If you look that the history of great B2B products, they all have an underlying theme – they have taken a business that was fundamentally (and inevitably) changing and built a product that would facilitate this transformation. In the hindsight, all those products look blindingly obvious, but the reality is far from it.
The existing tools and methods are usually so ingrained that it’s hard to say what could be done differently. But if you look closely, the businesses / processes that are about to be transformed show the tell-tale signs of the impending change. The most obvious being their users who are already using other tools and hacks to achieve their objectives in the new world order.
Noticeboard is a product that is at the cusp of one such transformation – communication. More specifically, communication for the blue collared workers or field staff.
"Given that these workers were ‘on ground’, they were largely off the grid until smartphones became ubiquitous"
While their counterparts in the offices, desk workers, have had their fair share of attention from product makers with all kinds of communication tools imaginable – from Intranet Messengers to Skype, Gmail, Webex, Slack… - the field staff hasn’t really kept pace.
Given that these workers were ‘on ground’, they were largely off the grid until smartphones became ubiquitous (while their desk counterparts had telephones and PCs much before that).
"Communication needs to be efficient, automated, trackable and indexable. Not to mention - controlled"
Before we dive into the opportunity that has been created by this changing landscape, let’s step back a little and try to understand the underlying needs of line managers as they communicate with their field staff:
- Daily updates
- Small training packets
- Performance metrics
- Product updates
- Salary/bonus info
- Feedback / grievance
- Data collection
- Inventory updates
- Competitions and rewards
- …and so much more
"All of these communications ‘supposedly’ still happen today, only in a painfully inefficient way"
On top of this, the communication needs to be efficient, automated, trackable and indexable. Not to mention - controlled. You want to be able to define hierarchies and communication flows. This might be news to white collar workers who are more used to a flat communication structure, but ask any front-line manager and you’d know just how important it is to control this flow, especially when there are thousands of field staff on your rolls.
"When a business problem becomes acute enough that companies spend development resources in solving it themselves - you know you’ve got yourself a potential market"
Now add all this up, and you have an obvious problem at hand. Of course, no one is going to wait it out for the perfect solution. All of these communications ‘supposedly’ still happen today, only in a painfully inefficient way. On one hand you have companies sending bulk SMS notices to their field staff everyday, and on the other hand you have field managers managing 10 whatsapp groups of 50 people each for different field locations.
It’s obviously suboptimal, and gets very messy very quickly. That’s not it, we also came across companies that had extended their Slack deployment to the field force - only to spend countless more hours customizing it and unsuccessfully training their staff to use it well, and eventually pulling the plug.
The only ones who seemed to have nailed it are the ones who built this tool from grounds up. We spoke to quite a few such companies, and all had a common thread - their field-staff were customer facing, and they placed enormous value on the quality of their customer interaction. And that was the last sign we needed. When a business problem becomes acute enough that companies spend development resources in solving it themselves - you know you’ve got yourself a potential market for a B2B product.
"The most promising part about Noticeboard is that it has a wide applicability across industries, and is not bound by geographies"
Vishal, Vishesh, and Sarath saw this opportunity first hand (while working at Myntra)...and smelled something big. The first prototype was built for the logistics team of Myntra and it was an immediate success.
One of the biggest hits was the ability for delivery boys to be able to share their moments - pictures mostly. Someone posted a photograph of his new born baby and got congratulatory messages from all over the country. People that had never met each other felt a lot more connected. While this bonding was a great by-product of the tool; it also did its job of streamlining communication beautifully.
Managers could see who got the message, and who needed to be reminded. Feedback became a lot more open with initiatives like Ask Me Anything for the ground staff. Incentives, targets, scorecards became easily accessible to everyone. It became easy to pass on training notes (simple stuff such as do’s and don’t as you greet a customer) and gauge preparedness on the ground level.
Since then, the Noticeboard team has gone on to do successful deployments with multiple organizations. Both in new-age and traditional industries. The most promising part about Noticeboard is that it has a wide applicability across industries, and is not bound by geographies.
Having said that, we’d be the first to admit that getting this product right is no easy task. One can imagine the wide array of communication objectives, workflows and protocols that exist in organizations of different size and scale. It is very easy to miss the larger picture and end up with a product that is too clunky to scale. And that’s where our faith in Noticeboard team is rock solid.
Sarath is one of the most thoughtful product managers, and has made tremendous impact at fast growing businesses where product evolution happens at dizzying speed. Ditto for Vishal and Vishesh who are both top notch leaders and executors, and have made a remarkable contribution to their businesses in the past. Between the three of them, we found a team that could be both visionary, and focused on the details of the execution.
We reckon we’d have backed no matter what they would start. For the good of the world, they decided to do this instead; and we are excited to partner with them in this journey.