The most important job of a product leader

Excerpt from How to Run a Quarterly Product Strategy Meeting: A Board Meeting for Product by former VP/CPO at Netflix and Chegg, Gibon Biddle:

I think the most important job of a product leader is to outline a cohesive product strategy, along with metrics and tactics against these strategies. The way I define the product leader’s job is to delight customers, in margin-enhancing, hard-to-copy ways.

Your product strategy should define your key hypotheses about how you plan to deliver on these three dimensions. The metrics are how you measure your progress, and the tactics are simply projects or experiments against each of your key strategies.

(i) Thank you Alon Zieve for the article recommendation.
(ii) Cf. First principles for startup founders (and product managers).
(iii) Cf. The heart of any growth strategy is core product value.

When freemium makes sense

Excerpt from Subscription Business Models Are Great for Some Businesses and Terrible for Others by Robbie Kellman Baxter:

I love freemium, the idea of combining a premium paid membership with a free membership that provides value forever. But freemium needs to work in service to a larger business strategy. Freemium works best in three scenarios:

– As a means of trial. Many people who have a free subscription to Dropbox get all of the online storage they need. But for others, as they make Dropbox part of their daily routine, they find they need more storage and greater functionality. As a result, they upgrade to the premium service.

– To create a networked effect. Each new member that joins LinkedIn for free creates additional value for the recruiters, salespeople and jobseekers paying for LinkedIn subscriptions. And if no one used the free version of LinkedIn, there’d be little reason for those people to pay at all.

– To serve as a marketing channel. Some people never pay for a SurveyMonkey subscription, because they only need small surveys sent to a few people, with limited analytics. But when those people send out their surveys, they are advertising for SurveyMonkey to everyone who receives the survey. If one of those survey recipients subscribes to the premium offering, the sender (who’s a free member) becomes a marketing channel for attracting and converting new members.

(1) Thank you Daniel Shvartsman for the article recommendation.
(2) Note the similarities with Tom Tunguz’ The 3 strategies of freemium companies.
(3) Cf. The 3 conditions of a great freemium business.

Managers’ biggest HR mistake, and how to fix it

I was chatting with someone who ran HR for a Fortune 500 company and is now an HR consultant. “What are managers’ biggest mistakes in HR?”, I asked him. “And what’s your best advice for them?” His answer:

Most companies succeed because of a small number of outstanding employees — the stars. But managers frequently make the mistake of devoting the majority of their time to under-performers. Instead, they should be devoting their time to these stars who truly drive their company’s performance.

So the most impactful advice I give managers is: identify your stars; let them know they are stars; and spend time thinking about how to empower them — how to give them responsibility, how to ensure they’re on challenging and impactful projects, and how to coach them for promotion.

(1) Cf. The best thing you can do for your team.
(2) Cf. Should you hire superstars?

Chris Fralic’s 7 rules for making memorable connections

Edited excerpt from How to Become Insanely Well-Connected by Chris Fralic:

1. Convey genuine appreciation — think about what they know that you don’t.
2. Listen with intent — demonstrate you’ve heard exactly what was said by the other person, and encourage them to continue.
3. Use humility markers — acknowledge your own fallibility and imperfection so you’re relatable; act in a way that implies your time is no more important than theirs.
4. Offer unvarnished honesty — in what will actually have utility for the other party.
5. Blue-sky brainstorm — with them, not for them.
6. End every meeting or conversation with the feeling and optimism you’d like to have at the start of your next conversation with the person.
7. Don’t fake it — know exactly why you care about that person or their company, based on diligent preparation.

(1) According to Chris, the over-arching principle is: Imparting energy is more important than sharing new information.
(2) Perhaps this advice applies to all relationships, not just business connections.
(3) Note Chris’ advice about how to listen with intent — “demonstrate you’ve heard exactly what was said by the other person, and encourage them to continue”. Cf. How to be a better listener.

If you have any paying customers, don’t quit

Edited excerpt from The Right Sales Metrics For Your SaaS Startup, an interview with Jason Lemkin:

Q: You share a lot of advice about business growth on your blog,, taken from your own experiences. What was the most important lesson you took away from growing EchoSign or NanoGram?

A: The most important lesson, especially for earlier-stage entrepreneurs, is don’t quit. What I’ve learned from both my startups is if you have anything at all, build on it. Every SaaS company has a different story of how they got to initial traction, that $1 million to $1.5 million run rate. Some got there in 2 months, others took 4 years to get to a million in revenue. It may seem bleak if you’re doing just $10,000 or $5,000 a month, but it’s almost impossible to get anyone to buy anything. They don’t need any more business web services. So if you have something, even if it that doesn’t pay everyone’s salaries, don’t quit.

(1) Cf. Why SaaS and subscription businesses often take longer than B2C.
(2) Cf. For SaaS startups — how to avoid increasing costs inefficiently and prematurely.

“Job To Be Done” for seed stage startups (#JTBD)

Yesterday I ran a workshop for seed stage startups about how to use the Job To Be Done framework to raise their chances of achieving product-market fit. The surprise: many seed stage startups are unclear about who their target customer is. A simple Job To Be Done exercise exposes the lack of clarity and helps resolve it.

Here’s the presentation and exercise:
“Job To Be Done” for seed stage startups

A better format for brainstorming

Maoz is a not for profit which helps leaders in the Israeli public sector make better decisions by inviting input from a network of smart volunteers. This is how they conduct their brainstorming sessions:

  • The “owner” presents the problem / issue.
  • Participants ask questions for 15 minutes.
  • Participants discuss possible answers and approaches; the owner observes the discussion but doesn’t participate in it.

(1) Brilliant. Dedicated question time forces participants to ask questions before expressing opinions. And excluding the owner from the subsequent discussion removes the risk that the owner will get defensive, anchor the conversation in their current approach to the issue, or not listen because they’re thinking what to say next.
(2) Cf. Group brainstorming doesn’t lead to creativity; this does. Perhaps Maoz’s brainstorming is different because it involves external players, not the members of a team responsible for achieving a goal.
(3) Cf. When you’re given advice, here’s how to listen with an open mind.

How to find out in an interview if someone is a giver or a taker

Edited excerpt from 1 Interview Question That Cuts Through the BS to Reveal Someone’s True Character by Betsy Mikel:

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant says that the more often people help each other, the better the organization does. To create a culture of helping, you need to hire the givers, not the takers. However, just because someone is agreeable doesn’t mean they’re a giver — there are plenty of agreeable takers and disagreeable givers in this world. To find out whether someone is a giver or taker, irrespective of how agreeable they are, ask:

Can you give me the names of four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved?

The takers will give you the names of four people who have more influence than they do. They care more about influence than they do about helping. The givers will give you the names of four people you’ve likely never heard of, who are equal to them or below them in power. That’s because givers aren’t in the business of helping to help themselves succeed.

(1) Thank you Hana Abduljaami for the tip.
(2) This is very different from most other recommended interview questions, such as Sonya Meloff’s, Peter Thiel’s, Spencer Rascoff’s and Lou Adler’s.

Don’t let self-criticism become self-flagellation

From The School of Life, via The Difficult Art of Self-Compassion by Maria Popova:

To survive in this high-pressured, crazy world, most of us have to become highly adept at self-criticism. We learn how to tell ourselves off for our failures, and for not working hard or smart enough. But so good are we at this that we’re sometimes in danger of falling prey to an excessive version of self-criticism — what we might call self-flagellation: a rather dangerous state, which just ushers in depression and underperformance. We might simply lose the will to get out of bed.

For those moments, we need a corrective — we need to carve out time for an emotional state of which many of us are profoundly suspicious: self-compassion. We’re suspicious because this sounds horribly close to self-pity. But because depression and self-hatred are serious enemies of a good life, we need to appreciate the role of self-care in a good, ambitious, and fruitful life.

(1) “Treating yourself with the understanding, mindfulness and kindness with which you would treat a friend – leads to far greater resilience, productivity and well-being.” From Stop beating yourself up.
(2) At the management level: (i) Build self-confidence — but not your own, and (ii) A simple litmus test for great managers.
(3) At the company level: Why celebrating wins is so hard, but so important.

VCs make two common errors, the data shows

Excerpt from the Startup Genome Report — A new framework for understanding why startups succeed:

1. Many investors invest 2-3x more capital than necessary in startups that haven’t reached problem solution fit yet. They also over-invest in solo founders and founding teams without technical cofounders despite indicators that show that these teams have a much lower probability of success.

2. Investors who provide hands-on help have little or no effect on the company’s operational performance. But the right mentors significantly influence a company’s performance and ability to raise money. (However, this does not mean that investors don’t have a significant effect on valuations and M&A.)

(1) Re. “Many investors invest 2-3x more capital than necessary in startups that haven’t reached problem solution fit yet.” Cf. (i) The real difference between funding rounds and (ii) Why you should bootstrap your startup before raising money.
(2) Re. “Investors who provide hands-on help have little or no effect on the company’s operational performance.” Cf. VC pitfalls to watch for: trying to fix companies.

How money can mess up your startup

Edited excerpt from MailChimp and the Un-Silicon Valley Way to Make It as a Start-Up by Farhad Manjoo:

Start-ups fueled by venture capital often need to figure out how to run like ordinary businesses; they embark on unsustainable growth, they forget about earning money, they don’t learn how to weather tough times. The tech economy is littered with companies that raised too much money — and suffered for it.

“One of the problems with raising money is it teaches you bad habits from the start,” said Jason Fried, the co-founder of the software company Basecamp. “If you’re an entrepreneur and you have a bunch of money in the bank, you get good at spending money.”

But if companies are forced to generate revenue from the beginning, “what you get really good at is making money,” Mr. Fried said. “And that’s a much better habit for a business to work on early on, to survive on their own rather than be dependent on money people.”

(1) Thank you Russell Rothstein, Founder CEO of IT Central Station, and Zach Abramowitz, Founder CEO of ReplyAll, for recommending the article.
(2) For startups that have already taken VC funding, see (i) Give your startup time and options — burn less (ii) Get to profitability — here’s how, and (iii) “We simply can’t cut costs without hurting our growth”.
(3) Cf. Why startups shouldn’t scale prematurely.

Can digital products leave space for silence?

Edited excerpt from I Used to Be a Human Being by Andrew Sullivan:

Has our enslavement to dopamine — to the instant hits of validation that come with a well-crafted tweet or Snapchat streak — made us happier? I suspect it has simply made us less unhappy, or rather less aware of our unhappiness, and that our phones are merely new and powerful antidepressants of a non-pharmaceutical variety.

Our need for quiet has never fully gone away, because our practical achievements, however spectacular, never quite fulfill us. They are always giving way to new wants and needs, always requiring updating or repairing, always falling short. The mania of our online lives reveals this: We keep swiping and swiping because we are never fully satisfied. The late British philosopher Michael Oakeshott starkly called this truth “the deadliness of doing.”

There is the option of a spiritual reconciliation to this futility, an attempt to transcend the unending cycle of impermanent human achievement. There is a recognition that beyond mere doing, there is also being; that at the end of life, there is also the great silence of death with which we must eventually make our peace. From the moment I entered a church in my childhood, I understood that this place was different because it was so quiet. The Mass itself was full of silences — those liturgical pauses that would never do in a theater, those minutes of quiet after communion when we were encouraged to get lost in prayer, those liturgical spaces that seemed to insist that we are in no hurry here. And this silence demarcated what we once understood as the sacred, marking a space beyond the secular world of noise and business and shopping.

A sustained spiritual life is simply unfeasible for most mortals without these refuges from noise and work to buffer us and remind us who we really are. But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.

This changes us. It slowly removes — without our even noticing it — the very spaces where we can gain a footing in our minds and souls that is not captive to constant pressures or desires or duties. And the smartphone has all but banished them.

(1) The entire article is remarkable. Thank you, Andrew.
(2) Cf. How to stop your phone from distracting you and wasting your life.
(3) Cf. How tech products misframe our choices, and product managers should do better.

Does your company description resonate with potential customers?

Here are three company descriptions. In which is the value proposition for customers clearest, and why? How would you improve them?

CliClap helps you generate sales leads by sharing articles of interest to your target customers with an added call-to-action for your company or product. This gives you the benefits of content marketing without the costs of content production. CliClap’s solution doesn’t require any technical integration and allows you to get started in minutes.

Honeybook is on a mission to connect the different parts of the events industry by reimagining the way creative professionals work with their colleagues and clients.

OptimalQ helps companies increase sales. It does this by identifying, in real time, the best time to contact potential customers when they are physically and mentally available. Companies that use OptimalQ have realized an increase of over 70% in answer rate and over 18% in average duration of answered calls.

(1) “The key here is to keep it really short and use plain English” — from Clarifying your strategy using a simple template.
(2) Cf. How to ensure your company is customer-centric, and the challenge for ad-supported services.
(3) Cf. How to name your product and create its tag line.

If you want to be a better listener, here’s a simple tip

Edited excerpt from Startup founders’ most common mistake in meetings — and how to avoid it:

Before you talk with someone, set a target for what % of the conversation you want them to be talking. Remind yourself of that target during the conversation.

(1) Cf. How to have more valuable and rewarding conversations with people.
(2) Cf. How to listen when you disagree.
(3) Cf. How to be a better listener.

How your mood at the start of the day impacts your productivity

Edited excerpt from Eurekalert:

Researchers found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods, and had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it.

“We saw that employees could get into these negative spirals where they started the day in a bad mood and just got worse over the course of the day,” said Steffanie Wilk, associate professor of management and human resources at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “That’s why it is so important for companies to find ways to help their workers start off the day on the right foot.”

(1) How can individuals ensure they start their day happy? Eric Barker suggests: (i) ensure you have something to look forward to from the night before, (ii) ensure the first thing you do gives you a feeling of control, (iii) eat breakfast, (iv) send a “thank you” email to someone, (v) kiss someone you love, (vi) plan how you’ll deal with changes, and (vii) do something you dread.
(2) Any ideas for how companies can “find ways to help their workers start off the day on the right foot”?

Metrics that measure consumption vs metrics that measure the satisfaction of real needs

Edited excerpt from Is anything worth maximizing? by Joe Edelman:

Metrics have allowed us to scale up the size of our organizations. But they’ve also created a kind of tug-of-war. On the one hand, we have the nuanced values of individuals. On the one hand, we have the simplifying assumptions of economies and organizations. These two are in constant tension throughout the economy.

Overconsumption comes from tweaking products and channels so as to maximize sales, views, and clicks. That has trade-offs for long-term satisfaction, and for wellbeing. If we keep focusing on sales, views, and clicks, we’ll wind up fat, depressed (or on Prozac), socially isolated, diabetic, bloodshot staring at screens or jacked into VR, and surrounded by piles of junk we regret buying.

When governments or big businesses focus on consumer spending, on consumption, they’re missing all the reasons that people buy and focusing on the buying behavior itself.

Same with overconsumption of media. There are reasons that we want to read and learn. Reasons we want to know about our friends’ lives, or just to see a photo of someone we love who’s far away. But when a business like Facebook tries to maximize engagement, it loses track of those reasons; it treats us as engagement machines. We go over-consumed, but under-fulfilled.

When people discover that a new organization has metrics that hew closer to our real values, users will fly to this new provider. Engagement maximizers won’t see it coming. And the new metrics of the new organization will become the new standard throughout the relevant markets. I call this the flight to higher ground. It’s happened many times in the last hundred years, but I believe we can go much further.

(1) Cf. How tech products misframe our choices, and product managers should do better.
(2) Cf. Provide what your users really want.

How to have more valuable and rewarding conversations with people

Edited excerpt from 10 ways to have a better conversation by Celeste Headlee:

I’d like to teach you how to talk and how to listen. A lot of advice on this, like “look, nod and smile to show that you’re paying attention”, “repeat back what you just heard or summarize it”, is crap. There is no reason to learn how to show you’re paying attention if you are in fact paying attention. I have 10 basic rules:

1. Don’t multitask. And I don’t just mean set down your cell phone or your tablet. I mean, be present.
2. Don’t pontificate. Enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn. The famed therapist M. Scott Peck said that true listening requires a setting aside of oneself.
3. Use open-ended questions. Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why or how.
4. Go with the flow. Thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go out of your mind.
5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs. It’s not the same. It is never the same. All experiences are individual. And, more importantly, it is not about you.
7. Try not to repeat yourself. It’s condescending, really boring, and we tend to do it a lot. Especially in work conversations or in conversations with our kids.
8. Stay out of the weeds. Frankly, people don’t care about all those details. What they care about is you, what you’re like, what you have in common.
9. Listen. Listening is perhaps the number one most important skill that you could develop. Buddha said, and I’m paraphrasing, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.” And Calvin Coolidge said, “No man ever listened his way out of a job.”
10. Be brief. My sister says “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.”

All of this boils down to the same basic concept: Be interested in other people.

(1) Thank you Karen Jackson for the tip.
(2) Re. “Use open-ended questions” – see How to ask great questions.
(3) Re. “Listening is perhaps the number one most important skill that you could develop” – see How to be a better listener.

What to expect after your product goes live

Edited excerpt from What Happens at Y Combinator:

If a company is launched and has users (about a quarter are before they come to YC), then the conversations at office hours tend to be about the various things that happen to actually launched companies. The most common problem is that users don’t like the product enough.

This is normal; it’s to learn where your initial hypothesis is wrong that you launch. Now at least you have some evidence to analyze. So for companies at this stage, the conversations at office hours tend to be about how to figure out from available evidence what users want, how to get more data about what they want, and how to reach more of them.

(1) “Some companies achieve primary product market fit in one big bang. Most don’t, instead getting there through partial fits, a few false alarms, and a big dollop of perseverance.” From Four myths about product-market fit.
(2) As well as analyzing the usage data you have, try also Sean Ellis’ approach in How to identify your product’s “must have” experience.
(3) More from Y Combinator on this topic: Six simple questions to test product-market fit and competitive advantage.

Should you enforce a non-compete clause for an employee you fired?

The CEO of a startup asks: “We just learned that our former VP Sales, who was terminated a few months ago, recently started working for our direct competitor. It is a violation of the 12 month non-compete clause in his employment contract. What would you recommend?”

My answer:

Whether or not you should enforce a non-compete depends on the circumstances under which the employee left and how strong the employee is. If he’s great and chose to leave your company voluntarily, demand that the non-compete be honored. If you fired him, don’t enforce the non-compete. It’s not worth the bad karma.

If you let him go, you don’t want to stand in the way of him getting another job. His best opportunities will always be in something closely related to his last job. For this reason, non-competes are often morally questionable, and in some jurisdictions they’re unenforceable.  Even if he has info about your company, the info will rapidly become dated and valueless.

Many companies play tougher than this, but I’ve personally found that helping ex-employees to be successful is a better way to be. People will leave your company for many reasons; you want them to feel positively about it whenever possible. You want people to be proud that they are alumni of your company, and to view their time with you as an enabler for their subsequent career success.

So consider sending him an email congratulating him on the new job, letting him know you are not planning to enforce the non-compete clause, and wishing him luck. Maybe even send him a small gift.

How would you answer?

(1) Cf. “help them transition out of the role by providing a reference, reaching out to your network” in Four principles for how to fire someone correctly.
(2) Remember that If you fired a senior executive, you should identify from this list what went wrong.

An hour a day for deliberate learning?

Edited excerpt from Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Oprah Winfrey All Use the 5-Hour Rule by Michael Simmons:

In the article Malcolm Gladwell Got Us Wrong, the researchers behind the 10,000-Hour Rule set the record straight: Different fields require different amounts of deliberate practice in order for someone to become world-class. If 10,000 hours isn’t an absolute rule that applies across fields, what does it really take to become world class in the world of work?

Many leaders, despite being extremely busy, have set aside at least an hour a day (or five hours a week) over their entire career for activities that could be classified as deliberate practice or learning. I call this phenomenon the five-hour rule. For the leaders I tracked, the five-hour rule often fell into three buckets: reading, reflection, and experimentation.

We need to move beyond the cliché, “Lifelong learning is good,” and think more deeply about the minimum amount of learning the average person should do per day to have a sustainable and successful career.

Just as we have minimum recommended dosages of vitamins and steps per day and of aerobic exercise for leading a healthy life physically, we should be more rigorous about how we as an information society think about the minimum doses of deliberate learning for leading a healthy life economically.

(1) Thank you Karen Miller Jackson for the tip.
(2) On experimentation as a learning tool: We often don’t experiment enough because we gravitate to things we are familiar with and which we believe have a high probability of success. If we view new tasks, jobs and experiences as experiments, we can drop our requirement that they should be familiar, and worry less that they’ll be unsuccessful.
(3) In the full article, Michael Simmons shows that many famously successful people are voracious readers of books. What is it about reading books that is more valuable than reading articles online (including this blog 🙂 )?
(4) Cf. (i) How truly great entrepreneurs manage their time and (ii) How to clear time for deep thinking.

How to listen when you disagree

Edited excerpt from How To Listen When You Disagree: A Lesson From The Republican National Convention by Benjamin Mathes:

If there’s one question I get asked more than any other, it’s this: How do I listen to someone when I disagree with them?

It takes a lot of forgiveness, compassion, patience, and courage to listen in the face of disagreement. I could write pages on each of these, but let’s start with the one thing that makes them possible: We must work to hear the person, not just the opinion. My friend Agape says it like this: “Hear the biography, not the ideology.”

When someone has a point of view we find difficult to understand, disagreeable, or even offensive, we must look to the set of circumstances that person has experienced that resulted in that point of view. When you find yourself in disagreement, just ask one question:

“Will you tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”

(1) This is another case where trying to “listen with intent to agree” won’t work. Rather, listen for its own sake.
(2) Cf. (i) How to listen without judging — a guide for managers and (ii) When you’re given advice, here’s how to listen with an open mind.

Surprise, surprise — commuting by car makes you heavier

Edited excerpt from One hour of driving a day = 2.3kg more weight and 1.5cm wider waist, study reveals:

People who drive an hour or more a day are 2.3kg heavier and 1.5cm wider around the waist compared to people who spend 15 minutes or less in their cars, according to a research paper. In “Adverse associations of car time with markers of cardio-metabolic risk”, published in the Preventive Medicine journal, Professor Takemi Sugiyama from the Australian Catholic University’s Institute of Health and Ageing also found that men are more likely than women to put on weight due to time spent behind the wheel.

Professor Sugiyama, an expert on the nexus between health and urban design, concluded “prolonged time spent sitting in cars, in particular over 1 h/day, was associated with higher total and central adiposity and a more-adverse cardio-metabolic risk profile.”

(1) How to extract some redeeming value from your car commute: Think about your goals each day on the way to work.
(2) Possible antidote to excessive sitting time: Take a walk at 3pm each day.
(3) Another health tip, less obvious: Stop venting and complaining.

Ask positive questions

Edited excerpt from What’s the recipe for effective communication? by Emma Chilvers:

Start a meeting by asking people positive questions. This encourages people to share, contribute and focus.

The questions could be simple such as: What has gone well for you the last week? Can you name someone who has helped you achieve things? What are you looking forward to most this week?

Too often, when we review projects and performance we discuss how we could improve things next time, without pausing for a moment to say what went well and well done.

Starting off on a positive note primes the brain to adopt a more open attitude towards the forthcoming discussion – and it gets all of the voices in the room ready to contribute at the same time.

What’s more, recognising and celebrating good work makes people feed valued, that they matter; it boosts their energy levels, reconnects them to their purpose in the company and can increase their well-being and productivity.

(1) This advice is widely applicable, not just to meetings. For example, you can ask individuals “What are you most excited about?”, “What’s working best in your area right now?”, or “Who are you most enjoying working with?”. And you can help people to feel happier and more motivated about their work by asking them this question.
(2) Cf. (i) Ideas spread inside a company due to positive energy; 8 ways to increase it, (ii) Smile.
(3) “Recognising and celebrating good work makes people feed valued”. See: (i) Why celebrating wins is so hard, but so important, and (ii) Is this the way to celebrate wins?

Provide what your users really want

Edited excerpt from How Will Tech Platforms Compete in the 21st Century? by Joe Edelman:

In the next decade, platforms will compete over alignment with their users’ human values. At present, all the platforms are terrible at this. Facebook, Apple, and Google — from their notification screens to their feeds — ignore their users’ will and intent, ignore their users’ values, and abuse users by directing their attention towards advertising or towards greater platform engagement.

The values revolution will be as big as the design revolution. There will be an Apple of values. And there will also be new players, new interface concepts, new types of careers in tech. The values revolution will begin when users start to see the possibility of values-aligned tech, and to discover that their lives are warped by tech with values contrary to their own.

(1) Cf. How tech products misframe our choices, and product managers should do better.
(2) Cf. What happens when you mistake user engagement for customer success.

Why you shouldn’t begin your conference presentation by talking about yourself

Excerpt from An Open Letter To Speakers by Scott Berkun:

Drop your bio introduction. If you are on a stage the organizers have granted you more credibility than nearly anyone else at the event. And 95% of the time your bio is on the website or in the program. The audience can get it if they want it, right there, on their phone, at any time. If you must, 30 seconds is enough time to say your name, profession, and why you care about the topic. Anything more is likely wasting their time.

(1) Scott writes elsewhere in the article “Most speakers forget they’re providing a service to the audience, not to themselves.” This is why providing a detailed bio at the beginning of your talk is a mistake.
(2) For two other things to remember when starting a presentation, see How NOT to start a presentation and A talk or presentation is an opportunity to be generous.

Hire a Director of Research for your product team

Edited excerpt from How We Accidentally Invented Job Stories by Paul Adams, VP Product at Intercom:

We place a huge emphasis on research. We hire people with direct research experience, and everyone on the product team talks directly to customers. We also hired a Director of Research much earlier than most other startups.

While it’s obvious you should be talking to customers frequently to try and understand their needs, it’s not obvious what the best tool to do that is. So we created our own process, Job Stories, based on the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework. This ensures the team is research driven, that team members understand their problem so well that they can capture it in a concise format, and that the summary of the problem is actionable for all the design and engineering team.

(1) Since the goal of research is to improve your product, the Director of Research should report to the VP Product.
(2) One of the key insights here is that the entire product team should be talking to customers, but often they don’t know how to, or they don’t have clear enough goals for their conversations. The Director of Research can set goals and a format for these calls.
(3) For more on Job Stories, see Paul’s full article, and also Why product managers should frame every product task as a Job To Be Done.

Three approaches to pricing

Edited excerpt from There Are Only 3 Pricing Strategies For Your Startup by Tomasz Tunguz:

Maximization (Revenue Growth) – maximize revenue growth in the short term. Startups should pursue maximization when there are no clear differences in customer segments’ willingness to pay, and when the optimal short term and long term prices are equal.

Penetration (Market Share) – price the product at a low price to win dominant market share. Then move up-market after developing broad adoption.

Skimming (Profit Maximization) – start with a high price and systematically broaden the product offering to address more of the customer base at lower prices. Skimming is widespread in consumer hardware. Apple sells the latest iPhones at the highest prices, and repackages older models at lower prices to address different customer segments.

(1) Tomasz adds: “Startup should be explicit. Decide which strategy to pursue, and align sales, marketing, product and engineering efforts along those lines.”
(2) Cf. How to price your product based on quality versus the competition and How to set the price for your product.

Skift’s approach to work-life balance

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

We dedicated ourselves to making the lives of our team better. That may sound simple, but with so many constituencies pulling at you as a founder, especially if large amounts of venture capital is part of the equation, it is the first thing to fall off in the list of priorities. It meant evaluating every next step and opportunity on how it would affect the professional and personal lives of our people. We have fully embraced the idea of building a humane company.

We chart our own path, we define our own scale, we define our own intensity of work. We work hard during the hours of 8 am to 6 pm on weekdays, and that’s it. We don’t want people in office after 6 pm, we don’t want people working weekends, and I am proud to say in our 3.5 years of existence, we have *never* had to, as a team, come to the office on a weekend.

We are building a humane company that wants the best out of people in the hours they give to the company, and build a more balanced life outside of it.

(1) See also: (i) How many hours per week should you work to maximize your impact? and (ii) Is this the key to work-life balance?
(2) An opposing viewpoint: Does Amazon prove that greatness and work-life balance are incompatible?
(3) Which do you find more convincing?

Slashing your Facebook usage may reduce your anxiety about work

Edited excerpt from The reason millennials aren’t happy at work by Keith Breene:

Much of the stress and anxiety reported by twenty-somethings is caused by ruthless comparison with peers. Emerson Csorba, director of the consultancy Gen Y, reported one millennial describing the challenge like this: “If we are not doing something exceptional or don’t feel important and fulfilled for what we are doing, we have a hard time.”

Where is the pressure coming from? With millennials more connected than any previous generation, opportunities to compare levels of success are ubiquitous, creating anxiety and insecurity. The accomplishments of peers, shown on social media, are a constant prompt to examine millennials’ own successes or failures. The problem is made much worse by the fact that only positive achievements are posted – you only ever see the good stuff.

Even though everyone knows that social media is a kind of PR feed of people’s lives, when you spend so much time online, these messages can easily become overpowering.

(1) Cf. When you want a break from work, should you log into Facebook?
(2) Cf. Can you achieve great things if you’re a regular Facebook or Twitter user?

How to combat Powerpoint fatigue

Edited excerpt from Seven Secrets for Public Speaking Success by Dr. Nick Morgan:

Try turning off the slideware. You are probably preparing slides as a primary way to get ready for your presentation. Here’s a thought: don’t use slides as wallpaper, visible all the time. Try using them sparingly, only when you have a compelling image, only when it really helps your speech. What to do the rest of the time? Put in a black slide, so that the audience can focus on you, and not split its attention between screen and speaker.

(1) Has anyone tried this? Does it work?
(2) Cf. If you must use Powerpoint…
(3) One of the advantages of walking meetings is that neither party can use slides. See: (i) Walking meetings and (ii) Two benefits of walking meetings.

Show up on time every day at 8:30am

Edited excerpt from eShares 101 by Henry Ward:

There are many similarities between eShares and a professional sports team. For starters, our entire company meets everyday at 8:30am to begin the day together. Everyone — engineering, sales, services, office management. Nobody is exempt. In sports, even the goalie, who may have a completely different practice schedule from the rest of the team, still meets at the same time to warm up.

Teams meet to solve problems, brainstorm ideas, share work, or just catch up. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the whole company meets for an hour-long Show & Tell. This is an opportunity for everyone to share, debate, and participate in the bleeding edge of eShares’s progress and decision making.

Most people think it’s crazy that we make everyone be in the office at 8:30am every morning. We think it is crazy not to. The New England Patriots would never tell players, “Show up for practice when it is convenient.” If you want to be the best in the world at what you do, start every day together.

(1) I have mixed feelings about this, perhaps because I’m an introvert. I started every day alone thinking about Seeking Alpha’s goals and the most important tasks for the day, and only after that went to the office. The last thing I wanted to do was start every day with a group meeting — uugh! (I later read about the importance of clearing time for deep thinking, and that starting your day alone, quietly thinking about your goals, leads to greater clarity, motivation, success and happiness.)
(2) But I suspect my absence first thing in the morning had an impact on team discipline and the atmosphere in the Seeking Alpha office. Should I have scheduled my “alone time” early enough to arrive at 8.30am every morning? Should I have swallowed my aversion to group meetings, and done one every Tuesday and Thursday morning, as Henry Ward advocates?
(3) To what extent is how you want to start your day a function of personality, and to what extent are there objective best practices?

Build for your best customers

Edited excerpt from My 8 Rules Of Great Products by Mitchell Harper:

Build for your best customers. Simply put, this means you give a higher weighting to product feedback from your best customers — the ones who spend the most money with you over time.

This leads you to build additional products (and improve existing ones) for your best customers, who are much more likely to pay more for those new and improved products, thus helping grow your revenue faster with fewer customers and less customer support.

Not all customer feedback should be treated equally. If one customer pays you $2,000 a month and another pays you $20 a month, the feedback from the $2,000 a month customer is actually more valuable if you use it in your marketing and product strategy to attract more customers like them and/or if it gets them to spend more money with you via upgrades or additional products.

It doesn’t take 10x the effort to get a $2,000/month customer as it does to get a $20/month customer. It probably takes 2–3x the effort but gives you 10x the revenue.

(1) Cf. Best practices in getting user feedback on your product.
(2) Cf. The contrarian view: With freemium, it’s easier to start with the paid product.

Stop beating yourself up

Edited excerpt from What’s the secret to success? Be nicer to yourself by Keith Breene:

Stanford researcher Emma Seppälä says that when she looked at the research she found the evidence overwhelmingly showed that if you look after your well-being first, you will do better in your job.

The key, Seppälä says, is being kinder to yourself. “Research shows that self-criticism is basically self-sabotage, whereas self-compassion – treating yourself with the understanding, mindfulness and kindness with which you would treat a friend – leads to far greater resilience, productivity and well-being.”

In times of failure or challenge, noticing your self-talk can help you replace it with self-compassion. Instead of saying things like, “I’m such an idiot!” you might say, “I had a moment of absentmindedness and that’s okay.”

(1) From my personal experience, I think there are two distinct elements to debilitating self-criticism: first, a tendency to devote too much thought and attention to negative outcomes or events; and second, what Emma Seppälä calls your “self-talk” about those items.
(2) On “a tendency to devote too much thought and attention to negative outcomes or events”, see (i) Don’t try to learn from failure and (ii) You can train yourself to think positively.
(3) On “what Emma Seppälä calls your “self-talk” about those items”, cf. How to view rejection.

To make meetings more effective, learn to listen

Edited excerpt from What’s the recipe for effective communication? by Emma Chilvers:

In her work Time to Think, Nancy Kline advocates that everyone must have the chance to think and speak uninterrupted. This works wonders in terms of eliciting the best thinking from the whole group. Giving everyone equal voice, thinking time and the chance to contribute can transform the effectiveness of communication in a meeting.

Nancy Kline also found that rather than listening in meetings, people spend the majority of their time either working out what they are going to say or defending what they are saying and that a verbal interruption has the similar impact on thinking as a physical fight. It is no surprise that without strong agreements on giving equal voice and listening, the quality of the thinking goes down in teams.

(1) I’m not a fan of meetings, particularly if the goal is to elicit creative thinking. See Group brainstorming doesn’t lead to creativity; this does and The optimal number of people in a meeting is…
(2) So for me, the valuable insight here is that listening transforms communication and makes people feel more secure. Cf. (i) How to be a better listener, (ii) When you’re given advice, here’s how to listen with an open mind, and (iii) How to listen without judging — a guide for managers.

Why early stage startups should start narrow

Excerpt from Building Products by Julie Zhou:

If you are a start-up founder, your path will be easier if you go after a problem for a narrowly-defined audience, and then expand to broader audiences after you have some initial traction.

From an email I sent to a startup founder:

To maximize your chances of success, focus on a single vertical, and go deep into it.  There are two reasons for this:

1. If you focus on a single vertical, it’s much easier to understand the customers’ Job To Be Done, the solutions they currently use, how you can help them the most, and then to build a product that addresses their needs.

2. As a small startup, you don’t have the resources to compete with broader platforms; but you can win by specialized domain customization, and expand from there.

Choosing a vertical is a question of research, and should not involve any product development. Sit with customers in each vertical you’re considering. By asking them questions about their Job To Be Done you’ll be able to reach a conclusion about which vertical you can add most value in. Then focus all your effort on that vertical.

First principles for startup founders (and product managers)

Edited excerpt from Building Products by Julie Zhou:

1. A product succeeds because it solves a problem for people. This sounds very basic, but it is the single most important thing to understand about building good products.

2. The first step in building something new is understanding what problem you want to solve, and for whom. This should be crystal clear before you start thinking about any solutions.

3. The second question you should ask yourself is “why is this particular problem worth solving?”

4. If the audience you are building for is narrowly defined (and one that you are a part of), then you may be able to rely on your intuition to guide your product decision-making. If not, then you should rely on research and data to inform your decisions.

5. The problem you’re trying to solve should be easy to communicate in a sentence or two and resonate with someone from your target audience. If not, consider that a big red flag.

(1) The most common error I’ve seen among seed-stage startups is that they devote insufficient time to understanding the user’s problem before thinking about their proposed solution to it. The Job To Be Done framework prevents that error, because it forces you to research and define the user’s “Job To Be Done” in isolation from your proposed solution.
(2) “If the audience you are building for is narrowly defined (and one that you are a part of), then you may be able to rely on your intuition to guide your product decision-making.” See: The benefits and risks of founding a startup to satisfy a personal need.
(3) Cf. (i) What problem are you solving?, (ii) Four simple questions to help you get product-market fit, (iii) Documenting your product-market fit hypotheses.

Why startups should forget vitamins and painkillers, and focus on the Job To Be Done

Edited excerpt from Does your startup solve a problem? Vitamin or painkiller? by Don Dodge:

One of the questions I ask entrepreneurs when evaluating start-ups is “Is your product a vitamin (nice to have) or a painkiller (got to have it)? Of course everyone wants to think their product is a “must have” painkiller, but very few are.

Many products fall into the vitamin category. Things like productivity tools, content aggregators, mashups, utilities, collaboration applications, measurement and monitoring tools, in fact anything that is a tool, development or otherwise, is by definition a vitamin.

Painkiller products are products that solve for a specific pain point. Sometimes the pain is measurable in terms of ROI, winning sales that could not be won before, or satisfying a regulatory requirement.

There is another set of products that are vitamins (nice to have) until you feel the pain. Then they become painkillers (got to have it). There are actually lots of products that fall into this category.

(1) On vitamins versus painkillers, see also Building a valuable product — a checklist of questions to answer and How to sell your product if it’s a “nice to have”, not a “must have”.
(2) My personal viewpoint: the categorization of products into vitamins and painkillers is flawed and unhelpful. Note that (i) great businesses have been built from “vitamins” (think media and entertainment), (ii) helping a company to increase its revenues is, absurdly, a vitamin, and (iii) the categories are unstable — products can transition from vitamin to painkiller depending on the context and user.
(3) For me, the Job To Be Done framework is far more helpful. The right questions to ask are: What “job” is the user / customer looking to get done (user need)? How valuable is getting that job done for the person (willingness to pay)? How many people have that job (market size)? How well does your product help the person get the job done relative to the alternatives (competitive advantage)?
(4) See: A brief summary of Job To Be Done, with 3 takeaways for product managers.

Don’t fire people on a Friday

Edited excerpt from Firing Someone for the First Time: Top Entrepreneurs Share Their Wisdom by Jessica Stillman:

Ethan Appleby, founder and CEO of Vango, recommends that you keep the conversation really short. Don’t talk too much, just get right to the point. Let them ask questions, but keep emotions out of it. And don’t do it on Friday, so you can see if the morale of the team is OK, and people can get their questions answered.

(1) Cf. Four principles for how to fire someone correctly.
(2) See also: Exit interviews.

Why you should think about your goals each day on the way to work

Edited excerpt from Can’t Stand Your Commute? It’s All in Your Head by Chana R. Schoenberger:

People who make a conscious effort while commuting to think about what they need to do that day and how it fits into their longer-term plans feel more satisfied at work and less exhausted emotionally, according to a new Harvard Business School working paper.

They also have happier commutes.

The researchers call this way of thinking “goal-directed prospection,” and in their paper they detail how it can offset the strain of commuting.

(1) Cf. What’s your “simple scoreboard”?
(2) Cf. How to choose the one metric that matters.

When you want a break from work, should you log into Facebook?

Edited excerpt from Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? by Stephen Marche:

Scanning your friends’ status updates and updating the world on your own activities via your wall — what [Carnegie Mellon researcher] Moira Burke calls “passive consumption” and “broadcasting” — correlates to feelings of disconnectedness. It’s a lonely business, wandering the labyrinths of our friends’ and pseudo-friends’ projected identities, trying to figure out what part of ourselves we ought to project, who will listen, and what they will hear.

Passive consumption of Facebook also correlates to a marginal increase in depression. If two women each talk to their friends the same amount of time, but one of them spends more time reading about friends on Facebook as well, the one reading tends to grow slightly more depressed.

In one experiment, John Cacioppo [director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago] looked for a connection between the loneliness of subjects and the relative frequency of their interactions via Facebook, chat rooms, online games, dating sites, and face-to-face contact. The results were unequivocal. The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are. So if social media let you organize a game of football among your friends, that’s healthy. If you turn to social media instead of playing football, however, that’s unhealthy.

(1) John Cacioppo argues that Facebook isn’t necessarily negative if you use it to increase the frequency of your face-to-face interactions with friends and family. However, I think this underestimates the addictiveness of Facebook as a product. Even if you have an agenda for how you want to use Facebook, you’re battling the company’s product resources and expertise which are deployed to maximize the time spent per user on Facebook (because that drives Facebook’s monetization). So when you log into Facebook, even to reach out to a friend, Facebook lures you into “passive consumption”. Moira Burke found that this leads to increases in disconnectedness and depression. It also crowds out face-to-face interactions.
(2) A better strategy: If you want a break from what you’re working on, go chat with a real human being. Or take a walk.
(3) Cf. Can you achieve great things if you’re a regular Facebook or Twitter user?

How to improve your mood at work and make other people happier too

Edited excerpt from FOMO: This Is The Best Way To Overcome Fear Of Missing Out by Eric Barker:

The more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.

Try a simple experiment: Look around. What good things might you be taking for granted? Home? Family? Friends? Now take a couple seconds to imagine those were taken away from you. How would you feel? Bad things happen to us randomly, right? So to some degree, you are lucky to have what you do.

Does this exercise sound silly? Research shows it works. Mentally subtracting cherished moments from your life makes you appreciate them more, makes you grateful and makes you happier.

(1) If you then express that gratitude by thanking people, it also improves relationships. See “Don’t take one another for granted” in What happens if you apply marriage advice to work relationships?
(2) Cf. Genuine praise.
(3) Cf. You can train yourself to think positively.

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.

(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, “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.

(1) How convinced are you by these suggestions?
(2) What have you tried which has worked?
(3) An alternative view: “Ultimately, I don’t think we’re going to be able to either liberate or self-regulate our way out of mental fragmentation” — Matthew Crawford.

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.

(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.

(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.

(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.

(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?

(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.

(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.