Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Technology

Let Your Personality Shine in Your Product

A couple of years ago, the folks at startup accelerator Y Combinator put on a series of lectures called “How to Start a Startup” at Stanford University.

My favorite lecture was lecture 7, “How to Build Products Users Love“, which was presented by Kevin Hale, Founder of online form company Wufoo and now Partner at YC.

There is a TON of great information about user onboarding, customer support, and much more.

But the enduring theme that I took out of the lecture was how to incorporate your personality into your product to make it something that your users love to use.

With Wufoo, they did things like include interesting microcopy, like having “RARRR!” pop up when you hover over the dinosaur login button:

 

Wufoo login microcopy

 

 

Another example was from one of Wufoo’s customers who included some hilarious microcopy in their sign-up form:

Corkd form microcopy

 

Every time you open Slack, they’ll have an amusing message waiting for you to start your day:

Slack quote

 

Of course, you need to build a product that provides value to the user, is fast, doesn’t crash all the time, has solid design, and has all of the other baseline things that a good product should have.

But these little user experience details count a lot, and incorporating your personality into your product wherever possible can delight users and keep them coming back. It can build trust, put a smile on users’ faces, and make them feel loved.

While product designs will differ, many products that do similar things tend to feel the same. There are many online form tools like Wufoo that get the job done. But the microcopy and other details that reflect the company’s personality can be the difference in winning or losing that customer.

Have you encountered a product where you saw the company’s personality shine through? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Testing Mockups Before Coding – Lessons Learned from Past Startups Pt. 4

mockups

This is the fourth post I’ve written about some of the mistakes I’ve made with past startups. You can find the other three here:

  1. Alignment with Idea – Lessons Learned from Past Startups 
  2. Alignment with Co-Founders – Lessons Learned From Past Startups Pt. 2
  3. Real Customer Development – Lessons Learned from Past Startups Pt. 3

This week we continue the theme of customer development mistakes I’ve made in the past. Similar to last week’s post, this one is about building the application too early, and how you can test your concept with wireframes and mockups before coding it.

Lack of testing mockups for Dokkit and ribl

We didn’t do any customer development for Dokkit and built an alpha version of the app too early.

After some debate about what the app might look like, my co-founders cranked out the V1 of the app in a couple of months.

A smarter path would have been to create mockups of the app and test them with our target audience.

You can create clickable mockups using tools like InVision, Balsamiq, or Mockflow (which I use) that simulate how the app might work and behave. It won’t look like the polished app you envision, but it can reflect the core features and functionality that the first version of your app might have. And you can create pretty detailed mockups in a few hours or days, not months.

Same with ribl. Instead of spending a couple of months to build the first version of the app, we could have created mobile mockups with InVision, Fluid UI, or the many other mobile mockup tools on the market.

And we could have tested these mockups on both Android and iPhone before spending all the time building for both platforms (another big mistake that I’ll probably blog about in a future post).

Because you can edit mockups easily, you can rapidly incorporate your testers’ feedback into the next version of your mockups and test them again. This rapid iteration cycle will allow you to continuously improve the “product” to the point where you’ll feel pretty comfortable that you’re building something people want.

Testing mockups with WinOptix

After I believed that the concept of WinOptix was validated via over 40 customer development interviews, I started working on the mockups.

It took me a decent amount of time putting these mockups together because I just didn’t have a strong vision of what the app might look like. I got some great input from Dave and Carolina, the developer and UX designer whom I’m working with, and incorporated their feedback into the designs.

After we were done with creating the mockups, I had a bad feeling that the tests were going to go horribly and that the mockups were completely wrong.

There was only one way to find out.

I reached back out to the people whom I interviewed and up until today, I’ve shown seven of them the mockups.

We weren’t as wrong as I thought we’d be, which was pleasantly surprising. I received some excellent feedback about changes that need to be made, features that should be added and subtracted, and what parts of the mockups really stood out.

It would have taken a few months to build a first version of the app that I mocked up in a couple of weeks. So we saved a ton of time, and I saved a bunch of my development budget.

My goal is to show the mockups to at least 15 people.

The ideal situation is that one of the test subjects becomes so impressed with the value that WinOptix might bring to their organization that they’ll pre-pay us to build the app. If that doesn’t happen, hopefully a couple of the respondents will agree to trial the app when our V1 goes live.

Regardless, we’ll review all of the feedback and determine what changes need to be made and how to proceed from there.

Conclusion

Testing mockups is a continuation of the early-stage customer development process and is a MUCH cheaper and faster way to obtain feedback from your target customer.

Your mockups might be completely wrong, or they may be on point. Either way, you’ll have a much better idea of what your next steps are without spending tens of thousands of dollars and/or months of your time coding the first version of your application.

We’ll see what happens as things progress with WinOptix, but testing mockups has been really beneficial so far.

I learned this lesson the hard way and I hope you won’t have to!

Here are some other resources about how to use mockups before building your app:

What are your thoughts about testing mockups before coding your app? Have you had success doing this? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

OpenTable vs. Yelp for restaurant reviews – what I learned from making dinner reservations

restaurant_interior

When you’re looking for restaurant reviews, where do you go?

I think most of you would say Yelp. I tend to do the same.

But earlier this week, while I was searching for a restaurant to make a rezzie for Valentine’s Day, I realized that OpenTable has SO MANY MORE reviews than Yelp. Did you know that?

For Rural Society (where we’re going on Tuesday – have you been?), Yelp has 280 reviews, while OpenTable has more than two times the number, 571.

For Woodward Table, Yelp has 370 reviews, while OpenTable has 1136! More than 3x!

For Art and Soul, Yelp has 719 reviews and OpenTable has 3840! That’s more than 5x!

What’s going on here?

The questions I pondered were:

  1. Why is Yelp so much more top of mind than OpenTable when looking for restaurant ratings and reviews?
  2. Why does OpenTable have so many more reviews?
  3. Which site should I trust more when looking for restaurant reviews?

Why is Yelp so much more top of mind than OpenTable when looking for restaurant ratings and reviews?

This is the case because Yelp’s primary reason for existence is to provide reviews of local businesses, primarily restaurants, to its users.

One the other hand, OpenTable’s main use case is to make reservations, and the reviews are a secondary feature.

Thus, Yelp is able to focus on communicating its core value proposition of restaurant ratings and reviews. So when they run online or TV ads, they can focus on how they have real reviews from real people. Then when their users talk about their app, they’ll use the same jargon.

That focus can be a very powerful thing in staying top of mind and acquiring users.

Why does OpenTable have so many more reviews?

The reason why OpenTable has so many more reviews is simple – because they own the transaction of making reservations.

People primarily use Yelp to research restaurants they might eat at. And while you can make reservations through Yelp (they actually had a partnership with OpenTable for years to do so), this is a secondary offering. There are relatively few transactions that happen on Yelp.

You use OpenTable to transact, and that’s a very powerful place for them to be. In order to make a rezzie, you need to sign up and login. Then they can capture and store your info and restaurant preferences, and deliver deals and specials to you.

And because they own that transaction, they are able to prompt you for a review after each time you’ve gone to a restaurant, which is why they have so many more reviews than Yelp.

Owning the transaction was one of the primary reasons why Unilever spent $1 billion to acquire Dollar Shave Club.

Because Unilever typically sold their products through supermarkets and drug stores, they had no relationship with the end customer. They had no idea who was buying their product and how often. On the other hand, Dollar Shave Club had tons of information about their customers’ buying habits.

Apparently, that’s worth a lot of money.

Which site should I trust more when looking for restaurant reviews?

This is an interesting question.

Yelp has done a great job recruiting reviewers who write very in-depth, comprehensive reviews of their experiences. Most Yelp reviews are multiple paragraphs long and many include images. On the other hand, the reviews on OpenTable are typically much shorter and less detailed.

But with Yelp, you can only give a single star rating, which represents the overall experience with your meal. On OpenTable, you can provide ratings for food, ambiance, service, and value, which give the reader a more multi-faceted profile of the dining experience. Both are on a scale of 1-5, which I really hate. It doesn’t give the reviewer enough of a range to give a meaningful rating; I prefer 1-7. Just sayin.

And the amount of reviews! Yelp has significantly fewer reviews per restaurant than OpenTable. If you’re a proponent of the wisdom of the crowds, OpenTable is the place to be.

And from a small sample size that I looked at, it seems like the ratings on Yelp, on average, are lower than that of OpenTable. Are Yelpers more discerning? I’m not sure.

Conclusion

I found it very interesting when I discovered that OpenTable had so many more reviews.

From this discovery, I came to two conclusions.

Yelp will probably still be the first place I look when searching for restaurant reviews, but I think I’ll also refer to OpenTable’s reviews for more context.

I also realized how valuable owning the transaction is for a business; in this case, for amassing a high volume of reviews. OpenTable has a great business where restaurants pay them for every reservation made by a diner, and they are certainly the market leader when it comes to online restaurant reservations.

And even though reviews are a secondary feature of the platform, they are extremely valuable. OpenTable has done a great job in amassing so many more reviews than Yelp. And I think if they wanted to highlight their restaurant reviews to garner more traffic and go head-on against Yelp, they can certainly do so effectively.

Funny how much you can learn from making dinner reservations, huh?

Photo courtesy of Tzahy Lerner on Wikimedia Commons

I love when things just work

Good products just seamlessly work, with no problems. I love when that happens.

My Macbook, even though it’s old, still works just fine. My Android Nexus 5 phone has lasted almost three years (a lifetime for smartphones) without being buggy. My thermos keeps my tea hot for hours, just like the label said it would.

Comcast cable and internet works half the time (thank God I have Fios now). The Bluetooth connection in my car sucks. The Hootsuite Android app, while valuable to someone who manages multiple social media accounts, sometimes doesn’t listen to me. My dishwasher is the quietest dishwasher I’ve ever used but the dishes don’t always come out clean.

If you can depend on a product just doing its job as advertised, that’s a good product. The other bells and whistles are just gravy.

Some of the best products are the ones we don’t have to think about. It’s pretty simple – build something that works, do what you say you can do, and everyone wins.

I love when things just work.

What are some of the products that just work for you? Talk to me in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

Two topics – being sick sucks, and NFL on Twitter

I’ve been sick the last couple of days, so I didn’t write a blog post yesterday. To make up for it, I’m going to write about two topics today. Yay!

Being sick sucks

First topic – being sick sucks. Not just because it physically doesn’t feel good, but it makes me feel worthless.

As much as lying on the couch watching Band of Brothers and other TV shows sounds great, being sick makes me feel that I am shirking my other responsibilities, inconveniencing others, and disrupting people’s schedules.

First, I got no work done the last couple of days, and that work is piling up. Doesn’t make me feel good.

And I’ve had to move a bunch of meetings around. I had to cancel a podcast interview (I would have sounded like shit), and postpone some other calls and meetings. I don’t like to disrupt other’s schedules like that.

Also, I typically get my baby Maya dressed in the morning while my wife walks the dog. She and my mother-in-law have had to cover for me the last couple of days while I slept in. I’m inconveniencing them.

So while rest and relaxation is necessary to recover, my mind just didn’t rest well knowing the residual effects of my sickness.

I just won’t get sick next time. :)

NFL on Twitter

Yesterday, the NY Jets played the Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night Football, and it was the first NFL game ever live-streamed on Twitter.

I watched some of the game and it was pretty awesome (both the game and the live-stream).

Here is what it looked like (courtesy of Recode, that’s not me in a supermarket):

NFL on Twitter

No buffering, no delay, and tweets right below the stream so you can engage with other viewers.

Twitter has been skewered for slow user growth and a confusing value proposition to new users. On the other hand, avid users love the platform for real-time discussion of current events.

That’s why streaming NFL games is perfect for Twitter.

Sports is the most real-time content that you can get. Sports are essentially DVR-proof and discussions and debates about games being played are already happening on Twitter.

And the NFL is the king of US sports right now, so this should bring in many NFL fans to the Twitter platform.

And I see Thursday Night Football leveraging tweets in their broadcast more often in the future.

I think live streaming sports and other content will be the future of Twitter and it’s a big step in turning the company around for the better.

What are your thoughts about being sick and the NFL on Twitter? Talk to me in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

What Aziz Ansari taught me about technology and human interaction

technology social media

I recently listened to a Freakonomics podcast episode titled “Aziz Ansari Needs Another Toothbrush.” Go ahead and listen to it after reading this blog post. :)

While it wasn’t as entertaining or laugh-inducing as I expected, I was surprised how enlightened I was after listening to it.

There were two points that Aziz made that stood out to me.

The first one was how Aziz dealt with his compulsion with checking his Facebook and Twitter accounts constantly. He deleted those apps from his phone and went completely cold turkey on social media.

Next was how he deals with fans who want to take pictures with him on the street. He doesn’t allow these people to take pictures with him, but instead shakes their hands, asks their names, and has a genuine conversation with them for a couple of minutes.

These seemingly unrelated things struck a chord with me.

I think it highlights how someone truly understands the values of human interaction and how technology can negatively impact how you engage with others.

I certainly appreciate technology and how it has changed and improved the way we live our lives. But I certainly believe that some of the old-school ways of doing things, like writing things down by hand, can make you more productive.

Overall, I think we live in an amazing world where we can do unbelievable things that are facilitated by technology. Hell, I’ve made it my career to help build these tools.

But like Aziz taught me, if you understand the ways technology are negatively impacting your life, you can make the changes that allow you to form stronger and deeper connections with the people around you.

What do you think about the relationship between technology and deeper connections?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Photo courtesy of Jason Howie on Flickr

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

shrek beauty

I come across many apps and websites on a daily basis.

Some I think are beautifully designed and well thought-out. Others look like crap or don’t make any sense to me why buttons are placed where they are or why things work the way they do.

Sometimes people agree with me, other times they disagree.

That’s the wonderful thing about design, or anything subjective, really – that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

What might be ugly to some is beautiful to others.

What might be a good experience to one person is subpar to another.

Another interesting thing is that there are many layers of beauty.

The interface of an app like Gmail might not look as nice as other email applications such as Yahoo Mail or Outlook.com. But it just works much better, which is a thing of beauty.

In everyday life, beautiful people on the outside might be ugly on the inside. And vice versa. But everyone will look different to everyone, inside and out.

Everyone has their own opinion of what beauty is, and no one is right or wrong.

Beauty being in the eye of the beholder is a beautiful thing.

What are your thoughts about beauty? Do you believe it’s in the eye of the beholder? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Image courtesy of Dreamworks Animation.

The importance of timing

Clocks and timing

I can’t stress enough how important timing is to everything, good and bad.

I recently had an experience with horrible timing.

Vicky and I recently purchased a townhouse and were preparing to move. We had a few boxes packed and were prepping to rent out the condo we currently live in.

Then the unit above us had an accident with the fire sprinkler that wound up flooding our condo. The hardwood floors were damaged and a lot of the drywall had to be cut so they could blow air to dry the insulation in the walls.

We’ve been living in a hotel for the last two weeks while our condo is being repaired. Ugh.

Perfect timing, huh?

Of course, timing can be good as well.

Back when I was thinking about leaving my job to become an entrepreneur, I knew finances would be an issue. Even though my wife would support me, I would have to garner some income to help out.

Right around when I left, I was able to immediately score two consulting contracts to help keep my finances afloat. One of those contracts came from a guy I sat next to at a conference!

Perfect timing, huh?

Timing has a major impact on technological innovations as well.

Apple was way too early with the Newton.

But Uber was timed perfectly to align with the GPS capabilities of the smartphone.

Virtual reality has been around for decades but many companies who tried to commercialize this technology over the years, couldn’t.

Only now is it reaching the mainstream with Oculus, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, and others.

Sometimes there’s not much you can do about timing, but just hope that the timing is right.

Do you have situations where timing was perfect (sarcastic and not sarcastic) for you? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The Need-Want Gap: What Companies or Industries Need, They May Not Want

mind the gap

Those on the outside might see things that companies or industries need to improve and innovate. Those on the inside may not know they need these things. If they do, they may not want them.

That’s what I call the “need-want gap.”

A great example of this is portrayed in the book and movie Moneyball.

Because the Oakland Athletics couldn’t compete with other big-budget baseball teams for top players, general manager Billy Beane had to change the way players were scouted for the team to be competitive.

So Beane eschewed “gut feel” when scouting players and looked past traditional statistics like batting average, runs batted in, and stolen bases.

Instead, Beane focused more on advanced metrics such as on-base percentage and slugging percentage to scout and recruit players and find diamonds in the rough. He realized that these statistics were more important to winning than the traditional stats, which were more about vanity.

This analytics-based methodology, called Sabermetrics, was absolutely scrutinized, and Beane was chastised by old-school scouts and managers.

This approach is still criticized to this day, even though the Athletics have been competitive with a tiny payroll for many years, and the Boston Red Sox won a World Series shortly after implementing the system.

Many middling teams knew they needed something stay competitive, but they didn’t want this kind of solution.

The need-want gap.

This happens many other industries as well.

Large businesses that have been around for many decades plod along with their traditional products and business models while startups disrupt them. Many deny the fact that they are being disrupted. Case in point here and here.

Ambitious job seekers may see that these companies need fresh thinking and innovation, but those jobs just aren’t available because these companies are satisfied with their position and don’t want to change.

The need-want gap.

Politics and government. Energy. Construction. Media. Music. All of these traditional industries have been slow to develop new business models as technology impacts them immensely.

If you’re seeking a career where you want to make change in these old-school industries, you might find that your services and ideas aren’t welcome.

But if you’re persistent and have a vision for the change you want to enact, keep going. Companies in these industries will come around when they have to.

If you can convince them that change is good and necessary, you can shrink that need-want gap and make your mark.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

This is day 37 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Platforms vs. your website – interesting readership stats for my “Quality vs. Quantity” post

Two days ago, I penned a blog post called “Quality vs. Quantity – which should you focus on?“, which led to some interesting viewership results.

I published it on this site, Medium, and LinkedIn, as I do with most of my blog posts.

On mikewchan.com, the post got 88 views and 4 shares.

On Medium, the post got 70 views and 2 “Recommends” (the equivalent of a “Like”).

On LinkedIn, the post got 1,683 views, 353 Likes, 86 comments, and 82 shares.

What the hell is going on here?

First of all, it’s not surprising that mikewchan.com has such few views. I only have 40 people on my email list. And although I shared the article to 7235 Twitter followers, we know that only a tiny percentage of people see those tweets.

Ideally, it’s best to build a big email list, have direct access to those people’s inboxes, and drive as much traffic to your site.

But nowadays, with so much noise and so many people creating massive amounts of content, that strategy just won’t work on its own.

So you need platforms and networks to help get readership.

Yet I have no idea what happened here with the two platforms to which I posted the article.

I have 1100 followers on Medium yet only garnered 70 views. I have no clue how their algorithm works and how articles are distributed.

I have over 3300 connections and followers on LinkedIn. Having more followers will obviously drive more views, and the connections I have on LinkedIn are much stronger than those on Medium.

But nearly 25x more views than on Medium? And I got more comments and shares on LinkedIn than I did total views on Medium. I don’t get it.

The problem with platforms is exactly that – it’s tough to decipher how their algorithms work, your readership numbers are completely dependent on them, and they can change at any moment.

I guess I should get back to building my email list.

This is day 20 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.