Gleb Kuznetzov is the founder of Milkinside Design Studio and the Chief Design Officer of Brain Technologies, Inc, an AI and interface company that aims to reinvent computer interfaces and make software natural. We talk about the keys to a successful digital transformation, how to design lovable products, and reasons why startup founders must think big.
Listen to the podcast here
Design Lovable Products with the Cube Framework and Gleb Kuznetzov
Our guest is Gleb Kuznetsov, who is the founder of Milkinside Design Studio in San Francisco and that of Brain Technologies, Inc., an AI and interface company that aims to reinvent computer interfaces and make software natural. Gleb, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m glad to speak here with you. And yeah, I would love to share some experience and tell you a little bit about my journey as well.
I can’t wait to hear the details. So what is that journey specifically? Can you kind of make it in a nutshell, how you got to the point where you are the founder of two companies, Brain Technologies and also Milk Inside Inc. So how did you get here? How did you get here and how did you end up running these two companies?
So, well, the brain, I’m not really the CEO, but I helped to co-found this company. So, but mainly I’m driving the Milligan site design team, which is a 70 people team in San Francisco. So, basically my journey was starting as everybody else joined me. I was working on the regular position as an engineer on the early days. And I helping basically engineering large products for pretty big companies. And that’s how I started. And then I was working in different positioning as the head of design, as a head of product as well. So my responsibility was to ship products to the customer for different corporations.
And of course, after decades of experience, I realized that I can do this as a consultant. And organically, I’m just starting doing for a lot of different clients because they asked me to help them. And of course, like organically, I built my own team and then my team has become a company. And right now, we work with a lot of large organizations, for example, Airbus, Mitsubishi, Honda. We also partner with brands like Xiaomi and we do incorporating system designs for Opel, which is the largest Asian and I think Indian as well organization in the world, consumer electronics. So we focus on the mainly, I would say, consumer products and digital transformation. And that’s what I was doing for all my, I would say, career. Yeah.
That’s very impressive. Big, big clients there. And I also understand that you started in Europe and then Eastern Europe, where I’m from as well, and then you got to Switzerland and from there to the US. So, what made you make these geographic moves?
First of all, I grew up in Europe, so I always grew up in Germany. And yes, I was traveling a lot from country to country and I ended up running my business in Switzerland and I really love this country, it is the highest level of life I would say, country in the world. But I get a very unique opportunity to work with a very large organization in the US, especially in California. And this opportunity was, I would say, a one in a life chance to just to build something incredible big. And that big was the consumer operating system for mobile devices, for TVs, a watch, and basically all the electronic devices of a very large company.
Basically I accepted this challenge because it was really a challenge to create a design language which will be implemented in more than a billion devices in a very short amount of time. And of course, that was catching me and I came to California and started working on this project. And of course, I succeed with the results and organically received the offer to continue working here. And because of the attitude of Silicon Valley innovations and because of the how fast is moving everything is here, I decided to stay and build my business here. And of course, is also the reason why I decided to stay is because of the, of all the history of innovation. I think the biggest, largest innovation was built here. And that was giving me a lot of inspiration as well. So, like, I think we carry on with my team up to date.
So you want to be close to the fire where the exciting things happen, the cutting edge. So definitely Silicon Valley, San Francisco is the place. So please explain to me a little bit about digital transformation, because it’s still a little bit cloudy in my mind what it actually means. I also perceive that different people mean different things by it. It sounds like very grandiose digital transformation. So, what does it look like for a company to go through digital transformation and, you know, are there different variations of this or this is a very clear concept and it’s the same every time?
Well, first of all, I think, yeah, you tell it absolutely right. So digital transformation in different contexts can mean different, absolutely different things. For someone, digital transformation mean, transforming the business model of the brand. And for someone can mean that digital transformation is changing the marketplace for the brand. For example, there was always offline and they were focusing on offline roles, but now they going to be more aggressively presented the online world and it’s changing the model as well. But digital transformation mean also sometimes is updating the function and the design of the core of the products.
For example, if you talk about the big brands and let’s just talk about the companies who producing, I don’t know, mobile phones, then digital transformation for this company can mean a lot of different things. Is how the people look at your mobile phone company, what’s inside the operating system of your mobile phone, what’s your core value proposition for the customer as well. So, all of these things, they can be transformed and they can innovate. But there are also a lot of reasoning why a lot of brands, a lot of consumer companies, they not just innovate.
And there a reason for that, not because they don’t want, but also because they love predictable growth. They love that business generate predictable numbers, predictable growth, and when you say stakeholders about hey, let’s reinvent something, and in a way, they just not ready for that, not accept because it’s going to be affecting the main business, the main business model and grow as well. So, like, and because the innovation is always, it’s never growing up right away.
It’s always taking time, it’s takes time for adoption, it’s takes time for the creation as well as testing and making sure that this is something we’re going to fit people’s life perfectly. And my company basically focusing on design innovations. So, basically everything which is related to a perception of the product or business for the consumer clients. And we’re doing that pretty successfully with a lot of large brands.Innovation is always taking time, it's takes time for adoption. Click To Tweet
So, Gleb, let me ask you this. So, you mentioned that people also adopt digital transformation because they want to have predictable growth. So, give me an example of how digital transformation makes growth more predictable.
It’s interesting question because making predictable grow within the digital transformation is doable, but not everybody knows how to do that. And it requires some specific process. Of course, when you work with large organizations, we use this process. So this process has required a lot of research resources and big data basically analysis as well. So because every single transformation or innovation when it’s related to design should have some numbers behind the decisions we make in this design.
And these numbers is basically reflect what’s the adoption rate, what’s the retention rate for future solutions and all of that different basically KPIs what we put inside our success basically measurement. And we use a lot of techniques include the user research. We ask people basically, are they going to be satisfied with this innovation? Are they going to be keep using the product or how they’re going to tell about the product to other people as well. So, we do a lot of user research. We also do a lot of analysis based on the product. I think. So, we do this small bit of projects, we call them MVP basically, but not minimum valuable product, we call them minimum lovable product. So, the lovable product mean that we also measure how much people love the product, how much they satisfy with this product.
And if this number is good, then we will say that MVP is complete and we are ready to go further with our basically user research and analysis and spend a little bit more time and resources on that. So, basically we’re doing this MVP’s on many different kind of like sides of the potential product and we test it pretty aggressively and as well as we do a lot of analysis on the market, what’s happening on the different industries and different countries as well. So like all of that is important and came to play with the decision-making. And that is what basically making predictable growth for the innovation and digital transformation. So like without that important-
Okay, so sorry to stop you there, but I’d like to dig in a little bit here. So you talked about your cube framework, which is basically looking at things from six different directions. Is this also a tool to create that predictability? And please explain what this cube framework does and how is it for a business owner?
Yes, well, when you start innovation project in any basically company, you have some process of defining what is this innovation basically. So like what we going to change, what we going to define, and how it’s going to fit people’s life. So of course, so like it’s not really mean that within this definement process. We going to a make a predictable grow I would say. But this process will help to make a right decision which direction as a company and as an innovation we’re going to pick. And this process basically a research or a discovery process, we call it. We use it as basically, let’s imagine that we have this cube with the four sides.
And well, cube, if you take a look on the 3d is can have six sides as well so like I mean, it has these angles, and we can turn this cube and look to the surface on different angle. each of the angle of the cube. This information which we call basically archetypal, the persona, we’re going to use the product. So usually in marketing research, people use this basically a different type of personas to define what’s the perfect market fit for different basically solutions and products. And instead of using this kind of like persona information like age, is it man or woman, we use mostly work archetypes.
So, which is described the people, what they passionate about, what they love in their life, what they don’t like in their life, how they basically live their life, where they spend vacations and all of that. And we build this kind of like persona description or archetypes. And each of the sides of this cube have this archetype description. And we try to create a small bitof product. So, when I call it small bits of product, that means that it’s not a fully complete application or fully complete operating system. It’s the only core of this operating system and core value proposition for this specific type of archetype.
So, like for example if we talk about the operating system for mobile device and we doing that operating system for the working mom for example, the very quick pull out the camera with your baby when she at work. So, like she can press one button and the camera come up and they see, she saw how basically the child is doing in the home. So, basically all of that we try to cover and we try to create this end piece in each of the side of this cube. And after we complete that, we take a look on the, basically on everything, what we create, and we making right decision about the direction, about the functionality of digital transformation and innovation, basically what corporate should go.
Because only after we have to take a look on the issue of the size and only after we go through this experience upon the standing of each of the archetype and what’s the needs of these archetypes and also how we can serve them, we can make a right decision in terms of the priorities and what the company is actually stands for in this particular innovation or this particular digital transformation.
So that’s pretty complex when you have a product and you launch it with six different archetypes or avatars, I guess it’s a synonym here. And that product would have to serve, it’s not a niche product, it’s more like a mass market product, right? When you do this. Correct.
So yeah, it’s pretty a lot of work, I would say, and the speed is very important here. Of course, we don’t want to spend years of doing this MVP for each of the basically archetypes. That’s why we try to be quick. And we also have a separate team working on the separate archetypes. So, we are working and doing a lot of things at the same time.
Its fascinating. So, is this process, is there a simpler version of this process for smaller startups or this is pretty much the process that any startup that wants to come up with a product will have to go through? They will have to think about different user groups, archetypes, and they would have to make this product work for all the major groups at the same time?
Well, of course, it depends on the ambitions of the startups, because sometimes startups, they just want to run the business and make it smooth and slow growth. And that start-up, I would say, not really require this type of work because it’s going to just be a little bit too expensive for the startup to spend that type of money and time as well on this researching each of the groups. But if the startup is trying to become a big organization and cover mass market very quickly, if you’re talking about the startups who are going to become a consumer focusing mass market worldwide corporation basically in a few years, then of course it’s better to spend this time and resources up front so you already have a pretty good picture in terms of what you can do and what is not going to work out perfectly.
Give us an example of a product and the types of avatars that you would or archetypes that you would determine. So, a few examples, you mentioned the working mom, what other major archetypes are there that the best market companies are targeting?
Sure, so first of all, one of the most important, I would say target audience when we do some innovation, truly innovation work, by innovation I mean that anything similar not exists on the planet so far. So, when we talk about this type of product design, then of course we focus a lot on the early adopters. So, the people who buy new devices, actively interesting in the new things and they basically surround themselves with the Xbox, Oculus, all this basically VR stuff. Like, and they buy a new newest car, they usually drive Tesla’s and all of these electric futuristic cars in most of the case, so they are the adopters is very important archetype for us.
A part of that, we’re targeting students a lot. So, like the students is always one of the most important outings because these guys really know the future because this is the people who are going to drive the future very soon. So, we going to go and talk with them for sure. A part of that, we’re super passionate about the teens basically, and people who are just starting their journey with the tech. The thing is about the Gen Z, I would say, or the future generation, is that these guys already grew up with the devices.
So, they are very different from ourselves, they are very different from other archetypes because for them device was always exist on the planet and the internet, they can even imagine their life without internet. So, and that is basically give a lot of uniqueness in this archetype, so we focus on them as well. A part of that, we focus on the older generation, so I would say is 45 plus people who already established their business, who have already a successful career and who’s working in the field of finance or any other intelligence field like business or consultancy. So, we focus on these guys as well separately because these people have different needs.
Of course, yeah, and we focus a lot on the, I would say the archetype, which we called a young family. I would say is the people who already not as students, they are not yet established, and they kind of like in the middle of this establishment. So, they only started working in pay, they created for their educations. And they have most of the cases, you know, like young children or dogs, for example, in California, they have more dogs, I think, than children. And yeah, so we focus on these guys as well.
Okay, that’s cool. So that’s really interesting because depending on the product, it’s good to think through all those different archetypes and what would their needs be and how can I serve that and maybe it’s too big for me to target all these archetypes. Maybe I start with a niche and just pick maybe the 45 plus in my case that I understand the best, and then I expand from there. So, if that’s successful, then you can expand from there.
That is absolutely right. The more important output, the most important and basic output of this work is the priorities. So, because what’s happening right now, I think everybody understands. So, for the last couple of years, the digital transformation and innovation become so huge and the timing to make this transformation become so small because of the pandemic basically. The pandemic changed the landscape completely and because of that, of course, everybody wanted to move quicker and with the more, I would say, precision towards making right decisions in terms of audience and in terms of functionality and target market space.
And of course, it’s very hard to make a decision. So, like, it’s just impossible, so many opportunities. And especially in that age where technologies went go beyond the products. And I would say there are so many infinite possibilities in terms of the technologies, which has allowed you to create absolutely anything or what you can imagine, but people are just not using that correctly yet because they don’t know what to do. So many opportunities. You can go there, you can do there, you can do absolutely in any industry, anything and it’s going to work out very beautifully because there are not enough people are working on, they basically on their consumer innovations. So yeah, that’s why the priorities are so important. And this discovery phase and research phase is also one of the most important steps towards this transformation.
That’s fantastic. Just a final question before we wrap up. So, if I’m a startup founder and I want to create a really big company, how do I think big? What is the advice that you would give me how to think big about it and how to have a scaling mindset?
Sure. Well, yes, I have a lot of advices to the startup guys, but the thing is about the startups, it’s always like how we said, think big. So, like a lot of startups, they are thinking that when they think big, they kind of overshoot a little bit of their goals, and they focus on the smaller things, because they’re trying to go towards their big goal through their regular kind of like process, like step by step. So, and because of that basically step by step mentality, they spend time on trying to focus on the smaller things, which is, for example, trying to as much as fast as possible making money, any money, just because they need to kind of like show the traction or whatever.
But if we talk about the innovation, and this is basically, of course, this is in most of the cases, this is a Silicon Valley, I would say, attitude in terms of innovation and investments. We all know that the largest Silicon Valley corporations, they are not profitable for the decades before they become profitable. And then profit for these guys is not something they’re passionate about. So, like, and basically when we talk about the large thinking for the startups, you also need to understand that once you’re starting to think about the profit and short-term profit, you spend time not towards the large innovation. So, like I would say my advice will be, if you going to think big, if you going to go big, then you need to think from the beginning big.If you're going to think big, you need to think from the beginning big. Click To Tweet
And you need to target this big thinking from the starting of your business basically. And I’m sure you’re going to succeed finding investments even with this thinking. And more than that, I would say the most investors in Silicon Valley would love to have a big thinking versus some revenue on table up front, I would say. And that’s why the research, the design, and this basically a process of refinement, how you will get big by trying to test a different persona’s, different archetypes, different basically kind of like people that can become your very, very important, I would say, the card in the game because that is the only what is important when you go to the market to know your audience, understand that you’re going to fit perfectly in your audience life. And that’s how the most amazing products actually become famous.The most amazing products actually become famous when they fit perfectly into their audience's life. Click To Tweet
Yes. I mean, basically, if you want to corner the market, you have no time to worry about profits, you just have to add market share. And that’s why you need the venture capitalists who will finance that effort. And it’s very, it’s almost impossible to bootstrap a startup because of that, right? Because it’s just going to be down. And that doesn’t work. Very interesting. So, Gleb, before we wrap up, I just want to ask you about what’s behind the name of the company. So what does it mean, Milk Inside?If you want to corner the market, you have no time to worry about profits, you just have to add market share. Click To Tweet
Yes, of course. Well, it’s an interesting story. When I was a student, this was around 20 years ago, there was a very famous magazine for the designer. It’s a world-famous magazine. It’s called Inside Mac. So, like that’s the name of the magazine. I’m not sure it exists right now. And this is how I remember Inside work basically. And there was this design agency studio is called Turbo Milk. So, like the Turbo Milk is the studio behind the original Google logo. And, basically it was acquired by Google at some point. So basically, the entire team was acquired by Google. And I was really, I would say, fascinated about this deal because it was very early days. The design agency kind of like was almost not existed in terms of like focusing on the products. And yeah, I just remember this Turbo Milk and Inside Mac. And when I was building my company, I was just connected to words and it’s become Milk Inside.
Very interesting. Okay, so Milkinside Inc. is the company which is a design firm for businesses, consumer businesses that want to create mass market products. So, if someone would like to learn more about your process, your services, personally connect with you, where should they go?
Well, you guys can go to my LinkedIn and send me a direct message or my Twitter account as well. So, I’m pretty active. I try to post a lot of actually designs there and a lot of this archetype prototypes as well. You will see a lot of materials in my social media and Instagram as well. So, like I really actively there recent days. I always open to DMs and of course, milkinside.com, our website. So, we are working right now on the updates and going to share much more information than we have right now. But on this website, you can always find the email and just reach out through the email. We always are happy to talk with a lot of audience.
Well, I definitely recommend you check out milkinside.com. It’s very visually appealing and unique looking, very interesting website. So, check Gleb Kuznetsov out there, the founder and CEO of milkinside.com. So Gleb, thank you for coming on the show and sharing your ideas and experiences with us. And for those of you out there who are listening, don’t forget to check in next week for another exciting entrepreneur story on the show. Thank you.
Thank you, Steve.