100+ Startup Directories to Submit your Startup for Free

Day 1 of Product Launch is a mix of joy & disappointment. Joy because you launched your product after days (or weeks or months) of hard work and disappointment because those first 1000 users did not join on day 1.

In the last post, I mentioned about reaching to startup and tech influencers to spread a word for your product when you announce the launch. Next step is spreading word to get those initial beta users beyond your circle of influence + taking steps towards SEO through first 100 backlinks for your product. How? Submit on all important startup directories.

I have shared 100+ directories (startups, beta users, search engines, etc) here to begin with. If there are more that I might have missed – please tweet to me on @beingpractical or email me on pj (at) beingpractical.com to include in this list.

Facebook Pages: No one is talking about you!

About 3 – 4 years back, Facebook Pages was a hot property. Till just some time back, every brand, every advertiser wanted as many “Likes” as possible. At peak of this trend, some brands even did press releases on reaching 1 Million Likes.

Here is some bad news for Social Media Agencies, Consultants and every concerned with Social Media, Facebook Pages as a product has reached end of its life cycle and is no more valuable for brands. Why do I say this?

Check the metrics for some of the most popular internet brands in India and also International brands.

As defined by Facebook, the ‘People talking about this’ includes – likes, comments, shares, answering a question, responding to a event and claiming a offer. The average ‘People Talking about This’ is drastically reduced to just about 2%.

Why is this happening –

  • Facebook has two current priorities – Improve (and retain) User Engagement & Grow Revenues.
  • In a attempt to retain user engagement, Facebook wants users to engage with each other (people to people) and not with applications or pages. 
  • To grow revenues, Facebook wants you to pay to reach its audience. If the natural viral factor is high, brands no longer have to pay Facebook.
  • More pointers on this in my earlier post, where I said Facebook is no longer a powerful distribution platform.

What this implies –

  • Most pages listed above are currently (probably) not advertising on FB. It effectively means that the natural engagement of a Facebook page is now at a average of 2%. 
  • If only 2% of your page audience is going to engage, the ‘viral factor’ that introduced new users to your page will be a minuscule number. 
  • If a brand has gathered Facebook Fans / Likes by doing advertisements for its pages, value of the money spent is $0 today.
  • In case you are running any advertisements to get Likes to your page, consider halting it.
  • The only way to reach your own audience (people who have liked you) is using advertising tools like ‘Boost Post’.

So why is it a dead product? If a Facebook page (as a product) that has over a million users connected to it, but generates only 2% engagement and possibly even less viral factor is as good as dead. As a transaction product (like ecommerce) the conversions from Facebook Page will be further down since your posts reach a smaller percentage of ‘your Facebook audience’.

Going forward if the audience that you are building through Facebook Page is never going to engage with your posts, it might be a better option for advertisers to consider simply running CPC advertisements to target the necessary demographic, take users to their website and engage them there (back to pre-social media days of Facebook).

If you are a start-up building products around Facebook Pages or anything that concerns with distribution through Facebook Pages or even through Facebook, take a hard look at the data / funnels.

Some exceptions above are Mashable, BuzzFeed and 9GAG. Why? Because they are in the content business (yes Mashable too, in my opinion its no more a social media site) and for the fact that they have exceptionally high engagement numbers is probably because they are the only ones doing content marketing right on Facebook!

For everyone else, no one really is talking about you on Facebook. Not unless you are paying for it!

List of Startup / Tech Influencers in India

Many founders struggle in getting a word out for their products or startups – its crucial, something that makes or breaks your startup in its initial days. While tech press and coverage for startups is one thing, its important to have early adopters talk about your product and suggest them to potential users / customers.

India ranks among the top 5 countries by users for global products like Facebook, Twitter, Quora and so on. Clearly we have enough early adopters, question is who?

Below is list of people that I have compiled and consider tech influencers whom you might want to connect with to get a word out about your startup. Good luck!

Things to note –

  • List excludes VCs or people directly associated with Accelerator or Incubators. Their tweets reflect vested interests in portfolio companies. I don’t consider them influencers.
  • People mentioned here frequently tweet / talk about startups and new products.
  • I don’t know many of them personally or follow many of them myself; however they keep appearing on my timeline again and again.
  • I plan to keep this listed updated, if you have any recommendations – drop me a email on pj (at) beingpractical.com

Disclosure: This list is not compilation of users who tweet about Wishberg (my startup). In fact many of them don’t even have a account on Wishberg. But this includes my name somewhere in between :)

PJ’s Equation of Tweeting

Twitter was a product till few years back., its now a powerful communication tool. A medium to stay updated! What you get out of Twitter is simply based on whom who follow.

As a open communication medium, one needs to tweet responsibly! Twitter can get highly addictive and if you are tweeting too much, you may be spamming your follower’s timelines with tweets that may be senseless for many.

I have followed this equation, which now I call the PJ’s Equation of Tweeting.

PJ’s Equation of Tweeting: Total Tweets < Followers x 10.

PJ's Equation of Tweeting

PJ's Equation of Tweeting

Though it looks simple, it really works (for me at least).

  1. One needs to Tweet responsibly, cause the tweets are limited.
  2. With every new follower, you earn right to tweet (10 tweets); and with every lost follower you lose that. Makes me tweet with care.

PS: Total Tweets includes everything – tweets, replies and retweets.
PS 2: If you just joined Twitter, the equation will not work. But as you get regular, it should.
PS 3: If you are celebrity in real world (or if you think you are) then: Tweets < (Followers / 10).

Dear Accelerators

2 years back I wrote that India has a premature incubation model. Things have changed now – Accelerators / Incubators is the new trend here. Simply too many and too much buzz around it, its all smoke without fire. I had a unfortunate encounter with one of organizers of an accelerator who claimed that its program is more beneficial for startups than YC or 500 Startups. That incident still makes me laugh, wrote about it last year.

This post are suggestions to Accelerators and is based on my personal interactions with many startup entrepreneurs, investors and enablers in ecosystem.

1. Stop looking for startups with traction. 

Accelerators start by looking for startups with traction. Its puzzling, because startups with traction are looking for investors, not accelerators. Wouldn’t it be simply awesome if accelerators start saying – ‘Join us and we will ‘help’ you gain / build traction!’.

Unfortunately, since there are too many startups, the competition and market dynamics will not make this real. But seriously, can some accelerator stand up and say – ‘Join us and we will ‘help’ you gain / build traction!’. Entrepreneurs will have more faith & trust in you.

2. Be a little transparent.

Your metric for success is simple – success of the startups that have graduated from accelerator. Tell us that story, maybe you could learn a bit from TechStars that lists detailed performance of its portfolio companies.

No matter how flashy personal brand you manage to build for yourself, all that any entrepreneur really cares about is his / her own startup. So let startups that are applying to your program judge you ‘only’ by performance of your earlier startups.

And if your startup performance report is bad, here is some ‘free’ advice for you – pivot!


3. Prove your worth before asking too much.

With exception of few top accelerators, most startups end up applying at other accelerators after they have failed to raise investment from angels or failed to get through the top accelerators (yup, I am being practical – this is the reality!).

The top accelerators take between 5% to 8% stake in a startup for $20K to $50K. You be the judge how much equity should a startup give you, in my opinion it should definitely not be more than 5%. Don’t act too pricey, you will have to prove your worth before you ask for anything more. There are also bootcamps and acceleration programs that offer similar benefits for startups at no investments / no equity.

Also from perspective of founders, 8% to 15% dilution at accelerator (some startups go through 2 accelerators), 15% to 25% dilution at seed / angel-round, 20% dilution at Series A. By this time with a 10% ESOP pool, entrepreneurs are just left with their skin-in-the-game.

PS: And if you are adding clauses like permanent non-dilution; offering your (little) cash in tranches or after several ‘gentle reminders’ from founders – there is a special place reserved for you in hell.

4. Startups are not one night stands.

No matter how much accelerators would like to think they can change the fate of startups in matter of few weeks – they are wrong. Startups take years to grow, they are not overnight successes as many people perceive them to be and most of the growth comes once they face the real world (which is after the demo day). It takes time to find the product-market fit and it comes with multiple iterations on product.

Your so called focus on batch after batch, this sounds like one-night stand with startups. Founders have trusted you, please get into a long term relationships with the startups. Be there when they need you (and even when they don’t).

5. Your partnerships with Investors means nothing to startups.

Many accelerators ‘flaunt’ their partnerships with venture capital firms to startups and also occasionally drop names of influential angel investors. First time entrepreneurs are often misled by such talks and tend to think it as an assurance that they might be funded on graduation day / demo day or their chance of getting funded is higher through a accelerator.

Honestly – these partnerships mean nothing. Venture Capital firms are always on a lookout for their deal-flow; the word ‘deal flow’ explains almost everything in this industry. Any partnership that any VC has with any accelerator is only for the purpose of deal flow, they do not want to miss out on any hot startup but this partnership is definitely not a investment commitment (unless it is on lines of YC – $80K on convertible notes).

6. Be more transparent on utilization of time (and funds).

Not many accelerators (and also many entrepreneurs) realize that the biggest resource startups should be worried about is not money, its time. Time runs out fast, for everyone.

While there are programs and activities that directly add value in building product, any time that is gone outside of that (relocation, attending events, visiting places and so on) means staying away from building product which decelerates the start-up. Make founders aware of that well in advance – so that they can make their plans accordingly or alternate plans like one of the founder stays back and manages day-to-day tasks.

Same with funds, if there are any programs, costs (legal, travel, etc) that will require startups to pay the accelerators – please be transparent about them and mention that to founders well before they join the program.

7. Mentoring the Startups

The kind of startups entrepreneurs are building today did not even exist few years back. The skills startups required today are – design, data, distribution, product and technology. Unfortunately, we do not have great talent for these verticals in India.

So accelerators are getting investors to mentor startups, this is where the model starts falling apart. 99% of time the investor will be advising / mentoring the startup without using their product or experiencing its service! I don’t mean to offend anyone here, but the fact is – Investors should be investing, not mentoring! (unless they have skin in the game).

Take a break, read this post – Great Entrepreneurs will listen to you but will follow their own instincts.

Read 2: In 30 Days My Startup Will be Dead

Be valuable to the startups in your accelerator and get mentors who can really help them grow. Get Entrepreneurs or Senior Executives (who are entrepreneurial or proven achievers) and have skill sets that startup needs to mentor them. Alternative suggestion – get founders or executives from known Silicon Valley startups to mentor!

Mark Suster said few days back at PreMoney conference – ‘Networks of entrepreneurs helping each other are significantly better than board meetings for learning.’

8. Your over-extensive focus on demo day kills few of your startups.

If I were a part of any accelerator, I would have opted out of the demo day. Simply too much focus on demo day! Of the 12 week acceleration program, 3-4 weeks (effectively 33% of time) goes in its preparation, that is not all since you get in to meetings, introductions and so on, the chances are you will spend next 4 weeks on those follow-up meetings.

Mark Suster says it best – Demo days are showcase of who is best at on-stage presentations ~ coached and polished. They produce too much hype and too little value. Also in another post (more from a VC perspective), Mark explains the importance of proprietary deal flow for investors.

If you are observing this space – you would realize that even the startups graduating out of top accelerators are struggling to raise investments. Not all of them are getting funded or are able to close their investments quickly. Probable reason – too many startups? too much hype? could be anything else.

Elad Gill wrote a brilliant post on VC Signaling last year. I believe similar sort of signaling happens with startups in any accelerator too. In a batch of 20 – 40 startups, investors are bound to choose the best – the top 20%, or the best 4-6 startups that stand out on demo day, rest 80% startups will not find it easy to raise investment.

Worst is negative signaling effect, if any of the startups from that batch are unable to close investment in next 4-12 weeks post the demo day, it will be bit tough for them to close it going forward unless they get some significant traction.

So instead of flashy demo days, accelerators should focus on getting one-on-one interaction between startups and investors. Although it is apparent that from every batch there will be few standout startups., as an accelerator you need to give a fair and equal chance to every startup in your batch. For raising funds demo day works for few startups, but makes it difficult for many startups and unknowingly kills few.

Treat demo days as a demo day – show what product you have built! Not just to investors, but also to influential early adopters and potential partners.

9. Help startups with distribution. Not pitches.

Because of these demo day pitches, there is a certain glorification of startups – even before they are worth glorifying. Companies need to be glorified by their traction, revenue, customers etc not because of a nice punchline and a great deck. Demo days are setting a wrong precedent in the very first place. Pitching has its own importance but most founders today believe that’s the only thing to do.

I have said this multiple times – the easiest thing a startup can do is to build a product or pitch to investors. Toughest thing is – finding product market fit & distribution. Unfortunately, most accelerators are trying to help startups with easier tasks, not the critical ones. Startups don’t fail because of lack of money, they fail because of lack of product adoption.

If it is a consumer startup – accelerator should help it achieve its first 25K-50K users. If it is a enterprise startup – accelerators should make introductions to potential clients and help them get their first 25-50 paying customers. When a startup succeeds on this – they will not require to pitch any investor at all!

Concluding Notes:

Most accelerators ask startups on what they are innovating on, while they are trying to replicate the success of YC. The intention of this post is not to criticize accelerators, but a feedback for them on how they can start being more valuable to their customers – the startups!

Credits: Thanks to Kulin Shah (Co-founder at Wishberg) & Avlesh Singh (Co-founder at WebEngage) for reading the draft and their suggestions on this post.

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!’) 

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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