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article imageToronto Tech Summit offers real insights into improving business Special

By Arnov Rahman     Apr 15, 2016 in Business
Toronto - At the Toronto Tech Summit speakers explained how to streamline your product design efforts, how to build user testing programs that get customers involved in the product creation process and strategies to close the gender gap in the tech industry.
I attended the Toronto Tech Summit last week where I got to see a growing community of entrepreneurs, engineers, and designers share their experiences in the world of technology.
As a Marketing Manager for a high growth start up I am amazed (and often overwhelmed) at the rate of change of technology. It’s great to hear from experts who’ve already experienced similar challenges and overcame them. Going to these talks allows you to curate wisdom from a variety of professionals and dramatically lower your learning curve.
The majority of the speakers focused on product design, and customers experience, the two most important factors in determining the success of your company.
Here's some insights I've gleaned during these talks on how to improve your business.
Product Design
The talks began with Avrum Laurie, the director of product management at Fresh Books, an online-accounting software business. After five-plus years at Fresh Books launching dozens of products and features, Avrum has learned that the siloed, top down approach to designing products doesn't work. Design teams need to be more dynamic and adapt to changes. Here's some of the main tips he shared:
1. Everyone's a designer: Design work should not be limited to only designers but also other departments that have a deep understanding of the customer.
2. Design should be done iteratively: The entire design should not be done upfront, but in stages to accommodate changes.
3. Prototype and test: Many product designers want to get it perfect the first time. This is often slow and ineffective. The best strategy is to build a rough prototype and start playing with it to see the effectiveness. This can save weeks chasing dead end product features.
4. Customer feedback ensures quality: In most companies, product designs must be approved by managers first. The assumption is approval ensures quality. This is actually not the case as management can be plagued with biases that prevent them from being able to accurately assess the value of the product. The only way to truly ensure quality is to talk to your customers.
User Testing
Speakers on the Customer Experience Panel
Speakers on the Customer Experience Panel
Next up there was a customer experience panel that discussed how to satisfy customers. One of the main themes was user testing. That is, getting your customers (or potential customers) to be involved in the creation and testing of products.
The reality is that User Testing is like Big Data. Everyone talks about it but very few people are using it to make better decisions. Most companies show a brief demo near the end of the building process to confirm that the product isn't a complete dead end and that they haven't wasted millions of dollars.
User Testing should inform your product creation, not be an after thought. It can help you see what features are actually helpful, which aspects of the products to invest more time on, and parts of the product that people have difficulty using.
Once you've work on a product for a while there is a higher chance of getting tunnel vision, where you start to loose perspective on your product. New testers can see your product with fresh eyes and let you know what needs to be fixed.
Ideas to get started with User Testing:
- Use your current users and offer them a gift card
- If you don't have any customers, put ads on Craiglist or Kijiji for testers.
Women in Tech
The Women in Tech panel
The Women in Tech panel
Near the end of the conference the was a panel on Women in Tech to address the gender gap.
Nada Basir, Professor at the University of Waterloo's Conrad Business, has found that the biggest challenge for female tech entrepreneurs is funding. Since the stereotype for a success tech founder is a 23-year-old male, there is a bias among investors to fund companies started by that demographic. This creates a self-fulling circle where more money goes to young male entrepreneurs, which leads to them being more successful, and re-enforcing the prejudices of investors.
Deborah Hall, the CEO at Dive Networks, stated that improving the gender gap shouldn't start at the funding or hiring process but Grade 1 to 6 education. It's during these formative years that girls need to be encouraged to pursue math and science.
For women wanting to explore technology fields post college, Emma Kotzer, suggested checking out Coding Bootcamps. She successfully completed a bootcamp called Bit Maker Labs and quickly found a job as a developer for Shopify.
More about toronto tech summit, product design, user testing, Women in tech, Toronto
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