People will ask me questions like “How do I get into the New York Times?” or “How do I get a meeting with that CEO?”
My reply? One is better than zero.
You need to be thinking about the steps it takes to actually get to the biggest places in the world. Before you get that meeting with Zuckerberg or Mark Cuban, or whoever you want to meet with, you need to have a lot of little meetings. You have to build up your cadence.
I’ve been on Conan. Ellen. The Today Show.
But I also did a thousand interviews that got one or nineteen or 137 views on YouTube. Max. Why did I do blog posts for so long that only had six readers? Why do I guest on shows with a smaller audience base than my own? Because I’m all about depth over width. I want to go deeper with my community. I want to give back to people who support me.
You see novel ideas everywhere and there are a plenty of inspiration for new ideas around us. You often make a mental note of several such ideas. But when you sit down to write ideas in detail, the ideas become a little murky. Coming up with an idea that your sparks your interest and passion is not easy. Therefore the first step to great product design is to generate a lot of ideas.
The course introduces you to different types of ideas. There is a good chance that you might have come across them while reading books or articles. For you reference, here are the types of ideas:
Simplify — Layout by Instagram — It simplifies combining photos.
Me too — Flipkart — It is an e-commerce platform just like Amazon but in a different market — India.
Remix — Slack — It combines chat, email, messaging in to one team communication tool.
Virtualize — Lyft — Cab services virtualized.
Mission Impossible — Project Loon by Google — Aims to provide connectivity to the world by sending baloons to remote areas.
To do: Idea Gym: Using the above types of ideas evaluate the existing ideas and then create some more. This makes up for a very good warming up for the next task.
Look at Problems
A good way to start thinking about ideas is to look at problems.
List the problems in your life/work
List out possible ideas to address the problems. (You are allowed to go crazy here)
The reason to start with the problems in your life is that you become an user to the product and it becomes a lot easier to understand the user needs. This is very well explained by Paul Graham from Y-Combinator.
I made it myself. In 1995 I started a company to put art galleries online. But galleries didn’t want to be online. It’s not how the art business works. So why did I spend 6 months working on this stupid idea? Because I didn’t pay attention to users. I invented a model of the world that didn’t correspond to reality, and worked from that. I didn’t notice my model was wrong until I tried to convince users to pay for what we’d built. Even then I took embarrassingly long to catch on. I was attached to my model of the world, and I’d spent a lot of time on the software. They had to want it!
The danger of an idea like this (pet social network) is that when you run it by your friends with pets, they don’t say “I would never use this.” They say “Yeah, maybe I could see using something like that.” Even when the startup launches, it will sound plausible to a lot of people. They don’t want to use it themselves, at least not right now, but they could imagine other people wanting it. Sum that reaction across the entire population, and you have zero users.
When you have an idea for a startup, ask yourself: who wants this right now? Who wants this so much that they’ll use it even when it’s a crappy version one made by a two-person startup they’ve never heard of? If you can’t answer that, the idea is probably bad
When you find the right sort of problem, you should probably be able to describe it as obvious, at least to you. When we started Viaweb, all the online stores were built by hand, by web designers making individual HTML pages. It was obvious to us as programmers that these sites would have to be generated by software.
Another way to start looking at problems is to think about big problems in the world. Y-Combinator has put out a great list of big problems which is available here. Use them, if you are finding it hard to list out the problems you have.
Big ideas generally
Solve a Novel Problem — Google Search
Extend an current solution — Coursera, Udacity (similar to idea types)
Disrupt an Industry — Uber
Questioning the Problem-solution the Idea:
Do startups only solve problems? Facebook doesn’t solve any problem, neither does twitter, then how are they successful?
Facebook didn’t not start out solve a problem. As Nir Eyal puts it, Facebook started out as a Vitamin – nice to haves. But then again, can you do without with?
How often do you feel the need to update your Instagram? How long do you look at Facebooks news feed?
In Nir Eyal’s words,
Pleasure Seeking (vitamins) over time becomes Pain Relieving (pain killers) by creating habits.
So yes, you still can go ahead create the next social network for pets, but make sure you are able to form habit around the product that would prompt users to keep coming back to your network.
Step 2: Evaluate idea or Research
Once you have a couple of ideas on your list, you should start researching on:
Similar product ideas
You can use Similarweb, whois.net to find out similar ideas and details about existing players.
A good place to look for the market demand online is to use Google tools such as Google Trends, Keyword Planner, AdWords.
Step 3: Validate an idea.
You can talk to people, but the best way is to put out the minimum viable product (use deadlinks if need be) and let users interact with it.
Step 4: Value proposition
Value propositions serve to inform a customer what problem are being addressed and how the product is a solution to that problem.
It is quite common for value propositions to specifically define a pain point present in the customer’s life. Essentially, the Value propsition could look like this.
For (target customers)
Who are dissatisfied with (the current alternative)
Our product is a (new product)
That provides (key problem-solving capability)
Unlike (the product alternative)
Example provided in the course:
Grocery shopping is often a time consuming and frustrating chore. With the Super Duper Shopping App on your phone you can find a store near you, pick out your groceries, and have them ready for pickup or delivery to your door.
To know more about value proposition, you can refer this deck.
UX and UI
I am going to be honest here. This portion of the course was a lot about user experience design and of course it had a lot to do with “UX design”. This is probably the first time I am learning about the topic. So, I do not feel comfortable about putting out the notes. However, I will leave a list of topics that was covered so that you could just google them. (If you are a UX designer, you may skip this part)
Interaction Design – Basically talks about all the tasks that the user would perform on your application or product. Then you dive in and describe the sequence of tasks the user performs.
Design Flow – From interaction design you know what tasks that user is going to perform, so how do you make it easier? That is, begin with the sketch board and start creating connections between the tasks.
Material Design – About continuity of usage across devices and bringing the element of motion to provide a intuitive direction to the user (read: after effects).
Accessibility Design – How to make your product accessible to say users who are color blind or users who prefer high contrast screens? I would’ve never thought about this before. But given the google’s customer base, such issues become quite important to solve.
Apart from this it had pointers to:
Home Page Design
Payment Forms Design
Design sprint was developed and popularized by Google Ventures (now GV) to provide a quick idea to launch cycle. According to the website:
The sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. Developed at GV, it’s a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavior science, design thinking, and more—packaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use.
The sprint gives you a superpower: You can fast-forward into the future to see your finished product and customer reactions, before making any expensive commitments.
Essentially, Design Sprint Consist of 6 stages:
The best introduction to design sprint is available in the deck below. (Wait for the slideshare to load..)
I found the material in Google Ventures library very comprehensive. In a series of 6 posts, the author Jake Knapp, Design partner at GV, describes design sprint along with various methods for every stage. I highly recommend you to read them.
Metrics is one thing that is so easy to overlook. But in fact this is probably the single most important thing that has the potential to jet-pack or bomb a start up.
This reminds me of Silicon Valley episode in which Jared buys signups from India for their video compression application in order to keep the investors interest. Sure, the investors were delighted by the numbers (and then Richard of course breaks it to them that the sign ups were bought) but the real problem they faced was user retention. The app was simply too complicated for people to use it.
Therefore having the right metric is quite important. Otherwise you may end up solving unnecessary issues and wasting the little resources you have as a startup.
Said that, a metric to a start up is as unique as the idea itself. So you are at your liberty to choose the metric that reflects your success. Here are some of the metrics that you can use:
Net Promoters Score (NPS)
According to Wikipedia, NPS is a management tool that can be used to gauge the loyalty of a firm’s customer relationships. NPS can be as low as −100 (everybody is a detractor) or as high as +100 (everybody is a promoter). An NPS that is positive (i.e., higher than zero) is felt to be good, and an NPS of +50 is excellent.
The Net Promoter Score, itself, is calculated based on responses to a single question:How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 scale.
Every day, in every Apple retail store across the world, all the employees gather to talk about the net promoter scores (NPS) collected the day before. If someone gets a high NPS, the manager calls it out: “Hey everyone, Jenny got a great NPS yesterday.” The staff members clap. The manager then wants everyone to know how this was achieved: “Jenny, can you share with us what happened with that guy who came in with the iPad mini?” So, Jenny tells the story of the great service this guy received.
Because Apple’s employees are regaled every day with stories of great customer service, they all know what it looks like. They are not forced to remember so-called inspirational posters with corny customer service acronyms. Instead, they get praise from their managers—and they get the chance to tell their colleagues the details of what happened.
As the name suggests, it is a measure of number of customers who continue to use your product or service. This is also known as churnor attrition rate. A simple way of calculating retention rate is:
However, Abhay Vardhan takes a different route of not only calculating the retention rate, but measuring it as a function of habit by using cohort analysis i.e. study users as a group. He provides an interesting argument as to why this should be used. It’s a little statistical (read: graphs) and therefore I haven’t included it here. Hey, if you right brain itches to know more, head over to the blog.
This one comes in handy when you are particular about UX.
Kerry Rodden, UX Reasercher at Google explains the HEART Frame work as follows:
Happiness: measures of user attitudes, often collected via survey. For example: satisfaction, perceived ease of use, and net-promoter score.
Engagement: level of user involvement, typically measured via behavioral proxies such as frequency, intensity, or depth of interaction over some time period. Examples might include the number of visits per user per week or the number of photos uploaded per user per day.
Retention: the rate at which existing users are returning. For example: how many of the active users from a given time period are still present in some later time period? You may be more interested in failure to retain, commonly known as “churn.”
Task success: this includes traditional behavioral metrics of user experience, such as efficiency (e.g. time to complete a task), effectiveness (e.g. percent of tasks completed), and error rate. This category is most applicable to areas of your product that are very task-focused, such as search or an upload flow.
These can be applied at a number of levels — from the whole product to a specific feature. For example, in Gmail we might be interested in adoption of the product in general, but also in adoption of key features like labels or archiving.
Of course, there are many other metrics that you can use. It could be as simple as Click Through Rates, Average Daily User (ADU), Average Weekly User(AWU), Daily Active Users (DAU), Monthly Active Users (MAU), Installations, Sessions Per User, Session Duration, etc. Based on the type of product you build, choose the metric that measures your progress.
According to Josh Elman, the only metric that really matters is
How many people are really using the product?
He goes on to explain that,
You need a metric that specifically answers this. It can be “x people did 3 searches in the past week”. Or “y people visited my site 9 times in the past month”. Or “z people made at least one purchase in the last 90 days.” But whatever it is, it should be a signal that they are using their product in the way you expected and that they use it enough so that you believe they will come back to use it more and more.
Well, I cannot agree more! The ultimate test for a product is do customers use it?
Once you have chosen the metrics, you need to choose your goal because no matter what you think as a CEO, ’cause numbers don’t lie.
Hope you found this post useful. My intention to write this blog post was to share what I learnt with like-minded people. Help spread the word! Tweet about this post!
Many of the things I shared here are those that requires time to assimilate. So, I welcome you to come again and share your thoughts on the course, or the methods shared. I have already started thinking about a couple of products. I made a list of tools that could be used at various stages of process, hope that helps you get started with your dream startup!
I am intrigued by habits and how easy (or tough) it can make our lives. Let’s focus on the easy part now.
You don’t need an alarm to wake you up. — Never have to wake up to the annoying sound.
You don’t need to worry not burning calories. — You put on running shoes as soon as you wake up without throwing any tantrum.
You don’t need to look for your car keys. — You automatically keep them right next to the night stand.
That is, Imagine your life on autopilot.
While habits take care of the routine tasks, you could devote your time and energy on creating the next awesomest thing!
But it is easy for the habits to take over your life.. They are mean machines with superhuman powers.
Have you found yourself in an interesting discussion and when your phone beeps, your hands automatically reaches out to the phone to check the messages?
That’s an habit. I bet you didn’t know that did you?
That’s exactly why you need to understand habits before you can change them.
Cognitive psychologists define habits as “automatic behaviors triggered by situational cues”. In other words, see chocolate, eat chocolate. (then may be think about calories).
For those who are a minimalist (or have a serious obsession with formulae)
Habit = (Cue + Response) x 999*
*yes, 999 is an arbitrary number. I would’ve put a million. But that would’ve been too much effort and you would’ve probably stopped reading further.
That’s why when people claim they can hack in to habit formation, they are usually wrong. I mean, is there a hack to loosing weight other than burning calories? No right?
Well… trying to change a habit is like trying to change a habit. It’s not easy. And there is no right way.
But there is your way.
That brings me to the most important thing you will need to know about habit.
You don’t know your habit even exists!
Huh? Say what?
Yes. Say for example, do you know what exactly you “do”,”think” or “feel” when you hit the snooze button? It is so involuntary that, you hit snooze button x times (three for me and yes I counted) before you get out of the bed. Have you noticed that? If not, try it tomorrow and let me know!
That’s why, I a good way to start a change a old habit (say snoozing) not by not snoozing. But by understanding what you “do” when you snooze.
It’s the most interesting exercise in habit formation. ‘Cause it’s like solving a mystery box challenge (MasterChef Australia fans, Up top!). You don’t know what’s in there, till you open the box. And of course when you open it, for a moment you are like is that me? Then you start thinking about points to intervene.
There are two places you can intervene. (By now you should’ve guessed it).
Cue and Response.
So, all you got to do is experiment. There are just 43 ways to do it.
(old habit)Cue and Response Cue and Response Cue and Response Cue and Response (also for new habit)
Note to Seventh grade self: Yes, it is very similar to a 2 bit binary code.
Once you have figured out which one works. You are just one step away from turning the autopilot mode on.
Ok. I didn’t say it was easy.
Now that I have shared my wisdom, let me share my experience. My experience of failing several times and ways I have successfully manage to stay put.
Slack off for a day and it is as good as starting again. But sometimes, you cannot. So (pretend) do the task three times the next day.
You will often want to give up. So, associate the response with a good feeling. (a simple smile worked wonders for me)
Start small and be patient. Habits you are trying to change have been with you for a long time. It is not easy to change it in a day.
By the way, if you want to know if I still wake up late, I do. But, I have been running experiments for the past three weeks studying my sleep pattern, the cue (snoozing alarm three times), the response and actively tweaking them everyday one small step at a time.
How many days does it take to form an habit? As long as it takes for you to not put effort ie. the response is so involuntary (it gets itchy just before it turns involuntary). People usually say it takes 21 days, some say 48 days. Well, to me habit formation is personal.
Can we really change old habits? Duh! But again, it is not easy.
How easy is it to break a habit? Not that easy as you think. How long can you fool your subconscious?
I write on every Monday and Thursday on topics such as life hacks, startups, strategies and books. Subscribe if these topics interests you. 🙂
Off late, I have been using this blog as a trash can for my feelings. That’s probably putting it too harsh. But you get it. May be that’s why you haven’t bothered to visit my blog these. I don’t blame you. I didn’t either.
Now that the times have changed… I promise to come back more often – (Mondays and Thursdays)- than I did before and hoping this motivates you to come back as well. (Hit the subscribe button right away before your forget 😉 ).
So, what has changed?
Mainly my perspective. But on that later. This blog is no more “Lullaby of imfamous (seriously, how did I come up with “imfamous”!!?). Can’t say, I didn’t see it coming. But, I didn’t acknowledge it for a long time. Until recently.
The blog is now “The Life of Adventures!”. With an exclamation! Super lame, super ordinary and uncreative. But I wouldn’t have it any other way because I have been seeing life as an adventure for quite a few months and that has given me strength. Today, I am sharing it with you.
Why an adventure?
Sounds super fun doesn’t it?
But it is not something people don’t set out for very often because, books and movies have feed our imagination to assume that adventure is out there. An adventure to you might be exploring the woods, bungee jumping, sky diving, hiking on the Himalayas, smooth ride along the coast and more. And so, many of us have been made to believe that adventure begins, when we step out of the ordinary life.
I would like to think otherwise.
Adventure begins when you start accepting that no day is ordinary. And no life is ordinary. There is always something to discover, something to unravel in the everyday life. That’s all the fuel you need to keep moving forward.
Why this blog (again)?
Ok, a confession. This is not my first blog. (Of course, you already know that). I have been writing since 2008 and have had three blogs before. I deleted them for reasons that seems so juvenile now.
I have written a lot on this blog, looking back, there are quite a few posts that I am not proud of. As much as I would like to start anew, I have come to realize that if not for the past, I wouldn’t be here, so I might as well give it the place it deserves.
What should you do now?
All you got to do is subscribe to this blog. I promise to publish a post every Monday and Thursday. But, even if you don’t subscribe, I encourage you to come back after 10 days, may be you will find something that’s worthy of your attention. (I have some really interesting posts lined up.)
That said, welcome to my new old blog. 🙂
Oh! Almost forgot! Here is a very quick time lapse of my blog. (Thanks to web.archive.org)