Category Archives: Products

The App World is Flat!

The App World is Flat

With Apps / Mobile growth, things are changing at a fast pace in the eCommerce / mCommerce space in India & around the world; for purpose of simplicity – calling it eCommerce without bothering about on which platform the transaction happens on.

The world is fast discovering web on smartphones, gets on-boarded to services like WhatsApp & Facebook, doing their first online transactions on Mobile Recharge services like FreeCharge & Paytm, and evolving to eCommerce, On-Demand Services & Travel. Unlike the previous predictions made in 2011/2012 – which were very company specific, this time the focus is largely around the trends in the Mobile App world.

 

The (App) World is Flat!

In old days of Internet Marketing, there were strategies to acquire users / customers by categories through multiple marketing channels – Adwords, SEO, Email, Display advertising, etc

The App World is flat. Be it large commerce startups like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Ola, Uber or the ones that were launched yesterday in any space, the common ground for everyone to get started today is exactly the same – getting the App Installed. This is disruptive in many ways – if someone has $1 Mn to spend on user acquisition – no matter at what stage / scale a startup is, the cost to get the app installed now remains the more or less similar for everyone.

As other core functions of eCommerce like Logistics, Merchants, Payments get more organised & commoditised; and User Acquisition starts with getting the app installed – a new ecommerce marketplace startup that launches today with $5 Mn Series A investment has much better chance to succeed than ever before or give existing large players good competition.

That puts everything in a interesting perspective – As cost is exactly the same, what are the differentiators? Its the core value proposition of the startup – the one communicated before user installs the app and one actually delivered. This change makes every startup focus a lot on building a great product and an awesome consumer experience than ever before!

 

Discovery, Marketing & Product Experiences:

In the ‘web’ world, Google allowed marketers to reach ‘users with intent’ through Adwords (or SEO) and so did Facebook to reach a certain demographic of users on its platform. This has changed fast. For high growth mobile startups that are scaling up in India – Google & Facebook’s share of marketing spends is shrinking when compared to others.

App Installs plays a level playing field in User Acquisition today; networks & affiliates are able to drive App Installs at better volumes with very competitive rates when compared to Google, Facebook or Twitter. Discounts, cashbacks & user driven growth form new means of acquiring users at a exponential rate. Share of wallet from marketing spends for Google & Facebook is going down.

Any consumer app like Flipkart / Snapdeal or Google / Facebook can now read multiple signals off user’s phones – apps, locations, contacts, texts messages, and so on and redefine how users are targeted for advertising. Flipkart’s plans to build online advertising business are well known; could be huge opportunity if kept independent.

Mobile App capabilities can also translate into building relevant product experiences for end users. For example – a Cleartrip trying optimise its Hotel Booking Offering for users when it reads a Flight Booking SMS from Airline website on user’s phone; Housing showing financing options for house from HDFC knowing that the user has the HDFC Bank App installed on phone; or Flipkart showcasing user products based on how quickly they can be delivered; of a Finance App recommending user investment options based on his Account Balance and so on. In one of my recent conversations this came up – today a user’s mobile phone location is his delivery address.

Till now, Ecommerce products today have just transformed from web to app, not essentially unlocked the value the mobile platform brings. If existing players don’t innovate, some new startups will. Focus on building awesome products.

 

App Discovery will evolve:

App Discovery and Install today act as the top of the funnel for every User Acquisition effort. Visiting a App Store to download any app is a redundant step; its not required if app is discovered through other channels. Expect Google Play to take the Install button (or trigger) outside the Google Play Store and let users install apps without explicitly visiting the Play Store in background. If that happens, expect APIs that will trigger app installs for publishers & advertisers making user acquisition & advertising dollars more efficient. Yes – that possibly kills ASO, App Discovery as we know of today on App Store, and Google’s Adwords product for Play Store.

Mobile Apps ecosystem is cursed with high uninstall rates. Users & Marketers would want to move towards the philosophy – you acquire user only once, does not matter through which channel – App Store or Browsers. Users would want the product / service on-demand on every platform – Smartphone or Desktop Browser whenever they want without hassles of user / account management. Expect browsers integrations & enhanced capabilities on Chrome with App Stores (Google Play to start with) that enables users to access the Apps installed on their smartphones on desktop or any other platforms without having to log-in separately.

App Stores like Google Play or Apple iTunes will also evolve from their current stage of ‘enabling discovery of mobile apps’ to ‘authentication of user credentials’. App Stores will retain user information – personal details, payment info (saved cards or wallet), delivery details and so on to transform into 1-click authentication platforms. Example – Users while shopping on Snapdeal, Flipkart or Amazon Mobile App can do 1-click checkout with App Store authentication that gives the Ecommerce service all user information w/t payment information data that is required for Ecommerce sites to fulfil the transaction.

This is something similar to what Facebook did earlier where Apps & Games on Facebook Platform received user information on Login-with-Facebook. Its still early days for Mobile App Stores, they will evolve in big way going forward.

Note: Google is already working in this direction to distribute Install action with App Invites (Beta)

Engagement v/s Instant Gratification:

As consumers get habituated to transactional & on-demand services – social products & social commerce products (like Wishberg – my previous startup) or any other would find it extremely difficult now to scale up or grow without providing the instant gratification experience.

Existing large companies in this space are picking up clues and started to move towards a transactional experience with Buy buttons. To ecommerce companies, working with large networks for such 1-click transaction experiences is a big win.

Expect focus of large social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc) & discovery channels (Google, Pinterest, etc) to move from top of the funnel (i.e. product discovery or media spends) to bottom of the funnel (enabling transactions or margins). They are currently driving Mobile Installs or Traffic for their current advertisers, going forward may be looking at driving customers. Such products or services know more about users than anyone else.

Products like Facebook, Google will retain customer information (delivery, location & saved card details) and move towards enabling the one-touch buy experience.

 

Frequency is all that matters now!

This topic itself calls for a longish post (may be for some other time), for now the point to note is that Mobile App makes perfect use-case for a high frequency consumer behaviour. There are already many studies that have concluded that consumers prefer to have only few apps on their smartphones – ones that are frequently used.

Apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram etc which see extremely high engagement (and frequency) are less likely to be uninstalled by user while an app that is not used for few weeks (or even days) is very likely to get uninstalled. Ecommerce products would not be able to match levels of usage demonstrated by Social Apps.

Transactional apps that have a daily / weekly use case like Cabs, Food Delivery, Grocery, etc would see better usage compared to others. As that gets discovered, expect Ecommerce apps to expand into multiple categories / segments that could be completely diverse – Paytm moving to eCommerce or Travel, Ola moving to Food Delivery and so on to drive frequent usage.

This strategy works well with two big motives – increases app usage as users have more reasons to open & engage with the app and also adds up to their topline. But for vertical commerce players like Home Repairs, Home Furnishing, Jewellery, Footwear or others – surviving in App World with infrequent usage will be extremely challenging.

Today, Success or Failure of any startup is just an uninstall away!

 

OnDemand Services may disrupt eCommerce forever.

In past few months, many on-demand services have raised massive Series A rounds, the ones focussing on infrequent use-cases like Home Repairs, etc will start struggling with user retention and other ones who are driving high frequency use-cases like groceries, food delivery will start bleeding because of poor unit economics.

Ecommerce today as we know it has its own challenges – relying on third party logistics, depending on unverified sellers & products, deep discounting of products to drive volumes and their attempts to move from cash on delivery to cashless transactions.

On other hand, offline retailers in India are up in arms against online players but have little competition to offer. If OnDemand services like Groffers, Swiggy and others in this on-demand space started delivering users Ecommerce products partnering with your offline retail giants and local stores – eCommerce changes in this country forever.

No more waiting for even for 24-48 hours, the product that you want, from the trusted store of your choice, in the payment mode of your choice, in your hand – in next 30 minutes. The Amazon Prime or Flipkart First experience delivered to you, every time. This changes everything we have learned or known about ‘traditional ecommerce’.

Concluding Notes

Mobile app & growth story is just getting started. Its too early to declare winners because the App World is Flat!

14 Ways to Emotionally Engage users with your Product

Most conversations with entrepreneurs and product managers who want drive engagement and bring viral features to their products are answered as ‘We will gamify our product through features’. This post is about clearing some nuisance around the topic of gamification in products.

Gamification has nothing to do with building features. In fact, even Product Management has nothing to do with building features. It is not a rocket science, product managers usually figure out the ‘building features’ part of it with time and experience.

“People don’t buy products. They buy better versions of Themselves.”

So how do you ‘connect’ users with your product? Not through features, not through gamification, but by triggering certain emotions with your users.

Gamification = Getting People Emotionally Engaged with Product.

Below are some of the most powerful emotions people have along with few examples that will help you figure out how get users to emotionally engaged with your product / startup.
PS: The number of emotions could be more, I have referred to only 14 here.

1. Expression

Expression – People love to express themselves. Enable it.

Products that allow users to express themselves:

  1. Tumblr
  2. Twitter
  3. Facebook
  4. Medium

Products that allow users to express themselves anonymously:

  1. Secret
  2. Whisper
  3. FML

Tip: ‘Expression’ is used as a core use-case in product.

2. Acknowledgment

Acknowledgment: People love getting acknowledged. With interactions & endorsements.

Help people getting acknowledged. They love it!

  1. LinkedIn – Recommendations & Endorsements are social acknowledgments which users love.
  2. Twitter – Retweets and Replies on tweets are great way to be acknowledged.
  3. Facebook – Likes & Comments are acknowledgments to status messages users shares
  4. Quora – Upvotes & Comments is acknowledgment to your answers.
  5. Tumblr – Love & Reposts are acknowledgments to you posts.

Tip: ‘Acknowledgments’ lead to ‘User Notifications’ which further lead to Engagement. Always build features that enable acknowledgments in products that use ‘expression’ as use-case in product.

3. Exclusivity

Exclusivity or Privilege: People love being privileged. Make it exclusive.

Make it exclusive. No one likes the feeling of being left out.

  1. Gmail – Gmail invites were exclusive to few users. People were ready to buy invites off Ebay.
  2. Quora – Only existing users can invite new users.
  3. Pinterest – Users need to apply for access. After few days they were granted it.
  4. Mailbox – Users were in queue to get access to the app.

Tip: ‘Exclusivity’ works best for initial referral program for driving sign-ups.

4. Being Cool

Being Cool: People want to be Cool. People want others to know they are Cool.

Make your users look cool when they share your product.

  1. Frontback – Share a snap along with a selfie. Lets users be cool.
  2. Vine – Short cool creative videos.

Tip: ‘Being Cool’ will help you drive sharing on Social Networks.

5. Nostalgia

Nostalgia: People have memories. Sweet Memories. Remind them about it.

Remind users about some of the best times they have experienced.

  1. Timehop – Complete product is built around Nostalgia. Reminds users of special moments from the past.
  2. Facebook – 2014: Year in Review videos
  3. Twitter – 8th Anniversary: Which was your first tweet.

Tip: ‘Nostalgia’ helps get back old users and revives their interest. Can be only used once in a year on special occasions.

6. Curiosity

Curiosity: People want to know. They fear on losing out. Keep them curious.

Keep users curious. Keep them looking for more.

  1. LinkedIn – The feature ‘who viewed my profile’ tries to keep its users curious, and engaged.
  2. Twitter – Catching up with Timeline, mostly is the fear of losing out.
  3. BuzzFeed / UpWorthy / ViralNova – All try to trigger curiosity of readers through their post titles.

Tip: ‘Curiosity’ in products helps you increase repeat usage.

7. Competitiveness

Competitiveness: People love to compete with others. Creates a sense of achievement. Make it happen.

Drive users to compete with friends / others.

  1. Foursquare – The leaderboards between Friends was a great way 4SQ ensured people kept checking in.
  2. Quora – The feeling of ‘I have a better answer’ or ‘I can answer this question in a better way’ keeps driving engagement.
  3. Fitbit – Leaderboard that tracks your fitness with friends.
  4. Hackrank – Programming challenges.

Tip: ‘Competitiveness’ leads to greater engagement. Though its novelty in private group is lost after some time.

8. Stay Organized

Stay Organized: People love to organize things. Organize everything. Make it happen

Give users stuff that they want to sort / organize. Keep them busy.

  1. Pinterest – Lets you organize pins / interests/ stuff you love.
  2. Evernote – Organize all your notes.
  3. Wanelo – Organize fashion stuff. Ask girls how much they love doing this.
  4. Calendar / Contacts – They are always in a mess. Its a never-ending struggle to organize this. Google Contacts & Google Calendar help you keep them in place.

Tip: ‘Staying Organized’ helps your users spend more time in your product. It soon becomes a habit.

9. Importance

Importance: People love to feel important. Its about them. Their identity. They want to show off.

Make your users feel important about themselves.

  1. LinkedIn – My professional achievements., that is how a user sees it.
  2. Twitter – My views. My opinions., that is how a user tweets.
  3. FourSquare – Checkin is telling the world – I am here.
  4. About.me – This is me. This is my identity.

Tip: ‘Importance’, everyone wants to be important. The product usually ends up being shared, talked about – and results in others wanting to do the same.

10. Authority

Authority: People love to display their authority on a topic. Give them opportunity to do that.

Help create authority for users. Users want to be acknowledged as influencers by others.

  1. Quora – Authority by Topics. Asked to Answer is being authoritative.
  2. StackExchange – For programmers.
  3. HackerOne – For hackers.
  4. Hacker News – For Geeks.

Tip: ‘Authority’ is the importance others in a community or forum assigns to select users. Users want to be acknowledged as being authoritative, it helps increasing engagement and spending time on the product.

11. Visual

Visual: People love stunning visuals. Its a powerful emotion.

Visuals create impact in product. Don’t miss on it.

  1. Instagram – Personal Emotions.
  2. Flickr – Professional Emotions (yes unfortunately for Flickr).
  3. 500px – Photography community.

Tip: ‘Visual’ is a substitute to all unsaid emotions. Use well when your product is build around pictures and photographs.

12. Freebies

Freebies: People love Freebies. Badges. Credits. It all works.

Freebies work. Make use of them correctly.

  1. Quora – Credits users get when other upvote their answers.
  2. FourSquare – Badges for Check-in.
  3. Uber – Credits to Refer Friends.
  4. Facebook / Twitter / Google – Regularly use Advertising Credits to on-board new advertisers.

Tip: ‘Freebies’ – use it only for one purpose. Can be used for activations, sharing or driving engagement. Use it for one use-case that can measured.

13. Money

Money: People want to make Money. People want to receive Money.

Money is one of the strongest emotions. Portray it positively.

  1. Google Adsense – Opportunity for bloggers, individuals, publishers to earn money online.
  2. PayPal – Receive money from anyone.
  3. Elance – Get paid for free-time work.
  4. Kickstarter – Raise money for your projects.
  5. Gumroad – Make money by selling digital goods.

Tip: ‘Money’ – Receiving Money / Making Money is a positive emotion. Giving away is negative.

14. Sex

Sex: People want Companions. People want Dates. People want Sex.

Keep it simple, keep it safe.

  1. Tinder – Helps you find date.
  2. Match.com – Helps you find date.
  3. OkCupid – Helps you find date.

Tip: ‘Sex’ – It is more about selling the Hope. Keep the product simple. Don’t over engineer.

Concluding Notes:

When you build any feature, try to trigger a emotional engagement with user. If you are in early stage of your product development or in process of making your product roadmap, spent some time with this methodology – 15 Steps Towards Building a Great Product.

When it comes to including emotions in your product, ensure the following:

  1. Use max 2-3 emotions per product.
  2. Gamification is not about building features. It is about emotionally engaging a user.
  3. Don’t exploit users. Be subtle. Be good.

Good Product Manager v/s Bad Product Manager

I recently read – ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things‘ by Ben Horowitz. This book is a practical guide for Founders & CEOs about running a business, handling tough situations, a must read! 

Ben Horowitz is currently the co-founder and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm. Previously he was co-founder and CEO of Opsware which was acquired by HP for $1.6 billion in 2007. At Netscape, Ben was Director of Product Management where he share this note with his team.

The note is from Ben’s book where he writes about difference between a Good Product Manager and Bad Product Manager. I believe this is a amazing guide on what Product Managers should focus on. 

————————————————————————————————————————

Good product managers know the market, the product, the product line and the competition extremely well and operate from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence. A good product manager is the CEO of the product. Good product managers take full responsibility and measure themselves in terms of the success of the product.

They are responsible for right product/right time and all that entails. A good product manager knows the context going in (the company, our revenue funding, competition, etc.), and they take responsibility for devising and executing a winning plan (no excuses).

Bad product managers have lots of excuses. Not enough funding, the engineering manager is an idiot, Microsoft has 10 times as many engineers working on it, I’m overworked, I don’t get enough direction. Our CEO doesn’t make these kinds of excuses and neither should the CEO of a product.

Good product managers don’t get all of their time sucked up by the various organizations that must work together to deliver right product right time. They don’t take all the product team minutes, they don’t project manage the various functions; they are not gophers for engineering. They are not part of the product team; they manage the product team. Engineering teams don’t consider Good Product Managers a “marketing resource.” Good product managers are the marketing counterparts of the engineering manager.

Good product managers crisply define the target, the “what” (as opposed to the “how”) and manage the delivery of the “what.” Bad product managers feel best about themselves when they figure out “how”. Good product managers communicate crisply to engineering in writing as well as verbally. Good product managers don’t give direction informally. Good product managers gather information informally.

Good product managers create collateral, FAQs, presentations, and white papers that can be leveraged. Bad product managers complain that they spend all day answering questions for the sales force and are swamped. Good product managers anticipate the serious product flaws and build real solutions. Bad product managers put out fires all day.

Good product managers take written positions on important issues (competitive silver bullets, tough architectural choices, tough product decisions, markets to attack or yield). Bad product managers voice their opinion verbally and lament that the “powers that be” won’t let it happen. Once bad product managers fail, they point out that they predicted they would fail.

Good product managers focus the team on revenue and customers. Bad product managers focus team on how many features Microsoft is building. Good product managers define good products that can be executed with a strong effort. Bad product managers define good products that can’t be executed or let engineering build whatever they want (i.e. solve the hardest problem).

Good product managers think in terms of delivering superior value to the market place during inbound planning and achieving market share and revenue goals during outbound. Bad product managers get very confused about the differences amongst
delivering value, matching competitive features, pricing, and ubiquity. Good product managers decompose problems. Bad product managers combine all problems into one.

Good product managers think about the story they want written by the press. Bad product managers think about covering every feature and being really technically accurate with the press. Good product managers ask the press questions. Bad product managers answer any press question. Good product managers assume press and analyst people are really smart. Bad product managers assume that press and analysts are dumb because they don’t understand the difference between “push” and “simulated push.”

Good product managers err on the side of clarity vs. explaining the obvious. Bad product managers never explain the obvious. Good product managers define their job and their success. Bad product managers constantly want to be told what to do.

Good product managers send their status reports in on time every week, because they are disciplined. Bad product managers forget to send in their status reports on time, because they don’t value discipline.

————————————————————————————————————–

This article is posted on this blog with permission. You can download the original PDF file shared by Ben Horowitz.

“The Hard Things About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz is a must read book for Founders & CEOs. Buy it from Amazon.com (Worldwide) or Flipkart (India).

Building The Next Disruptive Startup

The most disruptive word in Startup Ecosystem is ‘disruption’. Its used / abused / misused by almost everyone – entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, mentors, press and so on.

Founders love to call their product / startup as disruptive and so do investors who keep saying they are looking for disruptive ideas, both have very limited explanation of what disruptive startup actually means for them or they run out of examples or ideas when you ask them what exactly is disruptive about it. Most of the answers are – ‘If this becomes big, it could disrupt the market’.

Disruption

This is a random post, not intended to draw any conclusion or summary but sharing few things I have learned about disruptive startups and ideas. Probably also on how to get ideas to build your next big ‘disruptive’ start-up.

Circa 2008

Early 2008, I moved in my new role at Rediff as Product Head for Ecommerce. This was still the time when Ecommerce was extremely small in India, concentrated with some players – Rediff, Indiatimes, Ebay and couple of others; and the other side of Ecommerce was Travel which was growing steadily. At Rediff, we had 3 ecommerce products – Rediff Shopping, Rediff Books and Rediff Auctions (We shut down auctions soon after).

These were the early days of Ecommerce and to say we were not innovating then would be wrong. To bring up more users to Ecommerce, COD (Cash On Delivery) was introduced. To expand reach beyond (limited) online audience, experiments like Reader’s Offers (in Newspapers) were attempted by many. We introduced real-time customer support calls to users who dropped out during checkouts and assisted conversions via IVRs. Debit Cards were integrated. Top 20% products in top 20 cities were delivered in less than 3 days. Back then, all major players were marketplaces – that involved a lot of co-ordination with vendors / sellers for inventory, logistics, deals, order status and operations.

Few days into my new role a colleague mentioned to me about a new service – Flipkart. It was selling books. I loved what I had seen on Flipkart. The product was good if not best, but for a site that was launched just few months back – it did all that it was supposed to do perfectly with attention to detail. Prices were comparable if not the best; what blew my mind was the shipping times – awesome 4-6 days of delivery time.

In 2008, books sold on any ecommerce service took 6-10 days to dispatch (most of them had common vendors) and books that required procurement from US took 25 days on a minimum side (and customers used to wait!). Flipkart was quickly dismissed as a niche website, and books contributed to a smaller percentage of overall business. In fact there was a time that competition was more worried about Futurebazaar for its blistering marketing budget (oh, btw its in dead-pool now).

By end of 2009 I moved out of Rediff. And over time I started ordering books (and then other products) much frequently on Flipkart and was never disappointed by its service. I knew friends and colleagues were admiring loving it too. Flipkart kept growing and so did the word of mouth for them. Flipkart was rejected not just by many Investors, but also by its competitors. Over a period of time, all its competitors lost out on Flipkart as it emerged to be the face of Ecommerce in India.

So what did Flipkart do differently to disrupt Ecommerce? Instead of marketplace approach, it started off as a self-managed service. It picked up Books – the most under-served category then (under-served, but large – in 2008 Rediff Books had 1.2 Million Titles listed). It used most simplest channel for $0 marketing – Search Engine Optimization. Adding a million books to Google Index (this is in 2008) in a category that had less than 10 players helped them rank up well. And they rarely did goof up on delivery, dispatch or customer experience.

That was Flipkart. And the story about ‘disrupting a industry’ by a startup or underdog remains similar across the world. Startups / Entrepreneurs don’t disrupt a industry or vertical by ‘launching just another product’ in existing market. There needs to be a remarkably different approach, addressing a large market which is loved (or appreciated) by its initial users / customers.

So how do you get ideas for a disruptive startup?

Another example in Indian context is Housing.com – picked up real estate as a vertical that had more or less no differentiation and existing players were hardly innovating on product and consumer experience over years. Everyone was a copy-paste product of everyone else. Housing launched with a better product from day one for discovering real estate properties, focused on verified data, authentic photos and awesome user experience. While its competitors were serving advertisers, Housing started serving users. It is still in its initial days, but I am hoping Housing.com will become big someday (PS: its product is now bit more complex that it was in the initial days).

Coming back, a existing market / vertical, a large category, that has not changed for a long time are prefect for disrupting with a product that brings a fresh approach to it. While existing players keep thinking that their ‘yet another feature’ will kill this new startup that is making a dent, unfortunately this never happens. ‘Yet another product’ in a large market does not really disrupt a industry.

This probably is true for almost every big startup or product that is out there today.

  • AWS for Hosting:
    Huge market, frustrating times to set up & costly infrastructure, disrupted by on-demand computing and pay-as-you go.
  • Gmail for Email:
    Huge market, competition offering 4-10 MB inboxes, disrupted by 1 GB mailbox and of-course better product.
  • Square for Offline Payments:
    Huge offline payments market, under-served, simple product to accept payments with a phone.
  • Dropbox for Syncing Files:
    Huge need; users mailed files to save on multiple PCs or used USB drives. Simple & fast web storage.
  • Stripe for Online Payments:
    Huge need; developers where busy doing complex PG integrations. Simple to use payment APIs.
  • Uber for Transport:
    Huge market, demand > supply; Under-served market. Cool product that made the customer look smart.
  • … and so many more I can think of…

So where do you go looking for big markets to disrupt and build large businesses?

 

1. Look for market segments that have not changed for years.

In India context, Flipkart and Housing mentioned above fit in this example. We are (probably) done with phase of getting most of the products / services from offline world to online. Some of the verticals are still broken despite being online for so many years.

Examples that come to my mind are – Travel (Vacations – it is still an broken and under-served market), Matrimony (Nothing has changed in this vertical for more than 10 yrs, however people and culture has changed a lot), Classifieds (Largely served by few players and the model hasn’t evolved much) and so on.

Some markets are so big that there is room for multiple big players – Fashion being one of them. Some of the verticals just came online (Online Grocery & Vegetables) but are struggling to grow, maybe they need to approach differently.

One of my favorite examples here is Stripe and how it differentiated itself from others in Payment Gateway vertical. Or even Quora that came up in QnA space that had sleeping products like Yahoo! Answers or Answers.com

 

2. Look for large products that are ageing fast.

Look for large products that are ageing fast and its early users are complaining or it fails to provide value to them.

Some of the examples, LinkedIn (The product has not changed much over years, its early adopters are not using it as they did earlier or now they have other ways to connect with them) or Facebook (Its evident that the engagement levels are dropping and instant messaging has taken over Social Networking). Twitter (Yes, Twitter is ageing. For new users its complex to use, to understand).

More directions – Facebook was default private product; then came Twitter that was default public product. There is lot of opportunity for both products to reverse privacy. For example, Twitter is a public identity to many people, its private aspect ie. direct messaging is massively broken. Forget private product, even Twitter as a public conversation platform is also broken or difficult to explain to new users. Twitter itself is experimenting with removing @ replies to appeal to new users (while existing users will miss the feature most).

 

3. Look for large products that serve multiple purposes.

Look for large products that serve multiple purposes. Perfect one of their use-cases.

Best example here is Facebook. Large products like Facebook serve(d) multiple purpose – Status Updates, Messaging, Photos, Staying in touch with friends, etc. WhatsApp took up Instant Messaging, Instagram took up photos, perfected the use case and in turn made a big dent with their products. Since usage on a large product already validates the market need, build something that makes it work for users.

One of my favorite examples here is Vine how it figured out a niche for itself in the online videos vertical owned by YouTube. Though Vine was not the first to start off (there was Viddy and Social Cam who focused too much on spamy growth hacking techniques on Facebook), it was Twitter’s push that built this one up.

Also recently Zuck announced ‘Un-Bundling of Facebook‘ which serves similar use-case.

 

4. Look for missing components in daily used products that are ignored

Look for broken / boring experiences in the products around you that are in daily use. Broken, because you can fix them. Boring, because you can make them cool (or add value).

This probably over laps the above mentioned use-cases. Mobile OS features like Camera got replaced by Instagram, Text Messaging got replaced by WhatsApp, Mobile Phone Book got replaced by Gmail Contacts. There is a big opportunity if you can identify and replace basic utilities around you with products.

PS: The biggest broken experience on phone or devices today is battery / charging. And this is a tough one!

 

5. Look for big news or market changes around you

If you are too much into technology news look for changes around you and a need for product that you could build because of market changes and opportunities that come up.

Skype was acquired by Microsoft in 2011. Ever since (and even before that) there have been tons of connectivity issues with Skype. Its time for a reliable Skype, one that works as it should. Big opportunity! There is Google Hangouts, but it still doesn’t make a cut and unfortunately Google still treats this product as a part of Google+ and/or Google Talk. It requires attention as a independent product like Chrome, YouTube or Android.

Another big blow was when Google decided to make Gmail for Business a paid service for all. There are other paid business service providers, I tried a few myself when I recently was looking out for a free / alternate solution, finally giving up and settled for a paid Gmail account. Its a great opportunity to build a awesome product here.

My favorite example here is AngelList, Naval is an angel investor in 100+ startups – sensed the opportunity of creating a platform that connects startups to angels much before anyone else did. Another one is how Admob discovered mobile advertising when the world started making mobile websites (WAP sites then).

——————

Concluding Notes:

How to find Disruptive Ideas for Startup?

Listing down the 5 methods mentioned above:
1. Look for market segments that have not changed for years.
2. Look for large products that are ageing fast.
3. Look for large products that serve multiple purposes.
4. Look for missing components in daily use that are ignored.
5. Look for big news or market changes around you.

Wait, your existing startup does not fit in the above criteria? Nothing to get disheartened with, this is just a reference point. In fact I also realized that my own startup does not fit in this :)

Some takeaways,

  • The above 5 pointers all lead to a large addressable market. So next time a investor tells you he/she is looking for a large market, you fit in.
  • Just another startup or just another feature in large market does not make a cut. It should be a differentiated solution / product.
  • Disruptive ideas are plenty, it is the execution and team behind that matters most.
  • Most importantly, don’t build a product or startup in a market that is considered hot. Instead build something that you understand (or understand it well before you start).

And Flipkart, you have my respect for life!

PS: All notes referring to Rediff are expressed as my personal opinion. Most details mentioned here are in public domain already.

Facebook, its time you fix yourself and be relevant!

Facebook

I have seen Facebook as product scale up since 2006, there was a time I believed this one could never go down. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself using Facebook everyday now. In tech world, products that reach this scale do not fail, they become irrelevant.

Facebook is fast becoming irrelevant and replaceable in our life. I love Facebook and really admire Mark Zuckerberg for building it one. I still think Facebook can still turn around and be that important part of our lives again.

Here are few things that Facebook needs to fix in its product:

1. Feeds & Notifications

Feeds and Notifications are (were?) the lifelines of Facebook. Both are quickly losing its relevance to create engagement.

The challenge with Facebook is you are subscribed to multiple content units. This includes updates from –
a. Friends & Contacts
b. Pages you ‘Liked’
c. People you ‘Follow’ or ‘Subscribed to’
d. Open Graph Integrations & Updates through Social Plugins
e. Promoted Posts

There is clearly too much of information that user gets subscribed to and its obvious that the Edgerank is failing to discover the most appropriate post for its users.

Edgerank has multiple flip points! It works on the fact that people / pages that you interact recently or regularly show up more frequently in your feeds, or the ones in your social circle that has higher engagement. That results in missing out other important updates from friends / contacts, missing that important update from your favorite band and so on.

Same with notifications, there are many irrelevant notifications that are shown on Facebook which over a time lose value for notifications all together. Facebook should restrict notifications only to posts / updates important to the user.

Facebook’s Edgerank struggles to discover the best post for you hoping that you will engage. Twitter simply says you missed it if you didn’t see it, so if you don’t want to miss any update – stay logged in. Twitter clearly works well here.

Facebook needs to fix its Edgerank to sustain itself. Maybe completely moving to a Twitter like time line will make more sense for Facebook.

2. Instant Messaging

Have read a lot of posts about how Facebook should be worried about Instant Messaging Apps like WhatsApp, SnapChat and others. While most of the posts put up the metrics like number of messages shared or photos uploaded or so on to compare them with FB, they miss a simple and crucial point on what makes them successful.

Facebook is a network that connects your family and friends. Instant Messaging apps like WhatsApp ‘connect them faster’. This was the perfect way to disrupt Facebook and it worked! Its no surprise that younger generation does not connect with Facebook- why should one sign-up, create a profile, upload status & photos and so on? Just download a Instant Messaging app and get started. Honestly, Facebook today is delayed WhatsApp’ing.

WhatsApp should have been acquired by Facebook long time back, there were rumors. But to continue to be relevant, its time that Facebook should now stop looking at its ‘messaging’ feature as a feature – but as core proposition!

Update: Few people pointed out that Facebook Messenger lets you sends instant messages like WhatsApp to anyone. I checked this again, but it looks that FB Messenger works with users who have registered their phone number with a Facebook Account. The Instant Messages are sent through to the Facebook messages in your profile. Nevertheless, the point I wanted to suggest here is Instant Messaging should become the core proposition of Facebook who wants to connect the world, and not its feature.

3. Developers

Its been more than 2 years that the last F8 conference was held, clearly Facebook does not have anything great on its plate for developer community. This is bad news for thousands of application developers who use Facebook (Connect) as primary platform to build their applications.

Distribution on top of Facebook is almost non-existent now (Read: Rethinking Facebook Connect). Eventually this will lead to developers looking for other platforms to build on top of it.

Twitter will stand to gain the most out here at this point of time. Google has been silently integrating Google+ to many of its services, if Google can provide ‘distribution’ as incentive to developers, there might be still hope for Google+ (of which I had been skeptical from day 1)

4. Facebook Pages are Dead.

When Facebook Pages were introduced, there was a gold rush among Marketers and Brands to get as much Likes or Fans as possible build an captive audience and engage with them on a regular basis.

Facebook pages are dead now, its effective reach is reduced to mere 2% of audience and practically they drive zero new likes / fans to the page as virality is almost dead. As a marketer, I would expect the posts shared on my pages to reach majority (if not all) of its audience.

If the only way to get any sort of engagement now is paid posts, marketers will soon realize the same and will start abandoning the Facebook. Instead Marketers will prefer sending traffic to their own website over Facebook Pages. Facebook should fix this.

5. Publishers

Millions of publishers use the Facebook Social Plugins, more particularly Like, Share widgets on their websites; the motivation here is to drive more traffic (users) from Facebook. It worked earlier as Facebook was a awesome discovery platform to know social actions of friends & contacts.

As engagement and virality of Facebook platform has decreased, these social plugins are proving to be lesser effective in driving more users / traffic to publishers.

6. No Mobile Presence

Post IPO Facebook (and analysts) were worried that Facebook did not have a solid mobile monetization strategy in place. Its solved now as mobile revenue contributes significantly to Facebook’s revenue. However I think it was not so much about mobile revenue, Facebook missed the mobile ecosystem completely. It does not own any of the core-experiences on mobile.

Look at smartphone on device strategy –

  • Calendar is owned by Google (Calendar).
  • Contacts are owned Google (Gmail).
  • Messaging is owned by WhatsApp & others.
  • Camera was owned by Instagram (acquired by Facebook) but faces intense competition from other apps like – Twitter, SnapChat, FrontBack, WhatsApp and others.
  • Location is owned by Google (Maps).
  • AppStores are closed. Owned by Google or Apple.

While Facebook Home was a great attempt at ‘hijacking’ the phone experience, but with no value attached for users the product dried down quickly. With no deeper integration on phone, Facebook is just another app. And as other apps deliver more value while communicating with friends, Facebook is very vulnerable to being an ‘optional app’.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Concluding Notes:

Facebook needs to re-think its strategy and focus on making its product relevant. Not just for its users, but also for other stake holders like Developers, Marketers, Publishers and so on.

Out of context, but I find Facebook’s intention of getting the entire planet online (Internet.org) ridiculous and a big distraction for both – Facebook & Zuck. Facebook did an amazing job of getting over 1 Billion Users on its platform, but to think that Facebook and its partners (of Internet.org) will manage to get the next 2 Billion Users online is absurd.

Unfortunately for Facebook, the next Billion users will come online because of instant messaging apps. For now, Facebook should just concentrate on its product.

Rethinking Facebook Connect

As startups we need to continuously experiment and question the status quo; and for now we experimented with the Facebook Connect implementation. We started by removing it as default option to sign-in on Wishberg. As expected we got multiple forgot password requests (we built this feature in anticipation of same).  

Many folks questioned about this on Twitter, and I also had conversations with other startups founders who suggested this could be a bad move. So far we are happy with the results. We may / may not revert back (its still not clear) – but since many people asked me why we even thought of experimenting – here are the reasons.

a. Facebook is no longer a powerful distribution platform 

Let me sum up Facebook as a distribution platform for you:
Early days -> 1 + 1 = 11
Later ->  1 + 1 = 2
Now -> 1 + 1 = 1.1
Next -> 1 + 1 = 1.01

Face this, it is true. Facebook is no longer a powerful distribution platform or user acquisition channel for application developers. If the expectation is one user registration through Facebook connect will lead to at least one more., its not happening. 

Zynga achieved its distribution on Facebook through News Feeds; Branchout through notifications and others like Pinterest / Spotify through Open Graph. When more and more applications tried to ‘abuse’ each of these mechanisms Facebook put more restrictions & controls in place (which is correct since Facebook wants to maintain a clean experience for its users). Open Graph is currently the only way to get some effective distribution, Facebook has replaced few custom actions and asked developers to use built-in actions for Like & Follow, they are also merged in Open Graph. It also placed restrictions for applications that abused few actions like ‘read a article’ & ‘viewed a video’ with more controls / validations in place.

Personally I am against spam and to build a clean product we do not aim to spam our users through Facebook (even in name of user acquisition). Also because of the fact that few applications have abused Facebook to acquire users, users are smart and know how to differentiate between a possible spam and genuine link. Good for consumers and bad for developers, Facebook has made it ‘ridiculously easy’ for users to get rid of applications; so if your are spamming – do that at your own risk! 


b. Facebook engagement principles – P2P v/s A2P

You must have read this in news over and again – Facebook is trying hard to appeal to the current youth generation (as the earlier one has grown up!). While Facebook is trying to appeal to younger generation, it is also trying to improve engagement of its current user base. Current reports suggests that a Facebook update reaches approximately (just) 12% of your friends. 

If people stops engaging with other people on Facebook, it will be dead. While Facebook connect is a good way to keep social interactions that happen outside of Facebook discoverable through feeds on Facebook – its natural that Facebook will always be more inclined to have P2P (People to People) interactions featured over A2P (Application to People). 

On a personal note – I don’t think Facebook will have anything great to announce for some time ahead that will excite the developers. For now, FB will focus on improving user-to-user engagement, appeal to youth and its monetization products. So I don’t see the situation improving for developers. 


c. Inconsistent Discovery Experience for feeds

Facebook is not Twitter. Unlike the experience where every tweet is visible to your followers, every feed / status update is not visible to your friends. Its complex and depends on multiple factors – whom you interact with most, which group of friends are you a part of, has the feed gone viral to be showcased to more people outside that network and so on. If P2P feeds are discovered by only 12% of friends, chances for discovery of application feeds will be even lower.

And then there are innumerable pages that a user has liked, there are updates from them which also ask for a mind-share of user in his activity stream. One of Facebook’s monetization product that allows pages (and users) to pay and increase reach of their posts will also work against discovery of application feeds.

Facebook recently announced a new newsfeed which is rolled out to few users but not to all. It has also did a nice little revamp on Timeline view of profile putting all updates on the right side block – and also bringing up user’s likes and interests upfront and pushing open graph updates further down to an blind spot.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am supporting Facebook here as most of these changes are done to improve user experience and engagement for its own users. But in that attempt – the discovery of feeds for applications has got bit inconsistent. There is no science here – and most of the times for application developers it will mean shooting in the dark. 


d. Every user has his/her own identity on every platform

Each user has a different identity on every platform – Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Foursquare, LinkedIn and so on. Its incorrect to assume that the way a user behaves on Facebook will be essentially the way he will on your product or that he wants his friends to know he is using a particular product or service.

There is also a trend that users do not want to register on a product because it only allows only Facebook Sign-up. We did that with Wishberg earlier, but now have opened up email registrations; key here is – ‘Be valuable first, social later.’

The ideal way is to allow users to register and let them connect their Facebook account as a option – which they will if your product is valuable to them. You can prompt users to connect their Facebook account, but not force them to do so!


e. Psychology of Forced Distribution

As a developer once you implement Facebook Connect, unconsciously you get thinking and start relying completely on Facebook for distribution. You want every action that has happened on your product to be ‘forced shared’ on Facebook – even though a user would want it or not. Its time to stop that as the sharing economy has changed.

Since Facebook distribution is not controlled by you, it gets increasingly frustrating when your product does not go as viral as you thought it would. Instead build some sort of distribution / discovery mechanism on your own product which you control completely – we built couple of them on Wishberg and they have worked remarkably better. Remember – a small number of highly engaged users are much better than a large user base with zero or near zero engagement. 


f. Sharing economy has changed

The sharing economy on Facebook as changed over years. It is no more driven by features or applications, its completely user driven. Users have got smart enough to know what has to be shared and with whom.

Don’t build applications / features that will trick users to forcefully share something on their wall without their consent or knowledge. Focus on your product – users will figure out what they have to share and what they don’t have to. Users are now smarter than most developers think! 


g. Breaking changes that break your plans

While doing a startup / building your product – the one thing you don’t want to lose is time. Startups operate with small teams and any deviations from the product roadmap costs them dear.

And while they are on to it – Facebook wants you to constantly be updated with its latest ‘breaking changes‘ and there is no option but to comply. It sucks out time / bandwidth big time and knowing the diminishing returns from Facebook – it gets frustrating here!

 

Concluding Notes:

Most product managers integrate with Facebook Platform for three reasons – 1. One-click sign-in 2. Social Graph. 3. Distribution (Viral acquisition of users).

It is possible to achieve that without Facebook too.

  1. One Click Sign-in: Create a perpetual logged-in experience for users till he explicitly logs out!
  2. Social Graph: Most successful products like Quora, Twitter, Instagram, etc have build their own network / graph. Remember that same user will have a different identity on every different network.
  3. Distribution: 1 + 1 = 2 is no longer true. Think of discovery and distribution on your own product, you have complete control there.

The aim of this post is not to put negative remarks against Facebook, but to make fellow entrepreneurs know of this when they are building on top of Facebook platform and so that they set right expectations for growth. Happy building!

Update:  We got Facebook Connect back on Wishberg after 30 days of experiment. The main reason was not distribution, but authentication – users do not have to remember one more password! As far as distribution is concerned, Facebook adds little value.

 

Building that 1-Click magic in your Product

Many startups struggle when it comes to building features for their product. Their product road-maps are a list of features they plan to include over next 6-9 months; once they are built out – its a feature mess ~ too many things to do that leaves the user confused.

This does not stop here., entrepreneurs always have this gut feeling – the next feature will be ‘the one’ that will make it up for us. End result is the product becomes feature-heavy or too complex to use.

On my last post – 15 Steps towards building a Great Product, I posted about a simplified approach towards building products; this post is about adding a little magic with just 1-Click.

Here are some examples of 1-Click features:

  • Amazon: 1-Click Checkout (Transaction)
  • AngelList: 1-Click Apply to Accelerators (Application)
  • AngelList: 1-Click Introduction for hiring talent (Hiring)
  • Facebook: 1-Click Sign-in for 3rd Party Apps (Registration)
  • Foursquare: 1-Click Check-in (Location)
  • LinkedIn: 1-Click Endorsement (Interaction)
  • LinkedIn: 1-Click Apply (Hiring)
  • Quora: 1-Click Upvote (Endorsement)
  • Twitter: 1-Click on # for Topics & Trends (Buzz)
  • Uber: 1-Click to Book-a-Cab (Location)

The equation is simple here – what is the core data the product has about the end user and figure out the 1-click feature that best suits your product use-case.

Example.,

  • Amazon stores user data & credit card information which enables it to do single click checkout. 
  • AngelList has a startup profile that it connects with investors / accelerators / talent. 
  • Facebook has user information & social graph through which it allows users to signup for 3rd party apps. 
  • LinkedIn has professional profile of the user through which it allows users to apply for jobs. 
  • Foursquare has user’s location that is used to check-in at a venue.
  • Quora has user’s credentials that are used to upvote (or endorse) a particular answer.
  • Uber has user’s location that is used to book a cab.

Similarly there are opportunities for 1-click on-site distribution. Share on Facebook, Retweet on Twitter, Re-pin on Pinterest or Re-blog on Tumblr are some superb examples of on-site distribution achieved by a single click! 

Concluding Notes:
Many startups choose to ignore simple means to add a magical experience to their products. Focus on building too many features makes the product a bit complicated and difficult to use. 

Remember – most startup products / features are just connecting two dots. Do that with a single click and make it feel like magic!

 

15 Steps towards Building a Great Product!

Note: I recently gave a talk at The Startup Leadership Program and shared thoughts on Product Management and how to go about building great technology products. The deck I shared is embedded w/t the post.

This for all founders & product geeks (that includes me too) who want to build the next great product. Sharing all this for #StartupKarma (Heard this from Bowei – ‘Continue to give away and help other entrepreneurs with a hope that it comes back to you someday!’) 

.


The Background:
As a startup founder, one gets bombarded with advice on pitching, raising investments, growth hacking, marketing and so on. It comes to us through one-on-one interactions, posts we read or multiple startup events and meetups. Unfortunately there is very little or no advice that actually helps you build your product.

Over months, I have studied product patterns in several successful products (like Facebook, Twitter, Quora and so on). This has made me believe that building great products is not just about picking random ideas and shooting in the dark, its a art and science both put together.

Here is a step by step guide for building a great product. I have taken Twitter in this case to demonstrate the examples, however you will be surprised to see the similarities with other products.

Note: Don’t proceed without understanding #0; and without finishing #1 & #2.


#0 | Think: Product does Marketing
The thumb rule for any great product is that you don’t need to market it; it requires zero marketing spends. Instead, it is the users who spread the word, acquire more users which leads to high growth. High virality and strong engagement are the two striking characteristics of a great product. 

So here is the step by step guide towards building the next great product!

</end 0>

#1 | Think: What product are you building?
Have clarity about the product you are building. Make your product statement!

Here are the rules:

  1. Define your product in < 10 words. This is not your pitch statement, its your “product statement”.
  2. Be grammatically correct, include name of your product in these 10 words.
  3. No references with other startups / products. This cannot be “AirBnB for Cars” or “Facebook for Companies”.

Share this product statement with others. Does it communicate ‘everything’ your startup is going to build? If it does not, work on this again!

</end 1>

#2 | Think: Vision
Most startups have beginnings over a random idea (usually this sounds like a billion dollar idea then). Once those ideas get built in 3-6 months, the founders are lost and clueless on what next!

Have a vision around this product you are building. You can run out of ideas, but you can’t run out of vision. Build a product roadmap around this vision. (I mentioned it last year too – point 5 )

Make a note of the vision for your startup / company. Check if the product statement you wrote in Step 1 is the right to achieve the vision you just stated.

Now lets start with building!

</end 2>

#3 | Think: Atomic Unit of Product
I picked this up from Fred Wilson’s post which got me thinking for days on my our own product and even inspired me to rethink on our product / vision.

What is the atomic unit of your product? Example; Atomic unit of Twitter is a ‘Tweet’. For Facebook it is a status update. For Instagram it is a photo. For Gmail it is a email. For YouTube  it is a video.

Simple rules about Atomic Unit of your product:

  1. It has to be owned by you.
  2. It should be only one. More than one atomic unit? Signs of trouble!
  3. Your product statement and vision should be centered around this atomic unit.

</end 3>

#4 | Think: Features

Were always confused on figuring out which features to build and which to let go? Answer is simple – build features only around the atomic unit of your product.

Example., Twitter’s core features – reply, retweet, favorite & follow (a user who tweets) are build around its core atomic unit – “tweet”.

Rules to remember:

  1.  List down all features you can think / build around the atomic unit of your product!
  2. Strip down all the features you have on your product that are not centered around this atomic unit.
</end 4>


#5 | Think: Engagement
Want your users / customers to engage with your product – ensure that features you have selected to build around the atomic unit lead drive engagement.

Example., In case of Twitter, the engagement is Retweets, Favorites and Conversations that one can have around the atomic unit ‘tweet’. Similarly for Facebook it is – Likes, Comments, Shares and so on.

Don’t getting fascinated by engagement features around popular products and force-fit them on your product. Example., force-fitting the favorites like functionality from Twitter on your product.

Rules to remember:

  1. Drive engagement around the atomic unit of the product.
  2. Be innovate. Try multiple options to figure out the perfect fit around your product.
  3. Engagement should be measurable! (Example., 35 Retweets)
</end 5>

#6 | Think: Flexibility

Most startup founders I meet are not flexible. They don’t want to change their product and want users to follow a certain flow which they believe which is right. When asked why, most of the times the answer is “we don’t want to let user play around the product”.

Think twice. Your product should be flexible and your users ‘must play’ with your product. Your product should be flexible at its core – at its atomic unit! Example., Twitter lets you tweet text, a photo, video, post, location & in multiple languages. Others., Facebook lets your post a status that is a text, photo, video and so on. Same for Quora, Tumblr and the rest.

Rules to Remember:

  1. Give freedom to your user to play with your product.
  2. List down all formats in which a user can express the atomic unit of your product.

</end 6>

#7 | Think: Distribution

Key to success of any platform – distribution. Why does this come so late? – You need to build your product right before you even think distribution.

Most founders think distribution is ‘sharing on other platforms’. It is not! Before you even get to allow users to share & distribute to other platforms like Facebook or Twitter, get users to distribute on your own product.

Example., Retweet on Twitter, Share on Facebook, Upvote on Quora, etc are the best examples of on-site distribution.

Rules to Remember:

  1. Distribution should be centered around the ‘atomic unit’ of your product.
  2. If a user has not distributed anything on your product, very rarely would be distribute something outside of it.
  3. Don’t force-fit social in your product. Users will figure out way to share if they like something!
</end 7>

 

#8 | Think: Endorsements
Don’t we breath and live endorsements in our every day lives? Why do we forget to build that in the products we create. Great products use endorsements in every element – it brings out relevance & context to information.

Example., If you notice every element of Twitter has a endorsement if you are logged in. This includes – Retweeted by, Follow Suggestions, Profile Views and Search Results.

Rules to Remember:

  1. Endorsements work 100% of the time. Build them in your product.
  2. Anything that is not context is spam. (Said this earlier)
</end 8>
 

#9 | Think: User Psychology
Most entrepreneurs want users to love their product. Truth is, users don’t love your product. They love the content (or data) on it!

Example., We love to express ourselves on Twitter. Discover best answers on Quora. See moments shared by friends on Facebook.

So if you are building a product, remember to allow users to create their own content and discover relevant content. Don’t try to get users forcefully share something to Facebook or Twitter, it will not work.

Rules to Remember:

  1. Content should be expressed in the atomic unit of your product. Nothing else.
  2. Creation of content is much more valuable than sharing of content. 
  3. If a user has created some content on your product, has something he owns – he is engaged.
</end 9>

 

#10 | Think: Content Dynamics
Once you let users create content on your site, ensure you understand the content dynamics – most importantly that user’s need for that content to be seen! This is step 2 of user psychology – he needs activity around it that will keep him engaged through the features you have built around the atomic unit.

Example., If I tweet something on Twitter, who consumes that content? Not all of my 1000+ followers on Twitter, many of them may never notice it. But there are few followers who will retweet that and amplify the tweet.

You need to have features (again around the atomic unit of the product) that amplifies / distributes the content. And users who do these are your content curators! That is all one needs to know about content dynamics! 

Rules to Remember:

  1. Great content is created by just 1% of your users; That is amplified by 10% content curators – their actions make things go viral!
  2. When content from your product goes viral, in in true sense your product goes viral.
</end 10>
.
#11 | Think: One Point of Discovery

Building product with above elements is important, and now crucial is to package that all in to a exemplary product design. The thumb rule here is simple – user should be able to do everything that has been mentioned here (till now) on one screen. 

Example., the logged in interface of Twitter, Facebook or Quora (though imo Quora still needs some improvements).  

Rules to Remember:

  1. Don’t build a product around design. Build design around the product.
  2. Minimize page views, clicks. User should be able to complete 75% tasks / actions of your product from the screen he is displayed where he logs in.
</end 11>

 

#12 | Think: Privacy
This point is intentionally left blank. That is all I have to say about privacy!

</end 12>

#13 | Think: MVP
Stop building minimum viable products, users won’t adopt them. Instead build more valuable products, I wrote a full post on this topic – the minimum viable product trap!

Still not convinced, here are some examples – 

  1. Bing is a good search engine (if you have not tried it lately, you should). Still we continue to user Google regularly and did not shift. Why? Because there is nothing more valuable it has compared to Google.
  2. Outlook, is now probably as fast as Gmail and with most (of the commonly used) features that users would expect. Yet Gmail continues to lead because Outlook provides nothing more valuable than Gmail.
  3. We did not move from Dropbox to Google Drive. Same., not more valuable.
  4. While in case of WhatsApp, we all moved not just from text messaging to WhatsApp, but also dumped Facebook Chat, GTalk and many other products. Why? – because it is more valuable!

Rules to Remember:

  1. Build something of value to users, that will drive adoption of your product.
  2. Build your product for real users, not for early adopters.
</end 13>

 

#14 | Think: Growth
If building the right product is the toughest thing to do for a startup, distributing it right is even more tougher. If your distribution plan includes advertising or spending $$$s – then you need to rethink your strategy. 

As a startup, you need to completely rely on any existing network to bootstrap your initial growth. Even the existing successful products have, some examples –

  1. Twitter: Live tweets at SXSWi conference displayed on large TV screens.
  2. Facebook: Opened initially in Harward, and more schools later.
  3. YouTube: Nike Advt went viral. Plus many users embedded YouTube videos on then popular MySpace.
  4. Gmail: It was a mail service from Google. Invitation Only. Anyone searching for email services on Google.com was shown advts for Gmail.
  5. Quora: Initially opened to Facebook Alumni network
  6. Zynga: Facebook Feeds.
  7. Dropbox: Invites by Email + Connect Facebook & Twitter accounts.

Rules to Remember:

  1. Bootstrap your growth on other existing successful & large networks.
  2. The networks could be online or offline. Focus on only one!
</end 14>

#15 | Think: Shipping Fast
Many entrepreneurs / founders keep delaying their public beta as they wait endlessly to build a perfect product. This can be very frustrating since the perfect product is always 2 or 3 more features away. Some of the common reasons I hear is – “What if early adopters don’t like the current version of product? what if they rant about it on Twitter?” 

Founders should also know that early adopters are very considerate – they know this is the first version of product that is being shipped. In my case, I rarely rant about early stage startups. To communicate something or to share feedback I shoot a email to the founders. In case I really like a product I spread the word for it. Yes, but I do rant if a startup has raised a Series A, in this case I assume you should have a product where silly mistakes are not acceptable 😛

Rules to Remember:

  1. Ship a Imperfect Product. Its OK!
  2. Collect feedback and ship changes fast. Ensure your write to your users and update them when feedback is implemented.
</end 15>

 

Concluding Notes:
Building products is not easy! Most of the time its shooting in the dark with no clear modelling that lets the product manager believe if a feature you are building will work or not. As startups, we are pressed on time and a wrong feature can cost us time & money.

It took me quite some time to study and understand these unique patterns in several successful products which includes Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Quora and others; finally had a chance to put that on a deck and now on this post. 

While this product management process has been personally very helpful for us at Wishberg; I plan to update this over time as I learn, understand and implement more. Would also want to hear your thoughts on this, please write to me on pj @ beingpractical.com on your learnings and inputs. 

Thank You!

 

Before you start with Growth Hacking

Note: This post is extension to my recent tweet on Product Management.

Building a product startup is exciting. Most startups look to raise capital early and investors look no other measure but traction to take their bets. This need for traction puts immense pressure on the founding team to grow their startup. That leads to implementing multiple tips and tricks to improve the key product metrics – most importantly to show traction to investors. Founders get into the so called ‘growth hacking’ mode. 

Growth hacking is the new buzzword in the startup town. There is nothing wrong with ‘hacking growth’ – most of the tricks attempted in this phase end up being short-term techniques. They might work for a while, bring traction for a while (which might lead you to raise investments) but these techniques don’t help in long term and the growth is not sustainable and quickly falls off.

Startups tend to neglect the simplest rules of product management before starting with growth hacking. According to me, here are the 5 Basic Rules of Product Management:

  1. User Engagement > Growth Hacking
  2. Retention > Acquisition
  3. Context > Activity
  4. Own growth channels > External channels
  5. Being Valuable > Being Social
A. User Engagement > Growth Hacking
Remember startups like BranchOut, Glassdoor, Viddy, Socialcam – that famously hacked growth through Facebook Dialog Feeds? Though they showed amazing growth curve initially, it soon fell off. Most users dropped off the product as quickly as they signed up never to return again. Reason – zero engagement on the product. Ensure that there are enough engagement loops on the product before you do any sort of ‘growth hacking’.

B. Retention > Acquisition
Acquiring users is the simplest thing to do, retaining them is the key. Any user acquisition technique should retain a good percentage of acquired users. Not just that., over a period of time the users who dropped off should be reactivated – there should be enough methods to pull them back – emailers / network effects / and so on. If the product has strong engagement features, retention is a easy task.

C. Context > Activity
Most products undermine the importance of context. In today’s world – anything that is not context is considered spam. The finest examples of a context driven product is Quora that lets you follow topics of your interest and helps you discover relevant content. Also important are products like Twitter (that lets you follow users) and Pinterest (that lets you follow boards) to build a information stream in context thats relevant to you. Think of context when you build features.

D. Own Channels > External Channels
Many startups focus on external channels for growth. Branchout was focussed on Facebook Dialog Feeds, Zynga was focused on Facebook Activity Wall, Viddy was focussed on Facebook Open Graph. Perfectly fine – if there are enough engagement loops and good retention strategy. However depending on external channels might not be sustainable – many startups hacked the Facebook Open Graph to get significant users – this led to users complaining about to the noise on Facebook wall, Facebook in return built many approvals / controls to prevent applications from spamming the users and giving users ease to block spam applications.


Large startups like Facebook, Dropbox, WhatsApp were completely focussed on driving growth through channels owned by self and had very little or no external dependence for growth. Don’t depend too much on external platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google (SEO) for growth – build our own channels. Facebook’s journey of growth hacking is well
documented. Also Dropbox as mentioned in next point. 

E. Being Valuable > Being Social
There are also startups that focus on building ‘too-many’ social sharing features, expecting users to share almost everything and anything on to their social profiles (Facebook, Twitter, etc). Users are smart – they don’t fall in this trap and founders keep wondering why no social sharing happens. Instead of trying to be forceful on social, focus on being valuable. 

Example –  Dropbox, it was a very valuable product that had super methods to hack growth – by connecting FB or Twitter account with Dropbox and providing users additional storage space by asking them to spread a message to their social circle or invite email contacts.

Concluding Notes:
Can you hack growth first and implement these rules later? No. There are startups that hacked user acquisition and raised initial investment on traction., and later things did not go according to the plan. Not just startups, that leaves even investors wondering what went wrong after the initial impressive growth metrics. 

Startups are about growth, no doubt. Getting Techcrunche’d (PR release), top position on Hacker News or Video that goes viral might bring one-time traffic boost / user sign-ups. You can get good amount of traffic by integrating with Facebook Open Graph, optimizing site for Google (SEO) or even paid user acquisition – but make sure that the product has enough engagement, retention loops, value and context to sustain the users you are acquiring!

You may hack growth., but you can’t hack success. Building the next billion dollar company is a big deal!

The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) trap!

Before your read this post, I suggest you go over to Hacker Street India and glance through this thread – How much time it took for the first version (MVP) of your product!

If you don’t know much about MVP, glimpse quickly through the Wikipedia post on – Minimum Viable Product. The definition: “The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

There is much ambiguity in this definition. Lot of judgement is required by the startup founders to define what exactly is MVP version for their product since there are no bullet points to clearly define that. That exactly is a MVP trap!

If you were to build a Social Networking site today, the benchmark for minimum viable product is Facebook. A user will expect all existing features of Facebook to be in your product! For a email service the benchmark is Gmail. For a mobile phone messaging app it is WhatsApp. For a social QnA product it is Quora. For a crowd-funding platform it is Kickstarter. For a phone operating system it is Android / iOS. For search it is Google. For a tablet device it is the Apple iPad.

Early adopters loved the first version of Gmail because it was so much better (and fast) than existing products – Yahoo / Hotmail. They loved the first version of iPhone because it was much better (and usable) than Nokia or Blackberry or Palm then available. On other hand, Bing did not see a great adoption because it was another search engine with no compelling reason for users to switch from Google. Similarly, early adopters saw Microsoft Windows Phone as a different OS for mobile which did all that a Android / iOS phone did differently (different but not better).

If the idea of MVP is showing the product to early adopters and collecting quick feedback, most of that consumer feedback will be based on their comparisons with other products they use on an ongoing basis. To create a wow factor and a compelling reason for users to switch to your product, the minimum viable product you roll out should basically not just exceed current market standards but should also be much better than current offerings.

Otherwise MVP is a trap. Getting a so called minimum viable product (defined by yourself) out in 30 days makes no sense. Every product is different. No product was successful cause its minimum viable product was out in 30 days. You can boast about how quickly you rolled it out, collect feedback from users / customers (most of this feedback is predictable and chances are you would already know about it) and keep building features. Define MVP as not something you can roll out fast, but something that is more valuable than existing product. MVP should not mean Minimum Viable Product. MVP = More Valuable product! (suggested by Nischal)

This is also true for service companies. If you are building a ecommerce company today in India, customers would expect not just similar online transaction experience but also the same level of reliability in logistics or customer support as provided by Flipkart or HomeShop18..

Is there a way out of this? Yes – build really innovating products that don’t have existing benchmarks so you can define one yourself and for others to follow. Or build products in a domain were market leaders are yet to be established.

To succeed, you have to build a better product than one available in the market or innovate and build something that does not exists already! Post that stage you can – Build. Ship. Market. Learn. Build. Let the cycle go on.

Remember, the bar for Minimum Viable Product / Service is very high!

img credit: waltimo on flickr