#101 – Navigating Platform Transitions with Yolanda Martin



#101 – Navigating Platform Transitions with Yolanda Martin

Yolanda Martin Olivas, Global VP of Design, ClearScore, joins us on this episode to discuss the challenges and strategies in building platform capabilities within organizations. 


From her experience of building platforms at companies like Farfetch, Hearst, Canonical, Kaluza, and ClearScore, etc., she takes us through the realities (sometimes difficult) of what it’s like to enable platform transformation and growth.


She argues for organizations to rethink the “growing through acquisition” approach while reiterating the need to focus on a strong infrastructure layer.


As a passionate learner, practitioner, and enabler of platform design; Yolanda is one to tune into. 



Youtube video for this podcast is linked here.

Podcast Notes

Being one of the earliest learners of the Platform Design Toolkit, Yolanda has been a staunch practitioner of the platform business model and has played a pivotal role in enabling it in several organizations. 


In this episode, we talk about organizational motivations to shift towards platform design models, primarily driven by the need for economies of scale and new growth opportunities, and why focusing on your “why” is important. 


From her experience as a Design Director, she further shares practical advice on fostering a broader ecosystem perspective among design teams. She underscores the need for strong leadership commitment to enable this. 


In this conversation we get insights into what made organizations “make it or break it”, so tune in, and get ahead of the curve.


Key highlights

  • Building platform capabilities is complex, time-consuming, and resource-intensive. Organizations, need to make a special commitment to platform design and implement exclusive strategies targeted toward this, not simply extending their existing practices.
  • Successful platform transitions often start with integrating internal operations before enabling it to external partners.
  • Design leaders play a crucial role in guiding organizations through platform transitions by fostering a broader, ecosystem-wide perspective; which does not look at design problems in a silo, but as a cog in a larger ecosystem.
  • The lack of a mature platform infrastructure can make growth efforts expensive and inefficient.
  • There is a high risk in prematurely diverting investment from platform infrastructure to other growth avenues, such as acquiring and creating brands.
  • Effective platform transitions require targeted education and training for different parts of the organization, tailored to their involvement in the platform’s development stages.



This podcast is also available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsSoundcloud and other podcast streaming platforms.



Topics (chapters):

00:00 Creating and Navigating Platform Transitions with Yolanda Martin – Intro

00:58 Introducing Yolanda Martin

02:50 Building platform capabilities inside organizations?

11:05 Adapting to Platformization Changes 

15:55 Design Leadership for Platformization

20:53 Stories of Transition

27:23 What did not work for Farfetch platform?

32:09 Building or Buying the Ecosystem?

36:34 Looking beyond User-Centered-Design

43:03 What helps the organization re-arrange?

47:49 Breadcrumbs and Suggestions



To find out more about her work:



Other references and mentions:


Podcast recorded on 20 March 2024.


Get in touch with Boundaryless:

Find out more about the show and the research at Boundaryless at https://boundaryless.io/resources/podcast


Simone Cicero

Hello everybody and welcome back to the Boundaryless Conversations Podcast. On this podcast, we meet with pioneers, thinkers, and doers, and we talk about the future of business models, organizations, markets, and society in our rapidly changing world. Today, we are joined by Yolanda Martin Martin, currently, Global VP of Design at ClearScore, which is a British fintech business that provides credit scores, reports, and for individuals and also  a marketplace where people can source credit cards, loans, and such similar things. 


So hello Yolanda Martin, it’s great to have you here.


Yolanda Martin 

Hello, very nice to be here.


Simone Cicero

Thank you so much for your time today. And yeah, let me say that we knew, we have been discussing and knowing each other for half a decade more or less now, and you have been a great sparring partner in many exchanges of ideas and tactics, mainly around becoming or being a platform leader and platform organization. 


So, I’m sure that we’re going to use a lot of your insights today for our audience. It will be very precious. You have been leading platform design and development teams at several well-known brands, such as Farfetch, Hearst, Canonical, and Kaluza, just to name a few. And I hope, really, that we can get our listeners to learn from you today about the complexities of building such a platform capabilities inside organizations.  


So as a good starting point, I think we can really start from there. So we have a changed many times about how hard is to build platform capabilities inside organizations. So maybe you can, as a starting point, give us an overview trying to explain, according to your understanding, why it’s so hard for companies to really become platforms.


Yolanda Martin

Oh, this is one of my favorite topics. It comes off and especially lately, I don’t know. Well, I know why, because more and more, like you will have said very well, we’ve known each other for, I would say it’s closer to a decade than half a decade, but you know. And over this time, when we started, when I started to follow you and look at the platform design toolkit and so on, very few companies were becoming platforms or creating us platforms and so on. And it was a really new way of doing things, but lately, it’s catching up, right? More and more companies are starting to think, okay, this is the right thing to do, or we need to do this, or it’s about time that we go from marketplace to platform. Some of them believe or think that it can be done relatively quickly with the resources they already have and the mindset and thinking that they already have. 


And that’s not the case. Creating platforms, designing platforms, and especially executing platforms is hard work. It’s hard work and takes a lot of time and very exclusively dedicated resources to get companies there. And it needs people that has a very, very hard interest, very focused interest on platform theory and platform frameworks and platform basics, right? Which is probably what happened to me in the very first platform that I designed, right? My single-minded obsession with platforms and learning about platforms helps the process to go faster, but there is so much to learn and it’s so different – how platforms operate to marketplaces, that all previous knowledge of how to create, design, run, execute the platform, a marketplace do not apply to a platform. You have to learn completely different frameworks. You have to use a completely different mindset. And that takes time. It takes a lot of time. 


And some companies have started strategies that assume that they are gonna get there in maybe 12 months or less. And that’s just not possible. Even if you had everything in place, even if you had people who had done it before, just getting the infrastructure and the thinking and the mindset in place throughout the whole company, which is what requires platforms, it takes more than a year. I will say anything between 18 months and two years just to get to the level where everything is starting to happen. Not fully executed, but just, you know, when you get to the cusp of the curve and everything is kind of running smoothly or starting to run smoothly. It takes a long time.


Simone Cicero 

So you have been working at platform transitions in companies that have more like a marketplace shape as a starting point. I can think of especially Farfetch, of course, which is a story that everybody knows. And maybe Kaluza also has a little bit of this marketplace shape. Others have more like a product tradition, like for example, Canonical or Hearst, maybe I am wrong.


So can you maybe just say a couple of words in terms of what drives the appetite for a platform transition for companies that either start as a product company or as a marketplace company, which is also a product to some extent? 


So why all these companies are thinking of, you know, I should become a platform. What drives this interest in platformization for companies?


Yolanda Martin

I mean, most of them are economies of scale, right? Are they facing imminent and high-growth areas or do they want to get into that high-growth area? It’s usually companies that have been kind of stalled in their growth, comfortable, but kind of flattened their growth. And suddenly they realize that the only way that they are gonna achieve that kind of exponential growth is by changing a way of operating going from like, like we were saying, from a marketplace situation into a platform situation. In the case of Hearst, Hearst was mostly in tenement processes, right? It was a completely fragmented publishing house. It had 360 properties across the world in terms of publishing properties, and different magazines in different languages. And they were all in completely different CMS’, only in the UK for 18 properties there were four CMSs. And the infrastructure cost and the complexity of the exchange of information were basically killing the cost per unit, right? Articles were being created in different publications and they were not shared with others. 


Everything was really, really siloed, and repetition and waste were happening everywhere. And that was what kind of triggered the creation of MediaOS, which was an Uber CMS together with Marktech attached to it and asset management and so on, and all of that was centralized. And more and more countries with more and more publications started to be part of that group. 


It was never, I mean, of course, there was commercialization through marketing. So the market was a part of the commercialization of that marketplace. So it was kind of an advertising marketplace. Um, and what I allowed is to create global campaigns and to, you know, be able to get insights and numbers and metrics across all of the properties, um, across different countries for campaigns, right? If a brand decided to buy a campaign, uh, for Cosmopolitan globally, then all of the numbers will be able to be seen and all the campaigns will be able to be managed from one place, which immediately made digital publishing profitable, which it hadn’t been for the previous 10 years. 


So there was a massive, I mean, they had not found a way to make digital publishing profitable because of that. This integration of infrastructure. So it was very different to Santander, for example, which was another marketplace that wanted to platformize. It was banking, the very early stages of digital banking. What it needed was mostly to get faster results and easier, shorter, smaller applications for users and simplification.


Farfetch, just became a platform because of all of the processes, so the marketplace of the e-commerce of Farfetch was the main product, but there were a lot of ancillary services that they were creating for themselves, that the boutiques and the brands that belonged to the marketplace were starting to request as B2B products to be served to them, and just so that as a new business venue for Farfetch.


Thus it was the Farfetch platform solutions created where we were actually selling the services that power the Farfetch marketplace to other e-commerce companies and brands. And that took ages. I mean, it really took a couple of years for us to get the, well, it took almost 18 months to get the first client into the platform.


And then it took another year to get the second one because, you know, it, even if you get the first one is usually with a lot of technical debt and documentation that some of the things and then get the second one. It’s when you have got maybe three or four clients into a platform that you start seeing those economies of scale and you start seeing the automation of processes happening and so on and so forth.


And currently now, ClearScore is going through the same process of going from marketplace to platform, joining the different companies of the group. ClearScore is not a product anymore, just the score and report and the marketplace attached to it. But it’s a group of companies. It has DriveScore and Data1. And creating the platform and the infrastructure around them is what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years. And the same thing, it takes time.


We’re very advanced now after a while, but it takes an expanse of time and complexity. And why do the companies want to do it? Because there’s no other way to grow. That’s it. It derives a point that as a marketplace you hit the ceiling. And the only way to expand is by platformizing.


Simone Cicero 

So from what you said, I can just as a service to our audience, I want to underline a few bits, right? So we’re saying that companies that maybe start from one product or one marketplace, that as they grow, they start to build, let’s say, common services, common infrastructures, and feel like this is valuable for not just for the internal parties, maybe you start from a company which has several units, as you mentioned for Hearst, for example, and then you make it common and create this shared infrastructure that enable, which is one of the key traits of platforms, right? They normally enable smaller players to do their business essentially. And so that’s one dimension, right? Aggregating services, enabling services, and infrastructures.


And this, I think, one thing that sparked my reflection was that as soon as you aggregate these types of things and create these enabling structures, you suddenly, when you look at your internal players, like for example, your different, in Hearst, maybe there were different magazines or maybe you can have different national units when you are doing all different products, whatever when you enable this infrastructure suddenly external players to some extent become very similar to internal players. So you have these interfaces that are easy to externalize. 


So our first question that I wanted to ask you is – what does it entail to, you know, from a design leadership perspective and from an organizational leadership perspective, when you suddenly start to deal with not just with internal players, but also with external players? I’m thinking of, for example, standardizing interfaces, and documentation. I know that you have been doing a lot of work in crafting these common documentations and explainers. 


So how do you make a platform transition – explainable and how do you deal with new external players coming into the organization?


Yolanda Martin

It’s quite interesting because in all the cases where I have designed platforms and executed or built platforms, those players come by their own volition, usually the first ones especially. They are either partners of third-party providers of services for us, for whatever platform in that case is, that they start seeing how the automation of our systems is helping us enormously and they want to be part of it. 


Either deeply integrate into our data sets or deeply integrate into our processes to actually accelerate whatever the case that we are doing. And what happens when you’re trying to do integrations with third parties is that there is not a common language. There is not a common understanding. And although there is a common goal, getting there takes a lot of time a lot of conversations and then it kind of breaks the platform principle, right? 


Because what you’re trying to do with a platform is to accelerate transactions and reduce the cost of every transaction. But if you spend the day picking up the phone or Slack or email explaining your partners or your third-party providers over and over and over what a particular part of the platform is, how it works, how your APIs are structured, what are your design systems components and all of that, then the economies of scale disappear. Cause basically you need a ton of humans to do partner support and platform operations. And then the advantages, the technological advantages of a platform disappear because you need all that human capital to deal with the complexity and the lack of understanding. 


So, yes, I have spent a lot of time creating documentation on the platform because it’s the most powerful. It’s one together with the infrastructure is one of the most powerful tools for the success of a platform. If your documentation is clear and precise and there is a common language and there is a very good understanding of all the component parts that create that platform, partners can just come to wherever you have that documentation and self-serve, creating that kind of economy of scale and allowing it to bring more and more partners without having to increase the human capital on your side. 


As I said, it never happens with the first one or almost never, you never get documentation right with the first one or even with the second one. It takes a few clients and their questions and listening to their complaints and serving their operations to get to that point where you are like, oh yeah, now my documentation is super tight, and anybody that comes after pretty much 90% of the time can self-serve. And that’s what you want to reach, right? You want to reach that level that Apple iOS has where any developer can just self-serve all the documentation and create applications without actually talking with anyone on Apple.


Simone Cicero

It’s kind of a transition from the perspective of a company that operates to empower customers or to serve customers into an organization that empowers and serves an ecosystem of partners, essentially, right? So kind of a reflection that I wanted to ask you is, how do you drive such a change of perspective? 


Because we are barely there in terms of companies having the capability to understand their customers. We’re barely there. You are lucky if your company has an understanding of its value chain or user needs and so on. But now, suddenly, as you speak about platforms, you have to understand your ecosystem. So we have different types of customers, different types of players. Partnering becomes massively important.


What are the key changes and how do you drive them from a perspective of, as a design leader, because we’re talking about this from a design leadership perspective. So you are the one that is in charge of, let’s say, helping the organization develop new value propositions and products. 


So how do you make it so that the whole organization starts to think in terms of ecosystems and partners? Instead of just, you know, we are providing a solution to a customer problem, which is largely insufficient in the platform’s landscape perspectives.


Yolanda Martin 

Is that a change of mindset, right? It’s always the same thing. When you start saying that you need to spend as much time studying the patterns, the behaviors, the transactions of your partners and third-party providers and the ecosystem as a whole, as you do personas and users, there is a bit of kind of why, because our main source of income is the users.


Well, the users are consuming services from your partners. Therefore, you have that whole ecosystem. The more we help our partners understand their users, the more we understand how those transactions happen. What each one of them in the ecosystem needs and wants. What are the benefits or the superpowers or the strengths of each one of your partners and third-party providers and what are their weaknesses?


How much you can provide of the parts of their business that drag them down or create those weaknesses? The more you can attract the more those partners will be willing to create special products or special services for your customers. So in the end, the customers benefit. But the whole point is to reduce the cost to serve your partners and the cost of insights or the – the cost is not as the kind of material cost, but also the mental power and the processing power of insights and data from partners, from the ecosystem as a whole, to be able to provide better, cheaper, safer products and services. And getting that complete understanding is really hard. 


Changing the mindset of people that have been working all their careers and all their lives in marketplace situations where what they worried about only or exclusively is acquisition, engagement, and monetization of users. Uh, by just trying to kind of negotiate one-to-one deals with partners, uh, is hard. It’s really hard. So that mindset changed when you start showing, uh, how those partnerships can benefit the platform, the infrastructure that the platform provides by by eliminating complexity, eliminating costs, eliminating wastage, duplication, and so on from the transactions in between partners and platform and platform and users, making it all tighter, shorter and cheaper, everyone benefits. 


But it takes a lot of talking and a lot of conversations and a lot of examples and yeah is, you know, and one person at a time, you know, a few people see it, and then the conversation starts and you carry on and so on. And the fact that a serious chunk of investment is necessary for those platform infrastructure, for that platform infrastructure to happen. It makes the conversations hard because building platforms or putting together platforms is expensive.


It’s a huge investment. So it has to be very clear in the minds of, if not the whole exec and part of the board, most of it to go, oh yeah, like we see clearly where we are going. We are gonna invest in this. It’s huge. It’s a huge investment in anything from data lakes and creating APIs, documentation, infrastructure, bandwidth, and integrations, everything is big before you even start seeing the benefits of the integration of those customers in the platform. You have to make that investment in the blind.


Simone Cicero 

It’s like you are, yes, it’s like you are kind of building another organization, am I right? I was curious to know, and maybe you can also tell us a little bit about some of the most interesting stories of transition. 


I know that you have had some interesting experiences of things that did work out or didn’t work out. But essentially, what I’m thinking of is, as you move from a monolithic product or marketplace into a platform setting, it’s like your old organization becomes a client of the platform, okay? 


So you basically have to create another organization. So I’m also thinking of what it entails in terms of team separation. So is there a way to kind of avoid too much disruption of the current business and therefore build some kind of a second organization that suddenly powers the old one and a set of partners? So I guess that it’s very difficult to do so. It’s like changing massively the organization as you move forward.


And so, you know, what did work well or what didn’t work well in your previous experiences as you were trying to do this kind of organizational duplication and computer rearrangement?


Yolanda Martin

It’s the sizing, right? In all of them, there was always a big organization powering or managing and operating the marketplace or the product with a small organization creating the infrastructure and the technology to kind of help that big group, that big operational group which usually is full of humans, right?


Because that’s how, you know, kind of supply of marketplace happened. You have a relatively small kernel of technology and then a big operational organization around it to make it work. So it started mutating. I’m not saying reducing that because it doesn’t have before the other thing happens. So you have this big mass here on your marketplace and a small mass on your platform or your infrastructure, your IT teams, your engineering teams are usually relatively small.


And those teams need to start getting larger and larger and larger to be able to cope with all the infrastructure building that a platform requires. Right. You need to start having big data teams, big backend teams, and big infrastructure teams. And then you need to start setting up all the platform tooling, you know, CMSs, data, asset management systems, design systems, and so on.


All of these systems and all of this infrastructure require an ever-growing team of people. So at some point, the balance starts to get, you know, the two groups start to get balancing, right? The platform group grows and grows and grows because you need more and more and more people to actually create all that infrastructure. And usually the marketplace kind of stops, because of course the investment is being diverted into creating the platform.


There is usually where most of the conflict happens and most where it takes so long because getting that investment is such a long-time, long-term idea because platforms don’t work in small pieces, right? You either have all the pieces together pieced or you don’t, like you cannot half make a platform and it will work.


You can kind of have a small part helping that operational structure that you have in the marketplace and making it better. You could have just a CMS and make it already better. You could have.


Simone Cicero 

So you can do vertical pieces and then extend horizontally, let’s say.


Yolanda Martin 

Correct. You can do those verticals. You can do your design system. You can do your data lakes and your APIs and so on. But until you put them all together, all these different elements together with the documentation, you don’t have that super powerful engine that gives you that curve. Right. You kind of start getting that small growth because of course you are operationally making some things better, but it only gets to the hockey stick level of growth, when all of it is working together and is really powering whatever, not only your marketplace, as you were saying, but any other marketplace. So this is when that platform suddenly becomes a wanted thing by everybody else, that finally you reach that curve and the growth is exponential. 


And then it’s true that the first client of every platform I have worked for was the internal marketplace. Always, always, or at least the ones I have, I have done until now have been platforms created first and foremost to power the internal marketplaces. Some of them never power anything else. So, Hearst MediaOS has never, to my knowledge until today, has never powered anything else but Hearst properties. 


It’s true that it extended to uh, Hearst news and Hearst television, which were completely different divisions that what media was originally created for, which was magazines. Um, but that’s it. And the same with Santander. It never powered anything else, but these digital banking. Normal Santander banking is powered by their own, um, a different platform to the one that open banking is using. Um, Kaluza never developed their platform because they decided that actually keeping the product or the company as a products and services company was better for them.


And ClearScore had a slow start, but we are now super in the thick of platform creation. And in probably the most exciting phase of it, which is everybody’s aligned, and now we are all working towards creating it and executing it. And every day I look into the Slack channels and I see little pieces of it sprouting everywhere. I love it. It’s my favorite part. 


I mean, designing it and advocating for it and getting the investment for it and all the board meetings and exec meetings and all the kind of things that need to happen before finally is decided that this is an investment that the company wants to do and the teams are put in place and the plans are put in place. It’s also very interesting but seeing it happen, the building of it is my favorite part by far.


Simone Cicero 

Can I ask you, I mean, everybody knows about Farfetch and we know that recently the company’s been sold and the price that the market cap has acquired in the moments where everybody was kind of buying the idea that Farfetch was empowering an ecosystem? And it was funny yesterday, I was looking into Zalando’s yearly investor update and they are still today, not 2024, they are using the idea of becoming an ecosystem as a development avenue for such a huge company and really platform power company.


So can you tell us a little bit about what worked, what didn’t work, and why the company didn’t really achieve its transition towards becoming an empowering platform for third parties and rather stayed inside the perfect brand that didn’t achieve this transition?


Yolanda Martin 

Um, this is completely my opinion. Let’s be clear here is what I think. I don’t know if it’s what, um, uh, what everybody else in the company would agree. But from the beginning, uh, the most exciting part about Farfetch was the absolute belief by the CEO that the platform was the way to grow.


With that premise, we prepared all the materials for the IPO of Farfetch, which went from being a unicorn of one to billion pounds potential IPO, valuation, to being seven or eight billion. The difference was when the company changed from trying to be a marketplace or growing as a marketplace and actually exposing the company as a platform. He gave it a 6 billion growth into the valuation. What happened afterward is once Farfetch’d IPOed and the money of all those shares was received and the shares went from $12 a share to $64 a share, which was meteoric and absolutely crazy. 


And we could barely breathe on every day of the week, just seeing the shares going like a rocket. What happened is that money was not invested in the platform. Or partially. I mean, saying that it wasn’t invested, it was invested. Some of it was, but some of it was invested in acquiring brands, which was never the main strategy of Farfetch. Farfetch was supposed to always remain neutral as a platform and support and supply infrastructure to other brands and boutiques. Instead, we started to buy brands and create brands. In my opinion, too early. Because you can argue that so is Amazon, other platforms are doing the same thing, they started to create their own brands and they started to do their own things. And I agree that probably that is a good strategy once your platform is mature enough, once the infrastructure supports it. Not before. 


I think that Farfetch went prematurely into spending money, into buying and creating brands before the platform was even there. Before New Guards Group was acquired, we had the first customer on the platform, which was Harrods. 


A lot of energy and effort was necessary to be distracted and power the platform into creating integrations, hard-coded integrations for New Guards Group, for example. And that just kept on repeating. And I got frustrated with that, especially because I wanted to see it, I get excited when platforms get invested. And as I was saying, those pieces start to be built. And this is my favorite part. And I love that face of platform creation.


And it was a stall constantly. My time and my teams, the platforms, and the ecosystem team were constantly diverted into becoming partner integration people for partners instead of creating the infrastructure that would allow us to integrate them automatically as a self-serve.


Uh, so yeah, it, it was a matter of diverting the investment that should have been sent into the infrastructure and the platform into buying other things and spending on other things. And, our partners started to see through it because like Zalando, we kept on saying, and at some point, we’re going to dominate the ecosystem or we’re going to create the infrastructure for the ecosystem. If you don’t, you know, at some point it becomes old.


The fact that you’ve been investing in the platform for five years and you still don’t see the hockey stick of growth happening. It’s okay because it takes time and I have said from the beginning, it takes time but it doesn’t take six years or five years.


Simone Cicero 

So if I can recall a few bits, I think that’s very interesting because you said one of the errors you can make in becoming a platform is that you divert, you become impatient to some extent and you start to buy your growth instead of investing into the infrastructure. So for example, when you say we’ve been buying brands instead of attracting them and also creating brands, I believe if you don’t do the enabling layer work, it becomes very expensive to build brands, right? So building products becomes very expensive. 


And when you say Amazon does it, you’re right, with Amazon basics and other things that they do, but they really have the infrastructure work done. So it’s very cheap for them to do this. And I recall… Yes.


Yolanda Martin 

The same way Haier does it, right? Haier group creates companies every week. Why? Because they can. They can. Then once you have the infrastructure and your growth and your platform has matured, then is when you can do all of those things at a huge speed because the basis is there for you to be able to do 10 companies a year, with minimal risk. And then if three of those 10, or four or five of those 10 succeed and the others fail, your profit is huge because the cost and the risk of that creation are completely reduced to almost nothing by the infrastructure and the platform that you built. But if you don’t, if your platform is immature or is not there like it happened in many cases, you’re just fictitiously creating that growth. Like you say, you’re buying it, you’re creating it, and it’s excruciatingly expensive.


Simone Cicero 

Yes, exactly. So you have to work out your basic infrastructure so that variance is cheap for you as a company. Create variability, new brands, new solutions, and onboarding external variability. It comes cheap, right? So it comes naturally. It’s not going to cost you a terrible amount of money in partnership management or in development. So I think that’s a very good message to anybody who is thinking about transitioning into a platform. As you said, you cannot do a half-baked platform because it’s going to be very expensive for you to run and onboard variants. So that’s…


Yolanda Martin 

Yeah. Then is when the fun of platform design starts, right? When you have that infrastructure and that capability, then is more about where either horizontally or vertically, you move into in your ecosystem, right? Do you actually move into a different category of your marketplace? I don’t know. You’ve been selling like in the case of Farfetch luxury fashion until now and moving into cosmetics and beauty, it should be relatively easy.


We went there, and Farfetch went there before the platform was ready. So moving into that new area of the ecosystem became a huge burden. If we had waited 10 more months, that would have been nothing. It would have been incredibly easy, completely risk-free. And if it didn’t work, you just switch it off and move on because the cost will have been very small.


Instead, we had to kind of hard code those categories into CMSs we didn’t have and data lakes that they were just building and so on and so forth. And became quite burdensome. The same with moving into a different business capability. We did successfully do things like Farfetched warehousing because our backend systems, so our operational infrastructure was more advanced than the marketplace infrastructure. So doing that kind of part of service became easier. That’s why integrating deeper or, boutique partners, into the ecosystem became easier than creating other marketplaces, at least at the beginning of the platform creation.


But then that is what I’m saying. Once you have that kind of infrastructure in place, then the fun starts, right? Is then when you have done all your ecosystem homework and you know very well all the different areas of your ecosystem and you start using a strategy to decide into which area you’re gonna move. What is gonna benefit the ecosystem as a whole the most? How the infrastructure that you have already created can power other transactions that you have never powered before, integrate partners that you have never integrated before, and so on.


Simone Cicero 

Yeah, so let’s get back into some of your specialties, right? So I’m curious to understand what it entails from a design leadership perspective. So how does your work as a design leader change as you embrace the platform perspective? And I’m especially interested in terms of the collaterals you build, the processes you build off. For example, when I’m thinking about the design of a platform, I’m thinking of research processes, for example, that engage a lot with partners. 


They are not just something that you can run with your team.


So we recently had Scott Brinker, who is also coming back to the podcast soon to discuss more stuff. But essentially, when we had Scott on the podcast, he spoke about how HubSpot now uses what he calls joint customer needs research. 


So essentially doing research, UX research, for example, in terms of how customers use your product together with other products. So maybe your experiences are a bit different because maybe your platforms are different ones, but from a perspective of design leadership, what are the major changes and how you hide people, how you build your collateral, how you train them, how the design team actually cooperates with the rest of the organization? What are the most massive changes?


Yolanda Martin 

You, well, first you have to get more designers that can see further and wider, right? And you know, because I have talked publicly and done conference talks and so on about ecosystemic design and not just as a platform design but as thinking and designing ecosystems that are not only based on platforms but in general, right?


The last 15 years designers have been trained to look at tiny slices of anything, right? Design this ticket, design this epic. Let’s check out this particular small process in a huge app. Very few designers have the luxury or have been given the luxury unless you are the only designer in a startup and you’re designing an app end to end. Very few designers have the luxury of having seen the big picture of anything or designed the big picture of anything. 


As a result, a lot of designers become UX, UI designers, or product designers with a very narrow understanding of the product. And it happens everywhere, right? Because you have to place your designers in particular verticals of your product, particular areas, and they obsess about that area. But the result is that very few designers develop that pull back, go higher to look not only at the end to end of your product but how that product interacts and transacts with other products within the ecosystem in your sphere of influence or not. 


Because in our sphere of influence in the case of Clare Score is data one and Drive Score, but there are all of our partners, banks, and fintechs that put their products into our marketplace, but also bureaus and credit companies and so on and so forth.


Understanding and having the capability as a designer to move away from what we are the most used to, which is user-centered design and smaller slices of experience, out of not caring, in between brackets, okay, because I always get chewed for saying this, not caring so much about the end user, because of course the moment you start caring about the whole ecosystem, the end user is just one small piece, right? You have everything else that you need to be looking at. So the user becomes this small part of it. Of course an important part, but just a part. So pulling back and pulling up and looking at the whole of it is something that very few designers have been trained for or actually want to do. 


Because most designers think, modern current designers and currently trained designers, that designing is doing interfaces or creating wireframes for a particular interaction or animation or, you know, small, small things. So for me, hiring designers who can think and look at things from that perspective. 


First, I scout the whole team when I enter a new company, there are always the people that are naturally geared, naturally designed in their minds to look at that. Most times that not those designers are already service designers or user researchers. Because of course, user researchers use also anthropology and contextual research to put the users in the context, right? In the environment where they belong. And they study the environment and the context and the culture and the society where those users live. But not all of them do that. So, but you find them sometimes, and then it’s training them.


And you know, because I have sent plenty of my team members to courses that you have imparted or that Boundaryless has imparted on platform design and platform thinking because they need the training. So I do a lot of that training in-house myself, but also I send them outside to train. I give them massive reading lists of platform books. And then I hired them from other platform companies already trained um, or already with the understanding.


But, getting those designers, to move out of something that is so ingrained in the design profession, which is what we care about user-centered design. We care about the user and the user interactions, not caring where those user interactions live in the ecosystem and how those transactions and interactions get, um, uh, influenced and modified by external, apparently external forces, which are not external, are internal to the ecosystem. But we consider them completely external. They’re not. We can actually influence those interactions and transactions through the platform or through the marketplace. 


That’s the most difficult part, getting designers out of that mindset and telling them, actually, I want you to look at the whole ecosystem. This is not an end-to-end, just from the moment the user enters the app. There are a million and one things that the user has been doing before it enters. Farfetch, ClearScore, Kaluza, Ubuntu, any of them. The process starts millions of miles before and months before.


Simone Cicero 

How do you communicate these and engage the rest of the organization, which is, I suppose, even, or maybe this is not, but in your experience, maybe the technology side, the marketing side, the other functions of the organization, assuming that the organization is functional?


Or if you dealt with different organizational architecture that worked better in this transition. So what helps the whole organization to rearrange? And of course, I’m sure that this is going to be a design-led transition, right? So you need designers to lead the platform transitions. But what does it mean for the rest of the organization to get the organization engaged and aligned and thinking of collaterals and thinking of strategies and thinking of readings? 


In your experience, what are successful ways?


Yolanda Martin 

I have done it in many different ways. And lately, and again, you know, because you were very much involved in the case of Farfetch, where we went and educated the 3,600 people of Farfetch in 10 days doing a massive workshop, global master classes on platform thinking and the platform strategy for Farfetch for the next few years.


That was probably the most radical way that I have done it. However, in the years since that happened, which was now what, five or six years ago? I have changed my way of thinking. I think it’s more important to grow it organically. What we did that forced education probably landed in 40% of the organization because a lot of the rest of the organization was just not ready to receive the benefits or the understanding of the platform. 


It will have taken, it took still months and years for that part of the business to be hit by what we were doing, right? And I think it just, yes, it provided them a little bit of education of what the future was going to be but didn’t affect at all the everyday thinking or doing immediately. And if you don’t have an immediate need to understand something, you just don’t. You just don’t invest any brain power on it because like, okay, this is a tomorrow problem, so I will deal with it whenever. 


Now I have a much better approach to it, which is to educate and involve only the people that you need in that particular phase of the platform creation. Start small, and gather the forces that you need for the next stage.


You get stages in platform creation, and you just need to educate and spend time with the people that you need for that phase. So when you’re doing the first steps of platform strategy, you just need the people, and usually it’s the CTO and the engineering directors, and probably the CPO and your kind of directors of design and directors of product.


And it’s a very small group of people that you can just sit down and say, listen, until now, we have been doing things this way. What about this way? And it kind of is easier to have conversations. It’s easier to share information. And once that group is convinced and together, we start writing the strategy documents and bringing them to the C-suite and expanding, then you kind of start expanding and adding more people, you know, architects and documentarians, more of engineering, more of design, more of product, little by little, until it arrives a point where most people is actually being educated. 


That’s the case now with Clear Score. We are doing constant learning units for many of the teams to kind of understand all the work that has happened in the last year and a half, which has been a lot. It has been a lot of work most of it has been happening underground in smaller groups until now that is when everybody needs to start being involved because as I said we are starting to deliver in big chunks of the platform but until now we haven’t educate anyone on it only the people that was naturally curious because of course the chatter happens and the conversations are happening and the word platform is heard everywhere so there is always people naturally that comes – oh I want to know about that. How can I know more? How can I learn more? How can I be prepared? And then you kind of share that information for the people that are naturally curious. 


Otherwise, I think it’s better to wait until everything is clarified and teams are ready to start executing parts of it. Otherwise, it’s almost wasted education.


Simone Cicero

Right, I guess that in both cases you really need this strong leadership buy-in, and yeah because you know even if you have to do things gradually it takes investments right even if you don’t make it very much public inside the organization you still need to build the transition so you need to have this commitment. 


So one question that I had, is the last question for you for today as we move to the closure. Every time we interview on this podcast, we ask the guests to share what are their breadcrumbs for our listeners. So I mean, particular suggestions you want to share in terms of books or, you know, you know, even movies or whatever you feel like sharing to help the listeners to go deeper into the things that we discussed or even more, even beyond.


Yolanda Martin 

I mean, I don’t know how many times I have recommended it, obviously, the platform design toolkit is basic and necessary. And if you don’t read that and read the blogs of boundaryless, especially the ones of the early days, because of course, they get more and more complex as the years pass. If you haven’t read the early ones, you can sometimes, yeah, some of the people I have recommended, they read some of the newest articles and they go like what? 


Because of course, yeah, you write them for us, for the ones that we already know everything about. Yeah. So we, I have to send us, no, go back seven, eight years and read the early ones, the early day ones. I am sending a compilation of the basics of platform design and those very early date articles that you used to write when we were all learning about platforms.


Because now most of us have become platform nerds. And of course, we read the articles and we know exactly what you mean. And we know exactly what you’re talking about. But the newbies, they go like, what? So I share certain books. I mean, one of my favorite ones is still the Harvard Review on Platforms and Ecosystems. It’s a great book for people that don’t know much about platforms. And Platform Revolutions, of course, is probably the two basic books that I recommend the most. 


But then I always tell people that practice, practice. So bringing down, printing the canvases of the platform design toolkit and applying it to whatever, whatever type of ecosystem, either the one that you’re working on in that particular day or the ecosystem of your house, of your neighborhood, of I don’t know, your school. 


I’ve done the exercise with teenagers in a school about you know, the ecosystem of their school and how the relationships between teachers, admin, even, how’s it called, the gardeners, the cleaners, the canteen workers, how the whole ecosystem of a school works and how the communication in between all the elements and the transactions that happen in between all the elements of the school are affected and how education is not just education, right? The educational environment is incredibly important. 


So applying and trying to apply ecosystem and platform principles to whatever you have your hands on is the best way of flexing that muscle, right? You read and read and read and read, but you never actually practice it. You end up just being a theorist, which is probably the biggest bone I have had in the last few years with consultants.


I have been in many meetings or conferences with people who consult on platform design but have never designed a platform, ever. A real one that gone through the pain and disappointment and long hours and political craziness that it’s involved in actually building, designing, creating, and building a platform.


So it’s very easy to talk about the theory, but if you haven’t bled for it you shouldn’t be talking about it. 


Simone Cicero 



Simone Cicero 

Yeah, it’s a hands-on process.


Yolanda Martin 

It is a very painful hands-on process, yes.


Simone Cicero

Thank you so much. So I hope you enjoyed the conversation as well as I did.


Yolanda Martin 

Always. You know that. I always do. 


Simone Cicero

Thank you so much. And yeah, for our listeners, as always, you can check our website, boundless.io/resources/podcasts. You will find the episode with Yolanda Martin with all the things we discussed, the transcript, the video, and the references to the things that Yolanda Martin mentioned. And thank you so much for listening. And until we speak again, remember to think Boundaryless.