10 Product Lessons Learned at JAM

It’s been such a busy November that I can hardly imagine it is (nearly) over already! DroidCon was just at the end of October, but together with JAM this month it feels like there has been a ton going on. On top of that, I also attended a course to become a Certified Scrum Product Owner just before. Even the sequence of events was perfect: refining my Scrum product development knowledge prior to attending an Android conference and then hearing more about the Product side of things at JAM.

So, what is JAM really about then? It’s all about getting a peak behind the scenes at some major companies. Learning from each other about the products we already know, use, and love. Amazing products and user experiences do not get created overnight, or even by chance (most of the time), so what really goes on behind closed doors at Facebook, Deliveroo, Monzo, and The Guardian (to name a few). I couldn’t wait to find out, so the morning of JAM I was ready to rock and unusually early. Even for a punctual Dutch person.

The Oval Space, where the event was held, was a perfect choice. Except the weather wasn’t kind and some of the outdoor space the organisers clearly assumed we could use, was washed out in total rain storms most of the day. It was a mad dash in the rain for coffee and lunch, but who cares when you can feel warm and fuzzy inside, learning from inspiring speakers and meeting lots of fellow product managers and UX designers?

Product (management) lessons from JAM

  • There are two types of businesses (or products): clear defined problem vs no clear problem but an interesting opportunity. This was a good reminder from Phill Caudell, from Founders Factory.

  • Making great products takes time, dedication, and effort. There is no guarantee for success, except if you keep going. A great example and inspiration was the talk by Heather Portmann from Ustwo, who told us about their 25 unprofitable products before they experienced phenomenal success with Monuments.

  • Products are born as a solution to a simple problem. Nothing shows this better and with more impact for me than TransferWise. Nilan Peiris spoke about building a mission driven startup. The talk focused on how TransferWise was started. With one transaction between the founders, who wanted to avoid the high costs of sending money abroad. Instead, they each deposited into each other’s account locally matching the amounts with the “real exchange rate”. No money ever left either country, but both were able to receive funds in the currency they needed. Being a serial expat and frequent traveller, I have been waiting literally for over a decade for this solution. It won’t be long before I give TransferWise a try myself, so stay tuned for an in-depth review! For now, I was impressed that the founders were not afraid to take this solution to a common problem and grow it into a business that has the potential to help countless people around the world.

  • Antoine Sakho shared his experiences at Busuu, and their roadmaps. What really struck a chord for me was his comment that “features should only appear as a solution to customer problems. The roadmap then is made up more of customer problems first”.

  • “The best idea does not always win”. Why? Well, because either nobody comes up with a killer idea, or the idea goes unheard, or the value of the idea is not demonstrated. Hence, we don’t know or recognise it as the “best idea”. An interesting perspective brought by Shaun Russell, from Lyst.
  • Personas are valuable. But they are only valuable when they are as real as the user themselves. Head of product at OcadoAnna Miedzianowska, took us on a detailed journey through how they develop personas to help their drivers. I thought this was particularly interesting because what she showed us, affects their customers but is not directly customer facing. The app in question is actually for the drivers themselves.
  • Fail convincingly. Kat TP and Andrea Coens from Facebook took us on a journey exploring how a culture that does not penalise failure results in success. If you are going to fail, do it with knowledge and for the right reasons. Easier said than done, but wise words nonetheless.

Stuff I learned about design and UX

  • Hands down my favourite speaker (all were good, but sorry guys there has to be one favourite) of the day was Hugo Cornejo from Monzo. They are trying to build a better bank, and part of that is engaging on a very personal level with their users. They learned that people love emojis. Considering that I, and everyone I know, uses them instead of words a lot, I am only surprised that they were daring enough to do this and not worry about not being taken seriously. After all, money is serious business. Now your bank might send you notifications with tiger emojis, and others in it. I wonder whether going to a wine bar would generate an emoji of a wine glass. Perhaps at the end of the month, the tally of all your month’s eating out expenses generates an entirely different emoji though…😫😳😱

  • Sometimes you spend a lot of time on a design, and a lot of money implementing that design. Then on launch day, turns out a lot of people do not like it. Simon Rorhbach from Deliveroo shared their experience changing the Deliveroo logo. The reasons were quite solid: in some countries the kangaroo was seen as a rat. The new logo though got a whole set of strong reactions and interpretations too. He opened our eyes to the idea that negative feedback can also be a really positive thing, and the journey is just getting started.

  • Another lesson from Simon was one on how to choose the color for your branding. Sometimes there is no science to it other than “everyone liked it, and nobody else was using it”, he said with regards to the choice of using teal in the new branding and logo for Deliveroo.


Random things I learned (not necessarily about product)

  • Fun fact of the day was that both JAM, and a ‘Jessuit Athletic Meetup’ were Tweeting with the #JAM2016 hashtag. Not a big deal, except both events were on the same day. Made for a really funny Twitter timeline! Makes me wonder, why don’t we make it easy/possible to view hashtags just based on location? It would have been ideal to prevent this, but it’s not like we register hashtags anywhere, so totally get that it could have happened. But what are the chances right?
  • Bring an umbrella. Always. You just never know when the next rain shower hits in London!


JAM mostly reinforced that all products (big and small) ultimately face quite similar challenges. We learned that those challenges and opportunities are handled very differently from company to company. A lot of it has to do with culture as well. We can all take at least some of these lessons and apply them within how we look at great UX and effective product management.

Did you attend JAM? If not and you think you missed out till next year, don’t fret they also put on great Show & Tell events throughout the year. Think very much like the conference, except not the whole day and you get to visit the companies behind the products you already love in person. Find out more from their website.




Christine Buske is a former academic who left science at the bench, and now considers herself a woman in tech. She is a frequently invited speaker, and enjoys talking about career transformation (particularly leaving academia for the business world), tech, issues around women in tech, product management, agile, and outreach. She is a proud Canadian resident, and qualifies as a "serial expat".


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