innovators: charlie cole, chief digital officer of Tumi

(This post first appeared on When I wrote my latest book I wanted to create a field guide for product innovation. Something that practical product and innovation champions could use to help tactically create a process to get the best ideas for new products and improved existing products from their staff.

As my co-author and I interviewed digital product experts, one piece of advice came up over and over again. And as I sat down to interview Charlie Cole, Chief Digital Officer of Tumi, he hits on that same concept right out of the gate: “Begin with the end in mind.”

Our big question for you, from the folks at Clearhead, is are you doing this with every product you build? And if not, why aren’t you? What’s the data that would make you change your mind? Let us know in the comments.

Without further ado, here’s our interview with Charlie Cole of Tumi.

When testing and building a product, what’s the most important thing to concentrate on?

Steven Covey coined the phrase (which became so pervasive that it graduated from phrase to cliché): “Begin with the end in mind”. Before you test or build anything, you need to have preconceived notions of success and, potentially more importantly, preconceived examples of what failure looks like. By being objective PRIOR to the launch of the product, you won’t talk yourself into the results you were hoping for.

Product development is really a guess. An educated guess, sure… but a guess nonetheless. If you have a pre-established barometer that you are going to use to judge the results, you’ll be far more capable of quickly iterating and accepting the outcome.

When testing and building a product, what’s the biggest mistake people make?

People build products for themselves instead of their customers. I was presenting at a conference and someone asked me a question about Trump… it would have been easy to answer the question based on my particular political beliefs, but if it’s about Trump’s effect on our BRAND I need to think about who our customer is at a higher level of importance than myself. That’s hard. Politics are an emotionally charged issue–but you should be even more protective and emotional about your brand–that’s dangerous. That’s a lot of passion. And it’s easy to blind yourself opposed to thinking about who the product is really for… IE: NOT YOURSELF.

The same is true about product development…our personal biases are omnipresent. They influence everything we do. Be aware of these biases and seek external feedback as opposed to craving internal affirmation.

When launching a product, what’s the key to a solid go-to-market strategy?

Do it as small as possible but big enough you can get feedback. Don’t assume you’re right and go huge right out of the gate, but don’t make the equally painful mistake of going so small or slowly that you can’t learn anything. Managing risk is important.

What would be the top three things you would want entrepreneurs and intraprenuers to know before launching their product?

  • Make sure your key stakeholders all have given feedback. Your job is to hear the feedback and incorporate the feedback–not be in servitude to it–but they better feel heard. In the context of digital products for Tumi, this means merchandising, creative + brand, and offline retail.
  • Have an objective means of measuring your effectiveness. Might be a good thing to outsource to ensure objectivity.
  • You’re probably wrong. Be ready to iterate once it’s launched and you can get empirical feedback.
  • While at Tumi, what have you tried/tested from a product perspective that needed to pivot? How did you know?

    We are obsessed with our homepage, for example. Tumi is known by our fans as the best travel brand in the world. That is a tremendous advantage for us as we build things–whether physical products or digital.

    However, that can also cause complacency as it pertains to folks who are new to the brand (which in January was 51% of our visitors to What does someone who doesn’t know Tumi need to see? What do they want to know? Is it utility? Design? Versatility?

    As mentioned before, you can take an educated guess, but shoppers vote with their buying behavior. We look at bounce rate, time on site, add to carts, conversion… you name it… and then we pivot constantly and try to beat it again.


    Much like Charlie, Clearhead believes that everything can be measured and improved, and Test and Learn is a key piece of our DNA. Our Clearhead Accelerator practice helps product teams in the Fortune 1000 embrace a culture of experimentation to launch and improve products with ROI in mind. Need help? Reach out.