The Tyranny of Benchmarking

“The Tyranny of Benchmarking” with Mike Harding, Vice President of Juniper Networks

by Nate Zou

December 2011 Event

Mike Harding is an entrepreneur; mixing business and technology to solve hard problems. Over his 25-year career, Harding has founded seven startups and has had four successful exits. Two of these were dismal failures, for which Mike bears complete responsibility. He indicates that these failures represent at their worst “the most expensive business school in the world” and at their best “the most valuable learning experience about business, technology, and self.” The remaining startup is still active, (pronounced review) – it is the cure for the common resume.

In between startups, Mike held executive leadership positions with Sun Microsystems, SAP, Charles Schwab & Co, and the US Department of Defense. His day job is leading the team that designs the products and programs to create a thriving software developer community for Juniper Networks.

Mike is an autodidact. His education consists of varied work experience, supplemented by reading (over 7,000 books), professional training (in his various roles), and a short (unsatisfactory) stint at a public university.

Mike’s presentation gave examples of past failed products with the common technics used to build them. And when almost everyone in the room felt the desperation, he showed us the new ways and examples of building successful products. He ended the presentation by sharing his multiple “night job” product build experiences. His rich content so totally engaged attendees that the meeting time just flew by.

With couple of failed products, Mike started his presentation by looking back with us of those horrible products people made before (including the famous To answer why these products failed, Mike discussed about the traditional tools, processes and assumptions we use when we build a product. For process, we always follow the collecting marketing requirement->product definition->product development->ship process. Then we talked to customers to collect customer feedback, did market research to make market size assumptions, and ran benchmark testing. And at the end, no matter how hard people try, we still build lots of products that failed.

So what should we do or what can we do to build a successful product? Mike shows us new ways to build a successful product, again, with examples of the best products on the market.

The methods are simple: 1. Image the best product in your mind, 2. Design as a product 3. Consider Self as a customer

Above methods are not that complicated, but few people can do it right. Mike tells us the key point is if you can think in a different perspective. A good example is: when most companies (like JetBlue) are focusing on developing a product/service to improve people’s travel experience, some companies are fixing the problem in a different perspective. They build conference software to help customers have business meeting online and avoid their travel. So instead of investing countless time and efforts into make the existing product/service a little bit better, people are trying to solve things in a different way. They do not try to improve current flying experience of customers but avoid traveling by achieving their goals within their office.

To show us how to design as a product, Mike also offered a good example, a hotel called Ace. The hotel owner designs their hotel rooms in all different styles. The Ace hotel’s customers are people who love traveling and want to experience different life style. So the hotel owner put lots of effort into designing their hotel. Every room has its unique design to offer their customers the best experience. Owners also keep updating the decor to make their hotel rooms to be fresh.  Ace hotel got huge success by their amazing room design and is beloved by their customers

And at the very end, Mike shared his own story of his “side project” to demonstrate the “self as a customer project”. Self as a customer means sometimes you have some problem need to be solved in your own life and you may not be able to find a good product or service to help you solve it. Therefore, in order to fix it, you have no choice but to build something by yourself. Then triggered by this idea, the service/product is promoted to millions of people who face the same problem in their daily life and had a great success. Mike’s side project is exactly a “self as a customer project” example. When Mike tried to update his resume, he found all existing resume templates are plain. So he asked his friend to make his resume with some visual effects. By doing this together, his friends and he found it might be a good idea to turn this project into a product/online service for everyone. Therefore, people who have the same requirement can solve the problem with the service. And now we have this we all love it.

Chen Zou is a product manager at Foxit Corporation. In his previous roles, he has led product management for SaaS and Mobile Software Products. His interest areas include mobile applications & SaaS products and services.