Capability -> Functionality -> Usability

The capability to build something – a product or a solution – is, but, just the start of things. Capability is needed to build a product but capability is not what gets your product to be loved by your (potential) customers.

One leverages capability to create a functionality (call it a feature, if you may). This functionality is created based on a broad understanding of the market needs e.g. one needs a mode of transport to go from one place to another. That is a broad market need. Based on this realisation, we set about building our solution. Depending on how one has understood the problem, the solution may result in producing a physical product like a new kind of cycle or a service, like a cab-hailing service.

This can be called creating the functionality.

But this too is not enough. With functionality, one has expressed his/her understanding of the problem and to a great extent how one’s own perception has influenced the solution. When one goes a step further to get into the specifics of particular user needs (as compared with the broad market needs that I mentioned a bit earlier), then one starts to look at the usability or, as I prefer calling it, the usefulness of the solution.

To understand the user’s needs one needs a deep understanding of human behaviour itself. More specifically, one needs to observe and understand human behaviour in specific situations. So while one can build functionality based on a market need, to build usability, one needs to really observe and understand the user.

Being a keen observer, I notice multiple things and many times I find myself wondering at the thought that went behind creating that experience. An interesting example is this wash basin that I found at a major sports store.

Numerous times I have been a witness to a mis-aligned combination of tap, tap knob, wash basin and basin outlet. I am sure you too have. This one ranked among the top. The tap was actually hidden away. Did the person who put this thing together, have the capability? Yes! Did s/he understand the general market need? Yes! Did s/he really think about the user while building this? I would say, No? Or maybe, s/he did not care enough. But I am sure you get the point of usefulness.

In our own experience for the past 2 years, we have build multiple hi-tech features, cracking complex technical problems, patting ourselves on the back for being the geniuses that we are. But we realise that this is just a demonstration of our capability and what we can build from here is mere functionality until we get into the skin of the user. Of course, when I say user, each solution could have multiple, each with his/her own whims and fancies and hopefully a few common universal traits.

At RobusTest, on a daily basis, we try to bridge the gap between functionality and usability. Reminds me of something that I learnt in school about a variable tending toa value. In our case, on the number line between functionality and usability, we are striving towards usability – which is a constant goal but never completely reached.

The same should apply to any product/service and may well, be that small tweak that may get you that product/market fit that you seek.

Guest Post contributed by Aishwarya Mishra, Robustest

Announcing #BeyondFounders – Connecting Entrepreneurs in need with Doers indeed.

Announcing - BeyondFounders

As an eco-system builder, I’m always challenged with finding more Founders to contribute or help other early stage Founders. Normally, successful people have very little time to contribute and many a times, there is no formal platform which allows them to engage on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, our eco-system has many fake mentors and founders who know it all 🙁

I have been fortunate to have access to a lot of Founders who are willing to help and share their learnings with early stage, growth stage companies..,but it has always been a challenge to expand this pool.

A couple of months back, Amarpreet Kalkat of Frrole had reached out to me on why most of the iSPIRT activities are focused only around Founders. How do we extend the same by involving some of the team members in a startup to leverage and also contribute back to the eco-system?

Sometime back, I got a call from Laxman Papineni of AppVirality, he came up with a brilliant suggestion on how he as a Founder would like to get more value from the heads of growth, marketing, product, tech from a well established company. I remember one of the Playbook done by Paras ChopraWingify in Delhi on Content marketing, he invited his head of Growth to share their learnings on what worked and what didn’t work for them. Girish Mathrubootham from Freshdesk at SaaSx3 had invited his team to share their learnings and few months back Ankit Oberoi of AdPushUp invited his colleagues to share their learnings on Content Marketing Playbook.

So, I believe there is a lot of knowledge sitting inside a company which is still untapped and the eco-system is yet to leverage that. Thanks to Laxman, who put a working document and has been kind enough to be an early customer for this beta program called #BeyondFounders.

So, What is that we are trying to solve?

If you’re a founder of SaaS company having trouble figuring/building outbound sales channel. It’s not necessary that you have to wait for Girish (Freshdesk) suggestion or mentorship, you can simply talk to the person who is incharge of Outbound sales at Freshdesk. But, how could you find them? That’s what we are gonna solve here.

Let’s just say that you have persistent problems with breaking that glass ceiling of the elusive 1K/10K MRR figure in Sales – and now you fear plateauing from here on. What if someone just showed you that small process refinement in your Sales cycle that could do the trick and turn the tide?

Apart from Sales, we would like to explore areas like Product Management, Operational Excellence, Growth Hacking.

How do we solve this?

BeyondFounders is an initiative to help startup Founders, equipped with a clear vision and a pinpoint challenge, find the right person (Founder or an executive from a fellow successful startup) to solve their burning problems.

For example: A startup founder with $10K MRR finding it hard to build the right sales process and team to scale further, is looking for an advice from Founder/Head of Sales at a successful startup who have reached $100K MRR.

The Mechanics of #BeyondFounders

How does this work? – Entrepreneurs-in-need fill a detailed form about themselves, their startup, stage they are at, challenges they face, who would they want to talk to (if any preference, so we can request them), etc.

Is this FREE? No, you would be paying back to the community by helping your fellow Entrepreneurs-in-need.

Mentors:

Why should I help? What’s in it for me? You would be really proud helping build a great company from India. Entrepreneurs would appreciate your time and valuable suggestions and may give credits wherever possible. As a Mentor, we expect you to spend at least 60-minutes per week, whenever possible.

You, as a mentor, can either give in-person slots or virtual (Phone/Skype/Hangouts).

If you would like to contribute as a mentor, do send out an email to me at avinash(at)ispirt.in on where you would like to help, the startups that you are currently with and what kind of startups would you be keen to help.

Entrepreneurs:

What type of questions can I ask? You should be really really straight with the challenge/problem you’re facing. You can’t come up with a broad problem like “How can I improve my revenue” or “How can I scale by tech infra”. Instead, you should come with questions like “I’m doing XYZ already, how can I generate more leads via outbound” or “How do I improve API response time handling data update asynchronously”.

If you are a startup who would like to be part of this program, do fill out this form, we are only looking at doing a beta program with 5 companies for the next 3-4 months. Please apply before 20th February 2017. We hope to start the first batch of 5 companies by 2nd March 2017

If you would like to volunteer and help in this program managing this, do write to me at avinash(at)ispirt.in 

Thanks to Laxman Papineni of AppVirality whose brainchild this program is. Hoping that you can leverage and also contribute here.

The Product Manager’s RuleBook

The Product Manager’s RuleBook

This post is not about “tools” which will make you (integral)dx more productive. This post is about telling you rules of the Jungle called Product Management.

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So you are the Product Manager, Right ?

You just graduated out of B-School (or even worse completed your bachelors degree) and you have been given the product manager tag in the company you decided to work in. Welcome to the Jungle. Unless you have a really f**ed up CEO or a clueless CTO, you are in for a hell of a ride. There are a dozen of definitions of a Product Manager but, here is the one that sticks –

You are the mini ‘CEO’

Welcome to the Jungle. People don’t follow rules here. Especially when it comes to product. Here are 49 rules that I have curated, over the course of 7 years, across Product, Operations and Sales.

Rules

As a Product Manager, you will be exposed to attention, and a lot of it. Mostly unwanted and discomforting. Don’t be surprised if your peers are jealous of your role. You will get pulled into every meeting. You will looked upto/at for every release. For every feature. For almost every client meeting/call. But that is least of your worries. Unless you have been a PM before, your biggest challenge would be not having a benchmark. You have no way to draw the line. Follow these rules and you will stumble less- I am personally still trying to master the art.

  1. Get sold to the product. Believe in the product yourself. If you don’t, try again. If you still can’t make your self believe it, drop it and find something else.
  2. You will get sucked up in your work schedule. Be ready for it.
  3. Don’t get sucked up every time. At times, drop the bomb on Sales and Marketing. Reality check can never hurt
  4. Learn the art of saying no. At least in your head. Practice it over a period of time with/on your CEO, CTO, Sales and Marketing (in that order)
  5. Develop a healthy relationship with your developers, QA and designers.
  6. Avoid making value judgements. What are value judgements ? The statement that you say aloud in your head without ANY authority or reliable data to back it. You always know when you are speaking from the gut. (You know who else spoke from the gut ? George W Bush)
  7. Trust your developers. Back them up. Stand for them. Pat their back and give them credit.
  8. Bet on your Sales and Marketing. Support them. Be their favourite cheer leader. Always
  9. Keep some buffer from Day 0 itself on your delivery schedule. You are surrounded by uncertainties. Every client wanted “it” yesterday and no dev will have it ready by tomorrow.
  10. Split roles between you and your CTO. Decide, who will plan and who will drive the execution. Don’t fuck this one up. Don’t take planning, because you most likely don’t understand your dev’s code.
  11. Between your CEO, CMO and you, figure out who will OBSESS about “organic growth” (SEO). You don’t have bandwidth, don’t ever opt-in for this one.
  12. Coin and propagate your own product terminology/nomenclature, before sales “oversimplifies” it or dev “rocket-sciences” it. This is a critical to build and manage perception.
  13. Write emails with keywords that you can search. Chat with keywords that you can recall and search again. You will spend significant time in forwarding old emails to dev, sales, marketing, CEO. Skip the CTO. Your CTO barely opens your email.
  14. Park your personal choices of colors, fonts and design at home. Product is being built for customer’s delight, not yours (or your investors)
  15. Like a rhetoric, keep telling point #14 to your CEO.
  16. Get a Tee that says “Good is not fast and fast is not cheap.” Boring, cliche but still right.
  17. Pulling an all nighter for product release is cool and fun, but not if you are releasing thrice a week.
  18. Remember that you don’t understand quality assurance or testing. Like everything else, QA is a skill. Unless you have learnt it, avoid claiming it.
  19. If you are building a B2B product, you definitely need a QA. If you are building a B2C product, hell as sure you need more than 1 QA.
  20. Be friends with QA and Designer. Make them feel special. You won’t exist without them.
  21. Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups. Under communication is an assumption. Hence, under communication is a fuck up. Over communicate and play safe.
  22. Build your own narrative as an objective and data driven person. Understand and question the objective before jumping into anything (including that market research slide for the investor deck)
  23. Document everything that is made and not made. At least try.
  24. Begin you conversations with developers and designers with context. They will feel involved, aware and productive. Context helps. Always.
  25. In the same breathe, demand context from Sales, Marketing and CEO. You will be able to address their requirement faster.
  26. You will always be able to sell better than your entire sales team combined. But again, don’t do it.
  27. Keep your Company Logo Product Logo, favicon, Product Description (1 liner, 5 lines and 1 pager) always ready. Anyone can ask for this. Anytime.
  28. Plan ahead for a week. Do so on a Saturday/Friday Evening. Do it on a Sunday night if you have to but NEVER on a Monday morning.
  29. CEO’s often talk sense. Listen to them.
  30. Not everything that your CEO said was actionable. Don’t act on everything that your CEO says. They most likely didn’t expect action themselves.
  31. Build your own opinion about the industry, domain, and the product. Attend conferences/events focused on your industry.
  32. CTO’s can/will have walls. Be inquisitive ( read pushy)
  33. You need to be aligned with your CEO, Sales, Marketing and CTO. Don’t forget your actual job (Mini CEO/Get-Shit-Done)
  34. There is nothing better than pen paper when it comes to maintaining lists. There is nothing better than pen paper when it comes to wire-framing.
  35. Don’t boil the ocean with every release planning. Every dog has his(/her) day. You will have yours on the day of bug bashing.
  36. Avoid falling sick. Exercise daily. Meditate daily. And buy a Macbook air
  37. Nothing will go wrong if you are late by two minutes late in sending that presentation/ releasing your product update. Be right and late rather than being sorry and on time. If your Sales team can’t hold for a client for 2 mins, imagine..Again, plan better next time and avoid being sorry.
  38. Next time, a Sales guy says that “it was you and your product” that costed him/her a sale. Gulp down your ego. Hear them out. They are ranting. The next day, give it back to them. Patiently.
  39. Your role needs you to seek feedback. Proactively. Ideally once a month, from all your peers. Similarly, your feedback for your peers is critical.
  40. Sales folks are hired for selling. They most likely, can’t make presentations. Live with this fact. Make a template for them. Engage your sales team by changing the template’s colours every 10th week.
  41. There is never a bad time for having chai/coffee. Though Obama doesn’t drink coffee. But again, you are not Obama.
  42. Content writing is NOT your forte. Nevertheless, write the copy for your website or someone else will write something that you never made/promised/planned. Rant about it, if you ever hire a content writer
  43. Create your own reports, dashboards and product performance benchmarks. Do this before the developers starts developing.
  44. Start your day with numbers of the previous day.
  45. Learn to let go, of things you like. Your favourite features, CEO’s favorite feature, colors, fonts, processes and evening dates.
  46. In hindsight, you will always be right. Move on.
  47. You job needs you to be a swinging pendulum. Hah. Self-Pity mode is awesome. But, don’t let it stretch for more than few hours
  48. Last but not the least, remember to laugh about that how, once upon a time, everyone including your head of sales, marketing lead, CEO, CTO and dev ops were clueless about the house of cards that “you” got “built”
  49. In the end, make your own list. And pass it on.

Author – Vivek Khandelwal

Founder of Datability Solutions, a technology startup building iZooto, a web push notification platform for user engagement and retention. 

 

Product Manager as the Wicket Keeper

 

 

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Wishing you all a very happy 2017, may you get the guts and courage to make the change this year.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, one of the most successful cricketers is certainly an inspiration for all of us – cricket fans and Indians. While he is a famous and winning captain, probably being a wicket keeper has helped him to shape up his instincts, strategy and execution.

Being a product manager for few years now, I often relate to being a wicket keeper, who really wears multiple hats to help his team and win in the market. Often there is lack of clarity on the role of a Product Manager and why are they needed. In this post I would like to focus on drawing some parallels between Wicket keeper and Product Manager , especially differentiating the greats from good ones.

Pitch reader (Market)

wk2

Understanding the pitch is a key aspect to winning a cricket match – so is the understanding of the market to win with a product. Wicket keepers are great pitch readers, as they stay close to it always. So is the product manager, as understanding the market is a very significant success factor for products. If product managers can read the pitch (market) well, they can certainly guide the team very well to shape the right product that fits the market.

Supporting the bowler (Development)

wk3

One of the primary roles of product managers is to work very closely with development to shape and release the product. They are involved every ball, they need to be attentive to every detail, they need a great presence of mind, they need to keep motivating and appreciating every milestone. They also support the bowlers on field placements – read as key reviews of every aspect of the design of the product. They can give instant feedback and suggest changes, on the spot to ensure success. They also catch to take wickets – similar to some key contributions by product managers on prototyping and closing loop on the product.

Alert with fielders (Quality Assurance)

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Wicket keepers stay alert with fielders and set an example in the field, as well as guide the field on what’s coming from the bowlers. Product managers similarly are one of the initial quality assurance /testers of the product, and guide the QA on how to ensure the quality of the product.

Close to opponent (Competitive insights)

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Wicket keepers stay very close to the opponent batsman. They know whats their strength and weakness by closely following and watching them. This can certainly help share their insights to the bowlers. Similarly Product Managers have to stay very close to whats being done by competition, and how the products they build can surpass the competitor products, by understanding their strengths and weakness.

Handy batsman (Sales)

wk6

Finally wicket keepers can also support with the bat. While they are not the strike batsman, they may be useful handy batsman as they know the pitch and the opponents, and in some situations could single handed win with their extra batting abilities (like a Dhoni or Gilchrist). Product Manager similarly can support Sales to win in the market. Product managers know all the details of the product, the market and the competition – so they can certainly help win in sales. While they are not the strike sales man, they can be an effective supporting person for the striker. Some Product Managers have a very high success rate of closing business when they are involved.

 

There could be more parallels…but hope the above helped you understand the critical role of product manager, as critical as a wicket keeper in a cricket match, and some of the key ingredients and potential contribution they can make to your product.

When we all started playing (read startup), we may not need a full time wicket keeper as someone wears that hat in rotation, but to make it big (beyond early stage startup) you probably need one.

Great Product Managers move on to become Great Product Leaders and are winners….Adam Gilchrist or our MS Dhoni !

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PS : Never thought MS Dhoni will resign captaincy when i wrote this blog post (he resigned on same day when this post was published). Anyway hoping he will continue to be a wicket keeper for a some more period, and great team player 🙂

 

 

Is your product stuck with biased feedback?

Product Management be it for Internet world or otherwise is an interesting job. One gets exposed to multiple business functions be it marketing, sales, customer support or general management. The only result that is desired from Product folks is to ship a product that users will love and then it should have a network effect — i.e. other associated functions can be almost on auto-pilot.

launching-pune-chapter-of-iken

Alas, getting to this single point result is easier said than done. Success for product can be attributed to multiple factors however having been into product space for quite some time, a critical reason of product failure can definitely be attributed to BIASED feedback.

Given below are few biased factors that a product should not fell upon but is not able to avoid it –

a. Internal Bias — A product team almost on a daily basis works on wire-frames, prototypes and on developing actual product screens etc, a product marketing team works on a daily basis on new acquisition and awareness strategies — landing pages, ad words etc. and a product sales team (if any) would work on refining sales pitches, making decks etc. However when it comes to getting feedback on the work done, it is mostly either the internal team or managers.The internal team members or managers are the first one that introduces bias in the product. The internal folks are so much breathing the product that after some time, fresh perspective is not visible at all.

b. Data bias — Yes, tracking user data on product usage is a gold mine however how one goes about interpreting the data can again lead to a biased solution. For instance, you identify that a feature is not being used at all, a biased conclusion will be to remove the feature and mostly that is what a product team generally do. However, a feature not being used can also be related to non-understanding of it by users during the transaction journey or perhaps not enough push by the marketing team? Can the same feature be presented in a different manner? This will or rather cannot be uncovered by data.

c. User Bias — Most of the products have one or more ways to solicit feedback from product users. However, what I have found is that a typical feedback process generally will not point to real pain points of a user. This happens because a user is not equipped to describe the pain point in a way that a product team can understand and thus sometimes what users say and what they actually want can have a huge difference

Based on my experience, the best inputs I have received for my product has always been from folks who are from similar functions but not in the same organization.

What has been your journey to ensure product doesn’t get stuck with biased feedback?

Guest post by Nishith Gupta, UXHacks

Product Management for Startups and Understanding Growth

To build the kind of products that users have come to expect of us today, it is important to get the small things right, to know what features to develop and which to push for later, to get as many users to use a feature that you have shipped, and to collect feedback which can be funnelled back into the product roadmap.

As you have only limited resources, you can only pick a few things to work on at a time. Should you prioritize marketing over quality? Refactoring over adding new features? Risking a new design against sticking with the existing one?

There are no right answers and the best decision depends on your context. In this round table, you will be discussing with a group of founders on what their roadmap looks like and why did they choose it. You can also get feedback on your roadmap and ask questions from experienced founders who are just a few steps ahead of you.

If you would like to have a constructive dialogue around how better product management can help you get a better product, Apply for the PlaybookRT here. This PlaybookRT will be facilitated by Rushabh Mehta(ERPNext), Niraj Ranjan Rout(Hiver) & Pravin Jhadhav(FreeCharge).

All RoundTables are conducted pro-bono. They only payment you have to make is to provide your undivided attention and active involvement in the process. Playbook-RoundTables are a dialogue and there’s no monologue. None.

Using the product roadmap to keep an organization in sync

When organizations are relatively small, it is possible to keep all parts of the company – execs, PM, sales, engineering, QA, operations, etc – in sync with the direction and with the vision of the company. Communication across the company can be seamless and everyone can remain aligned to what they are working on and understand how their work maps to the broader vision.

However, as companies scale up, it is very easy for this chain to be broken and for a hitherto finely tuned company to get out of sync. Examples of this happening:

  • Deal-driven features: Sales promises a feature to a customer to close a deal and it gets added to a plan. After a few months, everyone forgets about it and it gets dropped. Eventually it blows up as an escalation when the customer is now upset that promises were not kept.
  • Vision changes: The exec team makes changes to the vision as the markets changes. This requires a replan with new features coming in and some features in plan being dropped based on shifting needs. This does not get communicated down the chain and development remains marching to an older beat.
  • “All Features Accepted”: Every few days a new feature request comes in and gets added to the plan. Nobody says “No” early enough, a commit gets communicated externally and in the end the product becomes a mish mash of features, with no clear vision and becomes impossible to use. Without a consistent plan that resonates to the vision, the product manager risks putting out a product that makes noone happy. The PM is the gatekeeper to avoid this from happening.

These are all examples of breakdowns in communication. It is the product manager’s responsibility that this does not happen. A product manager can use their product roadmap as a central part of a simple process to make sure that all parts of the company remain in sync. Changes will happen – that is a part of startup life – but the important thing is to make sure that the changes as they happen are clearly rationalized, communicated across all teams and all teams are kept in sync with where things are.

The best product roadmaps define the themes of the market that are relevant, the long term vision of the product (about 2-3 years out)  as well as the shorter-term term features (quarterly breakdown over the next one year). While this is maintained by the product manager, this should be communicated regularly to the sales, dev and engineering teams. The product roadmap should be shareable externally to prospects, customers and other external stakeholders. Done right, the product roadmap becomes the central part of the process of keeping the various teams in sync.

Product Alignment Process

The process involves creating:

A vision document : Simple 1-2 pager describing where the company will be in the next 12-24 months. This is done in concert with the execs and aligns with the company’s overall strategy. This is shared with everyone in the company and externally as well. Normally this is part of the lead-in to a detailed roadmap but sometimes this can live separately (especially in multi-product companies where the vision is broader and maintained by execs). This is versioned and is available to everyone.  I prefer the use of Google slides with read-only link shared across the organization.  A well defined and strong vision ensures that any feature request that does not align with the long term vision can be dropped early. The product manager meets regularly with the execs and keeps this in sync.

An external “one-slide” roadmap : This is the product roadmap as it is traditionally defined. The deliverable here is a simple one-slide roadmap showing the quarterly deliverables of the marketable features for the next year. This can be shared externally. As above, Google slides with a shareable read-only link works great here. It is versioned to be consistent with the vision document.

XYZ Car service Road mapFigure 1 : Example external roadmap for a fictional car ride share company. One Google Slide with the next 4 quarters of marketable features.

An internal / detailed roadmap: This builds on (2) and adds internal deliverables – like performance improvements, UX changes, engineering focused tasks, etc. This is the detailed, internal-facing roadmap. This version allows the team to make sure that the engineering focused improvements are not lost in the shuffle. This allows the team to make progress on reducing technical debt while continuing to execute to the market.

XYZ Internal Roadmap
Figure 2 : Internal roadmap shareable with dev and QA managers. One google slide that builds on external roadmap.

The details from the internal roadmap are then mapped to a tool that allows for backlog tracking and planning. I prefer Trello for a Kanban-like tracking system but there are various other tools that work very well. 

Trello schedule

Figure 3: Using Trello to schedule the work outlined in the internal roadmap as a set of cards

Sprint planning: With the details from (3), PM works with dev management to build out the detailed plans for each sprint and map it to a tool to track this (I prefer Atlassian Jira) for this. At this level, this is really a detailed work plan that’s aimed at PM, dev and engineering teams

 

Xira screenshotFigure 4: Using JIRA for sprint planning. See blog for more.

And thats it.

What we have done above is create a predictable system where all product planning deliverables are kept in sync with one another. There are three critical attributes to making this process work:

  1. Versioning: All the documents above should be synchronized. The latest versions of each should all relate to one another. Where a change is made, the older version should be versioned and there should be a clear indication for the reason for change. It should be possible for any stakeholder to review past documents to understand the reasons and the velocity of changes.
  2. Relevant Access: To avoid irrelevant information being communicated to the wrong audience, appropriate access should be given to the right stakeholders for the vision (everyone), external roadmap (sales, execs, PM), internal roadmap (PM, execs, support leads, dev leads, QA leads) and detailed sprint plans (all dev and QA)
  3. Single Owner: One owner should be responsible to make sure that they are in sync. The PM should own 1-3 above and work with engineering management to align it with (4)

Summary

Plans can and do change. The product alignment process defined above allows for the different planning documents across the product organization to remain in sync at all times so that as these changes happen, they can be rapidly and consistently communicated. This allows every employee to be confident that the work they are focused on is in sync with the vision of the company. And that will help the company move quicker and more efficiently as a result.

Product Management for Startups and Understanding Growth #Playbookrt52

It was a rainy Monsoon Delhi day with heavy downpour, traffic jams and water logging but these couldn’t keep a bunch of entrepreneurs from making it in time to the Product Nation Roundtable focused on Product Management and Growth Hacking.

Led by Round Table veteran who has done it all and scaled Slideshare to great heights, Amit Ranjan, the excite bunch got together in the lovely office of Posist.

The round table kicked off with discussion around Product Management with Amit discussing his learnings and unfolding carious aspects around it step by step.

He defined Product Management as the function that manages the product life cycle through activities like planning, forecasting, production, marketing and has flavours of engineering, design, sales, marketing, data etc.

No matter what the stage of the company is, Product management is relevant, it is carried out by Founders is small startups (say less than 10 in strength) and then there are multiple product managers in big companies.

Important takeaway: “A Product Manager should be the CEO of the product” – Amit Ranjan

443b5ffef7b5079d7b20822404fd3124A great product manager has the brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat

The group further analysed many examples of startups such as Uber, Twitter, Slideshare etc. around a model shared by Amit depicting 3 pillars of Product Management which are:

  • Vision
    • align org goals with market conditions & user needs
    • ‘get’ the pulse of the product (think movie directors)
  • Design
    • give shape to the product: feature mix, user experience
  • Execution
    • work with engineering, quality, marketing to deliver

However, a common issue cited by many founders was the issue of making the right hire for such role. The group identified and discussed the various aspects that must be considered while making a hire for the role :

  • Strong product sense/instinct
  • Carries multiple points of views
  • Communicates clearly
  • Simplifies & prioritizes
  • Measures & iterates
  • Understands good design
  • Writes effective copy

The second half of the Round Table was focused around Virality and the art of Growth Hacking with Amit sharing many interesting anecdotes and case studies.

Amit defined Virality as “Marketing built into the product…if the product is viral, it will market itself.

It is different from Word of Mouth, Marketing, Buzz etc and is simply the ability of the product to spread on its own. The role of a Marketer is to enable the product to do so and leverage different mediums to do so.

In Slideshare’s case, it was widgets that worked out very well for distribution. Amit emphasised to a great extent the importance of cracking and working on distribution right from the get go. The ideal scenario of working deeply on product (engagement) as well as channels (distribution) is hardly realised. It is a call that the entrepreneur has to take and has its own pros and cons. In Slideshare’s case, the heavy focus on distribution instead of deep diving into product development to a greater extent helped them erect barrier against new competitors/clones who tried to differentiate with added media support but could not pick up. As a negative, Slideshare faced issues in motivation as it never made users compulsively log in or create deeper engagement on the platform.

1e742688c80a7e0d19ccbafabe8ee071Amit emphasised the importance of tracking the product’s viral coefficient which is the number of additional members every new member brings. It should be greater than 1 for the product to become viral.

Viral Growth

The participants at the Roundtable were:

  1. Ashish Tulsian @posist.com (Host)
  2. Shashwat Srivastava @iflylabs.com
  3. Saurabh Arora @airwoot.com>
  4. Siddharth Deswal @wingify.com>
  5. Rahul Batra @getwalkon.com>
  6. Sujan Deswal @adpushup.com>
  7. Ankit Singh @aprogift.com>
  8. Amir Moin @contify.com>
  9. Sudhanshu Aggarwal @fizzysoftware.com>
  10. Amit Ghasghase <[email protected]>
  11. Mrigank Tripathi @qustn.com
  12. Udit Sajjanhar @splashmath.com

Founders share their own growth hack stories and channels’ learnings. For majority, in the B2B scenario, content marketing has worked well to boost the acquisition and few discussed the idea of generating leads from fake Linkedin profiles!

Amit cautioned that one should always be looking out for new channels as a channel that’s working for you today will saturate soon.

The group got some great insights and takeaways to implement from product management and growth’s perspective. Ashish’s hospitality at Posist with amazing Cholley Bhature was cherry on top of the cake

3 questions to expect at your Product Marketing interview

Perhaps you are an Engineer considering a lateral move into Product Marketing and watching out for opportunities within your company. Perhaps you’ve gone through an MBA and are anxiously awaiting interviews on campus.

Whatever the situation, your first interview for a Product Marketing role can be an intense experience, especially if your past interviews have been all about technology.

While each interview can spring some surprises, here are some often asked questions at Product Marketing interviews that you should prepare for.

What product in the recent past do you think was marketed well/poorly?

This question is not meant to check your knowledge of revenues or market share in a particular industry. Interviewers ask this question to see if you have a good grasp of product marketing strategies and how they work in practice. There is no one right or wrong answer here, but you need to be able to discuss a specific strategy that a product adopted, and explain why you believe it worked/did not work.

If your product faced Problem X, what would you do?

Case-style questions like these are popular at Product Marketing interviews because it gives interviewers an opportunity to test two things; one, it tells them how you approach a problem – whether you are good at asking the right questions and understand the root cause of the problem. Two, you can also show them how you would work towards a solution without complete data – and in real life, most problems need to be solved using an incomplete amount of information.

Some examples of case-style questions are:

  • “Product sales are low in the last 6 months. What problems should Marketing seek to fix?”
  • “If your product could use any of these 5 potential channels, which ones would you use?”
  • “Lead quality from our current website is poor. What would you change?”

Mike Volpe, the CEO of Hubspot mentions in a blog post that he uses these extensively, and gives some more examples.

Case-style questions involve using marketing principles but thinking on your feet. It is a good idea to get some practice doing this!

Give us an example of how you would think of a new product idea.

Relax – the interviewer is not expecting you to come up with the next billion dollar idea right away! Since being the voice of the customer lies at the heart of the Product Manager/Marketing role, this question is meant to help the interviewer gauge your customer awareness.

Are you excited about learning from the market and customers? Can you draw the linkages between what customers need and what a new product should deliver? Do you have an understanding of how to learn what customers need?

This question is really meant for the interviewer to find out of you are a Marketer at heart – whether you are passionate about creating products that will delight customers and make them reach for their wallets.

At the same time, it also gives you a chance to showcase your communication skills, since the interviewer sets you free to talk about an idea of your choice. With communication skills being an essential asset for a Product Marketer, that’s something interviewers watch out for as well.

What were some of the questions you faced in your first Product Marketing interview? Do share in the comments below.

This article first appeared on www.confianzys.com/blog. Confianzys is India’s leading product business consulting firm.

Product Management Roundtable For Startups by iSPIRT In Pune. #PlaybookRT

After all the missed opportunities of being at a PlaybookRT by iSPIRT, I finally made it to Pune last weekend for the roundtable on Product Management. Amit Somani and Rahul Kulkarni conducted the session. While I can’t do justice to all that was discussed at the session, I am translating my notes from the Roundtable into this blog post. After sharing some of our product dev insights in my last post Learnings From Building A Consumer Facing Web Product, this was a good opportunity to become a sponge and soak in all that I could manage. 

As a startup founder who hasn’t previously worked in a product company, starting a product business is tough. And being a CEO with no technology background, doesn’t help the mix either. The challenges for building an internet product for me may be more than the average amongst the ones attending this Roundtable, but product management is still a tough beast. Understanding consumer needs, building a product around it, figuring the right metrics for your business, measuring it and iterating is puzzling for anyone, specially given the fact that we are always chasing a moving target.

2014-11-08 14.15.57To give you a taste of how things play out in the real world:

When we started PriceBaba back in 2012, mobile apps were a good to have, desktop traffic was bulk of Internet usage and little did i know that India is on the verge of such massive investments in online shopping. Over 2 years later, the story is very different. Mobile is huge (both web and apps), online shopping is real and consumer Internet in India and the investment landscape which was looking slow between 2012-2014 has picked up crazy momentum.

For a startup that is bootstrapped, at an accelerator or even seed funded stage, getting the product market fit, raising funds to survive, hiring good techies and dealing with an uncertain market which is changing fast is a daunting task. If you add to that the learning curve involved to make things successful, you would know why I appreciate this Product Management PlaybookRT by iSPIRT so much.

The Product Management #PlaybookRT

Amit and Rahul kicked off the session by helping us define our product vision (and separating it from the company vision and mission). We were asked to make a 30 sec pitch by each of us on our product vision along with two things that we would never do. Both Amit and Rahul played devils advocate and helped us think through what we are doing. Learning: A quick dipstick to check if your product vision is well defined, ask employee no 20! If they can define it well in your (founders) absence, then you have set your product culture right.

Stack rank your requirements. What is the single most important thing you? Rahul suggested us that things can’t move forward till we stack rank our priorities. We must know what is the most important thing that we do. A somewhat heated discussion was on how important the user interface of a product is for being successful. Should we fret about having the best UX out there or build a product that is very compelling, offers a better price than competition and delivers what is promises reliably? To cut short on what could be a day long debate, here are two independent bits I picked up from our facilitators. i) If you are offering something that no one else can, your consumer will also use a command prompt to get it. ii) Your Apps UX is much more important than what it was a few years back and it is getting more and more important by the day. But that may not be the lone factor in getting a winner out there. That said, don’t purposely try to build a bad UX 😉

The user experience is not just defined by what the user does on your mobile or web interface. It is every touchpoint that the consumer has with your brand / service. It is the whole packaging of what a user goes through. For a e-commerce site it would go down to the professionalism and courtesy of their delivery boys. Similarly, when taking a view of product, the challenge isn’t always about getting that killer UX designer to work on your mobile app. It is really defining what your product does and how.

Each of us got enough time to define our key metrics and find ways of measuring them. With my experience I can surely tell you that it is indeed true that which ever metric you track on a day to day basis, improves quite magically 🙂

Tips on collecting feedback & effective product management: 

  • Take feedback from your extreme users. Either the ones who are very naive and would ask very basic questions. Or from the extreme users who would want every pro feature out there
  • Group users by commonality. Set goals for users who perform well. So track a users life journey within your app, figure key milestones and set them as goals. Optimize for these goals. So if you know that a user who completes Level 1 of your game, is most likely to play till Level 4, try to optimize such that you acquire users who will complete Level 1

Apart from the evergreen Google Analytics which is great for averages, tools like Mixpanel, Kissmetrics and Wizrocket are great for digging into specifics. You may want to give them a spin. You may also want to check Dave McClures talk on Startup Metrics for Pirates. 

playbookRT

Hiring. The Big Deal. 

So the tired entrepreneur in you is thinking already, when can I hire someone to take some of my money and all my product problems? Well, well not so soon! Product Managers come in various flavours and to begin with, YOU are the PM. Hiring a lead product manager is tough and transition is not easy. You need folks who are curious, bring product insight, are analytics, can be strategic and can work with really smart engineers. This is an individual that blends great communication skill and simplicity. So where do you find such a mahapurush?

Amit suggested a good strategy of hiring young grads and train them to become good PMs in a year. They will love the opportunity at the start of their career and won’t burn a big hole in your pocket. That said, a dedicated product lead will take over the duties from the founder(s). This would ideally happen at a later stage for most of us attending the Roundtable. The three flavors of Product Managers are:

i) A Project Manager who will get your task list executed

ii) A product manager who will get the job done but won’t give a new direction to the part they are leading – the CEO holds the strings. Also example of Windows OS where changing one aspect as per will of a Product Manager won’t fly, it would need the to go hand in hand with the whole OS

iii) The Business Owner – Give this product manager your metrics and let him/her chase it down for you with full ownership

^cheat sheet: Google for questions asked to Product Managers at Google / Amazon / FB 🙂 

2014-11-08 14.22.30Best Practices For Product Development: 

i) The Amazon Approach – Write a press release before starting the product development. Also read this by Ian McAllister of Amazon:

ii) Before you launch the product, predict the no of users your new product / feature would have for the next week & month. Define the usage metrics

iii) Have extreme clarity in goals, let people make mistakes but own the job

iv) Questions to ask yourself – Is this world class? Can an engineer look this up and build it in 2 days? Why are you uniquely positioned to do that?

Also appreciate if someone else has users and learn as to why they have users for what they have built. You can learn a lot from that. Eg: Google & Apple learnt about good features that would eventually go into their OS by looking at some trivial but popular apps on their App Stores.

Books recommended by Amit and Rahul: 

  • The innovator’s dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen
  • Start with why by Simon Sinek (also the TED talk by Simon)
  • Profit from the Core: Growth Strategy in an Era of Turbulence by Chris Zook
  • Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Identify and Exploit the Crisis Points that Challenge Every Business by Andrew Grove

2014-11-08 16.26.16

Effective Product Mgmt & Delivery: Benefits and Applications in Startup, #PlaybookRT in Pune

Product management is one of the most common sensical and yet least understood areas in the Indian technology industry. What is product management? When do you need it? Is it important only once you have reached product/market fit and are ready to scale? What are the metrics that every product manager should care about? How should you hire PMs?

Amit Somani & Rahul Kulkarni will host a highly interactive Product Management Roundtable for Startups to address these questions and more. While most of the examples will be from from B2C products but the discussion should be broadly applicable to other areas as well.  Apply for the PlaybookRT here.

Brief Profile of Amit Somani

Amit comes with over 19 years of experience in the technology and internet industry. Currently, Amit is an Entrepreneur in his residence and also actively investing in, and mentoring startups. Earlier, he was the Chief Products Officer for MakeMyTrip. Prior, Amit has headed various search, mobile and ads products at Google and was the Director for the Enterprise Search and Discovery business at IBM based out of San Jose, California.

Amit holds a Bachelor’s in Technology degree in Computer Science and Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology – Banaras Hindu University, India (Gold Medalist) and an M.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has published several papers and holds seven US patents. More about Amit on TwitterLinkedIn.

Brief Profile of Rahul Kulkarni

Rahul Kulkarni is the Chief Product Officer at Sokrati, a digital marketing and analytics startup thats driving the convergence of big data analytics, consumer psychology and ad technology. Before jumping into the startup world, Rahul spent close to six years at Google – starting out as Google’s first product manager in India and managing various products such as Google Maps and Local, cloud computing, Orkut and Google Finance. Prior to Google, Rahul was the Product Manager for LabVIEW at National Instruments Corp in Austin, TX where for five years he led new product development of high speed control systems used in diverse applications – from offshore drilling to space exploration. Rahul holds 8 patents, Masters degree in Engineering from Georgia Tech Atlanta and Bachelors in Engineering from VJTI Mumbai.

Appointy: Building a Marketplace of Services

Appointy_logoAppointy is an online scheduling software for small and medium sized businesses to help them grow exponentially.  Today, you can buy a movie ticket, flight or train ticket online. But what about your Salon, Spa, Doctor, Dentist, Hot Air balloon ride or even your pet groomer? Appointy is helping these businesses start scheduling online and fill their open times by reaching their customers faster. The company is founded by Nemesh Singh (CEO) along with home grown 4 key team members.

Introduction

In the good old days, if you needed a haircut, you would walk down to the nearest salon, wait for a while if you happen to go on the weekend, and get the service you desired. Need to see a doctor? No problem – there is one near the market, you go there and wait for your turn, and get treated. Needed a tuition? You talk to a few friends to find a good teacher, go there to register yourself for a year, and you are all set.

Things have changed over the years:

  • Service consumers like us have much less time and patience to wait for the service to be delivered
  • ‘Talk to a few friends’ has gone away as a reference mechanism because living close-by doesn’t mean knowing each other
  • Services (at least in developed economies like US) have become very expensive, service providers have proliferated, and perhaps most importantly, Internet has penetrated most lives.

So today, if you need a haircut, you search online for businesses in your neighborhood, you look for the one with best references/recommendations, you call up to make sure you will have 0 waiting time when you arrive, and you use your smartphone to entertain you if you do have to wait.

Need a doctor? You go to one or more sites that specialize in doctor search and use their recommendations and appointment engine to book a slot online.

Need a tuition? You will look for one that offers trial classes, you will compare prices in addition to credibility of the teachers, research their past results (which are all available online thanks to user generated content), and only then purchase the services – and you do all this without leaving the comfort of your home.

As you can see, in good old days, you bought the service at the time of consuming the service; you walked in, waited in line, got a haircut, and made the payment. Or you walked in, waited in line, got a prescription written by the doctor, you made the payment. Today, you buy the service (you may or may not make the payment at that point), and arrive to receive the service only when it is your time, thus cutting all the waiting time. Buying the service and consuming the service now happen at different points in time.

If you are a business that sells services to consumers – doctor, dentist, career coach, salon, spa – this behavioral change is very impactful. It means that people want to complete the first part of transaction (buy the service, or at least buy the right to get a service by booking an appointment) without arriving at your business – they will transact through phone, mail, and other technological means rather than being physically present at your business. Technology is disrupting the service purchase, and it increasingly resembles a product purchase.

The act of purchasing a service is usually called ‘book an appointment’. I think this is a very misleading description – it hides the commerce part of the act. Given the fact that the business sets aside a slot of time to serve you when you ‘book an appointment’, this in fact should be no different than ordering a printer on Flipkart or Amazon, or ordering in your nearby BestBuy (if you are in US) and driving down to pick it up from the store.

Appointy offers online scheduling for small and medium sized businesses. Here is a better way of saying this: Appointy is the platform through which small and medium sized businesses sell their services. They have helped their clients sell services worth $350M so far and do about $2M sale a day.

Today, Appointy handles 15K appointments and signs up 70 new businesses every single day and this number keeps growing rapidly. They have about 60K businesses using their platform for their scheduling needs, and they are on almost every major street of US.

Appointy works seamlessly on devices and web – experience on mobile has been specifically designed to fit that form factor – to support their clients who increasingly want to do things on the go.

The Product

The story

It is interesting how the appointment product, that Appointy sells, came about. They have been building an appointment tool since 2006, as plug-in to popular CMS platforms (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc.). This was in response to the need for a scheduling page for many businesses who used these CMS to create their website. Idea was to give it for free, and generate revenue from consulting and development projects from these clients.

It didn’t have much traction initially. When Appointy created another product – a free plug-in to add Facebook ‘Like’ support on a site – they used this plug-in to advertise their scheduling plug-in. The Facebook plugin saw 10K downloads in no time, and the word spread about their appointment tool too.

During 2010-2011, the company went into a financial crunch as the development projects dried up. While looking for other sources of revenue, they realized they had about 20K businesses using Appointy, for free!. They had continued to enhance the software based on customer feedback, and it now had a healthy adoption in the market. They also started noticing the mails from some customers enquiring about paid plans – businesses wanted to get better service and support and they were willing to pay for it!

Company pivoted and made Appointy their core product. They created paid plans and started actively developing the product for multiple verticals, while keeping it a generic product.  And rest, as they say, is history!

Features

Appointy boasts of a rich feature-set, including features like easy scheduling without keyboard, drag and drop rescheduling, real-time notification of information like Facebook or Linked-In, online payments at the time of booking,  staff management, weekly customer satisfaction report to  build online reputation and intelligent CRM with powerful marketing tools to reach customers faster, etc.

Appointy is way ahead of its competitors in terms of feature richness, serving around 100 verticals. Here is a look at some of them.

Customized Appointment Site for business

For a business, it is very important that any add-on software like Appointy’s blends into their offering and not create a disruptive experience for the customers. Appointy allows their clients to either have a standalone page for their appointments (via a subdomain under appointy.com) or embed it in their existing site. It also allows them extensive customization of look and feel to ensure exact match in terms of colors, fonts, layout, etc.

Since people can come directly to the subdomain to subdomain directly, Appointy provides options for creating it like a mini product page with lots of business information.

Appointy embedded in a website

Flexibility in configuring availability by business

A business requires a flexible booking system so that it can optimize the slots available with each of its resources (people or machines). Appointy allows the business to configure different available time slots with different resources, and allows various granularity of slot sizes. It also allows a rich integration with personal calendar for the staff so that they can see all their appointments in 1 place.

Setting flexible hours for staff

Google Calendar Integration

Rich Business Management features

Appointy collects lots of data about business performance. It provides the clients with this data via a rich dashboard for quick review of business performance, and a number of reports. Whether it is analyzing the footfalls in the business compared to last month/year, analyzing this month’s revenue, categorizing customers to analyze trends, you can perform all these analyses through Appointy.

Dashboard with monthly appointment data

Customer Management

Given that Appointy manages all the appointments, it has huge amount of data about customer behavior before, during and after service delivery. Appointy offers a rich CRM layer to help their clients leverage this data. The intent is to help the client grow their business. Creating a last minute deal for the slots going empty, driving a loyalty program by giving special discounts to highly active customers, or collecting feedback from the customers when they are visiting the business or through emails, Appointy allows the business to drive customer engagement and create an extremely positive experience for their (clients’) customers.

Creating Deals Through Appointy

Differentiators

There are many appointment scheduling software in the market. However, there are 3 areas in which Appointy differentiates itself from the competition:

Focus on helping clients grow their business

This is part of their strategy and this shows up in the way features are designed and conceptualized and the way data is used to create business opportunities.

Complete CRM system

They are very focused on helping the business manage their customers right from within Appointy and they are successful in doing so.

Data Analytics Platform

Appointy collects lots of data around business performance and customer interactions and provide a platform for their clients to make data-driven decisions.

Development Process

Team

They are a small team of 10 people, most of whom have been working on it since the product was conceptualized. The product is built on Microsoft technologies – .NET & SQL Server. Each person has an expertise in one technology but can multitask at the same time, and as Nemesh says, “jack of all trades and master of one!” Since it is hard to get good people in the small city they are located in, they have outsourced their support and onboarding.

Product management

To identify new feature needs, they rely on customer data analysis, trial users’ behavior, and feature requests from existing customers. Since their support team engages deeply with the customer, they play a major role in surfacing the customer needs. They rank all these new requests and rank them to come up with most requested features every 3 months, and design it in a generic way so that it works for everyone. Idea is to keep the out-of-box experience simple, but allow rich features to those who need it, without cluttering the experience of those who don’t.

They focus on usability of their features a lot. They measure end customer behavior (using MixPanel and Totango) and analyze the data to come up with improvements, which they test with their customers and roll them out. They also borrow ideas from well-known products out there in calendaring space so that they can provide familiar and high-quality experience to their clients and their customers.

Release management

Their pace of adding features has changed over the years. Five years ago, they would add about 200 small and big features a year. Now they add about 20 features in a year. This is not only because there are no more glaring feature gaps, but also because customers get confused when large number of features are getting added at a rapid pace. This is also the reason why they have moved to a quarterly release rhythm from a monthly release one. To aid the customer in wading through multiple features, they added “settings search” page, similar to what Chrome offers for its settings.

A typical feature will be conceptualized, built and staged in their test area, go through some beta testing by select customers, and rolled into the next quarterly release.

Market

Reach

It is a large market that Appointy operates in. There are 26M SMB in USA alone. Appointy supports 100 verticals (lifestyle and health primarily) which is about 10M businesses. 9M of these still use pen and paper for their scheduling needs.  Appointy’s strategy is to focus on the remaining 1M (and growing rapidly) business since they understand online scheduling. Today Appointy is on almost every major street of USA.

They have about 60,000+ registered businesses globally and are growing at the rate of 5-6% month-on-month. Appointy believes that their product is their strength. They haven’t spent a dollar till date on Sales & Marketing!

Their biggest competitor is pen & paper scheduling. A few others are Bookfresh.com (Acquired by Square now), Mindbodyonline.com ($23 million funded company), Appointment-plus.com and Genbook.com. All of them offer similar services. MindBody is interesting because their strategy is to convert businesses that use pen and paper to come online and start using online tools like those for appointment. So they work with a different customer segment than Appointy’s.

Product Vision and Strategy

Currently, Appointy have about 60K businesses signed up. The goal is to get this number to 250K by 2 years and 1M businesses by 5 years, primarily by totally focusing on helping their clients grow their business and becoming their partner in business creation and development. Today, they create service revenue worth $500K for their clients in a year. They want to help the businesses grow 20-25% in a year by bringing new customers to them.

Couple of ways they want to achieve this:

  1. Local directory service (City Pages) with appointment facility – If someone needs a haircut, they can go to Appointy directory and look up the best one that meets their needs and book it there and then. This creates an alternative source of customers for their clients.
  2. Help businesses sell open times – Every service slot going vacant is a revenue opportunity lost. Appointy intends to create solutions that can allow open slots to be sold and revenue generated. Creating last-minute deals is one service that is offered already, they continue to work on more.

They keep exploring alternative revenue sources too. For example, aggregating all the commerce transactions through a single payment gateway can help get lower transaction costs for their customers as well as get an alternative revenue source for Appointy in terms of per-transaction fees.

The Road Ahead

Appointy has come a long way from where they developed Appointy as a free plug-in. They still have a long way to go. There are a few things they need to focus on:

  1. Position the product better – The product has lots of potential to be used in a wide variety of ways – calling it a scheduling software severely restricts these possibilities. Appointy needs to reimagine the product positioning.
  2. Change the playing field –This is related to previous point: they need to get out of the ‘appointment booking’ vocabulary and get into ‘services marketplace’ vocabulary. They need to talk about and think of themselves as an e-commerce company, à la Flipkart of Services.
  3. Get access to talent pool – They also need to make sure they have access to a large talent pool. They have a huge opportunity in their hands, and they need to leverage it quickly. Sitting in a small city, this may be hard to accomplish.

Local services marketplace is heating up, Amazon, eBay, startups are buzzing with activity. Even though these are different kinds of services (hire a painter for your house for 3 days), it is the same space that Appointy operates in. If Appointy (and other online scheduling software companies) don’t play in this market, they can be disrupted by these services marketplace. Time is right for Appointy to change its game, and a huge opportunity awaits them.  Good luck for a bright future ahead!

14 Ways to Emotionally Engage users with your Product

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

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

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

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

Gamification = Getting People Emotionally Engaged with Product.

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

1. Expression

Expression – People love to express themselves. Enable it.

Products that allow users to express themselves:

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

Products that allow users to express themselves anonymously:

  1. Secret
  2. Whisper
  3. FML

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

2. Acknowledgment

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

Help people getting acknowledged. They love it!

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

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

3. Exclusivity

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

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

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

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

4. Being Cool

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

Make your users look cool when they share your product.

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

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

5. Nostalgia

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

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

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

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

6. Curiosity

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

Keep users curious. Keep them looking for more.

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

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

7. Competitiveness

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

Drive users to compete with friends / others.

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

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

8. Stay Organized

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

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

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

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

9. Importance

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

Make your users feel important about themselves.

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

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

10. Authority

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

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

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

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

11. Visual

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

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

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

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

12. Freebies

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

Freebies work. Make use of them correctly.

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

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

13. Money

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

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

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

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

14. Sex

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

Keep it simple, keep it safe.

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

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

Concluding Notes:

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

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

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

Product Management Principles across industries are the same” – Pandith Jantakahalli, Sr. Product Manager – iPublishCentral. #PNHangout

#PNHangout is an ongoing series where we talk to Product Managers from various companies to understand what drives them, the products they work on and the role they play in defining the products success.

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We recently had a chance to talk to Pandith Jantakahalli –Senior Product Manager at Impelsys, about his experiences as a Product Manager and his take on the role of a Product Manager. Pandith is an MBA from The Indian Institute of Management Bangalore and is also a “Bangalore boy” having grown up in this city. Here is what he had to share with us:

The path to Product Management

My career has had three distinct phases. The first phase was in Engineering where I started as a software engineer at Sasken as part of a seed team which developed ADSL modems and then moved to increasing levels of responsibilities as an engineering manager. The second phase can be broadly classified as a business strategy role where I worked for Mergers and Acquisitions. Here I was an integration manager for a company that we had acquired while I was at Sasken and I also worked in business roles where I helped the executive team make decisions by analysing different situations and suggesting how they need to be done. The third phase is that of a Product Manager.

imagesWhat interested me in Product Management, after having done multiple roles both on the business and the engineering side, was a desire to understand the big picture and play a pivotal role in deciding the success of a product and it has been my passion and interest ever since.

Within this third phase I have had three stints. The first was for a product that I had initially developed which dealt with licensing ADSL technology. In 2002, when I took over as the Product manager, the licensing business model had died out. So the challenge here was to find a new business model for this product. In my second stint I worked at Mindtree where we developed a suite of video surveillance products. This product had been in development for over a year so the challenge here was to get initial customers. Currently I am the Product Manager for a product called iPublishCentral which is a platform for delivering e-books. This product already had a large customer-base so the challenge here was to scale revenues and increase profitability.  So I have been fortunate to see different products at different stages of evolution.

Gauging the pulse of iPublishCentral’s customers.

Fortunately for us, at iPublishCentral, we are strong in three segments: the society publishers, the stem publishers and the children’s publishers and what has worked well for us is our focus and referrals from our existing customers. It is a small world and we are increasingly realising that the sales hinge on referrals. Consequently most of our customers go back to existing customers for references to understand how we fare on various parameters. So even though we have a sales force in different geographies, the key for us has always been good references from existing customers which converts a prospective customer.

We have 4 to 5 different inputs for developing our roadmap for iPublishCentral. First is the feedback we receive from existing customers and prospective customers that we work with or we intend to work with. The second is through customer support that we provide for our publishers. This way we are able to interact with a publisher’s end customers and understand some of the pain points of our customer’s customers.

A third source is the various stakeholders within the company itself i.e. the sales team which talks to existing and prospective customers, the executive team, the product managers including me all regularly have weekly and fortnightly calls with our keys customers. You also have market and competition and you have an understanding of where the market is heading and what the competition is doing and we also have our own sense of what we feel is going to happen in the market and what changes and disruptions are taking place.

Based on these inputs we have our business goals, revenue goals, customer acquisition goals, customer satisfaction goals and we prioritize each of them. We then identify maybe five or ten things that need to be done to achieve each of these goals and these are then broken down into themes. Once these themes are prioritized we start working on individual features based on impact and that is how we broadly layout the roadmap saying these are the goals, this is where the market is going and this is the time horizon in which we want to get things done.

Product Management Mantras:

From a product management perspective, one of the core principles is to help a company achieve its goals by understanding why the customers are using or hiring your product. You have to be able to understand what job the customer is trying to do and you should have a solution that will solve that problem or help the customer accomplish that job in return for money, attention, etc. anything that the company can monetise. Most product managers do not have the luxury of infinite amounts of money to devise a way to monetize the product later. Very few companies are in that position. So the core job of a product manager is to understand how the company can make money by providing a solution that the customer is seeking and not only should you be delivering that solution, you should be delighting that customer because only when you delight the customer are they going to talk about you and you will have more customers coming in through word of mouth, etc.

Having worked in different industries, from the domain’s nature and the competitive nature of the environment – the business environment itself they are all going to be very different for different industries but from a core product management perspective these principles are nearly the same.

Constant Communication

One of the core challenges that I have seen across all my three roles in Product Management is having everyone in the team on the same page i.e. constant communication across different functions within a company in terms of what the priorities are and what needs to be done now in order to keep everyone aligned and have clarity on the goals. This is a challenge all Product Managers have to confront. This, however, also depends on the culture of each company and how they tackle this communication conundrum. Some companies prefer a written document which becomes the basis for all discussions which then gets continuously updated. The other way is to have regular stand-up meetings where all the outstanding items are discussed and only the key decisions are stored in a central place which all team members have access to. So there are various techniques and tools to keep everyone on the same page and depending on how things have evolved within the product you create specific ways of overcoming these challenges that work for everyone.

A + B + C combined makes a Product Manager

The key skills required for Product Management I would say are being able to communicate the vision of the product and ensure everyone on the team has clarity and vision of what the goals are, written and verbal communication skills, analytic skills, design appreciation, capability to get into the mind of a user and think on her behalf to deduce what would make the user happy and delight them. I am also becoming increasingly convinced that a background in psychology really helps because you have to be able to understand the motivations and biases of people and understand people, customers and your stakeholders really well. Saying no to things is another crucial skill to have because you will always have limited resources and a lot of things to do. In addition, being able to ship the product; you can keep trying to work on something, trying to get it perfect and not release it. As a Product Manager, you have to have the guts to take whatever you have developed to the market, get feedback, iterate and improve it. So it’s a lot of skills that are required but the core ones are more on the softer side.

Now Product Managers by nature are very curious people so they would try out multiple products. If you look at their tablets, it would have a lot of apps installed on it so they can understand what the product is about and they will be able to sniff out details which you think are really not important. If you ask them what their favourite product or service is, they will be able to exactly tell you why they like the product, 20 things they would do to improve it, constantly have ideas and above all they have a good attitude in terms of getting things done and getting along with people as they are very good at understanding people. People who do well understand the user, so people with a psychology background or a design background have an edge over those who think a little more analytically or logically. I believe a person with a lot of diversity or a person who has done a lot of roles would definitely do well in a PM role.

Any tips for aspiring Product Managers?

I am a believer in theory and reading books does help but actually doing the role of a PM is the best way to go about understanding this role. A Product Manager will always have a ton of work on their hands so the easiest thing to do is to talk to your own Product Manager to ask him how you can potentially help. Actually doing bits and pieces of a Product Manager’s role would give u a good feel of what a Product Manger does and you are, in turn, contributing to improving the product. Of course you will have to convince the Product Manager that you are capable of handling the role but a good PM would be able to arm out some piece of work which is both interesting to you and useful to him.

If you have any feedback or questions that you would like answered in this series feel free to email me at appy(dot)[email protected](dot)com. 

 

Appiterate: Instant publishing & A/B testing on mobile apps using visual editor for iOS and Android apps

Product management and development teams have been using A/B Testing on the web to optimize the experience for users. However, doing A/B testing on mobile has been a challenge especially because the way native apps are deployed currently:

– Native apps are deployed via the marketplaces, making MVP and beta releases very difficult.

– The app stores, especially iTunes, has a review cycle which means apps are available download only after a period of time.

Therefore companies aren’t able to experiment as quickly or thoroughly as they are on the Web. Every app release is a gamble that relies on the assumption that every aspect of the release will appeal to the app’s audience. If it doesn’t, or if there’s a problem, filing an updated version of the app and having it reach the marketplace can take days or weeks.

Developers and product managers need to see how small changes affect engagement, retention, lifetimes value and, of course, monetization of their apps. AppIterate intends to solve this problem with their WYSIWYG A/B testing platform for native mobile apps. It allows app publishers to A/B test and iteratively optimize their designs/UX and functionality of their mobile apps to improve in app purchases, user engagement and conversion metrics. It also allows app publishers to run tests and deploy based on user segments and see real time conversion metrics.

Some of the main features of the app include Real Time A/B testing on native apps, using which developers can test new designs, copy, call-to-action buttons in real-time and push the winning version to all the users without pushing a new update to the app store. Feature Testing and Roll-back is another feature using which developers can test new Features, UX-flows etc during an app update process on a sample population. If the feature does well, deploy it to all of the users, otherwise roll-it back, all without pushing another update through the app store.

appiterate

Many a times, small changes to the app are required, like a change in copy, change in phone number, increase/change in size/position of a button. The service also gives app-publishers, the ability to make these changes and push them to the users live without re-submitting the app to the app store. Segmentation lets you target a subset of your users based on the criteria defined by you. You can target users based on their OS version, activity, location or any other custom criteria defined by you. Thanks to WYSIWYG editor, even Marketers and Product Managers can create A/B tests easily without any knowledge of coding at all.

Mobile A/B Testing has seen a flurry of activities in the last few months. This includes startups with venture backing such as Apptimize, Swrve and Leanplum. Most of these allow publishers to do A/B testing on native apps using a web interface and get interesting analytics. Other rivals include Pathmapp and Bees & Pollen.  There also players such as BetaGlide which can also measure CPU and memory consumption of an app while it is running and can track it against an event.

Appiterate: Instant publishing & A/B testing on mobile apps using visual editor for iOS and Android apps

AppIterate is a WYSIWYG A/B testing platform for native mobile apps. It allows app publishers to A/B test and iteratively optimize their designs/UX and functionality of their mobile apps to improve in app purchases, user engagement and conversion metrics. It also allows app publishers to run tests and deploy based on user segments and see real time conversion metrics.

On April 21st, Avinash and I had a telephonic chat with Tanuj Mendiratta on the story behind Appiterate, their current traction and future roadmap.

Q. Could you give our readers some background about Airwoot and how you started the venture.

[Appiterate]: Appiterate was founded by 3 cofounders who were each pursing different paths. Anuj and I started working on DSYN while I was still studying at IIM Calcultta. Anuj was my batchmate from DCE. We figured out the in the mobile space a lot of tech was happening but nothing much on design. DSYN was trying to fill this gap. By December 2010, we had signed up a few clients including the likes of Vodafone. We both, then decided to skip the placements. We soon got in touch with Mayank, an IITD grad, who was working on tech offerings in the similar field. Given our complimentary offerings, we decided to partner together. We grew the services company to 35 people, with more than INR 2 Cr annual revenue and signed up clients such as Zomato, Ixigo, Sears, P&G etc.

Q. How and when did you decide to pivot from a services company to a product company?

[Appiterate]: Our services business was growing pretty well. But we wanted to scale quickly and build a big company. A lot of interesting things were happening on mobile, and with age at our side, we wanted to experiment with something that could grow big quite fast. We also felt that running product and services together was impossible as it meant compromising on the services delivery.

We started working on a product in January 2013. By middle of last year, we raised funding from SAIF and by October we closed down the services business completely.

Q. What happened once you decided to close down your services business?

[Appiterate]: Once we decided to pivot, we felt the need to hire a completely new team as working on a product meant different skill sets and approach. However, we worked with every employee to ensure that they were able to transition to positions at other companies. This included working with our clients to absorb some of engineers as well as conducting interviews at our office for our employees.

Q. Was the decision to close down services business completely triggered by having investors on board?

[Appiterate]: No, it was a completely internal decision. We wanted to purely focus on product.

Q. Was the decision to close down services business completely triggered by having investors on board?

[Appiterate]: No, it was a completely internal decision. We wanted to purely focus on product.

Q. How did you identify the product that you wanted to focus on?

[Appiterate]: During our services business, we interacted with a lot of clients to figure out what they were looking and whether we could productize any of these. We figured out that there was no platform in the market that allowed companies to interact and manage relationships with their users for their mobile apps. Hence we narrowed down to Appiterate.

Q. In terms of your approach and mindset, what did it mean to pivot to a product company?

[Appiterate]: There is a mindset challenge that you need to overcome when pivot to a complete product based company. With services, revenue was coming in steadily and we were a decently established profitable company. From this we moved to a company with no customers and start building out a new product from scratch.

Q. There are a couple of other A/B testing platforms that have come up, so of the backed by accelerators such as YC and TechStars. How do you see them?

[Appiterate]: There are a couple of startups that have come up in the silicon valley offering an A/B testing platform for mobile. This is a good validation for us about the market opportunity. However in terms of product, we believe we are more refined than the other players.

Q. Which is your current focused market?

[Appiterate]: We are focused on the global market. At the same, the Indian ecosystem has also matured, and we are seeing traction here as well.

Q. Given that you do not have presence elsewhere, how are you tapping the global market?

[Appiterate]: In today’s globalized world, location does not matter. We travel to meet our potential customers, organize webinars etc. to get in touch with and explain our offerings.

Q. Tell us something about your current team

[Appiterate]: Our current team strength is 10 and that includes some brilliant folks.

Q. What is Appiterate’s business model?

[Appiterate]: We are offering our platform on a SaaS model.

Q. What does Appiterate’s roadmap look like?

[Appiterate]: A/B Testing is just the start for us. We want to help app publishers better monetize post download. We want to be a CRM for mobile apps wherein a product manager can manage all communication with the users.

Q. What is your marketing strategy?

[Appiterate]: We intend to use both inbound and outbound marketing and position ourselves as a complete relationship management platform for mobile apps.