Creating New Products with Rebecca Deutsch of Parlay
With years of working at Microsoft under her belt, an entrepreneurial drive pulled Rebecca Deutsch in another direction. She related, “I finished at Microsoft at the end of 2014 and felt like I needed to step back and figure out what I wanted to do next because I had been there a long enough time that the challenges didn’t feel new anymore. My husband and I were really passionate about starting our own company and we also share that drive to create these things.”
The husband and wife team turned to an experience that they knew to be flawed. “We both have been a part of teams that have created new products and new features from scratch,” the Co-Founder shared, “I’ve been at Microsoft, he was at a consulting company, then a start up, then the Starbucks innovation lab. Both of us are really passionate about the process of creating new products and services but we saw how much teams struggle with it.”
While there are many processes and methodologies around the process of creating a new product, particularly in design fields, the teams tasked with this process often come from a multitude of backgrounds from operations to engineering. Rebecca said, “That diverse perspective is important, but there’s nothing unifying that guides us through how to do this early creation.” From this idea, Parlay Concepts was born. The co-founding duo decided to create a tool to help diverse teams go through the design process in a unified way.
Getting Early Feedback and Evolving Ideas
Parlay’s focus is on innovation teams within large corporations. From her previous professional experience, Rebecca knew what these teams faced. She described, “Communication and staying on the same page and going through the same kinds of design processes together is a real challenge because there are so many different people involved with so many different backgrounds and they’re often working with partners or teams in other places in the company. These kinds of early innovation projects change so quickly, as they should, so we knew we could have, with software, a much bigger impact on helping those teams stay on the same page and move forward together.”
The concept-creating software offers a collaborative workspace where teams can document and evolve ideas under a framework of thinking through who the customer is, what the problem is, and what solution will effectively solve those issues. In upcoming updates, Parlay will provide built-in design-thinking methods and user research methods to guide teams along the path of thoughtful creation.
“We’ve seen teams struggle with the information management side of how to keep track of the latest plans, but also keep it in a way that’s easy to tell the story of your ideas,” Rebecca explained.
Where the lack of storytelling becomes a problem is when there’s a lack of feedback. “You really benefit from sharing ideas early even if they’re not fully baked yet and that’s a really scary thing to do. People hold back or wait until it’s more polished, wait to document things and share things until it’s more of an afterthought, and that really hurts the evolution of the ideas. We wanted to build a platform that was easy both to keep track of all the messy work and ideas and notes going on as well as be able to distill that down into high level summaries easily that you can share out.”
Just as Parlay helps users share their ideas early and often, Rebecca is pushing herself to do the same. “Even when we were just figuring out what Parlay might be, we were trying to reach out to our networks and get feedback and talk about it. It’s uncomfortable and it can be scary to share early work. I know it can be designed better, I want it to look better, I want it to be more usable than it is in development, but I still get myself out there just to get that feedback and validate the direction.” This philosophy has translated into Parlay’s culture. “We don’t believe in private betas or a big launch or anything like that, it’s all iterative to us,” Rebecca explained.
Getting feedback has been critical to the Parlay Co-Founders, particularly with their own startup process. “We’re building it all ourselves,” Rebecca shared, “It’s just me and my husband wearing all the hats, doing outreach, sales, marketing, website creation, and then we’re also building the product. I’m doing the front end development and he’s doing back-end development.”
Making it Real As Soon As Possible
Rebecca hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier Nat Park
Keeping all aspects of development in-house has been a unique experience for Rebecca. “Now I’m the developer and the designer,” Rebecca commented, “My husband jokes, ‘You get to argue with yourself now.’ And it’s true. I used to be the person who was on the design side trying to design the features and then work with the developer to tell them, ‘this is what I want,’ and they would push back and say, ‘Oh that’s too hard, let’s do it this way,’ and I would say, ‘No, we need the experience like this.’ Now I do that with myself, because the designer side of me is trying to figure out what’s going to be the best user experience and then the developer side of me wants to make it more feasible and faster to create. I find compromises with myself.”
One essential aspect of keeping their team lean was coding. “I find it really empowering to know how to code and also be able to build the product ourselves. It’s taken me a while to come around to that love of coding and developing, but I do have a Computer Science degree. When I went to Microsoft I really didn’t touch code for about ten years because I was focusing on user experience design and management. Now I’ve returned to coding for our startup. It’s taken me a little while to get over that barrier of I don’t know how to do this, this is hard, and now I’ve realized, no, I can do this and it’s really empowering and it’s fun and I remember all the things I liked about it back in college.”
For upcoming entrepreneurs, Rebecca advised, “Make it real. As quickly as possible. You can spend a lot of time mulling over ideas in your head, but get something down, ideally a prototype coded up, even if it’s rough and early. You’ll learn so much and your ideas will evolve a lot faster and that’s really the goal. How many times can you evolve your ideas? Because every time you’re evolving you should hopefully be improving and moving closer and closer to the thing that will be successful.”
Before launching her startup career, Rebecca felt stuck at times. She described, “There were times where I felt like maybe I was doing the same kind of thing for too many years and I didn’t know what to move to instead or I wasn’t quite satisfied with where I was at. Moving yourself forward, especially in the entrepreneurial journey, everything can feel huge and overwhelming at times, but it’s all about one small step towards the next goal.
“It took me a while to recognize that the root of what drives me is creating new things. I’m trying to build my life around that now. Those are the experiences I want to have and it’s not about a particular job, it’s about the experience I’m getting from it.” Rebecca’s advice is inspiring for upcoming entrepreneurs. Follow her journey on Twitter and watch as the Co-Founder continues her passion of creating new things.
How can you make your idea more real? What’s been a theme of your career? Share your story with us in the comments below.