An interview with Guerric de Ternay
  • December 5th, 2018

Guerric de Ternay, Author of The Value Mix: Create meaningful products and services for your audience

52 MIN
In this Episode

Guerric de Ternay is the author of the Leanpub book The Value Mix: Create meaningful products and services for your audience. In this interview, Leanpub co-founder Len Epp talks with Guerric about his background, how studying law can help you in business, launching fashion brands, the profound ways marketing has changed in the last century, the unique insights he offers to marketers and product-builders in his book, and at the end, they talk a little bit about his experience as a self-published author.

This interview was recorded on November 29, 2018.

The full audio for the interview is here. You can subscribe to the Frontmatter podcast in iTunes or add the podcast URL directly.

This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.


The Value Mix: Create meaningful products and services for your audience by Guerric de Ternay

Len: Hi I'm Len Epp from Leanpub. And in this Leanpub Frontmatter Podcast, I'll be interviewing Guerric de Ternay.

Based in London, Guerric is the founder of two fashion brands focused on providing sustainable products. The GoudronBlanc brand makes unique crew and V-neck t-shirts using organic cotton, and the Blackwood brand creates handmade accessories from cork leather.

Guerric also manages projects for ?What If! Innovation, a global consulting firm that works with works with Fortune 500 companies to use and experimentation based approach to achieving growth.

A graduate of London Business School, Guerric is also trained in the law and is a guest lecturer at University College London, where he teaches digital marketing and innovation.

Guerric is the author of the Leanpub book, The Value Mix: Create meaningful products and services for your audience. In the book - he helps people to better understand the connection between market research and product strategy, so they can better succeed at building amazing products and services targeted at the right customers.

You can follow Guerric on Twitter @guerricdeternay, and you can read his blog and find out more about him at

In this interview we're going to talk about Guerric's background and career, professional interests, marketing, his insights into product development and positioning, and other insights that he covers in his book. And, at the end we'll talk about his experience using Leanpub a little bit.

So, thank you for Guerric for being on the Frontmatter Podcast.

Guerric: Thank you Len, it's a pleasure to be here.

Len: I always like to start these interviews by asking people for their origin story. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about where you grew up and how you became interested in studying law?

Guerric: I grew up in Paris, and now I live actually in London. But I spent 25, 20 years of my life in Paris, and had a normal Belgian childhood. Actually I wasn't really interested in law. I was quite early on very interested in software development, especially around video games - and a lot of interest in marketing and business. I actually got really interested in marketing after reading, Ogilvy on Advertising. This was like a big unlock for me.

What got me into law is actually a long chat that I had with one of my very, very old friends. We were talking about my future and what I was about to choose as a degree straight after high school. I was thinking about going into business and doing all of these things that I really, really liked. And my friend was like, "Hold on, Guerric. You can pick up whatever you want in business, since you're really very passionate about that. You should actually do something that is going to challenge yourself a bit more."

Obviously, he's also very passionate about law, and his theory was that law is a way of thinking. It's a mental model, as some people call it. He was telling me that basically, law would provide me many more challenges and kind of restructure my way of thinking in a way that would help me more as a business person later on my life.

I followed his advice, and I'm really very glad that I have done that. It was indeed a really challenging degree. It's one that is helping me every day.

Len: When you talk about the way of thinking, that's really interesting. It leads me to my next question, which is: How does the legal system work in France? It's very different from the common law system that I think probably most of our North American listeners outside Quebec would be familiar with.

Guerric: Yes, yes it is indeed. What's really interesting in France is a lot of our law is based - especially in civil law, is based on the Napoleonic Code, the civil codes.

We do rely much more on the law itself than on the way judges interpret law. That being said, the two legal systems - the common law systems and the civil law systems - are getting closer to each other, with the civil law system becoming more based on jurisprudence, and the common law system being more and more based on the law itself.

Len: And in the civil law system, is it as confrontational and adversarial and theatrical as the common law system can be?

Guerric: No, not that much. It can be sometimes, but it's very, very far from the typical law series that we love to watch, like Boston Legal.

Len: Under a civil law system, my understanding is that you can command the system in a way that you can't in a common law.

Guerric: It's a very, very structured way of thinking, indeed. You have to qualify the facts. Actually one of the things that I think is really, really interesting - and that you can learn when you followed law series - is the importance of language, and qualifying what everything means. It is very important in the business world, and I do believe that this is one of the main roles of leaders. Anytime you make a contract you have to be very precise on what you're contracting about.

Len: It's really interesting you say that. We were chatting a little bit before we started recording this interview about how I used to live in London, where Guerric is now. One of the things I did there was investment banking, but that was after doing a doctorate in English literature. So I couldn't agree with you more about the very practical and fundamental importance that language has not only in sort of very complex situations - like let's say a legal case, or a big M&A deal - but to keep the foundation moving efficiently in any kind of human interaction, it's just so important.

Guerric: Yes it is.

Len: So, you eventually moved to London, what drove that?

Guerric: What drove me to London is I had the opportunity while I was studying law, to spend a year at University College, London. I just wanted to explore the world.

When I moved to London, I could barely speak English. It was just five years ago. I really wanted to improve that skill. I think it's important to speak English in this world today. This was the main rationale, and I just love the city. I love the people who are there. I love the diversity of the people who are there.

And so I decided to stay. I went straight into London Business School, which was an amazing experience. When I talk about diversity, London Business School provided the most insane experience around that. In my class, we had people from 45 different countries. It's a really interesting mix of culture, mix of backgrounds.

I learned lots doing that. And it basically confirmed my choice of career. My deep interest in business is also fueled by the fact that business allows you to travel more. It opens you to the world. And that's something that I find very interesting.

Len: Having studied in the UK myself, I'm familiar with the amazing diversity of people that you're surrounded by, and that you get to interact with when you're there.

Are people in your circles concerned about Brexit with respect to the presence of people in London who aren't British?

Guerric: I think it is a concern - I do think that it's not only people from abroad, foreigners who are concerned about that. Anyone in the UK I think at the moment is a bit concerned. Even people who are embracing Brexit, just because there is not a clear rationale or at least a clear vision where England and the UK's going to go. That's a very sensitive topic here at the moment.

Len: I bet. So what was your next move after London Business School?

Guerric: Straight after London Business School, I started doing freelancing. But what I have to say is - while I was actually studying law in France, I couldn't stay away from the business world, and this is the time I started GoudronBlanc.

It was in 2011, I had this idea of launching a clothing line especially focusing at the time on what I thought it would be a great idea. I was thinking that v-neck t shirts where - there was basically a gap in the markets, and I was interested in just launching my own business.

So I was like, "Okay." After reading, The Lean Startup we'd [build] an MVP. So I started investing a bit in this business, created a first collection and launched the company.

Straight after this, I was still running the company. It was about four and a half years later. It was doing very well, and on the side, I was also doing lots of freelancing, working with startups, accelerators, incubators and venture capitalists. It was a very interesting experience as well. The world of startup, especially in London, has been booming a lot. A lot of Fintech companies were there. Most of my work was helping them to grow, focusing on helping their marketing capabilities to develop as well as helping them to figure out their product-market fit.

Len: I'm really interested in hearing a little bit of the details of how you set up a fashion line. Did you have contacts that could get you in touch with designers and suppliers and things like that, or did you have to learn all that on your own?

Guerric: I had to learn everything from scratch. I didn't know anything about fashion or how to start a clothing line. The only thing I knew was my experiences as a fashion consumer. Like everyone, I go shopping, and I used that as a first way to learn about the way things work in the fashion industry.

But I was also very lucky, and maybe this is also what influenced me a bit too, when I chose this industry - in Paris, there's a very big fashion scene, especially a lot of fashion startups. So when you think about some cities in the world that are hubs for some specific industries, Paris is definitely a hub for the fashion industry, and this is encouraging a lot of young entrepreneurs to start in this industry.

The first thing I did - and in hindsight, I think it was actually quite a clever move - is I started to join a lot of groups of fashion entrepreneurs. I started having chats about how they run their businesses, learning about everything they had to say. And this was really, really useful to understand nut and bolts of the fashion industry.

In terms of the next steps after that, I had to find a supplier. This is the big, big challenge that any young entrepreneur has, because you need to find someone who is relatable, someone who can trust you, as well as have faith in your vision for your products.

It's not the easiest thing to do, because all of the factories get a lot of demand, a lot of requests from young entrepreneurs. So you have to be very, very clear on your vision, and convince them that they are the right people to invest in [you]. Because you're the one paying for the products actually, for a factory, at the beginning of a journey. It's not that profitable for them to serve the smaller clients. They're used to selling big batches, thousands of pieces of clothing. And working with a small startup when they are not even sure that there's going to be another collection following the first one, it's a big ask for them.

I fortunately found the right supplier. I'm still working with them today. It was a long journey. It took me a bit more than a year and a half to find the right person. I went to lots of trade shows, used Google alerts, sent tons of emails. And at some point I found someone who believed in the project. I was lucky enough to get the person that was able to provide the quality I was requiring for the brand, as well as someone who was willing to work with me on the long term.

Len: And having had that experience, you then created the Blackwood brand. Was it just this year?

Guerric: Yes, this year. Blackwood is a brand that I created with a friend, Oskar.

Going back to when I started GoudronBlanc, one of the ideas was to bring a more sustainable approach to fashion. This is something that we discussed a lot. And what we had in mind - our vision was to find ways to make fashion more respectful and more eco-friendly.

What we realized doing some market research, is that the leather industry is actually not that good for the environment. Leather goods - creating leather goods, actually - some people manage to do it fairly, or in a fair way. But most of the leather goods that we find in markets actually are very bad for the environment. So we wanted to find a good alternative to leather.

What we found is, the main alternative to leather is plastic. And we didn't find that this was such a nice material to it to work with. So we decided to scout for an eco-friendly alternative to leather. And we found an amazing first material that we wanted to try out. This is called cork leather.

It's a plant-based leather made out of cork, which is the material you get when you harvest the bark what are called "cork oaks," which are found in Portugal and mostly in Spain.

Len: It was really fascinating reading about it on your website as I was preparing for this interview. I hadn't heard of cork leather before, and it seems like a really fascinating product. I mean some things that become clear that I had not examined before, like of course cork is waterproof. That's why it's used for corking wine. But I didn't know about the fact that it's used in rockets.

Guerric: Yes. NASA uses it because of the property of cork, that insulates very well. And so they use it next to their engines to protect the other pieces from heat, basically.

Len: When you create a brand like Blackwood, what do you do to get the word out about it?

Guerric: This is a very, a very big challenge for most startups. When you think about a startup, they often have a great idea and not necessarily the ability to reach the markets.

What did we do? Pne of the ways of approaching it is to first focus on what is called "early adopters" - people who are in some ways really, really interested about the products. And when you look at cork leather, it's a great alternative to animal leather. People who are really not willing to use anymore leather, people who are vegetarians. My co-founder, Oskar is one of them. So we are mainly trying to reach out to them.

This is one of the ways to make people hear about Blackwood. We're tapping into communities of vegetarians, reaching out to influencers and bloggers. That has been really helpful to get the word out.

Another way we've been thinking about that, is now Christmas is coming up very soon, and we wanted to find a ways to show the product to people. It's really expensive to have a store in London. So as a startup, we cannot really afford that, especially around Christmas.

What we decided to do is to run pop-up events, to get really close to the people who could be potentially interested in Blackwood. We started organizing lots of pop-up events in offices in London. We'd go directly to our potential target audience and present them the products. This has been actually a great way of getting the word out, because it's really convenient for people to get a company with good products to come to their office, so they can save time on doing their Christmas shopping.

It's also a good way for them to find ideas, because one of the big pains we realized for people, around Christmas, is actually finding what they can offer as gifts. It's really difficult to find new ideas beyond the normal ties and socks and scarves that we all get every year.

Len: That's a really great idea. I hadn't thought of that before, especially around Christmas time.

One thing I wanted to ask you before we move on to the next part of the interview, and talk about marketing from from a high level, and then get down to some specifics - I wanted to talk to you about the consultancy ?What If!.

It was really interesting when I was reading their website, and reading about how they place an explicit emphasis on the importance of having an experimentation-led approach when they're doing work for Fortune 500 companies.

I also very much enjoyed the story of how they helped Cialis beat Viagra, by realizing that - I don't know if you know this particular one, but they realized that Viagra's marketing approach appealed to half the people involved in a relationship. And that if you made a brand that was targeted at people on both sides of the relationship, that might help get attention and get customer loyalty, and it worked.

What is the experimentation led approach, how does that work?

Guerric: I think the principle behind the story you just shared is, the power of insights. This is the power of understanding your audience, and who you are serving when you create your product strategy. When you're really clear on what they want, and what they feel about the contexts [they're in], when they can use your product - this can really, really help when you create your strategy.

To answer your questions about having an experiment-led approach, which is what we call like building an experimentation engine - we do believe that innovation is a learning journey. You can't predict what's going to happen when you come up with new ideas. The only way of really working it out is to see how the market reacts to what you have in mind. Experiments is the best way of learning. It's using what we call realness - making it real as early as possible, in order to get accurate responses.

The problem is, most of the time we do overthink what we have in mind for our strategy. Putting things in markets is actually the best way of testing our thinking.

What we tend to do as much as possible, even when we test and show things to consumers or to the users of the products we have, is to remove this lab effect.

A lot of people think that they're testing products when they do focus groups in a very very, a very neutral environment. But actually you're so far removed from reality that you create a bias that doesn't allow you to capture how people are going to react normally in front of your products.

The hard truth is most of the time people actually ignore your products, because you can't ask people to pay attention to everything that is in the market.

So we do try hard to do experiments in a real environment every time we have to test our thinking - and we start doing it very, very early on in our innovation journeys.

Len: That's really interesting. Is there an issue with culture - is "just get something out there and iterate" a difficult message to get across, and to get approval for, when you're working with a really big company, an established company?

Guerric: That's something that is actually quite tough, yes. Because these companies aren't really used to that level of agility. But that's something that fortunately is quite trendy right now, so people are more and more willing to make it happen.

For example, one of my projects was around snacking, helping a big FMCG company to figure out a quite novel proposition in the snacking industry. This is fairly easy to get them to experiment and put products in markets.

That being said, obviously they have some regulation around the ability to make sure that these products won't trigger any allergies or things like that.

Where it becomes more interesting, is when you work with highly regulated companies, such as the pharmaceutical industry or in finance, insurance.

What we've observed and what we've been doing a lot is helping these companies to get a level of understanding of what it means to experiment. What is required to experiment, so they can work hand-in-hand with their compliance departments, to make sure that everything is under control?

This requires a big shift in mindset first, and is probably the hardest part of it - making sure that everyone, from the people who are actually making innovation happen in these big companies, as well as their managers, as well as the C-level executives - making sure that the whole organization follows this new culture with the right processes, so everything can be under control.

What's really interesting is this is something that is really empowering. I've been working with many, many executives on this. And every time run experiments, this is something that gets everyone excited. It gets the people who are experimenting directly with a new proposition really, really excited, because they move from this old world of - we think about an idea, then we can create a massive business case, and it takes years and years to launch something, to where - you think about an idea, you fine tune it, and very, very quickly we make it real.

Bringing ideas to life is something that is really powerful to excite people in an organization. And then the managers also are really, really interested in that, because they see a whole new world.

Instead of having to look at lots of assumptions and data that they get in their business cases, they actually see people reacting to these new propositions and business strategies.

Len: Instead of just more PowerPoint, it's actual products and data.

Guerric: Exactly. This is really, really energizing. And I guess there is a big overlap with what you do at Leanpub, which is also allowing authors to experiment with their books.

Len: Yes, I can talk about that briefly, before - we'll talk a little bit more about self-publishing and the Leanpub approach at the end of the interview. But yes, you were, you were triggering all kinds of things in my mind as you were talking.

One of the fundamental theoretical foundations of Leanpub's approach to publishing is that if you've got a book project, you should put up a landing page, and see if you can get attention there. And put up maybe more than one landing page on the web, for more than one type of project - because most authors usually have a number of things they're interested in potentially writing about. And you can change the title around, you can change the way you present it.

And then when you start writing a book, instead of doing something in writing that's analogous to what you were describing - which is spending years in isolation, making all these assumptions about what's going to happen, and then dumping a final product into a world that you haven't even engaged with yet necessarily, with respect to that product - is not necessarily the best approach.

What you can do instead, is you can start publishing your book when you're two or three chapters in, and then you can see if you actually get attention.

If people are not paying attention - that's a signal. If they are, they might actually interact with you directly.

That's one of the fun things about the online world, is that people can very easily give you their feedback give you their comments, communicate with you, or even just communicate about you on social media. And then you can get all kinds of information and feedback about what you're doing. It actually fundamentally changes the way you write books.

Guerric: Yes, there's just so much power in getting your target audience to react to what you have in mind.

Len: I wanted to move on to talk a little bit about marketing, and I wanted to start at a high level with like what I hope is kind of a funny anecdote, that I hope makes a little bit of sense.

So, my dad grew up in the 1940s on a farm near a very small rural town, in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. It's right in the middle of Canada. And the province, when he was born, had only existed for about 30 years or so.

The products he could buy were the ones that were stocked by the very few shopkeepers that were within horse and buggy distance, essentially, of where he lived.

The reason I bring all that up is that, to this day, if he goes shopping with me, say for jeans, when I'm visiting at Christmas time - he expects me to buy whatever jeans are available at the first store we go to, because those are the jeans.

Obviously this situation is no longer the case for people in developed countries, and even increasingly in developing countries.

I wanted to ask - setting the foundation for just how dramatically things have changed within a lifetime, at a really high level - how would you say that the combination of online shopping and social media, like Instagram, has changed the nature of marketing itself?

Guerric: I think this has been a huge transformation in terms of how we see things, and it has actually accelerated what was already happening. As you said, we moved from a world where creating something was actually the biggest and the hardest part of the journey, to actually selling something becomes much more difficult. It is not a lack of capabilities to produce and create. There's a problem of actually finding the right things to create and selling them.

What we've observed with social media and e-commerce is just an acceleration of the ability to create and sell. This has moved us into a world where there's much, much more noise. That's what we're used to.

I do remember, I think it was in the 70s that Al Ries published his book, Positioning. He was already talking about a world where communication was so noisy and it was impossible to get the word out. And now if you think about the world today compared to the 70s, it's just insanely noisier than it was before.

I think what e-commerce and social media has done, is given the ability to a lot of people - meaning actually everyone - to create and sell things. This is just an amazing tool that we all have in our pockets, using our phones and computers - this ability to be entrepreneurs or solepreneurs, and be able to run businesses just based on an idea and the ability to reach out to markets. Social media is also very, very useful for getting the story out.

I think we moved from a world where - as you said for your father, things are very functional - a jean is a jean - to a world where actually we rely more and more on our emotions to make the decisions of what we buy.

If you think about the way you make a decision between the sunglasses, for example. You wouldn't buy a pair of Ray-Ban or Warby Parker, for example, just because one is more functional than the other one. You have a whole set of beliefs and biases that are getting into your decision-making process when you do that.

The way you make these decisions has been in the stories that these brands are telling you through various channels of communications. That can be social media, can be your friends, movies, and all sorts of channels that they may have access to.

Len: It's really interesting, you brought up the concept of a solopreneur. This is something I've been thinking about - I'm old enough to that things like YouTube stars are something I have to kind of do a lot of work to understand as a phenomenon.

But one thing that I find very interesting when I think about phenomena like that - or like people like Ninja, who is on Twitch playing Fortnite, and making millions of dollars a year now - one thing that people do now that I think is different from the way they would have done things in the past, is they will buy things and pay for things because they want the person they're paying to succeed.

Guerric: In some ways, this has always been the case. We've always had an economy that was also in some ways supporting artists. If you think about the the Renaissance era, we needed to have a lot of very rich people supporting artists. And now we have the chance to have a Da Vinci that's created all of these beautiful paintings. I'd say it's one way of seeing it, is people do support these solopreneurs.

But I do think that it's not necessarily doing that, just as a donation. They probably see it more as just liking the person, they did like the service or product that are provided. And they're very, very good alternatives to what HBO could provide.

You mentioned Ninja, who is an influencer who plays video games on Twitch. What he's basically offering is a very good alternative to watching Game of Thrones. I mean, you have a very big group of people were very interested in just knowing what is going to be the next set of jokes that Ninja is going to tell, while playing these video games. Actually the video game becomes just an excuse. You have a whole series of entertainment to watch.

Len: You mentioned context earlier, and I wanted to ask you a question. I think, if I understand a little bit about your recent blog post about job theory - that this rich concept of context that you have involves an understanding of not just things like, what does the potential customer like, or what's motivating them - but what are they doing in their life where the product matters. You write about how they're trying to make progress in something.

Guerric: Yes, indeed. Context is actually a huge part of what I wrote about in The Value Mix. It's thinking deeply about the context in which your target audience or consumers are, when they are about to choose to use your product, or are actually using it.

This is something that is often overlooked by marketers. The context is a really good source of opportunities, because the context is - all of this surrounding the environment that we're in, that are going to trigger this willingness to achieve some of these progresses or outcomes that I call goals, but that can be called also jobs.

Actually understanding the context can make such a difference when you either create a proposition or actually think about reaching out to your audience.

One interesting way of framing it is this story, of when you think about people who will go clubbing and tend to drink a bit to enjoy their night out. It is much, much more likely than when they finish the night at two, three, four, five AM - that they are craving fast food. And so if you're a fast food company, actually putting some advertising outside the club, or having a shop very close to an area where there are lots of clubs, is a great idea. Because you will be able to drive a lot of customers in your fast food shop.

All of this reasoning goes through the understanding of the context, and what's going to trigger the desire to have fast food.

Len: One of the things I found compelling as I was reading your work, including your book, The Value Mix - we'll move onto that part of the interview and talk directly about that nest - is I think related to something you mentioned earlier, when you were talking about how a focus group is a very unnatural environment.

I'm not sure exactly how to frame this question, because it's kind of a big issue, but in your book you also talk about how - and I'll quote here - "the complexity and variety of journeys cannot be modeled accurately."

That's something I'm very sympathetic to. For example, often in the world of political polling, you'll hear, "30% of Americans believe in Bigfoot," or something like that. And what actually happened was 30% of people surveyed answered a question on a survey that way. And then what will happen is, people will then take these reactions, and they'll start describing them with scientific words, like "results" and "data" and things like that, when actually what you've got is a really contrived kind of game, rather than a scientific experiment.

I was just very interested to see that in your work - that understanding the human side of things, instead of perhaps relying on - nd you don't go into this explicitly - but instead of relying on perhaps naive notions, that if you just get more data you can have a better understanding of things - instead of doing that, you should actually really try and get into the minds of the people that you're dealing with, and try to find the right minimum viable audience at the beginning.

Am I onto something there? Is that something that you think about?

Guerric: Yes, it's a really interesting question, Len.

This is basically a part of the book where I talk about creating customer journeys. I do believe that when we actually try to understand our target audiences, what we're doing - and this is very similar when you do polling in politics - is we're basically creating a model of what's happening in reality. Because it's nearly impossible to grasp the complexity of what's happening in the reality of what we're doing, with our limited capabilities. We simplify what's happening, and turn that into a model that helps us make sense of the reality.

We're always creating these shortcuts - some are good, some are less good. I think there is real power in acknowledging that.

The corporate world and the business world have made its very difficult to acknowledge that we aren't actually sure of anything. And when we create a model, even if we have lots of data - there is still a lot of uncertainty around what we're talking about.

This makes ourselves as business people very vulnerable, when we accept that. And there is a real power in this vulnerability, because then you start actually making decisions based on accepted level of uncertainty.

Len: I found it so interesting that you introduced, basically, epistemology into your discussion of how one should think about marketing - the fact that basically there is this divorce between our consciousness and the nature around us, means that we can have beliefs that don't correspond to reality at all.

So you write things like - I'm quoting again here - "What people believe to be true can predict future behaviors more accurately than demographic or socioeconomic attributes."

I really like that, because I think often people, in the post-enlightenment world, we have this desire for everything to work the same way that chemistry experiments work. And so, a water molecule here, and a water molecule a million miles away, and a water molecule a million years ago, and a water molecule a million years from now - are all the same thing. And because of that, we have all the wonders of scientific research and advancements and certainty.

And a lot of a lot of models we have for understanding humans, could only work for real, if humans were interchangeably identical in the way that molecules are assumed to be. And this actually, as you say, makes people very vulnerable to making huge mistakes. Because each person is actually their own universe unto themselves, with, as you point out, not only all kinds of beliefs that are driving their behaviors, but changing beliefs over time.

Guerric: That's very true. And these values - as consumers, we all - or as humans, we all aspire to think really logically. And we do believe on our own that we are very logical. But actually, if you take each individual separately, you realize that yes, we're all unique, and we all have a set of beliefs and biases that are shaping the way we make decisions. There's a lot of power in understanding this human side of people, when you're creating your marketing strategy.

Len: And how would you recommend, if someone is interested in doing some analysis, they've got an idea for a product - or they think they've got an idea for a product - how would they go about establishing an understanding of this very rich context that their audience, which is made up of, maybe even existing customers, but also potential customers - how do they go about discovering that context?

Guerric: I think that one of the most powerful tool to start with, is actually running an ethnographic study, which means hanging out and observing these people in what we could call their natural environments.

Most of the time, we are so far removed from the people we want to serve in our businesses - we think a lot about them, but we think about them from our offices. And actually hanging out with them, interacting with them, asking questions, is one of the best ways to understand the context they're in. What is actually triggering their goals? What are the customer journeys they go through themselves?

Obviously you realize that there is a massive diversity of customer journeys, and everyone has actually slightly different triggers. But by doing it repetitively, as well as running some more quantitative studies, we can start forming models. The more you get used to do it, and the more you get to know your audience, the easier it becomes to create these models, and the easier it becomes to actually shape the right propositions that are going to be highly meaningful and relevant for them.

Len: I find that very compelling, the idea that hanging out with people, and being receptive to what's there - it's so important for establishing an understanding of what's going on.

I think you write in your book about how - and I found this quite striking - you say the idea of finding a solution to a problem creates a limiting belief, because innovation is not all black and white.

That's just so interesting, because, so much of the literature that you'll read about creating products and designing products and marketing products, is you're supposed to begin with discovering what the customer's problem is, and then providing a solution.

But what you're arguing is that actually that framework limits you in your understanding of what is really happening with the customer, what the situation really is - which is a combination of things like their beliefs, their jobs and their motivations

Guerric: That's actually a very good point, Len. This is one of the big pieces of insights that led me to write the book, is you see this startup world that has been shaped a lot by engineers. And engineers are really, really good at finding solutions to problems.

This actually goes back to what we were saying earlier about the importance of language. This is a model that can work, and you can always find a way to shape a proposition as being a solution to your problem.

The problem is that this model is limiting. It's a limiting framework because you lose all of the nuances that you can find in all of these human emotions that we were talking about earlier.

I do believe that a lot of the successes that we see are actually not just a very good solution to a very specific problem, but are often much more than that.

They engage emotionally with the users and customers, and they're able to create stories that people are willing to talk about. They create an experience that people are willing to engage with. And the way they do that is by actually understanding very well the emotions of the audiences they serve.

Len: Moving on to the final part of the interview, I wanted to ask you why you chose Leanpub as a medium for your book.

Guerric: There's actually a very, very simple reason. It links back to all of the things we talked about before, with my experience working with startups, as well as my experience working in innovation with ?What If! - there's a pretty huge value in experimenting, and Leanpub was a great way for doing that. It's a great way for me to put my thinking out as early as possible.

Actually I think I could have done that earlier. It did take me a bit of time, to be honest, to go on Leanpub. I did spend a few months working in isolation. I think it's actually, in hindsight, a good thing. We do talk about putting the word out there as fast as possible. But there is also value in being very clear on your thinking. And that sometimes means isolating yourself a bit from the markets, in order to create something that is very different from what is already out there.

So I took the time to do that, and then I found that I was ready to put something that was quite new, terms of thinking, thinking that I could leverage to contribute to the main business thinking that is already out there.

I decided to do it with Leanpub, because it gave me the flexibility to write, publish, and then iterate as it went, as people were reacting to my writing.

One of the ways I did it is - I probably didn't have that many readers very early on, when I first put the initial draft version of The Value Mix on Leanpub. But I actually used it as a way to engage with people I knew who could be very good at giving me feedback. And this was really, really useful experience.

Len: The last question I always like to ask authors on this podcast is: If there was one thing you could ask us to build for you, or one thing you could ask us to fix, what would you ask us to do?

Guerric: I think at the moment Leanpub is a really, really good platform. I was wondering about the ability to actually play a bit more with the description, and kind of A/B test, the main copy. That would be a good value to understand what is actually hooking the customers -

Len: That's a really great suggestion.

Guerric: - because most of the time when you think about a book and the description of a book, the description of a book is just a very, very small part of what the book is all about. And it can be difficult as an author to understand what is going to be the best parts of the book to hook customers in.

Len: Thanks for that, that's great. I'll communicate that to the team.

You made me recall that like years ago we had a discussion about a feature that would let authors A/B test book covers. This would fit right in with that same thing.

Guerric: That could be a very useful thing as well. Because, yeah, when I decided to start writing The Value Mix, I did exactly the same as when I decided to start GoudronBlanc. I tried to learn as much as possible. So I reached out to people who I know that have recent books, to understand how they went through the journey, as well as subscribing to lots of newsletters about book writing.

I actually realized that there is a massive emphasis that authors put on covers. Covers can be actually the biggest trigger for people to buy books. And when you really dig deep into these insights, you realize that in many, many, many cases, actually readers decide to buy a book just based on the color and the look of the cover. And you see that big publishers, such as Penguin, are actually very, very good at creating amazing covers that are getting you attracted to the book.

Len: That's a really good insight. I would say to anyone listening who's writing a book on their own, or thinking of self-publishing a book - having a really good cover is particularly important if you're self-publishing. Because, whether or not the particular design you choose appeals to people who are interested in your particular genre - a very well-designed cover immediately gives people confidence that this is a product that's been made by someone who knows what they're doing, and is trying to make something high quality.

Guerric: Definitely. And the best way to figure out what the best cover is, is to experiment with it.

Len: Yes. Well, thank you very much Guerric. It's 10 o'clock in the evening where you are, so thank you for giving some of your time to us when you could have been out and about in London having fun. And thanks very much for your insights in marketing and for being a Leanpub author.

Guerric: It was a real pleasure, Len. Thanks so much for the invitation.

Len: Thanks.

Podcast info & credits
  • Published on December 5th, 2018
  • Interview by Len Epp on November 29th, 2018
  • Transcribed by Alys McDonough