Welcome to the third installment of the Physical Product Experiment! If you missed the previous two installments, go back and check those out first before reading on. You can find those posts here: Physical Product Experiment [PPE #1] and Physical Product Experiment [PPE #2].
In this installment, Physical Product Experiment [PPE #3], we’re exploring prototypes! But first, here’s a quick recap of where I started and where I am today:
I am experimenting with a physical product: a productivity calendar I hope will be like nothing else out there. In the first post in this series, I shared details about the product itself, and where I’m starting my research. In the second post, I discussed how I am going to be reaching out for validation and feedback.
Regarding that validation and feedback, I mentioned in the previous post that we were hoping for twenty volunteers to help us test out the calendar with an actual, real-world task: writing the draft of a book in ninety days. And guess what? We have our volunteers! We were grateful to receive more than 120 applications, and then whittled that down to twenty-one applicants who had a wide variety of backgrounds with a wide variety of reasons for achieving the same goal: writing a book. That variety is best for testing too. Although I wish I could have picked all 120+ applicants, the cost and logistics of shipping the prototype package (more on that below!) would have been a little too much to manage at this beta test stage.
For the twenty-one applicants we picked, we’ve already sent you an email announcing your part in this exciting experiment! But I wanted to also mention you here, as I truly appreciate your support in this! The twenty-one volunteers for the beta stage of the Physical Product Experiment are:
- Jess W.
- Barbara C.
- Alex S.
- Greg S.
- Benny H.
- Nakita R.
- Mary J.
- Stacy B.
- Kristie W.
- Kristen D.
- Jeremy C.
- Bree K.
- Kelsi M.
- Shannon K.
- Russ K.
- Jami B.
- Nick H.
Thanks for being willing to go on this journey with me!
For the others who reached out, thank you so much. Unfortunately, we had to limit the number of volunteers, so some of you didn’t make it. But I truly appreciate your amazing outpouring of support. That, in and of itself, is validating for the experiment. Thank you.
Now, there’s a reason why we limited this volunteer group to twenty-one, besides the cost. With small groups, you have a more controlled environment, which is better for communication. With larger groups, it’s more challenging to keep on top of all of the feedback—you risk miscommunication, focus is split between too many people, and you tend to lose sight of the goal. In this case, the goal is to determine if the physical product will help you with your desired outcome.
The product needs to serve its audience.
That’s the whole purpose of this experiment—to create a physical product that will be a game-changer in the lives of those who use it. With a smaller, more focused group of “beta” testers, we can avoid creating something like the universal remote—with hundreds of buttons and a minuscule percentage of useful ones.
The MVP Stage
Right now, we’re nearly at the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) stage. We’ll soon have the basic components of the product—a prototype—to ship to our volunteers so they can start testing it.
Once the MVP is complete, we’ll share that with our volunteers so they can go through the process of engaging with and actually using the productivity calendar to help them write the first draft of their book in ninety days. And, as the first-round test group, the volunteers will be taking notes of what works well and what needs improvement, from the concepts to the workflow. As I mentioned before, I want this productivity calendar to be the tool to help engaged and aspiring people to achieve targeted goals. If the volunteers think otherwise, we need to remedy that until it does help!
Now, one really cool aspect of this is that the volunteers signed up, for the most part, because of an expressed interest in getting unstuck. They’ve wanted to write the first draft of their book, but have struggled to finish, find motivation, or lacked the accountability to cross the finish line. My goal is that this physical product will be their winning system, their blueprint for success.
Productivity Calendar Prototype Components
My team and I have devised three components to this physical product, all designed to work with each other as part of an integrated method for being super productive and achieving goals. Those components are the calendar, the workbook, and the community.
Each of our twenty-one volunteers will receive a package, shipped to their physical address. The experience will start the moment they open the box, which will include the calendar, workbook, and a welcome sheet that will explain how this experiment will work, when it will start, and a thank you message from me. It will be an exciting unboxing to kick off the goal-seeking journey with a bang.
Let’s look at each one of the prototype components individually.
1. The Calendar
This whole journey began with the idea of creating a better calendar for planning projects and improving productivity. In its original form, it was going to be a large, mostly blank wall calendar to incorporate whatever projects or tasks you would have within your life. Since then, the idea has grown into something much more targeted: a calendar that will be used in conjunction with a workbook to help guide a person through the process of achieving a very specific goal. The first goal we are tackling is writing the first draft of your book in ninety days. This is just one of many goals that there will be workbooks for in the future. (We’ll get to the workbooks in a minute.)
When the testing starts with our twenty-one volunteers, the calendar will be what we call a medium-fidelity version, between low-fidelity (a simple sketch or wireframe) and high-fidelity (fully designed from top to bottom). This medium-fidelity version will allow the volunteers to do what they need to do, but the product itself won’t be in its 100 percent finished design in terms of final colors, fonts, and material.
As for the size and shape of the calendar, our vision is to have a giant wall calendar. But we still need to determine the precise size and shape that will be best for the people who use it based on placement (it shouldn’t take up the entire wall!) and usefulness (giving people room to write, place stickers, engage with their goal in a meaningful, structured way).
A big reason why I think the calendar is extremely important is not only for its tracking purposes or goal-setting capabilities, but for its place as a daily reminder. The calendar itself will be quite large. So, when you put it up on the wall in your writing cave or office, you will have that tangible, in-plain-view reminder every time you sit down, which I hope will be an excellent motivator. At least this is what I visualize in my head.
It’s like what Hal Elrod talks about in his book, The Miracle Morning, when he describes the SAVERS method of establishing a miracle morning. The “V” in SAVERS stands for “Visualization.” Another way to put it is to imagine (visualize) how you want things to pan out in the future. That’s a big motivator for me.
When I was writing Will It Fly?, for instance, I loved the idea that readers would be going through and finding value in the book’s exercises. I was motivated by visualizing people reading the book, going through the exercises, sending me messages about how the book helped them. It may have never happened, but the idea that it could motivated me to keep writing. But guess what? It did happen, and I receive messages from readers almost every day!
The same is true for this physical product. I’m super motivated by the idea that this productivity calendar and workbook will help people achieve their goals. And, for those using the product, the calendar itself is a visualization exercise. When you see your goals and dreams in plain sight on the wall, your daily reminder to work on specific tasks in order to achieve those goals and dreams, it makes it easier to make those visualizations become a reality because it’s there in a place where you see it every day. It’s the classic power of positive thinking: you envision your goals, which helps to reinforce them and keep you on track to achieve them.
I am so excited to see how you use the calendar—putting it up on the wall, how you interact with it on a daily basis, and the reactions shared with me and the SPI community as a whole. That’s what truly motivates me to make the best possible product that I can.
2. The Workbook
The workbook will be more than a blank journal. I love those type of journals and others like The Five Minute Journal, which you know I rave about. They’ve helped me immensely in my business career, and as a writer. But I wanted to create something that stands out. That’s one of the reasons why we’re calling it a workbook as opposed to a journal. This workbook will have more structure, with both journaling opportunities and instructional exercises geared toward the specific goal it’s addressing. It will include guidelines for people as they progress through the ninety-day timeline of writing a first book draft.
My team, especially Matt and Janna, are seasoned writers who have a lot of experience in writing and editing, in addition to helping authors and author-entrepreneurs with strategy in the areas of book publishing, book cover design, and brand voice development. Matt, who’s the CEO of Winning Edits, helped on the editing and content strategy of my first book, Let Go. I connected with Janna through Matt. Her experience in running a literary magazine (Under the Gum Tree), and overall editorial strategy is also a necessary addition to this experiment.
So the workbook will be a companion to the calendar, a tool to check in with yourself and reflect on what is working, what isn’t working, and take notes on potential blockers or distractions. It will include a daily tracking element that will correspond with the calendar. It will also be an integral tool to help people overcome the biggest struggles associated with the goal they are working toward. Each workbook guide and goal we tackle with this product line will have its own section dedicated to overcoming the most common struggle people have while working toward that goal. It’s another differentiator for these workbooks, and it could mean the difference between someone actually pushing through versus not moving forward at all.
For this product prototype, the workbook will help people overcome one of the biggest struggles of writing a book: writer’s block. Yes, that dreaded writer’s block, the bane of every writer’s existence, the thing that keeps you from doing what you want to be doing: writing! But, the good news is that the workbook, along with the calendar, will guide you past it.
The last aspect of the workbook I am really looking forward to seeing how people use is the stickers. Yes, the workbook and calendar will come with stickers to add that visual oomph to your daily productivity.
3. The Community
We have the calendar and the workbook. The third component is the community, an element that is obviously really important when you’re doing any sort of beta launch with a founding group of volunteers because you want a place for them to leave feedback and to express what they’re going through so that you can understand how they are using your product and what is going through their mind.
The community component will also be a part of the final product launch, which is not something you see that often. Typically, community aspects of launches are part of the beta or testing period only. But I think it’s massively important to keep for the public launch too. In my experience, a group working toward a common goal has a greater chance for success. There’s more accountability and camaraderie in a group setting—like the gym partner who cheers you on during that last rep. Plus, having a community creates a space to ask questions, get feedback, and even provide a little bit of friendly competition!
We’ll also be testing out a platform for housing the community. Something different from what I’ve used in the past for other launches (but I do use it regularly with my team). That platform is Slack.
If you’re not familiar, Slack is an amazing and powerful communication tool that can be used to create and foster conversation around specific topics or projects. A lot of people are using Slack nowadays for hosting their communities and it has a lot of benefits. My team uses it internally and I know a number of other teams who use it as well, but I’ve been noticing that a lot of people who sell products offer a Slack community so that their customers can communicate with one another and the product owner as well. That’s pretty cool, and I want the same for this calendar product.
There’s also a cool tool for managing Slack communities called SlackPass.io, which seems like it will become an important part of the administrative process for my team. Some companies that charge for the communities also use this tool to collect payments and manage membership.
Slack comes with a number of advantages. It has an intuitive, and easy-to-use interface. And, one of my favorite features, you can archive conversations, which is something that cannot be done with Facebook Groups, for example. Facebook Groups are great, and they are popular right now, but they may not be best suited for longer term, goal-related processes like this. Slack, on the other hand, empowers everybody in the community to engage on the level that suits them best. And, for me, as the one overseeing the community, I can separate conversations into channels based on certain topics.
For example, there may be a channel specifically for questions for me to answer. There could be a channel specifically related to wins that people can share. There could also be a channel specifically created for all of the random conversations, which is fairly common. For Team Flynn, we have a similar Slack channel called “Giggles” and that’s for posting random funnies and silly gifs within the team without getting in the way of other SPI business-related conversations.
The Slack component for the beta volunteer group is going to be important because it’s going to help us validate whether or not it’s a viable option for hosting a large community working toward a common goal. I do feel like it’s a great option with a lot of upsides in terms of cohesion and inspiration, but we won’t know until we test it out. Of course, people are used to Facebook—I have Facebook Groups for specific products I’ve created—but I wanted to test out Slack as an option and this is the perfect opportunity to do that.
Branding the Physical Product
The final thing I want to talk about is related to the branding of the physical product. My team and I have been going back and forth a lot on the branding, but we’ve come to what we believe is going to be the final brand name (not the product name, but a name for the whole brand):
We chose the name Atlas for this product line for a number of reasons. By definition, Atlas is a collection of maps, tables, and charts designed to help guide someone, so it makes sense for a collection of workbooks that will help guide people toward a goal. And who can forget Atlas from Greek mythology? In the mythic stories, Atlas is a Titan who revolts against the gods, but is ultimately forced by Zeus to carry the burden of the heavens on his shoulders. You know the sculpture with the figure holding the planet. That’s Atlas, a perfect metaphor for the strength and resilience required to accomplish a sometimes daunting goal.
For this brand, you can think of Atlas as the parent company or publishing imprint, and each of the individual Atlas products will have its own name. We are essentially creating a new business unit within the SPI universe that will have its own line of products. We’ve been throwing around a number of different ideas for actual product names and some are very obvious and very clear, some are more clever than clear, and some are more brandable than others.
The truth is, at this point, product names don’t really matter. That’s an important lesson for us to realize. We can still accomplish our goal of testing this product and seeing if it’s viable based on the feedback from our beta volunteers. That’s the key right now. Getting the beta product into the hands of our volunteers, getting feedback on specific problems, and finding solutions for those problems. We can’t put the cart before the horse, which is a thing that happens all the time in online business. Starting your own thing is a really exciting prospect, and coming up with a name for your business, creating a website, ordering business cards—all of this is about getting too excited for how your business looks, and now how it serves.
A prime example of this is Instagram. Before it was Instagram, it was Burbn. Yes, after bourbon, the beverage. Kevin Systrom, the co-founder of Instagram, is a fan of Kentucky whiskeys, so he called it Burbn. Back then it wasn’t what Instagram is today. It was an app that enabled users to check in at particular locations (à la Foursquare), plan for future check-ins, earn points for hanging out with friends, and post pictures of their meet-ups. Fast forward to today, and we have Instagram—a completely different name, and a mostly different app—primarily because the Burbn feature that people raved about the most was the photo filters. See how that worked out?
I’m not saying that Atlas will be the next Instagram-level product. I just think it’s a fascinating look at how things change over time based on the market, feedback, and testing. The name itself, Burbn, was probably far less important than getting than app out there, seeing how people used it, what they liked about it, and what they didn’t like about it.
The fact is, with this physical product of mine, you never know how it’s going to go. Maybe the calendar is the highlight for users, and the workbook is less of a draw, so it becomes a bonus add-on. Or maybe it’s the workbook that people like, and the calendar isn’t used at all. You never know. That’s why launching this first go-around with a small group of people is the right move.
The plan now is to validate this product with the twenty-one volunteers, and to start designing and building out the products, which is going to be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to that. But, most importantly, the experience that our volunteers have during this initial phase will be crucial to the product’s design and look.
After that, we’re going to run three to four more goals (similar to writing the first draft of a book in ninety days) through this calendar/workbook/community product before we fully nail it down. We’ll also work with other influencers who have goals that their audience may want to achieve that may be suited for a system like this, and reach out to those who may also want to be a part of this. Obviously, there are higher-level business decisions to be made with that and partnerships involved and that sort of thing, but that’s how I hope this will scale.
We are currently considering holding a Kickstarter campaign in November, when there may be four or five different goals that people can choose from initially. And then, if that works out well, possibly add on other goal ideas. The sky’s the limit! This could potentially become something that could house hundreds of goals down the road and become a subscription model where people would pay annually to get access to the library of goals that they can achieve every quarter using the calendar as the foundation, and then mapping their new goals on top of it every time.
It’s really exciting. It’s really fun. It’s different. It’s challenging. But we’re trying to take it one step at a time. The first step is getting our twenty-one volunteers through the process and collecting their feedback.
Yes, we’re eventually going to have to design the thing. We’re eventually going to have to figure out how to manufacture it, ship it, fulfill it, store it, and all of that. The materials of the product will also be important. What is it made of? How will it be manufactured? What will the cost be, and are there ways to save on cost without compromising quality?
These are all important questions and should definitely be thought about early in the process when you’re developing a physical product. But, at the same time, we are still focused on just proving the concept. Materials and manufacturing are important, but without a working prototype, that stuff can wait. Throughout this testing process, there will definitely be opportunities to try various types of calendar material. For example, dry-erase material versus one that’s also magnetic, and taking into account multiple use, versatility, durability, and cost.
But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting my businesses, it’s this: before you spend a ton of time and money on what people use, it’s always best to focus first on why and how people use things. We’re on our way to figuring out those things, and our twenty-one amazing volunteers will help us get there. Let’s prove the concept of the product, let’s nail down the solution, and then we’ll go from there.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for an in-depth look at branding in Physical Product Experiment [PPE #4]!