Playbook: The Product Lifecycle at OSS Ventures

When art critics meet, they talk about art and form, intent and grandiosity. When painters meet, they tip each other on where to find cheap terebenthine.

Hi ! I’m Renan, the CEO and co-founder of OSS Venture Builders, the most awesome startup studio specialized in operations (partly because it’s the only one).

You may find the article below interesting because :
  • It represents our learnings and failures over the last four years ;
  • It relates the actual building and thinking process of more than 40 entrepreneurs ;
  • It has pretty pictures and funny jokes.

Renan Devillieres
Founder, CEO of OSS Ventures
This article was written by Renan Devillieres. Prepared for publishing by Max Pog.
One of our main motto is “build a thing that matters” and more than half of the team is dedicated to finding and building the right product for the right audience. That is why we took extra care to nurture a unique product process, a mix of our previous experiences at Google, Sigfox, Caocao and others, and the unique perspective given by having launched 15 SaaS and marketplaces in the manufacturing vertical.

As all things OSS, this process:
A. gets iterated upon (we estimate around 50 iterations of the process, with 4 main ones, so we must be V4.09 or something like that), and
B. focuses on both excellence one time but also repeatable assets (our ability to create things and processes that make it so our Nth+1 startup gets even more unfair advantage than the Nth).

Product is 100% of our activities in phase 1, called “promising idea”, and 50% of the phase 2, “promising company”.

Phase 0 : Space

Space come from three unfair assets that we nurture at OSS :
  • Proprietary market lookout ;
  • Constant visits in factories ;
  • Weak signals (consulting projects done, pain points evoked on private FB groups, …).

The “space” phase is for example “financial planning for CAPEX”.

Phase 1 : Promising idea

Every week, the team is charged with answering three very simple, yet ambiguous questions :
  • What is?
  • What could be?
  • What works?

“What is”, believe it or not, is often the trickiest question. “What is” is the question of what exists right now, how it works, how people feel about it, what tools are used and why, what amount of money is where, and what is the readiness and/or discourses of the people with money about it.

The team, usually a PM and a founder and a designer, interview up to 50 to 100 professionals to discover pain points.

The team visits factories every week to observe operators, team leaders, and managers in all areas to understand how they work. These visits enable OSS to identify bottlenecks in the plant's operational processes, the friction and user constraints encountered and the levers for improvement for the company.

What is of particular interest to the OSS team?

Difficulties that could be resolved or reduced thanks to an industrial SaaS. For example, the use of Excel or paper to organize an operational process generally indicates that a SaaS would bring a significant improvement.

Once this operational difficulty has been identified, exploratory research is carried out to learn as much as possible about it. In practice, product research and development (stage 2 of the process) takes up most of the time in the OSS Ventures process.

To make our exploratory research as robust and scientific as possible, interviews are conducted at all hierarchical levels of a site using interview protocols.

The OSS Ventures team asks questions about day-to-day problems, current tools and the way in which manufacturers communicate. We even try to find the little problems that have become so commonplace that manufacturers hardly notice them any more.

This approach gives us comparable data that reveals the impact of a non-optimised operational process on everyone involved.

Next, the OSS product team iterates its conception of the problem. At this key stage, the team draws on the expertise of the OSS community and industrial partners. The multiplicity of viewpoints brings clarity and originality to the iteration sessions.

Defining the problem properly is of the utmost importance, as it determines the product that the team will develop. If the problem does not reflect the operational bottleneck, Industrial SaaS will not meet the real needs of manufacturers. In short, it will not add value.

Once the problem has been identified, the OSS team begins to define the vision underpinning the product, starting with more in-depth research to find key insights.

These insights are not just research results. An insight changes the team's perspective. And with this new perspective, the team takes an important step towards solving the problem with a new industrial SaaS.

Once again, the product team iterates with industrial collaborators to identify insights. It is also continuing to conduct research, testing product screen mock-ups to determine whether it is on the right track. Two deliverables help the team in the idea iteration process: the user journey and the identification of persona(s).

By the end of this first stage of the OSS Ventures process, the OSS product team has a solid hypothesis about how it can solve the defined problem. In the second phase of the OSS Ventures process, it transforms this solution into a quality product.

Phase 2 : Promising Company

To make rapid progress towards the MVP, the team avoids coding the product in the first instance. Instead, it iterates on how the product will solve the defined problem by conducting user research with the co-builders.

User research differs from exploratory research in that the OSS product team validates product features and functions, rather than conceptual elements. During testing, the OSS UX designer uses paper mock-ups or visualization software such as Figma to validate the screens and the SaaS workflow. User research ensures that the product is intuitive, ergonomic, and fits seamlessly into the operator's daily life.

Although design is generally associated with aesthetics, UX design goes much further. Good UX design ensures that the product requires little training to be used successfully; and adds value for users.

With a quality UX design, the OSS team avoids creating an industrial SaaS with a poor user experience or incomplete functionality.

Iterations, user research, and co-construction collaboration have a common objective: to strengthen the product's value proposition. Coding begins as soon as the user research and co-builders validate the product's main functionalities and features.

Comprising 2 to 3 people (including the startup's CTO), the OSS technical team builds a lightweight MVP in less than a month. This rapid pace is made possible by the expertise of the technical team (which has already carried out this process with other OSS Ventures startups) and the technological building blocks. Having a working product in the hands of users allows the OSS product team to make further progress in its testing and refine the value proposition of industrial SaaS.

Ensuring the long-term health of the industrial start-up

To ensure that the traction lasts, OSS Ventures is creating the final two stages of its process to ensure that our industrial startups :

Phase 3 : Scaling Beast

Although the MVP continues to undergo further iterations, the industrial SaaS startup nevertheless has a product to sell. So the startup's CEO joins the OSS team to begin the next phase of the OSS Ventures process: Growth.

Growth combines the principles of marketing, growth hacking, and sales to rapidly develop a startup's customer base and ensure its financial health and successful expansion.

With the support of an OSS Growth Manager, the CEO defines his target market and starts building a customer base. From then on, the obsession was to demonstrate the famous Product Market Fit and trigger sales growth.

The CEO got the first industrial SaaS users on board and worked with OSS's growth manager to build a repeatable and scalable growth machine. This includes marketing actions such as content creation and social media activation, and sales actions such as cold calling...

Phase 4 : Community support

When OSS Ventures was founded, industrial startups had so little support that they were struggling to survive. In response, OSS has built a strong community of industrial startups that it supports in tangible and intangible ways.
Unlike other phases of the OSS Ventures process, community support begins as soon as founders join the OSS community and continues indefinitely.

While community support takes many forms, startups will receive a financial investment to make their first hires and cover their expenses. In addition, OSS Ventures cultivates a strong network of industry partners that offers the possibility of privileged visits to workshops required for user research and cross-selling opportunities for the OSS Ventures portfolio.

And when the product development phase officially ends, OSS Ventures continues to provide product advice as required.

And as with all other aspects of the business, OSS is evolving its community support. For example, we are currently looking for a venture capital analyst to help our startups raise funds and a head of talent to help us find the best talent to accompany them on their journey.

Author: Renan Devillieres, Founder, CEO of OSS Ventures

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