Breaking problems down

A few weeks ago I read a blog post by Tom Tunguz, which basically split product features into 3: MMRs (minimum market requirements), Differentiators, Neutraliser, which is a brilliant segmentation of product feature. Do read the post.

Segmentation Simplifies

Segmentation is a very powerful concept in every field. While the concept is popular in the marketing field, it is either knowingly or unknowing used in every vertical of an organization. The advantage of breaking down problems, products, metrics, leads, clients or anything else for that matter is the simplification of whatever task you are working on.
On the sales side, prospects are always segmented into high tickets/whales or low ticket/long tail. Sales & Business Development teams are at times segmented by the role, there are the hunters who job it is to get new clients on board and farmers, who specialize in growing current account. Breaking the Sales problem into distinct segments, the way to approach the problem becomes clear.
Marketing usually pushes the limits of segmentation. From drive-by users to abandoned carts, users can be segmented into micro-segments which have distinct messages and offers for each segment.

Breaking Problems down for founders.

From a founder perspective, taking all your goals for the year and breaking them down is the sanest mechanism when working to build a rocket-ship. You can break it down in whatever way that suits your organization, break it down into smaller problem statements which can be take up by different people or break it down into problems that can take one at a time. Build a rocket today to take a picture of the Mars today, and build a reusable rocket tomorrow. The more you slice and dice the problem, the more manageable, doable and simpler it will seem. Growing traffic for a website might seem like a hard challenge, but once you break your current traffic sources down, under each of them, you can get a sense of which source you can leverage and grow the fastest or in the easiest fashion.

Internal, External, Controllable and Uncontrollable factors.

An advantage of breaking any problem is the fact you can break it down into things you can control and those that you can’t. Ideally, you should attach the internal controllable problems first, then move the external controllable problems next, and then try to attack the rest so that they become more controllable or you internalize the problem in some fashion.
Taking a website traffic example, the type of content you write is always in your control, but how the content will do organically on Facebook is not under your control, it is an external, uncontrollable aspect of your traffic. Spending ad dollars on Facebook is controllable but is still an external factor.

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Have you ever broken problems down? Do comment below and let me know.
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Built with Empathy

empathy noun
The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

The Goal of Products
Products are at the end of the day tools which help users get the job done. The job might be helping a user get from point A to B (Uber), or watch content (Netflix) or express themselves with words (@medium). Each product might be doing a lot more in the background or foreground as most products do more than one thing. One of the goals of the product manager is to make sure that the user is happy and content when engaged with the product.
Getting to know the users, all the users
How do you know the user is happy? How do you know your solution is solving the core need of the user? You could ask the user, be the user yourself or start looking at data to give you insights. During any of those exercises, if you are not empathetic to the user, you may miss opportunities to improve the product.
When the user takes that extra few seconds to find the next button, or when the user exhibits confusion, or when the user is just not able to get the job done are all examples of places where you have an opportunity to improve your product. Asking questions and more importantly observing the users is critical for PMs. Also just asking or observing a few users won’t cut it, users behave differently and have different capabilities.
Products that have empathy
Google Search is my favorite product when it comes to showing empathy towards users. AutoSuggest & AutoCorrect are features driven to help the users. While they don’t directly help Google Search as a product, they help Google provide a better experience for the users, it reduces the effort required by the user to get their job done if they are slow at typing, for the ones fast on the keyboard, they help you get stuff down even faster with the keyboard.
Uber entire business is based on empathy, they want to make it easier and cheaper to get from point A to point B. If you don’t know where you are, they will make sure you are able to identify a point A, which also makes it easier to get their driver to get to you.
Sometimes the users will be blunt and let you know what you need to fix, or developers will make some fixes for you. Twitter Hashtags and thread creators were features built for Twitter by its users. Not all products can allow users to build something by themselves
How to be more empathetic?

  • Ignore all the biases against any users, it is not the user’s job to know how to use the product.
  • Ask why they did what they just did, especially when they did something you did not expect
  • Keep observing them, be aware of any difference in behavior from them
  • Observe as much as you can without saying anything. When we are with the products we make we inherently pitch our product, which we need to avoid. Record what you can, you can record the user & the screen. User interviews are also a great way of showcasing problems to the rest of the team.

Do you have any tips on being more empathetic?

6 Basic UX principles I self-learned as a Product Manager

I have been into products this entire decade, and with the quest to become a good product manager comes the quest to learn ancillary things. One such thing is the user experience. Great products almost always have great and simple user experiences. I have picked up some basic UX principles along my Product Management Journey, which I have listed below. A heads up before you read: Some of the things I mentioned may be actual UX principles somewhere with nice names, but I never came across them. What I am trying to do is basically list a few key principles which are based more on experience and common sense, which are many a time completely ignored.

1. Reduce Motion of limbs

I want you to try an exercise, stop using alt+tab to change the apps you are working with for a day, instead use your mouse and the taskbar every time. Over time you will find the process painful and slow. Now imagine if you had you use a virtual button which was 6 inches to the right of your screen and 6 inches higher than your screen to perform the same task? How many times in a day do you think you could move your hand in the air today to do that task?

Key reasons user interfaces like from the movie Minority Report won’t work, is because they need too much effort from users. Too much movement makes the user tired. Which is also one of the reasons I hated hamburger menus and loved bottom bars in mobile apps. The amount of movement my thumb has to do is greatly reduced with bottom bars. I also love the double tap on the home button on iOS to get the entire screen down. As such bottom bars are making a comeback and growing into bottom sheets

An extension of this is keeping a count of the number of clicks and taps needed to do anything. The lesser the better. As such the only time more clicks and taps work is when the repeated press of a button changed the function being performed. Car steering wheels, for example, have limited space, but pressing the same button makes performances different tasks, the same goes for microwave ovens were pushing the start button multiple times adds 30 seconds to the timer

2. Reduce the options, have workflows

Your App is not an open-ended RPG

martin-reisch-263411-unsplash

Photo by Martin Reisch on Unsplashh

This I learned when I was working on an Admin dashboard. Admin dashboards usually have lots of features, but you need to make them workflows which don’t make the user think. When you are creating a Push notification you can do it in a single page with all the options open to the user, but that will just confuse the user. If some of the features are depended on another, using workflow can actually make it easier. Want to send a broadcast, don’t even show the segmentation option. Workflows also inherently reduce the number of clicks/taps needed. This also means you have to reduce the cognitive load on users, which is where having steps to do a process helps. MailChimp does this very well, so does Facebook Ads. If you love TypeForm, it is probably because it is making the form a workflow, it makes you worry only about one single question.

3. Respect Muscle memory

Missing Rear door handle?

If your product is not based on something brand new, users almost always know where buttons and things should be. Power buttons for monitors and TVs are almost always on the lower right side because people expect them there. Frankly, they may have been also put there assuming most people are right-handed and bottom location works for a person of any height. But now that is a defined behavior. While you can attempt to train people to change, it is hard. Have you tried driving a left-hand side driving car if you have been driving a right-hand drive car? Try it in a game it will be a struggle. Another place I recently came across was in an office where one of the conference room’s door was replaced with a sliding one, but everyone kept pushing it, the final solution was to put a sheet of paper which said “Slide ->” on it. Another instance I was lost was while trying to open the rear door of the Chevy Beat, the handle is hidden and at a place, you don’t expect a handle to be. Users don’t expect things to suddenly change unless you are reducing the workload of the users.

People will always design new things, but don’t blindly fall for them. Even if it is Apple or Google asking you to. What your user needs and what the owners of the platforms will always be different. It is your job to know the needs of the user and design an experience around it. Also, it is important to remember, no one will have all the right answers and design all the time, you need to find them.

Worse still is when people ignore great UX from (relatively) not so great companies

5. See how your users behave, run User Experience Tests

https://www.instagram.com/p/BJhqRj4D5pv/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Humans are creatures of emotion, emotions which can make them lie, even unknowingly. When building PureMetrics, one of the early users was a friend and was always positive about the product, but he never used it. So one day I went to his office and asked him to use our dashboard in front of me, and just keep thinking aloud. First few minutes went off well, and then he said, he never scroll past this point, as he never understood many of the charts there. That statement was a heartbreaking eye opener. We were trying to solve one problem, but it had a whole different problem underneath.

Now you don’t need to do a user test for everything, you can copy from popular products around which are battle tested. The stories format for example, or a feed. Those experiences are well defined, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel

6. There is no such thing as “the right way”

Finding the right UX needs the understanding of the problem the user is facing and then understanding the user itself, rather understanding all types of users for your product. Alt+Tab, for example, is a keyboard shortcut, which powers users are familiar with, but many first time users and casual users of a computer, actually use their mouse and the dock, it fulfills their basic need. Many iPhone users probably click the home button to go back to the home screen to change their app. Good user experience needs to take all the types of users.

How do you find such UX patterns?

For a start, you could read a bunch of books on UX design and human physiology. Another mechanism to figure out such patterns is just questions why users behave in the way they do and question why things are designed in the way they do. Questioning the behavior and the design will do one of two things; either answer your question or give you an opportunity to improve upon something.

What are some of your favorite UX principles? Let me know on Twitter

Zooming in and Zooming out

I had recently heard a phrase, great leaders are good at zooming in and zooming out, it gave examples of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs.
While it didn’t strike me then, after a little while of thinking more about it, a few days, to be frank, it dawned on me, like many great sayings, there is a lot of depth in the phrase.
The oblivious one is that great leaders, pay attention, pay attention to the details, but also pay attention to the larger pieces, how those pieces fit into a larger story, why each piece matters, how the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Paying manically attention to detail on the small things. Paying attention to the small things can get operational, which might make one lose focus on the large goal
Zooming out gives one a larger picture, but it also gives a goal for leaders to rally the troops around. Another great thing it does is allow leaders to see the entire machinery of the organization turn in parts, which part moves the other, hopefully, find operational efficiencies to solve. But Zooming out is not easy, it requires a leader to understand the basics of each part of the business, zooming into the smaller parts. (Which is also one of the reasons great leaders tend to have a quote or anecdote on every aspect of running a business.)
The ability to zoom in and zoom out is also critical for Product Managers, talking to clients & leaders in an org requires the product manager to be in a zoomed out mode. It is the opposite when talking to the teams the PM works with, high-level goals leave massive gaps in execution plans, worse can cause confusion in what actually needs to be built. Product Managers need to be able to function both as a strategy: Mission – Vision level and also at a ticket and status level.
This is fact is also true for most managers, across functions. We unknowing set ourselves to zoom in and zoom out. Employees who always question why, question the status quo, are curious are in the early stages of being able to zoom in and zoom out.

Diametrically Opposite Skills

This is a phrase I have used a lot in recent meetings in the office. The basic premise is that organizations can’t be good at two skills which oppose each other, which basically require a whole different mindset. Here are a few examples

  • You can either be the largest video platform on the planet or be the largest paid video subscriber base, the two require different skills. YouTube is all about discovering the best user-generated content, Netflix is about consuming the best, now heavily curated, video library. Yes, YouTube has subscription base, but relatively the money will be chump change.
  • You can either be the largest restaurant chain in the world or be an authentic fine dining restaurant. Again, they require very different skills, Subway is all about managing the supply chain to the brand and the consistency in flavor, your favorite eat out around the block may probably have different flavors of food based on who is cooking that day
  • You can either be a mass media newspaper trying to get as many readers and advertisers or a small 1 person publication running paid subscription site.

It is not to say that organizations can’t change their skill set. Microsoft is working hard to move from an Operating System organization to a services organization. New York Times seems to have made a successful move from a traditional newspaper to one driven by subscriptions. But these changes are relatively slow and very deliberate and not to mention challenging. Many have failed to make the transition, Blockbuster for example.
The skillset is driven by the strategy which drives, and also gets driven by incentives, more on incentives and their effects in a future post.
Photo by Pablo García Saldaña on Unsplash

Why Startups are hard

It’s been a year since I started up. Have not found success but learned a lot.

  • No amount of initial meetings, theories, assumptions or even prospects etc. will predict success. You might know your first 10 customers, it is getting the next set that is hard
  • Competition can be tough, especially if they have a better brand. If you have no competition, it is harder, you have to educate the market.
  • The time when you are selling, and users have a problem may not align. Until the users have a problem, they don’t want your solution. A lot more on this in a future blog.
  • Product market fit is ever evolving, thus there never actually is a fit.
  • The world moves forward at breakneck speed
    • if you don’t, competition will beat you
    • If your customers don’t, you are stuck with a reducing set of bad customers
    • If your prospects don’t, you are set to fail, they are being blind to the change and will regret it
  • Since the world is moving forward, the past does not matter.
    • Your old feature is no longer the best, someone made it a hygiene factor and built more things. With that in mind, don’t build features for the sake of building feature. The next feature rarely a “silver bullet”
    • Your old growth channel won’t work forever
    • Your old revenue engines are today’s brakes. They might hold you back from great things (e.g Windows, QWERTY Blackberry)
  • Ego takes the oxygen out of the room. Each small win for a startup breeds someone’s ego

The best part of a doing a startup is the pace of learning. I have spent the last 3 weeks learning Swift while building the iOS app for Odiocast. Abhishek, on the other hand, is on the road to be a Full Stack Gandalf
Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash

The Product Death Cycle & Its Affect On A Startup

Life is tough for startups. Every day can be an existential crisis, every day can be a challenge to find your first set of customers or product market fit. In this search, Startups spend a lot of time thinking of the one feature which will differentiate them from competition, the feature which will make customers come in running to use their product. If you already have a few customers using your product and you notice growth stalling the most common solution startups think of is trying to find a new feature which you believe can be the catalyst for growth. Makes sense right? If people are not using your product you need to add a feature which will change that. So you ask your customers what they would like, and decide to build that in. Unfortunately, what this leads to the “Product Death Cycle”, something both Andrew Chen & David J Bland have documented. You should definitely give it a read to figure out the issue with product adoption & feature creep.
0_IM4EU55RompGiTOyIf you are early stage startup then you have more challenges:
SALES PITCHES BECOME COMPLEX
Your sales team has to pitch multiple features now. If the new feature is orthogonal to the current set, then they are going to have a tough time trying to figure out which feature to prioritize for each prospect.
MARKETING NEEDS TO PROMOTE MORE FEATURES.
Your marketing team now has more keywords to push, more landing pages to manage, generally more work to do.
SUPPORT & SUCCESS ARE OVERBURDENED
The same goes for your Customer Success & Support teams. The team now needs to work to up-sell to the current customer without more manpower, that means less success & support
NEW FEATURES = NEW BUGS
As you need to write more code, you will inherently have more bugs, which will take away time from your dev team who now have to resolve those issues.
MULTIPLE BACKLOGS
Product teams now have 2 backlogs to manage. Each feature will need more iterations
In short, it is going to push & stress each of your teams. Which will lead to friction, issues & arguments and finally, attrition.

In an attempt to chase everything, you may end up achieving nothing

Unless you have a lot of money in the bank which can help in hiring, you need to be careful when building new features, especially if they are totally orthogonal.
Also published ET Catalysts and Sudo vs Root
Photo credit: topgold via Foter.com / CC BY

Abundance, Sales & Startups

This is an excerpt of my Audio post. List to the entire story here 

:Abundance, Sales & Startups by ravivyas
Why marketing is more important than sales – odiocast.com

  • The way I look at it, as the internet gets the cost of distribution to zero and compute solutions from Amazon and Google get cost of starting up to zero, there is a rise in products that do the same thing, i.e. abundance
  • Due to abundance, competition is very high. In such a high competition environment, it is hard to grow. My biggest learning in such an environment was, marketing is way more important than sales.
  • Reason 1: The internet has flipped the buyer model. People inherently search for solutions for a problem and self-select a product.
  • Reason 2: Until a problem is not important enough to be solved, people don’t want a solution. So, sending your best sales guys to such a prospect won’t help
  • Another point to note is that more solutions move towards a freemium/Free to try products, sales teams lose as they are inherently are in conflict with the model
  • In such a scenario, the job of marketing then becomes 2-fold

Working in start-ups is one of the best ways to learn something new. Even more so when there is a lot of competition. Analytics is one such space. We tried getting Pure Metrics off the ground for a year but found no traction. But learnt a lot. Here are the bullet points to my audio post

  1. Make people aware of the problem exists, which is where content plays a massive part
  2. Make people aware there is a solution, which is their product
  • All this makes your branding efforts all the more important, in the world abundance, users are loyal to the brands

Activation – The Stepchild Metric: I analyzed more than 33K GrowthHackers.com headlines to verify this

When you talk to a lot of Startups or App Publishers and ask them which metrics they focus on, most will mention 2 of them, namely:

  • Acquisitions
  • Retention

Then there are those who focus on Installs & Uninstalls, in both case either a different person is looking at the other important metrics or no one is.
Unfortunately, with Paid acquisitions usually being the second best way to grow (the first one is going viral), the first thing marketers and growth hackers look at is the ROI on the money spent. The question is right, no doubt about it, but it is hard to get your money back when you blindly throw it out of a speeding car hoping to get attention from folks you are passing by. Weird analogies aside, the approach most folks take to figure out their spend on Ad dollars is wrong. They tend to look at just Acquisition & Retention/Uninstall, which are the beginning and the end of the product funnel. Based on this incomplete data, they question why folks are not being retained or uninstall their App.
Marketers & Growth Hackers first need to understand what their product is and what value it provides to the end user. With that, they need to figure out an Activation event: An event which lets you know that the user had or is now on the way to see value in your App, a metric initially created by Dave McClure as a part of his Pirate Metrics. Any metric which is important for onboarding can be an Activation metric. For e.g. most of the common Activation events can be a Signup, completion of onboarding tutorial, providing an email id or push permissions. Then there are specific ones depending on your product. Twitter, for example, can have both following someone or tweeting as an Activation event. Any music streaming app would have playing a song as it’s Activation event. Once you have your Activation metric, see how your marketing campaigns are doing against Activation. It will either filter your junk users or show gaping holes in your onboarding strategy. It is also an early warning mechanism for issues.
Unfortunately, I don’t see most folks tracking it, or looking at it when trying to figure out why their retention is bad. To prove my point, I decided to go through all the headlines of articles on GrowthHackers.com. After analyzing around 33K articles and counting the occurrence of each of the 5 stages of the Pirate Metrics model here is what I found.
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The 5 metrics came up around 800 times, and Activation only 35 times within that. Outside of my personal experiences, I do believe this data goes to show that Activation is a stepchild metric, comparatively little is written about it. One could also conclude most of the “Hacking” going around is rushing to find the returns rather than the value of the investment.
What do you think? Are you tracking an Activation metric? Do share what you are tracking. Open to further questions at @ravivyas84