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Lou Franco Talks Software Jobs

Chris Spiek // 02.16.12

This week Lou Franco, Vice President of Atlasoft Product Strategy at Kofax, joins us as a special guest on Jobs-To-Be-Done Radio.  Lou is gracious enough to take talk to us about his attempts to find differentiation in his sector of the software industry, and how he has employed the JTBD framework successfully with some recent product launches.

His story is a familiar one to many people in the product strategy role who are constantly challenged with finding new ways to set their product apart.  Tune in to see how he found answers by applying Jobs-to-be-Done.

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Coming Up Next Week

Topics for discussion for next week will include Jobs-to-be-Done basics, and the Jobs that Custom Software Shop is hired to do.

If you have a topic that you’d like us to discuss in future episodes, leave a comment below!

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Hello, everybody! This is Doug Crets with Jobs-To-Be-Done Radio. We’ve come to that time of the week that you have all come to know and love, we’re recording our Jobs-To-Be-Done podcast. We have actually a very special one this week. A couple weeks ago we started this off and we talked about, I don’t even remember what we talked about. We talked about Quora and LinkedIn. The next week after that we talked to about Jobs-To-Be-Done, the job we hire 5-hour ENERGY® drinks or Red Bull to do for us. Now we actually have a special guest. We’re joined by Lou Franco who is a VP of Product Strategy for a company called Kofax.

You actually work for Atalasoft, which is a subsidiary of Kofax. We are joined also with our partners from The Rewired Group, Bob Modesto and Chris Spiek, and of course me.

I thought we would kick it off just really briefly. I got to know Lou from Quora were he was actually answering some really great questions about Jobs-To-Be-Done. Chris and Bob, you’ve known him from a little bit longer before that. Why don’t you help in also introducing Lou and just bring us to the topic that we are going to be discussing today? Which is, I believe, the jobs we hire PDF to do for us in our work.

Chris:                       Go ahead, Bob.

Bob:                          Lou reached out from one of the podcast that we did with Horace Dediu at Asymco.  Lou basically has had an interest. He happened to be in Boston and he drove I think a long way, almost 2 hours, right, Lou?

Lou:                          Yeah.

Bob:                          To come see us and we sat down and had dinner. We had a great conversation and he really is one of the ones who has spurred us to create the new Jobs-To-Be-Done course which we are doing online in an asynchronous and synchronous way. He’s actually one of the, I will say, founding students in the class.

Doug:                       Cool.

Bob:                          In the meantime we’ve been going back and forth. As we have talked Lou has come up with… You are a product strategist so, to me, you’re in the midst of formulating all these different plans and being able to execute on new products. You have some really good examples that I think that our listeners would really like to hear about. To me the one I love is the notion of the PDF generator and that.

Can you tell us a little bit, Lou, about what you do, but the software company does, and then, tell us a little bit about the PDF story?

Lou:                          Okay, great. Atalasoft publishes .net STKs for image processing and PDF manipulation. We’ve been in business for about 10 years. We were acquired by Kofax last year in May. We continue to produce STKs that manipulate images and manipulate PDFs.

Around the same time that I had been introduced to Jobs-To-Be-Done we are launching a new product that was going to take our PDF abilities to the next level and be able to do a lot more with being able to generate PDF programmatically.

For developers, our customers are other software developers and we’re targeting those that need to create PDF in their application. Our normal way of doing that, and I think a lot of companies’ way of doing that, is to think about what features you have and talk about what those are. What benefits you might have over the competitions. Whether our model are the exact features we have.

I think it would’ve gone down a very typical road with that. That’s what we had been doing. We have been successful with that. One thing that really intrigued me about Jobs-To-Be-Done is how it turns it around.

I started to try to introduce that idea in our prelaunch meetings. I would say it was an early understanding of the framework. Maybe not doing all the activities that you guys talk about yet. But trying to discover these jobs on our own just by our own interactions that we had with customers. We really started thinking about not PDF and generating PDF, and the futures of PDF and PDF generation, but why you hire PDF in the first place and why our customers might do that.

Bob:                          Yep.

Lou:                          When we did that we generated one idea of invoice generating. There are a lot of applications and a lot of different niches that need to generate an invoice. And not just invoices but POs, quotes, and those kinds of documents.

Bob:                          Yep. All that, accounting documents.

Lou:                          Yes. And not just accounting software needs to be, but lots of different kinds of software that has… Even time tracking applications need to do that.

Bob:                          Yep.

Lou:                          And in all kinds of different verticals. One of the things about invoices is that they tend to have a common part, that is like the same in all invoices, the logo, the address the fact that they have a list of line items, the total. And then a part thats variable, that gets  filled in programmatically. You’d want to generate that automatically. You wouldn’t want to have to type it in if you can get it from data.

With this perfect melding of a data source and a template which our product happens to do really quite well, we identified that as a niche.

Once we get that, one thing it really did for us, it really gave us ways to think about how to reach people because we could enumerate the companies that need that.

Bob:                          Yep.

Lou:                          That’s something that is very researchable. You can go find every company that makes accounting software that makes a PDF. You can find every company that makes time tracking software or consultant management software. And there are tons of them.

In fact you can find shows where that’s all there is there. It opens up a whole way of thinking about the market. If I had only thought about, “Who needs to make PDF?” I guess everybody could need to make PDF. I kind of went, “How do I reach them?” This gave us a way in.

We have since identified other kinds of niches like that. That was our first breakthrough on it. Really thinking about the opposite way, not the features we had, but more of why you even care about having PDF in the first place.

Bob:                          Right. What happens usually is that people will stick with the PDF kind of round. What they’ll do is, again, they’ll sock it out to try and differentiate themselves and, again, never look at it through the customers eyes and say, “What are they trying to do?” If you think about what they are searching for, the first thing is, “Hey, do you have an invoice PDF generator? Do you have an invoice generator?”

Lou:                          Right.

Bob:                          People are going to solve specific problems. As much as people think that their niches are limiting, the fact is you have that trade-off between being non-differentiated in to a commodity and being really focused and being able to take share.

The whole thing is that by turning the lens around and looking through the telescope the other way, you start to realize you can see actually the market is bigger and you can differentiate yourself more than trying to be a PDF generator that does everything for everybody.

Lou:                          Right.

Bob:                          Which you can’t win at that.

Lou:                          And then one thing we are able to do because we had enough time is we actually generated a list of invoice specific features that we could add that would make it even a little more suited to the purpose. We were able to generate sample code that related to invoices. We commissioned a video specifically about that one area, discussing that one area.

A couple of little things, we didn’t have enough time to really go whole hog, and were doing a little bit more now.

Bob:                          Yeah.

Lou:                          But it gave us at least some talking points of why it would be perfect for invoices. If you are considering a lot of different PDF generators, well here’s one we were thinking about this problem.

Bob:                          Right.

Chris:                       So, Lou, Bob and I talk a lot about the somewhat formal process that we use to do research and tease out jobs. We recruit. We have consumers who are struggling with an issue tell us, help us draw the timeline of consumption of when they are making a decision and what they’re considering at all that sort of thing.

I think our listeners would be pretty interested in understanding… You touched on the idea it was probably a real ad hoc process that you went through to arrive at the invoice generation job. Talk us through, if you are at liberty to, how did you guys leave the PDF generation stage and arrive at this new invoice generator?

Did you have actual discrete conversations with customers? Were you looking at data that led you down that path? How did you arrive at that?

Lou:                          Yeah, it was really more, I have to say, it was the beginning of an experiment for us. It was way more brainstorming.

Chris:                       Sure.

Lou:                          We’ve talked to a lot of customers over the years. We definitely have a handle on what a lot of people use this for and we had already had, not PDF generation but PDF consumption toolkit, viewing and annotating all kinds of ways of consuming PDF. We definitely had been exposed to different things that our customers have been using.

Chris:                       Sure.

Lou:                          One of the things that I did do, though, a difference of scenario. Kofax, our parent company, actually makes invoice processing software. I did call the head of that business unit, because they also create invoices, and talked to them about their specific problems because I had at least one friendly person who I know will talk to me for half an hour and tell me all the ins and outs of what he needed, what he was looking for, because he had already solved the problem for himself. That did help.

Afterwards, I have been having these conversations after-the-fact. To do it to begin with, not knowing any of these things, I’m starting to learn a little bit more now, it was just purely trying to brainstorm. We came up with a bunch of things.

Invoices were a really good fit for us because we happen to have templating features. That suited it really well. We did identify other jobs, but there were just some that seemed really like a good fit for us. That’s why we ended up with that.

Doug:                       Lou, could you…

Chris:                       That’s a great point.

Doug:                       Go ahead.

Chris:                       I just want to touch on something. I just think it’s a great point because I feel like a lot of marketers and track developers are, fearful isn’t the right word, but cautious of the Jobs-To-Be-Done framework, because they have this perception that it’s like, “We’re going to get these deep insights that are these unique situations that people are struggling with. And we’re going to just have to throw out everything we know about our product and start from scratch and attack this very specific job.”

I think this is a good story about how it was so adjacent to what you are already doing.

Lou:                          Yeah.

Chris:                       It’s like, “Man, we can take three things out and add two things and it’s like we have this entirely new category to go after.”

Lou:                          Right.

Chris:                       It’s a laser guided, really acute market that you’re attacking. You already have everything you need to do it.

Lou:                          Right. And our product still works in the broader market and people still find us for that. It’s just that it’s not as easy to figure out what the marketing should be there. That will just happen organically and that’s great. We will find other jobs to attack, too, as the product matures. This one is one that we’re doing a little more focus on.

Doug:                       I wonder, could I redirect basically what Lou is saying back to Bob and Chris?

Is there something that marketing could be looking at in looking at the process that Lou is going through with his team, and being able to say, “Aha! That’s the moment”? How do they identify a moment using Jobs-To-Be-Done where they could pick that up and use it for marketing? Does it work that way?

Chris:                       Bob?

Bob:                          I think for jobs, what we end up doing is it really is all about aggregating from the problems or the struggles that people have of why they didn’t switch to something new.

In most cases, from the way the marketing and markets are formed it’s all about creating bigger things so you can advertise to larger audiences. What you find is that you need both, the larger view but you also need the job and it’s about tuning them both into the right focus.

To me, I think the thing is, it’s almost like a salesman and a marketer. It’s trying to make sure that the salesman knows how to close the sale where the marketer is knowing how to get the person in the door. The fact is in the end the sale only really gets made not from the marketer but from the salesman, it’s knowing those problems.

In a lot of cases, to me, marketing’s job to aggregate up to the most common set of language that the most people can resonate with. A PDF generator is what most people can resonate with, but the ones who have the problems who are going to value that PDF generator more are people in the invoice market, for example, or trying to generate invoices. They have tried five or six other things.

To me, it’s making sure you focus on those very specific problems or challenges that the customer has and go after those.

Bob:                          And that’s also, interestingly enough, we talk about magnetism to a job when we do clustering. If you nail one job very specifically you’ll end up drawing other people. People will self identify with that job and pull themselves in. It’s actually interesting to think about.

That happens pretty uniquely in the software and modularized software space. One consideration is always, “I’m going to buy this thing that has an STK, how much am I going to have to bend it in and shape it to make it work in my solution?”

There’s almost like a very literal magnetism that takes place. I can pick this thing and then I’m going to have to shape a little bit so it better be pretty close to what I needed to do off-the-shelf.

Chris:                       Bob, I think it gets to one of the things that we talked about with Lou when we were together was the notion that what’s the job of a STK kit? At some point it’s make versus buy.

Bob:                          Yeah, right.

Chris:                       It’s trying to make sure that you understand at some point if it’s so different that I have to customize it, I might as well start it myself. Part of it is understanding those really unique problems because at some point programmers think they can do everything. I think, Lou, what you’re doing is you’re selling to those programmers who are trying to make that decision, “Do I go create this and buy an off-the-shelf art do I go create my own?”

Lou:                          Right.

Chris:                       Right?

Lou:                          Yep. We think about things like risk reduction, ongoing maintenance; again, those are attributes of the thing itself.

Essentially what the job an STK is being hired to do is related to some extent to another job that our customer is also seeking their customers’ job. There’s this thing like we’re making a tool for someone who makes a tool to someone who does the job.

Doug:                       That’s getting kind of meta there.

Lou:                          Yeah. I’ve been much more aware of that after meeting you guys and trying to really think some of those things through.

Someone might use an application that uses our toolkit and they might be doing that to sign up for a mortgage. That might be the job, getting your mortgage processed faster, might be the job that they are trying to do.

What can we say or do to make the person in the middle who is solving that problem knowing we are the toolkit that’s going to help them do that job?

Doug:                       We’ve got about 10 min. more for this call, or less than that. That brings up in this whole thing, “What is the job that’s done through Jobs-To-Be-Done?” That’s the broad overarching question. If I were listening to this podcast and wasn’t familiar with it, that’s where I would be looking to place it.

So what does that do for me? Why would I even use this process?

Could you guys talk about Lou’s personal experience with coming through to this, you have the great PDF story? Just where you feel that it fits in the whole business category that you work in?

I guess Bob, and Chris, you could probably weigh in with all the experience you guys have with different types of customers that you work with. All right.

Bob:                          We asked Lou that question, but we asked Lou that question when we sat down with him. “What are you trying to hire Job-To-Do that other marketing methods you’ve tried doesn’t?” To me, please answer it, Lou, because you did a great job.

Lou:                          Yeah, sure. One of the things that you guys talk about is discovering the early timeline of when you first really thought about it, those early podcasts, hearing you guys and Horace, and hearing that constant talking of job. I was trying to figure out like, “Where did this come from? What is this?”

It was incredibly hard a few months ago to find anything about it. I kept on looking, and looking, and reaching out in Twitter and luckily Bob saw that I was doing that and got in touch with me.

When you asked me this question I was really just for the first time thinking about that. Why was I even doing this? When I realized what was, I had been for the past year or more very interested in the idea of differentiation and trying to figure out how to achieve it.

I had been reading. I read, a couple years ago, different, I’m sorry I forget the author…

Bob:                          Youngme Moon.

Luke:                        Youngme Moon, right. She’s also at Harvard, in the Business School at Harvard. I read a couple of different Jeffrey Moore books, he writes about that.

What they were really good about is talking about why you need differentiation and giving good examples of companies that achieved it. There was no systematic way to achieving it.

That’s the thing, really the “Aha!” of Jobs for me, even just from the elevator pitch of it, of how you even think about the world. It starts to open up like activities you could do, and that’s what I was missing.

I tried to hire different, I tried to hire Dealing with Darwin and some other things that talk about differentiation, but they weren’t clicking with me in terms of a thing I could do when I sit at my desk that would help me achieve it.

Bob:                          Right. That’s really where a lot of the Jobs stuff came from. The fact is I don’t think there is a lot of information about that you need to differentiate. But it is, “What’s meaningful differentiation?” It’s not meaningful differentiation from the product perspective. It’s meaningful differentiation from the customer’s perspective.

You have to start with what’s their view. It’s like a Snickers doesn’t compete with a Milky Way even though they are all in the same aisle, they look the same, they have the same components. In reality, in the consumers mind, they don’t think about them in the same way. To differentiate you need to start from what’s the customer’s competitive set not the category.

Lou:                          Right. That’s the eye-opener there.

Bob:                          Yep. That’s where I look at growth and I think that growth really comes from stealing from other categories that people don’t realize you’re stealing from.

I look at podcasts for example. People bought magazines to learn but the reality is now that podcasts are out there people are learning all through a completely different medium of podcasts and audio that literally the magazines are in decline. They’re like, “Well, what do we do?”

The reality is that people have been stealing a share from them all the time because this does a better job than me having to read and write it all the time.

Doug:                       Well.

Bob:                          It’s actually easier for me as an author to talk than it is for me to write.

Doug:                       You’re going to get me started on education, my big bailiwick. I think people will always point to the students or the teachers being the problem with education and the truth is, no, the people in that category are finding their education somewhere else.

They’re actually losing interest. They’re losing interest in how it’s formatted for them. But that’s my bailiwick. That’s a whole new radio show I think.

Chris:                       Bob?

Doug:                       Speaking of which, what’s going to be our next call? We really appreciate having Lou on board tonight.

Chris:                       Thank you, so much, Lou.

Doug:                       I think we would love to have you back anytime to really get this covered. Absolutely wonderful.

What are we going to do next time? Bob? Chris?

Bob:                          We can do education. Education is always a good one to talk about because we’ve done quite a bit of work in that space. I think that… Chris, do you have any topics?

Chris:                       I’ve got…

Bob:                          Anything from Quora?

Chris:                       Yeah. I think we ran out of time. I did want to discuss a great question from Rodrigo that was posted this morning on Quora. The think, Lou, you might have thrown an answer in there already.

Lou:                          Yeah.

Chris:                       It was, “What is the job that a customs software development shop does?”

Having run a custom software development shop for about 10 years, it’s something that I’ve laid awake many nights pondering over the years. I do think that’s worth getting into. I’d like to do that on the next call.

Bob:                          That’s right.

Chris:                       The other thing that I think we should talk about is we’ve had some user feedback, our listener feedback, rather, that’s just touched on the idea of, “You guys need to take it up to a real high level and talk about consideration sets, and why do we evaluate people when they are struggling, and really why you use Jobs-To-Be-Done to take it back to basics? I think that’s a good show.

Bob:                          And Whitney also suggested that we do a base Jobs-To-Be-Done. Just the basic framework of walking through the forces and put some notes on it because we started the podcast out at a very high level…

Chris:                       Yeah.

Bob:                          We should maybe add one that’s also the basics. I suggest that we think about the basic one and then maybe move in to either the consideration sets side or the software side.

Doug:                       I would always like to open up the listeners, too. If you are listening to this right now thinking, “There’s no way that Jobs-To-Be-Done could be applied to my weird crazy industry,” or you’d just like to hear us pull things apart…

Chris:                       Challenge us!

Doug:                       Yeah, I think.

Bob:                          That’s awesome.

Chris:                       Lou, thank you so much for being here.

Bob:                          Yeah, thank you, Lou.

Lou:                          No problem, it was fun, very fun.

Doug:                       Okay. I’ll try to wrap it up, which I know I’m not allowed to do with The Rewired Group, neatly. And just say, “If you are interested in following any of us, it’s @bmoesta on Twitter; @chriscbs on Twitter; @ douglascrets on Twitter. And, Lou, how can people find you on Twitter?

Lou:                          I’m @LouFranco.

Doug:                       Well, that’s easy.

Lou:                          Yep.

Doug:                       All right, thanks everyone for the call. And, we’ll look for you all next week.