During my last trip to Europe, I’ve read a few books - some were very interesting while others were boring to death. Don’t worry, I won’t tell you about the latter.
Among the great ones was the Losing My Virginity: The Autobiography of Sir Richard Branson. I bought the hard copy version at the airport thinking that it will be a good air traveling book, meaning, funny and with no real reason to activate any gray cells.
Boy, was I wrong.
The book is indeed very funny and smart, but it also brings invaluable insights as of how to do business out of passion and against all of the regular, conservative business assumptions. It’s a book that shows that you can and should bring your own character into your business, and that a hunch is sometimes worth much more than complicated numbers analysis. It also shows you that sometimes you will be wrong and that it is not only ok, but that you can seriously grow out of these mistakes. I won’t be a spoiler so I’ll just write that if you are an entrepreneur, either in practice or at heart, and you seek real-life experience inspiration, which is written from the heart, you must grab a copy of this book now.
A few days ago I decided to check up some tools for improving my project management efficiency and I stumbled upon a cool application called SharedPlan. After installing the free, lite version, and playing with it a bit, I found it great. However, from time to time I noticed a bug so I decided to drop it.
I then checked my emails and found the usual “thank you for trying our software, we’ll be happy if you can provide us with feedback” email from SharedPlan. So I decided to be a “good samaritan” and answered them back, describing the bug that I found. One hour later they answered, thanking me for providing them with feedback, and a proposal: tell us how you found the bug, and if we squash it, you’ll get a free license to our full product (worth $200).
So I did, and 4 hours later they answered: thanks to you we managed to find the bug and fix it! here’s your code for the free subscription.
Well, I’ll review the SharedPlan software when I get to know all of its features better, but here are some tips to take from this story into your feedback process:
- Schedule your first “give us feedback” email to the time the user got your software/service + the time you estimate that she needs to get the first impression of it. You can even place links in the email for “I like it”, “I hate it”, and “I found a bug” for immediate response.
- Response time. This is critical. Make sure to get back to the (potential) customer within 6 hours (or 12 hours max if her email was received during your off-working hours). Even if you’re still working on the bug, just keep in touch with her to let her know that you are taking care of it.
- Take it personally. For example, if your customer wrote that she likes your service but since she lives in Canada she always needs to convert currencies, don’t just say “we currently don’t support it” but let her know how/if your next version will support it.
- Reward. If your answer requires the customer to do something, make sure that you are giving her something in return. In my case it was a $200 worth of value license, but you can also reward by giving iTunes gift certificates, Pro Flickr accounts, etc. If you are in a critical phase in your product (like Beta), and you want to get as much feedback as you can, rewards is something that you should consider to be official (like “send a bug get a T-Shirt” competition).
- Integrate the “report a bug / ask a feature / send us feedback” within your product. This little feedback box can make the difference.
- Leverage from feedback to community. This requires a separate post but if you want to understand the power of it, remember what I wrote about how Skype got translated from English to most of the languages it has today, by the users, in 3 months!
Cooperations are a key factor for any Internet company that wishes to grow, and this simple insight became an integral part in the Web2.0 world in the form of mashups.
This interesting method is another business development venue that companies should pursue when thinking about cooperations, especially when mashup “platforms” (meaning products that are pre-built in a way to integrate other product into them) are getting more and more popular. Some examples for those platforms are Facebook, Yahoo! Messenger, and many more.
The great stuff about mashups and cooperations is that it focuses both companies on “what’s in it for the users” Vs. just “what’s in it for us”.
Take this one as an example: Netvibes & Babylon.
What’s in it for them?
Babylon’s product needs to be distributed. Instead of taking yet another traditional distribution channel that costs you ads planning, making, administrating, or long, expensive hours on crafting cooperation agreements (trust me, i’ve been there…) they chose to let the users try out the product. But not in the usual means of 30 days trial but rather to let the users try key functionalities of the product in the environment they are already using.
So what’s in it for them? more users try, more users buy, less money spent on distribution channels. True, it probably required them to develop that piece of code to fit into Netvibes but it’s a relatively low-cost one time effort.
Netvibes, being mainly a content mashup platform (and a great one!), gave their users a richer experience and a feature that is not just another content but a tool that helps the users read the content. Therefore, users are more satisfied, stay longer,and start perceiving Netvibes as a content system, and not just an aggregator.
In a recent post, Guy Kawasaki did his famous 10 questions, this time with no other than Donald Trump.
Now, one can argue about Trump’s business style (and hair…) but one thing that he said summarizes the core of success, and it shows that he lives up to it (quote from the interview):
Question: TV is TV, real life is real life: What’s the most important real-life advice you can give to an entrepreneur?
Answer: You have to love what you do.
Without passion, great success is hard to come by. An entrepreneur will have tough times if he or she isn’t passionate about what they’re doing. People who love what they’re doing don’t give up. It’s never even a consideration. It’s a pretty simple formula.
When I meet with entrepreneurs, this is one aspect that I’m trying to figure out. How much passion they have for their product? Is it something that is part of their life?
Passion alone will not get you to success, but lacking it can surely prevent you from it.
I would add that on top of loving what you do, you must be able to pass on your passion into your product, and from there to the users.
The web is full of great examples for that: Pandora is all about music-passion, Flickr is picture sharing passion, and digg is info-passion.
What’s your (product) passion?
Om Malik writes about how Engage, a dating website, backed up by serious people, started off quite good but got flatlined after a while.
This is a very interesting phenomena in my view, that many young companies fail to overcome.
Everything starts great, you get the right coverage, users start to use your product and you have that “viral feeling” in the air.
And then it stops.
One reason is because the users that are the first to use your product, aka (very) early adopters, are not the users you need to acquire later on.
And what do I mean by that? Early adopters are great; they are willing to try everything, and they will tell it to their friends - for good and for bad (meaning that if your product sucks you are in trouble from day one…). However, being so open to try new stuff also makes them dump your product quickly. They are not staying around for long and they have almost zero loyalty. Because of those reasons, and because they are a relatively small percentages of the population, you reach the “flat line” very quickly.
Most startups are trying to have a conversation with their users in order to better understand how to improve the product / service / experience. Which is great - just keep in mind that at this stage you are talking to early adopters, and they will mainly tell you how to get, well, more early adopters.
Don’t get me wrong, early adopters are extremely important and in fact, without them your chances to get to your main audience are poor. You must talk and learn from them, and at first you must even aim your product to their needs. But once they got it, you need to move on.
I highly recommend reading this classic book: (and other books of Geoffrey A. Moore).
It provides an in depth analysis about different user types and how to advance from one stage to the other.