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For his leadership at Product Collective, Mike was named one of the top 40 influencers in the field of product management.
He’s also a faculty member of Case Western Reserve University in the Department of Design and Innovation, and is co-host of one of the top startup podcasts online, Rocketship.FM. Prior to Product Collective, Mike spent 12 years in startup companies as an early employee, co-founder, and executive.
Mike is also the author of “Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of Us,” one of the top startup books on Amazon.
[00:00:24] JJ: Hello, this is JJ Rorie, vice president at Sequent Learning Networks. In our Masters of Product Management podcast, we tap into the experiences of people who work in and around product management to help you learn and grow in your product management career. You’ve likely heard of the Jobs to Be Done approach. Jobs to Be Done is an approach and framework originally invented by Clayton Christensen, Bob Moesta, and Tony Ulwick, or others who became “fathers” of the approach, if you will. You’ve probably heard their names associated with Jobs to Be Done as well. It’s a unique approach in which products are developed based on the job that the customer wants the product to perform for them.
[00:01:01] JJ: The theory is that the customer has a specific goal in mind—the job to be done—and wants to hire the product to do that job or accomplish that goal. We’ll talk a lot more about it through this conversation. But this approach basically gets to the heart of one issue that I see over and over across companies and industries, and that is the inability for product teams—and organizations as a whole, for that matter—to clearly and accurately define customer needs before jumping into building solutions. Ever heard the saying “A solution looking for a problem”? Well, we sometimes build products thinking we know the need it addresses; but in actuality, we haven’t really done the needs-analysis process justice, and end up missing the mark. It happens way too often, unfortunately. Jobs to Be Done is one really good way to help in this area.
[00:01:55] JJ: This is going to be such a great conversation today. It’s such a wonderful topic. And I’m thrilled to have my guest here to talk about how to get started with Jobs to Be Done. Mike Belsito is a co-founder of Product Collective, which organizes INDUSTRY, one of the largest product management summits anywhere in the world. Amazing conference. You got to go to it. For his leadership at Product Collective, Mike was named one of the top 40 influencers in the field of product management. He’s also a faculty member of Case Western Reserve University in the Department of Design and Innovation, and is co-host of one of the top startup podcasts online, Rocketship.FM. Prior to Product Collective, Mike spent 12 years in startup companies as an early employee, co-founder, and executive. Mike is also the author of “Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of Us,” one of the top startup books on Amazon. Mike, thank you so much for joining me today.
[00:02:50] Mike: JJ, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
[00:02:53] JJ: Yeah, this is going to be a great conversation. I’m so excited. So, Jobs to Be Done is such a great concept, but many folks find it difficult to get started. Why do you think that is?
[00:03:02] Mike: I think it’s because it’s one of these things that we’ve heard a lot about—and I’ll just speak with my own experience: when I first learned of Jobs to Be Done, I learned of it because I started hearing all the cool kids talk about it. When I look around in the product world, the people that I admire, respect and learn from—I started seeing them talk about Jobs to Be Done, and I’m like, “Well, what does that really mean?” So, the more I looked into it, the more I saw that as a concept, it seems kind of simple enough…but then again, to actually implement and actually do something with it, I wasn’t sure where to start. I wasn’t sure how it all worked. So I stayed away from it, but only because of me, personally; I was afraid of how complex it might be to learn, and I just wasn’t sure, really, what to do. I think sometimes, when people hear of it, they might think it’s a lot more complex than it has to be, to actually get started. Once I figured out—okay, no, look, we can actually get started with it pretty quickly, put some of the things actually into practice—you could get results from it right away! But it took me a little while to get to that point.
[00:04:10] JJ: Yeah, I agree. I think when I first heard about it and started reading about it, I thought—the first time I saw it, I was like, “Oh my God, this is it! This is unbelievably amazing!” And then I started thinking, “Okay, now how would I actually implement it?” So, on its surface, it’s brilliant—and actually deeper than its surface, it’s brilliant as well. But it is a little bit intimidating, so I totally agree with that. At a very basic level, what really is Jobs to Be Done? How do you define it?
[00:04:39] Mike: The way that I think of it—and this is something that I’ve learned. You mentioned before, Bob Moesta? Bob Moesta’s…now at this point, I consider him a friend. He’s a—like you said, early pioneer of Jobs to Be Done. So everything that I’ve learned has really been from Bob, and getting to know him personally. We’ve spoken in INDUSTRY several times. So, when I think of Jobs to Be Done, really, it is a framework for understanding how and why customers buy and use our products. So the idea is that they’re not buying them and using them for the individual features themselves; they’re really buying our products to solve a problem that they have. So really, what they’re doing is, they’re hiring those products to do that job—much in the same way that, if a company is struggling in a certain area and they have a problem, they might go out and hire a business consultant to come in and help them solve that problem. Our customers are literally hiring our products to solve these problems that they’re facing today. But at the core, it’s really just a framework for understanding how and why customers buy your products.
“Jobs to Be Done is a framework for understanding how and why customers buy and use our products.”
[00:05:48] JJ: Yeah. So what got you interested in Jobs to Be Done in the first place?
[00:05:52] Mike: So again, I’ll go back to Bob. We’ve invited Bob to speak at our conference—actually, the very first one we ever put on. And Bob’s made it a bit of a residency for him, which we love. I mean—he’s in the Midwest; we’re in the Midwest. He’s close to Detroit, Michigan and we’re in Cleveland, Ohio. And so the more we’ve gotten to know Bob, the more interested I became in it, personally—not just for “Oh, I think our attendees at the conference at INDUSTRY will really enjoy this,” but I was thinking about it from our own perspective: how can we actually put this to use? And I remember actually, at one of the conferences where Bob was speaking, we were backstage in the green room. I made a comment—how I had some attendee interviews coming up and I said, “They’re not really Jobs to Be Done interviews, because we don’t really know what we’re doing when it comes to Jobs to Be Done.” So we do attendee interviews, but I don’t classify them as Jobs interviews. And he does the classic Bob Moesta: which is to start asking me why: Why do you feel that way? Why? Why do you feel like it’s complex? You say you don’t know what you’re doing. Tell me more about that. What does that mean—
[00:07:00] JJ: I love that.
[00:07:01] Mike: What are your attendee interiews? Just sort of going deep with me, which I’ve come to learn—that’s just what Bob does. But he ended and said, “Hey, look, what if I were to sit down with you, with your customers? If I were to interview them, and you could be there alongside with me to watch and learn. Might you be open to that?” I’m like, “Yeah, Bob, we’d be really open to that!” And so right after that conference ended, I followed up with Bob immediately and he invited us out to his office in Michigan. We spent the whole day with him, just learning from him, and then ultimately setting up interviews with our customers. Going through that whole process—seeing it, and seeing Bob’s work like that, definitely is what piqued our interest. But then, having Bob help us through those interviews—teaching us personally—that’s where our interest really got deeper into…not just, “Oh, I’m curious about this as a topic for product people,” but how can I implement this in my own business, so that we can learn our customers better, and we can serve them better, and come up with new products that maybe solve the jobs that they’re actually looking to hire for.
[00:08:15] JJ: That’s awesome. That’s a great example of—a real example of using this with your own customers. Do you have any other real-world examples that you’ve seen?
[00:08:26] Mike: Yeah! So, now that we’ve gotten our feet wet with this—and I definitely want to dive into what that looked like for us, and what the results were. But when people are still asking, “What is—I still don’t get it. What do you mean when you say that customers are hiring our products to do a job?”
[00:08:45] JJ: Yeah.
[00:08:45] Mike: I love using this real-world example of my life and pizza. And this is the best way I can explain it. And pizza is not a tech product here; but everybody knows that. Everybody knows what pizza is. And I don’t know if they love it as much as I do, but that’d be pretty hard to do. But anyway, so where I live in Lakewood, Ohio, there are probably a dozen different pizzerias. Pizza’s big here, like it is most places, but there are a dozen different places you could get it from. So two of those places I’ll bring to mind in this example: one is Little Caesars. Little Caesars is a chain pizza restaurant. I’d classify it as the McDonald’s of pizza, in that it is fast food, basically. You literally don’t have to order it in advance. You just walk into a shop and immediately say, “I’d like a large pepperoni pizza,” and it’s there for you. It’s waiting and they just hand it to you and you go. It’s all very fast. Angelo’s Pizza in Lakewood is just like—it is Lakewood personified. That is a neighborhood place, but it is almost like local celebrity status here. So Tom Hanks, who actually used to live in Lakewood, Ohio, when he’s back in town, he rents out Angelo’s for him and his friends to just enjoy themselves.
[00:10:03] JJ: That’s awesome.
[00:10:04] Mike: Yeah, it’s an awesome neighborhood joint. So I like to ask people—knowing what you know, what I just told you about Angelo’s Pizza and Little Caesars—and I’ll ask you the question, JJ. JJ, what do you think is my go-to pizza place?
[00:10:20] JJ: I would say Angelo’s.
[00:10:22] Mike: That would make sense, right? Like, it would make sense to say, “Angelo’s, the neighborhood place,” and I would say the real answer, though, is: it depends. I’ll tell you, I have two kids and my son plays soccer. So when he has soccer practice or a soccer game and, practice or the games end kind of late—maybe it’s like eight o’clock and we haven’t eaten dinner yet. So we’re now rushing to get home, and I need to make sure that my son is showered, but we’ve also eaten and we’re going to get him in bed at a reasonable time. I can tell you in that moment, it’s not Angelo’s. It’s usually Little Caesars. I usualy just grab the pizza and get home because I know I can get that pizza, get home, and we could be done with dinner probably all in about 20 minutes. Whereas if I were to get Angelo’s, that’s going to take a while. It might take 45 minutes; might take an hour. So in that moment, the choice isn’t really Angelo’s for me. It’s Little Caesars. However, you are right, in a way, that if I were to have friends over—back in the days where we had friends over for dinner and things like that—
[00:11:31] JJ: The good old days.
[00:11:33] Mike: But if my friends wanted that taste of Lakewood, Angelo’s would be the choice. I wouldn’t get Little Caesars to show off Lakewood to my friends. I would get Angelo’s. I use that example because context in Jobs to Be Done is super important. Again, when I got Little Caesars, I wasn’t really looking for, “Okay, let me get the freshest ingredients. I want to get the choice beef, pepperoni that they have there. That’s really important to me.” None of that mattered. What mattered is that I could feed my family very quickly and get us showered and in bed on time. And then when my friends came over—again, it wasn’t necessarily because of the actual food, the actual ingredients—but I wanted to give my friends that taste of Lakewood. So, you could see there, those two examples. The jobs I’m actually hiring for are much different than each other. So a lot of times people think pizza—they’re all the same. They’re all kind of competing with each other. But even in those cases, Little Caesars isn’t really competing with Angelo’s. It’s more competing with McDonald’s. Angelo’s is probably competing with the local distillery that’s down the street. That’s another Lakewood original. So, yeah, when I think of real-world examples, rather than even applying it to tech, I like to think of pizza.
[00:12:46] JJ: Yeah, I love that example. And the point is, customers’ jobs change, right? The context changes. It’s dynamic. I love that. Okay, so we’ll get back to Jobs to Be Done in a minute. Let’s get to some more important stuff. I’ve lived in New York and in Chicago. So, Ohio pizza, New York pizza, or Chicago pizza?
[00:13:10] Mike: Well, I will say we’ve got some good pizza here in Ohio. We got great food, but I am—I’m going to probably make a lot of people mad. I’m Chicago deep-dish pizza guy here. I really like that style. Maybe this is different for me, but don’t get me wrong: when I go to New York, I love good pizza there, too.
[00:13:26] JJ: There you go. You know, it’s interesting. I get that asked a lot, when people know that I live part-time in New York and I’ve lived in Chicago for many years, over over the years. And to me, it’s completely different. Like, New York pizza is great; it’s awesome. You get it. It’s huge. It’s a huge piece, right? You wrap it up in the cheapest little paper plate that they make on Earth. And that’s New York pizza. In Chicago, the big Chicago-style pizza—it’s a completely different dish. It’s like a casserole.
[00:13:59] Yeah. You could only have—for me, it’s like, you have one slice and you’re pretty much full.
[00:14:02] JJ: Oh absolutely. Yeah. Okay, sorry, I too am a pizza connoisseur.
[00:14:07] Mike: I love it.
[00:14:08] JJ: So we could spend a lot of time on this. Okay, so folks are bored with us now. Let’s move back. Okay, so if people wanted to get started with Jobs to Be Done, what should they know? How can they take that first step?
[00:14:21] Mike: I will say, I think you don’t necessarily have to go out and read textbooks about it. I would say, familiarize yourself with some of the basics. I’ll go over some of those basics right now, just as a starting point—but I would start to familiarize yourself with terms like The Push, The Pull, things like Inertia and Anxiety, so all of those things—oh, and Struggling Moment, by the way. Struggling Moment is—that’s sort of the basis for innovation, at least the way that Bob puts it. But what I mean by The Push and The Pull is, whenever customers are experiencing that problem—whatever that problem is going to be—that push is first when they realize that there has to be a better way. I think of those funny infomercials on TV where, usually the person’s doing something that’s so easy to do for most people; maybe it’s like pouring cereal in a bowl, but all of a sudden it spills all over, and they’re like, “There’s gotta be a better way!” That is The Push. That is The Push personified there.
[00:15:30] Mike: The Pull is when we start, all of a sudden—we’re now hearing of a potential solution. And that potential solution piques our interest. And that is now starting to pull us towards what might be new life for us, once we have this better way. So that example I just gave: the commercial itself is sort of The Pull, right? Like, maybe I do struggle with pouring cereal in a bowl; but now I’m seeing this commercial, so now this commercial’s sort of pulling me towards this eventual new solution. I mentioned anxieties and inertia, too, though, because usually what happens is, if you go along that timeline, somebody doesn’t just see the commercial and all of a sudden pick up their phone and make that phone call. What happens is, all of a sudden they’re getting anxieties about it. And I guess I’ll stick with that example. In that example, that might be before I pick up the phone and make a phone call, I’m thinking, “Well, wait a minute. How many payments is this going to be? And I need to—where’s my credit card, man? I’ve been spending a lot on my credit card.”.
[00:16:29] Mike: Any kind of thoughts like these are anxieties. And this is—again, no matter what product, a customer is going to go through this. The inertia, though, is when all of a sudden, things just stop altogether. You’ve basically made the decision. You’ve said, “You know what, I’ve seen solutions like this before. It just doesn’t work. Never mind. I’m just going to go back to the way I’ve always had it.” And once a customer ends at inertia, it’s really hard to get them to get back into that timeline. So, understanding that timeline is really important because what we can do is, actually, once we start interviewing our customers—once you start having Jobs to Be Done interviews, which we could talk about in just a minute—we’re trying to identify what these pushes, pulls, anxieties and inertia actually are for the product that the customer is trying to—or the pain point that the customer is trying to solve for our product, right? So, we want to identify what all of these things are.
[00:17:28] Mike: Now, I mentioned The Struggling Moment. This is when the customer is experiencing this pain, and it’s what leads them into this timeline in the first place. So, in terms of understanding all that, I think, dig in. Dig into these terms. Try to understand what they mean. But then, what I would suggest is: start interviewing your customers and start looking for these things. And this is where Bob helped us big time—because what we did was, we set up a few interviews with our customers…and all it takes is really a few to pull out some learnings. But the advice that Bob gave us with this is to go really, really deep. As an example: before, when I would set up interviews with our customers, I would maybe look for 20 minutes because customers are busy; they don’t have a lot of time. Bob said, “No, you need to have them commit to a whole hour. We’re going to go super deep with them.” They might answer a question. And in the past, I might have just let that fly and moved on to the next question.
[00:18:30] Mike: But Bob, when he was interviewing our customers, he would ask them why several times. Like, he would go super, super deep. So the reason for this is we can start to really uncover what those pushes, pulls, the anxiety, the inertia…what those things actually are. And that’s the core difference between just a regular customer interview, or attendee interview, and a Jobs to Be Done interview. And some people might be doing Jobs to Be Done interviews and not realizing it yet. If you, after an interview, can name all of those things and you can identify them very clearly, then great. You’ve already actually been doing Jobs to Be Done interviews. But otherwise, maybe you haven’t. And that’s okay, too; I’m sure you’re getting great information. But those interviews—we’re going to try to uncover that information and then do something with the information, too. So, yeah, to answer your question: to just get started—like, how do you actually get started—familiarize [yourself] with some of these terms, but become familiar with what all of this actually means. And then start to schedule these interviews and actually talk to your customers. And that’s something to be done pretty quickly.
[00:19:35] JJ: Yeah, that’s great advice. And I think, to the point and how we started the conversation is, it can be intimidating at times and not really get it. But to get feet wet and get some of those interviews under your belt probably helps folks realize that, as you said, maybe they had already been doing some elements of it. And then, if they can just do it—as opposed to just reading about it, thinking about it and almost creating more anxiety—just getting in there and doing some interviews may help.
[00:20:02] Mike: I think so. And for us, it helped with INDUSTRY. I can tell you that one of the best delighter features that we have at INDUSTRY, it’s a direct result of some of these interviews that we did with Bob. We uncovered some things that—it was never really apparent to us before. There were things that we had thought about; but probably the best delighter that we ever launched at INDUSTRY was a direct result of some of these interviews. That’s why I say, doing this—it’s not just about doing it; it’s then…what do we actually get from it? What can we actually gain? And I think you can gain a whole lot—whether it’s launching that new feature, whether it’s launching a delighter like it was in our case, or even things like changing marketing copy, because now you know a little bit more about what your customers’ needs are.
[00:20:49] JJ: That’s awesome. And that was going to be my next question: what’s good? You know, what has come out of it? What are the results you’ve seen? So you’ve actually seen some things from your use of Jobs to Be Done that you’ve used in your your own products.
[00:21:03] Mike: Yeah! So here’s an example with one of the interviews in particular—and actually, we did a few, and so there were some common themes that emerged. But in this one particular interview, we talked with a person named Matt. He was an onboarding lead at a company—sort of a self-defined product person—but he wanted to start to get into true product roles; wanted to be a product manager or product lead. And so as we started to dig in with him, I remember asking the question: why did you buy your ticket to INDUSTRY in the first place? And he said, “Well, I want to learn from the best and meet other product people.” And again, this is where I would have said, “Okay, cool. Next question.” But this is where Bob said, “Okay, now wait a minute— learn from the best? What do you mean by that?” Bob kept digging and digging. And what we come to learn is that it turns out that the push he was feeling was from his boss. His boss had said, “Hey, look, if you want to have a product role, it’s going to be on you to become that product person before you even have that title.” So Matt was already feeling this external push that was coming on to him to find something that can help him be this better product person.
[00:22:17] Mike: But then the more we dug in, what we found—there was an anxiety for Matt. And that was, “My company—they actually do pay for conferences, but usually we go to the same conferences.” And he worked for an all-remote company—these days we’re all all remote!—but his company was all remote before everybody was all remote. And what it meant is there were certain conferences that most of the employees went to, that would be the one time a year that they would actually see each other in person. So, for Matt to pick a conference that wasn’t on that normal sort of list, that was a big deal. And that felt like, “Well, there’d be pressure for me to prove that it was actually worth it.” And so one of the things, as we kept digging and digging with Matt, is we realized he was particularly stressed about taking notes while at the conference to then share with everybody that he worked with, to prove that this was actually a conference that was worth going to. Because if he couldn’t prove that, he felt like, “Now now I’m being looked down upon for this.”
[00:23:23] Mike: So again, that was just one interview. But what happened is—we heard this commonly through the next several interviews that we did. So one of the features that we launched at INDUSTRY, immediately after this, was that we hired a professional journalist to take notes during all the mainstage talks. And we had a designer put together a really nice ebook. And we did this all on the fly, during the conference, so that by the time the conference ended, we were able to deliver this awesome ebook with all of the notes from all the mainstage talks. And in the very beginning of the conference, we mentioned that we were going to do this. This wasn’t like a bullet when they signed up for the conference; it was a complete surprise. This is a delighter, the way that we’re looking at it. And when we announced that there is a journalist in the audience taking notes so that nobody else had to worry about that, the look of stress relief that came over people’s faces; you saw laptops shutting. That journalist actually got a bigger ovation than any of the speakers.
[00:24:24] JJ: Oh, wow. That’s great.
[00:24:25] Mike: It was a pretty cool thing. So now, that’s just one example for us—again, one small feature. A delighter, if you will. But that wouldn’t have happened—I don’t think we would have done any of that, if it wasn’t for uncovering these pain points in those Jobs to Be Done interviews.
[00:24:40] JJ: Such a great example, and yeah, absolutely a delighter. I’ve been to a million conferences, and when you can actually pay attention, you get so much more. So that’s awesome.
[00:24:52] Mike: Yeah!
[00:24:54] JJ: Okay, finally, where can people learn more? How can they find more information on this?
[00:25:01] Mike: There are some great talks online. There are great resources on Bob Moesta’s site, too. He’s president of The Re-Wired Group, so people can look up The Re-Wired Group online. But we’ve also released—we did a whole Jobs to Be Done series on rocketship.fm. Also, Product Collective: we have loads and loads of articles and videos from past talks, keynotes…that sort of thing. So, I would encourage people to definitely look up The Re-Wired Group. Check us out at productcollective.com and industryconference.com. And again: the resources that we have, it’s not just for Jobs to Be Done. There are a whole lot of other product resources there, too. In fact, people could join Product Collective for free and start getting our newsletter access to our Slack community; that sort of thing too. And I think that’d be a great place for people to start to learn.
[00:25:55] JJ: Perfect. Great. Thanks for sharing that. This has just been such a great conversation. Thank you so much. Mike Belsito, co-founder of Product Collective, sharing your wisdom and experiences with us today. It’s been great.
[00:26:05] Mike: Thanks so much for having me, JJ. I really appreciate it.
[00:26:08] JJ: Okay, and you guys listening: make sure to check out INDUSTRY Virtual Conference coming up in April: April 20th and 21st, 2021. Learn more at industryconference.com/virtual and you can use the discount code Sequent20 to get twenty percent off any pass. I certainly will be there, so hopefully we’ll see you guys there as well. Thank you for joining us on Masters of Product Management, powered by Sequent Learning Networks. I am JJ Rorie and I look forward to speaking with you on the next episode.