The best time-saver ever

A few months ago, I quoted Mark Suster’s advice about How to maximize your chance of getting a meeting or call with someone. In the notes to that post, I recommended that when you’re trying to fix a meeting with someone,

Suggest at least three possible times in your initial email. This maximizes the chance that one of them will be convenient, and they’ll be able to say “yes” without further iteration.

I personally try to implement the best practices I write about, and over the last few months I’ve consistently adopted that recommendation.

I can honestly say that of all the best practices I’ve written about in A Founder’s Notebook, that simple recommendation has saved me more time and hassle than any other.

Two types of product quality; are they both necessary?

Edited excerpt from The Tyranny of the Minimum Viable Product by Jon H. Pittman:

In his 1974 classic of philosophical fiction, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes two kinds of quality:

1. Classic quality — based on rational analysis, decomposition into parts and their relationships, concerned with details, inner workings, and mechanics.

2. Romantic quality — understanding the overall gestalt or feel, looking at the whole rather than the parts, relating to context, emotion, and being in the moment.

Although this is a gross over-generalization, engineers and business people tend to be educated to think about classic quality and classic quality is the mental model they apply to their work. Designers and artists tend to live more in the realm of romantic quality and that is the mental model they apply to their work.

What we often refer to as the “user experience” is the intersection of classic and romantic quality. If we overweight classic quality at the expense of romantic quality, we end up with a poor user experience.

Notes:
(1) As a devotee of the Job To Be Done framework, I’m not sure how to think about this. The best product is the one which enables me to get my “job” done most efficiently and pleasurably. Perhaps “classic quality” = efficiently, and “romantic quality” = pleasurably?
(2) Enabling people to get their job done efficiently is usually enough. (Think Craig’s List.) However, if you want your customers to love your product, is “romantic quality” necessary?
(3) Cf. (i) Don’t be satisfied with sales, seek love, and (ii) Is your product liked or loved? Here’s how to tell.

How to stop your phone from distracting you and wasting your life

From TimeWellSpent.io, “a community of design thinkers, philosophers, social scientists, entrepreneurs and technologists who care about having technology designed to help us live free and fulfilled lives”:

1. Create a tools-only home screen. Limit your home screen to the top 4-6 tools you use frequently to get things done. Move all other apps off the first page and into folders.

2. Open other apps by typing. Typing filters out unconscious choices while keeping conscious ones. Open apps by typing their name.

3. Keep only two pages of apps. With six pages of apps, we find ourselves swiping back and forth through them mindlessly. Keep to two pages, the first with tools and the other with folders.

4. Turn off notifications, except from people. Only get notifications when people want your attention, not businesses or machines.

5. Keep the M&M’s, but hide the wrappers. Colorful icons are designed to trigger us to use apps unconsciously. Put these on the second or third page inside folders, and open them by typing instead.

6. Stop leaky interactions. Set your Alarm or Camera without unlocking your phone so you get kicked out automaticaly afterwards. Swipe up on the lock screen to quickly access.

7. Reduce phantom buzzes with custom vibrations. Create your own unambiguous vibration pattern to distinguish between when people need you vs. a machine. (Go to Settings > Notifications > Messages > Sounds > Vibration > Create New)

8. Buy a travel alarm clock and charge outside the bedroom. Waking up to check our phone sets our day off to a bad start. Get a separate alarm clock and leave your phone outside to charge.

9. Know your bottomless bowls and slot machines. Know which apps are bottomless bowls (trapdoors) and slot machines (constant checking) for you. Move them off the first page of apps.

Notes:
(1) How convinced are you by these suggestions?
(2) What have you tried which has worked?
(3) See the section on Focus vs. Distractions in Best Practices for Startups — A List By Topic.

How tech products misframe our choices, and product managers should do better

Edited excerpt from How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist by Tristan Harris:

If you control the menu, you control the choices. Magicians give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose. And this is exactly what product designers do to your mind.

When people are given a menu of choices, they rarely ask: “What’s not on the menu?”, “Why am I being given these options and not others?”, “Do I know the menu provider’s goals?”, and “Is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?”.

The most empowering menu is different than the menu that has the most choices. But when we blindly surrender to the menus we’re given, it’s easy to lose track of the difference.

When we wake up in the morning and turn our phone over to see a list of notifications — it frames the experience of “waking up in the morning” around a menu of “all the things I’ve missed since yesterday.” By shaping the menus we pick from, technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them with new ones.

But the closer we pay attention to the options we’re given, the more we’ll notice when they don’t actually align with our true needs.

Notes:
(1) Perhaps the Job To Be Done framework is the antidote to this, because it insists that products should be driven by genuine user needs. If a product manager asked “When I wake up in the morning, what do I most want to do? What is most important to me? What is most life enriching?”, we’d probably have a different phone experience.
(2) Are tech products becoming a growing obstacle to productivity, relationships, meaning and fulfillment? See: (i) Can you achieve great things if you’re a regular Facebook or Twitter user?, (ii) Is group chat a constant distraction for your employees? and (iii) If you want to get more done, stop doing these things.

Fact-based persuasion takes time

Edited excerpt from Facing Up To The Fanatics by Douglas Murray:

Afterwards I found myself reflecting on how people’s minds change. It never does happen just there and then, with someone saying, “Yes — I see, I was quite wrong and you’ve changed my mind.” But over time the bits of your own argument that have become unsupportable simply crumble away, usually without you even acknowledging it.

Notes:
(1) Douglas Murray argues here that people are persuaded by facts, but it takes time. Contrast this with the evidence that people aren’t convinced by facts at all.
(2) Perhaps people are more convinced by stories than facts. Particularly if you set things up so they complete the story themselves.
(3) Cf. How to make your talk or presentation gripping and memorable.

The first goal for a startup isn’t growth

Edited excerpt from Before Growth by Sam Altman:

In the first few weeks of a startup’s life, the founders really need to figure out what they’re doing and why. Then they need to build a product some users really love. Only after that they should focus on growth above all else.

I think the right initial metric is “do any users love our product so much they spontaneously tell other people to use it?” Until that’s a “yes”, founders are generally better off focusing on this instead of a growth target.

Notes:
(1) You can measure “do any users love our product so much they spontaneously tell other people to use it?” with net promotor score — see How to use net promotor score surveys to improve your product and Net promotor score — how to set up the survey.
(2) Cf. Is this the right goal for seed-stage startups?
(3) Re. “only after that should they focus on growth”: see The most fatal mistake to avoid as a startup.

Lessons from Trump: the most powerful marketing leaves room for imagination

Edited excerpt from Trump VS Bush: Persuasion Wars by Scott Adams (author of Dilbert):

Hypnosis rule #1 is that you leave out the details and allow people to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. That’s why, for example, my comic characters have no last names while working in a nameless company for a nameless boss in a nameless location. I don’t want a reader in France to think Dilbert is an American and therefore of little interest. I want the French reader, the Elbonian, and the American to look at the Dilbert characters and say some version of “That character is me!” In order to achieve that effect, I intentionally omit details that would knock you off the track. For example, the minute I give Dilbert a last name it would over-specify his ethnic origins and give folks a reason to feel less connected.

A golden rule in sales is “Don’t sell past the close.” That means that once your customer says yes, you stop talking about the product because you might accidentally say something that stops the sale. You never add detail when the customer is already sold. The less you say, the more likely the customer (who is already sold) will continue talking himself into loving the decision because people like to think they are smart.

Now review Trump’s empty sentence: We need to take America back. From whom? Notice the intentional lack of detail? In this case, the lack of detail is the powerful part of the sentence. See how the open-ended suggestion works? Every voter is free to fill in the topic of their own greatest fear. Trump invites you to hypnotize yourself to finish the thought. And you do.

Notes:
(1) Thank you Zach Abramowitz, founder and CEO of ReplyAll, for the article recommendation.
(2) The biggest mistake you can make in marketing is to add details which clash with your potential customer’s sense of who they are. See If you want to persuade someone with facts, steer clear of identity and ideology.
(3) I’ve expanded this category from Marketing and PR to Marketing, PR and Persuasion. The full list of posts is in Best practices for startups — a list by topic.

If you want to persuade someone with facts, steer clear of identity and ideology

Edited excerpt from I Don’t Want To Be Right by Maria Konnikova:

Until recently, attempts to correct false beliefs haven’t had much success. Brendan Nyhan, a professor of political science at Dartmouth, published the results of a three year study whose goal was to test whether facts, science, emotions, or stories could make people change their minds. The result was dramatic: none of the interventions worked.

When there’s no immediate threat to our understanding of the world, we change our beliefs. It’s when that change contradicts something we’ve long held as important that problems occur. If information doesn’t square with someone’s prior beliefs, he discards the beliefs if they’re weak and discards the information if the beliefs are strong.

False beliefs, it turns out, have little to do with one’s stated political affiliations and far more to do with self-identity: What kind of person am I, and what kind of person do I want to be? All ideologies are similarly affected.

Facts and evidence may not be the answer everyone thinks they are: they simply aren’t that effective, given how selectively they are processed and interpreted. Instead, why not focus on presenting issues in a way keeps broader notions out of it—messages that are not political, not ideological, not in any way a reflection of who you are?

Notes:
(1) Perhaps stories are more persuasive than facts. See: How to make your talk or presentation gripping and memorable.
(2) And perhaps emotions are more persuasive than facts. See: By the end of your talk or presentation, you should be talking love.

Why optimization alone can’t create great products or companies

Edited excerpt from Before Growth by Sam Altman:

Startups that don’t first figure out a product some users love also seem to rarely develop the sense of mission that the best companies have.

Notes:
(1) There’s so much literature about optimization and speed of iteration, it’s possible to forget that great companies are built from truly great products.
(2) Great product teams have three skills sets: user centricity — focus on a Job To Be Done that is important to a large number of people; vision — for a product which addresses that Job To Be Done in a way that users love; and speed — commitment to rapid testing, optimization and feedback loops.
(3) Cf. (i) The three steps to building a great company, and why most startups fail on the first step, (ii) Cosmetic changes to your product won’t fix low user engagement and retention and (iii) Don’t be satisfied with sales, seek love.

To improve your product process, try the 25 minute design sprint

Edited excerpt from The 25-Minute Design Sprint by Chris Thelwell:

The 25 minute design sprint forces designers to work quickly and focus on what they can learn rather than what they can produce. It’s based on the Pomodoro Technique, which uses blocks of 25 minutes followed by five minute breaks to focus attention on getting something done. It can be used continuously throughout a project, breaking all parts of the design work into 25 minute slices, or stopped when you feel you are getting somewhere and have clear direction.

The Process
1. Using a timer, set up 25 minutes for the first sprint.
2. Each designer works individually for 25 minutes to create and explore ideas, ideally using sketching first. Include at least 10 minutes of researching and gaining inspiration.
3. When the 25 minutes ends, everyone stops what they are working on. (Don’t give in to “I just need another five minutes”.)
4. The whole team comes together to discuss and share their ideas.
5. The team decides if each designer should persevere (develop their ideas) or pivot (try something different) in the next sprint.
6. Take a five minute break from work.
7. The sprint process then starts over again.

Notes:
(1) Here’s Wikipedia on the Pomodoro Technique.
(2) A design sprint can only succeed with clarity about the Job To Be Done. So go over the Job Outline with the team before you start the sprint, and ensure everyone has answers to the Five questions to ensure product designers focus on the Job To Be Done.
(3) See also: Why product managers should frame every product task as a Job To Be Done.

Seven questions to uncover user goals and needs

Edited excerpt from The Fast (and Easy) Way to Uncover User Needs by Joe Natolli:

Asking this set of questions across even a small pool of people — ten or less — will show you clear, recurring themes and patterns that can be used to validate user needs:

1. How do you define a successful work day? What has to happen in order for you to feel good when you leave?

2. Does that definition of success (and your stated goals) change from day to day — or from week to week? Are there certain times of year where what you need to accomplish changes?

3. What are the top three things standing in the way of you accomplishing your goals or having a successful workday?

4. What are the biggest problems, obstacles or inefficiencies you deal with? Why do you think these things happen?

5. Did you do have this same role at other organizations you’ve worked for? Was it better, worse or different – and why (or how)?

6. Did you perform these tasks in the same way at any of these other organizations? Was it better, worse or different – and why (or how)?

7. What frustrates you most about this? Why?

Notes:
(1) The full article provides the rationale for each question.
(2) The first two questions probe what users are trying to achieve, what defines success for your users. In other words, they help you investigate the Job To Be Done. The third and fourth questions probe the context and challenges. As a result, these questions are helpful in completing a Job Outline.
(3) See also How to interview customers to get great product insights and How to learn about your customers.

The heart of any growth strategy is core product value

Excerpt from A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Chamath Palihapitiya About Investing and Business by Tren Griffin:

Users are only ever in three states — they’ve never heard about it; they’ve tried it; and they use it. What you’re managing is state change. So the framework is, what causes these changes? The answer should be rooted more in preference, choice and psychology than in some quantitative thing.

What I want to hear about is the three most difficult and hard problems that any consumer product has to deal with. How to get people on the front door? How to get them to an ‘A-ha’ moment as quickly as possible? And then how do you deliver core product value as often as possible?

Notes:
(1) “The answer should be rooted more in preference, choice and psychology than in some quantitative thing.” Another way of putting this: the core of any growth strategy must be a great product which helps your customers achieve a valuable Job To Be Done in a compelling way. See Is your product a “must-have” according to this definition?
(2) Cf. The only way to build a massive business.
(3) Cf. Don’t be satisfied with sales, seek love.

How NOT to start a presentation

Edited excerpt from 8 Bad Habits That Ruin Good Presentations by Geoffrey James:

Don’t start with an apology. You’re late, your equipment malfunctions, you don’t have your materials, or whatever. You apologize in advance for how this might affect your presentation. This is a mistake because an apology sets a negative tone that may affect the entire meeting and makes you seem like a victim. Nobody wants to do business with a victim. Instead, start on an upbeat note, as if nothing is wrong. This communicates that you’re cool under pressure–the opposite of being a victim.

Don’t make personal excuses. You downgrade the audience’s expectations by offering an excuse in advance for your poor performance. (E.g., “I’m so tired”; “I got in late last night.”) This is a mistake because you’re giving yourself an excuse so you won’t feel so bad if you fail. Plus, nobody wants to hear you whine about your problems. Instead, regardless of how you’re feeling, show enthusiasm for being there and make your best effort.

Notes:
(1) Maybe better to start with a story.
(2) And then end with love?

The four steps to great product design

Edited excerpt from The Dribbblisation Of Design by Paul Adams:

Design is a multi layered process. In my experience, there is an optimal order to how you move through the layers:

1. Outcome. Start with the intended outcome. What will the thing you’re designing make easier or better for people? Most projects without a clearly defined intended outcome don’t end well. At Intercom, we work with Clay Christensen’s Jobs framework for product design. We frame every design problem in a Job, focusing on the triggering event or situation, the motivation and goal, and the intended outcome: When _____ , I want to _____ , so I can _____ .

2. Structure. Next, design the system. Work out the required components to meet the intended outcome, and map the relationship between them.

3. Interaction. After the outcome and system are figured out, design the interaction details. What are the microinteractions? The sequence of behavior and events? What are the UI components, and how will people interact with or manipulate them? How will things move, change or animate? Revisit the system, evolve it to match the interactions. Keep iterating.

4. Visual. Once the outcome, system and interactions are well defined and working (ideally prototyped), design the visual details. Make it look and feel beautiful, enjoyable. Now it’s time for beautiful grids, color, typography, iconography.

I see designer after designer focus on the fourth layer without really considering the others.

Notes:
(1) Re. “Outcome” as the first stage of product design: see Why product managers should frame every product task as a Job To Be Done.
(2) Re. “we frame every design problem in a Job”: see How to describe your customers’ “Job To Be Done” using a Job Outline.
(3) Cf. Five questions to ensure product designers focus on the Job To Be Done.

Why product managers should optimize design for older users

Edited excerpt from The Problem With Flat Design, According To A UX Expert by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan:

Kate Meyer, a user experience expert at Nielsen Norman Group, examined how different users approach flat interfaces. Younger users liked flat websites a lot more than their older counterparts. Older users said the flattest website designs were “boring,” while younger subjects described them as “professional.”

However, while young people seemed faster at navigating the designs, they also indicated they didn’t really understand the UI intuitively. For the most part they seemed to have pretty much no idea what they were doing. “It’s hard when you think something’s a link and it’s not. And you have to figure out how to get it another way,” one user said. Young people didn’t necessarily “get” flat designs. They were just better at quickly testing where and how to get what they wanted in the face of click uncertainty.

Paying attention to the older users might help to solve flat design’s usability issues sooner. Some technology companies are moving to “inclusive design”, the notion that by designing for ignored or underserved users—including the elderly or disabled—products will become better for all. It has quietly spurred some of the biggest technological leaps of our time. The typewriter, email, and even the telephone evolved out of designs for the blind and deaf.

Notes:
(1) Kate Meyer argues here that focusing on older users improves user experience for everybody. Perhaps that’s because older users are less able to tolerate “click uncertainty” and other user interface failures.
(2) Older users are also becoming more important in their own right, as demographic changes raise the percentage of older people in the population. And some services — such as investing sites like Seeking Alpha — appeal disproportionately to older users.
(3) The most obvious way to reduce “click uncertainty” is to ensure that what is clickable is obvious and differentiated from what isn’t clickable. (The most common error is to present links in the same color as non-clickable text.)
(4) See also Web design for seniors.

How to make your talk or presentation gripping and memorable

Excerpt from How To Tell If Someone Is Lying: 5 Research-Backed Secrets by Eric Barker:

Your brain is wired to respond to stories. Neuroscience research shows nothing beats a story when it comes to convincing you of something.

Keith Quesenberry at Johns Hopkins reviewed over 100 Super Bowl ads to see what the most effective ones had in common. The answer? They told a story.

Notes:
(1) Contrast this with the more functional approach to public speaking — focus on the change you want to catalyze, keep presentations tight, and avoid “and’s”.
(2) Story telling has greater emotional resonance; cf. By the end of your talk or presentation, you should be talking love.

The three most important things for seed stage startups to get right

Edited excerpt from Product Thinking isn’t the next big thing in UX design. It’s the only thing by Mark Maloney:

You need to actually understand the problem before you look to solve it. And you need to solve it with a distinct point-of-view.

Notes:
(1) Although this was written for UX designers, I think it applies more broadly to early stage startups.
(2) Seed stage startups need to get three things right: (i) Ensure there’s a real problem  (= Job To Be Done). (ii) Be clear about the unique focus, approach or insight you bring to solving that problem. (iii) Ensure you have a basic business model that will generate profits, based on what works in other businesses.
(3) What seed stage startups don’t need to get right immediately, because this is what you’ll be working on for the next few years: (i) You don’t need to nail down all the details of your product. (ii) You don’t need a detailed financial forecast, including pricing and margins.
(4) Re. “you need to solve it with a distinct point-of-view”: See the questions about competitive advantage in Six simple questions to test product-market fit and competitive advantage (from Y Combinator’s application form).

Is this the right goal for seed-stage startups?

The final slide from an investor deck sent by a startup founder:

Financing

Raising: $1.5 million

Deliverable: MVP and 10,000 delighted beta users who would recommend the product.

Notes:
(1) Love the clarity: “Here’s how much we want to raise, and here, in one short sentence, is what we’ll deliver for that budget.”
(2) Note that the key deliverable is a product of demonstrated quality — an MVP with high net promotor score, validated by a sufficient number of users.
(3) Setting net promotor score as an explicit goal stops the company from trying to scale before the product is good enough. See The most fatal mistake to avoid as a startup.

How to answer questions after pitching your product or startup

Edited excerpt from How To Demo Your Startup by Jason Calacanis:

Short answers are best.

When taking questions about your product answer questions shortly. This is a very challenging thing for many people–including myself–to do. If you’re like me, you’ve probably thought out your startup’s issues a thousand different ways. Answer the question with the most concise answer.

Notes:
(1) In Nick Morgan’s words, “Too many speakers dump way too much information on the audience. Restraint is key.” See: For speakers: three tips to avoid tiring your audience.
(2) For more on demos to VCs and investors, see: (i) How to demo your startup, and (ii) A better way to demo your product.
(3) For more on demos to potential customers, see: (i) Demos can win sales if you do them like this, and (ii) How to demo your product to a potential customer.

Is group chat a constant distraction for your employees?

Edited excerpt from Is group chat making you sweat? by Jason Fried:

We’ve been using group chat at 37signals/Basecamp for 10 years. I’ve seen the distraction, anxiety, stress, and misunderstanding group chat can cause. Those are things that can really damage people and an organization.

I believe attention is one of your most precious resources. If something else controls my attention, that something else controls what I’m capable of. I also believe your full attention is required to do great work. So when something like a pile of group chats, and the expectations that come along with them, systematically steals that resource from me, I consider it a potential enemy.

That said, I still think group chat is an important tool in the communications toolbox. I just don’t think it’s the go-to tool. I think it’s the exception tool.

Notes:
(1) In the full article, Jason Fried demonstrates why group chat leads to constant distraction and shallowness. If you use (or are thinking of using) Slack or Hipchat as your startup’s primary communication tool, you’ll want to read it.
(2) Cf. Samuel Hulick’s critique of Slack in What happens when you mistake user engagement for customer success.
(3) Cf. If you want to get more done, stop doing these things.
(4) Note the extreme contrast between group chat and this approach to email.

Automate and outsource everything

Edited excerpt from Five things I will do different for my next startup by Jeff Haynie:

Automate and outsource everything. OK, maybe not everything, but everything that is possible — which is a lot more than you probably think. We did a great job at Appcelerator with this — but we could have done better.

You’ll want to spend all your calories on things that you do best, different, uniquely and the thing that makes you and your business valuable. Trust me, that’s not your website (which of course, is not to say that’s not important). Sure, maybe your dev can do the corporate website by herself over the weekend much cheaper than finding an agency to do it or a contractor. It will seem and be cheaper (and maybe faster) in the short-term. But it will really cost you in so many areas.

Same with systems. Maybe one of your devs could just setup Gitlab on your own server and that’s a little bit cheaper than paying for the $7/month for a small plan at Github. But trust me, it’s not. It’s just not worth it.

Try and automate and outsource things that aren’t core to your mission. Keep your calories focused on activities that will create muscle — and don’t do anything (if you can avoid it) else.

Now, like other recommendations, this isn’t an absolute and sometimes this can conflict with “burn less”. But generally, if it seems cheaper in the short-term, make sure you consider the long term ROI and other non-financial metrics (such as distraction).

Notes:
(1) For practical advice about how to outsource, see How to hire someone to handle outsourcing for your startup.
(2) Cf. Saying “no” to good ideas.

How to avoid being influenced by others’ negativity

Edited excerpt from 23 Ways to Protect Your Positive Mood from Negative Co-Workers by Laura Tong:

1. Take the lead with upbeat topics. By going first you’ll have more control to ensure the tone stays positive.

2. Avoid eye contact during negative conversations. You’ll make less connection with them and their words will carry less weight.

3. Don’t gossip. Talking about people behind their back has been shown to lower your self-esteem, even when you are not being overly critical.

4. Laugh in the face of negativity. Smile and diffuse that negativity. Refuse to take them and their gloomy view of life or your workplace to heart.

5. Read them the riot act. Explain to negative co-workers that you have a serious allergic reaction to negativity.

Notes:
(1) On the damage of negativity and why you should avoid it, see Why venting and complaining are bad for your health and the health of your company.
(2) Cf. You can train yourself to think positively.
(3) An excellent, positive question to ask to people: The right question to ask to motivate people.

Four qualities to look for when interviewing a product manager

Edited excerpt from This Is Why I Never Hire Product Managers by David Cancel:

I try to never hire someone who has been a product manager before. I’ve never seen a correlation with past experience and future success when it comes to product managers. Instead, there are a set of patterns we look for when hiring product managers:

1. Are they truly a product junkie? Are they the first to be playing around with new products? Are they telling me about some product I don’t know about? Do they know about more products than me? And do they have passion around this? I love to have candidates show me their phone or desktop to see which apps they are using, which new products they are testing.

2. Are they curious? Are they settling for yes or questioning why? Do they want to learn from others? What ideas do they have for products? How would they make them better? Pick a product on the spot and ask them to show you how they use it, what they’d change and how they would improve it.

3. How do they work everyday? What do they use from a process standpoint? Trello? Evernote? ProdPad? The best PM’s are always trying new things and finding ways to improve when it comes to process and organization.

4. Do they have a customer-driven mindset? It’s the PMs job to understand the customer better than nearly everyone else. PMs should be talking to the customer the most at your company other than support. Can they help engineering and design get closer to the customer?

Two things don’t matter: Technical ability, and dashboards, slide decks and Excel. Looking at data all day is not what being a PM is about.

Notes:
(1) Cf. The ideal personality type for product managers.
(2) Re. “I’ve never seen a correlation with past experience and future success”: cf. Don’t hire based on past experience.
(3) Re. “Are they curious?”: cf. How to test job candidates for “learning agility”.
(4) Re. “Do they have a customer-driven mindset?”: do they focus on the Job To Be Done?
(5) Re. “Dashboards don’t matter… looking at data all day is not what being a PM is about”: Do you agree with that?

Why venting and complaining are bad for your health and the health of your company

Edited excerpt from Complaining Is Terrible for You According to Science by Jessica Stillman:

Not only do repeated negative thoughts make it easier to think yet more negative thoughts, they also make it more likely that negative thoughts will occur to you just randomly walking down the street. Being consistently negative starts to push your personality towards the negative.

Hanging out with negative people does much the same. When we see someone experiencing an emotion (be it anger, sadness, happiness, etc), our brain ‘tries out’ that same emotion to imagine what the other person is going through. And it does this by attempting to fire the same synapses in your own brain so that you can attempt to relate to the emotion you’re observing.

“When your brain is firing off these synapses of anger, you’re weakening your immune system, raising your blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, and a plethora of other negative ailments,” Psych Pedia author Steven Parton says.

The culprit is the stress hormone cortisol. When you’re negative, you release it, and elevated levels of the stuff, “interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease.”

Notes:
(1) Cf. “I think the mind is like a forest floor: the more you walk paths the deeper they get and the easier it is to walk them again.” — from You can train yourself to think positively.
(2) Cf. Ideas spread inside a company due to positive energy; 8 ways to increase it.

Why product managers shouldn’t overrate simplicity

Edited excerpt from Simple just isn’t that important by David Heinemeier Hansson:

“Simple” is just one of the many qualities we can use to evaluate products, and it is by no means the most important. Simple is overrated!

Here are but a few qualities I’d take over simple: Useful. Clear. Fun. Satisfying. Inspiring. Endearing.

Notes:
(1) Cf. Frictionless vs. minimalist product design.
(2) Cf. Minimum viable product vs minimum acceptable product.

How startups can continue to innovate over long time periods

Edited excerpt from a Y Combinator interview with Michael Moritz:

Most organizations are capable of maintaining a consistent level of exceptional performance through a year, or five years, maybe ten years. Very few are able to do it over multiple decades. How have we done it?

1. Yesterday is irrelevant. The best leaders want to make sure that their product is fresh, that it changes with the times; that they never rest on their laurels, or get complacent; that they always have an element of insecurity about feeling that they can always get eaten by a competitor, and that past successes don’t mean all that much. All your past success is yesterday, and it’s irrelevant to the future.

2. Maintain a fresh team. You have to focus on the team. Field the best team at any one time, no matter how long people have been with you. Don’t be unfair, or ruthless, or harsh; but detached, objective and clinical about the performance of each individual. No matter how well they’ve performed in the past, if their heart is no longer in it, if they no longer have the burning desire to compete, it’s time for them to move on. Bring in young people who have zest, ambition, energy.

3. Change with the market. Stay alert to market opportunities. When we started a long time ago we were just here in Menlo Park, but the world of technology has changed, because of what’s happening principally in China. So about 12, 13 years ago, we started a business in China because we felt that, over time, it was going to be increasingly important for Sequoia, for the companies that we have investments in in Silicon Valley, to really understand the Chinese market because of what was going to happen there.

Notes:
(1) Re. Maintain a fresh team — for practical advice, see: How to hire – drill a well before you need a drink.
(2) Re. Change with the market — contrast that with The question that Amazon answers to set its strategy.

How to identify an A-player in an interview

Edited excerpt from This Is How You Identify A-Players (In About 10 Minutes) During An Interview by Mitchell Harper:

I sat down earlier today and thought about all of the A-players I’ve been fortunate enough to hire over the years at my five previous companies, and came up with seven questions you can use in your interview process to give you a much better chance of finding and hiring them:

Q1 Have they been promoted at least once in a previous role?

Q2 Have they had to lead a big project in a previous role? How did they handle it?

Q3 Is this the same role as a previous job or is it somewhat/completely different?

Q4 Can they speak about your company and tell you what they like and what they might change?

Q5 Are they confident without being cocky?

Q6 Are they committed to continual learning? Can they prove it?

Q7 How would you rate the quality and quantity of questions they ask YOU during the interview?

Notes:
(1) The rationale behind each question is provided in the full article.
(2) Re. “Are they committed to continual learning? Can they prove it?”, see How to test job candidates for “learning agility” and 5 testable qualities that determine a candidate’s potential.
(3) Cf. Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring rule.

Build value for your users

Edited excerpt from How We Got off the Addiction to Venture Capital and Created Our Own Way to Profits by Rafat Ali:

We became obsessed with the idea of our utility value to users who swear by us. This is a two-step test, which essentially says this: How much of a personal or professional utility value do your users ascribe to your brand? And how indispensable are you to the ecosystem you exist in? While media companies focused on scale-for-scale-sake talk about unique visitors to their sites, we talk about unique residents.

There are people who build media companies for valuation, then there are others who build media brands for value. Internalizing that difference has made all the difference to us.

All of this hides an ugly unspoken truth about media in general: that it is disposable, in so many ways. The key is to move towards making yourself non-disposable, by adding enough value.

Notes:
(1) Focusing on genuine value creation creates a pathway to subscription revenue. It’s what we did at Seeking Alpha — started free while focusing on genuine value creation for investors, then added subscription products. See: Charging for content will only be successful if this condition is fulfilled.
(2) Cf. The content business: Entertainment, or helping users make decisions?

Five questions to ensure product designers focus on the Job To Be Done

Edited excerpt from Why Product Thinking is the next big thing in UX Design by Nikkel Blaase:

A product has a core user experience, which is basically the reason the product exists. It fulfills a need or solves a problem people have. By doing so, the product becomes meaningful and provides certain value. If the problem is non-existent, or the solution doesn’t fit the problem, the product becomes meaningless and people won’t use it. This in turn leads to the failure of the product.

Wrong solutions can be fixed, but non-existent problems aren’t fixable.

So when thinking about products, UX designers should first answer the following questions:
1. What problem are we solving? (User problem)
2. For whom are we doing this? (Target audience)
3. Why are we doing this? (Vision)
4. How are we doing this? (Strategy)
5. What do we want to achieve? (Goals)

Only then does it make sense to think about exactly what we’re doing (Features).

Notes:
(1) Re. For whom are we doing this? (Target audience): The Job To Be Done framework avoids defining target customers other than as people who have that Job To Be Done. Who those people are and how to find them is more important for marketing and growth hacking than for product managers or UX designers. So I’d replace this question with: How do we find people with this Job To Be Done? See “Inception”, in A framework for growth hacking using Job To Be Done.
(2) Re. How are we doing this? (Strategy): What unique capabilities do we bring to the table? How will they be expressed in the product?
(3) Re. What do we want to achieve? (Goals): Ensure we’re sufficiently ambitious. What would success look like? Define a metric, and make sure it’s a real metric, not a vanity metric. Then, set a stretch goal, rather than what we think we can achieve.
(4) Cf. Why product managers should frame every product task as a Job To Be Done.

You can train yourself to think positively

Excerpt from Lydia Krasilnikova by Prof. Daniel Jackson:

I think the mind is like a forest floor: the more you walk paths the deeper they get and the easier it is to walk them again. When I wasn’t doing so great, there was a path falling into unhappiness, and the more I walked on it, the deeper that path got. It’s important to learn how to tell yourself, “No, I’m not thinking about that right now. As a matter of fact I’m never thinking about that; we’re done here.” Eventually, if you let it, that darker path will get covered up with leaves; the leaves will disintegrate over the winter and by spring there will be new dirt covering it. The path is still there but it’s shallow and small and you don’t have to fall into walking it. In the meantime if you build more positive paths they will become easier and easier to find.

One of the biggest realizations I had is that happiness isn’t something that happens to you. It’s a choice.

Notes:
(1) Lydia was describing her experience getting out of depression, but her insights (“the mind is like a forest floor”) are equally applicable to negative and positive thinking generally, particularly for startups where vision and optimism are so important.
(2) On positive thinking, see also: (i) Ideas spread inside a company due to positive energy; 8 ways to increase it, and (ii) By the end of your talk or presentation, you should be talking love.
(3) The excerpt is from Soulstrong, a site containing photos and interviews about depression at MIT. The interviews are moving, thought provoking and beautifully written.
(4) Cf. (i) The psychology of startup founders, (ii) Startup founder psychology: Between euphoria and terror and (iii) Finally, someone understands: What it’s like to be a CEO.
(5) I’ve put this post in a new section on Work Skills and Lifehacks in my thematic index of best practices for startups.

How to stop being late for meetings

Edited excerpt from How to Be On Time Every Time by Dustin Wax:

A lot of the time we let ourselves show up late because the event we’re showing up to isn’t all that important to us. Try this: don’t schedule events that aren’t that important to you. Use that time for things that are important to you.

I know, there are a lot of things in your life that feel obligatory, like the weekly status report meeting at work, or dinner at your spouse’s or partner’s parents. Either make those things important to you, or figure out how to cut them from your calendar.

Notes:
(1) The article then lists some useful suggestions for how to be more punctual, such as: not checking your email or voicemail right before you leave; adding 25% to your time estimate to get anywhere or do any task; getting everything ready for morning meetings the night before; and entering appointments 10 mins early in your calendar.
(2) But I think the insight quoted above is more important. We’re often late to events because we’re ambivalent about whether we really want to be there (or whether they justify the time including travel). Dustin Wax’s solution is to force ourselves to decide: either attend with a full heart and arrive on time, or say “no”.
(3) Reasons to “do it right or not at all”: latecomers hurt the productivity of everyone who has to wait, and demoralize the people who turn up on time and make them feel disrespected. And in Dustin’s words, “people who are habitually late (or are late even once, when it counts) project incompetence, self-centeredness, and even a lack of integrity”.
(4) Related: How much of other people’s time do you waste?

How to reduce churn by identifying your “red flag metrics”

Edited excerpt from How One SaaS Startup Reduced Churn 71% Using “Red Flag” Metrics by Alex Turnbull:

We decided that, if we were to systematically reduce churn, we’d need to systematically study it and find its source. What I found was illuminating. There were very strong differences in the behavior of users who had abandoned Groove and the behavior of those who stayed. These are our “Red Flag Metrics”, and we use them to identify churn before it happens.

When we looked at the numbers, there were two metrics that seemed to be the most significant in the first 30 days after a user signs up – length of first session and frequency of logins. (There was a difference in total number of logins as well, but it wasn’t as disparate as the other two.) The average user who did not quit after 30 days spent three minutes and 18 seconds using Groove in their first session, and logged in an average of 4.4 times a day. The average user who quit spent 35 seconds using Groove in their first session, and logged in an average of 0.3 times per day.

So we began to send targeted emails to users who spent less than 2 minutes on their first session, as well as to those who (regardless of first session time) logged in fewer than 2 times a day in their first 10 days. We reduced our churn from about 4.5% to 1.6%.

Notes:
(1) The full article includes the text of the emails sent to “at risk” users. They’re excellent.
(2) Re. “length of first session” — see The first ten minutes of a customer’s experience are crucial.
(3) Cf. How to reduce churn and How to reduce churn — a process.

For growth, focus on the marginal user

Edited excerpt from Growth by Alex Schultz, VP Growth at Facebook:

Building an incredible product is definitely about optimizing it for the people who use your product the most. But when it comes to driving growth, people who are already using your product are not the ones you have to worry about. What you need to focus on is the marginal user. The one person who doesn’t get a notification in a given day, month, or year.

We looked at new users, resurrected users (people who weren’t on Facebook for 30 days and came back) and churned users. For pretty much every product I’ve ever seen, the resurrected and churned numbers dominate the new user account once you reach a sensible point of growth a few years in. And all those users who are churning and resurrecting had low friend counts, and didn’t find their friends so weren’t connected to the great stuff that was going on on Facebook. So the number one thing we needed to focus on was getting them to those 10 friends, or whatever number of friends they needed.

So when you’re thinking about growth, think about the user on the margin.

Notes:
(1) Thank you Aaron Frazer for the article tip.
(2) “Focus on the marginal user” — Josh Elman says the Twitter team similarly focused on the lowest four steps of user engagement — see Identify your engagement ladder.
(3) Re. “For pretty much every product I’ve ever seen , the resurrected and churned numbers dominate the new user account once you reach a sensible point of growth a few years in… So the number one thing we needed to focus on was them” — Cf. A simple metric to measure the quality of your user growth.

Four principles for how to fire someone correctly

Edited excerpt from How To Fire An Employee — The Right Way by Mitchell Harper:

Nothing slows down a startup like bad hiring — except when you keep those bad hires around for longer than you should. The key to firing lies in 4 principles:

1. The employee should see it coming – they should know in advance that being let go is a real possibility if they don’t improve.

2. They should be given a chance to improve — they need to know exactly what you expect of them and should agree to meet that one key, measurable goal within a specific time period.

3. Their ego should never be damaged — help them transition out of the role by providing a reference, reaching out to your network and providing 1-4 weeks of severance; most people can find a new job, but they have to break the bad news to their partner, kids and friends.

4. Never lie to your other employees about why the person was fired — be brief, but make it clear they were fired for performance reasons. This helps set a culture based on performance, not politics or tenure.

Notes:
(1) Re. “Nothing slows down a startup like keeping bad hires around for longer than you should” — see Five bad excuses to avoid firing poor performers, and why you should “expose the pain”.
(2) Re. “help them transition out of the role by providing a reference and reaching out to your network” — I’m not sure how you can do this if you fired them for poor performance. Advice, anyone?
(3) Re. “Their ego should never be damaged” — listening to their feedback helps; see Exit interviews.

A simple metric to measure the quality of your user growth

Edited excerpt from Diligence at Social Capital Part 1: Accounting for User Growth by Jonathan Hsu:

Quick Ratio = (new users + resurrected users)/churned users

(This should not be confused with the normal finance quick ratio that measures the ability of cash and near cash assets to pay off liabilities.)

This ratio needs to be greater than one if the app is to be growing, otherwise churn is overwhelming growth.

Most consumer applications don’t have a very strong mechanism to bring users back month after month and so the quick ratio tends to be just above 1. The dynamic for each month in a consumer app is typically to add a bunch of users and to simultaneously lose a bunch of users with a small additive piece on top from resurrection yielding overall small positive growth.

All else being equal, a company with the same growth but a higher quick ratio is more attractive company to us because it is starting from a better base. With high retention, it would be worth trying to push harder on the top of funnel with new users to drive growth (more aggressive sharing/referral mechanisms, paid acquisition, etc.). If a company has higher churn, it’s harder to justify pushing on new users as you would end up losing many of them. It’s easier to fill the top of funnel than it is to fix some underlying churn problem.

This accounting can be done on time-frames other than calendar months. Indeed, several of our portfolio companies implement it on a rolling 28 day basis (to remove day-of-week effects).

Notes
(1) Thank you Guy Cohen for the article tip.
(2) Cf. Why retention is the key to growth and Sustainable growth vs. growth hacking.
(3) Practical advice on how to reduce churn: (i) How to reduce churn — a process, (ii) How to reduce churn by winning back cancelled customers, (iii) How to think about churn.

By the end of your talk or presentation, you should be talking love

Edited excerpt from The Twelve Rules of Good Public Speaking No One Tells You About by Dr. Nick Morgan:

You get attention by identifying a problem and playing it up. Look at the current American presidential candidates; you’d be pardoned for thinking that Armageddon was around the corner if you took them seriously.

But by the end of the talk, you should be covering what it is that you love and what’s working in your world. Long-term careers are based on positive trajectories, not negative ones.

Notes:
(1) Cf. Ideas spread inside a company due to positive energy; 8 ways to increase it.
(2) Cf. A simple litmus test for great managers.

How to extract what your customers really want from their misguided feature requests

Edited excerpt from Don’t design what users want by Michael Sueoka:

One piece of feedback we received was a feature for a user to get an email every single time a specific event occurred for one of their campaigns. Our user wanted to know every time a campaign started, ended, was performing poorly, hit the halfway mark, was off to a bad start, had little traffic, or reached its spending limit.

Now, imagine having 20 mobile campaigns running on any given day and receiving 20-30 emails all within a short time frame. Despite what the user wanted, this would have overwhelmed their inbox with non-actionable items in a non-organized way.

So I set up a handful of video chats and in-person interviews. We distilled all our findings and discovered the user’s one basic need: they simply wanted to know if their campaigns are doing okay.

Getting user feedback is the most important thing any UX designer, engineer, business owner, and product manager could do. But don’t just take that feedback and design a solution based on what the user says. Dig deeper to figure out your user’s root problem.

Don’t try to figure out what the user wants. Try to figure out why they want it.

Notes:
(1) “The user’s one basic need”, “your user’s root problem”, and “Why they want it” are all other names for: your customers’ Job To Be Done. See A brief summary of Job To Be Done, with 3 takeaways for product managers.
(2) Another technique to uncover the Job To Be Done from a (possibly misguided) feature request is to keep asking “Why does that matter to you?” or just “Why?”. See 5 Whys.

The two key elements in WeWork’s better office environment

Edited excerpt from Meet the man who re-designed work: WeWork’s Miguel McKelvey by Will Reynolds:

What are the secrets of WeWork’s design? How does the physical space itself contribute to productivity, inspiration and positivity?

WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey, a trained architect and interior designer, highlights two key aspects: glass and natural light. “We like to ensure that there’s lots of natural light. We intentionally seek out properties that are on a corner or that have a lot of light, and then we make interior walls out of glass, or if that’s not possible, we’ll plan out where to place solid walls so we don’t block people’s access to daylight. Another benefit of glass walls: it adds an element of transparency and accountability. When you’re surrounded by other people who are working hard, you’re more likely to work hard, too.”

Notes:
(1) At Seeking Alpha we learned that there are three key factors in successful office design. First, you want to give people a sense of privacy, cosiness cosiness and quiet, so they can concentrate on their work. Second, you want to maximize the amount of natural light. And third, you want to provide opportunities for unscripted interaction.
(2) The problem is that the need for quiet and cosiness conflicts with the need for natural light and unscripted interaction. At Seeking Alpha we built interior glass walls, used large plants to provide cosiness without blocking out light and interaction, and created inviting common areas.
(3) See (i) How to create a healthy office , (ii) Office design: two tips to get seating right, (iii) The problem with open offices, and (iv) Startup office design: Time to reconsider cubicles?

How to ensure new product initiatives are user-centric

Edited excerpt from Two Quick Exercises for Creating a Winning Product Strategy by Jerry Cao:

Before you begin to define the features and details of your product, imagine what users would say about the final version:

Write a tweet from the perspective of future user. You’re trying to capture the core essence of the product. What will users like or dislike about the product? How enthusiastic are they, and what can you modify to increase their enthusiasm? This activity forces you to focus on the single differentiator that defines every memorable product.

Write a fake press release. Conceive the ideal product in your head and write an announcement to prospective users about it, listing out the problems it solves, a summary of how it works, a catchy title, instructions on the first steps, and even a call-to-action. You can even write pretend testimonials about what you want customers to say.

Notes:
(1) Amazon product managers start new initiatives by writing a press release, according to Ian McAllister. See his detailed description of how to do it.
(2) In Ian’s press release outline, he includes Problem, Solution and How To Get Started. Compare this to Josh Elman’s categories in A framework for growth hacking using Job To Be Done.

Identify your engagement ladder

Edited excerpt from Building your growth model and Ladder of Engagement by Josh Elman:

As you think about your product and what it takes to become an expert, I like to break this down to steps into something I call the “Ladder of Engagement”. You should be able to break down your product into specific skills or tasks someone needs to understand to get the most out of your product. Not all users will (or need to!) make it to the top of the ladder to get value out of it. But you should understand what tasks in your product require more understanding of your product.

This might be easier with an example I created for Twitter when we were just starting the growth team. This was the Twitter Ladder of Engagement: (1) Understand what a Tweet is, (2) Start following people you are interested in / friends with to make a basic timeline, (3) Start checking and reading your timeline to see what’s new, (4) Make sure you have mobile apps installed so you can go back and forth with the web app, (5) Begin to engage and participate — @ reply, retweets, favorites and even Tweet yourself, (6) Run your first searches and see what other people are saying on Twitter. (7) Learn to build your following (we didn’t expect most users to get here, but we expected power users would care and want to).

This ladder was valuable for us as we built the growth and onboarding flow. We focused primarily on 1–4 to get people going, and then step 5 as users were more prepared. It helped us decide which areas of the product to focus on, and helped us explain the product to users in a more stepwise fashion.

Notes:
(1) Cf. How to reduce friction in your product.
(2) Cf. Getting users up the engagement ladder.

What happens when you mistake user engagement for customer success

Edited excerpt (with emphasis added) from Slack, I’m Breaking Up with You by Samuel Hulick:

When there was all the talk of you [Slack] killing email, I have to admit I thought it was the email problem you were attacking, not just the email platform. Which is to say, I thought you were providing some relief from the torrential influx of messages, alerts, and notifications I was receiving on a daily basis. “Me + Slack = Fewer distractions and more productivity,” I thought at the time.

I have to say, though, that I’ve since found it to be the opposite. I’m finding that “always on” tendency to be a self-perpetuating feedback loop: the more everyone’s hanging out, the more conversations take place. The more conversations, the more everyone’s expected to participate. This really lowers the bar for what’s considered message-worthy to begin with.

Even your summaries of each week — the ones where you remind me about how our relationship is going — are all predicated on its volume of messages, which was kind of the opposite of what I thought you and I were all about.

Notes:
(1) This is a poignant example of a company mistaking user engagement for customer success. Samuel adopted Slack because he thought it would make him more productive. But Slack measures its success by user engagement (the volume of messages), which conflicts with its users’ goal to become more productive.
(2) This problem is widespread. The tech industry has mastered how to maximize user engagement, but we often lose sight of the real goal — to empower users to achieve something worthwhile. Scientific studies show that Facebook, the most successful consumer product ever built as measured by daily users, makes people less happy. We’ve made content consumption irresistible with bite-size snacking and alluring headlines, but have dumbed down content in the process. And we’ve developed addictive games which, after extended periods of usage, leave people feeling empty and purposeless.
(3) How can product managers avoid mistaking user engagement for customer success? (i) Research the Job To Be Done and articulate it explicitly. This provides a definition of customer success. (ii) List the key requirements for users to get the job done. (iii) Even if you can’t measure customer success directly, and need to use a proxy for customer success such as user engagement, ensure that every product decision is justified in terms of the Job To Be Done and customer success.
(4) Cf. The key metric for your startup must satisfy these 4 criteria.

Would you fire this person?

A CEO friend called me yesterday with the following question:

“A senior manager in my organization has strong domain knowledge and is in some ways highly effective. But he demotivates his team members, for example by taking tasks from them because he says he can do them better. I also personally find him hard to work with: he tries to stop me from handling key negotiations where I have a better relationship with the other party, and fails to deliver on my requests. My options are: fire the manager, split his role into two and put him in a newly defined role where he doesn’t manage people, or try to work with him to improve. Which should I choose?”

What would you advise?

I tried to help the CEO make her decision by sharing my experience with this sort of situation generally. Here’s what I learned running Seeking Alpha:

  • The happiness of the team really matters. Sometimes you need to fire strong people because they are not pleasant to work with.
  • Don’t redefine a job description because of the incumbent’s deficiencies. When you eventually hire the right person, you’ll be surprised that you can in fact have everything, particularly if you give smart people time to learn.
  • Shunting people around from role to role rarely works. CEOs sometimes do it because they can’t bring themselves to fire someone. But if you can’t bring yourself to fire, you’ll end up not being able to hire.
  • Demoting people rarely works. Even if they are initially relieved at no longer having to do something they aren’t good at, in the medium term the demotion saps their self esteem and they leave.
  • As CEO, make sure you like working with your senior managers. If you’re unhappy, your company will feel it.
  • Good interpersonal skills are intrinsic to a manager’s job.
  • If you decide to keep the manager, make sure you have clear metrics for him. That way you’ll get out of subjective evaluation of his skills.

Notes:
(i) Cf. The best thing you can do for your team.
(ii) Cf. Laszlo Bock’s eight steps to being a good manager.
(iii) Cf. Managers and metrics.
(iv) Cf. Five bad excuses to avoid firing poor performers, and why you should “expose the pain”.

In selling, the relationship is the deal

Edited excerpt from The Silent Deal Killer by Shane Gibson:

My father and mentor shared a great sales truth with me many years ago. He said: “Most people use the relationship to get the deal but the reality is the relationship is the deal.”

I often work with clients, coaching and mentoring them through a large deal. Sometimes we get to celebrate together, other times it’s more of a post mortem. In several cases recently the answer to “why?” was the would be big deal closer didn’t get the subtleties of the relationship and one-to-one communication. They got the features, advantages and benefits of their solution. They even identified client needs, pains and specific outcomes desired. What they didn’t get, which was the deal killer, was the person and what approach, type of communication, and behavior was appropriate with the prospect or prospects.

Notes:
(1) See the first of the questions in Geoffrey James’ The 5 questions every customer asks themselves before buying from you.
(2) See also: Seth Godin’s Overcoming the biggest barrier with a first-time buyer.
(3) Cf. What do customers care most about?

Give your startup time and options — burn less

Edited excerpt from Five things I will do different for my next startup by Jeff Haynie:

Burn less. This is directly related to “monetize earlier” and “scale slower”. The faster you monetize and the slower you scale, the chances are you’re going to burn less.

Burn less is about optionality. And the one thing you want as a founder of a startup are options. You’re going to die much much faster because you ran out of options. Options are really what it’s all about. Options give you a chance to control your own destiny. When the times get tough, if you have options, you can use them. Without optionality, you’re screwed.

Burn is more or less an indicator of your optionality. If you burn less and have more runway, you have options (or at least you can create options with enough time). If you burn more, you reduce your options while reducing how long you can exercise them. And this is one of those things that it’s very easy to convince yourself otherwise. Spending money is fun!

Trust me, your board and investors will likely not agree with you. When you are nervous and want to go slower, they won’t always agree and will push you. Not everyone, but most. And it will always be much more fun to burn faster, not gonna lie. Burning less takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline and organizational priority and restraint.

When things are looking up and to the right, everyone around you, including your investors, will be saying “go go go”. But if you slip up, they won’t be there to admit that they themselves pushed you in that direction.

Remember, you can always increase spending — that’s very easy. Reducing spending is very, very hard and takes so much longer than you realize.

Notes:
(1) I’m blessed to have wonderful VCs on the Seeking Alpha board. Nick Pianim of DAG Ventures, who is thoughtful, modest and insightful, would say exactly this: One of the key factors in startup success is time. So give yourself time.
(2) Cf. Reach versus monetization and Get to profitability — here’s how.

A brief summary of Job To Be Done, with 3 takeaways for product managers

Edited excerpt from What people really want — Focus on the job, not the customer by Nikkel Blaase:

People don’t want to buy products. They want to hire products to get a job done. Or as Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt puts it: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” People do things because they find themselves with a problem they would like to solve — such as overcoming a boring commute, recovering from a stressful day or hanging framed photos on the wall. When people struggle they look out for solutions to achieve progress in their lives.

The Job-To-Be-Done framework has become popular in product design because it uncovers what causes people to hire products or services. Rather than understanding people by their demographic or socio-economic attributes, such as income or level of education, the framework focuses on satisfying needs by understanding the jobs people want to get done. Uncovering these jobs makes it easier to build the right solutions.

Takeaways:
1. Focus on understanding the job people want to get done and find out how the product fits into people’s lives.
2. Sell the product’s outcome, not the product itself: Beautiful, cut grass — not lawnmower or GM seeds.
3. Don’t care about direct competitors. Think about alternatives for achieving the same job and do the job better than any other solution out there.

Notes:
(1) In my experience, product managers may think they have successfully adopted the Job To Be Done framework simply by describing their project as a Job To Be Done. But unless you devote meaningful time and effort to investigating the Job To Be Done, for example by creating a Job Outline and conducting switch interviews, you’re kidding yourself. In Nikkel’s words, “Focus on understanding the job people want to get done and find out how the product fits into people’s lives”.
(2) For another description of Job To Be Done, see Build your product to explicitly address a “Job To Be Done”.
(3) Re. “Sell the product’s outcome, not the product itself” – cf. Steve Jobs’ approach to marketing.
(4) Re. “Don’t care about direct competitors” – cf. Your biggest competitor may not be who you think it is.

Why product managers should frame every product task as a Job To Be Done

Edited excerpt from Replacing The User Story With The Job Story by Alan Klement:

The problem with User Stories as a framework to think about product is that they make too many assumptions and don’t acknowledge causality. When a task is put in the format of a user story — “As a [type of user], I want [some action], so that [outcome]” — there’s no room to ask ‘Why?’. You’re essentially locked into a particular sequence with no context.

A far better framework is what I call Job Stories, an idea from the really smart guys at intercom. Frame every design problem as a Job, focusing on the triggering event or situation, the motivation and goal, and the intended outcome: When _____ , I want to _____ , so I can _____ . For example, “when an important new customer signs up, I want to be notified, so I can start a conversation with them.”

The Job Stories framework is great because it makes you think about motivation and context, and de-emphasizes any particular implementation. Often, because people are so focused on the who and how, they totally miss the why. When you start to understand the why, your mind is then open to think of creative and original ways to solve the problem.

Notes:
(1) As Alan Klement shows above, whenever you specify a Job To Be Done, the emphasis is on what the person is trying to achieve, not performance of a task. So it’s easy to ask “Why does the person want to achieve that outcome?”. This question frequently leads you to a better solution than the one you’re considering.
(2) Framing every product task as a Job To Be Done can be powerfully combined with Joe Natoli’s framework for clarifying what your users care about. First, ask what the user is trying to achieve with this page, interface, feature or task (= Job To Be Done); then ask what information they most care about to get that job done (= information architecture).

How to discover what your users really care about

In this brief video tutorial, Joe Natoli recommends a simple process for product managers:

  • Get the internal stakeholders to list the categories of information they think users of the product care about, in order of importance.
  • Then, ask users what categories of information they care about. Don’t anchor them with the categories you’ve come up with — ask open ended questions.
  • Present the results in a three-column table: Column 1: information category. Column 2: how we thought users ranked it. Column 3: how users actually ranked it.
  • Benefits: “It shines a light on the fact that what the people in the room think is important and what users or customers think is important are often not the same thing. It forces everyone in the room to step outside their preconceptions and inherent biases and put themselves in the shoes of users and customers. And it’s the quickest way I know to develop a clear, simple model for Information Architecture, saving everyone a tremendous amount of time, debate and headache.”

Notes:
(1) Thank you Daniel Riedler for the tip.
(2) It’s worth watching the video — it’s short, well produced, and informative.
(3) If you yourself are a typical user of your product, it’s easier to get user-centric design intuitively right. But if you’re not a typical user of your own product, forcing yourself to write down what you think users care about is critical. It uncovers your assumptions, opens them up for discussion, and makes them easy to test.
(4) This can also be useful within the Job To Be Done framework: once you’ve stated your users’ Job To Be Done, list and rank the requirements for performing the job successfully, and then validate them with users.

What happens if you apply marriage advice to work relationships?

Edited excerpt from Ten Valentine’s Day tips for a loving marriage by Talli Rosenbaum:

1. Be nice and be respectful. It may sound obvious, but I often hear the words “I just want him/her to be nice to me.”

2. Don’t take one another for granted. Remember to express appreciation for even the most mundane tasks.

3. Be curious, not defensive. If your partner seems upset, anxious or depressed, and snaps at you, don’t assume he/she is angry with you. Staying non-reactive and curious will allow you to provide the space to really listen.

4. Provide empathy. When your partner is feeling down, you may be tempted to judge, analyze, provide a solution, or try to rid your partner of his/her negative emotions. The best thing to say may just be “I am sorry you’re upset” followed by “What can I do?”

5. Fight fair. All couples fight, but it’s how you fight that matters. Do not threaten or blame. Try to be specific rather than use words such as “always” or “never.” Express remorse authentically and make sure to recover from the dispute with words of affirmation.

6. Be honest and authentic. This helps to create safety and security in the relationship.

7. Be direct. Don’t hesitate to invite your partner to hear what you want and what you need.

8. Be aware of each other’s triggers. Be sensitive to your partner’s sensitivities and what may make her/him reactive.

9. Stay un-enmeshed. Healthy boundaries, autonomy, and the space necessary for developing outside hobbies and friendships keep the relationship infused with vitality and interest.

10. Spend quality time together. Turn off your devices. Take walks, and talk.

Notes:
(1) Talli wrote her article for couples. Look what happens if you apply this to work relationships.
(2) Cf. (i) Genuine praise, (ii) How to resist emotional triggers, (iii) A better way to view people, and (iv) How to deal with anger at work.

How to maximize your chance of getting a meeting or call with someone

Edited excerpt from Never Ask a Busy Person to Lunch. Here’s Why by Marc Suster:

Never ask a busy person to lunch. Busy execs hate lunches. They are time sucks. Sure, they like to occasionally meet good friends or important contacts for lunch, or do group lunches. But somebody they don’t know? Not so much. Same with dinner — a dinner out is a night I don’t get to spend with my kids and family.

So what can you do? “Hey, can I bring you a coffee and get 30 minutes of your time at your offices next Tues or Wed? I promise I won’t overrun my time.” And don’t. You become an easy second date to accept.

Notes:
(1) If you want to get a meeting or call with someone, make your request specific, attractive and convenient so they can accept it immediately:

  • Time: Suggest at least three possible times in your initial email. This maximizes the chance that one of them will be convenient, and they’ll be able to say “yes” without further iteration.
  • Location: Suggest a location that’s convenient for them. In his suggestion above, Mark uses “at your offices”.
  • Duration: Specify how much time you want, keep it short, and don’t overrun.
  • Agenda: Be specific about what you want to discuss by listing questions.
  • Appreciation: If you can show your appreciation by offering something for them, do it. In his suggestion above, Mark suggests “Can I bring you a coffee?”.

(2) Cf. (i) How to request a meeting — Steve Blank, (ii) How to request a meeting — Scott Britton, (iii) How to request a meeting — Aaron White.
(3) On specifying an agenda: Why you should demand an agenda for meetings, and how to do it — nicely.