Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Sunday, August 17, 2008
- It's good to be king -- being an entrepreneur is the best job I've had. Every day your job is new and different; you constantly have to push yourself in new directions. You no longer have to say, "Well, I'm just an engineer, but..." -- you have a great excuse to take an interest in everything. Working in an environment you shaped to your own beliefs about how a company should be run is incredible (and humbling!). And of course there are sometimes financial rewards, although it's still a great job regardless.
- Losing sucks -- shutting down a company is unbelievably difficult. It affects your home life, your health, your job prospects, your financial stability. Professional investors are grown-ups, but it's still extremely disheartening to lose the money people invested based on belief in you. If your backers include friends or family, it's extremely difficult to have to tell them the company is closing and their money is gone. Most entrepreneurs fail several times before succeeding, too, so losing is both terrible and nearly inevitable. Fight as hard as you can against it.
- Building to flip is building to flop -- this is taken from Jason Fried, and he's right. People who start out with only one goal, to sell to a big portal, will find their options are too limited. Plan as many paths to success as possible for your company, and always have a Plan B when acquisition (or whatever path you choose first) doesn't work.
- Prudence becomes procrastination -- it's great to research your market and talk to potential buyers about your ideas. It's terrible to let an excess of this become a impediment to getting started. Too much prudence edges away from research and into procrastination.
- Momentum builds on itself -- just start. Do whatever you can. Draw a user interface. Write a spec. Make something, anything, that people can see and touch and try. A prototype is worth ten thousand words. Once you start moving, you will find that people start to carry you along.
- Jump when you are more excited than afraid -- lack of fear is irrational, and too much fear is debilitating. Make the jump into your business when you have considered the fear, and come out more excited than afraid.
- Pay attention to the idea that won't leave you alone -- this is taken from Paul Hawken's Growing a Business. Sometimes an idea catches hold of you and you find you can't put it down. Pay attention to that! Just start working on it. Can't get yourself to do anything on it? Move on. Find yourself waking up out of bed to write down new ideas about it? That's a good one to choose.
- If you keep your secrets from the market, the market will keep its secrets from you -- entrepreneurs too often worry about keeping their brilliant secrets locked away; we should all worry much more about springing a surprise on a disinterested market (anyone remember the Segway?). To quote Howard Aiken: "Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats."
- Immediate yes is immediate no -- does everyone immediately tell you your idea is great? Run away from it. If the idea is that obvious, the market will be filled with competitors, and you'll find yourself scrambling. One good test: when the New York Times Magazine puts out its annual "Year in Ideas" issue, is your idea in it? Then don't do it. You're already too late.
- Build what you know -- this is the most basic advice of idea generation: scratch an itch you have yourself. To make a great company, stop and ensure that your need is broadly felt, and that your solution is broadly applicable -- not everyone spends their life in front of a computer, remember.
- Give people what they need, not what they say they need -- interviews are tricky. People will swear up and down that they would buy a product you describe if only it were available, and then fail to do so as soon as it is. Likewise, in conversation an idea can sound terrible, but in actualization the idea can become a compelling product. You have to sherlock out the truth of the interest people express, and "yes/no" questions are usually less useful than "how much" or "how bad" questions.
- Your ideas will get better the more you know about business -- engineers hate to hear this, but you can generalize up quite far from here: the more you know about everything, the better all of your ideas will get! If you want to start a business and your strength is in development, learning about pricing, sales, marketing, finance, and yes, even HR, all of it will make your product ideas stronger and better.
- Three is fine; two, divine -- having too many co-founders makes decisions hard to reach; if you're on your own, you have to bear all of the stress and worry about the success of the company. In my judgment, three people can do well together, but having two founders is best.
- Work only with people you like and believe in -- I once heard Eric Schmidt say something along the lines of, "The older I get, the more I think all that matters is working with people you like." If you're smart and talented, you're probably going to like a lot of smart and talented people. Working with people you like is so much more fun, and often more productive, than fighting against someone who may be smart and talented but just isn't a great fit for you.
- Work with people who like and believe in you, just naturally -- maybe you are very persuasive, and can talk people into working with you against their better instincts. Especially for co-founders and early employees, don't try that hard. Find the people that naturally want to work with you, and nudge them into the roles where you need them. You'll have more fun and get more done.
- Great things are made by people who share a passion, not by those who have been talked into one -- a corollary of the last; you can spark a passion in someone, but you can't do it without some fuel to catch. Better to wait, and find the person who is already inclined to believe in your cause. You may talk someone into co-founding a company with you, but will they stick with it through ups and downs if they had to be persuaded that hard?
- Cool ideas are useless without great needs -- this is the classic engineers' entrepreneurial mistake (or at least I'd like to think so, since I've made it). Techies love tech, and a new technology can produce a lot of companies that don't really meet a need. Better to start with the need, and then see how what you know can produce a better answer to that need. (Marketers tend to have the opposite problem: real, pressing needs with completely unworkable solutions.)
- Build the simplest thing possible -- engineers have the hardest time with this, with not overdesigning for the need they're addressing. Make the simplest possible product that makes a significant dent in that need, and you'll do far better than you would addressing two or three needs at once. Simplicity leads to clarity in everything you do.
- Solve problems, not potential problems -- you can waste a lot of money implementing solutions for problems you don't have yet, and may never have. Work on the biggest, most pressing problems today, and put aside everything else.
- Test everything with real people -- it's unbelievable how helpful this is. Go find civilians, real people who use computers because they have to and not because they love to. Find them in Starbucks, or at the library, or in a college computer lab. Give them $20 for 20 minutes, and you'll be paid back a hundred times over.
- Start with nothing, and have nothing for as long as possible -- small budgets give big focus (probably another line I'm stealing from Jason Fried: it sounds like something he'd say...) Don't go out and raise a ton of money right away. Instead, give yourself just enough to get going, and use the limits that imposes to motivate yourself.
- The best investor pitches are plainspoken and entertaining (not in that order) -- think about what this implies. A plainspoken pitch is the surface of a very solid business. If you have to fudge and lie to get investors interested, why is that? If you're running a great business, it is not hard at all to lure investors into it; the worse your business, the bigger (and more odious) your fundraising task is. Entertaining implies a fun person to work with, and VCs like working with people they like as much as the rest of us do. If you don't bring the funny, bring the person who brings the funny.
- Never let on that you're keeping a secret -- telling an investor "I don't want to talk about that" is terrible. It's the natural converse of being plainspoken. It's good to be aware, though, that some potential investors will listen to you and then share your information with your direct comptitors, and not always because they're invested in those comptetitors. Knowing that, you have to keep some secrets -- but be as diplomatic about that as possible. Respond to the idea behind the question, without giving away more than you feel comfortable discussing. Learn to steer the conversation in the way you want it to go. And then give up more information as you become more comfortable with the potential investor.
- No means maybe and yes means maybe -- you should never take a "no" from someone you want to work with. Accept the no, ask for feedback, and then just keep sending them updates on how much butt you're kicking in the market. During one company, three of the five term sheets I collected came from VC firms that told me "no" originally. Conversely, though, the only money in the bank is actual money actually in the bank. Everything else is just a possibility, and you have to treat it as such. Don't stop fundraising until you have a firm commitment for the funding you need, and don't accept halfway promises like, "We'll fund you if another firm comes in." Keep on driving until the wire transfer is complete.
- For investors, the product is nothing -- the classic engineer's VC pitch has ten slides about the product and two about the academic achievements of the founders. That's a terrible pitch. One slide should be about the product, while the rest cover the market, competitors, financials, funding history, and the relevant experience of the team. The product matters far less to most investors than the reactions of customers, the properties of the market, and the credibility of the team. Obsess about the product on your own time; present your business in all of its parts.
- The best way to get investment is not to need it -- if you have a running business with real customers and you're paying all your bills, you are much more likely to get a funding round than if you need the round in order to survive or succeed. The pitch that goes, "We could accelerate our growth with more money" is much more compelling than, "I need your money or our doors will close."
I'm sure other people have their own rules of thumb; what are yours?
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
2 stories you might have heard of:
Difference between Focusing on Problems and Focusing on Solutions
When NASA began the launch of astronauts into space, they found out that the pens wouldn't work at zero gravity (ink won't flow down to the writing surface). To solve this problem, it took them one decade and $12 million. They developed a pen that worked at zero gravity, upside down, underwater, in practically any surface including crystal and in a temperature range from below freezing to over 300 degrees C.
And what did the Russians do...?? They used a pencil.
One of the most memorable case studies on Japanese management was the case of the empty soapbox, which happened in one of Japan 's biggest cosmetics companies. The company received a complaint that a consumer had bought a soapbox that was empty. Immediately the authorities isolated the problem to the assembly line, which transported all the packaged boxes of soap to the delivery department. For some reason, one soapbox went through the assembly line empty.
Management asked its engineers to solve the problem. Post-haste, the engineers worked hard to devise an X-ray machine with high-resolution monitors manned by two people to watch all the soapboxes that passed through the line to make sure they were not empty. No doubt, they worked hard and they worked fast but they spent a whoopee amount to do so.
But when a rank-and-file employee in a small company was posed with the same problem, he did not get into complications of X-rays, etc., but instead came out with another solution. He bought a strong industrial electric fan and pointed it at the assembly line. He switched the fan on, and as each soapbox passed the fan, it simply blew the empty boxes out of the line.
Moral: Always look for simple solutions.
Devise the simplest possible solution that solves the problems
Always Focus on solutions & not on problems.
Monday, June 23, 2008
One of the big advantages that startups have is that there aren’t many people.
As companies get larger (even a little bit larger), one of the very common consequences is that decisions become group activities. Stakeholders pop up from every direction. The notion of ownership gets diluted down to consensus builder. The objective moves from coming up with something great, to coming up with something that doesn’t get you fired.
And the result very often is that product innovation largely grinds to a halt.
There is no question that in larger companies there really are many stakeholders, and they really must be taken into account, as there is much more riding on your decisions than in a startup. But many companies struggle because they don’t know how to manage the stakeholders yet still make progress and innovate.
In this note I want to spell out the technique that I use to overcome this all too common problem.
But first, the key for every product discovery effort is to identify the three key people – the product manager, the user experience lead, and the product development lead. These are the three minds that must collaborate closely to solve problems in new and useful ways.
The product manager plays the lead role and brings to the table the knowledge of the functionality required, and is responsible for making sure the product has value.
The user experience lead represents the user’s behavior and mental model, and works to ensure the result is something that users can figure out.
And the product development lead brings to the table deep knowledge about what is possible, and is responsible for ensuring that the product that is defined is something that can actually be delivered.
Lots of other people are going to want to join your little party. Once in a while you may decide to include a guest or two, but it is absolutely critical that you keep this team small. You simply won’t innovate in a large group setting. This is not just a brainstorming session. You will be working through literally hundreds of small and large decisions, and your progress will slow to a crawl if you don’t have that small group of smart, empowered people.
It also doesn’t mean that your small group doesn’t have help. You have the resources of the company available to you as you need it. The most common resources are from the user experience extended team: especially prototyping, user research, visual designer, and user testing help. But you may need to go talk to legal about a sensitive issue, or the analytics people about how something is used today, or maybe you will talk to someone in site security about something you are nervous about.
The key is that your core team is empowered. Empowered to represent the stakeholders and to make decisions. But this doesn’t mean that you are given a blank check. You will have to review your decisions with the various stakeholders and make adjustments where necessary.
This is where I need to drill down to explain what I mean.
Each of the three members of your core product discovery team represent many different stakeholders:
The product manager as the overall product owner typically represents the business owner, company executives, sales, marketing, product marketing, legal, finance and customer support.
The user experience lead is very often an interaction designer but depending on the project may come from one of the other design areas, but in any case must represent interaction design, visual design, user research, usability engineering and often content/editorial.
The product development lead is very often from the architecture team or a lead engineer, but again, depending on the project may come from one of the other areas of product development, and must represent architecture, engineering, test automation, site operations, and site security.
For this model to work, the three members of the product discovery team really do need to be entrusted to give their best efforts while keeping in mind the needs of their stakeholders. But in truth it’s not that long of a leash. Your product discovery team still need to be able to show what you have come up with and are proposing before the product is actually built. This is one of the benefits of creating a prototype. You can show this prototype to any or all of their stakeholders so that they can see the reason for the decisions and what exactly is being proposed.
Often there is still some back and forth as stakeholders balance their issues against the potential of the product, but I can only tell you that the nature of the discussion is completely different when stakeholders can see the vision in a clickable prototype versus just talked about in the abstract or in some form of paper spec.
Moving to this model does require a little bit of a leap of faith. Management and stakeholders have to be willing to entrust you to represent their interests instead of being personally involved at the level they may be used to.
But the notion of a small group of talented and motivated people has always been key to coming up with great products. It is the basic ingredients of a startup, and you need to make sure you continue this as your company grows if you want to continue to create products that matter.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
This article is from the Silicon Valley Product Group Blog quite some time ago and I don't know who the author was. I posted it here because I 100% believe in what it's advocating and I personally walk the talk. Here's the content of the article:
I do not believe great products happen by accident. In every case, behind every great product I find that there are certain truths. Today I want to share ten such truths. I try to keep these in mind on every product effort:
1. Engineering is important, but user experience design is more important, and usually more difficult
2. Engineers are typically terrible user experience designers; engineers think in terms of implementation models, but users think in terms of conceptual models
3. User Experience design means both interaction design and visual design
4. Functionality (product requirements) and user experience design are inherently intertwined
5. Product ideas must be tested - early and often - on actual target users in order to come up with a good user experience
6. We need to test (validate) usability, desirability and feasibility – before proceeding to engineering
7. We need a high-fidelity prototype, so we can quickly, easily and frequently test ideas on real users with a realistic user experience
8. The high-fidelity prototype is the most effective way to communicate the required user experience with the full product team
9. The job of the product manager is to identify the minimal possible product that meets the objectives and provides the desired user experience – minimizing time to market, user and implementation complexity
10. Once the minimal successful product has been designed and validated, it is not something that can be piecemealed and expect the same results.
To the author of this article - thank you for the inspiration.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
If they’re to do their job most effectively, designers should be brought into the innovation process at the very earliest stages. Too many companies still make the mistake of keeping business strategy and design activities separate. Typically, marketers conceptualize a new product based on company strategy; the project team gets input from various areas of the company and creates a business case; and senior executives make a final choice from among the possibilities they’re given. Only then does the idea go to the designers.
That sequential method ensures that the product is aligned with strategy, allows the team to create buy-in and build consensus, and gives senior executives an array of options. But it takes a long time, so even if the original concept drew on real-world data about users, the company is inevitably unable to adapt to rapid, unforeseen changes in markets and user preferences.
The solution is to bring in designers at the very beginning of the process, because designers (if they do what they’re supposed to) will put prototypes into circulation and share users’ responses and attitudes with the project team, even as the business case is being developed. That enables the company to nimbly adjust to changes in market opportunities long before the product concept is set in stone.
From concept through development, designers should function in parallel with corporate decision makers, creating prototypes for a number of variations on a product and then testing them with users and, if appropriate, partners. Tracking how customers’ ways of using a product evolve over time also makes it possible for designers to identify desirable new features and, in some cases, create new functionality in conjunction with users.
Planners should concurrently be considering the business implications, asking questions such as “How much would it cost to incorporate this new feature?” and “How should we respond to users’ changing needs?” The team should continually feed new information from user research and prototype analysis into the evolving business strategy. Constraints that emerge, such as price or a decision to offer standard versus premium features, may be used to inform the next prototype, which can then be evaluated through more formal testing. And the cycle repeats.
... You can read the rest of the article here.
Shared this article with my CEO and here's his advice:
It is a good idea to get as many people involved as possible.
However, to do that we first need..
1) A strategic direction and a blue plan so that everyone know where is the direction. Do we have that?
2) We need to hire smart designer who understand the business and can contribute their ideas. No point just get more people in the meeting if their contribution is minimum. How many of such designer we have. Can we get more?
3) We need capable managers who can handle the discussion and involvement of more people. Do we have such capable managers?
I won't tell you my answers...But it is the sort of questions you should be asking yourselves :)
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
It can be applied to organizations as well.
The 3+1 success factors of evolution are:
1. Variation - We need to allow variation to happen, aside from just appreciating differences. It is the variation in genes that have made mankind adapt to the changing world.
2. Inheritance - While we need to embrace variation, it is inheritance that made us who we are today and the reason why mankind is different from other species.
3. Selection - The process that ensures the strong survive and the weak eliminated. Like it or not - the environment, or the customers will enforce this process on businesses. In order to survive, organizations need to have the selection process within itself as well - keeping the strong people, process, product and weeding out the weak ones.
And the last one:
What do I mean? Read this article on Forbes to understand more.
Friday, April 4, 2008
Morality, to have any meaning at all, must not be exhortation, sermon, or good intentions. It must be practices. Specifically:
- The focus of the organization must be on performance. The 1st requirement of the spirit of high performance is high performance standards, for the group as well as each individual.
- The focus of the organization must be on opportunities rather than on problems.
- The decisions that affect people - their placement, pay, promotion, demotion and severance - must express the values and beliefs of the organization.
- Finally, in its people decisions, management must demonstrate that it realizes that integrity is one absolute requirement for any manager, the one quality that he has to bring with him and cannot be expected to acquire later on.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
In other words, the hygiene factors are those that prevent people from leaving your company, while the motivating factors are those that will keep people in your company.
For example, keeping the pantry well stocked with fancy F&B is a hygiene factor, while efforts in personal and professional development are motivating factors.
Both needs to be done, but many would agree that an organization needs to pay significantly more attention to the motivators, towards 80/20. Meeting all the hygiene factors does not mean people will stay in the organization at all.
The same theory can be applied to products. Many times we spend too much time and attention on the hygiene factors, working hard to keep customers "happy". The real question we need to ask when a product function is being developed, is "Is this going to help me sell more products to more customers?"
If the answer is no - then most likely you are only working on the hygiene factors.
Friday, March 7, 2008
Here's what Peter Drucker says:
"I know a good many successful entrepreneurs. Not one of them has a propensity for risk taking. Most successful innovators in real life are colorless figures, and much more likely to spend hours on cash-flow projections than to dash off looking for risks. They are not risk-focused, they are opportunity-focused."
Friday, February 29, 2008
Thursday, February 28, 2008
S - substitute, simplify
C - change, combine
A - adapt, adopt
M - magnify, minify
M - modify, multiply
P - package, purloin
E - elevate, eliminate
R - reverse, rearrange
Here's the list
- The desire to control - over one's destiny, finances, health, relationship and even food and shelter.
- I'm better than you - the need to have status and feel significant.
- Joy of discovery - joy of discovering is uncovering the unexpected joy.
- Revaluing - as baby boomers enjoy a new phase in life, they are going back to the things they loved as kids.. but with a new twist.
- Family values - quality time with families are still of utmost importance to many societies.
- The desire to belong - people want to be associated with people like themselves, they show products like badges.
- Fun is its own rewards - people want to have fun.
- Poverty of time - nobody has enough time (but you can't substitute convenience for quality).
- The desire to get the best that can be got - assert your product leadership position.
- Self achievement - "be the best that you can be" is a strong motivating factor; intrinsic rewards are as important as extrinsic rewards.
- Love of cosmo - sex sells, so does love and romance.
- The Nurturing response - people like to nurture even more than being nurtured, make your customers the hero with your product.
- Reinventing oneself - give them a chance to start over.
- Make me smarter - people want to FEEL that they are smart for buying your product.
- Power and dominance - aspiration to be more than in control of your environment.
- Wish fulfillment - give the consumer to power to fly, market to aspirations.
You can read Barry's own description here.
Other wisdoms I've learned today:
"Perception is reality."
"There are no features - there are only benefits. Customer buy benefits, not features."
"Focus on delivering outcomes, not products."
And a note on measuring success (and all the talk about KPIs):
"Simplicity applies to measurement also. Too often we measure everything and understand nothing." ~ Jack Welch.
Valuable day indeed.