Going with More Than Your Gut: How a Software Startup Trained Its Leaders and Coached Its Customers to Success

By Mike Belsito May 15, 2019

TRUST YOUR INTUITION. That’s what we’ve all been told about making big decisions. But your instincts only take you so far in business. What do you do when growth requires more?

Ballistiq Digital Inc. initially opted to train with Pragmatic Institute (formerly known as Pragmatic Marketing) to help its founders speak the same language and focus more on strategic decision making. Today, the company continues training its leadership and uses Pragmatic to train employees as well.


1. Address Product (and Services) Challenges

When Ballistiq’s founders began training with Pragmatic Institute a few years ago, they came in as a professional services firm creating online communities, marketplaces and e-learning platforms for medium to large enterprise clients. In addition, the founders had recently realized their dream of developing their own product, an industry hub for games, film, media and entertainment artists (ArtStation.com) with more than 800,000 members.

The company’s leaders initially took product management training courses with Pragmatic Institute to help increase their strategic focus and enable them to get on the same page when it came to making decisions about product development and company growth.

While it may not have been their initial driver, the courses helped the company address one of its greatest service-side customer challenges: Clients acting on their intuition versus concrete data.

“That’s the biggest thing I come across when I’m talking with clients who come to us to build something for them,” said Kevin Strike, Ballistiq’s co-founder and COO. “They may not have thought properly about the market: ‘Are people willing to pay? Who is my target persona? Is my product actually going to do well? Is there a need for it?’ They’re thinking that they know these things intuitively.” 


2. Train More Teams

Since its founding, Ballistiq has grown into two divisions: professional services and product. “On ArtStation.com we have the opportunity to conceive, test and sell a variety of products, including an online marketplace, subscriptions (SaaS), training courses, job boards and recruiting tools, and books,” Strike said.

And because of the value the company’s leaders found in Pragmatic Institute training, the decision was made to include more employees. In the past few years, the company has sent its entire product management and marketing teams to Pragmatic courses: Foundations, Focus, Build, Market, Launch and Price. In the future, the company plans to send the user experience (UX) and design teams, too. 

“We see the overlap between product managers and user experience designers,” Strike said. “So it’s essential that our UX and design teams are trained in the fundamentals of product management. This will help our professional services clients considerably as we partner with them to build web experiences and platforms that transform their businesses.”


3. Get a Strategic Head Start

Pragmatic training has been beneficial for Ballistiq on multiple fronts. First, it allowed the company to meet its initial goal of improving strategic focus.

“We love it because, for us, it’s the best training for product managers that exists, and it helps us to all be speaking the same language,” Strike said. “We have the same playbook, and so we have efficient conversations.”

And while he noted that they initially felt like they were “the smallest company in the room” during their training, it has actually helped differentiate the company as it’s grown by having that foundation of knowledge from the outset.

“I think that, even though we’re a small company, we have a distinct advantage over our similar-sized competitors—and maybe even larger companies—because learning key product management principles and concepts early on saves considerable time and money,” he said. “This leads to successful product development for us and our clients.”

"We end up making product decisions with confidence and shelving ideas before we've invested too much time and money."

tweet

4. Make More Strategic Decisions

The company continues to find ways to put its Pragmatic Institute knowledge to work through exercises such as creating user personas for both the product and services sides of the business and conducting product validations and pricing analysis. The company also has folded the training into existing processes and procedures, validating steps it was taking even before formalized training started. In 2017, time was spent visiting potential customers, presenting hypotheses and potential mockups to address a market problem, and getting feedback. At the conclusion of those sessions, time was taken to evaluate the market and create revenue projections. 

“In the end, we came to the conclusion that, no, we don’t think this is a viable product, so we’re not going to build it,” Strike said. “We end up making product decisions with confidence and shelving ideas before we’ve invested too much time and money.”


5. Grow Smarter

Team members also have used training insights to solve existing business problems. For example, after implementing a software change, a decline in use and revenue from subscriptions was observed. So, a select group of members was surveyed and a decision was made to roll back the product change based on feedback. 

“Now we’re back to our normal growth, the same level of growth that we were at before the change,” Strike said.

In early 2019, customers “willing to pay” were researched using the van Westendorp Price Sensitivity Meter taught in the Pragmatic Institute Price course. “After surveying over 2,500 people, we were able to gain tremendous insight into the range of acceptable pricing,” Strike said. “We made immediate changes, and we’re now much more confident.”

The professional services side of the business has been able to apply Pragmatic Institute principles to help clients focus on market facts and more effectively uncover those urgent, pervasive problems that people are willing to pay to have solved. The team also tries not to miss out on opportunities to connect with customers out of the office.

“The NIHITO (Nothing Important Happens In The Office) phrase is something that has become ingrained in our company lingo and culture as well,” Strike said. “Whenever we travel, we’re always thinking about visiting customers and getting feedback. Simply listening to clients is such a powerful tool.”

From getting on the same page to changing the way it approaches the business and strategic decisions, Pragmatic training has been fundamental—even helping to ensure the company’s growth trajectory can continue.


About Ballistiq 

Founded in 2011 with headquarters in Montreal, Ballistiq designs and builds web experiences and platforms that transform businesses and are enjoyed by millions of users worldwide.

Mike Belsito

Mike Belsito

Mike Belsito is co-founder of Product Collective and co-organizer of INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, an adjust professor of design and innovation at Case Western Reserve University, and co-hose of the Rocketship.FM podcast. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Looking for the latest in product and data science? Get our articles, webinars and podcasts.