We have a simple way to set priorities at our company: If it isn’t useful and smart, we aren’t going to pursue it.
So before we make any changes to our site or a signature product, we dive into the data. In order to build the best possible product, it has to be one that our customers really want.
How do we determine that? Fortunately, we have a phenomenal analytics team that looks at the intricacies of everything that happens on our site -- but it isn't just numbers that we're concerned about. We want to know who we're talking to, how people are using our products and, most importantly, how they could be better.
Rule #1: We watch every number -- and hear every voice
We've conducted nationwide research to pin down the state of financial attitudes and behaviors, but some of our favorite research is actually qualitative, not quantitative.
We regularly invite our network of LearnVest users to participate in small focus groups and one-on-one sessions. We also have a network of super-users who participate in what we call "LearnVest Labs." These users meet directly with our director of user experience so that we can see how they navigate the site, and take note of trouble spots and ideas for improvement. We also pay close attention to comments that come to us via the most organic channel: our user feedback emails. Our product team and I read each and every email, which can be sometimes challenging, sometimes thrilling -- but always useful.
Every member of our team is a user, too. They read our content and use our tools and planning services. That includes our network of investors and advisors, too. Just because they're affiliated with the company doesn't mean that their feedback is biased: an improvement to the signup flow is an improvement to the signup flow, no matter who suggests it.
Rule #2: We look out for the unexpected
We put a great deal of effort into systemizing and organizing feedback, but ideas for innovation can still come from the unlikeliest of places. Wherever I am or whatever I'm doing, I'm always on the lookout for inspiration. From watching TV to having dinner with friends (everyone has their own networks) to going for a drive, you never know when a great idea may strike.
I'm especially on the lookout for ideas when I use other self-improvement tools. For example, I'm an avid user of Fitbit--an app that helps me track my daily activity and sleep patterns. I love pouring through their analytics features, and I find that it helps me be proactive about my health goals. It also helps me reflect upon my own behavior, and it informs the way we consider analytics features in LearnVest's Money Center.
So, how do you find innovation? Research (look high and low), listen (to everyone in all your networks), and focus (filter your ideas). Repeat.
ALEXA VON TOBEL is the founder and CEO of LearnVest.com, the financial-management and lifestyle website. She was recently selected as one of Fortune's Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs and highlighted in Inc.’s 30 Under 30 list of cool young entrepreneurs.
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