May 16, 2016

Innovators: David McClelland of Ford on Test-and-Learn Culture

At a recent event here in Austin I was introduced to an innovative new Ford car sharing concept. The idea is that multiple people could band together to “share” a lease on a Ford vehicle. As numerous studies have shown the Millennials are buying fewer and fewer vehicles. Ford’s innovation hypothesis here is that they may be buying fewer cars, but what if you made it easier on them to share one vehicle? Ford is not only rolling out this unique credit program, but it is also releasing an app that let’s you schedule time on the car, keep track of miles, and see who’s turn it is to pay for those maintenance check ups.

Ford Credit Link – a pilot for Ford Credit customers in Austin, Texas – is aimed at consumers who don’t need a vehicle full time, but would like access to their own set of wheels. Starting next month, Ford Credit is offering leases on Ford vehicles to self-organized groups of three to six people.
Ford Credit Link App – a pilot for Ford Credit customers in Austin, Texas – is aimed at consumers who don’t need a vehicle full time, but would like access to their own set of wheels.

We took time to talk to David McClelland, Executive Vice President, Marketing and Sales, Ford Motor Credit Company about how innovation and test and learn culture works at Ford.

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

David: What is the customer need you are trying to satisfy, the pain point to solve or the friction you are going to remove? Assuming it is successful, what is the potential future value pool (the size of the prize)? Finally, be very clear up front that you will launch a minimally viable product at a set time and work toward that date with a laser focus. You can always adapt based on learnings – it will never be perfect the first time.

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

David: I believe the biggest mistake is assuming you’re going to get this 100% right the first time. Building, testing, launching and sustaining is an iterative process. However, if it just doesn’t work at all, don’t compound the problem by trying to force it to work. Going back to the drawing board is often a good thing.

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

David: Identify your target market. Then, clearly communicate your product’s features and benefits. Develop very clear short-, medium- and long-term goals and then accurately measure your progress against those goals.

What are the top 3-4 things that people launching/building product could learn from what you just did with Ford Credit Link?


  1. Make sure to understand the customer need or what you are trying to solve; see the big picture beyond the product itself. Ford Credit Link is more than a shared leasing product. It is a step toward greater participation in mobility in a sharing, ever-more-connected world.
  2. The first product is fairly certain to be the result of a compromise. It’s OK not to have the “final, final version” the first time out.
  3. Have a clear view of what you want to achieve. Then, be nimble and flexible in the way you achieve it, especially when products often involve a vast, complex cross section of systems, functions and processes.

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


  1. Don’t be afraid to fail. When you stumble–a nd we all stumble–a ccept, adapt and try again.
  2. Listen to feedback, especially from your customers. Even silence can convey powerful feedback. Be humble.
  3. Do your research. But, sometimes, you simply have to act on theory and faith. If you wait to act until you think you know every possible outcome, it’s probably too late.

After seeing a glimpse of what Ford is doing to build a test-and-learn culture, what small steps are you taking towards making this happen?

  • Austin

    3601 S. Congress Ave.
    Bldg. C302
    Austin, TX 78704
    United States
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  • Cincinnati

    1311 Vine St
    Cincinnati, OH 45202
    United States
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  • London

    14 Grays Inn Road
    WC1X 8HN
    United Kingdom
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Map of Clearhead’s location in Austin, TX

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