An Inside Look at the Customer Discovery and Product Development Process

July Event Review: “An Inside Look at the Customer Discovery and Product Development Process” with Kayla Matheus, Founder and CEO of

By Dan Galatin

How do you become an entrepreneur without an MBA or software development background?  Kayla Matheus addressed this and many other provocative questions at the July 12th meeting of the SVPMA.Kayla began her career with a deep academic background in design thinking, and worked for a while at a large consumer packaged goods company, before eventually getting the “itch” to strike out on her own.  She joined 30 Weeks, a founders program for designers in New York City and then was selected by the Google Creative Lab accelerator.

Kayla began with an inkling of the sort of problem she wanted to solve.  She had injured her knee in high school and realized that she needed help being motivated to do her physical therapy.  She realized that many of her friends also found it challenging to stay motivated to achieve their personal goals.  Kayla started to look at behavioral science research on how habits are formed.  There were plenty of existing apps that focused on encouraging habits, but they fundamentally failed to engage the user at the most effective moment, and there was too much friction and too many distractions involved in using these apps.  Likewise, Kayla found that wearable products like FitBit required too many indirect steps before they were effective at helping form good habits.  From surveys and deep market research, Kayla realized that external, emotional accountability was a key missing link: a cute physical toy or “social robot” with some anthropomorphic features could provide this support when you push its button!

Kayla started to build this for real.  She experimented with the nature of the user interface and built a variety of prototypes to put them into real people’s hands, to determine whether it was worth going down this path.  After getting positive feedback, Kayla and her team started making some videos showing her concept through storytelling, and built a website calling for beta users.  They got over 2,000 people with an intent to buy.  Kayla used the website to learn about her prospective customers’ demographics and the habits they wished to work on.  The team built about 35 beta MOTIs, along with the first version of the software for the product.  They experimented with different levels of interaction with the beta testers to eliminate bias, and found that no matter how often the team engaged with the testers, about 85% of users said that MOTI was essential to helping them form their habit.  People liked that it was physical, gratifying and seamless – this all was consistent with the underlying behavioral science.

The next step was to figure out how to scale and build a company out of this idea.  Kayla worked with an organization called Highway One to learn about how to design for scalable manufacturing.  She and her team worked with the program to prototype and test a number of design features.  She went to China to learn about the manufacturing process.  After figuring out the design and manufacturing details, the next question was, how to launch?  Answer: a Kickstarter campaign.  Unlike other Kickstarter campaigns, they didn’t have a seed round yet, and much of the pricing was cost-driven rather than market-driven.

MOTI ended up raising over $100,000, but this was not enough to support the company and attract sufficient funding in the current environment.  They found themselves at the “Fundraising Hell” stage that would have been extremely difficult to climb out of.  In short, there wasn’t sufficient market validation.  Kayla thinks this happened for a number of reasons, including an education gap in the market on social robotics and behavior change, and a mismatch between price and perceived value. 

MOTI pulled the Kickstarter launch and decided to pivot.  In retrospect, Kayla realized they were pushing to launch too early as opposed to pushing to learn.  They had spent too much time on the product and too little time focusing on the market.  They asked themselves how necessary was the hardware really.  Additional market research suggested two possible broad directions in which to pivot: continuing to develop hardware, but for B2B2C rather than direct to consumer; and/or producing consumer software.  The final decision has yet to be made, so stay tuned!

Kayla concluded her story with a few takeaways:

  • Adopt a human-centered way of thinking about both products and your marketing/business model
  • Start small, but don’t be afraid to pivot big
  • User research comes in many flavors

Overall, the MOTI team’s story was inspiring for their creativity and scrappiness.  Although the audience could easily relate to the experience of not hitting it “out of the park” on the first try, they were impressed with MOTI’s vision and came away believing that the company is destined for success.

Dan Galatin has over 20 years of combined experience in product management and software engineering.  He is Director of Communications for the SVPMA and can be contacted at

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