Ignite by Acorn-i: One Year and Counting
24 August , 2020
For those interested in product management in a fast growth start-up, we talk to our Technical Product Lead Matthew Akino-Wittering about his first year with Acorn-i.


What brought you to Acorn-i?

In August 2020 I joined Acorn-i as our first Product Manager. For myself, this was an exciting opportunity to join a start-up working with our Co-Founders and Chief Technology Officer to develop the product strategy to enact their technology ambitions.

Looking back a year, what were the product capabilities in August 2019?

When I joined, we already had an embryonic version of what has become Ignite, our proprietary reporting and analytics platform. Acorn-i are an approved Marketplace Web Services (MWS) Developer and the system was able to retrieve retail data from Amazon Seller Central and Sponsored Products advertising data for reporting and analytics. The team had also created an Amazon search term ranking tool, but all features and functions were internal facing at the time.

What infrastructure is being used to develop Ignite?

Our data collection and processing back leverages AWS Lambda, SQS, S3 and Athena. This had proven itself an economical revelation using pay-as-you-go computer and storage negating the need to manage an estate or EC2 or EMR instances.

The data we’d collect and processes was made available to our team using QuickSight to build dashboards to track performance and report to sales and product performance to our clients. While this was a start, it did not have the branding and personality we desired. At this point our technology resembled the following diagram and was not yet a product in the true sense.

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How did you approach the next phase of evolving the platform?

Working closely with clients and the internal customer success team, we got to understand the challenges, pitfalls as well as the opportunities Amazon sellers and agents have. This helped us begin the process of articulating our product vision and identify key customer personas.

The longer-term business vision was always to build our own technology, as this provides the most unique value to our clients. While QuickSight has proven to be a good product for building proof-of-concepts and dashboards for internal teams, it is not the optimal technology to develop client facing UIs.

How has the technology developed to support external user release?

We hired a dedicated engineering team to develop a modern webapp the was best suited to the needs of our key user personas. For proof of concept, we selected an achievable goal of replacing our search terms analytics dashboard with an Angular webapp using cloud technologies such the Serverless framework and Snowflake, the data warehouse, to ensure Ignite was blazing fast and had >99% up time. Together we successfully delivered the MVP into production on the 5th February 2020 beginning the process of rolling out a new business tool to external customers. Initially we launched in beta before making it generally available to all our clients.

The search terms dashboard provided strong support for users wanting to understand how best to optimise for SEO, improve performance on paid search and understand shopper product purchase intent trends.

How as the dashboard evolved since then?

While running the first technical initiative to build the search terms module of Ignite I met regularly with our leadership team to develop a list of problems we wanted to address. These regular meetings very quickly became a Product Council and the genesis of our roadmap. This allowed us to focus on discussing the capabilities we want to develop rather than artificial time restrictions and release scheduling.

Ignite features and functionality have developed immensely between August 2019 and August 2020. In addition to client Amazon eCommerce data, we have integrated Amazon Sponsored Ads (Sponsored Products, Sponsored Brands, Sponsored Display), Amazon DSP and connected with Amazon Marketing Cloud (AMC). This has enabled us to create holistic reporting and insights for clients selling and advertising on Amazon.

What are you focusing on now and for the coming months?

We have an exciting roadmap and will release new features and data sets to clients in the coming weeks and into 2021. One area of focus is how can we provide a cross-channel view of a brand’s webstore and Amazon in one platform, and inform clients on where best to focus time and resource to deliver the best results. More on this though in the coming weeks!

Finally, any advice for budding product managers on how they can build effective client facing products?

In my experience, Product Management has and continues to be an extremely rewarding role. It is much more than just technical problem solving. It is a multidisciplinary role covering technology, marketing and leadership without legitimate authority. You’ll have hopefully read Inspired by Marty Cagen and be aware that a Product Manager’s responsibilities cover access product opportunities and define the product to be built.

This is the crucial part of the role, accessing opportunities. You will find these opportunities by speaking with your colleagues and customers. Meeting your customers regularly is key. These sessions will likely reveal crucial information about their situation. Just like a good detective novel. If you meet enough customers, patterns will form. From there you will then be able to create an informed recommendation as to how to prioritise which software should be built now, next or later. This will hopefully ensure successes.

We’d love to hear from you if you’re passionate about building next generation businesses and delivering results for customers – join us

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