If there’s one thing all of humanity learned in the past 12 months, it’s the importance of human connections and the impact of the loss thereof. With the world beginning to reopen, how can product managers use the power of technology to create positive change? This week on Product Talk, Miracle Message Founder & CEO, Kevin Adler, speaks from the heart with a story of activism through tech and how to build products that make a true impact on the world.
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“It really is amazing, the way [Miracle Messages] uses technology and professionalism to spread humanity to those who need it most.”
Impact; possibly the word that represents best the last 16 months. From business to home, the pandemic forced everyone to retreat from everyday life, causing possibly the largest impact to daily life in recent times. As the world gradually returns to normality, it may soon feel like a bad dream to those with the most basic of privileges, like housing. Homelessness, however, is an issue that continues on.
For those who experience homelessness, the impact of human connection cannot be underestimated, as demonstrated by the quote above from Ray, a gentleman who has benefited from the services provided by Miracle Messages. This week, we explore how tech products can be a significant driver for positive change in the world.
On the inspiration behind Miracle Messages
Inspiration most often arrives by way of a catalyst. In Kevin’s case, it was a feeling of helplessness while working in the education tech space in San Francisco that drove him to create products that bring about positive change. In true product manager fashion, he started with user research to begin understanding the pain points and how he might solve them.
“I was wanting to get into a deeper level, be in a relationship with folks. Over the course of a year, from the end of 2013 throughout 2014, I spent a year just listening to people’s stories on the streets. I gave out about 24 GoPro cameras that I gave to individuals experiencing homelessness, to use for a couple hours to capture what it’s like to be in their shoes.”
“In retrospect, it was probably a very human-centered design, product development process. That wasn’t the intention at all, it was really just building empathy and trying to understand. Over and over again, I heard different versions of a very similar story, which was ‘I never realized I was homeless when I lost my housing. Only when I lost my family and friends.’”
Advice for making an impact with tech
Imposter syndrome is something everyone experiences at one point when diving into a new community, a new project, or a new passion. Kevin shares his advice to others who might be using their skills in tech to make a positive impact.
“It’s tempting to feel like you have to have it all figured out before you take that first step. I know even in my case with homelessness, I felt like a fraud almost at first. What I realized is, it’s not so much homelessness that drew me to this issue, it’s my belief in the intrinsic value of each person and the interconnectedness of us all. So what I would say is go to your core values, and take some time to really map out what you stand for. What would you give your life to, and then think about where those values are not fully manifest in the world.”
“We have to step outside of our comfort zones and our little bubbles, be friends and hear stories from people who are very different from us. That could be someone who’s on the frontline of climate change in the community that’s affected. That could be someone who’s experienced an unjust legal system and has been incarcerated for many more years in much more severe circumstances than they should have been. That could be a person who, as a result of a healthcare issue, now is facing bankruptcy and questions about their future. Whatever it is, I think we have to get as close to people experiencing a world that is very true, but is very different, from the one you may be facing.”
On what makes a great product
“What are the things that may be natural pathways if the right level of trust, information and access are built in. So for me, the best products don’t do anything that people wouldn’t normally feel comfortable doing on their own. It’s getting out of the way of the technology, figuring out the behavior, the psychology, the motive, and the emotional, psychological support.”
Every person from every walk of life and circumstance is affected by, and interacts with, products every day. As builders of products consumed and experienced by all of humanity, it’s important to understand products from different perspectives. Kevin’s guest, Ray, shares his thoughts on what makes a great product that makes an impact.
“That the product not only helps you physically but also helps you mentally and emotionally, that probably is what I would consider an amazing product.”
Miracle Messages is an award-winning nonprofit organization that helps people experiencing homelessness rebuild their social and financial support systems, primarily through family reunifications, a phone-based buddy system, and $500/month direct cash transfers.
Help your neighbors experiencing homelessness reconnect with their loved ones… and with us.Join their 🌎 community.
About the host
I am the Product Marketing Lead for Transfix, a leading transportation solutions provider, combining tech and a best-in-class carrier network to reshape the future of freight. I am also a host for Product Talk helping bring product leaders together to answer the question: "What makes a great product?"