If Webpages had Twitter Accounts
I discover a lot of interesting content through my Twitter timeline. I, like most other people, also share content and commentary on my timeline.
One thing that I feel has been missing on Twitter is discussion. I’m not stating that there aren’t discussions on Twitter, but I rarely find myself in discussions about news, web articles, or other items. For most people, we may read something interesting on the internet, hit one of the numerous share buttons available to us, and tweet the webpage title and a short link to the article. Then… I guess we move on to the next article. At least this seems to be my pattern. I treat Twitter like I’m a stage performer, saying what I need to say and then moving on to my next line. While I occasionally have discussions through the content I post, I much more often “post & forget” because there is little active interaction.
What bothered me was that great thoughts and commentary can be found on Twitter. The problem is that I only saw what people in my timeline were saying. It was not easy to go out and discover what others were saying about content I was reading right at that moment. The reason is that timelines are people-focused, not content-focused. If we could see a timeline focused on a particular piece of content, people could more easily react to discussions around that content.
As a developer, I created something to suit my needs, and wanted to share. Chirp (chirp.mushin.io) creates a timeline of tweets based on a URL. You can not only read tweets about the URL, but if there is any discussion, Chirp picks up those messages as well. You can search for a URL through a search bar on the main page, or install the bookmarklet, which lets you easily discover tweets right from the webpage you are visiting.
I’ve used Chirp for a few days and have discovered that many, many, MANY people tweet out just the article title, and there is little discussion. I try to filter out many of these tweets to help people really discover what others are saying. It’s not perfect, but does cut a good percentage of “title” tweets.
Finally, this project is very “Lean Startup”. It’s doesn’t have a lot of features and I would really enjoy some feedback. You can visit Chirp here.
Startup Compound Interest
Compound Interest is “when interest is added to the principal, so that, from that moment on, the interest that has been added also earns interest.” While this definition is about monetary values, you can easily utilize this definition to other aspects of life, as Joel Gascoigne, the founder of Buffer, got me thinking with the tweet below.
Any long-term goal can benefit greatly from understanding compound interest. For this discussion, I’m defining compound interest as “value added (positive or negative) to an entity based on a person’s action.”
Let’s take a simple example. If I run 3 miles (action), my body (entity) will increase my metabolism (value). Through compound interest, continuing this action would help me lose weight.
The concept of compound interest also applies to startups and product creation. When you initiate a startup, there is a goal in mind, whether financial, social, or something else entirely. When we have a goal with a startup, the typical process of action may be the picture below.
Building the product seems to be a logical first step to achieving goals.
- Action: Creating Product
- Entity: Startup
- Value: Version 1 of Product
Steve Blank says that “On day 1, startups have zero customers.” In fact, no one even knows about the product. So the next logical step is to create a webpage that shows the benefits of the product.
- Action: Creating Webpage
- Entity: Startup
- Value: Website
The website’s focus is on the product, and the value received from creating the product is compounded into the website. To increase name recognition, people start blogging and interacting on social media.
- Action: Blogging/Social Media
- Entity: Startup
- Value: Name Recognition
Compound interest really takes affect here. The wrong product (business model) really increases your problems. The website isn’t attracting any customers and the blog doesn’t reach the right people. The right product turns the engine of growth. However, most people are rarely right the first time. Steve Blank has said “No business plan survives first contact with customers.” By contacting customers later in the process, mistakes are compounded.
By understanding startup compound interest, changes in process may prevent more costly mistakes. In fact, Customer Development and the Lean Startup philosophy are already helping startups avoid these type of mistakes.
The Bell Curve of Risk and Failure
I used to play a lot of Texas Hold’em. Mostly No Limit with $1-2 blinds. I thought I was pretty good, in that I usually came back with more money.
I quit playing regularly a long time ago, but (if I kept playing) I think my mindset would have only allowed me to be an average player. Fortunately, low blind no-limit games were filled with average and below-average players. What stopped me from being great at Poker? I hated losing money and that drove me to play it safe. I refused to let myself fail due to my own mistakes. Sometimes, you get a bad break, but I fought hard to ensure I could keep playing.
The goal to “keep playing” can be brutal to anyone’s results if it is not recognized. Most people don’t do things “just to do them”, but our actions seem counterintuitive when compared against our goals. We don’t want to fail, and that sometimes can prevent us from maximizing our success. Educated people may even call this “Risk Reduction.”
My assessment of my poker skills is only made in hindsight. In fact, when I was playing regularly, I thought I was pretty damn good. Books, poker software, television, and the internet were telling me I was making the right decisions. However, I was making the decisions everyone else was also being taught to make, and I think that lowered my maximum return.
Here’s an example that I remember. At a full table, I ended up heads-up with a guy who played it the way the books taught. The fact that he stayed in the hand after the flop told me he had a strong hand. The table cards posed a straight or flush (I can’t remember that part) possibility, but yet he stayed in the hand. I folded. Everyone at the table knew he had the top hand. We knew because he played the hand like the books told him to. I think, over the long run, this reduces his total return.
I tend to think of decisions as a bell curve. The Y-Axis is the popularity of a particular decision (the number of people who would perform that action under the same circumstances), and the X-Axis is the return, or result. In other words, few people fail miserably (the left side of the X-Axis) or succeed greatly (the right end of the X-Axis). Most people have an average result. This makes sense, as the more people who have the same result, the more that result becomes common.
Once you recognize this, you realize you have to try new things to get to the right end of the bell curve. Things that aren’t in the books. Actions that are learned through experience and not through education. At the poker table, there was always a player whose actions seemed crazy, but he continued to stack chips. He was playing with a more advanced set of actions than I. While he seemed crazy, I believe he never put is entire stack at risk. In other words, he was educated enough to make decisions that had risk, but still seemed reasonable.
To get the best result, it doesn’t mean you should neglect education (reading the books) and get crazy. The chance to try new things increases your risk of failure. Education prevents you from making the same mistakes as others, and keeps you within distance of your comfort zone. Companies rarely go from 0 to millions of users overnight. There is a path. Getting too far out of your comfort zone increases your probability of a larger failure. In fact, I believe the more you know, educationally, the quicker and further you can go outside your comfort zone.
The best entrepreneurs can find the best results through education and experience. Once you understand this, it makes it easier to try new things, even when people think you’re crazy. Twitter probably seemed crazy years ago, as well.
"You need a cofounder." "Fake it to you make it." "Don’t Talk. Just Do." "Fail fast." "Quickly get some advisors." "Talk to VCs early." "Don’t talk to VCs until you need money."
The statements above are just some of the things entrepreneurs read or hear. What’s missing is the “context” of when these ideas/advice makes sense to implement. Ideas and knowledge are great, but only through context and experience can you truly learn. An example is my experience from this post by Eric Ries. In the post, Eric talks about testing with hundreds of users through Google Adwords, at a cost of $5/day. Steve Blank even references this experience in his book, The Startup Owner’s Manual. My experience? Not so great, as the below excerpt of my Twitter exchange with Eric implies.
Me: @ericries Do you still find your post on SEM… relevant? I had tremendous success years ago, but not so much in 2011.
Eric: @presstartgames yes very much so- but AdWords itself has gotten too expensive for most keywords. try reddit or stumbleupon
My take-away from this experience, and many others like it, was that context is truly important in what you do, and when you do it. You can’t sit behind a computer for months building product, and then execute what has worked for others. It just doesn’t work. Obvious, right? In hindsight only. Startups are extremely grueling and de-moralizing, as eloquently stated below by material at SWNext.
Starting a business may be one of the toughest things anyone could do in their life. There is a reason why so few entrepreneurs actually become successful. Starting a company is not glamorous, and it takes a lot of grueling work.
Why do so many of us get it wrong? I’m not talking about “failing”. I’m talking about “faking”. We “fake” it that we have the right product. We “fake” that we know our customer segment. We “fake” our ‘Get, Keep, and Grow’ strategy (or ignore it completely).
I think we fake it for multiple reasons.
- We want to be taken seriously, and may not be if we don’t know what we’re talking about (Note that I’ve only found this bullet to be true only with “Gatekeepers” and not with people who truly want to help).
- We’ve been trained that not knowing the answer is bad. When customers tell you that you are creating something they don’t want, we know the answer. It’s to tell them why they DO want the product.
I also think that we fake it because we don’t understand the context of the advice we read or hear online or from other entrepreneurs. We say we’re a startup, because we think that is the best option. The chart below clearly defines the difference between entrepreneur and startup.
Where you are in the Entrepreneur’s Story is extremely important to what you should be doing. So much advice is for startups, but many entities are not startups. They are entrepreneurs.
Customer Development and Lean Startups have moved entrepreneurship forward in tremendous ways, showing us that failing is not only acceptable, it’s common. As entrepreneurs continue to try new things and share our experiences, context will be more more important.
F*ck It. I’m (Product) Launching
After 2 weeks of development, the button was pressed, and Mushin.io went live. Well, it’s really been 4 months, but that’s a longer story explained below.
I’m the first one to admit that I’m actually pretty embarrassed on what’s there. So little functionality. So few service connections (Only Github). It needs to be more. It. Needs. To. Be. More.
I know it will eventually be so much more. BUT, when I do add features, I want them to be tests which gauge user feedback, or be validated, high-fidelity features that have already been validated.
So why launch now? Why not do more? A little history…
Mushin.io actually started out on the iPhone 4 months ago. 3 months after starting development (the goal was to be ready for testing in 2 months), I didn’t know if I was close to having a product that would succeed. Feedback wasn’t positive enough, but even more important, I wasn’t getting through the Build-Measure-Learn loop quick enough.
Mobile development already has a tendency to produce long release cycles. I thought I could get past the problems that cause these long cycles, but found it was much harder than anticipated. Mobile development, while difficult, can be done in quick iterations. The issue I ran into was that, as a startup, I don’t know who my customers are. I recruited people who I thought were potential customers, only to discover that I may have been wrong with my initial assumptions. This is typical in Customer Development
This produced several issues. First, because I’m guessing at my customer segment, wrong assumptions lead to disinterested testers. These testers no longer give productive feedback. This, by itself, is not a big deal. However, in iOS development, you only get 100 tester slots per year. Slots given to disinterested testers are now gone and wasted.
The combination of losing testing slots and slower feedback loops made me step back and re-evaluate what I should be doing. I asked myself “What is the quickest way to validate my value proposition?” This has lead to the the current moment.
So again, why launch now? It’s because I believe I’m offering a product that provides value. Mushin.io allows users to connect to services they love and manage all their tasking from one application. It’s like having the best personal assistant who compiles your work and interacts with outside parties, allowing you to strictly focus on working.
So I want to see what works and what doesn’t. I don’t want to fall into the trap of creating features nobody wants. I don’t want to assume I know my customers. To do that, I need to launch. I. Need. To. Launch.
So F*ck it. I’m Launching…
Phil Schiller on why the iPhone 5 doesn’t have wireless charging
Having to create another device you have to plug into the wall is actually, for most situations, more complicated.
In my experience, wireless-anything seems to be more marketing-speak than an actual benefit. Wireless charging base stations must be plugged into the wall, so the benefits are minimal.
My Fitbit (which I love) promised wireless syncing, While true, the base station has to be connected to the computer. To me, this isn’t wireless, because a wire is required to sync (even if the Fitbit doesn’t actually need to be connected). This makes syncing data more complicated, and I don’t sync often because I don’t want to get out of my chair, grab the cable, plug it in, wait to sync, take the cable out, and then put it away.
Don’t Burn Funding For Version 1
Startups today have a super high bar for initial quality in their version 1. They also want to make a big press release about it, to drive traffic, since there’s really no other approach to succeed in mobile. And so we see startups burn 1/3 to 1/2 of their seed round before they release anything, it becomes really dangerous when the initial launch inevitably fails to catch fire. Then the rest of the funding isn’t enough to do a substantive update.
I’d argue that in most cases, it’s crazy to spend any money on your v1, aside from the very core assets (such as the $99 iPhone Development Program fee, a URL for your website, etc.).
The whole post by Andrew is great, and I encourage everyone to read it. I agree with Andrew that the marketplaces like the iTunes App Store have provided an environment where learning through iteration and marginal, quick improvements is very difficult. People who buy mobile applications not only expect high quality right away, but many expect a value-to-cost ratio that doesn’t make sense. For example, how many 1-star reviews are out there for free apps that don’t offer push notifications, even though push notifications require infrastructure costs to the company?
This leads small startups to focus on longer development cycles and increase the number of features for its initial build. To offset the added cost of development before you are making any money, startups either go for a seed round, or “market” launch, which could begin the downfall of the company.
So what can we do?
Andrew ends his post by asking “How do we stop the madness?” I think we can do the following.
Spend as little as possible on first initial builds. If you haven’t found Product/Market fit, conserve cash to increase the number of times you can go through the build-measure-learn loop.
Don’t "Market" Launch. App marketplaces are great, in that they help your app be seen by a large number of people with no effort. However, app marketplaces are like any other business where there is a large number of items (like a supermarket). You still have to be discovered. Focus before a marketing launch should be on finding “earlyvangelists”, not mainstream users. You need to find these users yourself, not through App marketplace discovery.
Don’t “half-ass” your v1. Steve Blank said that “No Business Plan survives first contact with customers.” If you execute on your initial assumptions from that plan in your first release, chances are you will be wrong. Your product could also be filled with sub-par features if you fall behind and need to make up time before release.
Reduce the scope of your v1. An initial product should have enough features to be viable (a Minimum Viable Product). Two questions that the version should answer are “What is the value proposition?” (Why would a user continue to use your app) and “What is the growth proposition?” (How are you going to grow your user base). By starting here, you can iterate features, and minimize impacts to current users.
Don’t rely on the marketplace. A general thought I tend to hear is that if you’re lucky, you’ll get noticed by a large number of people, and then word-of-mouth will increase the probability of success. While this is true (If I do get lucky, I will be successful), we’re rarely lucky. Again, you need to iterate by finding the right market and engaging where they congregate.
Are these paragraphs the answer? I’m sure it’s not complete, and in all honesty, may not be right. There is a solution, however. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.