Good tips for building products that people want

Here is a good cheat sheet on how to build products that people really want. It is cribbed from this article on TechCrunch.

  • Draw On Previous Experience and Understanding – The biggest problem is startups in search of a problem. Chase what you’re passionate about; you’ll probably already have knowledge in the space.
  • Have A Hypothesis About How You’re Different – Have a point of view about your startup. Why is there a special opportunity for this now?
  • Never Build Without Sketching – Mike says he and Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom would go to a cafe with little iPhone design pads where “we’d build and throw away entire features. You’d waste three or four pieces of paper, not three weeks of coding.”
  • Learn In Weeklong Increments – Start with a question: “Will folks want to share photos on the go? Can we build filters that look good?” Spend the week investigating, and by Friday have a conclusion and move on.
  • Validate In Social Situations – “We called this the Bar Exam. If you can’t explain it to the guy or girl at the bar, you need to simplify.” Don’t just test with your techy friends.
  • Know When It’s Time To Move On – “I know ‘pivot’ has become a dirty word, but if there’s no unanswered questions left, then it’s time to move on.”
  • The Wizard Of Oz Techniques For Social Prototyping – You don’t need to build everything at first. You can be the man behind the curtain. Krieger says him and Systrom tested an early version of a feature which would notify you when friends joined the service. Instead of building it out, they manually sent people notifications “like a human bot” saying ‘your friend has joined.’ It turned out not to be useful. “We wrote zero lines of Python, so we had zero lines to throw away.”
  • Build And Maintain A Constant Stream Of Communication With Your Audience – Don’t spend months building something without any idea if someone actually wants it.

Launch Conference, Day Two

Yesterday was great. The buzz in the place is unbelievable. This place is the Launch Conference. Organized and run beautifully by Jason Calacanis (who has become much more warm and fuzzy than I remember). Here is Rafe Needleman’s summary of day one.

And with all due respect to Boston and Scott Kirsner in particular, I cannot see a gathering like this happening in Boston. There just are not nearly enough interesting startups to pick from. Now, no, I don’t claim to know anything like all of them. I am sure there are lots of great projects I know nothing about. I am just going by proportions and gut feel. It seems like around every corner is another incubator and every one is an angel investor or is looking for one to fund their idea that is going to change the world. It’s inspiring and intoxicating!

Now, on to the show notes. – Helps me plan an afternoon in a city. Based on what I like to do, where I am, whether I have a car or not, this app helps me construct an plan of where to go and what to do. Like all of these apps, the key is in how good their content is and so far, all they have is, predictably, San Fransisco. So a promising but incomplete idea.

SongSpin and Anthem: Two interesting music applications. SongSpin makes a music discovery service. Songspin produces a ‘curated’ collection of music by genre and delivers it as a ‘radio station’ that you can listen to while online. There are many services that do this but it’s a pretty nice of execution. Anthm is an app that lets a bunch of people (at a party for example) can collaboratively control a play list. The music is playing on a computer running Spotify or a similar app.

License123 – Mundane but powerful. Based on State, City and type of business, this app will tell me what permits and licenses I would need to start such a business in that place. Supposedly this is a tricky and slow (not to mention costly) process. I guess the use of this app is episodic. I only need it when I am planning to open a new business. Still very cool!

15Five – Supposedly similar to Yammer according to the judges.  This is a way to gather and respond to status reports semi automatically. Looks very slick. Depends on the price, because standard emails would work here too. But nicely executed. – A more conventional employee survey tool. Nicely done. I didn’t catch whether they randomly survey a particular subset of employees so that any particular employee doesn’t get polled too often. Nice survey tool with nice reporting. – Make it possible or easier to learn about the family stories and history. You have to get over the normal awkwardness in asking your mother what your father was like as a young man. Or why uncle Foo doesn’t get along with Aunt Bar. I will try it in my family to see if it works. – Based on the appearances match people up for anonymous rendezvous in local coffee shops and hangouts. The judges don’t like it, but on the other hand they are all ‘old’ and ‘married’. So basically a user gets to review a bunch of pictures of ‘actors’ and rate if they are ‘cute’ or ‘not’.

Based on this two users are sent to a location without knowing who the other person is or whether they have arrived yet. So you have to get up the courage to strike up a conversation. It’s romantic.

Tolq.comMagically translate your web site, completely into another language. Panel is a bit skeptical that it will work well enough. Anticipated challenges are: text in javascript; right to left languages; text embedded in images.

TrustEggEasily create a trust account for your children and make it really easy to add money to it for them, and have other family members contribute to the fund. The money is invested in a index fund or perhaps other choices. I see an analogy with a Charitable Gift Fund where a big trust is built and allows parents to set up a trust fund in a very light weight way and without having to set up a trust yourself. Also it makes it easy to have others (grandparents, uncles, aunts) add funds to it.

Offlane – Flipboard with offline capabilities. Even, tweeting while offline.  Even searching offline. Even ordering premium content offline. Will be free to download, with a $5 a month to get the service.

Minbox – A new way to access my email designed for non-techies. Very light weight, and oriented around people rather than messages. It’s a light layer over gmail. It might be useful for people who get overrun with non-people emails that clutter up their inbox and are a source of annoyance.

AppStack – Magically builds a mobile app by scaling the web for your business phone number, It might work well in the demo but how well will it work across an arbitrary business?

Couplestreet – Facebook for just two. Not sure.

GonnaBe – Where I am gonna be. Helps people share what they plan to do to get others to  come along. This sounds just like Plancast. They claim that Plancast was not as mobile and that Plancast tried to publicize longer term plans. GonnaBe is focused much more short term. Today, tomorrow, maybe next week, but that’s it.

Captricity – Given a pile of paper forms this product does flexible form data extraction. User describes what the fields are in a form and then extract the data and returning a database with the extracted data. Demoer says that they ‘build a custom oct engine on the side’ to actually process the forms.

Snaptat – First of a series of apps built, essentially, around a Instagram tag. Snaptat is the first, and it appears as a special purpose Instagram for Tattoo artists. They can create other vacations, for example for pets, dogs, and so on. They believe they can do another app every 6-8 weeks for around $10,000.00.

Fantasy Politics – A fantasy sports game built around politics! Baseball cards for politicians. They create a  “power score” for a politician. Kind of ‘clout’ for politicians, from 0-99. Sounds cool but I can’t find their site.

Upto – Lets me share events from my calendar with other people that I care about. You might see that a friend is going to a lecture and decide you want to go too.

Bloc – Claims to let me more easily learn programming. I don’t believe the premise.


— more to come —

Launch Conference: Day One

The Launch Conference is starting today. It is descended from many venerable conferences, particularly like Demo. I was a fairly regular attendee at the Demo conference over the years, and so far, Launch seems to be continuing that heritage in a very impressive way.

Basically this conference is about Products, Products, Products. Particularly software and web and mobile products. There’s a really good energy in the room, like the start of another gold rush 🙂 It is overlaid with the usual Silicon Valley attitude and posturing, but that’s ok, I kind of like that.

Each launching company is given 5 minutes to demo/preset their products. There are 5 celebrity judges who will listen to the demos and then ask difficult questions.

Here is a running list of products that look good to me. It will be my public notebook. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

Mingly – A way to easily remember who you have not talked to in a while. A useful tool for obsessive networkers (like me) and something that I have done with a Word file for years and years. Handy, but it’s a business?

Altluition: TurboTax for financial aid. Very comprehensive solution to help students who are trying to decide what University to apply based on cost and aid, deciding where to get financial aid, and then actually applying to multiple financial aid sources. Looks pretty awesome! (A google for Turbo Tax for Financial Aid, I find this article about AidAide. Just shows, like there are no new ideas!) Video calls with live language translation. I speak in English. I see the text of my message to make sure it’s correct. I press send and my counterpart hear’s my message in, say, Italian.

Budge: Gamefication of exercise and other health related programs and goals. Pushups. Meditation.

Hadza: Mutiple videos are often taken in different locations, at the same time, of the same event: a concert, a sports game, etc. But also a wedding or a place. If you record these with the Hadza application they create kind of a ‘director’s console where you can decide what view of the event you want to see, which audio you want to listen to. This looks very interesting and cool. They do have to get people to record the video with their app which is a barrier I guess.

Robin: Voice activated tool for driver: find parking, check on traffic, and navigate. Will it really work? Judges debate the defensibility of this product. “Natural language is the new taxonomy of the web” one of the judges says. Not sure about the word “taxonomy” here but the point is that there’s a belief that services like Siri will be the entry portal of a most services on the web.

uGokit: Finding stuff you lost. $1 tag you put in or with the thing you might lose. It’s an RFID tag. There’s a reader and an app. When you lose your charger, watch, wallet, you can use your iPhone like a geiger counter to locate it. Also making sure that I didn’t leave for the trip without my required items, leave for my gym without everything, and so on. $150 for the app, the reader and 20 tags. Pretty cool. Cross platform mobile product creation. Allows me to easily create a HTML5, Android and iPhone apps in one fell swoop. Comparable to Sensa Touch. Simpler and cheaper mailchimp / constantcontact. Looks good. Proof is in the tasting. – Track the beneficiaries for my estate. like insurance and IRA accounts. When you die (!) they will notify all the beneficiaries. Ensure that the money caught in estates get to the intended beneficiary. – Really nice, pretty to look at, alternative to Google Sites or SquareSpace. – Allows gamers to create story worlds and MMPG games. – Collaborative travel planning. It has a very pretty user interface. The recommendations are not just social, but from ‘recognized travel experts. If it works it would be great, but of course these kinds of sites live or die by the quality of their content. It’s true that TripAdvisor is not all that beautiful to look at but it’s got the content and the quality. – Some kind of social network which let’s you state what your current emotional state is and allows your friends to boost your morale when they see you are sad. Cool! – Flirting over music. Match meets Meet people because you have similar musical tastes. A very nice user experience. And they are also creating a Spotify application so that the counterparts don’t have to even have the Moosify client! This is really interesting. – I unfortunately missed this one but it was so popular among the judges and audience that I decided to add it to my list. For example, here’s what Rafe Needleman thought of SpaceMonkey. To be honest, reading Rafe’s description doesn’t impress me that much. I bought a 1Terrabyte disk last year for $70 from Amazon. Storage is cheap. Why pay a recurring charge?

That Suspicious Behavior – Another one that was popular with the judges that I missed. A way to “See something. Say something.”

HipSwap – Another one that I missed. Buy and sell your stuff (a la crags list) but they include a pickup and deliver service.

More tomorrow.


Customer vs. Consultant: Excellent advice

From an article called “Effective Customer Consultant Relationships”:

“As a customer, how can you get the most out of your consultants? As a consultant, how can you deliver what your customers really want? I have been on both sides of this relationship and experienced both successful and unsuccessful results. In this post, I will go through the typical aspects of these types of relationships and identify action items that I have used to forge effective and lasting customer consultant relationships for both parties.” (from “Effective Customer Consultant Relationships”)

If you are a tech consultant or are thinking of hiring one, this article has some excellent advice.