A Brief Overview of Inkling’s Product Development
When Inkling started almost five years ago, we had a vision to “make the world a smarter place with knowledge that matters”. We started with the world of textbooks where a lot of seminal academic knowledge resides. So, from a product development perspective, at first that meant finding the best way to bring beautiful, interactive digital textbook content to students through an iPad app. Since then, we’ve created thousands of interactive books that work beautifully on every major mobile or desktop device, for all sorts of learners and readers, and with all sorts of partners.
In the process, we realized that our business’s core competency (what our Founder and CEO Matt MacInnis calls our “one thing“) lies in our unique ability to help organizations build beautiful, structured content at scale. This realization not only led us to pivot our business model towards becoming an enterprise-level software-as-a-service (“SaaS”) company, but it also has radically changed how we approach product development and for whom we’re building our products.
So, how did we get here? In this post, I’ll share a brief overview of how Inkling’s products and product development have evolved from an iPad app to an end-to-end cloud publishing solution, as well as what we’re planning for the future.
The First Challenge
Back in the early days of Inkling, translating our first couple of textbooks from print to digital was an eye-opening experience to the inefficiencies of digital publishing. Between emailing around PDFs, scanning and sending marked-up docs, writing file names with ridiculous extensions like “version87-proofedKJ-final-FINAL.pdf”, and requiring custom engineering to build every interactive assessment, we had our hands full. As we continued to produce digital textbooks, we soon realized that these challenges weren’t unique to Inkling–creating beautiful, interactive digital content at scale was, in fact, a major problem faced by the entire publishing industry.
After several conversations with our publisher partners and countless hours of research, we began to build a tool that would tackle these challenges for other content creators. Based upon the software that we had built in-house to solve our own publishing needs, we created Inkling Habitat, an enterprise-grade, cloud-based publishing and collaborative-authoring platform now used by the world’s largest publishers, such as Pearson and McGraw-Hill.
Philosophy In Action
Getting Habitat into publishers’ hands, however, was only the beginning. At Inkling, we know that the best and only way to build the right product is to relentlessly talk to customers and uncover real challenges that we can solve for them. To make Habitat and all of our products better, we continue to rely on this core product development philosophy. (In fact, if you want to read more about how we’re approaching customer research, check out the recent posts from Inkling’s user research guru, Meg Timney, about why customer research matters and how to build irresistible products.)
However, there is typically an infinite list of “problems” and “challenges” that need prioritization. To determine which problem to solve first, the product team at Inkling works closely with the Sales team, the Client Solutions team, implementation managers, and Marketing to identify the highest impact needs that apply to the most customers. “Highest impact” can be measured in a number of ways, such as “saves the customer money” or “provides the best time-savings for end users”.
One example of this theory in practice is a feature under development right now: the ability to send a Habitat project to a group of reviewers and receive feedback. We recently heard from customers that, while Habitat serves thousands of writers, authors, editors and instructional designers, it doesn’t easily accommodate content reviewers as well as it should or could. Based on this insight, we’re currently hard at work on building some new features to better include non-authoring collaborators, such as legal teams or audit organizations, into the Habitat experience.
It’s an exciting time to develop products at Inkling. We are broadening our focus to tackle not only academic publishing, but also to deeply understand publishing and content needs in the expansive corporate market, for everything from research and reports to employee training and mLearning. To help tackle these new verticals and expand our vision for how Inkling’s products can serve our customers, we’ve brought onboard a new VP of Product, Will Doolittle, who joins us from SuccessFactors, an SAP Company. Will has many years of experience in building SaaS products that customers love, and we’re thrilled to have him applying that experience to our product development.
Though a lot of has changed over the years at Inkling, we are still marching towards our mission to “make the world a smarter place.” As we grow our product team and product feature set over the coming months, we will continue on the journey to do just that. Onward!