Design thinking Playbook Roundtable by Deepa Bachu

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The core idea of a startup is to tap into the previously unexplored markets, identifying unsolved problems and bringing to the market innovation that disrupt the existing eco-system. It’s about understanding complex problems and coming up with innovative, disruptive solutions…a process that requires understanding the consumers’ requirements and behavior patterns to create a well-thought out solution for the customers’ benefit.

While most entrepreneurs spend weeks brainstorming about the idea, they often ignore the key ingredient to innovation : design.

Design /dɪˈzʌɪn/ (noun) – do or plan (something) with a specific purpose in mind.

The Design thinking Playbook Roundtable organized by iSpirit and conducted by Deepa Bachu from Pensaar helped startup founders understand the importance of design thinking and integrate design into their workflow. Here are some key takeaways from the Playbook Roundtable held at the head office of Instamojo in Bangalore:

Design thinking is not just about the graphic elements, UI or tools. It is a creative approach to a problem. It is a problem solving methodology – whether it is blueprints for a building, a beautiful graphic design for a brochure, a sleek UI for a website or a comfortable piece of furniture, design helps to solve any problem, visual or physical.

While it is important to engage a professional, it is crucial that everybody on the team thinks DESIGN. Entrepreneurs should be able to step away from their immediate environment to look around and view their idea from the perception of the consumers, a process that requires creative thinking.

As a good product manager, a startup founder should be able to connect the dots in non-obvious ways to come up with a unique and innovate solution for the consumers. It is crucial for entrepreneurs develop a deep insight of the problem they are seeking to solve and be passionate about it before coming up with a solution. More startups focus more on the solution and forget the initial problem statement. You must never lose sight of your problem, constantly revisiting it while fine-tuning and tweaking the solution.

A product is valuable only as long as the consumer users it. It is thus important for entrepreneurs to understand customer behavior in order to make their product user friendly. Usability studies though interesting, aren’t always reliable. Startup founders thus have to seek out customers and work with them closely to understand what they need, what they think, how they use the product and how they feel about it.

Customer behavior v/s customer intent – it is important to understand the difference between the two. While a user may want to do something in the ideal world (intent), she may not be able to do it in the real world (behavior). As entrepreneurs it is important to differentiate intent from actual behavior. If this is geographically impossible, startup founders should not hesitate to use data analytics to tap into the users’ behavior patterns and modify the product.

Design thinking allows entrepreneurs to look at their idea holistically and come up with the best possible solution for their users. Design after all enables people to create and come up with the unimaginable and unexpected designs.

 

 

Growth Hackers Will Share Their Secrets at SaaSx Chennai

This Thursday evening will witness the largest gathering of SaaS founders in India. In the event conceived by iSPIRT called SaaSx Chennai, more than 100 people, largely SaaS founders, apart from a few handful of product industry influencers, will brainstorm on various aspects of a SaaS business, especially taking the SaaS organization from a $10 million revenue to a $100 million revenue.

Girish Mathrubootham, CEO of Freshdesk, talks of Aaron Ross, the author of Predictable Revenue, as the brain behind Salesforce.com’s recurring $100 million revenue year on year. He initially started a company, raised $5 million, burnt the whole cash, and shut down the company. Then he joined Salesforce.com as a cold caller. Finding cold calling to be a bit arduous in winning customers, he conceived what Girish calls Cold Calling 2.0. His idea was to first interact with the customer on email and then establish a rapport, before calling the customer. The idea behind this exercise to first zeroing in on the most suitable customer for your product. This turns the prospect into a paying customer quickly.

SaaSx_headerAt SaaSx Chennai, Aaron Ross will deliver the keynote as SaaSx via video and will release the Jump Start Guide Desk Marketing and Selling for SaaS, co-authored by Suresh Sambandam, founder of KissFlow, Krish Subramaniam, co-founder of ChargeBee, Niraj Ranjan Rout, founder of GrexIt, and Sahil Parikh, founder of BrightPod.

jumpstart-guid-1Suresh says the event was conceived on the lines of SaaStr Conference, hosted by Jason Lemkin. He attended the event in San Francisco this February. Buoyed by the 300 to 400 founders coming together from all over the world in SaaSter, he wanted to bring together the SaaS founders in India. SaaS companies are witnessing phenomenal growth all over the world, and India is also seeing an uptick in this sector. Chennai is emerging as the SaaS hub of India, thanks to six big companies that are running their operations here. There are startups emerging as well. “Just two days after we announced the event, 65 signups happened and SaaS founders were excited by the idea,” says Suresh.

“In a focused event, founders can discuss real problems,” says Girish. A conference of a general nature does not give a beneficial take-away for an entrepreneur. “The idea is to bring similar people at similar stages of growth and discuss their pain points,” says Krish of Chargebee. He says cross-learning from each other will be useful in solving many problems the SaaS entrepreneurs face. “Even before the event, many one-on-one meetings are happening among SaaS entrepreneurs,” says Krish.

The event will have four parts. A My Story session with three SaaS founders, followed by an open house on Anything and Everything on SaaS moderated by Girish, aided by Suresh and Krish.

Aaron Ross will deliver the keynote then and finally, the Jumpstart Guide will be released

“The Way” of Successful Entrepreneurs

“The Why” : 

This blog is a very hard one to write and is almost equivalent to capturing what Po felt at the end of KungFu Panda (for uninitiated don’t worry next few paragraphs will make it clear). Therefore I am not going to attempt to explain the methodology in its entirety. There is lot of information online on Wikipedia and Effectuation. However I am going to provide crux of the learning (memorable one liners wherever possible) that I took away and urge readers to explore more. The questions from current entrepreneurs at the end also should help one to think of it in an applied context.

The concept is extremely powerful and yet very simple; but to truly get the gist one needs to have attempted at least one startup. In spite of this I recommend or even mandate reading this before anyone attempts Entrepreneurship. If you don’t believe me, see Mr Vinod Khosla’s handwritten notes and remarks of this paper written by Prof Saras (first good paper I have seen titled – What makes entrepreneurs entrepreneurial?

Prof Saras arrived at this insight after interviewing 45 successful entrepreneurial CEOs from varied backgrounds and industries. Success in this context is defined as Entrepreneurs who have been doing companies for over 15 years with multiple startups and at least one IPO. The interviews and the analyses focused on the decision making process and the personal convictions of the entrepreneurs apart from the business models and the numbers.

The “What”:

One of the strongest common traits that emerged out of this is the lack of belief in market predictions and trends. Instead these focused on what is tangibly available to them at that point in time. Basically work with whatever already is in your control and not predict the future. This obviously generated a lot of heated discussion amongst the early stage entrepreneurs present, as the first step of any business plan is market projection. It’s a very difficult concept to wrap the head around as most of us come from managerial background and have been conditioned to project a goal.

The second strongest common trait is “Co-Creation of future”. This is a phenomenal concept much different than prevalent thinking of co-founder, investor, and customer equations.

The method is called “Effectuation” (as opposed to causal) is ruled by few first principles explained below. (For folks clued into this whole thing there are some overlap/comparison with Lean movement as well as Theory of constraints. )

(pic source : Effectuation.org)
(pic source : Effectuation.org)

Bird in Hand:

Do not start with the result. An actual sale is the only form of market prediction that one should rely on.

Affordable Loss principles:

Invest only as much as one can afford to loose. In extreme ideal case it is zero. The affordability is not just about material aspects.

Crazy Quilt principle

Build a network of self-selected stakeholders. No competitive analyses.

Lemonade principle

Embrace and Leverage surprises (Not avoid them)

Pilot in the Plane

So if you can’t predict how do you operate? This viewpoint is, future is neither known nor predicted, it is made.

The two by two matrix below gives a categorization various perspectives on thinking about the future. Corporates and VC tend to go for first quadrant. While the most successful entrepreneurs operate in quadrant 3.

The “How”

In action the effectuation process looks like this. The great emphasis is on really knowing who one is and defining the affordable loss (Box 2) from left. From then on it is really finding the co-creators and moving ahead.

(pic source : Effectuation.org)

 

The session concluded with many real life situations of the entrepreneurs present who shared their problems and an effectual way of solving them. Some of them with crux of the advise by Prof Saras are described in brief here.

effetuation31) If one is not focusing on market research, how do you know which market segments to go after? (Adarsh of Aindra)

  • The first principles stress on doing what is in your control and getting a committed co-creator. So selection of the target segments should be dictated by these factors. (Bird in Hand) Affordable loss principle dictates how much are you willing to lose in search of markets and that will also play into decision on markets.

2) How do you decide when to expand on another geography? (Mukesh of MediaAnt)

  • Base it again on the co-creation and bird in hand principles. Expand when it makes sense from the control perspective and when you have a committed co-creator.

3) What happens when effectuation ‘s first step (what we know, who we are) leads you to too small a niche? (Natwar, Around.io)

  • Sometimes it is great way to cut the loss and attempt something else. However many successful entrepreneurs have found a general aspect that can be scaled into larger markets (Ex IceHotel niche realized that it can export iceglasses to major high end hotels, also curtain blinds company realizing it is in the business of light control and expanding into lamp shades.)

The crazy quilt and lemonade (Embrace the surprise) may lead the extended team and sometime co-founders to feel that founders are disoriented. How do you deal with such situations? (Avi, Levitum)

  • People management no matter what way you go is a tough challenge. It is good to take the next level into the mindset and make sure their affordable losse’s are aligned with the change in direction.

Effectiveness of such methods in Indian eco system where trust factor is low and getting committed co-creator is not easy. (Manjula of IronSense, Vikram of BookBuzzer)

  • While there may be some truth in this as traditionally Indian businesses are family/community owned, the situation is not very different in developed countries. Commitments are hard and going back on the word does happen sometimes.

What does it mean when a stakeholder is following up but not giving money? Also specific question by Zimply about how make publisher commit to the discussed pricing ? (Roxna of Zimply, Anjan of Inquirly).

  • Both of these require ability to peel the layers and get to the root cause of stakeholders (co-creators) commitment phobia. Finally it is better to move on and find a new co-creator to make sure you are within your affordable loss.

To conclude, I feel at the center of it all is a very crucial “people and communication skills” that would help people to find co-creators. Hopefully we can collectively build the techniques tools and use cases needed for these amongst our eco system.

What India needs is a bootcamp for existing Product folks

PNSummit just pivoted. But only in name. And it was to reflect the true nature of what this first-ever bootcamp for product folks is all about.

Many ProductNation friends asked why it was called a Summit because…  hey, it is not a conference. Its more intense than a conference and much more meaningful for a product startup. This led to the pivot and thus was born #PNCamp – the bootcamp for product entrepreneurs by iSPIRT, cooked in the ProductNation kitchen.

With the new name we wanted to share with you new insights into #PNCamp…

There’s 4 Masala packed sessions on the Discovery Hacking day (Dec 4) for young startups. You’ll stay with the same group of 20-25 folks all day, across all sessions and get to know and help each other in depth. Now does that sound interesting?

Selling in India and selling to the world – baked oven fresh for you and served on the Scale Hacking Day (Dec 5). There are group sessions and in between several informal sessions or quick bites’.  The groups sessions are the “a la carte” for a software startup – conceptualized and cooked with your taste in mind.

There’s food for B2C folks and B2B folks. For 1 year old Startups. And for 3 year olds. All slow cooked the way it should be. Hand curated sessions, every single one. This is what the volunteers are doing, and being product folks themselves they understand this intricately.

Does all this talk about food make you hungry for more?

  • See the Slideshare deck below for a more detailed overview of #PNCamp
  • Attend a PNCamp Q&A webinar and meet one of our volunteers online – click here
  • Directly apply for PNCamp here.

Wait, there’s more… the icing on the cake at #PNCamp awaits. That icing is the hand curated peer group we’re creating for you and one that you’d love to work with during the #PNCamp, and even after.

P.S. : you can choose which of the days (Discovery Hacking OR Scale Hacking) is suitable for you, depending the stage you are and the traction at your Startup. We kind of want to ensure that the folks in your room have similar stage of challenges as you do. So some filtering will happen. It’s for the common good so we’re sure you won’t mind. The volunteers are product folks like you, putting in a lot of effort to make this vision a reality.

 

Next Gear into ProductNation Summit

The journey is unstoppable. India has started building software products that the world recognizes… a far cry from the days when it was known only for software programmers and not for software. Through its successful Playbook RoundTables and Community platform, iSPIRT’s ProductNation initiative has touched the lives of hundreds of product entrepreneurs across India.

ProductNation thrives on the strengths of our Volunteer community who are people just like you. This community is proud to announce the ProductNation Summit coming this December in 2013. We will soon be on twitter, just follow us @Product_Nation and the #PNSummit hashtag.

#PNSummit is selflessly hand-crafted by Product folks, a Summit attended exclusively by Product folks. A lot is going to be talked about Customer Discovery and Growth Hacking. #PNSummit has lean forward and lean back sessions and is practitioner led with over 70% of the sessions being interactive. These sessions are no holds barred. They are practical, frank and maybe even brutal. It will be a gurukul, where teacher and taught share the same platform, only the roles are reversed. Yet there is no sage on stage, only like minded peers.

If this sounds like just what you are missing, we’ll be delighted to send you an invite. Just let us know a little more about you, so we can ensure the other folks in the room are also passionate Product folks. Seats are extremely limited and there is a marginal Attendee fee. What gets you in is not the fee, but your passion, i.e., what you do.

Once you’ve been there, you can take back a lot more that what you learn in 2 days. Insights from great like minded people like you, a platform to share and learn for 4-6 months after the summit, and friendships for a lifetime. Seats are extremely limited and open only for the first 100 who get invited.

Your current situation is not important. If you have the mindset, Invites for the lucky 100 will not remain available for long. Gates close on 30th September.

Quick Research / Usability Methods: Lean Usability Testing

(Post 3 of a series on quick research and usability techniques. Start-up’s can use these techniques fairly easily to connect to and understand their end users better, as well as maintain usability standards on their products.)

Previous posts in this series showcased two discount usability engineering methods – Expert Usability Review‘ and ‘Heuristic Evaluation’. Both these methods are ‘expert based’ – i.e. an interface is reviewed by design or usability experts vs. getting feedback from end users – and are used to identify usability issues on an interface.

Post 3 introduces lean Usability Testing – A ‘guerrilla’ version of traditional Usability Testing.

Before discussing the how’s and why’s of ‘lean’ testing, here are a few basic points to better understand Usability Testing and why it’s important in context to start up’s.

USABILITY TESTING BASICS

Usability Testing (UT) is a research method used to gain insight into product usability.
It is a time bound ‘show and tell’ method where a moderator asks representative users to use and/or talk about the product being evaluated, in context to key task scenarios.
A basic test typically starts with open ended ‘interview style’ questions, followed by a longer scenario based ‘show and tell’ session and ends with a debriefing session.

Usability Testing can be conducted at various points of the product development lifecycle.
Although there are several types of usability tests and techniques that can be used, testing can be broadly classified into ‘Formative’ and ‘Summative’ Testing.

Formative Testing can be conducted at any stage of development. (Initial paper prototype / high fidelity prototype / even post release)
The objective is to aid iterative design. Formative Testing is typically qualitative in nature and the goal is to find specific pain points and highlight areas of improvement.

Summative Testing
is done only with designs that are complete or near completion.
The objective is usually to judge the design against quantitative metrics (like efficiency or productivity) or against competitive products.

Find out more about Usability Testing and how you can plan for and conduct a test, at Usability.gov.

Steve Krug’s demo video is also a good starting point to get started with Usability Testing.

Demo Usability Test

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHY TESTING IS IMPORTANT: THE MALCOVICH BIAS

The Malcovich Bias

The UT method is particularly relevant to start ups, where the environment is characteristically ‘inspired’ and ‘driven’ by a shared product vision.
In order to pull in the best talent and sustain momentum, start-up leaders ‘sell’ their product to themselves, to their investors and to their employees.

While this can energize teams and enhance productivity, it also fuels the ‘Malcovich Bias’.
(‘The assumption that ‘target users’ use things / see things / care about the same things that the ‘product / design team’ does.’)

In a high-pressure, super charged start up environment, it is easy to become ‘product / vision focussed’ rather than focussed on the people who are ultimately going to use the product.

Usability Testing puts start up teams in touch with their end users and their reactions to the product that is being built.

And seeing people struggle with what seemed standard or obvious reinforces the fact that assumptions made about the product or its features may be very different from the way users actually perceive or experience it.

LEAN USABILITY TESTING

That said, traditional Usability Testing can be difficult to incorporate into tight budgets and product timelines. However, several specific elements add to the cost, duration and complexity of testing, and can be substituted with lightweight alternatives that help make ‘Usability Testing’ leaner.

Lean Usability Testing is easier to fit in because it is cheaper and can be done more quickly than traditional testing. And more so in context to Agile Software Development – where a key practice is quick and incremental development.

For example, did you know that testing in a professional facility can add to the cost, but is usually not a ‘must have’?
At a basic level, a test can be conducted very effectively in any room that is quiet and available for use without interruption.

Other (cost effective) alternatives to a professional / formal testing space include:

  1. Remote (Moderated) Usability Testing
    Remote Testing follows the same objectives and a similar process to traditional ‘lab’ usability testing. The obvious difference is that the moderator and the user are in two different locations. (e.g. The moderator in his office / the user in his office or home)
    However, with good screen sharing and screen recording software, usability testing can be conducted easily and effectively with a remote participant. Besides saving costs related to renting or setting up a formal testing space, remote testing reduces the costs of accessing geographically dispersed target users.

    screen sharing software

    Recommended screen sharing software – WebEx, Adobe Connect, Skype, GoToMeeting

    screen recording software

    Tech Smith’s Camtasia Recorder is an easy-to-use tool that can be used to capture remote testing sessions for later reference and analysis.

  2. Guerrilla Testing: This is an impromptu method and therefore should not be tightly scripted or planned. The distinguishing characteristic of this method is its spontaneity.

    The method essentially involves:
    … taking your product to a public space
    … identifying and recruiting people who are interested / fit a broad profile from among a pool of strangers
    … conducting the test right after

    If your product is generic or targeting a wide audience, you can conduct guerrilla testing on the street / in a coffee shop / at a conference;
    For niche or specifically targeted products, a more specific space that is likely to be populated by your target users would work best. (Like outside a college for an educational product, or inside a mall for a product related to shopping.)

    Besides cost and time saving, Remote Testing and Guerrilla Testing are good DIY research options for start-ups who want to get end user feedback.
    They are easier to plan and organize than traditional usability tests. Several of the challenges related to scheduling and set up in traditional testing are no longer applicable here.

    Remote Testing

    Find out more about how you can set up and conduct a Remote Test at Usability.gov, Quick and Dirty Remote User Testing (A List Apart)More about Guerrilla Testing at – UX Booth

  3. In-Context Testing
    In this case, the researcher pre-recruits participants, and then schedules and conducts tests in the context they would typically use the product – rather than having participants come in to a formal testing venue.Testing in the participants natural context of product usage not only cuts costs associated with a formal facility, but adds richness to the test. Contextual influencers that would otherwise be invisible to the researcher now become added inputs to the research.

Coming up soon – How to be leaner in participant recruiting, selection of testing equipment / software, reporting and more…

Post 4 will discuss multiple additional ways in which start up’s can conduct a Usability Test at leaner costs and timelines.

Are you a design thinker evangelizing or facilitating user research and usability methods within your start-up?
We would love to hear about your experience / answer any questions that you have about the research and usability methods you use.

We invite members of the start-up community to volunteer their screens / functions for use as examples in upcoming posts showcasing additional research techniques.
Email me at devika(at)anagramresearch.com to check whether your screen is eligible for selection. 

Which feature to prioritize first ? – Wrong Question

When building a product it is very easy to make a list of features to build. One could brainstorm to create an initial list, copy features from a similar product or ask others (including potential users or customers ) via a feature wish list.

However which feature to prioritize and what to build first?  is one of the most burning question for  startup founders and early employees.

There will always be more features to build and add than there is the capacity or bandwidth to build.The additional challenge is even after building it is not clear if it was the right decision.

These decisions typically happen based on what one thinks is cool to build or someone has asked to build first.  For lack of a better framework to use to decide that is how things move forward but time runs out, product builder stand clueless what should have gone in the first place.

LeanStartup principles offer a framework for thinking about this. BUILD gets complemented by MEASURE & LEARN and which further loops.

At the beginning of an idea building an MVP is good step forward (which as we previously is tool for learning & may not be any feature of the product) to learn a little bit more.

With learning from MVP additional features can be decided upon. List each feature in terms in terms of the learning that they should yield along with a defined metric.

At various stage of a startup different metrics matter and come into play. For instance in the very beginning along with the MVP – validation of problem & solution is the important metric. Once that is established metrics relevant user acquisition, retention, referrals become important.

The first step to decide before periodization is to decide the metric for startup to focus on. Once the metric identified picking the feature become easy.

For instance for a product the problem/validation is established the next important stage is to acquire users really fast then to prioritize a feature ask the question “Does feature X allow to acquire users more by Y%”. Pick the feature first that will have the higher score for this. If development time comparison for the feature is steep then factor it in the trade-off.

In essence the question “Which features to prioritize to first” is to be really framed as “Which learning to prioritize first ?”

How to debug a product startup idea ?

You may find it useful to read the previous post on importance of ambiguity tolerance and questioning for an engineer transitioning to a product guy before reading this post.

When I was first tasked with writing new features for an existing product that contained thousands of lines of code I earnestly started reading through the documentation & code to understand how it is structured and to figure out the APIs to use. My then engineering mentor said to me

” Reading through the documentation & code you will spend days or even weeks forming mental model which you will learn may not be accurate as you implement your code later on, leading to a lot of wastage of time and redoing.  Instead setup your environment, load the code inside a debugger, put a breakpoint and run it through. If there are specific areas you want to learn  then ‘step in’ to that function. This way you will learn about it faster, more accurately and spend less time redoing

I found this advice to be a great insight and I think it extends in many places.

As a product startup one always start with an idea and then forms mental models around that (business plan or business case studies) and then build things based on these models to later realize they were not accurate thus wasting a lot of time. In the harsh world of startups you don’t get another chance to re-write.

You have to know very early if your idea will work before you can commit a lot resources on it. Things that determine if your idea works are some of the following –

Will it be adopted by users,

Will it talked about to friends,

Will it paid for by someone,

Or even celebrated & craved.

Essentially will it create the impact for you and the world that you dream it will.

MVP – your Idea Debugger

To know if your idea will work you should run it through a debugger that can tell you that the logic of idea will lead to its intended impact.

Enter the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), a term first coined by Frank Robinson and further popularized by Eric Ries.  Today it is a term that is quite loosely & liberally used and at times even abused.  MVP is a misnomer in the sense it is not the stripped version of the product but it is really a tool about learning & risk reduction around customer & market.  It is employed to uncover critical learning of your idea.  MVP is best thought of as the debugger of your product idea.

Before we start getting into the details of an MVP, let’s examine the anatomy of an idea first

Idea Anatomy

An Idea consists of the following elements

Anatomy of an Idea
Anatomy of an Idea

Vision – A new state of the world that will be in place if the idea becomes successful.

Problem – A friction that is coming in the way of job that a beneficiary is trying to get done

Solution – A proposed alternative for removing the friction

Beneficiary (also called as Customer* or a User**) – Someone who is going to benefit from the idea

* Customer is one who writes the cheque for the service consumed.
**User is someone who uses the product or service

 

Example:

Let us take an example to illustrate. Suppose you came up with an idea for creating a mobile SariApp that shows how to drape a sari.  It could be dissected the following way.

SariApp Vision:  More women in the world  in touch with their Indian traditions (or traditional Indian dressing)

SariApp Problem:  Would like to wear a sari for attending an Indian function but have no past experience or knowledge of draping a sari.

SariApp Solution:  A screen by screen illustration of each step of sari draping.

SariApp Beneficiaries (customer):  Women who have been fascinated by this Indian dress or those who who grew up outside of India never bought a sari before.

Once you do this you realize that problem, solution & beneficiaries are all at best guesses or assumptions that you make.  The task of debugging your idea thus becomes one of converting each of these guesses into verifiable facts that either proves or disproves them.

How MVP clarifies Idea logic

After you list down the things that are big unknowns in your idea you build something minimal (your MVP) to question it. The interesting thing about the MVP is that you have to build one for every idea, the same debugger can’t be used for every idea and the same learning does not apply everywhere. You could design an MVP to test or uncover learning one element or combination of elements (about just problem or combination of problem/solution/customer segment in the idea).

An example of an MVP for the above SariApp could be a simple landing page that articulates clearly the problem statement, the solution and call to action (such as leaving an email address to get contacted when solution becomes ready). Responses from traffic directed to the landing page  will  help learn about the merit of the problem/solution. If there are high number of clicks on your landing page but very few clicks on call to action a most likely interpretation of that could be those who visited care about the problem but not the solution. If the visits itself was very few then it is most likely they don’t care about the problem itself as you have stated it and so on and so forth.

Few things to keep in mind

The fidelity of the MVP is very important aspect to note which describes the minimum-ness of the MVP and plays a key role (see diagram) on the learning and how fast you get it. You have to start with testing the value proposition (a concise statement of problem & solution together) of the idea and increase the fidelity to learn more.
Fidelity of an MVP
Fidelity of an MVP denotes the minimum-ness of the MVP

 In most cases MVP mostly tells what does not work rather than what works or even why it works. One has to iterate over changing the MVP and increasing the fidelity of it.

So what are the debuggers (MVP) you have built for your idea?

In the next post we will look at “Four critical stages of Product Startup Fitness” 

How to go from an engineer to a product entrepreneur?

When you work as an engineer regardless of whether it is startup or a big company (in consulting services or products) you are always given guidance on what you should build. Even the most autonomous programmers when working independently has someone tell him what to do. However when you become the founder of a startup the most stressful thing you immediately encounter is ‘What should be built?’.

This decision is guided by what-if scenarios or even based on what is cool to build and show off to others. If you are somewhat disciplined then you document these thought somewhere before you start writing code. In software engineering language this is also referred to as requirements analysis document. Little thought is given to how does one know that this is indeed something needed by someone. To address this one of the best techniques known to engineers is applied – abstract it away. You decide to assume that whatever conjured up is indeed correct to help make further progress as sitting idle without any doing any coding is a waste of time.

When you were just an engineer working elsewhere the impact of such assumption is someone else’s problem but now the impact is on you.  Also given that you have limited runway the stake for making mistakes about that question is very high.

You thus face two scenarios which as engineers you may have never faced.

  •  To make a decision in the face of unknown 
  • To own the decision you make

Product entrepreneurs realize this situation and resist the urge to make any assumption and proceed with a learning mindset. They make decision to the extent to which they can learn. Infact the really great entrepreneurs mentally sequence their unknowns (assumptions) in the order of most negative impact and move forward to uncover them.

These are in fact the two key skills that a startup product manager should become excellent at – owning the decisions & discovery (learning) before making decisions.

In the next post we will look at “How to debug a product startup idea?

Wingify – optimizing your website, simply!

Wingify’s vision is to develop world’s best tools for optimizing a website. Wingify launched ‘Visual Website Optimiser’ – an A/B testing software. Their products help in increasing website sales, conversions, signups and, at the same time, decreasing advertising budget. All this done by products which are really simple to use. Having hit 1900 customers in about 3 years, they sure have made internet a better place to be in, in their own way.

Aakriti Bhargava from Boring Brands, spoke with Paras Chopra, Founder & CEO Wingify on his interesting journey so far.

What was the vision, which led you to start Wingify?

Wingify started in May 2010, to make products in the marketing optimizing domain. That was the time when Google offered a very expensive and technical tool for A/B testing – we spotted the opportunity to create a powerful product at a reasonable price. Our ambition from day 1 was to simplify the testing of website for anyone and build in time – efficiency to ensure someone with no knowledge of coding could do it with ease. Having catered to over 1900 customers around the world, we hope, we are in line in fulfilling the intent of starting up.

What has worked out really well for Wingify in such a short time?

Having focussed in the simplicity of the offering seems to have helped us a lot in scaling our operations so far. Relying on self-service model, we have insisted on simple processes to create website versions in a visual designer and specify what goals are desired to optimize the website for. That’s all! No need to do complex JavaScript page tagging. No need to repeatedly fiddle with HTML code. We believe in our product so much that we also encourage our potential customers for a free 30 day trial to play around with the tool. This helps us in getting valuable feedback from the customers and further improvement.

Did you reach out for funding at any stage of your start-up?

We have not had a need so far and have been cash positive right from day 1 of our existence. We are primarily a B2B company, and have scaled in a humble and sustainable manner and will continue to do so.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Assembling the right team and hiring the best talent has been the biggest challenge so far.

Today, what are your priorities at Wingify?

I strive everyday to improve the product and build a happy team!

Who have been your customers?

Our customers include Microsoft, Groupon, FourSquare, MakeMyTrip, Rackspace, etc.

What is your Success Mantra?

We strive to provide the best customer support possible. We believe that even if competition is able to copy the product they may not be able to copy the passion that you have towards the product.


Your Content MVP fails…. eh?

About a month ago, I had a very interesting discussion with Rajan from Intuit about why content is a product and how the lean startup rules should be applied to it.

Let’s get the definitions out of the way.

A minium viable product (MVP) in its simplest form, is the least number of iterations you’ve done on your product before presenting it to someone who you hope will pay for it.

Sure there are lots of loose words here – but I’ll come around to them in a minute. Keywords here are features and pay.

Lets take software first – we’ll talk about content later.

If your software has 2 features, you would obviously want to make sure that the 2 features actually work before you put the MVP out. You cannot expect a person who may buy your software (prospect) to ‘imagine’ what those features will work like. Naturally paying for it gets chucked out of the window.

If it doesn’t do its job – the feature is useless.

Content behaves exactly the same way. In this case the ‘feature’ correlates to ‘objective’.

WHAT is expected from the content piece? WHAT emotions need to be provoked by it? WHAT memories need to be generated in the user’s mind?

You get my drift don’t you?

If content doesn’t do its job – its design, look and feel is useless. The buyer (could be your mother receiving your call or your university of choice receiving your SOP) cannot ‘imagine’ what the infographic will look like. What the VIDEO will turn out like. And what the Brochure design will look like in print.

All they see – is the MVP. So the features better work.

Applying the lean startup rules to content isn’t impossible. It can still be done. However the build-measure-learn loop should now be applied to learning from each content piece. Not the activity of building the content.

So each blog post that you’re writing – can give you the report card that provides you with the right dataset for taking actions towards the next iteration. A better product or a better blog post.

Eric Ries’ and Steve Blank’s concepts around the Lean startup are fundamentals. But just like you’re applying them to your product and its features, think about applying them to your content and its objectives too.

3 tips to ensure your content is MVP ready:

1. Know thy emotion. If you’re presenting to your CEO – know what emotions you are trying to evoke in her – that’s always a good starting point.

I can’t help you if you’ve got a sucky CEO.

2. It’s wrong if it feels wrong. You’ll know when your content piece is doing its job. And when not. The slightest of doubts means its not ready. Don’t put it out. The content’s features aren’t working.

However diagnosing the problem is like fixing a bug. Helps when the herd doesn’t try to solve it.

3. Put in a premise. Before you demo your software, you present a ‘premise’ first. Do that with your content too. Setting the premise will allow your audience to tune-in. Much easier to etch messages when their minds are free.

What have been your most successful content pieces (features)? How do you know that (validated feedback)?

Lean Experimentation as the way to faster progress in product startups

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory (idea) is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong” – Richard Feynman

Building a successful product startup is like trying to win a race driving a vehicle that has less than half its fuel tank filled, whose controls you don’t fully understand and moreover don’t know where the finish line is. What is known is the visibility of runway for next few meters and inspiration from stories of how many has won such race to gain riches.

While the analogy might look far-fetched but startups work under the circumstances of extreme uncertainty.  They might herald around a great idea that they think will change the world there is many things that are unknown – the problem being solved, if their solution is the right one, they have the right team to make it happen and so on.

Risk

Risk is the common language that is used to describe and address the elements of uncertainty in life. There are few kinds of uncertainty that a startup has to eliminate as it goes forward on its road to success. Some of these risks are the following

Technology Risk – Can the startup build what it is planning to build with the current state of the art technology?  In many cases this may not be a question but products that are at bleeding edge of technology has to evaluate this question. For technology entrepreneurs this is where the motivation for them to build the product would have first started and thus they start the journey here and spend their most of the time.

Product Risk – While the aspect of can build or not is one thing, the other element startup faces is what kind of feature to build first. What is must-have & nice to have feature.

Execution Risk – Is the startup staffed with right team to get things done. Are they able to pull off what they plan to do or are just paralyzed while coping with ever changing conditions on almost everything.

Customer Risk – Finally whether what the startup is building will be used by a set of users, if they will or somebody else will pay for the usage, recommend it to friends after they have used it.

Market Risk – This is aggregated customer risk, are there enough number of customers who will use, pay & recommend?  Is there a viable way to reach to them, interact with them and also collect from them?

Resources

While startups address these risks an important law of life – “Resource are limited”

‘Time is limited’ – Startups would have setup or planned a certain time duration during which they wanted to try out their startup.

‘Money at disposal is limited’- Regardless of how financing is done (self or external) money is always in short supply

‘Energy is limited’ – Ask any entrepreneur who has been at it for couple of years and has not seen any breakthrough in progress, he would tell how jadedness and fatigue starts to set in.

‘Even a supporter’s patience is limited’ – In initial days many encourage to give support , after not seeing much tangible progress for a while there is degradation in their support in kind or even words.

Given that the resources are limited how startups approach addressing the risk matters.

99% of the time the following is how startups address risks

Many startups try to extend their resources by raising money. But that alone is not the resource that is limited. Moreover even after extension through infusion of money if startups can’t remove customer risk then the same fate applies.

A workable approach however could be trying to address elimination of customer risk first and also broaden it to market risk.

The most important thing for any product startup is to reach product/market fit .

By focusing on eliminating customer risk is the fastest way to reach there.

Over the last few years a lot of learning has been understood on how to eliminate customer risks, these learning are well documented as customer development and lean experimentation.

Few key principles of these are the following

  • All statements are assumptions or guess
  • All answer lie outside the building
  • Change guesses into facts using experiment with customers
  • Start by building uncomfortably small prototypes to test with customers.
  • Run those experiment and measure on the metrics
  • Incorporate learning into next experiment
  • Move through the loop quickly

The upper hand of the desi entrepreneur

Everyone knows that India is a tough place to start a business. India is at #132 among 183 countries in the ease of doing business index. A lot has been said about the disadvantages of starting a business in India. I’m not here to talk about that. Pick up any newspaper and you will spend an entire day reading about what’s wrong about India.

I’m going to talk about the advantages of being a desi entrepreneur. Here are certain things that worked well for me, and I guess they will work well for others as well. I call them the 3Cs –  Cost, Convenience and Culture

  • Cost – The #1 reason startups fail is because they run out of money. The most important goal of a startup is making sure it tries various products and markets before running out of money. In India, it is way cheaper to build something as compared to other countries. The proponents of Lean Startup Movement say that the initial days of a company are spent in validated learning and discovering your customers. If you burn money slowly, your get more runway to learn and discover. Simple.
  • Convenience  – The extended family culture in India is a blessing for wannabe entrepreneurs. In western cultures, you are expected to leave your parents as soon as you become an adult. There is no pressure for young Indians to leave their parents. This could be huge. The first few years of a startup are extremely stressful. You end up working 80 hours a week and having your basic support systems taken care of is godsend. You don’t need to worry about paying your rent, preparing your meals, etc. What could be better that having a home-cooked, healthy and delicious meal after pulling out an all-nighter?
  • Culture – Startups and entrepreneurship have become hip lately, but a vast number of Indians are already entrepreneurs. Every kirana (independent grocery store) shop is an example of entrepreneurship. Look around yourself. You will find numerous friends and relatives who are entrepreneurs. It is more natural career choice than most other parts of the world. The mental block of starting something of your own is lower in India compared to other parts of the world.

So what are the other advantages for being an Internet entrepreneur from India? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Just open the door for me, I can close the sale

In the course of my career, I can’t remember how many times I have heard some version of this phrase from entrepreneurs. In fact, there is a thriving industry that has grown to service exactly this need: door openers that use their connections to get warm introductions to companies for a retainer and a commission. Even with that, why is it that most startups fail for lack of sales? Is it because the introductions weren’t warm enough? the entrepreneurs weren’t competent enough? the product wasn’t good enough? or something else?

In this series of blog posts I will explore some of the reasons behind this and what can be done to mitigate the risk of failure.

In my view, the failing is in the mindset which leads to a flawed approach. Having a repeatable, scalable sales and go-to-market strategy is not akin to flinging stuff on a wall and seeing what sticks. You need a plan. You also need to be nimble and reduce your burn rate. Most of all you need commitment from the executive team. The good news is that there are people that have thought through this. In fact, it would do entrepreneurs a lot of good to learn more about Steve Blank and Eric Ries.

Steve Blank (steveblank.com) has written extensively on developing a customer before you even go ahead and develop a product. There is a lot of truth to that but it may not always be easy to do.  Not to worry. In case of companies that already have an offering but are looking to penetrate new markets or grow in existing ones, it will do them a world of good to understand the needs of potential customers before doing much else. There may be an unmet need that they can exploit.  There may be channels that can be used, partners that can be leveraged. The point is that, if you elicit potential customer feedback, you will likely spend less time and money and have a greater chance of success, than if you were to enter the market and tried your “luck”.

Eric Ries (http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/) has taken the philosophy behind the “Lean Manufacturing” techniques developed at Toyota Corporation and applied them to startups. The key philosophy is to have multiple, quick, low-cost trials of the product with real customers to figure out what customers really value and throw out what they don’t. The idea being that you don’t end up spending millions of dollars and many months in developing something that the customers don’t care much about.

There is a lot to learned from these gentlemen. There is a lot also to be learned from one’s own experience and other helpful individuals’. So, dear entrepreneur, slow down a bit, assimilate information, think, and then act. It will do you a lot of good. Above all, know that entering new markets or developing new customers is hard work that requires time, thought and resources. It is not just a matter of opening doors. If anybody tells you otherwise, then I have a bridge to sell you.