How product managers can get customer insights from a community to create a competitive advantage
Three years ago I was looking for a wifi camera I could put in our RV so I could check on our dog when we needed to leave her in the motorhome. The leading brand cost about $150. I tried a brand that was new to me offering a wifi camera for $29. It worked great with the cloud features I expected. This year I was looking for a robotic vacuum cleaner for our house. The highly rated and recognized brand was about $800. I went back to the company I got the camera from and learned they also had a robotic vacuum, complete with LIDAR, which I got on a Cyber Monday sale for $200.
I wanted to learn how this company creates competitive products, differentiating on cost while offering comparative capabilities that equate to much higher value for customers.
Today, we get to find out together as the VP of Product for Wyze joins us. His name is Steve McIrvin and we met a few years as we both had kids competing in Science Olympiad. Before joining Wyze, Steve was last at Amazon.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[3:15] How does Wyze compete?
Wyze is a home automation company that is community-driven. A group of passionate users in our social media and forum communities drives our roadmap and and helps us understand the problems we need to solve. From there, if we’re getting into a brand new category, we follow a fast-follower strategy. We help external engineers understand the product requirements and user needs and rely on their expertise. For our core business like cameras, plugs, and bulbs, we’re investing in internal innovation, especially artificial intelligence. We’re pushing the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning. For example, the Wyze Cam, a security camera, detects people, pets, and packages, and we’re beta testing face recognition.
When our customers want a new solution, we try to find that solution, invent something, or enhance the features of an existing product. For example, people who had the Wyze Cam were looking for a way to power it, because they didn’t have an outdoor outlet near the camera. We came up with the solution of putting an adapter with a USB port in a light bulb socket. The light bulb still screws in the socket, and the USB port power the camera. We were extending an adjacent capability. This is the most fun kind of innovation—when you can quickly see a problem and immediately come up with a novel solution.
[8:00] Tell us more about how you’re developing your core capabilities, especially AI visual recognition.
One of our new service features is Wyze Anything Recognition. Training a computer vision model is very hard and usually requires an AI research team, but we wanted to make that problem accessible to anyone. Wyze’s tagline is to make great technology accessible. If you have a use case where you want your camera to recognize something, you can train it to do that. For example, my kids are always leaving their laundry in the washing machine, so I can put a camera there and train it to recognize the closed and open washing machine and trigger an alert when it sees an undesirable state. There are probably a hundred different problems like that around your home that you could use this feature to solve.
We’ve done limited beta testing on the Wyze Anything Recognition so far, but the results have been good. We get suggestions that we can put in our main model, like people want it to recognize a dog barking or baby crying. When someone in our community takes a video, the app asks if they would like to submit the video to improve Wyze’s AI. A lot of people submit those, so we get the training data we need to make the program better for the community.
[12:08] How did the community become a core aspect of Wyze’s strategy?
Our CEO calls our community the crown jewels. We protect them and are amazed at how much they contribute.
When we started in 2017, a lot of people didn’t want to spend $150 on a camera. When we came out with the $19.99 Wyze Cam, we inadvertently developed an amazing, passionate community of early adopters who told all their friends about it, and it went word-of-mouth viral. We asked them what other products they would use. The reception to all these products has been very strong. Every launch of a new generation of camera has been stronger and stronger, driven by huge spikes in interest when we tell our community members about them.
[14:2] How do you use the community and keep people engaged?
People engage with us on multiple different levels. We have several different Facebook groups, and several of them include people who volunteer to help shepherd others. I meet with those volunteers at least monthly to listen to their opinions and make them feel like Wyze employees. They do a ton of work on Wyze’s behalf, so they’re like superstar employees. We always include them on our early betas and on alphas if we can. They give us raw feedback and make our products so much better. They do the very complex tests not even our internal people are doing. As we grow with new categories, the complexity grows exponentially. We’re looking for people who have a ton of Wyze devices and devices from other manufacturers to see how well they work together. Folks in our community are extremely diligent about doing regression testing on all the combinations and permutations that would be in the real world, so we can see how it will scale to a larger customer base.
Our community is a huge competitive advantage, and it really impacts our vision of making great technology accessible to everyone. Accessible means it can be used successfully by someone who’s not a smart home techie, and it’s a low enough price that customers can afford to bring it into their homes. We heavily rely on our community to tell us when we don’t meet the bar, and we’ve killed some products after beta testing when they didn’t meet it.
[19:59] What do you do as VP of Product to make the community work?
Listening is the most important skill I can bring to the table. I’m not connected with specific details, so I might not have used a feature a customer is talking about, but I will listen, take good notes, and go back to find out what we can do to make the experience better. We don’t just give lip service to customer feedback. We implement the feedback, find the root causes of problems, and figure out where we need to improve to make the overall ecosystem and customer experience better.
I let our community in on secret insights. For the last few months, I’ve been sharing our roadmap. I’m super open about what’s coming and what we’re excited about. The community is very passionate about hearing insider knowledge, and they feel included in the “employee” secret group.
We only share the roadmap with people who have really proven themselves and are very invested in the ecosystem, and we have nondisclosure agreements. When I first joined Wyze, the first thing I noticed is that every member of the community referred to the products as our products. They felt like they were already part of Wyze. That warms my heart because we’re on the same team and doing this together. It’s encouraging to me to see that we’re unleashing technology that people are solving problems with, enjoying using, and getting a lot out of.
We flood them with alpha, beta and finished hardware. We also provide some exclusive treats like a Wyze Cam in a specific color for our top volunteers.
[27:03] Is your community composed of only lead users? How do you make sure it’s representative of your market?
Our community is all power users, and sometimes I have to explain to the community leaders that we’re making a decision to reach a different market segment. The power users use 100% of the features, and if we came out with every feature they request, it would be too costly and overwhelming, so it wouldn’t be accessible. We create simpler products that the majority of our users will use, and we let the power users know about some workarounds and hacks to get our products to do what they want.
Action Guide: Put the information Steve shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious . . . and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney, Meet the Robinsons Movie
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.