Lean Products = Faster Adoption

Photo Credit: Simon Peckham

Building a startup is challenging…consumer facing, enterprise or some other product type, you need customers/users to turn your startup into a business.  Most new internet based business models aren’t even relevant until the product reaches some type of critical mass.  If that is the case, you better start building fast…because since you can’t depend on cash flow to sustain your business, you’re talking about burning investment money one day at a time in pursuit of profit.

Figuring out how to create “viral adoption” is the now the holly grail of user acquisition.  A strategic invite feature hear, some gaming elements there, don’t forget to connect to Facebook and Twitter…all are method of helping create faster adoption with internet products.  However, what many fail to understand and what I am learning as I help design a product for my new startup, is it’s by far more important to adopt a “lean product” methodology first and think about user acquisition later.  Instead of thinking…”how do I get users to use my product“…think…”how do I eliminate all reasons not to use my product”.  It’s a small but extremely important distinction to make.  Be minimalistic…and don’t build something that sucks (the robust platform and the incredible product will come as your gain adoption).

As my startup goes deeper into the prototype build out we have been finding more reasons to do less.  For example, we have been thinking about building a specific feature that helps our customers communicate with businesses in a way that has not yet been explored.  However, we found that this feature will require a certain level of product adoption before it adds real value to our users.  By walking through a user case we have found that this feature will most likely create too much mass and noise in the early stages; this is the time when the user’s goal on the platform should be dead simple to identify.  By creating this feature too early we will give our users another feature to manage and might not fulfill their exceptions…potentially giving them one good reason not to use our product.

Our product team and myself has found a few other examples just like this…which has been effectively moving us to a leaner product and hopefully less reasons to say no and one great reason to say yes.  By reducing the moving parts you maintain clarity of focus and thereby will minimize objections to your product and increase the chances to create a positive network effect

…make it a no brainer.

Photo Credit: Simon Peckham

Mind Cubes…Worse Than Office Cubicles

the brain

The feeling of being lost within your own mind is one of the most helpless and common feelings people encounter.  Some people accept it as commonplace, others struggle to find a way out.  The best you can do is find some type of clarity within a system that promotes segmentation… existential enough for you?  What I am saying is that we are all products of our environment, anenvironment that is governed by a system that is not the most nurturing place for the thinking mind.  The product that the system typically creates is one of segmentation and mental clutter…what I now refer to as mental cubes.

Over the past couple months I have noticed a lack of focus and decisiveness in my mental processes.  Being committed to multiple businesses, creative projects, research and other more leisurely endeavors has split me into so many mental cubes that it has limited my ability to think and produce.  Not being able to produce at the level I expect from myself has created a subtle yet constant anxiety…and thus the perpetuation of the segmented mind.

Being aware of your mind’s deficiencies does not solve the problem.  Even while writing this post I am being distracted away from obtaining deep thought.  Phone’s buzzing, browser tabs just asking me to click on them…the life and times.

When it comes to the segmentation of thought I often think of office cubicles and the managers that run the office.  In a corporate office you have hundreds of employees occupying hundreds of cubicles.  From a high level the office looks a successfully organized ecosystem.  You have this team here to communicate with this team, for this reason…it all makes sense.  However, when you step down from the ivory tower you truly witness the chaos, hundreds of individuals all with their own tasks to complete and goals to reach.  There may be some general method to the madness but the more you view everything on a macro level you understand everybody and every cube is so different from one another.  Managers who try to control everything have control problems.  However, managers who focus on one objective or one theme unifying can manage from a distance with a sense of clarity.

With all that being taken into account it’s time to become minimalistic, it’s time to create a unifying theme.  There is a place outside the cube…there is a place where mental clarity and deep thought can be reached…one thing at a time.

Product Design: Think Useful, Create Simple

keepitsimple

We’ve all been conditioned to think complex. The more advanced something is, the smarter or more professional the creator looks. Complexity has become synonymous “good” in our culture. I’m guessing this is because the desire to be seen as smart is more important then the need to truly be understood.

This is a problem when it comes to education, business and designing products (specifically web and mobile applications).

When it comes to real world application, “complex” is simply complex…confusing and hard to understand.  Complexity may get your noticed by the academic world but it will earn you no brownie points when it comes to the consumer world.  In fact, complexity gives consumers a “simple” reason not to use your product.

Some of the most successful people and companies in the world dismissed the mainstream tendency to create complex and instead adopted the practice of simplifying everything and getting extraordinary results.

Einstein once said: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”  I mean what can me more simple then E=MC² for explaining the concept of mass-energy equivalence?

McDonalds created the perfect model of simplified efficiency.  There are thousands of burger shacks out their but none that runs with the fluidity (and liquidity) of McDonalds.  A system that can be reproduced a million times over created an empire built on simplicity.

Twitter was built on the notion that people wanted to share and learn “What’s Happening”.  They kept that platform lean and open for developers to build off of, and before they knew it, they have created the ultimate real time information network.

Simple concepts and strategy with fantastic implementation creating extraordinary results!

The more web and mobile software products I use, have them be consumer facing or enterprise, I see myself gravitating towards “simple”.  Designing different consumer products I see myself starting to build more simple (although against my instincts).

I have learned to:

Start with the core.  The core should be simple, unique and something you have a shot being the best in world at.  It should be a feature or specific functionality that if you take it away, there would be no more product.  All other features should compliment this specific feature.

For example, I use Basecamp for all my project management needs.  I would identify the core of Basecamp simply being “the project”.  As simple as it sounds, everything stems from a single project.  Each user is connected to a project or a set of projects.  There are specific features within that project that allows users to interact and share information within the project.  You take the project feature (if you want to call it a feature) out of Basecamp and you got nothing but a bunch of loose ends.  Basecamp has an extremely simple and easy to use UI that I love…it makes project managing simple, and sometimes even fun.

Starting with the core is not only essential to keep things simple and usable, but it also allows the designer to maintain focus on the most important elements of the product.

I am also learning to, focus on building what is useful rather then complimentary.  It is very easy to see opportunities to build on top of certain features, I mean wouldn’t it be cool if you can see uploaded photos and videos directly on Twitter instead of getting rerouted to third party app?  The problem with that, it goes against their core focus and is not extremely useful to users (after all, one click will get them to their desired destination).  This not only takes the designer away from the core, but it will take the user away the core which most likely diminish the user experience (taking them away from their purpose for being there).  Increasing the opportunity to leave your website, app and never fully immersing themselves in your product.

Lastly, I make sure to make it’s easy to iterate and that there is an established feedback loop. The deeper you build away from the core…the harder it will be to be agile and iterate.  Making changes and adjustments based on feedback is essential to creating a useful product.  Especially when that feedback is directly from you users.  The simpler your product, the easier you can push it out to your users and the general public.  Which means more feedback, faster and room to make necessary changes.

“Simple and Useful” should be a mantra of all product teams.  Quit making things complex…it doesn’t help anyone but your ego.  If “simple” creates enough longterm value for people…you can stroke your ego then.

How to Enjoy Life When You Run a Marketing Agency

hand-thumbs-up

There is a reason why I haven’t posted on my blog in over a month…

It’s not because I wanted to finish my blogging career covering the Old Spice guy.

It’s not because I haven’t had anything to say.

It’s because my team and I have been work hard to reach a sustainable point of business with ConvoSpark and provide our clients the best service possible.  Therefore, I have unfortunetly been in “workaholic” mode for the past few months.

Running an agency can be challenging and demanding of time and energy.  Agency works has been synonymous with scotch drinking executives that work 15 hour days and go home to their mistresses (think Mad Men).  However, I have not adopted this outdated notion and work-style.  Instead, I consciously think of the “how” when I am working…as long as that “how” is leading me towards results for my clients, learning for me and happiness I know the “how” is right on.

I believe savvy entrepreneurs find time saving ways to gain leverage and avoid this migraine producing work style.  However, I also believe that when an entreprneur is working towards reaching a defined destination..they need to maximize their effort.  And sometimes maximizing effort literally means pushing effort to the maximum (especially when running a service based company).

Being in this state of “maximized effort” for about two months, I can see it isn’t that bad.

Pursuing a destination does not have to be correlated with relentless grim determination (and Scotch drinking).  You can actually choose to enjoy the work you do…all 14 hours of work if necessary.  It takes endurance, the right mental approach and some mind slowing outlets.  Here are some methods and principles I have been going by that have made the past two months enjoyable and fulfilling.

Watch the trees

Find ways to slow down the mind.  My girlfriend’s mom sent me a quote today that read:

“We’re so busy watching out for what’s ahead of us that we sometimes forget to take the time to enjoy where we are.” -Calvin & Hobbs

Ain’t that the truth!  Running an agency can make you insane; constantly thinking about what you have to do…and what you have done…that sometimes it’s tough to get the mind to slow and just take on the task at hand.  What I have learned is that the best results (for you and your clients) come when you have intense focus on one item at a time.

Remember, sometimes it takes taking a step away from the laptop and smart phone to slow the mind a bit.  I prefer cereal at 7:30 while looking outside at the trees.  Nothing works better for me :)

Have great clients

As an owner or team member of an agency, you are only a portion of the equation.  The client typically plays a large roll in all major projects. Therefore, you better make sure to be working with some awesome people.

It is ok to discriminate a bit.  If a client is overly demanding for the sake of being demanding…they’re not worth your time.  Your mental health and your other clients will suffer because of that one client.

With this being said two things are very important.  One, you get a good understanding for your client, their needs and the details of their project pre-sale.  This way you can qualify the client and they can qualify your company as well.  Maybe the project is not worth the investment in terms of the time you will give and the money they will provide.  Maybe the client wants to work far outside your processes which will over extend you and your team.  Maybe you don’t like the client and they don’t like you (100k can’t get me to work with someone I don’t like).  Two, it’s is of the utmost importance to set expectations.  Give clients a look into your operations and how you will be handling their project.  Set specific deliverables and meeting times, making your company professional and minimizing the constant back and forth that can waist everyone’s time.

Embrace cosmic laughter

Work can gets crazy at times.  Servers can crash, a feature may not be working, designs might be all wrong…it happens.  Best thing you can do is laugh it off…like really laugh hard!  Recognize that the universe is still in motion and that the situation can be addressed.  Sometimes it take a little laughter to recognize those truths.

Measure Progress

I never have been good at treading water.  I prefer to be swimming forward (I really prefer to be on land).  Stagnation is never good for a business…and results are never as good if they aren’t measured.  By making sure to gage progress you are moving forward towards gaining momentum.  You will subconsciously be moving towards bettering your progress and hitting the goals you set.  Incremental success is paramount in obtaining fulfillment in work.

We make sure to measure our client’s and team success frequently.  This keeps moral up since we feel like we’re working with purpose.  We are also trying to get better at celebrating our successes that are well deserved.

I would love to hear what you think…any tips…thought…or specific tree locations…let me know.

The Genius of “Manly”..Old Spice Video Brilliance

old-spice-man

I’m guessing the camaraderie of rugged sophistication that Chuck Norris and The Most interesting Man in the World share got a bit stale.   They need to add a third counterpart to firm up a mantastic trio….thus…we have the Old Spice Man.

The “Old Spice Man”…the wildly tallented and a bit obscure Isaiah Mustafa hit us with a new Old Spice commercial where he is effortlessly landing on top of the most manly moving objects all will speaking at 200 words a minuet (making perfect sense).  Needless to say this commercial is ridiculously funny and going to extend the Old Spice Man Meme beyond a one hit wonder.

But to launch this meme into iconic status and to earn its seat in the Chuck Norris, Most Interesting Man round tabel…it took one of the most incredibly creative and bold social media campaign a large brand has executed!

A team of tech geeks, writers, social media folk, media mavens, film makers and Isaiah Mustafa committed to an organic video response campaign that would be written, acted and produced in real time (brilliant!).  The goal was to allow the Old Spice Man to spread his infection charm and wisdom across the web, responding to real life people’s responses to Old Spice videos.  Web developers created a program that fed all related video comments throughout the social web to their team and categorized those responses by user influence, time and the quality of content.  Then the writing began…the social media folk and the writers began creating ridiculously awesome content.  Like this…

After the writing, the magician himself sprinkles his Old Spice goodness across the set…and a You Tube video was created!  This was done over 80 times in one day!  Short 20-60 second videos directed at one person who engaged Old Spice on the social web in some way.  From online icons like Kevin Rose and Perez Hilton to people like… anonymous.  They touched all different levels of influence, demographics and types of sediment…all while exuding that unique Old Spice grandeur.

Why Old Spice’s Video Campaign is the Most Genius Ever!

1. They involve everyone!

From the big timers to normal folk, the Old Spice Man does not discriminate.

Everyday internet users who have at most 17 Twitter followers were able to comment on an Old Spice You Tube video, their Facebook Page and other social profiles they have on the web and get a personalized response from the man himself.  The genius behind this is, one, it took a big brand down to a real personal level, taking an icon you see on TV and having them interact with everyday people can only be a favorable PR move.  Two, it made everyone think…”Hey, I should comment on this video…maybe he’ll talk to me”.  This notion allowed these videos to spread through the social web like wildfire.  Can you imagine how many @ tweets the Old Spice handle received yesterday?

By creating personalized messages for some of the authorities on the web Old Spice proved two things.  One, they understand who the influencers are, which gives them credibility among other influences (possibly with large networks to share cool stuff with).  Two, they won the hearts of those influencers by giving them attention beyond a typical praise email they read everyday…making it highly likely for the influencers to spread their message across their large network.

2. Long terms brand building

Remember when everyone spoke with that Ron Burgundy intonation and eyebrow raise (maybe it’s just me)?  Well, I have a feeling the Old Spice man has now became the new age Ron Burgundy.  Beyond the credibility the brand has gained in the media world for trying something extremely creative and at the same time risky, they have built the foundation for a long term branded figure. I have a feeling that Kyle Rutty will be digging deep in his diaphragm to produce the manliness of sounds and witticism for a long time.

3. Pure Humor

Not to be overlooked, these videos were some of the funniest internet content ever to grace the cloud.  From large silver fish, to the very appropriate eye brow raise, every single video hit the mark.  The writers of these skits should win a Webby and Isaiah Mustafa deserves to be forever released from his “struggling actor” tag.  I still cannot stop laughing…

From one gentleman to another, I solute you Old Spice…while wearing a gentleman like top hat.  Well done!!


When Do You Know You’re an Entrepreneur?

As an “aspiring” entrepreneur I constantly asked myself,  “How do I know that I am an entrepreneur?”.  Being conditioned to “know” something is something through tangible and transitional reasoning I had no way of identifying myself as an entrepreneur.

Today I can confidently say that I am an entrepreneur. I am one, because I say I am, I feel I am and I make a unique contribution to the world.

Here’s me diving deeper into this topic…

When did you know you were an entrepreneur?  What is an entrepreneur in your mind?

Better Than an Energy Drink

For the past couple weeks I have been traveling, building business, ideating…all requiring alot of mental and physical energy.

Realizing that coffee is a short term fix for eye droopiness…I found a high powered recharge over the weekend.

At GenJuice San Francisco I was able to connect and collaborate with an incredible group of passionate innovators who loved to help others and share ideas.  Emerging yourself in an environment like that does something for your mind, body and soul.  You feel the positive wave of possibilities and can’t help but to ride it.

Getting together with amazing people that empower others is my new energy source of choice.

The 4 Pillars of Personal Branding

To many, personal branding is a buzz word that has been over extended throughout the social space.  You can categorize it as a “buzz term” or “fad trend” but you will most likely be neglecting the power that shaping your online persona can have on the rest of your life.

The video below dives into 4 absolutely vital principles to adopt when building your personal brand online.

Build a platform

We’re not talking about building your own Facebook or a massive blog.  Instead we are talking about a more figurative platform.  Build a platform by leveraging all the cool stuff you are doing right now.  If you work for a big company let people know what you’re doing (it got Scoble pretty far).  If you own a company…associate yourself with your company and the company with yourself.  If you have passions, shout it from a mountain top and see who you will connect with!

Don’t be bashful

I love that word…bashful.  In this case we’re going to treat it as a bad word.  For some people, such as myself, it can be quite difficult to talk about yourself.  Especially if you don’t feel like you have accomplished anything worthwhile.  At that point, you must think from this perspective: “there is always someone who wants to be where you are and wants to know how you got there”…cater to these people now and expand your audience as you grow.  Don’t be bashful, talk about your accomplishments, build up your credibility but please always put humility first.

Build up others

Focus on others before yourself.  When you connect two people that will benefit from each other you are building up your own importance indirectly.  When you showcase someone’s good work by tweeting it out to the world, you are validating their efforts.  When you focus on others, new possibilities open up, paths to new people emerge and you can now identify more opportunities and how it relates not just to you but to everyone else you are connected with.

Add value to the community

Have something uniquely valuable to say.  What you do online should be governed by the question “how am I adding value?”.  You can talk about yourself, your accomplishment but if it doesn’t help anyone else…no one will care about what you have to say.  Find ways to differentiate yourself and find new perspectives that not many have.  If you focus on adding value first, you will be moving in the right direction.

The Misguided Media…Will Social Media Cave In?

bad tv

Walking through the mall over the weekend I ran into a conspicuous print advertisement of a soon to be brand new Show coming to TV this summer.  The print ad naturally snatched my eyes from the walk way ahead as it showcased shinny skinned, 25 year old girls, in short catholic school mini skirts, swagged out (like hips pointed in all types of directions swagger).  First thing that came to mind isn’t fit for my blog, but the second thing is “why is this in a mall?”.  Girls wearing barely nothing placed at a mall with families and impressionable  young girls didn’t sit well with me.  I can just see my future 7 year daughter (wayyyy future) tugging on my arm asking me to take her to Forever 21 so she can look just like the orange one (the crispy tan girl).  What was even more disheartening was after looked a bit closer I read “Coming to ABC Family this summer: Pretty Little Liars“.

I don’t watch ABC Family but I am savvy enough to know that this channel is for the American family.  I am sure mom and dad are comforted by the fact that their children watch “ABC Family” instead of Spike.  However, I feel like it’s safe to bet that parents will prefer their kids leaning about the greatest warriors in history rather then about promiscuity, deceit and what Paris Hilton showed to the camera this weekend.

Who is responsible for these misguided values and destructive priorities?

Is it the media moguls as they are the final say in what gets pushed out to the masses?  It does seem like their agenda is dictated by nothing else but the dollar sign.

Or is it our fault for casting our “vote” and handing our money over to the networks asking for more of the same garbage?

Who is responsible is only secondary.

Instead, the pressing issue is how freakishly awful the content is that the majority consumes.  What does it say about our priorities as a society if we would rather watch Jersey Shore than spend quality time with the people we love? (I have feel victim to Jersey Shore my fair share of times).

The answer to the “secondary” questions is that we are all responsible!  With the democratization of media happening right in front of us…we all have a say!

Social Media is different?…

In the upcoming year we will truly see who is responsible.  Why?  Because with emergence of social media becoming a preferred broadcasting center for businesses, politicians, large organizations and individuals alike…the “good” rises to the top.

Now more than ever can the general public: publish, vote on, comment on, rate, alter, augment the content on the web.  Not only can they affect the media but the masses are doing it more and more each day.

The voice of the people is now undeniable and to a certain extent uncensored.

Years from now if my future daughter watches Pretty Little Liars, I have no one else to blame but everyone!

What are your thoughts on the impact of media on our actions, values and priorities as a society?  How can we do better than this?

The Emergance of The Titans of Social Media

Google-Facebook-Twitter-Apple

Social media seems to be in a consolidation phase. Although social media is built on the principle of open collaboration between many parts creating a stronger whole, I can’t help but to feel that social media is beginning to resemble any other fast growing industry; with some of the tech heavy weights racing to become the super power of the social space. The battle to become the preferred social platform is becoming more and more interesting as days pass (yes…the pulse of the industry changes daily). If it’s not becoming the default social platform that these tech Titians covet, it is becoming the most powerful social ad platform, creating a universal social currency, or the most use app platform. Whatever it is, companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple are widening the reach of social media all while making barriers to entry for startups much higher.

Facebook has launched the ambitious Open Graph protocol in efforts to create the semantic web. This will increase the web’s dependence on the largest social network in the world.

Google launched Buzz a few months back in attempts to begin indexing all socially driven data while giving users the utility of updating people on all their happenings throughout the social web (excluding Facebook). The Buzz began to fizzle as it was a duplication of what many Twitter clients can do with a less appealing interface.

Twitter’s open model is now proving to be beneficial to not just users but them as a company as they are beginning to push out their powerful ad platform, Promoted Tweets.

Apple launched another hardware product that is proving to carve out another new product niche. The iPad also indirectly is positioning Apple as a front runner to take over the social gaming space.

Each company seems to have a different point of entry as they move towards domination of the social space. Others seem to be progressing better than others. As these companies continue to tinker with new ideas and products, the users begin to benefit more and more. This means more quality products, stronger communication platforms etc. However there is someone that suffers and that is the entrepreneur.

With the larger companies looking to expand their reach in the social media space, it makes it harder for startups with limited resources to compete. Startups are forced to do something incredibly novel, piggy back off a larger platform or deeply niche themselves. Doing something cool and different is always admirable, but will people use it? Developing with an API is savvy but you are at the mercy of the platform that servers the API. Niching yourself can allow you to compete but can also make you lose revenue potential due to the shrinking of your market.

Forgive me for sounding overtly pessimistic because that is not typically in my nature. On the contrary I am very excited to see what takes place in the upcoming months. We live during a time where the very way we communicate is ever changing. With change and shifts in power comes opportunity…I am just not exactly sure where yet.

Where do you think the next big opportunity for web based startups will be?

Which company do you think will take the crown and become the king of the social space?

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