Bamboo Crowd | Faces of Innovation feat. Alex Moseman

38 min


Prophet’s Alex Moseman features on Bamboo Creative’s Faces of Innovation podcast. He shares his insights on the importance of building a sustainable, fundamental business around new innovation, as well as understanding how product decisions inform business outcomes.

Listen to the podcast on Spotify.


Four Steps to Optimize Digital Product Creation

Whether you’re a B2B, B2C or DTC company, Prophet’s proprietary hypotheses-led approach to innovation takes product concepts from 0-1 efficiently and successfully.

Necessity is the mother of invention as they say. And many successful companies and products were started in times of an economic downturn, from the inception of Netflix in 1997 (now valued close to $100B) to that of Airbnb in 2008 when the Great Recession saw demand for short-term, low-commitment housing increase exponentially. However, when the stakes are high, the reality often is that the bets are fewer, there is less room for error and the need for more certainty of success goes up. You can’t simply take the old corporate RND approach to “Spray and Pray”, that one of your concepts will be market driving.   

Oftentimes, businesses will have identified a new opportunity area, market, audience or digital channel that looks potentially valuable for their growth. However, they are not at the point of concept definition and design to immediately hand it to internal development and product teams to begin to build. While they will have a concept of what they think would be valuable for customers, many businesses lack the evidence and detail of where they should invest first, what they should (or more importantly shouldn’t) build and in what order to deliver customer and business value quickly.  

Across all industries, B2B/B2C/B2B2C/DTC, and phases of company maturity, Prophet’s proprietary “Hypothesis to Action” (H2A) approach enables us to take product concepts from 0-1 successfully. It helps get from idea to minimum viable product (MVP) in the most efficient way possible; cutting through ambiguity and defining where to start at the minimum possible investment, with a clear direction of what is going to build traction in the market, reduce risk and increase the likelihood of a successful digital product that meets the true needs of customers.  

The H2A Model  

Leveraging our own learnings from decades of successfully shipping net-new products, we have optimized the most successful product creation engine of the past 15 years in the approach of Silicon Valley venture capital. The H2A model was created from years of work and insight and aims to provide cross-functional teams with a minimal structure to make better-informed digital product decisions and enhance design progress. It is comprised of four key stages: Hypotheses, Findings, Conviction and Actions – and in many instances we have executed the entire H2A process within two weeks.  

In one instance, a financial services client came to us with the desire to improve lead generation among prospective customers; the company had impressive loyalty among existing customers but struggled to attract net new to the business. Thus, formed the idea for a digital product, “a predictive profiler,” through which the business could predict and offer a tailored product mix and accompanying advice to its prospective customers based on user-provided information. With the problem-to-solve and initial idea in place, we were ready to begin cycles of H2A to take this idea from a concept on a page, to a user-validated, defined and designed MVP.  

Let’s take a closer look at each of the H2A stages in turn as we put it into practice with Thrivent.

1. Generate Hypotheses

Hypotheses are critical assumptions you are making about your product or idea, articulated as a testable premise. Most often, the riskiest assumption you are betting on at the start of product innovation is simply that your idea is in fact solving a problem or addressing the needs of your target user.

Taking the example of the financial services company, we were assuming that prospects would be more likely to convert if guided to the right product mix and provided tailored advice. We took that overarching assumption and broke it into more specific hypotheses to answer specific questions, starting with what is the right “way in” to lead prospects to a recommended set of products. Our hypothesis: Rather than answering generic questions, users will prefer to self-select into different archetypes, then answer more specific questions to achieve greater levels of personalized results. We quickly designed a lightweight test to prove this, balanced by business ambitions.  

2. Extract Findings

After rapidly testing the hypotheses in real-world situations, often sourcing feedback from real customers or users, we build an evidence-filled set of findings. These findings are observed truths made in a test that repeats across more than one participant or scenario.  

In our example, we found that we were, in fact, correct. Presented with four different potential “ways in” to kick off the user flow, the majority of prospects preferred to self-select into an archetype group, then answer more specific follow-up questions to deliver tailored results, citing a desirable balance of entertainment (perusing the archetypes) with the rigor of analysis of more targeted questions. Luckily, this user-led finding coincided nicely with the business ambitions of strong data collection (questions) with minimal PII risk (leading to self-selection).  

3. Form Convictions

Our findings are swiftly synthesized into convictions that form the basis of the new product. These convictions are the “so what” – product declarations, informed by findings, that become product decisions to be taken forward into design.  

Because user feedback conveniently converged with business needs, convictions for this H2A cycle for our financial services client were clear: the optimal “way in”, from both a user experience and business POV, is to lead with archetypes followed by questions to inform the product mix recommendation.  

4. Determine Actions

All of this comes together to form the specific actions to move the team forward in designing and defining the user value proposition.  

With our client, in closing out this cycle of H2A, we determined that the next best action for the predictive financial services product was to play out a complete interaction model across archetypes and questions, exploring means to delight the user with feedback/findings along the way to encourage completion of the full experience.  

We repeated the H2A cycle across a series of six two-week sprints, through which we tested, learned, adjusted, and optimized the product until we reached a fully defined and designed MVP, backed by user data and aligned to business priorities, ready to enter development. Ultimately, when launched in the market, the product achieved 12X the conversion rate of previous lead gen campaigns within the business, evidencing the power and speed of hypotheses-led innovation in driving high-impact products at the minimum possible investment.   

The H2A approach has led to the successful launch of B2C, B2B and B2B2C products and services in everything from home goods to healthcare. At its core, the value lies in its ability to find a way to start small, learn quickly and launch successfully. By unearthing the riskiest early assumptions that might be being made – and proving or disproving those rapidly with data-driven evidence – when the product does go live its chances for success will be that much greater and the path to scalability that much clearer.  


When resources are limited and risk tolerance is low, you need to move at pace through evidence-led decisions to get to market quickly. Product market fit is never guaranteed, but our methodical approach continues to drive customer and business success regardless of industry.


3 Ways to Out-Innovate the Downturn 

Prioritizing innovation is key to unlocking sustainable growth – particularly in turbulent times – and enabling this requires a new level of collaboration. 

Collaboration inspires innovation. It fuels growth and accelerates transformation. Yet with so many eyes focused on the turbulent economy, companies are losing sight of innovation’s value. As fear infuses corporate conversations, many are already using the uncertainty to justify putting innovation efforts on hold. They shift from finding new sources of growth to focusing on ways to shrink–what projects to mothball? Which budgets to cut? Which workers to eliminate? 

That short-sightedness is a mistake. History has shown us, again and again, that companies that move into head-down defensiveness miss out on the rich opportunities that downturns create. Competitors change course. Customer behavior shifts. Old needs fade, and new ones arise.  

Unless companies actively seek ways to boost innovation, collaborating throughout the organization to enrich new and better experiences, they’re missing out on transformative possibilities. Past recessions have given us innovative new companies and operating models, from the sharing economy to the crypto craze. And companies that look for new ways to grow, expand and transform consistently outperform the batten-down-the-hatches crowd. 

It takes collaborative muscle. Our recent research shows that companies can systematically build that strength. And those that do are more productive, finding relevant solutions that aren’t just novel but also high-impact and potentially transformative. 

Three places to begin right now are: 

1. Prioritize Customer Journeys, Not Functions or Departments 

Getting teams to work well beyond their silos isn’t a new problem. But it’s taken on outsized urgency as companies see themselves constantly outflanked by category disruptors. Departmental boundaries serve a role but also thwart flexibility, speed and innovative potential. They slow transformation. And the bad news is that our research shows hybrid workplaces are even worse at collaborative efforts. 

In most companies, people are still primarily evaluated and compensated on functional and departmental key performance indicators. Their work is often not even in alignment with organizational goals. Because there’s no formal or systematic recognition for interdepartmental teams, efforts fizzle out. In addition, customers continue to face disjointed products and services. They feel like they’re dealing with one brand in customer service or marketing but a completely different one in operations or sales. 

Solving this problem doesn’t necessarily require sweeping organizational changes. Companies can move toward this type of change starting with small pods, giving them a clear focus and the agency to test and prove new collaborative models.  

The more touchpoints and complexity a product or service contains, the more critical this step becomes. Prophet recently worked with a large purpose-driven financial services company, which wanted to provide better tools, programs and support for its financial advisors. It also wanted to ensure that each new offer and channel conveyed its purpose, whether it was a young family looking for a first insurance policy or older consumers focused on estate planning. Using a “pods and squads” model, we helped the company build small cross-functional teams focused on core customer needs. Viewing that work within the context of the company helped create a model that it could scale throughout the organization and overcome internal friction by finding a more seamless approach for advisors and end customers. 

Where to Start:  

Think small, with concrete and specific projects. While the ultimate goal might be to organize cross-functional teams for each segment of the company’s audience, individual pilots are more practical than ripping out all the plumbing. Create goals and objectives, restructuring KPIs around jobs to be done. This works by creating small wins, fueling the collaborative mindset. 

2. Maximize Principles, Minimize Process 

Truly collaborative organizations–not surprisingly, the most innovative–are powered by principles. It’s not that they don’t have rules and decision matrices to govern how work is done–they do. It’s just that they have overriding principles and values that are more important. These principles provide clarity and direction in ways process guidelines can’t. 

Google’s 20% Project is one of the most famous examples and has led the company to such innovations as Gmail and Google Maps. Others have turned similar side-project principles into ventures like Slack and Twitter.  

When principles guide companies, they become social norms–more potent than rule-based ways to make decisions. But there’s an art to settling on the correct principles. Too often, they’re vague, benign and become something tacked up on the office wall, like “Be nice” or “Listen to others.” 

Fluffy platitudes aren’t enough – principles must provide enough depth and structure to feel relevant and contextual. They should inform people as they consider, “What’s right for this company? This brand? In this moment?” And they further a company’s purpose, emphasizing simplicity, adaptability and sustainability. 

When there are rules, people cooperate. When there are principles, they collaborate–but they must find common ground between themselves, their colleagues and the company. Prophet’s Collaboration Flywheel Model™️ helps leaders and organizations move toward an environment that is sustainable and delivers more impactful outcomes faster over time 

For example, our recent work with CVS Kidney Care focused on translating its “culture of courage” into innovations to help millions of people suffering from kidney disease. We established principles for how the group wanted to work as a team, how to communicate, and how to share information.  

Our teams supported CVS Kidney Care in translating those goals into principles required to completely disrupt the kidney-care universe. Using two-week agile sprints to break down silos, we helped it focus on patient, caregiver and provider priorities. The result? A truly transformed experience for kidney patients, delivering personalized, seamless care with less time away from home and work–and improved health outcomes. 

Where to Start:  

Focus on team autonomy and team charters. Positioning these as the first steps in building team dynamics often makes a natural step to developing or redefining the Employee Value Proposition. The EVP can and should distill these ideas, connecting principles to brand promise. This kind of collaboration leads to EVPs that intersect beautifully with an organization’s overall purpose and each part of the company, from experience and innovation teams to brand and culture specialists. 

3. Play with Prototypes, Not Presentations 

If pictures are worth a thousand words, prototypes are worth a thousand user stories. People learn best by doing, so involving people throughout the organization in play sessions that let them roll up their sleeves will lead to more innovative and effective solutions than yet another 90-page PowerPoint. Embedding a maker mentality stimulates constructive conversation about new ideas, which are often hard to share and explain. 

Put simply, doing uncovers more wisdom than thinking. 

And yes, we get that it’s challenging to convince a C-suite focused on cutbacks and retrenching to step up their commitment to play. But it’s a crucial ingredient. Play opens people’s minds, facilitating new ways of thinking and doing. We often use Lego’s Serious Play in workshops to help people better connect their brains’ right and left sides. This co-creation opens collaborators’ minds, giving them a better sense of what is and isn’t possible. 

Iteratively building–testing and playing in this way–gets organizations to more efficient learning and definition. 

Adults aren’t good at it. The famous Spaghetti Marshmallow Tower is one of our favorite examples. When given a marshmallow, some dry spaghetti, tape and the instructions to build the tallest tower in 18 minutes, those with MBAs perform miserably. They assume there is a single best approach. They over-analyze. They jockey for power. As they run out of time, they realize their towers can’t support a marshmallow. 

Those that do best? Kindergartners. Their sturdy towers are taller and more varied–precisely because they prototype every step of the way.  

This playfulness solves another problem: Not all people in organizations perceive collaboration in the same way. Enthusiasm, and the perception of effectiveness and value of collaboration, vary by department and across regions. Why not make it more enjoyable? 

We recently did a project for a healthcare company that wanted to extend its reach among small and mid-sized medical practices. These providers offer excellent care but often lack the marketing resources of large practices. 

Before we started building things, we developed a series of interactive prototypes. Many people from departments as diverse as risk, compliance, finance and operations had the chance to play with the different options. They poked and prodded, turning solutions upside down. 

When a roomful of people hears remarks like, “This approach is more engaging, but it would mean we’d have to change X or Y to implement it,” there’s less friction between departments–everyone can see why collaboration is better. It highlights what is most valuable to the end user and why. 

Where to Start:  

Rapid prototyping doesn’t have to be elaborate. It should begin with sketching on paper. It should be dirty, ugly and fun. Exercises like mash-up innovation, how-now-wow and bad-idea brainstorms can be light exercises to generate initial concepts. Service storyboards and mood boards help and so does writing a make-believe press release for a hypothetical launch. Anything that involves the team in different ways to communicate ideas is helpful. 


Effective collaboration is essential in order to increase the pace and quality of innovation efforts across the organization. It is also one of the most meaningful aspects of employee engagement and personal growth. And that personal growth – learning new skills, extending networks and increased productivity – translates to the entire organization, helping enterprise goals to be achieved more quickly. In down markets, prioritizing collaboration gives companies an innovative advantage and delivers new and different sources of growth.


What is Business Design?

Learn about the modern approach to business building.

Business strategy and design thinking are converging into a new approach for solving business challenges known as business design. This makes sense given that design-driven companies continue to outperform their peers and also explains why so many management consultancies are rapidly acquiring design agencies. A decade ago, business design was an emerging role in design agencies. Today, however, it’s an established role in consulting and moving in-house as well.  

How do We Define Business Design?  

Business design brings a design mindset and methodology to solve business challenges and deliver viable business models. At Prophet, business design is a method for developing products, services and ventures for our clients that are differentiated in the market and able to capture value for their businesses.  

Why is Business Design the Modern Approach to Business Building? 

There is some magic that happens when you bring the design process of divergence and convergence to bear on business challenges. It gets business leaders out of the mindset of competing over existing market share and reorients them to think about what new value could be created based on the emerging needs, motivations and behaviors of all humans involved in the value creation equation – customers, users, employees and communities. 

At Prophet, when we embark on a business design project, there are some key things we set out to do:  

  • Achieve a deep understanding of business challenges faced 
  • Bring a design mindset and use design methods to solve them, including creating new methods 
  • Develop iterative plans and models based on real-world scenarios to understand what will be most viable in the market 

The goal of business design is to ensure that neither of these scenarios happens: 

  • The business minds determine all the requirements for a new offering and bring designers in to beautify the interface 
  • The design team creates the end-to-end user experience of a new offering and brings the business people in to give it a price tag 

The defining characteristic of the business design function is to constantly balance the needs of users with the needs of the business, in the near and long term. A business designer will always ensure that business logic informs any design-build or seek out to better understand the logic that supports their design – whether that be loyalty leading to higher customer lifetime value, efficiency leading to higher transaction volume or something else entirely. On the other hand, a business designer will see through a short-term value capture scheme if it has the potential to hurt the long-term viability of the business. So, it is about balance on two fronts: managing desirability and viability and managing the time horizons. 

Three Examples of Business Design Frameworks 

Here are some business design frameworks that show what it looks like to solve business challenges with design methodology: 

Human-Centered Opportunity Sizing = Total Addressable Problem 

The Total Addressable Market (TAM) approach to opportunity sizing assumes that companies are constrained by the industry in which they operate today and that to outgrow the market, they must take share from incumbents. In contrast, the business design approach to opportunity sizing is based on the Total Addressable Problem (TAP), which a business is trying to solve for users. Rather than starting with an existing industry, such as the hotel industry, it starts with a user need, like the ability to feel at home anywhere in the world. Framing the opportunity based on what you are helping users achieve creates new possibilities and use cases.  

Take Airbnb for instance. Airbnb’s growth far exceeded the budget travel market that it originally entered. Now, Airbnb competes with luxury hotels, short-term rentals and travel services outside of lodging. Uber is another great example. It started from the other end of the spectrum as a high-end car service but through a TAP framework, it far outgrew the taxi industry and instead became a micro-mobility platform with food delivery, bike rentals and healthcare transportation. Lastly, Amazon started in e-commerce, but through a TAP framework, grew to provide convenience in all aspects of household management, including building a smart home ecosystem.  

Human-Centered Commercialization = Incentive Design 

Business design creates outsized value by aligning emerging behavioral and business models and then makes value exchanges that are sustainable and durable in the long run. Before folding in 2013, late fees accounted for 16% of Blockbuster’s revenue. If the way a business captures value is in direct opposition to its users’ best interest, that is not a sustainable business model.  

Netflix’s subscription model, however, aligns user and business interests. The more you watch, the more data Netflix gets on what you like to watch, the better they can recommend additional content. Subscriptions lock in recurring revenue, enabling Netflix to make bigger bets in developing new content. And it is not just about value for customers. Netflix invests heavily in creators with new stories to tell and targets those stories to the right audiences. One of the most important activities in business design is creating growth feedback loops in which new demand drives new supply while increasing value for all stakeholders. 

Human-Centered Planning = Test and Learn 

Business design preferences emergent and iterative models over linear and deterministic planning. You can learn more about the viability of a new business in one meeting with users than in a week of modeling future cash flows based on historic assumptions. A business designer is comfortable with the knowledge that an assumption being off could mean a 10x change in revenue projections. They will not boil the ocean perfecting those assumptions, instead, they will put something into the market and see what happens. Of course, businesses need cash flow today to explore new problems to solve for their users tomorrow. A business designer will think about what can be EBIT-accretive today, while also investing in experiments to rapidly test and learn what new business models might be most relevant in the future. 


Despite its gaining popularity, business design remains a widely misunderstood discipline, yet it is the most important future skill. At its core, it requires a human-centered approach that is simultaneously focused on the needs of customers, stakeholders and key business imperatives.  

At Prophet, our business design team comes from the design world and the business world. We self-selected into business design because we saw that there was no longer a product-solution fit between traditional business strategy tools and the types of challenges we are tasked with solving for clients today. A business design approach is fit-for-purpose to future-proofing businesses as the needs, behaviors and expectations of humans and what is enabled by technology changes at an unprecedented rate. 

Start employing business design to solve key business challenges. Get in touch today.  


A Six Step Guide to Digital Product Creation

Launching successful digital products is extremely difficult. In fact, 95% of products that are introduced each year fail. The digital product landscape has become much more complex and specialized – from grocery delivery apps to customer service chatbots – digital products shape the way we live, connect and do business.

However, it takes more than a killer novel idea to make it rich and successful. The process of bringing the digital product to life, from an idea on paper to practical reality, with development, testing and refinement is daunting and where many fail. While you can never guarantee success (who knows when a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic will dramatically change the world and markets), you can greatly reduce the risk of product failure by taking a methodical and intentional approach to how you build digital products.

While each product is different, successful digital product creation requires an intentional chain of steps to validate. Through our tried, tested and validated iterative approach, we collaborate with clients across industries and verticals to define, launch and scale successful digital products in-market at pace. A digital product is not simply a mobile application or a website. We think of a digital product as having these four components:

(1) A clear user value proposition, that is (2) delivered through a value-generating business model and is (3) supported by an operational model that optimizes consistent delivery of services, which (4) customers and/or employees interact with through digital interface(s).

As you can see there is a lot necessary to get right in building digital products. So, where do you start?

The Six Stages of Digital Product Creation

At Prophet, we take an agile, insights-driven approach to helping our clients develop valuable and successful new products. As quickly as possible we move from assumptions to concrete knowledge fueled by market evidence around every element of the potential product. Our approach breaks the process into six specific stages:

  1. Opportunity Definition
  2. Rapid Experience Design
  3. Alpha
  4. Beta
  5. Core
  6. Retirement

Let’s dig into how these phases work in sequence to reduce risk and increase chances of success.

Stage One: Opportunity Definition

The opportunity stage is one of the most critical phases of digital product creation. Before even beginning to sketch a design or write a line of code, it all starts with defining a valuable opportunity asking, ‘what is the problem that needs to be solved, is it worth solving and does it match the strategic goals for the company?’  Often, businesses think they already understand the problem, and this is precisely why many new products fail.

Prophet’s Experience and Innovation experts bring a human-centered design approach to the process of defining and designing these opportunities. It will often start by uncovering and designing a compelling experience strategy for how a company can distinguish and deliver value for its customers in desirable ways across the entire customer journey. This perspective, along with our deep expertise in service design and business design, defines initial concepts and objectives that formalize compelling product opportunities aligned to our client’s business strategies.

Questions we focus on answering in this phase are: 

  • Can we find valuable opportunities that match the strategic goals?
  • Who is the target audience, and do they have a large enough problem in line with the client’s aspirations?

Stage Two: Rapid Experience Design

The goal of this next stage is to iteratively validate and refine the opportunity and assumptions with target customers to gain essential evidence, deep dive into their unmet needs and embed decisive learnings. This level of fast-paced evidence-driven learning can be eye-opening for clients used to longer bureaucratic cycles of decision making and analysis paralysis.

Through this rapid process, we quickly arrive at a minimum viable concept (MVC). There are many steps to get to a fully finessed product, but we need to start with a concept from which we can get quick iterative end-user feedback so that we can best understand the opportunity and a possible solution. In this way, the MVC lets us quickly and cheaply test while we are iteratively improving our understanding of the opportunity.

Questions we focus on answering in this phase are: 

  • Can we design a solution for the target audience’s needs?
  • Does our evidence indicate the solution can deliver on the target audience’s unmet or underserved needs?
  • Can we define the functional capabilities necessary to deliver the solution?

Stage Three: Alpha

Armed with the best probable solution to the problem, the alpha phase is focused on the design, build and testing of the components of the product offering. Technical functionality, customer support, business models, content and data requirements enabled by strategic organizational coordination all become the levers we nimbly adjust to build the product offering. This requires frequent and consistent testing with target customers to refine every element of the product offering. Ultimately, the goal of this phase is to deliver the minimum functionality necessary to achieve product/market fit.

Questions we focus on answering in this phase are: 

  • Is this a sustainable product people will consistently reuse and/or pay for?
  • Does the evidence indicate that this solution would deliver differentiation and is there a viable business model?
  • Is there the will/skill/bandwidth to deliver this minimal viable product (MVP)?
  • Have the necessary people/process/data/capabilities been identified to deliver this solution at scale?

Stage Four: Beta

At the beta stage, the mythical product/market fit has been reached and now it’s about proving active customers would use the product consistently through a valuable business model. Groups that may have lightly engaged previously across marketing, sales, corporate development, legal, compliance, operations and others, now become fundamental to the success of the product and its go-to-market strategy. This is when we actively pursue approaches to grow the audience, reduce operational and customer acquisition costs and build new functionality to attract new customers without losing existing customers. It is an artful dance requiring sizeable bets to be placed on people, process, data and technology all while taking a measurable outcome-based focus on how to grow the business.

Questions we focus on answering in this phase are: 

  • Can we build scalable and profitable business value?
  • Does our evidence identify a scalable business model with a route to profitability?
  • What is the go-to-market strategy for scaled commercialization?

Stage Five: Core

This fifth phase is the promised land, where all the work has paid off and we have a validated product in the market, delivering customer and business value.  At this stage, we no longer need proxy metrics for product success but can move to standard business accounting and processes to support sustained growth in the enterprise – the scaling phase.

Despite the effort that has been expended up until this point, this is still a very common point of failure for products as they transition from incubating a new product to delivering through existing business metrics and accounting. This is part of why it is important to bring the company along on this incubation process to avoid organ rejection and yet keep enough distance to give novel and innovative ideas the space to grow. This product can be sustained either through an existing business unit within the company or by creating a wholly new business unit.  Either direction will require the product team to adopt a new set of goals, focus and investment to scale in a competitive market while consistently delivering value for customers.

Questions we focus on answering in this phase are: 

  • How do we structure the functional and operational capabilities within the company to scale this product successfully?
  • Which capabilities require partnership with outside companies, where might new capabilities need to be built or companies acquired to fuel growth?

Stage Six: Retirement

All products and services companies deliver will, at some point, outlive their value to the business and/or their customers. The ability to objectively evaluate which products and business lines to employ focus and resources is critical to the longevity and stability of the company.  In this way, we need to understand not only when it has outlived its use, but how impactful it will be to sunset the product line to the brand, the bottom line, the current customers and the larger market.  Through these lenses, we can begin to understand whether we will need to plan a migration of customers to another product offering, spinoff or sell this product to remove it from the brand and company responsibility, or simply turn off the lights.

It is very difficult to deprecate something that has been such a part of your company’s history, but being a resilient business requires tough choices about capital and resource allocation for sustained growth.


No digital product development will be identical. However, by planning for each of these six stages you can set your product up for success. As a growth and transformation consultancy, it is central to our ways of operating to help our clients navigate all stages of the product lifecycle, particularly as they look to embed new capabilities, grow their audiences and differentiate themselves in volatile and competitive marketplaces.

From proposition to product, Prophet’s Experience & Innovation experts can uncover valuable insights, validate innovative ideas and design intuitive and engaging digital products and services to help your business achieve and maintain a competitive advantage.


Growing Sustainable Fashion: Inspiring Brand Moves for DTC Companies

Although the fashion industry traditionally follows seasonal trends, sustainability is proving to be a year-round wardrobe staple among DTC brands and their customers. Recycled materials, circular fashion and ethical supply chains are capturing headlines as brands depart from a legacy of wasteful production processes and find new ways to revolutionize the fashion industry’s carbon footprint.

Despite the ongoing buzz and urgency, among both customers and brands, to address such issues, the sustainable fashion market remains a fraction of overall fashion sales. Additionally, consumers’ intentions do not yet match their purchase habits. As documented by ecological certification company Oeko-Tex, 69% of millennials report an interest in purchasing sustainable fashion, however only 37% purchase sustainable fashion. This points to a meaningful opportunity to convert that interest into a purchase.

As DTC fashion companies look to expand the ethical and sustainable share of the overall fashion market, they must consider the factors that are hindering consumers from purchasing more sustainable garments. The high price point of sustainable clothing, low awareness of the environmental impact and lack of trust in sustainability claims have been clear limiting factors.

Brand loyalty stands out as a key strategic move that DTC companies can immediately pursue to increase their share of the sustainable fashion market and help grow the industry overall. Brand loyalty can help DTC companies increase their relevance amongst consumers and break down some of their hesitations about sustainable fashion.

To increase brand loyalty in fashion sustainability, successful DTC brands often focus on one, or both, of the following:

  1. Brand message
  2. Brand inspiration

These levers are powerful ways to shape consumer perceptions and drive enduring loyalty.

1. Building Loyalty Through Pervasively Innovative Brand Messaging

DTC fashion brands that are truly pushing sustainability forward and not resorting to greenwashing are building lasting brand relevance and loyalty. Some consumers are wary of brands that talk about sustainability without the innovations in the supply chain, or a business model to back up the claims. DTC fashion brands that create innovative messaging on sustainability have a chance to win in the market.

The LA-based sustainable clothing brand Reformation offers a powerful example of a profitable DTC fashion retailer that has managed to combine growth with genuine innovation in sustainability. Reformation has made understanding sustainability more accessible for consumers, by publishing environmental impact data and content for each individual item on its website. Its sustainability report from 2020 also highlights how it works with supply chain partners to utilize clean chemicals and ensure that 75% of its fibers meet its two highest standards for sustainability.

Reformation has also been a pioneer in making sustainability content feel approachable through clever taglines like “Carbon is canceled” and “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option, we’re #2.” All in all, its commitment to building a community of loyal and environmentally conscious customers through DTC brand practices has shown great success.

2. Building Loyalty Through Distinctive Brand Identity

While important, innovation in sustainability messaging isn’t the only tactic necessary to drive DTC brand loyalty. DTC fashion companies must have distinctive, inspired products and a brand identity to match. The Business of Fashion’s profile of the divergent paths of DTC brands Vuori and Entireworld offers a cautionary tale of what happens when companies are not distinctly inspired. Vuori is a clothing brand that sells activewear and athletic clothing, while Entireworld was a leisurewear brand.

In October, Vuori secured hundreds of millions in investment to expand its activewear brand, while Entireworld shuttered. In addition to profitability, much of Entireworld’s failure was due to its undifferentiated product. Vuori launched new segments like men’s activewear and surf apparel, whereas Entireworld struggled to compete solely on its sweatsuits. Without new inspired apparel pieces and adjacent products, Entireworld failed to stand out in the marketplace.

“The high price point of sustainable clothing, low awareness of the environmental impact and lack of trust in sustainability claims have been clear limiting factors.”

Distinct inspiration has also allowed emerging fashion brands like Ahluwalia to gain an obsessive customer following. Ahluwalia’s designer Priya Ahluwalia has built her collection around repurposed vintage pieces. This signature look is gaining attention for breaking the mold and Priya has received industry-wide recognition winning the prestigious 2020 LVMH award amongst others. Ahluwalia’s pieces stand far outside the fashion norms that retailers like Zara and H&M adhere to, and this has built a small but loyal following for the brand.

However, the pressure doesn’t stop with consumer demand and creative competition, recent legislative pushes, like the Fashion Act in New York state, could require companies to “map at least 50% of their supply chains and disclose impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions, water footprint and chemical use.” This development indicates that the mandate for a more sustainable fashion industry will not diminish anytime soon.


Reformation, Vuori and Ahluwalia demonstrate that on the path towards sustainability, DTC fashion brands are far from uniform. However, at their core, these brands share a drive to grow through innovation and inspiration that sets them apart from competitors. Most importantly, sustainability is at the heart of their brand story.

Prophet’s Vice Chairman, David Aaker says “The concept of a signature story – an intriguing, authentic, involving narrative – applies the power of stories to strategic messaging.”

Learning to create and leverage signature stories has truly become a “must-have” management competence. Companies that focus on brand loyalty through innovative brand storytelling and an inspired identity have an opportunity to grow market share now and in the future in the sustainable fashion market.

Prophet is working with leading DTC companies in fashion and across industries on brand strategy, growth strategy and performance marketing. Interested in finding out more? Contact us today

Brand Equity – Brand Value_1_A


Three Examples of Successful Business Model Innovation

A business model is the backbone of how a company creates, delivers and captures value. When a company innovates on just the customer experience without considering the underlying business model, it not only reduces the value that can be delivered to customers but also fails to realize the full value that can be captured by the business. Over time, that reduces the business’s ability to invest in creating experiences that will power the business of tomorrow. As Ben Thompson wrote in his analysis of Facebook, “succeeding on the Internet didn’t simply mean making a digital product, but also finding a business model that was native as well.”  

Business model innovation is the creation of outsized value – in the form of market share, margin and defensibility, by reconfiguring multiple elements of the business model. Here are three examples of business model innovation that created more value for customers while also increasing the amount of value available to be captured by the business: 

Amazon’s Subscription Model Grows Customer Lifetime Value

Customers can automate the replenishment of household items through Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program. Many parents struggle to equitably distribute the management and execution of tasks in their household, with the greater share often defaulting to women. 

For instance, before buying detergent, someone must remember that it needs to be bought and what type to buy in the first place. This idea leads to friction that forces customers to outsource tasks in order to better distribute the load. The Subscribe and Save program makes it easy to personalize recurring deliveries and gives members the benefit of saving more as they spend more. For the business, it creates a recurring revenue stream while decreasing customer motivation to shop around and price compare each month. And finally, sending multiple items in one box each month lowers the marginal cost of fulfillment. 

Airbnb’s Value Chain Grows the Total Addressable Market

Airbnb modularized the supply of short-term rentals available, making it easy for travelers to compare options, read reviews and book. By integrating the supply of rooms onto its platform and completely owning the customer relationship, it created the conditions necessary for guests and hosts to trust one another, even without Airbnb owning a single room. In digital businesses, the winner is often the company that can reconfigure the value chain to modularize supply and own demand because it makes it difficult for suppliers to squeeze margins and it creates a virtuous cycle of new demand driving new supply. Airbnb is an example of disruptive innovation because it began in the underserved, low-end part of the travel market by offering inexpensive room rentals outside of tourist districts. After building a great reputation based on customer experience and trust, the platform was able to move upstream to mid-tier, business and luxury segments of the market. 

Microsoft’s App Store Pushes the Industry Towards Open Marketplaces

During its acquisition of Activision Blizzard, Microsoft announced a set of open app store principles, just months after Epic Games accused Apple of anti-competitive practices in the iOS app ecosystem. Microsoft’s leadership is seeking to create a “universal store” in direct contrast to Apple because it believes that outside developers must thrive in its ecosystem to deliver the best experience to customers, even if this means forgoing near term profits that could be gained by showing preference to its own apps, requiring its payment systems be used or acting as a gatekeeper between developers and customers.  

An NFX assessment recently found that 70% of value in tech is driven by network effects. By creating an open app store, Microsoft is betting that network effects will grow the overall value of the gaming industry enough to make up for leaving some value on the table in the near term. By focusing on overall value creation rather than just profit maximization, business model innovation prioritizes models that will create the most sustainable value for all stakeholders in the ecosystem.  

And When it Goes Wrong – Clubhouse’s Fatal Flaw

The goal of business model innovation is to configure business model components in a way that maximizes the total amount of value available to be created, delivered and captured. An offering that fails to solve a real customer problem will never gain traction in the market and a desirable value proposition without a mechanism to capture value for the business won’t last long.  

For example, Clubhouse quickly attracted a sizeable user base by solving a unique problem presented by Covid 19 – the newfound difficulty of getting together. The audio-only, originally invite-only social media app allowed newly homebound people to gather for live conversations around common interests. Rather than commercializing components of the value proposition, such as through subscriptions, advertising or commission fees, the founders focused only on user growth.  

“Business model innovation is the creation of outsized value – in the form of market share, margin and defensibility.”

However, the problem was that Clubhouse’s value proposition was easy for tech giants to replicate. Twitter quickly rolled out Spaces, which solves the same user problem without requiring users to join a new platform. Additionally, due to network effects, these features are more valuable on a platform with a larger user base. Twitter also already had a mechanism in place to allow hosts to monetize, making it a more attractive platform for content creators, while also offering the capability of capturing value with commission fees, as well as growing a new offering that will be valuable for advertisers in the future. 


Because business model innovation is about exploring what could be rather than what has been, there is no standardized answer—but we do have a standardized approach based on human-centered design methodology. The process begins with a thorough economic analysis of the existing and adjacent markets, consumer behaviors and new technology to model many configurations of value exchanges.  

A successful business model innovation will solve new problems for customers and create entirely new use cases – such as employees using Airbnb to work from anywhere during the pandemic. Business model innovation requires multidisciplinary teams of strategists, designers, and technologists to think divergently about what could be, model the highest value opportunities and rapidly test and iterate in-market. At Prophet, we are uniquely equipped to do this because we always start with the customer and the problems they are trying to solve, so we create business models that are in harmony with getting the experience right.  

Interested in learning more about how business model innovation can enable and sustain both incremental improvements and disruptive paradigm shifts in your market? Get in touch 

Brand Equity – Brand Value_1_A


The Innovative Brands Leading the Way in Customer Experience

The most relevant brands offer exceptional experiences, wrapping them seamlessly around their core offering.

Prophet’s 2022 Brand Relevance Index® (BRI) ranks hundreds of U.S. brands on the characteristics that consumers care about the most. In the seventh edition of our ground-breaking, annual research, we measured brands’ relevancy based on how human-centered they were, evaluating how strongly they appealed to consumers’ heads and hearts.

In the brave, new world of business that looks more digital, autonomous and quick-paced than ever, brands across all industries are racing to show up for consumers in a truly human-centric way. With the pandemic’s initial economic boost waning for many, brands must reshape their core offerings to not just accommodate but thrive in our new pandemic-tinged reality. Products and services must now be both emotive and productive, aspirational and practical, and accessible and coveted.  

“Brands must reshape their core offerings to not just accommodate but thrive in our new pandemic-tinged reality.”

To no surprise, we found that brands that scored high on relevance also delivered innovative experiences. Here are three brands that rose to the top over the past year by delivering exceptional experiences and innovative products: 

Apple: Technology Becomes Responsible 

Apple was again the number one most relevant brand on our index this year. However, there’s more to the story than an easy reign at the top. The technology titan’s dominance today seems second-nature, but it’s jarring to remember that inventions like the iPad and the MacBook are no more than 12 and 20 years old respectively. As the arc of technology lengthens, it is finally curving into the next phase of innovation maturity – products and services that are not just good to use, but good for you as well. 

Apple has come under fire in the past for customer-antagonistic practices like planned obsolescence and hardware incompatibility. However, the brand has improved its trust with users in the last year by rolling out products like the AirTag, which helps users locate lost Apple products, and iOS features like Screen Time and Focus mode, which helps users monitor and limit usage of their Apple devices.  

While reducing the usage of its products may initially seem counterintuitive to Apple’s business goals, we believe product responsibility is actually the next iteration of customer-centricity. By showing users that they care about more than just maximizing KPIs, brands are truly centering them in their design. Sure enough, Apple scored highest on our Index when it came to sentiments like “is modern and in touch” and “meets an important need in my life”, proving that doing what’s truly best for customers ultimately makes for a more trustworthy, human and innovative brand. 

Takeaway: Brands must be motivated by more than sales or singular KPIs if they want to create continuously innovative products and everlastingly relevant services.  

Spotify: Fine-tuned, Personalized Experiences 

Spotify rocked to the top of the BRI, coming in third overall. We’ve rarely seen a brand blend the art and science of personalization as well as Spotify has consistently done for customers. Hallmark experiences like Spotify Wrapped that use user data to create genuinely interesting, shareable narratives have now become synonymous with Spotify’s value to users and triggered an avalanche of copycat experiences across industries, from financial services to food delivery. 

By tapping into users’ pride in their unique music tastes and their distinctly young, trendy demographic, Spotify has been able to serve up one-to-one personalized features like musical birth charts and shared playlist generators. The brand also recognizes the importance of optimizing for a social, highly shareable customer experience, using this key customer insight to create features like Group Sessions, Lyrics and even launch innovative new physical products like Car Thing.  

Spotify is so tuned into their millennial-skewing demographic that one might even say it verges on “cheugy”, but one thing is for certain—Spotify has created strong business returns. Spotify’s user base expanded to 180 million active users in Q4 2021, up 16% YoY and generated over $10 billion in 2021 revenue, up 40% YoY. No wonder it scored the highest on this year’s BRI among consumers for statements like “makes me happy” and “is modern and in-touch.”  

Takeaway: Knowing what emotionally connects to your customers and showing them the data to back it up is the key to creating superior user experiences. 

PlayStation: The Immersive Portal for Play 

Sony’s PlayStation brand powered onwards, rising from number nine to number seven in this year’s Index. As the metaverse expands and Big Tech makes a big bet on the future of play being completely virtual, entertainment companies are seizing an even bigger opportunity space to innovate. PlayStation is certainly one of these movers and shakers, implementing a two-pronged innovation strategy that prioritizes both excellent hardware and unbeatable software.  

The latest PlayStation®5 (PS5™) model was an instant sell-out when it hit stores in late 2020, thanks to next-gen visual, audio and haptic features that allowed for an all-immersive gaming experience. Since then, PlayStation has prioritized building out more cutting-edge technology, like AR/VR, while making sure to optimize for important current channels like mobile and social streaming platforms. At the same time, parent company Sony continues to invest in top-notch content by inking exclusive deals with big franchises like Marvel’s Spiderman and Horizon.  

Even as the pandemic’s boost to the gaming industry wanes, PlayStation has held steady, scoring high on BRI Index sentiments like “delivers a consistent experience” and “is modern and in-touch.” And the numbers speak for themselves, as PlayStation coasted to first place with $24.87 billion at the end of 2021, beating out Microsoft’s Xbox at $16.28 billion and Nintendo’s $15.3 billion. 

Takeaway: Pairing relentlessly relevant core experiences with an innovative, well-engineered physical product makes PlayStation’s brand an endgame for users. 


From technology to entertainment, fitness to food, the most innovative brands on the BRI this year all share a common thread of exceptional experiences that wrap seamlessly around their core offering. The connection between brand relevance and user experience continues to strengthen as consumers expect increasingly more from businesses. Responsible products, personalized services and immersive content are all innovative ways brands can rise to the top and stay relevant in today’s human-centric world.   


How Open Innovation is Driving the Next Era of Growth for Singapore

How the government is fostering a deep tech ecosystem, designed to encourage open innovation.

Something surprising happened amidst the gloom and doom in the early months of the Covid-19 crisis — companies began to come together to collaborate on an unprecedented level, putting the ability to create value before profits.

To fully reap the rewards from innovation, companies need to prepare for the transformational challenge ahead. Successful innovation often requires operational and structural changes to how business is done. Such changes are difficult for any employee, team or even business unit to undertake. Smart companies, however, will seize this opportunity to rethink their innovation infrastructure.

To reinforce this effort, the Singapore government launched various initiatives to support technology-focused start-ups – one of these initiatives is SGInnovate, a private organization wholly owned by the Singapore government to develop a deep tech ecosystem in the country.

Recently, Jacqueline Alexis Thng, partner at Prophet, and Dr. Lim Jui, CEO of SGInnovate, held a webinar to discuss the importance of open innovation for businesses today and share their predictions on what the future holds. Here, we share some of those key insights:

How is SGInnovate working to create an ecosystem where innovation can thrive?

Dr. Lim Jui: SGInnovate is facilitating the building of a deep tech ecosystem in Singapore by adopting a triple-helix approach that consists of considerations of investment, community building and talent.

On the investment front, SGInnovate is currently Singapore’s only deep tech career and skills development platform and this platform allows us the opportunity to notice and invest in deep tech companies at their earliest formation. To date, we have about 80 portfolio companies and have catalyzed over $700 million of follow-on investments.

On the talent front, we support the development of entrepreneurial scientists by partnering with institutions to enhance beneficial collaboration at the earliest stage. We also hold regular events to help entrepreneurial scientists connect with companies to raise awareness of their new technologies and then take these ideas further.

We hope to build a community that connects every party, including not only deep tech scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs, but also regulators, investors, vendors and manufacturers, helping them to push their innovation agenda.

Why is adopting an open innovation approach important?

Jacqueline Alexis Thng: Open innovation is a business model that incorporates traditional corporate capabilities with external talents and innovations. This business model challenges the traditional silo mentality where companies have conventionally upheld secrecy around R&D as a means to protect their assets. It not only allows for businesses to find new ways to solve pressing problems but through unlocking new relationships with partners with complementary skills, it also offers the potential for future collaboration.

“To fully reap the rewards from innovation, companies need to prepare for the transformational challenge ahead.”

Siemens, for instance, opened up its Additive Manufacturing Network to anyone needing help in medical device design. Similarly, Ford worked with the United Auto Workers, GE Healthcare and 3M to build ventilators. This recent burst of collaboration reminds us of the massive potential that open innovation brings, whether you’re in a crisis or not.

Dr. Lim Jui: These initiatives are often the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to innovation, the challenge faced by many companies in recent years has been the lack of knowledge, skills and best practice. Organizations such as SGInnovate thus help to foster these networks of collaboration through open innovation, building a community that involves an active free flow of ideas and best practices.

We encourage established companies to do what we call ‘reverse pitching’. While normally it is entrepreneurs who pitch to investors and companies for funds, at SGInnovate, we also encourage companies to review innovations from a different perceptive by inviting them to pitch to entrepreneurs.

Where is the future of innovation headed?

 Jacqueline Alexis Thng: Accelerated by COVID-19, digitalization and connectivity has become more essential than ever. We’ve seen a shift in consumer behaviors towards more personalized, contactless and immersive experiences enabled by digital technologies, from healthcare, e-commerce to entertainment.

To respond to these future trends, the Singapore government is said to invest SG$24 billion ($18.1 billion) over the next three years to help local businesses build “deep, future-ready” capabilities for innovation and transformation. They will also enhance programs to support innovation efforts especially in areas such as MedTech and food manufacturing that has seen growing demand across Asean members.

What are SGInnovate’s top two priorities for 2022?  

Dr. Lim Jui: Since our founding in 2017, we have been very invested in digital deep tech, which enabled us to be an early investor in areas such as AI, cybersecurity, transportation tech and so on. However, starting from last year, we moved more to digital health, acting as an advocate for areas in drugs, diagnostics and agri-food that don’t necessarily receive the attention they deserve from private companies.

1. Medicare

Medicare has always been a key focus for SGInnovate because of our ability to work closely with researchers and institutions at an early stage of innovation. With Covid-19, many previously under-addressed needs have been unearthed.

Telemedicine solutions, for instance, are gaining traction in SEA, as consumers now wish to meet their medical needs remotely due to their fear of the virus. The pandemic also exposed the fragile public healthcare system and the lack of healthcare professionals. As a result, there has been an increasing demand for telemedicine to fill this gap in healthcare.

For example, WhiteCoat, Singapore’s leading telemedicine platform for on-demand remote healthcare services, has been backed by SGInnovate to launch a mobile application that connects consumers to an extensive and curated network of medical practitioners and allied healthcare professionals for a best-in-class telehealth experience.

We expect the growth of digital healthcare solutions to continue to catch steam as Covid-19 has made the subject matter a top priority for consumers and institutions alike.

2. Agri-food

Agri-food tech is our spearhead to the sustainability space. We look at innovation in food as a means to tackle climate change because the methane impact from eating meat is resulting in such sizable carbon emissions. In Singapore, where we don’t have farms or livestock, our focus could be on things that we already know, such as how to manipulate certain wavelengths of light to accelerate plant growth.

Covid-19 has also greatly accelerated the growth of this industry. A silver lining of the pandemic is that we have successfully unified all research power in the fight against a common enemy, which gave birth to solutions like the vaccine we have today. In the same way, global scientific intelligence has also come together in the fight against climate change. That is why at SGInnovate, the ability to look externally and collaborate with global research power is an important strength we harbor to help drive innovation within this space.


Open innovation is a more profitable way to innovate because it can reduce costs, accelerate time to market, increase differentiation in the market and create new revenue streams for the company. With COVID-19, businesses experienced an opportunity to innovate through the crisis and now it’s about how they can continue to fully embrace open innovation beyond. Companies must consider how they can make these altered ways of approaching innovation truly stick in order to unlock speed, creativity and business growth.

Are you interested in increasing your innovation capacity? Prophet’s Experience & Innovation experts can help you to underpin a superior approach to innovation. Get in touch here.


Fintech Frontier: Michael Dritsas on Meeting Customers Where They’re At

The CEO of Vlot, an insurtech company, talks about the need for seamless financial checkups.

15 min


Fintech Frontier: Prophet Talks Disruption is a series of interviews with leading fintech disruptors. In this episode, Prophet Partner Tosson El Noshokaty chats with Michael Dritsas, CEO of Vlot. Vlot is an insurtech company that partners with insurers, corporations and banks to deliver seamless financial checkups (white label risk analysis and coverage solutions) so customers and B2B organizations can become more financially responsible.

Michael discusses how Vlot is taking a fiercely customer-centric, bottom-up approach to insurance – providing data-rich insights to customers that fit into their lifestyles and goals. Watch the full interview to learn how Vlot is building enduring relationships with customers on their digital transformation journeys.

About Fintech Frontier: Prophet Talks Disruption

The Financial services industry is evolving rapidly with important shifts in market dynamics & customer expectations.  Prophet’s fintech interview series FinTech Frontier: Prophet Talks Disruption brings you one-on-one interviews with the thought leaders and innovators transforming financial services. Each episode showcases a FinTech leader story that is revolutionizing banking, payments, insurance, and all other areas disrupting our industry.


Pinduoduo’s Purpose-Led Agri-Tech Innovation: A Conversation with Xin Yi Lim

This tech company focuses on farmer productivity while reducing the environmental footprint of farming.

E-commerce continues to surge globally, in part accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in many ways, China leads the charge. While some Chinese companies, such as Alibaba and Meituan, have focused on building ecosystems and “super apps,” Pinduoduo’s approach differs. With origins in agriculture and social commerce, Pinduoduo has risen to the top through an innovative business model that is set on creating value for both the merchant and the consumer. In 2020, Pinduoduo was ranked third by GMV of China’s e-commerce platforms, with a total GMV of $242 billion USD.

Prophet’s Tom Zhang, a senior engagement manager, had the chance to sit down with Xin Yi Lim, Pinduoduo’s executive director of sustainability and agricultural impact, to discuss Pinduoduo’s investment in agri-tech, its view on the consumer-to-manufacturer (C2M) model and the company’s ongoing purpose-led innovation initiatives.

Xin Yi Lim


Executive Director of Sustainability and Agricultural Impact

As Pinduoduo’s executive director of sustainability and agricultural impact, Xin Yi Lim is responsible for Pinduoduo’s international corporate strategy efforts and innovation in sustainability and agri-tech. Before joining Pinduoduo in late 2018, she worked for Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, GIC, in both its Singapore and New York offices as a technology and media analyst in the Public Equities division. Xin Yi holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oxford and a master’s degree from Harvard University.

Can you tell us a bit more about your background? What brought you to Pinduoduo, and what is your current role there?

I’ve spent most of my working life in investment, covering technology, the internet and media. As a financial analyst and an outsider, I was familiar with Chinese e-commerce but very much interested in learning more.

I joined Pinduoduo in late 2018. I’m part of the broader strategy and investment team, but my title is quite unusual – executive director of sustainability and agricultural impact. It’s very hard to find anybody else who has those two things in one title, which speaks to how Pinduoduo sees agriculture. For us, it’s where we can have a huge impact in the social sphere, via poverty alleviation and job creation, and in the environmental sphere as well.

What is Pinduoduo’s ambition behind its continued focus on agriculture, even as the company has expanded into numerous other categories?

In the beginning, there was Pinduoduo and there was also Pinhaohuo (拼好货), which was focused solely on agricultural goods. We merged the two in 2016, and as a result, agriculture remained deeply rooted in our DNA. Even as we grew into selling other categories of goods, agriculture stayed at the forefront as a sector where we could have a large-scale impact and accelerate change.

As a technology company, we’re constantly thinking about how we can disseminate agricultural technologies to improve farmer productivity while reducing the environmental footprint of farming. By leveraging these technologies, customers can get the same product, or perhaps even one that is more nutritious, while reducing the environmental impact. Broadly, that’s how Pinduoduo thinks about agriculture, technology and sustainability.

As a platform, where can Pinduoduo have the biggest impact in the agricultural value chain?

The way agricultural products make their way to market – the distribution channel – has not yet been transformed as it has for other categories. We estimate only about 7% to 8% of the total dollar value of agricultural products transacted in a year is happening online.

That caught our attention because we know shifting online can unlock a lot of efficiencies in the supply chain. Through the Pinduoduo model, we are able to bring the produce directly from farmers to customers, cutting down on any unnecessary intermediaries in between. And by doing this, the farmer can earn more while the consumer can save more. It becomes a win-win for the producers and the consumers.

“As a technology company, we’re constantly thinking about how we can disseminate agricultural technologies to improve farmer productivity while reducing the environmental footprint of farming.”

The knock-on effect is also more prevalent now that the farmers are more plugged into the economy. This is because they have a direct sense of what their target consumers like. They can understand how consumers respond to certain pricing or packaging if there is stronger demand for large oranges versus small oranges or how demand changes throughout the year. We want to empower farmers so that they’re not just price-takers in the traditional distribution model, but instead, can be more actively involved in producing what consumers actually want. This is where we can add value and how we bring the C2M model to life.

Can you elaborate on how Pinduoduo incorporates the C2M model in its overall strategy?

In China, there is a very strong manufacturing base on the supply side. However, the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) often lack the expertise and insights to create distinctive brand identities and value propositions that connect with their consumers. Thus, we are coming up with new ways to enable domestic producers to leverage their own IP, understand consumer needs and create products and brands that resonate with the market.

Our New Brands Initiative, launched in late 2018, is one way we are bringing this to life. We have dedicated vertical specialists who work with manufacturers from each category, sharing emerging market and consumer trends with the goal of turning manufacturers from OEMs to Original Brand Manufacturers (OBMs). Based on these category trends as well as their own merchant data we provide via the platform, merchants are able to adjust their offerings accordingly and consider how to upgrade their marketing. That’s also where brand building begins. Brands can’t be everything to everyone, so by providing insights and narrowing the focus, C2M can help manufacturers develop their own value propositions and their own brands.

China has the benefit of having one of the highest levels of penetration of e-commerce. This speeds everything up, from product development to pricing to SKU assortment, by allowing manufacturers to get feedback in real-time.

Can you give a few examples of some of the initiatives Pinduoduo is undertaking in terms of innovation?

Pinduoduo is training a new generation of agri-entrepreneurs. In the past five years, we’ve trained one hundred thousand “new farmers,” a younger, more educated generation that is migrating back to their hometowns, and we’re committed to training one hundred thousand more. These are the ones who are managing the storefront, packaging, customer service and distribution and at the same time, they are also mobilizing the rest of their rural communities to join them in the digital economy. We bring business expertise via online and offline classes and then partner with institutions such as China Agricultural University to teach agricultural knowledge. Through these agri-entrepreneurs, we’re hoping to start improving the branding of agricultural goods in China, which is very undeveloped.

Our long-term goal is to bring in more upstream, purpose-led innovation. We’re in year two of hosting the Smart Agriculture Competition. We bring together global technology teams with backgrounds in AI, machine learning and plant science to compete against traditional, premium horticulture teams. We then put these teams in a smart greenhouse that they control remotely using IoT, monitoring the plants and making precise adjustments whenever needed. In last year’s competition, the AI teams produced three times as many strawberries and generated 76% higher ROI compared to the traditional teams. Not only was it very impressive to the farmers, but some of the technology experts also went on to work with the farmers after the competition. The Smart Agriculture Competition creates an opportunity to test the teams’ technologies on a bigger scale. At the same time, the farmers benefit from the efficiencies and see the real-world impact.

Pinduoduo has referred to itself as a “Costco+Disney” concept. Can you elaborate on what this means and how it guides Pinduoduo’s innovation and strategy?

The Costco+Disney concept ties in with Pinduoduo’s slogan: More Savings, More Fun (多实惠,多乐趣). The Costco part, “more savings,” comes from our early insight that we could get more value for money by aggregating demand. The Disney part, “more fun,” speaks to people’s desire for a social shopping experience.

We designed Pinduoduo to be very interactive. The app offers a social connection that helps users discover things more easily compared to the traditional e-commerce model, which is very individualistic. The “team purchase” model is a big part of the social element. Livestreaming serves as another interactive element, which helps build trust between consumers and merchants. It allows them to see how things are made, how it looks, which helps consumers feel closer to the producers, creating trust.


We don’t want shopping to feel like a chore. We want it to be a fun part of your daily routine. Within the e-commerce industry, we’ve achieved one of the highest engagement rates in terms of monthly active users and daily active users. By emphasizing more savings and more fun, we’ve found a way for users to engage willingly and regularly.

Learn how your organization could drive innovation through a purpose-driven approach. Contact us today!


The Importance of a Collaborative Product Design Process

Design may be a team sport, but most companies need guidelines to make collaboration more effective.

Fostering cross-department and client collaboration in projects are critical through the design process to keep teams motivated, clients engaged and to ensure the forward momentum of the project. Such an approach also reduces friction and contributes to the well-being of the team.

At Prophet, our one-team approach is encouraged in all engagements with start-ups through to big corporations. The conclusion we’ve been able to draw is that the design and innovation process gains real momentum and buy-in with the involvement of cross-functional collaboration. But every organization is different and creating that space to empower teams is a frequently faced challenge, along with accessing stakeholders for decision-making and bringing the wider team along on the journey.

“The design and innovation process gains real momentum and buy-in with the involvement of cross-functional collaboration.”

Read on as we break down what collaborative design is, the benefits and offer our tips to encourage collaboration and foster creativity.

What is Collaborative Design?

Collaborative design is the process of designing as a team. Great products and experiences aren’t created in a vacuum. A diversity of profiles is needed, from designers, analysts, researchers, and product managers, fusing their talents and expertise leads to the creation of something truly meaningful and something that genuinely connects business and user needs.

The Benefits of Product Design Collaboration

There are many reasons why great products need great collaboration, here’s some of them:

  • Shared goal or vision – all team members are kept well informed and on the same page throughout the process.
  • Creative and innovative solutions – gathering feedback and considering diverse perspectives from a variety of specialized skillsets enable next-level solutions.
  • It gives everyone a voice – collaboration is good for culture too. It helps to instill democracy within your creative process and signals that all voices matter.
  • Greater buy-in – if you create a process where everybody has greater agency in contributing input, it makes it harder for team members to disengage.
  • Saves time – continuous and open communication prevents misunderstandings and costly revisions so that the product can be brought to the development stage sooner.

A 6-Step Guide to Organize and Improve the Collaborative Design Process

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Our Top Tips to Get Started

1. Cross-Function Teaming

The team is everything, and the more disciplines involved, the more robust the ideation, feedback and iteration. Even better, create a cross-level team, a good idea can come from anywhere.

2. Problem First

Focus on the problem first and be flexible on how you get to the solution. Align with the team on the outcomes that you are trying to drive and let the team be flexible with the process.

3. A Flat Planet

Design is a team sport, and with that, the team should be empowered to move, design and dictate the course of the project. A hierarchical approach will slow sign-offs, meeting availabilities and permission to move forward. Empower the team, do great work.

4. Rhythm is Everything

Working together at a similar pace is key. Set a cadence that works for the project and the team’s wellbeing. Consider the teams’ lifestyles as they are as – if not more – important as the project plan itself.

5. Team Health

Carve out the space and time to run team retrospectives and have open conversations about team health.  At Prophet, our teams use a framework called SCARFS – standing for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness and Sustainability – to help guide those conversations. Every week, each team member rates how they feel on each factor on a scale between one and five. This is critical to understand the health of the project and the team. Often this moment of reflection will provide a deeper insight to refine the process for upcoming sprints.

6. A Vision of the Future

Have a brave vision of the future, challenge the team to look beyond the project and deeply question the future state and impact that the work will have.


Collaborative design should be standard practice through the product creation process with a focus on solving a true user need. Done right, design collaboration empowers everyone involved with the mindset and process to come together and build a better product – even the best specialist can’t design great products alone, that’s why collaboration is so fundamental.

If you need help on how to adopt or improve your design collaboration workflow or approach to product design, get in touch with our Innovation & Experience experts today.