Building A Product Customers Want
By Logicbroker | September 26, 2022
Logicbroker’s VP of Product Management, Chip Sockwell, is a 20-year veteran in software engineering and architecture. Chip is Logicbroker’s voice in the eCommerce industry and steers our company and functionality in the right direction.
In this executive spotlight, Logicbroker sat down with Chip to discuss how products like Logicbroker’s recent B2B Supply Chain Visibility and B2B Drop ship/Marketplace launch happen behind the scenes.
How did the Logicbroker’s internal B2B discussions come about, and how did it differ from other products?
We’ve always been focused on customer wants and needs at Logicbroker. Our customer advisory board meets quarterly and during a meeting earlier this year, one of our premier customers, HD Supply, mentioned that we hadn’t productized our B2B solutions. Logicbroker was already helping HD Supply, and several other customers, restock warehouses and that conversation with HD Supply really teed off a conversation internally about formally communicating this B2B Supply Chain use case.
We had just never officially called it out as a repeatable business model. We noticed internally that people were using our product to do things that we never planned. Releasing our B2B offerings was different in that we didn’t build anything extra, we just packaged how we were helping established customers into a more clear solution.
How does Logicbroker decide what new products to build?
Logicbroker historically adapts and builds new products based on what customers request. The struggle from that perspective is that we are a platform, and we cannot build products that only one business wants. Each business has its own way of operating and looking at the world, the hard part is understanding when that business model represents more than just one of our customers.
Ultimately, it’s trial and error. That’s the part that isn’t sexy about being in product. When a product fails, either you built it wrong or used large assumptions that just weren’t true. So now we observe what is happening with our customers, we look at the usage data, we listen, and then we look for needs and patterns that cut across customers and deliver real financial impact for them. Many times this is not simply a function of technology, but the experience of running eCommerce programs for hundreds of retailers combined with technology.
How do you safeguard against product failure?
Metrics. Product life cycle. Other buzzwords! Every new product is making a guess. You try your best to gather metrics and safeguard against those wild guesses. If you’re not getting feedback, or if you think you know better than your customers, you’re wrong. Logicbroker collects mountains of raw data, spends thousands of hours with customers, and builds reports based on what customers want before spending a second on a new product and even then it’s no guarantee.
We have follow-up conversations, open tests, and when push comes to shove we ask ourselves: “If the actual revenue of this new product is 0, should we continue to invest in this idea?” Releasing a new product is only half the battle. Once it’s being tested, you have the battle of collecting all the metrics that validate your assumptions.
Does the eCommerce industry influence how Logicbroker can develop products?
eCommerce is more straightforward to develop because of the data that is gathered in every transaction. Every organization has all the data they need to track trends, insights, and more but a lot of people don’t dive deeper than what product is selling well.
The trend has been normalizing small but functional releases and iterating. Specifically for eCommerce, this software strategy has actually helped quite a lot. Logicbroker often does copious amounts of internal tests with our customers to gain understanding and insight into a product. Our customers are often more than willing to try new features out, especially because most of the time they’ve specifically requested them.
How does eCommerce impact product road maps?
If you ever meet a SaaS product manager who says they built everything they planned a year ago, they are either lying or don’t exist. eCommerce is not an industry that allows you to build a product road map and then march down the line without checking how the industry has evolved.
The roadmap is there, so people can comment on it. We have hours and hours of conversations with customers, and we listen the entire time. If we share a roadmap and everyone on the call ignores future products, then I know I’ve made a mistake somewhere or something better is waiting to come along. I have no qualms at all about dropping products off the roadmap.
How has the Logicbroker-specific approach changed over the years?
Logicbroker hasn’t always collected the data we needed to release a great product. In the early stages, we knew people wanted EDI headaches removed, and we helped with that, but we took far too long to realize our flaws. Sunk cost fallacy was a huge issue in our very early days but we now know that once the data doesn’t support something, it’s time to move on. It’s not the mistake that causes an issue in a business, it’s the amount of time it takes your organization to recognize it. Logicbroker has really come a long way in this journey.
Let’s pivot for a moment to the Marketplace release Logicbroker had last year. How did that differ from the B2B release, and how did that change your perspective?
Logicbroker’s marketplace offerings were a whole new product to design. While B2B was more just repackaging and defining what Logicbroker could already do, we built our marketplace solution from the ground up.
As a smaller company, Logicbroker was focused on building the minimal salable product which just means the product that would satisfy the minimum requirements for our customers, and then we could iterate based on what each individual marketplace required. Like all of our solutions, building marketplace was just about listening. We had weekly meetings with customers adapting a marketplace and asked “this is what we are building, what do you think?” Getting that direct feedback was huge.
The tricky part of marketplace was evaluating the competition, building a solution based on customer needs, and building a product that was superior to anything else on the market. When we got started, it wasn’t about being the same as other marketplaces, it was about building the product our customers needed to be successful.
How did initial iterations compare to Amazon and Walmart, and how do those titans-of-industry influence how Logicbroker designs products?
There is no real reason to believe your first iteration of any product will be vastly superior to anything established on the market. We didn’t set out to beat Amazon or Walmart or even eBay. My philosophy has always been to be humble and ask questions. We can’t replicate Amazon, but we can make a good product that our customers want and listen to the features they absolutely need to have to succeed in their vertical.
Partnerships are also immensely important for Logicbroker. Logicbroker’s partnerships help us hone in on what the entire eCommerce industry needs. eCommerce is a beast unto itself. It’s like going from selling hand sanitizer to saying you can sell medical devices. Building Amazon-like solutions is a deep water problem. Building what customers need instead of what you think they want is key.
Last question for you, Chip: what happens behind the scenes that people aren’t aware of? It could be minor or huge, but what should people know about product development?
The assumption I always get is that ideas drop out of the sky. The reality is that ideas go through 10-15 iterations before they even hit paper. If it’s an idea we like, we go to talk to a few people about it, and then they either like it or don’t. There are so many ideas that don’t make any roadmap at all. The sheer amount of conversations that go into a feature just in the ideation phase is really unimaginable.
I’ve worked in massive companies and I’ve got to say that working with a smaller team at Logicbroker is just better. At a mid-size company, the hard part is putting in the work to make the ideas work. At a large company, they are Olympians at crushing ideas in committees.
About Chip Sockwell
As one of Logicbroker’s longest-standing employees, Chip Sockwell brought over 20 years of experience in software engineering and architecture and is now our Vice President of Product Management. As VP of Product Management, Chip is responsible for being the voice of the eCommerce industry while steering our company and functionality in the right direction. Chip works closely with our customers to ensure our products, design, and strategy match their needs. In the beginning, Chip helped design and build Logicbroker’s API and cloud technology.
Chip graduated from the University of Connecticut and can now be found either soaking up the sun on a Florida beach or enjoying a relaxing cruise through warm waters on his boat.
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