Awesome By Design – Going Broad to Narrow

Creating intuitive products used to be enough but not any more. Now customers demand awesome product experiences…the ones that they tell others about. ‘Design awesome’ – we use these words a lot, but what does it mean? And how do you go about it?

It’s not about delivering awesome products; it’s about delivering awesome experiences that deliver unexpected delight. Design for Delight is grounded in deep customer empathy, going broad with ideas then narrowing with possible solutions and finally, rapid experimentation with customers. In my earlier article on creating awesome by design, I wrote about the first of three important principles.

  1. Know your customer
  2. Go broad to go narrow
  3. Iterate with customers, frequently

In this post, I’ll focus on the second principle: go broad to narrow

The first step in design thinking is to understand your customers, identify their pain points and being really specific about the pain point. It’s when you fall in love with the problem and not the solution that a new sense of objectivity comes in.

Start with all the pain points you see your customers face. Don’t stop with the first one you see, observe all the pain points. Go broad and identify them all. Then, you narrow down to the pain point that you feel customers really struggle with. The one that you know you can solve well and in a way that you can build durable competitive advantage… one that others will not be able to copy easily.

Try this… Give your teams 2-5 minutes to write down their ideas for the problem identified, one idea per post-it. Ask them to read it all out and group them on the board. After you go through them all, throw away all the ideas on the board. You will see everyone’s surprise. If it took a team of folks 2 minutes to come up with the idea, don’t you think others outside your company will do it just as easily? Now, ask them to build on earlier ideas or come up with new ones by combining the earlier ideas.

Go Broad

Our first solutions are often our most obvious ones. In fact most brainstorming techniques I use involve throwing away the initial ideas to get to the good ones that will come later. The ones that come later build on earlier ones and tend to be more thoughtful. It is as if we need to flush out the basic solutions before we get to the better and significant ones.

As human beings we are genetically predisposed to solving problems. We often jump into the first solution we get and then, fall in love with it. You will be far more successful in delivering awesome if you fall in love with the problem and not the solution.

Often, you will have to help teams suspend their judgment and think beyond what is accepted as possible. We call this fodder. Give your teams ideas and analogies they can draw from and discover truly disruptive solutions for solving the customer pain point on hand. For example, when we were thinking about mediums of communication for our product to engage the customers, we thought of Morse codes, pigeons, personal messages, and even telepathy!

One good tip would be to ask yourself “what else did we/I look at”, every time you review a solution. Most teams I have worked with only detail out one idea. My magic number is three. I think it is important to explore 3 great solutions (at the very least) and then narrow down to the winning solution. My only rule is that these 3 solutions need to be distinctively different and not just small deviations of each other. If you are having difficulty going broad use this simple 7-to-1 tool.

“To have a good idea, you must first have lots of ideas.” – Linus Pauling


Once you have a number of ideas on the board, the next step is to evaluate them and narrow the focus. Narrow down to the handful of ideas that you think you can really solve well with durable competitive advantage.

When you brainstorm, you come up with unique and bizarre ideas from a variety of perspectives, each of them with its own spin and inspiration for the solution. It is easy to discard those but wait, those are probably your most disruptive ideas!

There are several ways to narrow; I will share two ways that I tend to use:

  1. 2×2 Narrowing Technique: Use this method when trying to narrow across several dimensions that are important to you and your customers
  • Label the axis with criteria that lead to some tension and/or criteria that you would like your ideas to have. Place your ideas written on post-its into the relevant quadrant. The ones that you are interested are often in the top, right quadrant. You can decide that you want to look at multiple criteria and go through several rounds of these 2X2s. You may also decide that you don’t have enough ideas that are say, innovative and look to build on existing ideas so that it will be innovative.
  1. Target exercise: Put all your ideas on the target. The idea that solves the pain point best (with your individual or teams’ judgment) in the middle. This is a great exercise for you to involve your (potential) customers and ask them what idea they would think solves their pain point best i.e. what they would use. The discussion to have needs to be around how you can build on many ideas and combine them into one so you can bring it into the center circle.

A great example from my awesome journey at Intuit is Fasal. The pain-point that farmers in India faced was not knowing how to get the best price for their produce, nor what markets to go to and when. We conducted several experiments on providing the right information at the right time to the farmers, ranging from eBay-like market places to voice-based systems and text messages for providing market information. The magic number is 3… I always try at least 3 different solutions. Interestingly the solution we then built out is not 1 of the 3 but a new concept that had a few attributes of the 3 ideas we shared with customers. Simplicity and accessibility were very important criteria, and these narrowed our solution to an SMS based platform that provides farmers with reliable and real time wholesale market price.

Use go broad to narrow throughout your innovation process, starting with the pain point and ending in the actual building of the solution and support.

I hope this article was insightful to you on how to design awesome using the principle of going broad to narrow. Please feel free to share your thoughts and I would love to answer any questions on this topic.

Shaping Small Business India

Small Businesses play a significant role in a developing economy – from creating valuable business opportunities to employing a large chunk of the workforce. They are the drivers of growth contributing significantly to a range of sectors and industries.

Small Businesses produce nearly half the manufactured output and are also the largest employers of workforce in India after agriculture. Roughly, 75 million people in India are employed with small businesses. They contribute approximately 9-10% of the Indian GDP. An estimated 90% of industrial units in India come under small businesses. They contribute to 40% of value addition in the manufacturing sector and 35% to India’s merchandise exports.

With such significant contributions, it becomes imperative to encourage the growth of these businesses in India. We are now witnessing an increased focus on small businesses from several government institutions, corporate houses and financial entities. The government, by recognizing the small business opportunity, has introduced various policy measures to help them grow. It is also working towards promoting the small business segment by capacity building measures to keep them updated on emerging areas of business and familiarizing them with the changing laws and regulatory frameworks. Today, the government is developing a positive environment to encourage new businesses and entrepreneurs by providing support in several ways including financial assistance by allowing medium-term loans, reduction of interest rates by RBI etc.

India is a huge market brimming with many opportunities. This has encouraged the growth of the small business segment and brought tremendous success to entrepreneurs and business owners. So far, these businesses have limited their operations to the local Indian market. Increasingly entrepreneurs are keen on expanding to other markets and establishing a global identity. Today, the Indian small business industry is aiming for global markets, ready to compete against global giants. This is an encouraging sign and this industry needs to be provided the right support to cater to global needs.  Industry exchange programmes and access to market research data will help develop an understanding of the global market and its needs. Government support in setting up technology infrastructure will boost productivity and quality for these small businesses.

Another aspect that is essential in creating a positive environment for small businesses is to have friendly regulatory policies. Allowing Foreign Direct Investment, speeding up approvals, creating a single window system for information, simplifying operational frameworks etc. are key factors that will contribute towards the growth of small businesses in India.

Even with adequate support from the government and the private sector, small businesses in India face several challenges which need to be addressed. Prominent among them is the lack of access to technology and financial management resources. Despite various schemes from the government to enable easy access to capital, small businesses struggle to raise adequate funds. Private sector can contribute towards this issue by infusing equity funds and venture capital. In a study conducted by Intuit supported the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Government of India, pointed out that small businesses in India are yet to realize the full potential of technology as a game-changer for business. The study also highlighted the top barriers to technology adoption being cost, lack of skilled manpower, low awareness of the benefits of technology, poor infrastructure and concerns about security and privacy. A collaborative effort is needed to address these concerns of small businesses and identify and develop solutions through participation from various quarters. A collective approach with government and private sector coming together is the ideal way forward.  Intuit in association with NIESBUD has introduced a financial literacy programme aimed at helping small business owners understand financial management. Initiatives like these are a positive step in bridging the gaps.

Key hindrances to the growth of small businesses also include lack of infrastructure and limited access to institutional assistance.  Infrastructure hassles have to be addressed on priority as it forms the base of starting a business and also affects productivity. Setting up SEZs, improving transportation through better road and rail connectivity, allowing reforms in telecommunication etc. will help address few problems related to infrastructure. Another challenge for small businesses is labour and talent acquisition. Start-ups and small businesses are generally not considered attractive career options. Participation in education and career related events and academic outreach will help in reaching out to youth and spreading awareness about this sector. Growth and success of small businesses will also automatically make them lucrative for acquiring the right talent.

There are a few factors that even small businesses need to keep in mind to succeed before starting out. Understanding the market is the topmost among them. Considerable research is required to comprehend the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the market.  It is necessary to understand the market preparedness for your product or service. Evaluating possibilities, pricing and competition will help build a credible product or start a service. Re-organizing and implementing necessary changes is essential to sustain in changing markets conditions.

Lastly, success in entrepreneurship and running a small business is not just dependent on the external factors as discussed above but on the internal ones such as the mindset of the entrepreneur. Challenges are abundant in starting a business but the will to find solutions and overcome these challenges is the key.

Designing Great Products: A Startup CEO’s perspective

I had the opportunity to attend iSpirit Foundation’s #PNMeetup: Design great products through experiments – Product Leadership Workshop on 20th April 2013 at TLabs in Noida. 

Avi from iSPIRT put together a delightful, half-day session that brought together a smattering of product people from Delhi-NCR region.  In addition to product managers, CEOs, and senior executives from a wide range of Delhi startups, the icing on the cake was the presence of a hard-hitting product team from Intuit that had travelled all the way from Bangalore to share their experiences with the assembled audience. The Intuit Team included Deepa Bachu (Director, Emerging Market Innovation at Intuit), Samarjit GhoshLalitha RamaniVivek Vijayan & ThiyagaRajan ) 

The Intuit posse had experiences working on a variety of products from the uber-popular Turbo Tax to the socially relevant Fasal and an engaging discussion on their diverse experiences exposed the audience to a wide range of challenges that the Intuit teams faced and the teams’ approach to overcome these challenges.  Many an aspiring entrepreneur has been flummoxed with multiple questions vis-à-vis product development, not limited to prioritizing features, costs, and release cycles and the Intuit team cleared a lot of misconceptions around commonly accepted best-process with their highly structured product management approach.  Intuit’s product management model is largely based around the hypotheses driven approach that, in addition to software development, is the bedrock for business decision-making from optimizing scientific discoveries to underpinning most strategy consulting engagements.  We were walked through a detailed explanation of the Intuit way and were then led to put our newfound knowledge to task with an actual exercise on the streets.

The hour spent on the streets by 25 eager entrepreneurs, braving the Noida summer-heat led to the thread baring of multiple, seemingly unambiguous truths about how we thought about product research, design, and development.  The interesting aspect of the exercise was that that like many frameworks, the Intuit approach brought out its share of naysayers and skeptics among the assembled audience but the healthy discussion that followed enabled multiple perspectives to heard and discussed. 


As a startup-CEO at Studycopter, managing the product development process is an integral part of what I do, day in and day out.  Sharing of notes and perspectives with fellow CEOs and product managers was a unique opportunity for me to test my assumptions and build a new way of looking at problems and coming up with solutions. 

I can write with a reasonable degree of certainty that all participants would share my thoughts about the utility of the aforementioned session and moving forward, I look forward to the Studycopter team and I participating in multiple such meetups to build the intellectual rigor that would be critical in delivering breakthrough product experiences for our customers.

Guest Post by Adi Jain, Founder and Chief Awesomeness Officer at Studycopter, a mobile + online learning platform to enable students to get their best possible scores in competitive exams such as the GMAT and GRE.  

Lean Experimentation as the way to faster progress in product startups

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory (idea) is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong” – Richard Feynman

Building a successful product startup is like trying to win a race driving a vehicle that has less than half its fuel tank filled, whose controls you don’t fully understand and moreover don’t know where the finish line is. What is known is the visibility of runway for next few meters and inspiration from stories of how many has won such race to gain riches.

While the analogy might look far-fetched but startups work under the circumstances of extreme uncertainty.  They might herald around a great idea that they think will change the world there is many things that are unknown – the problem being solved, if their solution is the right one, they have the right team to make it happen and so on.


Risk is the common language that is used to describe and address the elements of uncertainty in life. There are few kinds of uncertainty that a startup has to eliminate as it goes forward on its road to success. Some of these risks are the following

Technology Risk – Can the startup build what it is planning to build with the current state of the art technology?  In many cases this may not be a question but products that are at bleeding edge of technology has to evaluate this question. For technology entrepreneurs this is where the motivation for them to build the product would have first started and thus they start the journey here and spend their most of the time.

Product Risk – While the aspect of can build or not is one thing, the other element startup faces is what kind of feature to build first. What is must-have & nice to have feature.

Execution Risk – Is the startup staffed with right team to get things done. Are they able to pull off what they plan to do or are just paralyzed while coping with ever changing conditions on almost everything.

Customer Risk – Finally whether what the startup is building will be used by a set of users, if they will or somebody else will pay for the usage, recommend it to friends after they have used it.

Market Risk – This is aggregated customer risk, are there enough number of customers who will use, pay & recommend?  Is there a viable way to reach to them, interact with them and also collect from them?


While startups address these risks an important law of life – “Resource are limited”

‘Time is limited’ – Startups would have setup or planned a certain time duration during which they wanted to try out their startup.

‘Money at disposal is limited’- Regardless of how financing is done (self or external) money is always in short supply

‘Energy is limited’ – Ask any entrepreneur who has been at it for couple of years and has not seen any breakthrough in progress, he would tell how jadedness and fatigue starts to set in.

‘Even a supporter’s patience is limited’ – In initial days many encourage to give support , after not seeing much tangible progress for a while there is degradation in their support in kind or even words.

Given that the resources are limited how startups approach addressing the risk matters.

99% of the time the following is how startups address risks

Many startups try to extend their resources by raising money. But that alone is not the resource that is limited. Moreover even after extension through infusion of money if startups can’t remove customer risk then the same fate applies.

A workable approach however could be trying to address elimination of customer risk first and also broaden it to market risk.

The most important thing for any product startup is to reach product/market fit .

By focusing on eliminating customer risk is the fastest way to reach there.

Over the last few years a lot of learning has been understood on how to eliminate customer risks, these learning are well documented as customer development and lean experimentation.

Few key principles of these are the following

  • All statements are assumptions or guess
  • All answer lie outside the building
  • Change guesses into facts using experiment with customers
  • Start by building uncomfortably small prototypes to test with customers.
  • Run those experiment and measure on the metrics
  • Incorporate learning into next experiment
  • Move through the loop quickly