Archive for May, 2009

Web Strategy: You Can’t Bloat Your Way to the “Killer App”

May 17th, 2009

There is a battle between 2 basic strategies that plays out on the web time and time again with consistent and predictable results.

On one side there’s “Keep it Simple Stupid” (KISS), best exemplified by Google; and on the other side it’s “Build Lots (and lots, and lots, and lots) of Application-fattening Tools” (BLOAT), best executed by Yahoo.

KISS is about relevance and resonance.

When executing the KISS strategy, it’s all about finding and solving the “main thing” - i.e., what is the user’s single biggest hot button (maximum relevance), and how do we overdeliver on that with excitement (maximum resonance).

For Google’s audience, it was all about relevant search results, and so Google focused on search and only search. For MP3 players, the goal of most users was to play MP3’s (go figure!) - and so Apple focused on delivering the simplest way to do just that. For Sales Force Automation, it was about easy pipeline management; and so delivered it.

All 3 of these players grabbed enormous market shares in seemingly “crowded markets” by finding “the thing”, and delivering on that and only that.

The BLOAT Strategy - it slices and it dices; it delivers everything but a solution to the “main thing”.

BLOAT actually starts in the same place as KISS - with the seed of an idea that tries to get to the heart of the “main thing”. The problem is - then it keeps going, and going, and going to lots and lots of lower priority features. The underlying concept is, if we’re not super-confident that the end user is going to be wow’ed by the “main thing”, then we better gold-plate it with lots of razzle dazzle so that they’ll still end up liking the product.

But the problem is - if we don’t nail the end user’s “main thing”, then all the razzle-dazzle and functionality in the world isn’t going to change the fact that we failed to engage them. At worst they’ll scoff, or yawn, at best they’ll claim to like it and then disappear into the ether never to be seen again. The combination of our attempt at the “main thing”, and all the added bells and whistles just didn’t stir any emotions, and so it was all wasted.

And it probably didn’t come cheap!

The only thing worse than failing to engage the end user with our new product or website is that we wasted an enormous amount of time, energy, and expense on “bells and whistles”. Instead of delivering a first iteration of the “main thing” in a matter of days or weeks (like we could have in the KISS scenario), we burned months of time, thousands or tens of thousands (or more) in expenses, and lots and lots of “buzzkill” - and we’re no further along than we could have been.

But what if we miss the “main thing” in the KISS Scenario?

If you miss the “main thing” under the KISS scenario, then either 1) you have the wrong audience, 2) you have the wrong hot button,  3) you didn’t quite hit “resonance”, 4) you are way way off.

Assuming any of the above (except #4), the good news is that you haven’t wasted a lot of time and iteration on your first attempt, so you probably have lots more “steam” available to iterate on a second, third, etc. attempt than if you had gone down the BLOAT path. When it comes together, it’s like a radio station that’s off by a hair - it doesn’t sound so good, but with a few tweaks it comes in crystal clear.

And so the moral of the story is…

Use the KISS strategy, get something (i.e., a Beta release) in front of real live users ASAP, and then iterate as rapidly as you can until you get it right. And avoid the BLOAT monster at all cost!

Author: Jeff D'Urso Categories: Web Development Tags:

Entrepreneurs: Get Your “Chickens” and “Pigs” in a Row or Else…

May 13th, 2009

We’ve all heard that we need to get our “ducks in a row” if we want to succeed as entrepreneurs. This is certainly true, but…

Chickens and Pigs are even more important to your business.

There’s an old farmer’s parable that talks about the difference between the “chicken and pig at breakfast” - the moral being that the “chicken” is a participant while the “pig” is committed. I.e., the chicken lays an egg and can then go on his merry little way. The pig has become ham or bacon and is therefore fully committed.

Take stock of your Chickens and Pigs.

If you look at all of your customers, partners, employees, investors, coaches - or anyone else you engage with in your business - and then you compare the nature and quality of your interactions with each of these parties, you will quickly realize there is a huge difference in motivation, commitment, and dependability among them. Some are clearly “chickens” (casually participating in your success and failure), others are “pigs” (committed to your success).

You need both to succeed.

It would be nice if everyone we interacted with was a pig - but unless you’re preparing the cult for ascendance to the mother ship, this probably isn’t the scenario you’re in. In the real world, we are surrounded by both chickens and pigs - and the key is to 1) know which category each person falls into, 2) make sure we treat them accordingly, and 3) realize that they are both critical to getting to the end goal.

As a general rule, a company’s initial traction is hugely dependent on pigs (i.e., your initial supporters, evangelists, etc); and its ultimate growth depends on getting lots of chickens (i.e., the mainstream)  involved along with continued commitment from the pigs.  Treat your chickens and pigs as you should - and the growth will be smooth. But get it wrong and you are in for some serious pain…

Beware the Chicken that Oinks.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment that we ever experience as entrepreneurs comes at the hands of chickens that we mistake for pigs (through their fault or our own).  They seem excited, they agree to get involved, they make some promises - and then… nothing. Even worse - maybe we acted like pigs and wasted our time, money, or energy catering to their “needs” or following through on our side of the bargain with them - but still, nothing.

Meanwhile, (and fortunately)…

The pigs deliver the goods.

Any entrepreneur who’s experienced success has had fortunate encounters with some pigs along the way. They seemed excited, they agreed to get involved, they made some promises - and then they delivered. Maybe it was the initial customers who became avid evangelists and sang your praises as you were getting your concept nailed down, maybe it was the investor who got involved in your business and worked alongside you to get it done, maybe it was the employee who bought into the vision and then did her part to push it forward. It’s the pigs that get you off the ground, but…

Treat Your Pigs Right or Else…

Pigs are special, and they should be treated as such. If you treat them the same way as chickens they will quickly lose steam, feel hurt, and maybe even get disillusioned and shift from your strongest asset to your biggest headache. If you treat them as special, and acknowledge their commitment, they will continue to match you with their own commitment; and they will continue to rally alongside you to help you grow. Then all that’s left to do is…

Bring chickens into the game while continuing to treat the pigs as special.

For most meaningful market plays, there simply aren’t enough pigs in the world to achieve the growth you want. At some point, you need to bring chickens into the mix - and you need to satisfy the needs of the wider chicken audience while continuing to engage your pigs so the momentum continues.

In terms of company growth, you will likely encounter more pigs when you are targeting “Innovators” and “Early Adopters”, than when you are rolling your concept out to the mainstream market (which has very different needs than the early market). We’ll save that post for another day - but in the meantime, you can read “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore for more detail, or read this excellent summary of Crossing the Chasm here.

Author: Jeff D'Urso Categories: Startups Tags:

“They Loved It!” and other dangerous entrepreneur traps…

May 8th, 2009

One of the funniest scenes in the 1999 movie classic “Office Space” happens when Tom Smykowski lets Peter, Samir and Michael in on his great idea for the “Jump to Conclusions Mat” - which is a “mat, with a whole bunch of conclusions on it, … that you jump to!”

Not surprisingly, the reaction was that it was “the worst idea I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Unfortunately, not all ideas are so black & white; and not all people are so honest with their feedback.

Most ideas fall somewhere in between the “Jump to Conclusions Mat” and “Google” - and so in the real world it can be a bit more difficult for an entrepreneur to get honest feedback from others. The popular business literature often tells you to “not let all the no’s and negativity dissuade you from going after your dream.” 

Obviously, most of these authors and armchair entrepreneurs have never been involved in the building of a startup, because in actuality you are far less likely to encounter direct negativity as you are to discover that…

“They Loved It!”

And therein lies the problem, and perhaps the single most deadly trap to an entrepreneur. When someone tells you they love the idea, it either means 1) they love the idea, or 2) they really aren’t all that excited by the idea, but are too polite to tell you - or are holding out to make sure you keep them in the loop “just in case” it turns out to actually be a good idea.

The problem is - it feels really good when someone tells you they love your idea, and it can be very addictive. And if you buy into the BS too deeply, you may find yourself spending a lot of time continuing to present to new people who “love the idea”, rather than actually moving the idea forward. I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs fall into this trap and lose weeks, months, or even years in the “love cycle” without moving forward on their actual dream. (Yeah okay, I may have done this once or twice before too :-)

The moral of the story.

You have the ultimate responsibility - and the reward - of determining whether your good idea will become a good business. It’s good to get feedback from others, and great to hear that they love your idea - but you must be a vigilant prober. Dig deep to get more honest and specific feedback from others - don’t just take the generic line. Judge people’s actions (i.e., do they use it, buy it, recommend it) as about 1000X more valuable than their words.

And finally,  spend your time building the dream - not just presenting it to people who tell you how great it is!

Author: Jeff D'Urso Categories: Startups Tags:

The Future of VOIP - where’s the Innovation coming from next?

May 7th, 2009

When I first heard about Voice over IP circa 2000, my initial reaction was “why would you want to do that?” Phone service was already relatively cheap and reliable at the time (remember the pin drop :-), and I couldn’t understand all the excitement around this VOIP thing. But the experts at the time talked about all the amazing new workflows and “things you could do” once VOIP was deployed.

It was intriguing if nothing else.

Then Came VOIP 1.0

Though it didn’t offer much more functionality than Bell did in 1876, the first rollout of VOIP certainly came at a cheaper price. Vonage and other unlimited calling services clobbered the price of phone service for homes - and the release of the open source Asterisk phone server brought down costs for small and medium businesses. I certainly had no love lost for the PBX industry. When I was building my first company, our PBX was a ripoff at ~$10,000 (and we were fortunate enough to lock in something like 30% interest on the lease).

So we had dirt cheap phones, but…

What about all the other cool stuff VOIP promised???

When I went to the VON conference in late 2007, it seemed like all of the “me too’s” at the conference were hawking some variant of VOIP 1.0. I couldn’t find anyone there delivering any new innovative workflow, and Jeff Pulver’s keynote plea to the audience of “do something cool with this stuff” seemed to land on deaf ears. Except mine.

I was excited because we had just built the alpha prototype of BlitzTime, and I couldn’t wait to see how our new telephone “speed networking” tool would impact the world of business networking. Since that day, we’ve never looked back, and it never gets old hearing someone tell me how they “made a great partnership” or “found a new opportunity” from someone they met on BlitzTime.

Onward to VOIP 2.0

And so I echo Jeff Pulver’s keynote from VON 2007 and ask - what other cool VOIP 2.0 applications are there out there? What is the next big exciting thing in the space - or is it going to be in some super-mashup of Web, VOIP, and Mobile? What’s Next? …

Author: Jeff D'Urso Categories: Innovation Tags: