How tech product development really works in the Philippines
by George Esleta
The stereotype of a tech entrepreneur is of someone who gets a brilliant idea, toils on it in the obscurity of their garage, and then releases it to the world to much public acclaim.
While these tales make for romantic news stories, there is much more to building something than simply hanging out in a garage. Products must be properly and systematically developed, no matter how simple they are. The person that supervises this process is a product development manager.
I am a product development manager at Voyager Innovations, the digital arm of Smart-PLDT. At Voyager, we incubate different products and platforms. I myself am responsible for Voyager’s entertainment portfolio, which includes Eat Bulaga! mobile.
The ins and outs of product development
“It is your task to come up with a feature that will differentiate your app or website.”
Product development is challenging. The digital space is saturated, with more than 1.5 million apps in Google Play and 1.4 million in App Store. As a product developer, it is your task to come up with that feature that will differentiate your app or website from the haystack of products, then release it as fast to possible to prevent others from copying your idea.
Your focus should not be on releasing a perfect, full-featured product on Day 1. The trick is to create a minimum viable product (MVP), get it out to the market as quickly as possible, then iterate and do continuous improvements as you go along.
To get your product out to market as quickly as possible, you need to maintain a high level of focus and creativity. To keep the creative juices flowing, I have regular brainstorming sessions with our user experience designer which usually gives me fresh ideas on new features to implement.
I am also very fortunate that Voyager fosters a creative working environment where I can write doodles on the wall, waveboard along the office corridors, or just sit at the couch to brainstorm with my teammates for that next big app idea.
Within this broad environment of creativity, the actual product development process we follow is relatively linear.
The ideation stage usually involves creating a product proposal. In the proposal, you define the problem you are trying to solve, and determine your target users. Once you have the problem statement and the target market, you then need to outline how you will solve the problem (product strategy), and how your product will eventually generate revenue (business case).
Once the product proposal is approved, we move to the design phase. I particularly love the phase because it is a collaborative effort and involves hours of brainstorming and wireframing sessions with the user experience designers and engineers. It also involves creating several design studies for your product with the help of the design team, then conducting FGDs (focused group discussions) or informal surveys to finalize the design.
At Voyager, we practice agile software development, working on 2 to 3-week time frames called sprints to ensure faster go-to-market of products. Before the start of the sprint, product developers create and fine-tune the user stories, then prioritize them with the engineers and designers during sprint planning. Once the sprint is active, we have daily 15-minute stand-up meetings with the team to keep track of everyone’s progress.
My background in quality assurance instilled in me the importance of testing the product in every step of the development process. Because of this, I actively participate in testing the app during the sprint, making sure that my user stories are properly executed and filing bugs if necessary.
Building a career in product development
While the product development process can be long and challenging, the most fulfilling part of being a product developer is finally seeing people use and enjoy your product.
“Nothing beats hearing the Pinoy Henyo mobile theme song in public transportation.”
Eat Bulaga! mobile was launched January 24, 2015, and it had more than 100,000 downloads on its 2nd day on Google Play! On that same day, it became the Top free entertainment app in the Philippines and maintained that ranking for eight consecutive weeks. Now, EB Mobile has almost 500,000 downloads and 100,000 monthly active users.
Nothing beats hearing the Pinoy Henyo mobile theme song in public transportation, or seeing the Eat Bulaga! Dabarkads promoting the app and playing Pinoy Henyo on live TV. It validates the hard work that your team has done for the past few months.
Because of this sense of ownership and fulfillment, I would encourage more Filipinos to consider the world of tech product development.
And you don’t need to graduate with an IT-related degree to be a product developer. I graduated with a degree in applied physics, but this did not hinder me from pursuing a career in product development. You can be a product developer as long as you have the passion to translate the tiniest wisp of inspiration to an actual product.
There is also no better time to be a product developer than now. The Philippines, in particular, has lots of room for growth in the digital space. Smartphone penetration in Philippines is currently at 15%, but this is expected to grow to 50% by the end of this year due to the relatively low prices offered by local device manufacturers. This growth in smartphone usage provides a great opportunity to develop digital products and services for Filipinos by Filipinos.
Photos by: Monnik Togle
Editor’s Note: The local technology and digital scene has a lot of opportunities. In fact the problem in this sector is that the demand for talent is so much higher than the supply (aka kulang sa tao na meron skills for the job). To help with this we’re going to do a series of articles talking about the different kind of jobs and work one can find in the digital/tech field in the form of interviews, contribution articles, features, and videos. Our goal is to inspire our readers to consider growing (or starting) their career in the digital industry. Read on and let us know what you think about this new section in the comments! 🙂