Most product leaders understand that Zero to One and One to N projects require vastly different skills, disciplines and mindsets. Building a team that excels at either is a massive feat—but the truth is, the best product teams have the vision and discipline to build new products from scratch and iterate on existing products.
The reason it’s so difficult to build a team that does both is because the respective mentalities of Zero to One and One to N teams are often at odds. Building a team culture that encourages and fosters both is difficult but possible.
At DailyPay, this is a mission I’m working towards every day. When the company was founded in 2016, it not only built a new product but created an entirely new category. By the time I joined the company in January of 2021, there was an established product and a ‘One to N’-leaning team.
While DailyPay had incredible product-market fit and was scaling rapidly, I quickly realized that there were product opportunities we weren’t capitalizing on. There was an entire ecosystem we could build, around our employer partners and their employees, that wasn’t yet being built.
Creating an entirely new product ecosystem takes a team of thinkers and dreamers. As DailyPay grew and the product was established, the needs of the team began to evolve with it. We brought in product leaders who specialized in iterating on existing products and improving UX and design.
DailyPay’s product team today does both; we are building brand new products from scratch while maintaining and improving upon our existing product stack. As the VP of Product Management, UX Design and Research, it’s my role to ensure that our product team can thrive while doing both.
Once you define the difference between Zero to One and One to N, and determine your organization’s need for them, you can begin to foster a team culture that prioritizes both:
What’s The Difference Between Zero to One and One to N?
Going from Zero to One means creating something completely new that didn’t exist before.
One to N is improving, iterating on, or scaling something that already exists.
Before building or expanding your team, determine if there is actually a need for both at your organization.
It’s important to assess this quickly because the way you approach a product can look very different depending on the direction you take. For example, you don’t want to make the sometimes costly mistake of choosing the wrong decision path. Worse, your teams may get frustrated and not understand why they are not making more headway.
Once you’ve defined the difference and determined you have needs, you can begin growing and cultivating two different types of mindsets on your team.
How To Cultivate A Zero To One Team?
1. Internalize That The Goal Is To Learn And Validate, Not To Drive Results
The ultimate goal is to get to product-market fit, and you have to constantly ask yourself what you would need to see (metrics, results, outcomes) that validate each stage. It is so easy to get caught up in trying to answer everything at once and that is exactly what you can’t do. You have to start simple (one of our values)! The first thing we need to validate, for example, might be if someone clicks on a button to learn more.
And don’t assume that everyone working on this knows exactly what the plan is. Write it down, and be explicit about what we are trying to learn and who we are trying to learn it from. As you learn things, write them down. This seems so obvious, but early on, people operate off of many many assumptions.
Meet often with stakeholders to share what you learn because others will be part of the process with you. During the early stages—for stakeholders, like your sales team, who may want to sell, sell, sell, or your marketing teams that want to understand what the product does so they can write materials for positioning—you’re going to need to help them feel okay with not knowing.
It’s not that you are keeping answers away from them that you can only access with the secret product handshake, it’s that you don’t have the answers either. By inviting them into the process, and sharing learnings and what you plan on doing with that learning, you can help avoid some of that.
2. Prioritize Humility
Building something completely new from scratch is a time for humility. Rather than pretending you have all the answers, you as a team leader must embrace the fact that you don’t know everything; in fact, you know very little.
When DailyPay was initially creating its REWARD feature, the concept and experience was much different than what the product is today. When we created the idea, we designed the tool for HR professionals to be able to reward employees with spot bonuses.
Our team was confident in this concept/audience, but we still pushed ourselves to speak to customers about the idea and be open to what we didn’t know. The more we spoke to them, we realized that impactful spot bonuses aren’t given from HR professionals in front of their computers; they’re given by field managers and people on the ground who manage the workforce day-to-day.
Our product wasn’t being built for this use case, so we had to take a step back and reimagine the product for a whole new stakeholder. If we weren’t open to exploring new ideas and gaining new insight, we wouldn’t have built a final product that was perfect for our users.
If you’re not open to what you don’t know, you’ll never successfully build a 0 to 1 team mentality, and ultimately, will never find and create the solutions you intended to.
3. Find And Cultivate The Creators
Zero to One product managers are creatives and visionaries at heart. They are relentlessly curious. They start simple, learn, and evolve but they are always seeking insight. It is what defines their next steps, which could be very different from where they assumed they would be when they started. So, you need those who have persistence but also know when to not get married to any one idea.
To challenge them and help cultivate these skills, give them a large, complex challenge to tackle and solve. At DailyPay, our annual Hackathon is designed to foster a ‘dream big’ mentality amongst our product and engineering teams—and it often produces viable ideas that become implemented into our product roadmap.
How To Cultivate A One To N Team?
1. Hone In The Power Of Focus
Trying to boil the ocean will always result in failure. The first way to ensure success on a One to N team is to infuse the power of focus into the org. And in its simplest form, this means defining a strategy that is aligned with your business’ objectives. For example, if you are trying to attract a wider audience and grow your base, you need to stay focused on that to drive things forward.
There may be temptation to go too broad because as more people use your products, more needs and opportunities are exposed. Regardless of which mindset you’re in, prioritization will always be the hardest thing product people do.
There will be many good ideas but remember that, to say yes to any one idea, you have to say no to others. So be thoughtful about what you say yes to.
At DailyPay, the way we prioritize is through laser focus on the user. When choosing what to put resources behind when improving our product stack, we focus on user feedback to drive our product roadmap and improvements.
One of the ways we do this is a weekly, cross-functional meeting called “Coffee with Customers.” Every Thursday morning, DailyPayers from across the company meet to listen to customer support calls from the prior week, and collaborate in real-time to identify product issues, discuss solutions and brainstorm ideas to improve the customer experience.
The product team then takes this a step further by convening every Friday to do a deep dive meeting on product improvements and solutions identified during “Coffee with Customers.” These meetings not only leave dedicated time to focus on improving/fixing existing products, but invites outside teams and a cross-functional approach to improving DailyPay’s product.
Even when you have an established product, your users may surprise you. You should intend to be on an everlasting journey to continually learn more about your users.
2. Rally the Team Around the Right Metrics
Once you have your focus, determine the key metrics that will measure your performance in those areas. Your metrics should keep track of things like adoption, growth, engagement, usage, etc. It’s critical to define what is important to your organization and align team priorities around driving those. At DailyPay, everything my team does drives four metrics.
This seems obvious, but there is nuance here. Sometimes, in the spirit of maintaining and developing an established product, teams fall into the habit of monitoring their metrics. But, regardless of what stage these teams are in, product teams need to orient their mindset from monitoring to driving. With established products, it is easy to broaden what you measure too much. Stay focused on a few key metrics to drive and make sure your teams know what is expected from them.
3. Encourage Continuous Learning About Your Product
Your 1 to N team should never be complacent with your existing product, and should be open to constantly learning and absorbing insights that will improve it. During DailyPay’s beginning days, the product was created just to provide access to users’ pay before payday. We expected the product to be extremely transactional.
But after digging into the data about how our users interacted with the product, we realized that they were using our app for something we didn’t set out to do: more than 50% of users were logging in to check their pay balance and watch their earnings grow throughout the pay period. This made us realize that our product actually served two purposes: provide access to, but also transparencyaround, their pay.
Even though pay transparency was not the initial intent of the product, our team was open to playing a different role in our users’ lives than we anticipated. This helped us build a pipeline of new product features (pay breakdowns, shift displays, etc.) that has evolved our product to be both informative, and provide access to earned pay when a user needs it. This combination empowers our users with knowledge, choice and control over their finances.
4. Don’t Forget To Celebrate Your One To N Heroes
To have a team that prioritizes both product mindsets, you need to celebrate both equally. Zero to One work is often naturally more celebrated, but you don’t want to leave your One to N team members feeling underappreciated and undervalued.
Make it a point to uplift and celebrate their work; whether it’s fixing a bug, solving a long-standing issue, or improving a product. Uplift their work not only within the product organization but company-wide. (This not only leaves your team members feeling more valued, but also keeps other teams within the company up-to-date on product happenings.)
DailyPay has Slack channels like #celebrate and #dailypay_values where team members are recognized for their wins and contributions to the entire company. We heavily promote cross-company stakeholder demos for people to showcase their work. And finally, across our R&D team, we give EMI (Execute and Measure the Impact) awards at our bi-weekly meetings.
These all ensure that product team members feel celebrated and uplifted within our team, and also cross-functionally.
It’s difficult to build a team that is able to accomplish both Zero to One and One to N projects, but it is possible. If you are intentional in the ways you put together your team, assign projects, choose metrics and celebrate wins, you can successfully cultivate a product organization that is skilled in both Zero to One and One to N.