Note: The content here is from May but I’m trying to catch up soon. The introductions are retrospective but the daily notes are kept in the present tense. Hopefully it’s not too confusing.
The first lesson this week was that using Open Source libraries may start off being very helpful but as your product gets more complicated you will most likely have to customize it to do what you want or create your own replacement. We used an Infinite Scroll library that we had to modify and we’ve also had to modify the an image gallery plugin to do what we want. It’s definitely a good way to get started and there’s no point in reinventing the wheel but be aware that as your product grows the tools and libraries you use will need to be updated. The second lesson was that it’s amazingly useful having a coding cofounder and not because two can write more code than one. It’s great having a second perspective on the technical details as well as someone to call me out for being lazy and taking shortcuts. It’s also difficult to QA your own code so having someone else look at it is helpful. In general, it’s great to have overlapping set of skills between the cofounders and a goal for me is to improve my UX skills.
Here’s week ten:
I was rereading the HBR paper on Strategies for Two Sided Markets and came across a passage describing Apple’s mistake of trying to monetize both sides of their market, the consumers and the developers, rather than focusing on one like Microsoft did by giving away the SDK for free.
It got me thinking about Apple’s recovery. Many people credit the iPod with revitalizing Apple but I think there’s more than that. I suspect the bigger reason was the decline of desktop software and the ability to be productive on the web. Suddenly the network effects that existed by having software that only worked on Windows no longer existed. Software started migrating to the web and people were more willing to try new operating systems out. In 2006, I switched to Linux without too much trouble. It was also simple to find help online to deal with the various issues I ran into which made the transition easier. In some ways, Google helped Apple recover by speeding up the move to the web with a more accurate search and a good set of productivity apps.
In general, it’s damn difficult to overcome network effects. Google will not be replaced by a search engine. Facebook will not be replaced by a social network. These network effects will be broken by a behavioral change. Instagram rode this wave of behavioral change of the move to mobile and it was a savvy move for Facebook to make the acquisition. It makes you wonder what Instagram could have become had it stayed independent.
Innovation is cannibalization. By pushing the envelope of technology, pioneering companies cause behavioral changes that will give rise to companies that may end up replacing them. As Clay Christensen notes, it’s rare for a mature company to put resources behind a disruptive technology that will cannibalize itself but it’s the only way to stay relevant. Only 13% of the companies in 1955’s Fortune 500 made the list in 2011. It’s amazing to see how quickly things change and the pace is only getting quicker.
Reading recent tech coverage makes you think that each newly startup is more valuable than Yahoo. Yahoo is the 4th most visited site in the world with over 300 million users on Yahoo mail. This is a problem every startup should hope to have.
User acquisition is the most difficult task for a consumer startup. User attrition is an easier problem to solve than user acquisition. Yahoo doesn’t need to build a product that’s 10 times better than the competition, they just need to simplify and improve what they already have. Yahoo also has massive usage among the mass market with millions of people having Yahoo as their home page. These are not the same people that sign up for every startup featured on TechCrunch. Yahoo has challenges but worrying about user acquisition is not one of them. Yahoo will need to develop a vision and relentlessly pursue it. The culture will need to change and vested interests will need to be broken.
It’s easy to criticize Yahoo for ignoring Google and Facebook but impossible to say what Yahoo should be doing now. I look forward to seeing what happens to Yahoo with Marissa Mayer at the helm.
Such small details don’t matter individually but together they reflect a lack of empathy for the user that impacts a company culture. We should always be striving to make a user’s experience better and doubly so whenever it’s actually an easy fix. Other easily fixable examples I’ve seen are clearing entire forms when there’s an error with one field and not highlighting the field that’s giving the error.
I suspect the reason these aren’t fixed is a managerial problem. The application works and there’s no reason to go back when there are all sorts of new shiny things that can be built. No one wants to do a cost vs value analysis for these minor fixes so they stay the way they are. I suppose you need to either build things the right way immediately, fix it without letting anyone know, or resign to leaving it alone.
There’s a reason startups tend to have better products. They don’t go through analyses to determine whether to make minor changes, all it takes is for someone to decide that something needs to be fixed and the next deployment, probably within a few hours, will have it solved. Combined with the massive sense of ownership that comes with working at a startup, that’s a lot of improvements that would be done at a startup but not a larger company.
Note: The content here is from ~2 months ago but I’m hoping to catch up soon. I’m going to start writing the introductions retrospectively but keep the daily notes in the present tense. Hopefully it’s not too confusing but let me know if is.
This was another productive week getting our new profile page ready. Our goal was to make Glossi’s profile pages look better by adding a larger image and an improved layout. We also wanted to increase the speed as much as we could. An approach we ended up implementing is to first load the user’s profile information and then load the user’s social media content asynchronously. This way the top of the page loads immediately and the content appears when it’s ready. Because the page is broken into various components it also became easier to cache certain fragments and further improve the site speed. One issue with this approach is that the Google bot doesn’t crawl the asynchronous content so we’re working on a fix.
Here’s week nine:
Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about habits. How do they form? How do they change? And the selfish one - how can you build a product that is habit forming? My cofunder sent me a great Nir & Far blog post that goes into detail about generating desire which is a great read to anyone building a consumer product.
Along these lines, I decided to be a bit introspective and see which products and sites are a part of my habit. A simple way was to type each letter of the alphabet into the Google Chrome address bar and see what site autocompletes. Here goes:
After excluding my sites (glos.si and startupmullings.com), we can organize them into the following categories:
Every consumer site should strive to get to browser autocomplete status for some users rather than being semi-popular to more users. Being useful to a few passionate users and growing with their help is a much better approach than trying to immediately appeal to the mass market.
And although this exercise may be embarrassing, I’d love to see what others have as their 26 sites.
A pretty exciting week - very productive first half and then an awesome trip to Austin. It’s good to take a break every once in a while to relax a bit and get some new perspective. Travelling is a great way to get some new experiences which can help influence the decisions you make for your product. Just as it’s important to have diversity in the workplace to surface a wide range of ideas and perspectives, it’s important to also have variety in your experiences.
Here’s week seven:
So this week had some highs and lows. We were very productive with Glossi and got a lot done but my grandfather passed away after a battle with cancer. I’m going to miss his motivation and inability to remain idle. I remember him visiting our house for some sort of celebration and quickly start raking leaves - after which he’d yell at us kids to clean up the piles. I’m amazed by his work ethic and wish I can bring half as much to Glossi.
Here’s week six:
A trend I’ve been noticing more and more is enterprise sales being done bottoms up. The typical approach is to offer a free trials or have some sort of freemium product. Each sign up is then treated as an inbound lead that is assigned an account manager. Within two weeks of signing up for New Relic I was contacted by an account manager who helped answer my questions and helped me get New Relic set up for Glossi. Working with him, we were able to get a longer trial period and a discounted price for when we’re ready to upgrade. HubSpot found that inbound leads cost 61% less than outbound leads. If having a strong SEO and Social Media presence drops acquisition costs that much imagine the drop caused by having a usable product. Although we’re a small, scrappy startup that’s quick to try new products and services, I believe this approach will become the standard way of selling SAAS in the enterprise. It’s much easier to get a person to try something new and if you can turn him into a fan, you’re one step closer to getting the company signed up.
An extreme case of this would be to initially build a product that’s focused on the consumer and only building out enterprise features when there’s a clear demand for them. A great example would be Dropbox, they initially focused exclusively on making a kick-ass experience for the consumer and only after nailing that down did they release the “Dropbox for Teams” plans. I don’t recall the history of GitHub but they may have done something similar - initially focusing on public and private repositories and then growing into the more enterprise friendly plans. This is a great approach for a product driven startup since you can focus on building your product without getting stuck in the twisted path of custom client work. But when your product and team are more fleshed out, you can focus on the additional revenue opportunities created by going after the enterprise.