The Nose Knows

I enjoy a good documentary. I expect to be entertained, of course, and more critically I hope to learn things about which I know nothing. (There’s a lot of opportunity these days.) I recently watched “Nose,” about the fragrance industry and Francois Demachy, the house perfumer for Dior, fashion house and market-leading perfume maker. It was fascinating to see how a different industry creates successful products and new opportunities and how Demachy, in particular, investigates the way each component — each flower and each substance — contributes in the creation of the final product.

In fragrance, there are three perfume “notes” or layers that make up the fragrance: the top or head (citrus, aromatics), the middle or heart (floral, green, fruity, spices) and the base notes (wooded, balsamic). The top note is what you smell immediately upon the application of the perfume and, so, primarily to the wearer most of all. This top usually brings the freshness or assertive component but it also evaporates quickly. The middle notes begin to emerge as the top note dissipates and generally last for the first 20-60 minutes after application. The base notes are typically more musky or animalistic and are initially masked by the medium notes until they become more pleasant over time. The base notes can last up to 24 hours before dissipating.

I saw an interesting proxy in the structure of fragrance notes for how we often think of feature development and roadmaps for software product management. Seem like a stretch? Hang with me.

• The top notes are like the user interface features, quick to catch the eye and create initial interest.

• The middle notes are like deeper functional features — they get the key tasks done and you need to add to them to create sustained business value over time.

• The base notes are the key architectural features — workflow systems and rules engines, the pieces that make everything work, day in and day out.

As many of you know, my company is in the midst of building out a new originations product. It will be robust at delivering on all three of these notes and in particular on the base notes, the key architectural features. The base notes equivalent in the software product world is really what I’m interested in.

In “Nose,” Demachy investigates a natural substance, ambergris, as a compelling base note source. Ambergris is an interesting substance in its own right. It is a secretion of bile from the intestines of some sperm whales and it is harvested either floating at sea or washed up on the shores of coasts around the world, especially in the Bahamas and Ireland as whale pods migrate. The exact reason it is created is still just a theory. In the film they talk about how it forms in the intestines to perhaps make it easier to digest cuttlefish and squid that have sharp, pointed exterior bones that might puncture the tracts of the consuming whales otherwise.

But why was it of interest to Francois Demachy and Dior?

As ambergris samples mature, they evolve from a particularly malodorous lump of unattractive elimination and take on a sweet musky aroma that is stable, long lasting, and quite distinctive and earthy. For Francois that meant it can be a base note which stands out in an otherwise undifferentiated space.

Why is this of interest to me and relevant to what we are trying to do in the software product world?

I am actively looking for our “ambergris,” existing components that can be used in new and differentiated ways in our product. I’m interested in taking elements that are stable and scalable and bringing them to new applications and uses. They may be a little “stinky” or not the prettiest thing to look at (like a basic API Management tool) but each can contribute.

Beyond components and finding things in other places that make an excellent base for something new, in “Nose,” I also saw the way workers and craftspeople come together and do their jobs. Each uses their skills and talents in discovering, designing, developing, informing and inspiring Demachy, the externally recognized subject matter expert. I was reminded of the value of our internal and external teams – recognized or not — coming together.

Components and people, over time and in the right combination, all come together to help create sustained and lasting value in an overall solution.

My own nose tells me we are following the right scents in making our own products for the future.

Charles Sutherland, chief strategy officer, defi SOLUTIONS, has more than 25 years in technology management and strategy with companies such as Sagent Lending Technologies, Fiserv, and Accenture. At defi, Charles leads strategy, product management, and marketing with a focus on improving the experience of lenders and consumers.