A Case Study in New Models for Services: Modev

I recently presented a workshop at a conference in Washington, D.C. The conference was Modev UX, which – as its name implies – was targeted for professionals and other people interested in User eXperience, produced by an organization named Modev.

I enjoyed the event content (more on that later), but what I really want to spend a few moments on is observations drawn about the Modev organization. I find the organization itself to be interesting for several reasons.

First, there is the Modev model. Like O’Reilly and other specialty content & event producers before them, Modev seems to have tapped into an underserved, influential audience: mobile developers and related professionals (hence the “mo” “dev” name). There is a large population of these folks and they are of a certain means, equipped to find budget from employers or simply pay themselves for tools and techniques they need.

Which leads to the second point, that a key value proposition of Modev’s programming is assembling a well-curated, in-demand audience. Good user interface and user experience designers are hard to find and are paid well. By assembling an audience of a couple hundred of these working professionals, Modev provided the perfectly targeted venue for sponsors that wanted to get acquainted with and potentially recruit UX/UI professionals to their organizations.

I can tell you from personal experience during my time standing up operations in China for Appconomy, one of our Powershift Group companies, we spent the longest amount of time searching for a UI designer that had the level of experience and skills that we sought. It took 10 months; more than any other position. So, returning to Modev’s model, bringing these highly sought-after audiences together is a powerful attraction to sponsors.

Third, Modev is perhaps a signal example of what is happening in this digital era of services business models, not unlike what’s happening with software models. They are the convener and the guarantor of a certain level of experience; however, they aren’t necessarily the content producer, the venue operator, or provider of any of the vast majority of physical assets that people receive during their programs.

In a TechCrunch article earlier this year, entitled “The Battle is for the Customer Interface“, author Tom Goodwin begins by observing:

"Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening."

-Tom Goodwin

Author Goodwin goes on to describe that in this age of disintermediation, these kinds of organizational models are the norm, seeming almost fantastical, if you had tried to explain them to someone 10 or 20 years ago.

Yet, back to Modev, that same kind of “customer interface” or “platform” model is in many ways what they are implementing. Thus, just like the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world, Modev seems to be constantly seeking ways to use an API-style approach to the human services and products they need, keeping their team smaller and focused on their core. The book Exponential Organizations seems to be among the guides that they use to enable the highest degree of flexibility and resilience during this period of their growth.

At present, Modev’s offerings are primarily events, strategy (mostly delivered via workshopping), and individual coaching, which is newly added. The coaching component, if they get it right, could be an especially powerful and profitable piece of the business. As two of the tech world’s great leaders have shared, Bill Gates of Microsoft and Eric Schmidt of Google, coaching was transformative for them, even after achieving success that most would say is pinnacle.

Fourth and finally, I love the Modev commitment to building a meaningful brand. This even extends to the mythology of the group’s origin, which is that it was born from a meet-up group in the DC area and a $50 sponsorship to pay for the refreshments for the first enthusiastic, like-minded set of highly motivated people to assemble around the topic of mobile development.

Just like the Pez origin story of Ebay, or any number of others, the Modev story maps perfectly to its brand value and what it stands for: people who are so committed to and excited about what they do – the best of the best, in other words – that they would meet-up on their own time to learn, share and improve. It’s that deep a passion.

How could you not want to be a part of that, when you are evaluating where to spend your limited time and training budget to be more effective at your life’s work? We’re big believers in that same philosophy, guiding how we identify and build new ventures at Powershift Group. And, we expect more and more services companies to emerge with this kind of DNA – at least, we hope so.


My workshop at Modev UX was on the topic of “UX Lessons Learned from China” and you can download the deck I presented by clicking on this link.

In addition to presenting my workshop, the conference provided ample time to meet a whole mess of talented designers, developers and tech people. It was truly a rare opportunity to geek-out, both during the informal visits with fellow attendees, as well as the formal workshops and talks that were presented.

Most notably, my favorite presenters were:

- Abbie Covert, a lecturer and author, who travels by the handle @Abbie_the_IA (love that!)

- Carolyn Chandler, UX practitioner and author of a fantastic book of thought exercises titled, Adventures in Experience in Design, and

- Stephanie Hay, director of content strategy for Capital One

Clearly, women rule UX, no?