Email Tracking: Understanding the Product

There is no way to create a great product without a deep understanding of how people behave. According to Eduardo Manchón, MailTrack’s CPO and founder of Panoramio (acquired by Google), what makes a product successful or not is how valuable it is to those who use it.

Just like most companies that start small, Mailtrack for Gmail aimed at eventually growing and adding extra features to its product in order to make it more “complete”.

But first as our consultant, and later as our Chief Product Officer, Eduardo Manchón always reminded us that complexity itself shouldn’t be a vision for us. “This mistake is probably one of the most common among startups. They start simple, because their resources are limited, but as soon as they can, they feel they have to start doing complicated things for the sake of it. Why expand if you don’t have a vision of what you are?

“Of course,” you and I would say, because it seems pretty obvious that a plan is not a plan if you don’t know where it is going. But how do we create that plan? Maybe numbers and research could be a way?

“Stats and data tell you where you are, not where to go,” Manchón reminds us. One of the founders of Panoramio, an online community of geolocalized pictures acquired by Google, Manchón usually focuses his advisory on the importance of the Product. If your user finds it useful, everything else should come as a consequence.

How to find out what is useful and what is not? For Manchón, the secret is to analyze the human behavior, the context your product provides, and what people (do not) do.


“Without the Users, MailTrack is Nothing”

Eduardo Manchón advises a number of startups in Product and User Experience (UX).

You’ve been at MailTrack since the beginning, starting as an advisor and now as the Chief Product Officer. What called your attention about MailTrack?
Its elegance. MailTrack tells you what happens to your email after you hit “Send,” period. And it does it beautifully with the double-check marks, which everyone understands. I thought users would love it, and after we started getting hundreds of thousands of sign-ups, it was clear how valuable it was for them.

But a product is much more than concept and value.
Sure, but without those, it’s impossible to get everything you’ll need for startups to be successful. What is your product if people don’t value it? Useless, literally.

You’ve always been a strong advocate for “keeping it simple,” when very naturally a startup feels like developing features, expanding…
This mistake is probably one of the most common amongst startups, especially the ones that start doing well. They are simple at the beginning, because their team and resources are limited, but as soon as they can, they feel they have to start doing complicated things for the sake of it. Why expand if you don’t have a vision of what you are? Don’t look too much at your competition; follow your own path.

You’ve studied Psychology. What is the connection between that and your work in User Experience?
There is some connection, of course, because we’re dealing with people’s stimuli, behavior and reactions. But I also did some academic studies in market research and computer interaction, which brought me closer to UX. I started writing about User Experience back in 2001, and I have worked in the field since then.

Besides apps and websites, you also worked with banks, even by redesigning the experience of ATMs. How different was that?
The principles in UX are the same. You get to research the client’s behaviors with their machines, study what are the most important operations, change wording, fonts sizes… In the end, the work can look simple. But you only get to conclusions and effective results after a good amount of research.

Panoramio was acquired less than 2 years after you founded it. Were those principles behind that success as well?
Absolutely. There was luck and good timing involved too, since we created Panoramio after the Google Maps API came out, and pictures were pouring into the web with digital cameras becoming more accessible. But what made Panoramio popular was its simplicity and value. Our users got us right, and fast. We were able to create a community of users who were the ones who really made it a success story. Without its contributors, Panoramio would be nothing.

“Observing is as important as asking, sometimes even more important.”

You worked at Google when Panoramio was taken to their office in Zurich. Doesn’t that perspective change when you go from a small to a big company?
Things change when you go to a big company, but Google is different. For example, the level of autonomy people have at Google is incredible. There is always some bureaucracy – as you get that everywhere nowadays -, but at Google we were able to decide where Panoramio should go. And if anything, Google’s focus on the user is inspiring. You reaffirm the importance of simplicity and user experience at a place like Google, since they take those principles very seriously. We strongly believed in observing and talking with our community, and at Google we just grew stronger over that foundation.

Product, value, user, community – they’re all connected. How do you apply those concepts at MailTrack?
If there is anything I’ve learned over the years, it is the importance of keeping good communication with the users, and not only through user support. I mean, there is a difference between hearing people, which is essential, and understanding what they really need. People install MailTrack, because their family and friends recommend it, so our promoters are our community, and we have to take care of them. Again, without the users, what is MailTrack? Nothing. They are the ones who are really using our product, so we have to make sure they feel they can talk to us about any idea or problem.

But what does that translate to? Are we talking about making surveys and data, for example?
Stats and data tell you where you are, not where to go. Surveys are only one of the tools, but you have to be very careful with those. As the saying goes, “You don’t know what they don’t know”. So when you ask people what they want for your product, they might give you an answer just for the sake of it, maybe because they don’t have a better answer. Here, observing is as important as asking, sometimes even more important. What is your users’ behavior when they interact with your product? Answer that question and keep in mind the value behind your product, and you’re good to go. You’ll have a vision to your product.

So, what is MailTrack’s vision?
MailTrack gives you peace of mind. After you know your message has been opened, you know your objective has been accomplished. It is this vision that guides MailTrack, and not the anxiety of creating and adding more and more features. Instead of creating a “Frankenstein app,” full of tools that are not directly related to what people value at MailTrack, we prefer to focus on doing what we do well.

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