Product: State vs Speed vs Acceleration
When building a (digital) product, I find that long-term success is all about speed and acceleration, not state.
If you are familiar with the lean startup methodology, you are probably also familiar with vanity metrics: number of users, historical number of downloads, etc. And you know you should not even mention them (we are all guilty).
Bringing a product to life works a little bit the same way. You could focus on finishing up that next/first version but then you are going to expose yourself to what comes next; and without planning, you will most likely endup measuring vanity metrics about the current state of your product. (This is the first step with an MVP, we need to start somewhere)
Now, agile team will know, speed and velocity are what makes your planning go from “the next version that will generate 1,000,000 downloads" to "each iteration will increase growth by 25% and retention by 10%”. You do want to measure the velocity of you team to know how fast your product will evolve and how lean you will be! (Many teams adopt agile/kanban and project management tools as well as CRM to measure speed and velocity)
And to continue the physics metaphor, it is only when you plan for acceleration that you can actively work toward a “hockey stick growth” and not leave it to chance. Acceleration in a product team is the result of all the processes and tools you are setting up to hire and bring more people to your team, to reach more markets with localizations and payment structures: you want your velocity to increase at each iteration to increase the speed at which you increase growth and retention. (Once you know your velocity, setup hiring processes, long term growth plans with expansion, integrations, etc. Startup accelerators are obviously a good place to learn how to accelerate your business too)
Free generates more revenue
With each startup I get involved in, I tend to start spending money on many services. Not much, far less than if I had hired someone for a very specific task but it feels there is a trend to get much more value.
Some of the recent products I subscribed to (or did in the past 6 months):
What they all have in common is they are first free. And that does not mean they are free the first month, it means they provide value forever for free. But the limit of the free “plan” is limiting my growth.
- Github charges me for private/company repository.
- Asana charges me when my team has 30 members or more
- Sendgrid charges me after 200 emails a day
- NewRelic charges me per server I use, starting when I need more features (not like the others, agreed)
- Mixpanel charges me once I track more users or more event
- PivotalTracker charges me as soon as I have a private team
- Mailchimp charges me as soon as I send over 12,000 emails a month (or to more than 2000 users)
So, they all provide value for free until I am hooked and can’t live without them.
Services that charge you upfront or only give you access to some feature might not convince as well since they do not show you all they can do and most users might be judging them on the free features.
And services that offer you 1 month trial for free might just be out of luck when I did not have time to properly evaluate their product that month (Geckoboard was lucky).
But if you start a product today, give it to me for free and then ask me for $7, $49 or even $199 when, and only when, I need more of your product to help the business growth it helped generate; these fees will be nothing for the thousands of businesses who will happily upgrade.
If your product is good, you will not even care if they downgrade for a couple of months, but that’s another post.
How much time do you spend on your infrastructure instead of developing your product?
This is the question Paul Berry (@teamreboot, CTO of huffpost) quickly asked me in October 2011 when he was assisting Lerer Ventures in evaluating if Tripl was ready for them to invest. (it wasn’t)
Obviously, the question made sense, but this is something I see over and over again. There are some amazing services out there like Heroku, Parse or even AWS that do not justify most data/media startups spending time or money on complex custom hosting solutions with expensive (low value) SLAs.
If you are building a product, make sure to ask yourself this question every day!
Pivotal Tracker vs Asana
I had been curious for a while for which is the best online project management tool available.
At Tripl, we used Pivotal Tracker, and had done so as soon as I joined in April 2011 because it seemed to be the best solution then.
Now I started at Shapeup Club, and the team had started using Asana which I was also recommended by other startups.
So, if you are making a choice right now, here is a break down of what is different in both software:
Pivotal Tracker - http://www.pivotaltracker.com
- Best for software developers, works for designers too
- Built for Agile with sprints and backlog in mind
- Supports multiple projects, but they are too separated
- Fantastic point system with focus on velocity and individual performance tracking
- Simple UI, but creating tasks takes a few clicks
- Support sub-tasks
- Stories are assigned to people, but not sub-tasks
- Stories have different (and customizable) states such as started, delivered, etc.
- Stories have tags and tags can be searched easily
- Easy to navigate history
Asana - https://app.asana.com
- Built for any team, not just IT
- Using it for Agile is up to you, easy to create sprints, backlogs but no support for points and delivery
- Supports multiple projects beautifully and easy to manage tasks over multiple projects too
- No point or time tracking. We do it manually in text in the tasks names
- Tasks creation are as easy as writing lines in a document
- Support sub-tasks recursively: sub-/tasks can belong to multiple projects/tasks
- Tasks and sub-tasks are assigned to people
- Tasks can have tags, and projects can have labels under which tasks are organized (drag and drop up and down in the list)
What else they have in common
- Integration with Github (not easy because you need to know task IDs)
- Comments with email notifications
- Multiple users, easy to manage
- iPhone apps
If you are looking for a tool to run Scrum/Agile with a software/web team, then Pivotal Tracker is probably better, and you might even want to look into even more specialized softwares (although I think PT is often better)
But Asana suits a lot more situations (sales, product definition, …), and is much faster to use. It is also simpler, so you’ll find that you add and edit tasks every day much more easily.
I like Asana better because it is simpler and more natural to use with a startup team. They could add time/performance tracking to suit more software team, but if I had to, I would go back to PT for a software project.
The best article I read in 2012. I warmly recommend it!
7 startup trends for 2013 (Part 2)
Continuing on the trends for next year, here are the last and probably more interesting 4.
4- (Equity) Crowd funding
Next April, Kickstarter will turn 4 years old, only. And it is in 2012 that the most well known crowd funding service had its 10 largest project funded (for $2.2 to $10.2m). But 2012 was also the year when equity funding established itself in many European countries.
Following Obama’s signature into law of the JOBS act, and SEC work following it, next year will be the year of equity crowd funding in the US and with it many marketplaces and related services opening up. Crowd funding is estimated to reach $500bn annual transactions, and if it begins next year to approach that scale, it will certainly transform the way startups and studios are financed.
Keep an eye open for my friends over at FundedByMe!
5- Ubiquitous (mobile) payment solutions
Many things are happening with mobile payments, from the slow arrival of NFC enabled devices and payments (Google Wallet), to payment systems on mobile devices (Square and iZettle), social mobile payments (Payson Payd), mobile banks and even mobile payments built-in from within other product’s core (Uber). Most of these companies hit some very important establishment or growth milestones this year and will grow much bigger and wider next year.
But the second aspect of mobile payment solution is, what do you do when we all have payment enabled mobile devices with layers of social and geo-location? Very large companies are tackling the technicality of allowing us to pay or receive money with our cellphone only, but ther is a vast spectrum of services to offer by building on this stack. This is the question that some companies like Wrapp are starting to answer, but many more will launch in the coming 18 months once the first technical layer is representing a larger market.
6- Quantified self: Healthcare, fitness and wellness personal tracking
This new (in popularity) area called Quantified Self has been made popular in the past months by the explosion of mainstream devices to track physical activity or inactivity and with their companion mobile applications giving personal and ever more relevant feedback. Some well known devices are the Fitbit Tracker, Nike+ Fuelband or Wakemate
Quantified self is also made possible by contextual mobile application allowing us to track many different moments of our lives and collect immense amount of information. A good example is the company I just joined, ShapeUp Club.
But this area is not only about healthcare and fitness, and new devices like Memoto are now appearing. The quantity of products means there will be more and more interactions, and extremely large quantity of data for other companies to offer services on too. 2013 will certainly be an important year for Quantified Self related companies and markets.
7- Big(-ger) data
Big data started as an engineering field or solution but has created a market of products, consulting and SaaS. I believe it has been used too often and for too many cases. VCs have been looking to invest in Big Data and suddenly everyone with a slightly large database was doing big data.
But being at the intersection of all the other trends named above, it is clear that the quantity of information companies have to deal with for decision making is not going away anywhere. We now hear about “bigger data” project where the quantity of noise is reduced and the amount of information is increased. Mobile payments, crowd funding, quantified self and cross service integrations are all generating a lot more data than companies were used to, and most often in a way that does not necessarily immediately make sense.
Foursquare for example is now sitting on one of the most valuable mapping of our cities with geo and social behavior connected to actual businesses and other places. Mobile wallets and gifting services are generating huge amount of commerce data where patterns can be found. But mostly, any small business. For small companies, integrating with mobile and social giants is now growing faster and collecting more data than their core business allow them to scale for; big data is becoming an increasingly interesting SaaS or PaaS opportunity such as the company Mortar to allow anyone to store or make sense of the underlying information.
There is a need companies are willing to pay to fulfil and we will see more innovative solutions emerge in the coming months.
Could you think of 7 other important startup trends for 2013?
7 startup trends for 2013 (Part 1)
A few weeks ago, as Tripl was closing down, I started thinking about what I would like to do next. While I did not think about starting a company immediately, I brainstormed about recent hot trends that would become pre-dominent next year, in 2013.
What has been discussed on the web lately, declared by Fred Wilson and then others like Chris Dixon, what will get bigger are entreprise startups and what has slowed down a few months ago are consumer apps, especially the advertising-based ones. This list is made of companies I have noticed in recent classes of DreamIt, YC and Techstars, or products that I have tried in the past 6 months and products that were not available while opportunities for them just appeared.
Not all of these trends are equally large or easy to break in, some have already been fairly popular in 2012, but if you are thinking about looking for a new job, or starting a new company, any of these seem like a safe bet.
1- Cloud infrastructure SaaS & Security
This trend is not new, but I think it is cyclical, and the first wave has faded out in 2011. Cloud services is the fastest growing web hosting product at the moment, cloud services is said to reach a market value of $48bn, some say 10% of all IT spendings will be made in cloud services; the trend is clearly going up and not planning on decelerating in the next 5-10 years.
Why a trend in 2013?, well with Github still growing (millions of people and companies hosting their source code in the), Google Cloud introduced earlier this year to compete with Amazon Web Services where Rackspace obviously could not, more companies have a foot in the cloud and services are getting cheaper and easier to scale than dedicated or VPS hosting. And with a new generation of companies in this sector, 2013 will make it hot again.
But as more companies switch to cloud hosting/computing services, there seem to be a severe lack of reliable modern tools to help them do so. Services like monitoring, smart DNS handling, security, deployment, continuous integration, optimization, migration, backup, etc. I have personally used NewRelic which is a great example of cloud monitoring service even startups will pay for ($149 per server per month). But I do not think any easy to setup “Security Monitoring” tool has established itself, same regarding tools analyzing cloud usage to help optimizing (save money with) your deployment.
2- Webservices, APIs and the Internet of things
Last year, I overheard this quote on Twitter from different conferences: "Do you have a website?" is so old school today’s question is "Do you have an API?". But already two years ago I started wishing I had the time to create a proper online documentation of all web services.
In the past 10 years, developers started to widely adopt REST APIs instead of SOAP or other less convenient options. Facebook platform opened up, OAuth appeared on every other page we all visit and then mobile apps came around and APIs made the web a richer place. Rare are the sites or solutions today which are not interconnected in any way to any other website. All companies with a web presence either have APIs or are considering them, so this is a huge opportunity.
Now with the Internet of things (any object having a unique virtual representation online, code or URI) being just a step towards software agents embedded in most objects and interconnected, 2013 is about to see a whole lot more devices and services interacting with each other. No one company will be able to establish their protocol as a unique standard and the number of APIs to deal with will reach 100,000s.
And because interconnection brings so much value, there are more and more possibilities in the vertical to position new services:
- Kinvey offers a Facebook/Google enabled backend for mobile apps,
- Gigya, LoginRadius and Janrain offer user management and social platform
- Mashape offers an API marketplace for free and paid web services
- APIgee offers a delivery and security platform
But these are just the beginning of a much needed market that will grow enormously.
3- 3D Printing
I must admit I know very little about 3D printing, but it is evidently about to become huge. While still in its infancy, new printers like Makerbot’s Replicator 2 today remind me of the Apple II while their first printer was very much like the Apple I. We do not know yet how much 3D printing will change small businesses and our lives, but we know the impact will be huge. 2012 has been an important year with a lot of new cheaper products, and being part of this revolution in 2013 must be fantastically fun!
It has been a pretty exciting past few weeks, working with 13th Lab and meeting many startups in Stockholm. One thing they all have in common is that they approach mobile in new ways.
This is not new, but I was more used to companies wondering how they could go mobile using their experience with web or softwares. Now, it seems like more internet companies are really going mobile first.
After just a couple of years, and SO much that happened, I had become unable to see any company but Startups. All others were just clients or places where other people work at