Dan King Product Director
A collaborative, passionate, entrepreneurial Product Director with over 20 years experience of delivering the highest-quality products that engage users, power marketing and drive sales. Experienced at managing high-performance technical and creative teams of developers and designers to unlock maximum value within fast-track digital start-ups.
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAN KING
At Learn Club one of the trickiest things will be getting the products into schools… a teacher picking a new resource to use is a long buying cycle… maths quiz is one thing, a scheme of work of Julius Caesar’s invasions is something entirely different. So I’ve built a marketing funnel that the writers can utilise to acquire their audience - cost effectively - utilising SEO, email campaigns and a secret project… once on the site it allows teachers to easily download samples of the products building trust over time and personalised portals so the schools can access the products login free - you can imagine teachers trying to remember a password 5 mins before a lesson starts - sheer panic!
I like to say hello to everyone… and if I talk to them I remember the things that they have told me so I can build a relationship with them.. this tends to mean I am aware of work related problems quickly and then help bring the right people together to try and solve them.
At Rocket I was in the tiny film company at the back of the building… very siloed organisation - I noticed the music managers all on their mobiles outside the building and asked why… brave man to walk into the music management! Later I used this to help me devise digital cross business products that was fundamental in secure £7.5m in funding.
At the very beginning of my career 26 year old teacher recognised a rewards issue in secondary schools went on to launch a rewards company identified customer heads of dept & sold into 90% of UK secondary schools… sold the business to VC’s for £1.4m at 31 and it’s still going 20 years later!
At Vizwoz I was not experienced at SEO or PPC it was very early on in the internet days 2008… but I was able to analyse an issue in our PPC costs and discovered that our advertising consultant was fudging his numbers by bundling an ad on the domain search term - Vizwoz @ 6p a click, 22,000 clicks - with his other ads which had a huge impact on the real cost of his PPC campaign - 40p to £1.56 a click - extremely serious…
I opened a pop-up store in central London called MAN London we ordered an entire stores worth of clothes over 2,500 polos from China - we weren't able to oversee production - they arrived they filled the entire storage room BUT they all were different measurements so 1 medium varied greatly to another…
This is a constant part of my work… and it’s without a doubt the hardest thing to do successfully…and it gets more so as people become more cognitively occupied - CV is a great example… so of course you could just write it and try and relate it to job descriptions which is often unsuccessful so I’m aware recruiters use ATS systems and I use this one - JobScan.co - to to analyse job descriptions to highlight keywords and skills which I then use to rework my CV often very successfully.
I build high fidelity prototypes very quickly... I am an expert Keynote users and can develop a prototype or animation of a complex piece of functionality for more valuable feedback.
The key is getting out of the abstract - describing something verbally or written and move into the concrete showing something real that they can see or touch...
Yes at School Stickers I had been asking Xerox for years for Gold, Silver and Bronze metallic stickers we could print on… they finally deliver, I flier, I sell £200,000 worth in one month and we have all Xerox’s stock… Carl who prints the stickers every day printed all the customised orders ‘uncollated’ which mixed up every single order up… all of them.
Well I had the team - included me - out all the sticker sheets into alphabetical… this got all the orders together… ish and we solved the problem - eventually!
I use this skill a lot… qualitative / quantitive balance - informs a lot of my thinking - I like to show people things and see what they think - golden rule is you know what you think so see what everyone else thinks.
At Vizwoz we spent a large % of time asking users questions about the site and future development via our moderation team of VizCops and entertainment team of V-Krew - they wanted their own houses so introduced the hugely successful MyPlace…
I’m very personable, very open minded and non-judgmental so I am often very adept at asking people questions and getting a real answer rather than one they think you want to get… real answers are very powerful.
Because of my empathy I'm good at asking questions - we would go up to Canary Wharf on Friday evening to pitch Clothie to the bankers and guys from Reuters to get their perspective, obviously for the cost of a beer!
So I raised £1m at VizWoz and to do that I had to pitch a-lot… I found that data is needed to back up pitches - real user data and unbiased analysis… real market size analysis, real cost to acquire users etc etc with logical conclusions is critical - people have to get it.
You must create a business case which is supported by real data evidence…
As a teacher your job is public speaking, I would think nothing of standing on the stage and manage an exam hall filled with year 11 pupils…
To keep track of things I use a mixture of paper list (I photo when needed), iPhone notes (sync to all my devices), iPhone mic (meetings), calendar (alerts), Priority emails and apps like Basecamp etc…
To prioritise I have a suite of thinking skills i can rely on to evaluate, analyse my To-Do list so I can action the hardest, most important items first.
I like to keep meetings short and informal as possible 10 - 15 mins because peoples attention spans tend to tail off after 20 minutes - I like to communicate effectively and regularly with team members that need me - collaboration, information and ownership helps a team self-organise, minimises pointless meetings.
As a team we can look at blockages get views from cross the team make a joint decision to swarm / move forward with consensus - make sure everyone is informed of the direction and vision - involve different people at different times to give everyone a voice.
I like to use visual tracking where possible a Kanban board is good or something similar…
Development - Doing | Done
Testing - Doing | Done
Are they happy? Are they fulfilled? Are they meeting their full potential? Then more formally:
Adherence to the Job Description
Skills audit (vs similar roles advertised)
Productivity (employed to do x,y,z how productive)
Prevention is always better than cure. Does every person in my team know what I expect from them, what the team expects of them and are they performing up to my expectations and more importantly the teams expectations?
They need to know their performance is an issue, as soon as possible, so they can try to address it without it impacting the team and their relationship within it… as soon as I spot a problem I get involved and have a conversation with them - I raise it, carefully, with ‘trusted’ team members for a second opinion and advice as to how they think it can be resolved.
- prepare a realistic action plan
- meet with the employee
- agree a plan - specific, supported, set milestones
- reflect and review
Joining Learn Club - I am very exposed - I knew I would have to do every aspect of the site and that I would be judged on the outcome which was not certain… I could not code and I was used to having a team to input and collaborate with… this project I was on my own.
I had to upload 850 spelling tests… over 8000 words… across 6 years, each with unique titles and every spelling with a morphology point score… I had 2 days to do it! I can’t afford any errors… so I used my previous experience of mailings and mail merge and created the code using mail merge in Word!
Day 1 Put all the spellings into Excel - copy paste, copy paste… reorientate the excel spreadsheet which is tricky!
Day 2 Build the Mail Merge file and produce the code… booom here is the result.
It’s not the velocity with which you make up your mind.. it’s more the experiences you can draw on or other people can input on… that impact the quality of a solution. Creating an environment where people feel able to input, in a safe way, is critical.
The writers are delaying the decision to move Learn Club to initially free - classic chicken and egg scenario - members = real time data = product improvements = better product = increased audience = monetisation - but the authors value their work and rightly so... tricky.
Context based type of team whether they're new or established
New team / team member: tell
More experienced: collaborate
My preference: self assign & reflect (high performance team)
Self organising, empowered team members with everyone working towards a common goal with coaching and help facilitating workflow - at School Stickers I spent time in the US - 12 months to set business up and the UK business tripled in size that same year... sold it £1.4m. The UK team managed the growth and improved the workflows because the culture was there for them to do so.
The culture being we get things right most of the time but everyone makes mistakes and we reflect and learn from them.
I have the leadership skills and experience to get the very best from high-performance teams. I am very collaborative and open - a facilitator for self-organising teams to deliver excellence consistently - so whether it be former peers or a new team.
At School Stickers we switched from a 6 week production cycle to next day delivery it was possibly the biggest change the business had ever faced and was made possible by the introduction of a newly developed internal SaaS product - removed the need to design every product individually… the project involved every member of staff, new digital members where brought in to facilitate the tech transformation, the production team worked 24/7 to clear the backlog of 6 weeks of orders and the design team started a new way of working focusing on ‘logging’ the orders, then designing bespoke orders and providing enhanced customer service that drove sales to triple the following year…. and ultimately lead to the sale of the business to VC’s
I had the idea of moving Vizwoz onto Facebook in 2008… before Farm Ville etc etc but there were issues with the size of our screen etc etc and I didn’t succeed later however I learnt from that to create a business case supported by robust data for ideas to gain traction.
Todays job market is extremely competitive and flooded with candidates and CV’s - initially my CV wasn’t getting any traction, I tried creative CV’s, paid £400 for a CV writer, wrote 100’s etc etc then I looked at the process from the recruiters perspective, uncovered the ATS system and then found a site that used A.I. to grade my CV against a job description so I could improve the CV for each role by focusing on the aspects of my career that were most relevant to that role - useful because for me I have done so much I could really focus specific skills and experiences - here it is.
My prime number theory is a great example of something that won’t be popular… and I’ll guess only time will tell how that works out.
I couldn’t change the actual work it had to stay as it was designed in Word… I tried to convert it to webpages but it introduced errors and took too long… so in the end I researched and found an interface - Flipbook and a bookcase… the jury is still out.
Customer engagement is one of the number one product or processes feedback loops. I try to engage with customers as much as possible or talk to those that do… So at SS I would answer customer calls no matter where I was and sometimes that was on a ski slope - feedback is the best gift.
I introduced the digital transformation into School Stickers business - I recruited and trained the in-house dev team, facilitated the integration of existing software into a new internal CRM system that generated a SaaS product for both internal systems to produce, invoice, ship, track, debtor, market and a customer facing interface that allowed for the collection and retention of rewards. Whilst also improving the end product, reduced production and delivery times by over 90% and enabled the business to triple its T/O within 1 year, securing 40% market share of the UK school rewards market and enabling an exit to VC’s within 18 months.
I continually self-reflect and evaluate my own performance to improve my productivity - and make the jobs I’m doing easier and faster. Recently I needed to code 850 spelling tests with over 8,000 words - each with a morphology points scores across 6 years - every one with a different title and description… without making errors and within 2 days. I utilised experience from SS days - (tested this would work first) day 1 imported all the words and point scores into excel day 2 i mail merged the data from excel to create the product and then again to create the code for the webpages… zero errors - hell of a lot easier :-)
At VizWoz, in 2009, the Chairman brought in his own PPC and SEO guy… I noticed there was an issue with the data so I investigated - the board was being told users were being acquired for 47p and that we were buying 26,000 a month… having investigated I found that in fact 20,000 of those users where clicking on an ad on the search term VizWoz at a cost of 6p and the PPC guy was only acquiring 6,000 users at a cost of £1.63 … which is way too high. I then took over the audience acquisition and drove the costs down to 40p mark with more creative copy like Chat, chat, chat, chat, chat etc…
I have developed a suite of skills that I can deploy quickly to communicate product stories, roadmaps and visions as efficiently and effectively as possible - empowering stakeholders, improving their feedback, increasing the speed of product iterations, reducing costly development time, reducing overall costs, improving stakeholder sign-off decisions and the relationship between the digital team and the business. The ultimate goal being to ensure the 1,000’s of details that make up a product that delights are executed perfectly…
I generate ideas all of the time. The most recent is for Learn Club to build school portals so that teachers can access books and resources instantly without the need to login or remember passwords, a school library. I’m developing this now and it will be live soon so I guess we’ll see how this works out.
I’m not worried if someone claims credit for my work… I would be more worried if I needed to steal other peoples work to get ahead. But obviously once bitten I’m twice as shy.
To start teaching and To leave teaching… are the best two decisions I ever made - great start to my career and given my career and experiences there's a lot more breadth and depth than if I had remained teaching. Teaching itself was a great springboard for my career.
Not putting VizWoz on Facebook - dilemma brought about by the fact we had pitched VizWoz as an 11 - 14 year old site and Facebook was 15+ … VizWoz was also the wrong screen size for Facebook so everything would have had to be redrawn and rebuilt.
Start at Learn Club… I new how impossibly hard it would be and it has proven to be - but I think we will get there in the end.
It was clothie to Danny - head of a creative agency Huddle Creative… I took in a pitch printed on t-shirts on a rack and he was blown away.
Clothie - it was just too big an idea with no idea if anyone would use it and no ‘lean’ way to test that out… we managed to build it collaborating with an A.I. whizz in the US who was measuring buildings and I asked can he measure t-shirts.
Visualisation of the product - mock-up pictures and mock-up video even better.
I would give them the information or data they were missing that meant it would not work and ask them to reprocess it and see what else they come up with.
I start Sunday evening and arrange the weeks items into a list based on importance, complexity, research required, time required etc
I start my day at 5am and do an hours work on the most complex tasks I need to complete that day from 5 - 6am… i then go to the gym… and return to edit the work I did at 5 - 6am and then start the next most complex thing and/or start research for a future activity… at 8am I have smoked salmon and avocado breakfast.. and then continue etc etc - work, travel to work, work, fat coffee, etc etc aware that as the day progresses the processing speed and power diminishes.
My day and therefore my week is layered to maximise time on task with the hardest items tackled first, allowing time for iterations whilst, leveraging snack-able research required as processing time - I also prefer to include a good nights sleep between working on the more complex items and their delivery - opportunity for fresh thinking.
I try and anticipate curved balls so I’m as flexible as possible and being very well prepared and dealing with the hardest things first aids this.
I will leverage new and urgent items to give me something else to think about and often when returning to my item list
Unforeseen circumstances don’t always mean urgent, they can look and feel urgent but that’s because you haven’t processed them yet - foreseen circumstances are scrutinised and compared to other items and prioritised… unforeseen often can’t be compared so need to be analysed for their urgency and relate that to the task at hand… and then decide whether to upset your schedule.
Urgent vs Important
Assess the Complexity
Assess Business Value
Start on the most important, hardest, most valuable, longest task first.
Assess the Complexity
Assess Business Value
Start on the most important feature, simplest, most valuable, shortest task first.
Cut early, cut deep as you can - Vizwoz - I had to cut cut cut… I did it early and fast - BUT saved every job.
I work 24/7/365… I’m always prioritising and processing work related data with one goal in mind - to deliver a perfect product which is 1,000 details need to be executed perfectly.
Early days of School Stickers were extremely frustrating and disappointing… I just keep trying… listened to any feedback and eventually hit on a winning formula.
Facebook - I now create businesses cases backed up by data to support development ideas.
Bread Factory - Night Shift… I was promoted to order packing. I enjoyed the camaraderie and the dinners where delicious.
Teaching - my lab was from 1950’s and was in a horrendous state - I went in during the summer holidays and sanded all the desks and vanished them all - I mean it wasn’t Buckingham Palace but definitely better!
Hopefully I get feedback and I use that to try and smash the next opportunity.