Product Strategy, Product Thoughts, Uncategorized

One of the most difficult product decisions is “not yet”


(Photo courtesy of https://unsplash.com/photos/3IVOgGIBsM0)
I recently had a (great) idea for a product. In my head it made perfect sense – a way to make it easier for people building presentations to get instant help from a trusted freelancer. Surely many people would be excited to try it out. 

The idea went from sketched-out prototype to tech exploration to see if it was possible to execute the thing I was thinking about, and two things happened. First, two very smart people asked whether this is a problem that anyone has,  and whether I had any data to prove the size of the market. Second, I realized I hadn’t done enough work to move from idea to execution.

“Of course,” I said, sharing market validation stats and thinking about channel partners. But then it hit me – I hadn’t yet taken the fundamental step to validating the market need by hand with no tech investment and no real effort spent. Ideas are a dime a dozen until they have some traction.

And it made me consider the optimal way of moving from idea to idea++, or taking the first next step toward validation. “Paper prototyping,” – the effort to simulate the experience of building product without actually building that product – is useful when combined with tests to establish demand. 

In this case, what was needed was a plan to ask people (ideally those I don’t know) to state that 1) they needed help with presentations and 2) that they are willing to pay other people to solve that problem.

One way to test that would be to use an existing site where people request freelance assistance (let’s say Fivvr, Upwork, or similar) and put up an ad for services. The responses to this ad would give one set of signals for demand. Then, the type of work that resulted might help me determine whether the initial hypothesis is worth more thinking. And third, the initial revenue would give clues to the potential profitability of the idea.

Do I know whether I have a great product idea? Not yet. The next step is to validate whether presentations made “good enough” are sufficient for most people, most of the time. If that’s the case, on to the next idea, until there’s a bit more signal that this one is more than a momentary aha!

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Career, Generous, On Writing, Startup, Uncategorized

When you get a chance to go back to a great team, jump at the opportunity!

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courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/hernanpc  

Have you ever been on a great team?

I mean the kind of team that people and alumni talk about years later. I’m talking about a team that produces results, leads the market, and is the kind of team that spawns other great teams. It’s hard to produce these kinds of results once, so it’s all the more remarkable when the same team produces another high-performing team (and highly correlated to success in the new venture)

In my career, I have been on great teams, and also participated in not-so-great teams.

Here are a few things that great teams do that mediocre teams do not do:

Great Teams Focus Their Efforts

In a startup (or really inside any company) there is always too much to do and almost always not enough time and resources to do it. Great teams build a culture where people focus on the next best thing they can do to improve the company, and make it easy for people to work together to gain results. For example, when you cut a lightly used feature and take the time to improve an existing feature, you are lowering the surface area of your product and helping the whole team to feel better about the quality of your software.

Mediocre teams work on many projects at once and never ship. On these teams, someone always claims credit for doing the work instead of giving kudos to another team member to congratulate them on a job well done. Mediocre teams endlessly add features without taking the time to ask customers whether the existing features meet their needs.

Great Teams Identify and Amplify Team Strengths

On a great team, it’s easy to find specialists. They are busy doing what they do best – not struggling at tasks they do the worst – and producing strong results. Some of the specialists have a specialty of getting other people to make decisions, push themselves to do new things, or to reduce the overall quantity of work to produce higher quality work. Great teams form around individuals who have strengths the whole team can use. These teams ask “how can I help?” to each other rather than saying “I’m too busy – can you ask someone else?”

On a mediocre team, it’s hard to determine what anyone does well, because everyone is meeting with each other in the same meetings. There is no time for work during the work day, because no one comes prepared to discuss items at meetings, and people spend the meeting time multitasking and doing the work they could not complete in their previous meetings. Mediocre teams leach away the strength of their individual specialists by creating an environment where no one knows how to make a decision and where no one feels empowered to ask for that decision.

Great Teams Are Resilient

Having a great team does not isolate you from conflict. Great teams are effective at meeting conflict head-on, discussing the problem, finding a solution, and then moving forward either by “disagreeing and committing” or by genuine consensus. These teams are resilient because during times of trouble team members lean on each other’s strengths and find solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

Mediocre teams fall apart or descend into chaos during stressful situations. There are few things more disappointing than thinking you’re on a great team, encountering a stressful situation, and then realizing your team is rather mediocre. Instead of the support you get from a great team, on a mediocre team it ends up being every person for themselves.

Great teams are hard to find.

I recently joined the team at Kustomer because this is a great team solving a hard problem in an important market – CRM for support customers – and I wanted to be part of that effort. So far, working at Kustomer feels similar to the atmosphere I shared with some of the team members when we worked together at Assistly. We work hard, we play hard, and we are building a business centered on our customers. But what makes a team great?

Great teams sometimes form by themselves and sometimes are made. People know a great team when they experience it. Great teams do not last forever, because culture is hard. When you get the band back together, it doesn’t always work. But when it does, it’s amazing.

Kustomer is a great team. We are crushing it. That doesn’t mean we’re always right – it means we are going after a great market with proven technology expertise, deep domain expertise, and a kick-ass attitude.

Product Strategy, Product Thoughts

(Almost) Everything is Now Self-Service

warby

If you’ve used Facebook for a while, you’ve probably realized that the the promoted ads in the right hand rail are getting more effective. For years I vowed not to click on those ads. And yesterday, I caved, and clicked an ad for Warby Parker glasses. I’ve visited this site before, and have even contemplated using the “Try at home kit” to select a pair of eyeglasses.

This time was different – with prescription in hand and my existing pair of glasses to guide me on sizing, I ordered a new pair of glasses in about 10 minutes. Transaction complete! Only after I finished and I received an email from Warby Parker asking me to take a photo with my computer to calculate a measurement not included in my prescription did I realize how mind-blowing this whole process is today.

In the olden days (pre 2012 or so), you had to go to an optician, get an eye exam, purchase from that optician (or ophthalmologist) and wait several weeks to get your glasses. You could go to Lenscrafters, Costco, or another on-site lab to get faster service, but at a cost of quality. Getting quality eyeglasses with a custom prescription and your choice of frames and colors is now a process you can complete from your smartphone in your house (or maybe even in a coffee shop in the time it takes the barista to make your drink). Let that sink in.

We are now our own service delivery for many transactions that we make. Whether that’s a good thing or not probably depends upon your perspective. For many types of buying this is fantastic – you can shop at 3am! And for other types of buying where in the past you might have needed expert advice you now get the expert advice of … an automated process. I’m not a luddite by any means but think we might be missing something here in the endless desire to control cost and maximize customer choice.

Continue reading

Product Thoughts, Startup

The Minimum Viable Feature

minViableFeature

You’ve been there. A customer asks for a thing they consider to be an easy ask and it’s not in the current product. It might actually be easy or it might be quite hard – you don’t know yet (and you have a sneaking suspicion for one or the other).

You could say “no, not ever”, or “not yet”, or “absolutely – we’ll do it for you” – there are lots of ways to solve the request side of this equation. Those solutions, however, are intimately linked to the way you go about developing your product features.

Committing to building a feature – whether it’s something you intended on building anyway or whether it’s a brand new request that fits into that strategy – requires you to define a Minimum Viable Feature. This description should contain a statement of the problem you’re trying to solve, specifically the Job to Be Done, who the feature serves, and the potential impact created by the feature. Your definition also has to be built in the context of the existing technical capability and business direction of the product.

A Minimum Viable Feature is not just the lowest common denominator of the thing the customer wants you to do and the way you want to do it. It is a carefully considered construction that delivers the job the customer wants to accomplish while laying the groundwork for how similar customers might also want to use that capability in the future. If you put your Future You hat on, you might say that the best feature design helps anticipate and address the future challenges you’ll have while not making people wait until you get there to get 80% of the benefit.

Let’s say you were building an app that let customers tell you about a home improvement problem and you wanted to get as much detail as possible from them so you could accurately estimate the issue. The simplest solution? Ask them to tell you about the scope of the problem, and perhaps take a picture of their leaky sink. The most complicated solution? Take a video of the sink and automatically diagnose the problem. The Minimum Viable Feature version of this might be a highly targeted survey that walks you through the most common problem areas of a specific home improvement area and then instructs you how to take the most helpful video or picture of a specific area to get the maximum input for your effort.

Your version of the Minimum Viable Feature will differ – but the key is to deliver enough functionality and fidelity to the job the customer wants done while building a path to the future of this feature. The more often you do this and the more specific you are about the customer, the benefit, and the way you’ll know if you’ve succeeded or failed, the closer you’ll get to that ideal.

Innovation, Product Strategy, Product Thoughts

Ideas are a Dime a Dozen


I know: ideas are a dime a dozen (or perhaps cheaper with inflation these days). Yet the process of creating, nurturing, and executing on ideas is one of the most critical tasks we do. Getting ideas from start to finish (from inspiration to the point of execution) faster means that you can choose from more of them and learn faster. This is a simple list to help you start this process to create ideas and then decide which ones to act on.

You might use this process to decide on a new startup or product idea, to imagine what your ideal customer might want, or simply to rank a list of initiatives you’d like to try when resources are not infinite (that is to say, you should be doing this all the time 😉

Getting started: get inspired

Getting inspired might be the hardest part to getting started with a project. There are a million and one tasks that get in your way and it’s hard to focus on the task at hand and give it the mental space it deserves.

How do you gain a sense of wonder? Start with the things that matter to you. It could be as simple as recognizing themes in what you do every day. It could be a place you love to go or an activity you engage in. Or it could be a nagging sense that you keep running into the same problem over and over.

Then draw your solutions on a clean sheet of paper. If you prefer to use a whiteboard, that’s cool too – just take a picture of each when you’re done. Just do this in a non-electronic format: doodling or drawing opens up important creative areas of your brain.

Generate Solutions

Great! Now that you’ve thought of an area where you’d like to generate ideas, make a huge list. The longer, the better. If it helps pick a ridiculous number of ideas, like 100. Creating the ideas is more important than filtering them or thinking about why they will or won’t work.

If you think of the ideal person who would benefit from this idea and why they would use it, that’s great! And if that person doesn’t come to mind, write the idea down anyway.

Capture The Ideas

Now, arrange these ideas into a format that makes sense for another person. A good format might be a spreadsheet where you list:

  • A short summary of the idea
  • A type of benefit (e.g. save time, organize information, gain fitness)
  • A tangible goal – this should be an expression of the benefit, e.g. “Never forget to pick the kids up from an activity again”
  • A substitute – if the person didn’t use this idea, what would they use to get this done now? (The answer might be “nothing” or “duh. This is obvious”)
  • How frequently does the person do this activity?
  • Do they spend any money on this task now?
  • A ranking of 1 (Love It!), 2 (ok), or 3 (this idea is on the list but I don’t like it right now)

Note: use a list to organize your thinking 

Capturing the ideas is mostly an exercise to help you make a first cut and see if the ideas you generated previously resonate with you. Keeping them on the list even if they are sort of lame is important to remind you of your prior thinking.

Now, Sift the Ideas and Rank

There is a sad truth: you cannot complete all of your ideas in the time you have available. What you should do at this point is pick the best ones and start the process of really working on them to see whether they are good enough in the real world to pursue.

First, check the ideas that you said were really awesome and pick the top 5 or 10. If you only have a few top ideas or if you have a lot, find the one you like least in this group and move it to a “2 – ok”. Now take one of the ideas in the OK group and figure out a way to love that idea and move it up to “1- love it!”

Get Stuff Done

Now, go act on one of the best ideas. Get something done, go and do work for a limited amount of time, and then come back to your idea list. Knowing how long you’ll need to try to get results really depends upon the tangible goal.

Your interim goal might be conversation-based and should be quantified, like talk to 20 customers and get feedback using a 6 question survey that I need to design. And to get to that goal you might have to identify a larger input goal, like contact enough customers to generate 20 conversations in 7 days.

When you generate results from testing your initial ideas, you’ll have better feedback to evaluate whether they are immediate successes or need additional feedback. And that process of iterating through your ideas will also inform your opinion on whether this is a “good idea” or whether it should be stacked lower on your idea list.

Generating, refining, and testing your ideas is a practice and a skill. Improving your idea process is critical to being a better decision-maker – and fun too!

Customer Success, Marketing Strategy, Product Strategy

Should you invest in Product, Sales, or Marketing?

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/billybrown00/4982722491
photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/billybrown00/4982722491

Imagine the sales call…

When someone calls you to discuss a product you just signed up for, how do you feel? Depending upon where you are in your buyer’s journey, you might welcome the call, feel ambivalent, or be annoyed that the company called you at all (especially if you haven’t yet given them your phone number). What often happens is a mismatch between the relationship strength — the relationship between you and the company necessary for you to have a good experience with their product — and your goals. Likewise, the transaction cost — the effort required for you to experience the product enough to know whether you’re ready to buy — may also be fundamentally misplaced.

A great (first time or otherwise) product experience matches the relationship strength needed by the typical customer. How much help will the customer need from you to get what they need from your product? This product experience also matches the transaction cost that customer expects. Is it too much work for the customer to do the work they need to do, with or without your help? Answering these two questions helps you scope your investment in your product to focus on sales, marketing, or product efforts. Is the relationship effort and cost needed small — like when you try a free product that might not bring you immediate benefit — or is it quite high? You might be auditioning to solve a pivotal problem for a large business while working on a deadline. Continue reading

Customer Development, Customer Strategy, Life Hacks, Marketing Strategy, Startup

How to Make Your Own Explainer Videos (for under $149)

Creating an Effective Explainer Video

A prospective customer may have only 30 to 60 seconds to understand your Unique Selling Proposition. When you’re not right there with the customer, one of the best ways to share the benefit of your product is a brief and effective “Explainer Video”. You’ve seen them – they are the 2-4 minute video clips that accompany almost any product these days. Depending upon your budget, the time available, and your level of effort, it’s easy to spend lots of money building an explainer video and not end up with much in return. The goal is to create a “good-enough” explainer video for a minimum amount of money that won’t embarrass you or your company and will give you a good template for future action.

Creating an effective piece of content requires some time and effort, but it’s not that hard to start. I created an explainer video for creating explainer videos (how meta) to demonstrate the process and have eight tips to get you ready for “lights, camera, ACTION!”

Tip 1: Write a Script.

It’s easy to come up with words on the fly, and they sound even better when you took a few minutes to write them down. To get the right level of detail, think of your script either as talking points or as a word-for-word reading that you can record and re-record until you get it right. The basics that you’ll want to follow are as follows:

  • What will happen in the videowhat’s the big idea that you’re trying to convey? Usually this is a bite-sized concept that someone can understand in two to five minutes.
  • What you will say – what idea are you trying to convey right now? Demonstrating a portion of the screen or an easy-to-use idea makes more sense if you don’t just read your script or your slide.
  • What you will demonstrateshow, don’t tell to get the maximum impact.You may need to show something more than once to get the viewer’s attention and to communicate what you mean. As a teacher friend of mine says, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, Tell them, and then Tell them what you told them.” It’s a good model for planning your teaching approach.

Practice each of these until you have a relatively smooth delivery. Some explainer sections may come together in a single take, while others require a bit of editing to get right.

Tip 2: Create a Motion Graphic Intro or Exit.

Video walkthroughs always look more professional when they have a snappy introduction and exit. Perhaps this is because we are all conditioned on 15- and 30-second commercials, and it remains that the intro is a worthwhile investment of your time. You can use iMovie or ScreenFlow (as I did in the overview above) or you can use a service like GetMoovd to build a 5-10 second introduction. The key here is to end up with something that looks and sounds professional – that look and feel lends credibility.

Note: if you’re not good at this part, this is an excellent item to outsource. Whether you use oDesk, 99Designs, or some other source, getting a freelancer to create an intro clip is much cheaper than hiring a designer to build the entire explainer video for you.

Tip 3: Buy a Decent Microphone.

bluesnowballThe first thing that many people recognize about a video (paradoxically, it seems) is how it sounds. The better a piece sounds, the higher the quality bar to the listener. You may not be a professional sound engineer, and there are a few things to do and make an immediate impact on the results.

First, use a real microphone, not just your iPhone earbuds. I recommend the Blue Snowball – it’s a USB mic and works well to eliminate a lot of the typical background noise you might here (clicks, etc). I also found that investing in a $5 microphone shield made it easier for me to avoid some of the vocal “pops” I’ve heard before when I try to record.

The Snowball has a standard microphone mount so it will also fit on a stand if you’d like to go “professional”. If you don’t want to spend $50 on a microphone, you can probably get away with a $25 headset that has a noise canceling boom microphone.

The Blue Snowball is a great choice for getting started however, and also makes you feel just a little bit like a newscaster or a Rock Star while you’re laying down your lines.

 

 

Tip 4: Spend $99 on Screen Capture Software

screenflowImageOnce your audio sounds good, you’ll also need to make some improvements on the video side. Creating videos with solid, consistent transitions and unobtrusive titles is also a great investment toward the goal of winning customer trust and time.

ScreenFlow is the best screen recorder you will find for the Mac. I’ve used Camtasia, Premiere, iMovie, and Flash. This one makes it really easy to record the screen (even allowing you to record the ScreenFlow software itself or record output on an iPad or iPhone.

Adding transitions, editing sound, and fitting things together is really easy. When you’re ready to publish, ScreenFlow also connects directly to popular video hosting sites like YouTube or Wistia. In short, this is money well spent and the investment (a small one, really) is worth your time and money.

 

Tip 5: Take the time to Smooth the Vocals

backgroundNoise

Now that you’ve invested in a microphone and the screen recording software, make sure you invest a little time in making the audio sound better as well. You can use software like Audacity or GarageBand if you want to do some serious processing, and I’d recommend just using the tools in ScreenFlow. Simply lower the background audio, smooth the volume levels, add a small amount of vocal effect, and remove background hiss and the vocals will sound much better.

A note of caution – it sounds like a great idea to filter the vocals with a fancy filter. It never comes out sounding like you want, so just a touch of filter is probably a better idea.

Your goal is to bring the vocals out of the background and make sure that they sound consistent – not to have the listener be surprised by an overloaded vocal.

 

Tip 6: Add Callouts to your Video

Professional explainer videos help you to know where to look in each segment of the video. This might take the form of a low-key “lower-third” caption on the screen, an animated callout to accompany a multi-step procedure, or other styles of getting the customer’s attention.

speechBubble

Good callouts are:

  1. Not necessarily a repetition of an audio track
  2. Limited in the number of words – they are not a book – and help to bridge gaps in audio or video
  3. Linked to the “Big Idea”

Bad callouts have these characteristics:

  1. Take too long to read
  2. Distract the viewer
  3. Leave more questions than answers

Building callouts is easier said than done. One good method of determining whether you have the right level of instruction is to show the video to testers when it’s partway finished and ask them for feedback. If they ask for callouts, it’s a good sign that the script needs to be refined or that callouts are needed.

Tip 7: Create Standard Transitions

In addition to callouts, you’ll need standard transitions between sections to help the viewer know what’s happening next. These provide a visual and mental break for the viewer. You might think of using a “Lower Third” technique, e.g.

lowerThird

A simple treatment catches your eye. Use Bold to set off parts of your text or italic to emphasize a point. And try not to do too much. Transitions should show up gracefully, add meaningful value, and then disappear. If they become the focal point, you said too much with the graphic.

Tip 8: Add some background music

Last and certainly not least, the tone of the background music sets the mood for the video. Consider adding a backing track to your video at a very low volume level, in addition to whatever main music you will be adding. Whether you create a simple loop that adds a sound texture or do something more elaborate, building sound layers will make your explainer video sound more professional and interesting.

While these tips give you the fundamentals for creating a great explainer video, they are hardly the last tips out there. If you’d like to read more about the topic, check out The Greatest Explainer Videos or read the book The Art of Explanation.

Want to do this yourself?

Find these resources at
http://bit.ly/ExplainerVideoContent – a Dropbox link to the raw files I used to create this video
http://bit.ly/MakeExplainerVideo – the script you can use to create your own Explainer Video.