From the Preferred CEO to Facebook’s Latest UX Fail

Every week I read thousands of blog posts. For your weekend enjoyment, here are some of those highlights.  What are you reading this weekend?

01_preferred-ceo

On Starting Up…

http://bhorowitz.com/2010/04/28/why-we-prefer-founding-ceos/
Are you a preferred CEO?

 
 

On Design & Product Experience…

http://smarterware.org/5818/what-private-facebook-information-your-friends-can-publish
The Facebook #UX #FAIL of consumer privacy. Is it time to deactivate? delete?

02_facebook-privacy
03_offline-challenges

On Modular Innovation…

http://www.sitepoint.com/blogs/2010/02/16/killer-offline-web-applications/
Challenges facing the next generation of Modular Innovation.

 

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Why Startups are Agile and Opportunistic – Pivoting the Business Model

steve_blank Guest post by Steve Blank, of Steve Blank dot com.

Startups are the search to find order in chaos.
Steve Blank

At a board meeting last week I watched as the young startup CEO delivered bad news. “Our current plan isn’t working. We can’t scale the company. Each sale requires us to handhold the customer and takes way too long to close.  But I think I know how to fix it.” He took a deep breath, looked around the boardroom table and then proceeded to outline a radical reconfiguration of the product line (repackaging the products rather than reengineering them) and a change in sales strategy, focusing on a different customer segment. Some of the junior investors blew a gasket. “We invested in the plan you sold us on.” A few investors suggested he add new product features, others suggested firing the VP of Sales. I noticed that through all of this, the lead VC just sat back and listened.

Finally, when everyone else had their turn, the grey-haired VC turned to the founder and said, “If you do what we tell you to do and fail, we’ll fire you. And if you do what you think is right and you fail, we may also fire you. But at least you’d be executing your plan not ours. Go with your gut and do what you think the market is telling you.  That’s why we invested in you.”  He turned to the other VC’s and added, “That’s why we write the checks and entrepreneurs run the company.”

The Search for the Business Model

A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.

Investors bet on a startup CEO to find the repeatable and scalable business model.

Unlike the stories in the popular press, entrepreneurs who build successful companies don’t get it right the first time. (That only happens after the fact when they tell the story.) The real world is much, much messier.  And a lot more interesting. Here’s what really happens.

Observe, Orient, Decide and Act

Whether they’re using a formal process to search for a business model likeCustomer Development or just trial and error, startup founders are intuitively goal-seeking to optimize their business model. They may draw their business modelformally or they may keep the pieces in their head. In either case founders who succeed observe that something isn’t working in their current business model, orientthemselves to the new facts, decide what part of their business model needs to change and then act decisively.

(A U.S. Air Force strategist, Colonel John Boyd, first described this iterative Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (OODA) loop. The Customer Development model that I write and teach about is the entrepreneur’s version of Boyds’ OODA loop.)

Pivoting the Business Model

What happens when the startup’s leader recognizes that the original business model model is not working as planned? In traditional startups this is when the VP of Sales or Marketing gets fired and the finger-pointing starts. In contrast, in a startup following the Customer Development process, this is when the founders realize that something is wrong with the business model (because revenue is not scaling.) They decide what to change and then take action to reconfigure some part(s) of their model.

The Customer Development process assumed that many of the initial assumptions about your business model would probably be wrong, so it built in a iteration loop to fix them. Eric Ries coined this business model iteration loop – the Pivot.

(One of the Pivot’s positive consequences for the startup team is realizing that a lack of scalable revenue is not the fault of Sales or Marketing or Engineering departments – and the solution is not to fire executives – it’s recognizing that there’s a problem with the assumptions in the initial business model.)

Types of Pivots

“Pivoting” is when you change a fundamental part of the business model. It can be as simple as recognizing that your product was priced incorrectly. It can be more complex if you find the your target customer or users need to change or the feature set is wrong or you need to “repackage” a monolithic product into a family of products or you chose the wrong sales channel or your customer acquisition programs were ineffective.

If you draw your business model, figuring out how to Pivot is simpler as you can diagram the options of what to change. There are lots of books to help you figure out how to get to “Plan B,” but great entrepreneurs (and their boards) recognize that this process needs to occur rapidly and continuously.

Operating in Chaos + Speed + Pivots = Success

Unlike a large profitable company, startups are constrained by their available cash. If a startup does not find a profitable and scalable business model, it will go out of business (or worse end up in the “land of the living dead” eking out breakeven revenue.)  This means CEO’s of startups are continually looking to see if they need to make a Pivot to find a better model. If they believe one is necessary, they do not hesitate to make the change. The search for a profitable and scalable business model might require a startup is make multiple pivots – some small adjustments and others major changes.

As a founder, you need to prepare yourself to think creatively and independently because more often than not, conditions on the ground will change so rapidly that your original well-thought-out business model will quickly become irrelevant.

Summary

Startups are inherently chaotic. The rapid shifts in the business model is what differentiates a startup from an established company. Pivots are the essence of entrepreneurship and the key to startup success. If you can’t pivot or pivot quickly, chances are you will fail.

Pivot.

Lessons Learned

  • A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.
  • Most startup business models are initially wrong.
  • The process of iteration in search of the successful business model is called the Pivot.
  • Pivots need to happen quickly, rapidly and often.
  • At the seed stage, microcap funds/ superangels understand that companies are still searching for a business model – they get Pivots.
  • Most of the time when startups go out for Series A or B round, the VC assumption is that a scalable business model has already been found.
  • Pivots are why startups must be agile and opportunistic and why their cultures are different from large companies.

Steve Blank currently teaches entrepreneurship at U.C. Berkeley Haas Business School and at the Stanford University Graduate School of Engineering. Over the last 25 years, he has been part of, or co-founded eight Silicon Valley startups (MIPS, Zilog, Rocket Science, SuperMac, Convergent Technologies, Ardent, ESL, and E.piphany). Steve teaches a methodology of starting and managing marketing, sales and business development in high technology startups that you can read more about on his blog self-titled blog, Steve Blank.

Interested in being a Guest Blogger on The Product Guy? Contact me.

From Foursquare’s Exit Strategy to Designing with Forces

Every week I read thousands of blog posts. For your weekend enjoyment, here are some of those highlights.  What are you reading this weekend?

01_foursquare

On Starting Up…

http://www.readwriteweb.com/start/2010/04/got-an-exit-strategy-lessons-from-foursquare-and-yahoo.php
A lesson from Foursquare … have an Exit Strategy.

 
 

On Design & Product Experience…

http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2294-designing-with-forces-how-to-apply-christopher-alexander-in-everyday-work
Focus on designing with forces.

02_design-forces
03_open-places

On Modular Innovation…

http://techcrunch.com/2010/04/17/open-database-places/
Let’s accelerate innovation with the Modular Innovation of an open database of places.

 

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Permission and Content. Evaluating Sharability through Quick-MI.

clip_image001The first of the 5 components of Quick-MI, which I will be discussing in greater depth, is Sharability. Sharability is the measure of how much and to what degree information can be shared.

For relationships to work, between products, just like with people, sharing must be present. And to share, to receive, there must be both Permission as well as the more fundamental characteristic of having something to share, having Content.

In abiding with the overarching goals of both Quick-UX and Quick-MI (quick assessment for summary, directional guidance, and quantitative comparison) the variables constituting the minimal representative subset for Sharability are…

  • Content
  • Permission

Each variable (e.g. Content, Permission) is assigned a value that can be compared and combined. When all the categories’ values are combined they form the Modular Innovation Index of a product.

Content

Without any Content that can be shared, the ability to share breaks down pretty quickly. The Content that one can share with another can be many things, from that which is personally generated (directly or indirectly), to Content available to a specific group, to part or all of an individual’s settings / customizations.

Further examples of Content can be seen as metadata, text, images, settings, stories, conversations – a blog post, comments within a forum, avatar image, and identification of one’s favorite topics.

Determining the value for the Content variable is done through briefly surveying the product, followed by the assignment of a value…

  • 0 if there is no Content that exists that can be shared, or
  • 1 if some of the Content is found to be sharable, or
  • 2 if all of the Content, personal, group, global, including all user settings, are sharable.

For example, an individual’s Twitter Content can be shared with all or just a few friends, while the majority of one’s settings and preferences remain out of sight to all but the Twitter account’s owner; achieving a Content variable value of 1.

Permission

Some products allow sharing of Content with only registered users. Others allow sharing within parameters based on the type of user or method of access.

The Permission variable value is broadly determined as the sum of affirmative confirmations to the following conditions (with the starting value of 0)…

  • If the Content can be shared with everyone, add 1, and
  • If the Content can be optionally shared with specific groups (e.g. clubs, types of members), add 1, and
  • If the Content can be optionally shared with specific individuals, add 1.

One such exemplary product provides for very fine controls by the account holder of their permission settings, controlling what Content is public and can be seen by all, what content is limited to specific user Lists and Groups, and what content is meant for the individually targeted eyes of a select friend; achieving Facebook a Permission variable value of 3.

Quickly Shared

Quick-MI is all about understanding and measuring the relationships formed and supported between online products, especially those pioneering the next generation of web products via Modular Innovation.

Sharability, as the summation of both variables of Content and Permission, when combined with the other categories of Quick-MI

… present a sound, representative, quantification of a product’s ability to foster relationships both within and without — yielding an oft missed, yet critical, perspective into the success and sustainability of a product online.

Enjoy, Discuss & Tweet!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

PS Try it out, tweak it, learn more about Modular Innovation and share you experiences.

From Social Design to Modular Innovation in News

Every week I read thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.  Have a great weekend!

01_presentation

On Starting Up…

http://venturehacks.com/articles/presentation-hacks
Hacking the VC presentation to success.

 
 

On Design & Product Experience…

http://www.uie.com/brainsparks/2010/04/14/web-app-masters-designing-the-social-in/
From the masters… succinct social design principles.

02_social-design
03_revolution-news

On Modular Innovation…

http://www.businessinsider.com/revolutionizing-the-news-business-with-the-cloud-2010-4
Saving the news industry through Modular Innovation.

 

What are you reading this weekend?

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Quick-MI. Quick Heuristics for Modular Innovation.

clip_image001

(Re)Introducing… Quick-MI
Modular Innovation (MI) is all about relationships, be they between people or products online. In looking at how these relationships are established, maintained, enhanced, and expanded, one can achieve greater insight into the underlying forces shaping Modular Innovation, quantifying the degree by which a product is participating within, as well as evolving towards greater degrees of, Modular Innovation.

Today, Modular Innovation is a prevailing trend that can be described as products and platforms consisting of or facilitating…

  • Relationships (people-people, products-products, people-products)
  • Control of Experience (from creation to storage to interaction)
  • Ownership of Content (personal content from comments to friend lists and more)

Time & Space, UX & MI

Often the initial and continuing success of an online product is solitarily framed in terms of User eXperience (UX). To understand Modular Innovation’s role in a product’s online success is to understand how this trend of relationships (aka Modular Innovation) relates to User eXperience, and can, itself, be quantified for comparison and analysis against other products.

One way to think about the interplay between User eXperience (quantified via Quick-UX) and Modular Innovation (quantified via Quick-MI) is to draw, metaphorically, from physics, namely Space and Time. If User eXperience represents Space, and the variables and characteristics of a product’s UX represent it’s shape and form within that Space, then Modular Innovation aptly would be imputed Time. Like Time, you do not necessarily see or directly interact with the forces (quantifiable categories) of Modular Innovation, but Time, Modular Innovation, is very important if you are, the product is, going to move forward, have an enjoyable experience, and persist into the future.

Quick-MI

Quick-MI is the simplification of the quantification of the Modular Innovations, the products and platforms, which make up the trend of Modular Innovation. The method described below is a great way to build a summary description with quantifiable and comparable metrics, representing the level of Modular Innovation present within a product.

More detailed and extensive heuristics are, of course, possible (I frequently evaluate along many more variables in my studies of Modular Innovation). Quick-MI allows you to dive into a product and quickly extract valuable, representative data points.

The Quick-MI evaluates the degree to which a product successfully addresses the following 5 categories:

Once quantified, the values associated with each of the categories are summed to represent the Modular Innovation Index of a given item (product, platform, etc.).

The characteristics evaluated within each category constitute a minimal representative subset that accurately evaluates the Modular Innovation Index while adhering to the goals of a method that are (1) quantifiable, (2) comparable, and (3) quick.

Some of the questions that are answered within the categories of the Quick-MI are…

Within Sharability

  • Can functionality and content of a product be shared?
  • With whom can it be shared?
  • How much can be shared?

Within Flexibility

  • Which aspects, and to what extent, can I customize the Sharing, Portability, Interoperability, and Convenient parts of the product?
  • Do the methods and formats adhere to commonly accepted standards?

Within Interoperability

  • Can the product interact with external products (and vice versa)?
  • Are there legal restrictions placed on content or other interactions?
  • Does the available interoperability facilitate redundancy and stability?

Within Portability

  • What content, if any, do I own?
  • Can I move my content to other products?
  • Can I control my content without any UX penalties?

Within Convenience

  • From where, and at what times, can I access the product and the content?
  • With what degree of ease can I shift between venues and times?

Not Without UX

Modular Innovation should not be seen as an alternative, isolated, judge of the overall success or failure of a given product, but rather as a central, complementary, influential part of the equation. Together, MI and UX shape the course of the evolution and, ultimately, the eventual success or failure of a product.

Modular Innovation is Relationships

The more relationships, the stronger the relationships, in turn, the stronger and broader can be a product’s acceptance, support, and success. These relationships comprise Modular Innovation. They are the trend. They exist within the products that are themselves Modular Innovations, albeit to varying degrees, as measured via Quick-MI. They are the characteristic elements (described, at a high-level by the Quick-MI categories) that propel a product forward, or a lack thereof, that stalls or otherwise hinders its progress.

The role and presence of relationships within and between people, products and platforms are ever increasing in importance and influence. They represent the next substantial evolution of the internet, beyond simply the data, but, now, to all the spaces in between. This can be seen in the sub-trends, with respect to Modular Innovation as a whole, like those of semantic web and data portability.

These relationships can be quantified, analyzed, built and expanded upon. Once quantified, products are better understood and clearer courses are able to be set for improvement and solidification of the elements within products directly relevant to Modular Innovation, and subsequently relevant to sustained success. And the current methods of Quick-MI, itself evolving and adapting, can be used in observing, from industry trend to individual product, the impact and the role of Modular Innovation on products and related trends.

Enjoy, Discuss & Tweet!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

PS Try it out, tweak it, learn more about Modular Innovation and share you experiences.

From Staying Strong to Fearing the Spiky Button

Every week I read thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.  Have a great weekend!

01_leader

On Starting Up…

http://artpetty.com/2010/04/05/leadership-caffeine-8-ideas-for-remaining-personally-strong-as-a-leader/
Learn to be and remain a strong leader.

 
 

On Design & Product Experience…

http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2255-aggressive-spiky-button-vs-rounded-corner-button
Hesitate before pressing the spiky button.

02_spiky
03_gizzard

On Modular Innovation…

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/twitter_introduces_gizzard_distributed_datastore_f.php
Mix in some Gizzard to distribute, scale, and be fault-tolerant.

 

What are you reading this weekend?

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

From Staying Strong to Fearing the Spiky Button

The Product Group: Virtual PM’ing, Learning with LanguageMate & Onward to More in May!

theproductgroup_logo_200909_thumb752[1]
balsamiq_logo2_thumb26333
RymaLogoHighRes257_thumb522

A big thank you to everyone who made it to our latest meet-up of The Product Group, as well as to our sponsors, Balsamiq Studios and Ryma Technology Solutions! Our venue-overflowing group had a blast discussing Product People-oriented topics and enjoying Wonderful food.

DSC06273

Over the 2+ hours we discussed…

Featured Product: LanguageMate
exploring the product, its challenges and successes, from shaping a product culture to improving the user experience (a very special thanks to Ilya Blokh, LanguageMate’s Product Manager)

Virtual Product Management, Virtual Offices, and Outsourcing
delving into the debate of ‘if’ and ‘what’ of product management can or should come from the outside

DSC06258   

The Product Group meet-ups are an opportunity for Product People (managers, strategies, marketers, etc.) to come together to meet, interact, and network in a roundtable setting. It’s awesome to meet fellow Product People in a laid-back, conversational gathering like this one and I am looking forward to seeing everyone, new and familiar, at our next meet-up …

Thursday, May 6th @ 7PM
@ Wonderful @ 172 8th Avenue (bet. 18th and 19th St)
NYC

If you would like to attend our next meet-up, RSVP today or visit our group webpage at…

http://meetup.com/TheProductGroup

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

P.S. If you or an organization you represent would be interested in sponsoring or hosting an upcoming gathering of The Product Group please contact me.

Modular Innovation 201

image What is Modular Innovation?

Modular Innovation can be briefly described as the products and platforms consisting of or facilitating…

  • Relationships (people-people, products-products, people-products)
  • Control of Experience (from creation to storage to interaction)
  • Ownership of Content (personal content from comments to friend lists and more)

You can also see the trend, itself, being referred to as “Modular Innovation,” much in the same way the term “Web 2.0” is still used today.

The products and concepts that constitute Modular Innovation are those that connect, enable, produce, enhance, extend, and make use of these relationships and, in turn, users’ online experiences with them.

Modular Innovation is increasingly everywhere these days…
Facebook Connect
@anywhere
Crowd sourcing
FourSquare
API’s
Expensify
Plugins
Chrome
Data exchanges
SugarSync
Google Maps
PBWorks

… and many more products, forms, and methodologies.

For the rest of the article, I will walk us through the path of the online product from a time before the prevailing trend of Modular Innovation to today, and set the scene for what is to come.

Web Problems 2.0

It’s hard today to find an online product that hasn’t in some way been touched by Modular Innovation. You might look to the old blogs as a pre-Modular Innovation, with their initial incarnation as log-oriented websites, and the most rudimentary relationship common between website and website visitor of the Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 eras.

Some products still holding fast to the ways of the Web 1.0 and 2.0 worlds…

Web 1/2.0 Products Missing Modular Innovation…
JD Supra
http://www.jdsupra.com/
a forward thinking legal 2.0 product leveraging the UGC of the legal community, but starkly lacking a public API allowing for the accelerated growth of the community by way of 3rd party apps for participating
Turbo Credit Solutions
http://turbocreditsolution.com/index.php
all the entered information is one way; there is no extracting of entered financial information or connecting to any of the services it purports to help with, nor any other desktop- or web-based financial tools
CommandShift3
http://commandshift3.com/
fun and wonderful experience, but lacks any sort of ties to the outside world beyond its basic screenshotting functionality; it could, for example, allow for the creation of accounts, remember expressed views and comments, allow users to save these comments, allow for a widget that can be inserted on websites of recently reviewed / rated items

Interestingly … A Flickr

The very popular product, Flickr, launched at the start of the Web 2.0 age has prospered, in no short order due to its understanding of the importance of interconnectivity and relationships, built into its early foundation. Flickr demonstrated a unique foresight into what would propel it onward through Web 2.0 and beyond, by embracing many of the, at the time yet defined, underpinnings of Modular Innovation.

Building Blocks

Building upon the pre-Modular Innovation archetype of blogs, discussed in the previous section, the Modular Innovations that are blogs today are now seen with clear characteristics of Modular Innovation like…

Allowing bloggers to download / export their content (and often upload it to other locations and competing blog platforms)

Connecting Twitter and Facebook in various manners

Permitting bloggers to drop-in custom plugins and even full commenting sub-systems

In Web 2.0, we had looks, feels, AJAX and communities. Through Modular Innovation, we have relationships, modular products and other services that facilitate the relational parts… all the components, and the Internet environment within which they, Modular Innovations, thrive.

A Modular Innovation can be small, a feature or mini-mini-product, or large, a module-connector service, a social network. Modular Innovations alone, and more so when combined, lead to users’ information that is increasingly…

Portable
Shareable
Interoperable
Customizable
Redundant / Replicated
Accessible

…and, basically, their own, the users’, to do with as they wish, to control via the Modular Innovation(s) within their personally controlled online user environment —a user experience both open and dynamic.

Modular Innovation puts the people in control – of their content and their interaction with it. The people can easily share their data, export it, import it, customize privacy, across different social networks, products and other environments. Their data becomes modular, flexible, and portable. Users’ experiences consist of many modules that make up their total user experience. Content and functionality, with greater Modular Innovation becomes further decentralized across these modules, each providing a single, small or large, set of abilities or experiences, that together break down the walls (silos) that are the proprietary platforms, and empower the people, the users of the Internet, to be in charge of their data and their experience.

As modules leverage open standards, people are increasingly able to publish their content to multiple destinations, manage their content across a variety of products. As Modular Innovations relationally increase so too decreases, as is being seen by way of …

OpenSocial,
Facebook Connect,
Twitter @Anywhere,

… the need to re-find friends, or re-re-re-publish one’s content, as well as port and integrate their personal, content creations with other services, other Modular Innovations. Modular Innovations are increasingly empowering the user through the enabling of greater flexibility and control of interaction with the user’s own data. Data that, through more and more Modular Innovation, is becoming …

increasingly portable,
increasingly integrated,
increasingly customizable.

Products that are or facilitate Modular Innovation are the ones that have proven themselves among the most persistent and continue to gain increasing acceptance in the current evolution of the social and interactive relationships of the Internet.

Looking Forward

There already exist many complex frameworks actively being developed and evolved that will definitely be major influences in shaping the course of Modular Innovation. These modules, or Modular Innovations, can represent a single or group of features and functionality, or a service or framework that augments or allows for new inter-module relationships to be established.

A Modular Innovation often described as a framework that “allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.aka Semantic Web

A Modular Innovation that represents an image oriented feature set that allows for the easy connectivity to and from other resources as well as the inclusion of the production functionality within and between other Internet products. aka Flickr

Through combining and connecting and customizing modules, an owner, a user, is in control to customize their full experience and interaction with their own content as well as that of others.

Through the connectivity and relationships of modules, users’ ownership of the content that flows through is also strengthened, as well as those relationships among the people with each other and the Modular Innovations with which each interacts.

As the tendrils of Modular Innovation deepen and spread, the user experience becomes progressively more defined by the modules and the relationships between the modules and the individuals using them, not the network or any single product (or feature).

Enjoy, Discuss & Tweet!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

From Fabulous Freemium to Destroying Facebook with Salmon

Every week I read thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.  Have a great weekend!

01_freemium

On Starting Up…

http://gigaom.com/2010/03/26/case-studies-in-freemium-pandora-dropbox-evernote-automattic-and-mailchimp/
Case studies in the freemium business model.

 
 

On Design & Product Experience…

http://webdesignledger.com/tools/10-excellent-tools-for-creating-web-design-wireframes
Survey the many tools used in crafting web design wireframes.

02_wireframing
03_salmon

On Modular Innovation…

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/cross-network_commenting_protocol_could_crack_face.php
Destroying Facebook with Modular Innovation … Salmon.

 

What are you reading this weekend?

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy