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Case Study Popular Genealogy Service

Strategic Product Development De-Risks IPO

When planning their IPO, a well-known brand received critical feedback from analysts about challenges blocking the company's growth:

The company formulated a strategy involving investing in a new product that had the potential to neutralize the critique. This strategy relied upon delivery of a new product that addressed all their weaknesses. But with that strategic vision in-hand the company wasn't in the clear. They needed to put that strategy into action and their product development team did not have a track record of moving quickly and delivering features with quality.

The leadership within the company tapped Lab Zero to help. Lab Zero drove just enough change in tooling and process to allow a small team to work within the company's infrastructure. The small team delivered a product that overcame the analyst's critique and allowed the company to have a wildly successful IPO.

Haplogroup Migration Paths


The client had gotten the signals that change was required well before Lab Zero showed up: the level of competition in the space was already well known. They had already tested the ipo waters with analysts and had some time to formulate their approach for dealing with the feedback. They started connecting their vision with an opportunity by working with a lab that performs genetic testing. With enough time, the incumbent product development organization could have handled this product development challenge, but their hands were full with other feedback from the analysts. They knew they faced serious challenges.

Challenges and problems

This company had a few big problems.

Problem: competition

Many start-ups with products focusing on family trees and genealogical research entered the marketplace. The company needed to innovate and re-invent the game before their market position eroded through competition. The investment required to put a genetic genealogical service together was more than most startups could compete with.

Problem: revenue linked to MAUs

Revenue was tied to the number of monthly active users (MAUs). And the number of users was growing only modestly. Furthermore the analysts believed that most of the people who would be likely to sign up for the services had already been addressed. This posed a risk to future revenue growth.

Problem: available documentation

The overall design and value-proposition of the service had an important limitation. The product worked well for people who came from historically well-documented groups. The growth of the company was mainly through people whose family history came from places where records exist. The value of the core product offering was based on connecting records and documents to your family tree. As it turns out, not everybody has well-documented family history for a lot of reasons. This under-documented group represents a very large portion of the domestic market, a segment that couldn't be ignored.

Problem: skills, capacity

The product organization team had great skills for managing the existing product - the team was tuned to the job of making their core business as good as it could be. But the challenge the company faced required skills to create a new product. With enough time, the company could clearly produce a successful new product to address all of these challenges. However time was very short and the product development org was already engaged with other work deemed critical to the success of the IPO.

A strategic decision

Someone in the company had a brilliant idea to address all of these objections - if they could build a product that compares people's genetic history -- everybody's got genes - they could offer something of value to people with little genealogical documentation. By selling the product to existing users they could effectively decouple revenue from MAUs. This kind of genetic genealogical service took a big investment from the company and wouldn't be easily matched by the start-ups trying to seal market share. This product might help to overcome the objections and make way for a very successful IPO.

Enter Lab Zero

And that's where Lab Zero came in: we were asked to design and build a product that fits into their existing product suite, fits into the existing infrastructure, supports their existing architecture, fits into the existing value prop, and extends that value prop to a new area.

We had some relevant experience in this space of course. The Lab Zero team members had worked together at Kodak during the time when digital photography was becoming mainstream. At that point Kodak still had to support the workflows related to film orders - the ability to mail in film, tracking the progress of the physical film rolls and negatives, then showing the digital scans to the user. This experience was seen as highly relevant to the job of designing and building the user experience supporting the round trip of sending a vial to collect saliva and dna, then shipping it to the lab for processing, then showing the results to the right user.

Product delivery

Small empowered team

As with many of these case studies, the story involves a small empowered team working closely with our client to deliver the most important software possible. We functioned as a bolt-on team that operated on behalf of our client over 9 month timeline. We had the ingredients all high performing teams require:

Sophisticated software engineering

The company had been working with Microsoft tools. Our preference was to work with open source tools more aligned with rapid product development & delivery:

Didn't need to reinvent the wheel by working within the company's infrastructure and operations, so we were able to use the basic hosting practice that the operations team could manage.

You can find more information about our software engineering practice in the guides we've published on

Product design

The big challenge here was making complex science relevant and usable to a mass market. The information that came back from the lab was barely readable by humans. The real fun and mass-appeal in the product came from new genealogical comparisons between users and new information about possible migration paths through history.

The product that involved genetic sampling and testing brought a host of new privacy challenges. We iterated on this frequently and worked closely with legal and leadership teams to get this into the right place.

The rest of the product followed well-established patterns and used infrastructure from the core product areas.

We supported many rounds of user testing to make sure we were tracking toward a smooth successful launch. The state of the art with product development valued clear signals from users at this point.

You can find more information about our product development practice in the guides we've published on


This effort unlocked radical success for everybody involved: The client took a chance, made a bold move. They were able to grow and make something great happen. They needed a team with product development expertise to make this happen.


Through this engagement and relationship, we learned the following:

It’s possible to do effective product development work within a company’s infrastructure with small changes to tooling and process.


A small team with some autonomy to prioritize and self-organize can outperform larger organizations.


With the right level of goal-setting and feedback, a small autonomous team can deliver ridiculously high value.