Product Innovation Consultant Rene Bastijans on Uncovering Your Product’s True Competition

Innovation Consultant Rene Bastijans on Unlocking Growth for Lean B2B Startups

Product innovation consultant Rene Bastijans had his dream job. In 2011, he was working in the small corporate R&D team of the largest education company in the world researching emerging technologies, developing prototypes for next-generation learning products and running workshops with intrapreneurs.

The company, Pearson, had been hit hard by the arrival of the iPad and other e-readers. They wanted to figure out what to do with new technologies.

Fast forward to 2015, Rene had moved from London to sunny Portugal to join Beta-i, the number one entrepreneurship and innovation organization in Lisbon, where he led their corporate startup accelerator Protechting. Out of a passion for The Lean Startup, he started teaching early-stage startups how to apply Lean Startup principles to validate their business models.

Rene now helps Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies understand how to build and sell products customers will buy through Jobs to be Done research. The insights gained from the research allow his clients to uncover revenue potential, create effective marketing messaging to make their products stand out and generate demand for their products in sales conversations that will win them new business.

I really enjoyed our discussion. In it, you’ll learn:

  • Why businesses often fail to implement an evidence-based innovation process.
  • Why companies are – more than ever – feeling the pressure to innovate.
  • Why Rene focuses on two frameworks: The Lean Startup and Jobs to be Done, and how both frameworks can work together.
  • How to use Jobs to be Done to uncover the wants and struggles of your target customers.
  • Who truly determines the value of your software.
  • How to rethink your product’s competition.

You can listen to the full interview with product innovation consultant Rene Bastijans below:

Etienne Garbugli (EG): What are some of the methodologies you use in your work?

Rene Bastijans (RB): As a product innovation consultant, I am pretty much focused on two. What I use from The Lean Startup is the fast experimentation, helping people create experiments that are lean to replace guesses about the business model or the product. From Jobs to be Done, I like the customer interviews. It’s recreating the customer purchase timeline from what prompted them to start looking for a solution working towards the purchase. I like experimentation on the one end and customer interviews talking about the events that led up to a particular product purchase.

EG: Does the Job to be Done framework help feed the experimentation or is it more the reverse?

RB: I would say the the outcomes from Jobs to be Done research fit in very nicely in The Lean Startup. That’s why I like these two a lot. Also, Design Thinking addresses the question what jobs could our products help the customers get done. With Lean Startup, it’s more about should we build the product in the first place? The outcomes or outputs of Jobs to be Done research fit in nicely into experimentation. Are we addressing the right job here, the right thing? People tend to be solution-driven. They start off with a solution and then try to mend it to a customer segment instead of thinking are we addressing the right struggle in the first place?

EG: That’s a great way to sum it up: Lean Startup is should you build it, design thinking is what should you be building and Jobs to be Done is why would you build it.

RB: It will help you understand the issues we want to address as opposed to assuming somebody has a problem and therefore we have a solution. It’s really understanding that, first of all, we can go and experiment and find out whether what we believe is true is actually true.

EG: How important is innovation and innovation management to organizations today?

RB: If you ask anyone, whether it’s a CEO of a startup or the leadership team in a big organization, everyone will say that innovation is important, of course. We need to be innovative, we need to do innovation because startups pop up in our industry and eat our lunch. We want to defend ourselves against those. But, when it comes to giving people the time and space to implement an evidence-based innovation process you can see it all falls down. They actually don’t believe in it. They don’t give it the attention it deserves.

If it’s a public company, they have to think about their shareholders and make sure they hit their targets for the next quarter. People think very short term and, of course, innovation takes a long time. It’s not very predictable. The biggest struggle that these companies have is that they are very good at executing on the current business model, but they are not that good at thinking ahead and giving innovative ideas the space to maybe become the next product or service.

EG: In a way, investing in other lines of business that may not be showing returns already?

RB: That’s right. Innovation is not treated differently than the current business. They don’t have the people in place. They don’t have the patience. They don’t have the metrics to measure something more innovative. They’re using the current metrics that they have for the cash cow – the main line of business – and try to apply those to innovation projects. That’s when they fail and they say, look we had this lapse for two years and nothing has come from it. What have you guys been doing? We have just been wasting money. People get disappointed very quickly because they really don’t understand it.

EG: What do you feel are the challenges of innovators working in a B2B environment?

RB: From my perspective, it’s a different setup and it’s very complex in terms of decision-making. It’s not as easy as going to a consumer who has just bought an app. You must find out who can make the decision to buy. Who has the authority to actually get a project going? There’s buyers and there’s users and people need to have a way of reaching the right people and getting that started. That’s probably the biggest challenge. They might not actually understand the process in those companies because they have never spoken to anyone in those companies. They don’t know how those purchase decisions are being made. The last time the business bought a piece of software, how many people were involved, how many layers of management had to actually sign off? What’s the budget? All this intel they can get by speaking to people within these businesses.

EG: In other words, figure out what people’s wins are with your software and what value it brings to the company? I always find interesting how different those wins can be for different stakeholders or for the employee themselves. It tends to not even always be the software itself but what is around the software that they value.

RB: Yes, and the value of your software to the buyer or to the end user is actually determined by them. Can they make progress? Can they overcome their struggles? Can they get to where they want to be with that software?

Let me give you an example. I work with a company in the eLearning space. The CEO believes that this software that they are building and selling is about sharing with your team. What turned out is that the buyers were struggling so much with having time to do their work that they were “hiring” this online learning software to be able to push people to learn by themselves so that they could actually have time to do stuff that really matters to them.

They want to get work done. There are a lot of employees leaving all the time and it takes a lot of time away from the decision-makers. An online platform that can onboard a new employee or a new sales rep is really attractive to these people; it actually buys them time. It is not about knowledge-sharing or features, it’s about getting time back so I can do the things that matter to me.

EG: How have you been using the ideas from Lean B2B?

RB: I’ve been using the customer interviews and the advice on finding early adopters from the book. I have got this idea of who my customers might be, whom might have a budget or whom might be trying some solutions already, but they’re not really getting me anywhere. How do I find these people? Something that’s actionable and practical is really helpful. I am still sharing to this date. I have got other resources now but, you were one of the contributors to give people real hands-on practical advice on how to get started looking for people I want to be helping.

EG: Do you find that problem interviews and Jobs to be Done work together hand in hand or are they for different purposes?

RB: They are very complimentary. Jobs fit in very well in the beginning when nobody is sure what kind of struggles they want to help solve. It also helps to have some questions similar to yours that you can ask in conversations with your prospects and early adopters. I pick and I let my customers also pick the questions that they think would help in getting the most out of these interviews.

EG: What innovation advice would you give to organizations operating in competitive industries today?

RB: The key for me is in the word competitive. I would like people to rethink competition and markets fundamentally. Because competition is not only restricted to the products that look similar to yours; it is defined by customers using it. Whatever they are using today that helps them with the struggles they have to make progress is your competition. It doesn’t have to be the product that’s in the same category. It can be calling my friend or pen and paper.

Understand what your customers use today, that’s your real competition. Unless you can help them make progress, they will not give up what they’re currently using. Secondly, I would say to become a bit more customer-centric by really spending time studying the customer’s lifecycle and how they experience their jobs and work. As opposed to saying: we have been in business for 20 years… we know what they want, we will build this thing and they will buy it.

EG: Thank you for your time.

RB: Thank you.

More on Innovation

Download the First 4 Chapters Free

Learn the major differences between B2B and B2C customer development, how to think about business ideas, and how to assess a venture’s risk in this 70-page sampler.

Working on a B2B Startup?

Learn B2B customer development with our free email course: