healthcare space, so it's also a nice little break for them to do some product development. They see that they have an impact on the product they use.

Overall, we find it very useful and it actually gives us more time, in the end, to develop products because we don't have to go back and re-edit. It also makes our product much more useful, so it's helpful all around.

Even though we spend a lot more time on research to make sure we have the right features, the right feel, there's definitely cost savings because you don’t have to go back and re-edit something you’ve done. And you have to think about opportunity costs. I don’t have a dollar figure, but every hour you're spending re-editing a feature, you're not spending that on improving another feature or doing something else the customer really wants. So the cost savings is both in money and in time.

Ilerasoft is on Twitter at @ilerasoft.

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