TotalCIO

May 13 2014   2:53PM GMT

Jawbone CEO on the secret to making your hardware, software and data teams play nice

Nicole Laskowski Nicole Laskowski Profile: Nicole Laskowski

Hosain Rahman got into the wearable technology business by building noise cancellation technology (AKA headsets) for the military. Today, the CEO and co-founder of Jawbone, is probably better known for Jambox, a set of wireless speakers for the consumer market, and its new-fangled UP bracelet, an activity tracking device.

The road from military to civilian customer base was not easy, according to Rahman, who spoke at the recent TechCrunch Disrupt New York conference. The first release of the UP wristband bombed in 2011. A year later, when the second version launched, it faced new competition from Nike’s FuelBand. Then there was the internal team-building issue. Making wearable devices requires software, hardware and data teams with different cultures to mesh and work together.

“It was really interesting because it was taking people who came from totally different disciplines, who are used to working at different paces of iteration cycles, and putting them together,” Rahman said.

The hardware teams, for example, design for near-perfection. They work deliberately to resolve “parts of the experience” and decide if the product is good enough to ship based on whether “someone would pay you for it,” he said. Software teams, on the other hand, have more flexibility to build, test, iterate and repeat as fast as their coding fingers will let them. They can release products as prototypes and quickly tweak what doesn’t work based on feedback.

Taking advice imparted to him by none other than Steve Jobs, Rahman saw that the tasks for his hardware, software and data teams were all different, but they ultimately fit together — like puzzle pieces — to accomplish the same goal: Building a product customers would love.

“That was the unifying factor,” he said. “Focusing on the customer experience — the user experience — and getting it right.” That focus paved the way for hardware, software and data teams to start learning from each other, instead of butting heads.

The software team took a page from the hardware team and began to appreciate longer cycles and “that level of product resolution … which I think in mobile apps is huge because you really only have one chance to make a first impression,” Rahman said.

On the flip side, “the software guys made our hardware guys think about prototyping faster, changing the way they iterate, how to get things out and tested and hardware hack, if you will,” he said.

The back and forth will, no doubt, come in handy as Jawbone pushes ahead on its new “holy grail”: putting individual data back into the hands of its customers in an effort to change their behavior. Today, the UP wristbands are synched with a mobile app, which can help customers keep track of what they eat, what they drink, how much they move and how much they sleep. And now Jawbone goes a step further, sending push notifications to its customers on their sleep and activity patterns and how they can improve both.

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