Tech Career Insights: Interview with Simon Hartley, WumDrop: Achieving Product-Market Fit Without Experience

Interview with Simon Hartley, WumDrop: Achieving Product-Market Fit Without Experience

By Jomiro Eming

When trying to achieve product-market fit, two things that normally help are knowledge of the specific industry, and some kind of background in business. However, Founder of WumDrop, Simon Hartley, had neither, but still managed to succeed. What helped him win were end user research, speaking to people who have done it before, and a laser focus from start to finish.

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When starting a business, finding a good product-market is one of the keys to success. Having experience in the industry, or some kind of business management knowledge, are normally requisites for getting this right.

Simon, however came in from the left field with a degree in script-writing, and still managed to build a successful business. Rather than formal experience, he focused on three things to get product-market fit:

  • Laser focus
  • End user research
  • Advice from people who have done it before

Not having a background in tech, transport, or startup culture actually gave Simon a pretty cool advantage. He found that not being blocked by presumptions of ‘best practice’ allowed him to think more creatively about problems he was facing, and also meant that his focus was clearer:

“It’ll help you focus on what you want your end user experience to be, without any of the anxiety or baggage of what you believe a best practice is. Without that being baked into you at all, it will make you more creative, it will make your problem solving focused on the end user’s experience, which will make your product more compelling.”

Laser focus

Focus is important for anyone, but it’s especially important when it’s all you have. Not having the experience his competitors might, Simon had to make sure he kept his direction really clear.

When he started, Simon had to pick what he wanted his company to achieve. He opted to focus on solving one specific problem first: He wanted to deliver diapers to single-parents, or parents that were responsible for the child that day, where it was hard to go shopping for a necessity like diapers.

Instead of weekly groceries, he zoomed-in on a very clear, very specific problem. That laser focus immersed him in a specific problem that he was trying to solve for a specific end user, and enabled him to figure out that diapers weren’t the problem people needed help solving. Without that laser focus, he wouldn’t have had that insight.

This also gave him a really short feedback loop, which helped him understand what part of the process was a pain-point for end users. With that insight, he leveraged his end users to conduct user research, and develop a simple, clear, and focused mission statement.

End user research

In the beginning, Simon’s strategy was based on assumptions about the market he was trying to reach. Only once he focused on delivering diapers, and running into issues with third-party couriers that made delivery even harder, did Simon realise that he might not be solving the problem at all. Enter: end user research.

If you don’t understand your end user, then no amount of experience is going to help you make a product that actually solves their specific problem. Speaking to the people he was trying to reach gave Simon valuable insight into his end user’s world, and helped him reverse engineer a solution for their specific problem:

“If you don’t have empathy for the fact that the people you are designing solutions for live in a completely different world to you, then you aren’t going to be good at reverse engineering useful solutions that those specific solve problems.”

Simon quite literally spoke to the people who used his service, as well as those who didn’t.

In the beginning, WumDrop was only delivering diapers. Simon spent a lot of time walking around an office park, and pitching the problem that he thought WumDrop was solving to people he came across. “Inevitably,” he explains, “the person would go ‘I’m 55, my child is your age, I don’t need to buy diapers. But, I do have these laptop sleeves, or whatever, that needs delivery. Do you want to give that a go?’”

With that feedback, Simon realised that his end user’s weren’t struggling with diapers, as much as they were struggling with unreliable couriers. Products arriving ‘sometime between nine and five’ wasn’t easier than simply going to the shops: “We realised that the opportunity was a delivery service that was accurate, granular, and a better experience, a more fluid experience, than walking into a store.”

Simon used that insight to distil his mission, namely: Removing anxiety from the delivery process.

Advice from people who have done it before

Although he knew what his end users needed, with a focused mission to achieve it, Simon still needed to figure out how to turn all of this feedback into a feasible reality. Without any experience in transport or tech, he needed to reach out to people who did, and learn from them.

The problems that were preventing him from implementing this feedback were:

  • Needing to rely on third party couriers for deliveries
  • Not having any capital for his own fleet of drivers
  • Not knowing what he needed to build a feasible delivery service
  • Not having a network of industry professionals to rely on

Instead of working through multiple solutions, and potentially wasting precious time and money, Simon turned to people in the industry, who are already doing it well.

Fortunately, Simon knew someone he could reach out to. Rob Wilkinson, founder of Butler’s Pizza, agreed to chat to Simon and help him understand what he needed to get his delivery service off the ground:

“He volunteered a lot of his time and advice,” Simon explains, “and by the end of it, we had a good idea of how to cope with getting our own driver network. So, we started doing the deliveries ourselves again.”

By learning from people in the industry, Simon was able to:

  • Come up with viable solutions for specific problems and use cases
  • Save time testing solutions he had no guarantee would work
  • Start building a network of professionals, that he can use for advice and help later on

These things three together ended up being as powerful - if not more powerful - than any number of years of experience Simon could have had.

By keeping a really clear focus on what problem he was trying to solve, and speaking to both his end users and people with industry experience about how he could solve it better, he was able to successfully achieve product-market fit, and is running a really successful business because of it.


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