Passion, intellect and the pursuit of highly audacious goals. A winning combination.
If it cannot be measured, it is a gimmick, not a plan.
The little things matter
This morning I had a rant. It’s been boiling around in my head for days. It was never a scathing indictment of any one person or thing, but a total airing of grievances against the shit way people often communicate, or do not communicate with others.
Then… I read an article on user experience by Om. It changed my whole perception—well, at least made me less angry. It got me thinking about personal interactions and our day-to-day communications as another form of user experience.
Delivering happiness across as many touch points as often & as frequently as possible is the ultimate user experience.
This tidbit Om delivers is as true for your daily interactions as it is for your business. Just as it’s valuable to consider the big things—like whether you give those around you energy, or you suck it from the room—it’s valuable to consider the little things, because it’s the little things that can often define how others perceive your ‘user experience.’
So, my understatement of the day, Dale Carnegie was onto something when he wrote How to Win Friends & Influence People. I’ll admit that he lays it on thick when talking about some universal truths (e.g. smiles win more friends than frowns), but each of the key traits he calls out relate directly to this idea of user experience as a reflection of the way you are perceived. For instance:
- Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. Too many people specifically forget this online, or simply don’t care (e.g. if I sign an email to you as ‘Chris,’ and you address your reply to ‘Christopher,’ that is a poor user experience—I feel bad about the interaction, and you look bad in my eyes).
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. It is obvious when you are only half listening, perhaps even formulating what to say next while someone is still speaking. Take the opportunity to view the world through that other person’s words, and don’t be afraid of silence now and again.
- Make the other person feel important - and do so sincerely. You may believe that when you pay for a product or service your payment is thanks enough for the value it brings, but imagine the joy you yourself get when your value, at work or at home, is acknowledged verbally. With enthusiasm even! Now apply that to your own interactions with others.
Worrying that you are late to market is often a sign of a good idea.
Growth is never a passive endeavor
Yesterday I received an email from a friend, the cofounder of a well-funded, well-publicized and generally highly touted consumer startup, that left me a bit baffled. Essentially, the email said:
In the new year we’re focusing on organic growth and overall experience, less so on data-driven marketing, because nothing really worked well for us.
After my jaw hit the floor, I prematurely assumed that they were throwing up their hands, maybe buying into that old adage of “if you build it, they will come.” It was obvious from this and prior conversations we’d had that they hit a few snags in their attempt to test and measure user acquisition. This latest stance seemed a bit haphazard, however.
Of course after the initial shock, I reread the message and realized that my friend had also called out the overall experience as needing some work. Assuming, therefore, that they are not taking a Field of Dreams approach to business-building, there may be more here that I can help voice around early growth in a consumer business, and how strategy can develop over time… so:
Social activity as core to the product is your greatest mechanism for distribution.
- It’s true, you can sometimes manufacture social activity for quick wins (e.g. Socialcam)—and you can always buy traffic—though more often, sustained growth, or that which nets active over registered users, comes from identifying, and then getting users to your app’s must have experience (MHx) as quickly and effortlessly as possible. The MHx is that primary, though sometimes amorphous reason that users come back to your app. If, as my friend said, nothing really worked for them, it’s worth validating whether they’ve found that MHx, and if so, whether there are roadblocks (intentional or otherwise) that they can remove from their users’ path.
There is no strict beginning or end to Customer Development, it’s a framework.
- News flash, customer development does not stop once you’ve launched a product, or even sold a few—it is a framework for validating or invalidating assumptions with direct customer input, and that applies as much on day 1 as it does on day 1,498. The difference is that at an early stage you have the benefit of knowing every customer that uses your product, so you can tie virtually any data you have to a name, a person, and their own words on why they did or did not do ‘X.’ You need to seek out this feedback, because for better or worse, great experiences and poor experiences are two extremes that get talked about, whereas anything in between never will.
Measuring or exploring user acquisition channels, these are two very different things.
- To measure means applying known tactics to your particular vertical within known acquisition channels; e.g. running targeted Adwords campaigns, buying a promoted tweet or two, etc. etc. Essentially, the basics for anyone versed in acquiring users online. Though he may disagree, I’d contend that my friend has been treading well-worn ground, measuring known acquisition channels. On the other hand, exploring means breaking from convention, it is growth hacking at its best, if you want a buzzword. Start here by identifying your ideal customer, and now get creative thinking of ways to reach and help them in the scope of their existing life—for instance, think about what magazines they read, what their average weekend looks like, what kind of friends they have or seek out, and of course, what they do or think just before they come to your app. Just know that there is no silver bullet. You need to test and iterate quickly, exploring numerous channels until you hit on one to be exploited.
What would your business look like if a 100% referral rate were your standard of success.
- You should know what your referral number is (i.e. the percentage of users that have referred you to others). If you do not, find out! Consider, if a 100% referral rate were your goal: would you think differently about over-delivering each and every time; would it change your perception of who an ideal user is; would it change how you approach marketing and social media; and finally, would it change the way you communicate with users on an ongoing basis? I know too many startups that believe referral bonuses and social sharing tools are easily bolted on to existing products, but if you stop to consider what it is you are asking of your users when they give a referral, it’s a much more involved process. Not necessarily more difficult, but involved. Don’t short your own effort here.
Data can say almost anything, whereas your metrics have to tell a clear story.
- The metrics that you track should be actionable (i.e. they must show clear cause and effect; otherwise, they are vanity metrics); they must be accessible (i.e. easily understood by everyone that needs to pull, use or react to them); and finally, you must be able to track them back to a credible source. For what it’s worth, I know some of the marketing channels my friend has used, and I know that there is real difficulty in auditing some metrics because cause and effect are unclear—this may require some creativity, especially where it relates to mobile (… still the wild west when it comes to metrics), and it may even require more in the way of testing (in terms of both time and money) than one would normally put into any single channel.
Comments, questions or feedback? I’d love to hear them.
I’ll give 5-minutes to nearly anything
Life is so much easier when you make a decision within 5-minutes.
Last week I read a powerful post from Zen Habits packed with little bits of wisdom, including the above gem on making decisions. Out of everything there, this singular piece of advice really resonated with me. It deserves more than the tweet I sent out.
So, a question: Starbucks or Philz Coffee?
This is an example of an easy decision. No one will argue that making a choice here warrants any more than 5-minutes of your time. In all likelihood, you’ve probably made this decision a hundred times without even thinking about it.
How many other decisions do you make each day? And how many do not fall in this category of reflexive decision-making? I’m challenging you to be conscious of your decisions.
For one day, be mindful of the decisions you make, those you delay (Boomerang for Gmail, anyone?!) and those you attempt to avoid all together. And afterward, give yourself one day to make snap decisions—do not delay or avoid anything. You’ll be surprised how much easier life becomes, and even more surprised by how accurate your instinct is in most cases.
Write like no one will read it.
A simple social calculus
There are two types of people in this world:
Those that add. And those that subtract.
With the start of a new year, I’ve begun to assess my social relationships with this simple framework in mind. In particular, I am more aware today than ever before as to whether the relationships I have with others add to my life or subtract from it.
I try to consciously consider each interaction I have, and take stock of whether the person I am with leaves me with more energy than I had before, or less. And I agree wholeheartedly here with Brendan Baker that it’s not a zero sum game—there are inevitably people that consume more energy to be around than others, just as there are people that leave you feeling invigorated after an interaction, no matter the context.
I am searching for those that add. And trying to add myself.
Markets primed for explosive growth in 2013
The “startups to watch” list is overplayed. Besides, if I could pick the precise time a specific startup was poised to explode in growth, I’d be investing more, rather than writing about it.
More interesting to me are market trends, and these are a couple that I will absolutely keep an eye on through at least the first half of 2013:
- Same day delivery. There is a potential paradigm shift in the way people purchase goods online, and I believe it starts with the players trying to tackle same day delivery (e.g. Postmates, Instacart, Shutl, etc.). It’s not so much about instant gratification—though each delivers that in spades—as it is about increasing the relevance and access to local merchants and producers. We’ll see significant growth from these players as they expand to other major metros in 2013, and I wouldn’t doubt one or two business model shifts as each refines its vision beyond their home turf.
- Disrupting education. A bit crowded, though I have yet to see any true winners. A number of startups are doing very interesting things, and arguably seeing some fantastic traction (e.g. Skillshare, Codecademy, Udemy and Khan Academy just to name a few), but I don’t believe anyone has truly jumped the gap into the mainstream market yet. The general unrest over traditional education is only increasing, and there are too many solid players in this space not to see major waves made in 2013.
On the other end of the spectrum, Big Data and Enterprise are two areas that are way overhyped right now. Add the words ‘Big’ and ‘Data’ together on a slide, and you should be prepared to duck as investors throw cash at you. Ok, it’s not quite that bad, though I believe too many players are entering this space assuming they can ‘figure something out’ with a bit of machine learning. On the other hand, too few are focused on the niche industries where a big data solution could net real results and huge revenue potential.
Enterprise apps are in vogue now as well, and for good reason—revenue. Consumers are fickle, and cheap. Enterprise customers have budgets, and are fine paying for products or services. Will they pay for your me-too communication or collaboration tool—hell no! The problem here is that too many startups are focused on the sexy problems like communication and collaboration, rather than the hairy, sometimes niche problems that have a greater chance of success. If you’re building for the enterprise, find a real problem and build the simplest, most bare bones solution for that one problem.
If your mission statement is much longer than this sentence, you should think harder about what you’re doing.