Postcard Panda, an app that allows you to send a real snail mail postcard from your iPhone is now live in the app store! The idea stems from the fact that during my south american adventures I managed to buy a lot of postcards but never managed to actually drop one in the mail which I felt a little bad about.
You can download it directly from here:
or view the landing page at:
To me a highly effective leader is someone who leads from the back. Like a good user interface an effective leader frames the problem, points their employees in the right direction, and then gets out of the way. If a leader has surrounded themselves with the right people (aka people smarter than themselves), getting out of the way allows your organization to fully unleash their collective creativity on a problem and grow closer together as a unit.
As a leader from the back it’s imperative that you are continually getting feedback from your team, but it’s often an awkward and formal experience. One leader I had the opportunity to work with briefly, Matt, asked me two questions at the end of every week (and I asked him the same questions) that grew the rapport between us incredibly quickly. Sit an employee down and try them out, you’ll be surprised at the results:
Tell me three things I did this week that you think I did well
Tell me three things I did this week that you think I can improve on
Make it a conversation and ask these questions on a regular basis. You’ll learn a lot about your employees perception of you as a leader, will smooth out any issues before they become issues, and get a chance to give your employees continual feedback as well.
Way back in 2009 I took my first Human Computer Interaction course at Stanford from my future advisor, Scott Klemmer, that sparked my curiosity with early stage products. Recently I decided to relive some memories and logged on to his 2012 coursera course where I was reminded of an incredible story that really embodies the value of low fidelity prototypes and not being afraid of putting your work out there at it’s earliest stages.
Here’s a transcript from a section of his lecture “Creating and Comparing Alternatives”:
When you’re designing, does it make more sense to go for quality and try to come up with the best possible design? Or does it make more sense to go for quantity first as a path to try and learn and understand?
There’s a story that Bayles and Orland tell about an art teacher who divides the class in half, and he tells one half of the class, ‘You’re going to be graded exclusively on the quality of the very best thing that you make.’
He tells the other half of the class, ‘You’re going to be graded on the quantity of things that you make. Doesn’t matter how good it is; all that matters is how much that you make.’
And what this teacher found was that while the quantity group was busily churning our piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the quality group sat around theorizing, and at the end of the day they had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and piles of dead clay.
So this gives us some intuition that rapidly producing many alternatives has a lot of value.
Prototyping isn’t all about just fine tuning the interface. It’s about gaining experience and learning from your mistakes as fast and as quickly as possible. Think about your ‘MVP’. Now go draw it on paper and have a conversation with a target customer.
For a deeper dive I suggest reading more about Steven Dow who does fantastic research into parallel design practices.
If you are interested in the book in question it’s titled “Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking“
One of the big issues with in person user testing is that people lie to you. Not in the sense that they want to hide something from you but rather that they don’t want to hurt your feelings. There are a lot of techniques to combat this; but I’d like to share with you one of my favorite questions that really allow your users to open up to you:
“Let’s pretend this is baseball. How would you rate our product on a scale of strike-out to home run? A strike-out means ‘I would never use this product ever’ and a home run means ‘The product is flawless, don’t change anything, just take my money’”.
[User Answers... it doesn't really matter what they say. Most likely they are going to say double so you feel good, substitute whatever base is necessary below]
“Alright now let’s say we want to make this a triple instead of a double. Not going for a home run yet, we don’t want to get too greedy. What is the one thing you think we can do better to turn this product into a triple?”
At this point you’ve allowed the user to save your ego (even if you didn’t need it) and they can now open up to you about what is lacking. Don’t fall into the feature creep mode just from this single answer, but rather use it as a tool to get inside your customers brain. If they give you a answer like ‘I want feature X’ dig deeper with a simple “Why do you feel X?” question that turns things towards a more emotional based response.
More tips coming soon!
Some of you may have noticed that I missed my last report of my self imposed ‘Lifestyle Business Challenge’. I will be post-poning the challenge until after I finish traveling the world. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the last two weeks have been filled with adventures in South America that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I’ve been so busy trying new things (hiked a volcano!), exploring new towns and meeting new people that I’ve barely managed to put a couple hours into any programming project.
It’s a nice change to take a step back and absorb cultures that aren’t so wrapped up in the American rat race or the silicon valley startup grind. I’ve only been out of the country for two weeks, but I will recommend backpacking to foreign countries until the day I die. This year has been an interesting journey but I get the feeling that this journey is something that will shape me as a person for the rest of my life. Lifestyle business will be my next adventure, I just need a few months to do this whole traveling thing
Way back when the app store first opened there was a list called ‘Just Released’ that showed a feed of apps that had been released in chronological order. Developers soon discovered that updates were also included in that feed, which caused a continuous stream of updates to be pushed out. That feed was responsible for your launch day blitz (for developers who didn’t take marketing as seriously as they should have… like me). Fast forward 5 years and the needle has swung completely in the opposite direction.
Today an update was approved for my Inspirational Quotes app. As usual I waited a half a day for DNS to figure itself out and then opened the App Store to retrieve the update but this time something magical and terrifying happened, it had already updated itself.
On the surface this feels like a win for consumers and a feature that will encourage developers to produce apps that actually create value. But a deeper dive shows a few nasty edge cases and a lost opportunity for developers for reengagement.
Auto update means more people will have the latest version of your software and will probably result in a lot less headaches when people not as familiar with technology need to update an app. As an ex mobile health entrepreneur I can attest to the fact that there is a large majority of people who have an exceedingly hard time installing apps, let alone remembering the apple id and password. Ask them to update an app and it’s enough to make some tech support lines cry.
As an indie developer I enjoyed the fact that the update screen was basically a small chance for me to re-grab my users attention. This is probably not as bad as I think since long term usage actually requires a compelling app, but I would be lying to say I didn’t like seeing the small bump in traffic after an update was released. It made me tingle just a tiny bit knowing that people cared enough about my app to give it at least one more shot.
The ugly side effect of auto updates are bugs, and the lack of expectation management the system provides. Take for example my bank’s app. I use mobile banking heavily, and the current version of the app on my phone crashes every time I try to do a mobile deposit.
Before auto update if a bad bug was released into the wild prior to the developer catching it (aka test your apps in release mode!!!) the process was kinda simple. Submit an update as fast as possible, preferably with one of your expedited reviews, and then update your apps ‘What’s new in this version’ description to include “DO NOT UPDATE TO THIS VERSION! APP CRASHES!”. Developers pants are on fire, but at least the consumer has a chance of avoiding headaches.
With auto update consumers have a few problems. Since there is no indication that apps are updated without obsessively checking the updates tab on the App Store; they will likely go for several days or weeks without realizing the mobile deposit feature is fixed.
A nice first step would be for apple to think about some way to notify users when updates occur. Something as simple as a badge indicator on the app store icon that builds up until I at least scroll though the updated list would be a good start.
As a developer I’ll probably start working on reengagement strategies a lot more seriously. Some combination of push notifications or more traditional email campaigns is probably a safe bet. It’s also a nice kick in the pants… maybe this will actually force me to create some value with mobile apps after all
I quit my job and will be traveling around the world for at least a year. The lifestyle business challenge is a self imposed goal to have $5000/month in recurring revenue from various software products at the end of the year.
Month 1 (August 15 – September 15)
Since I didn’t officially leave my day job until August 30th it was a bit of a slow month, but this post should give you an outline of where I currently stand with existing products. I’m leaving the United States October 20th and have taken a couple consulting gigs to help pad my savings prior to traveling but will continue to push out my own products too.
My existing products include the following iOS Apps:
- Inspirational Quotes
- Phone Search - (don’t download this until next week… big bug in it right now, see ‘what went wrong’)
- CallerID – Phone Number Lookup
Results – $296.84
~$300 is pretty consistent with what my iOS app have been bringing in for the past 6 months or so. Most of that revenue comes from the phone lookup apps with about $50 to $100 coming from ad revenue from inspirational quotes
What Went Right
I managed to round up consulting hours for the next month to add a little extra to the traveling savings account, finish up my day job, move out of my house, and submit a rewrite of inspirational quotes which went live two days ago. I’m pretty happy with the new release of inspirational quotes which was my original iphone app published way back in 2008. I’ll likely be driving that app the most from a marketing perspective in the coming weeks.
I’ve managed to push myself in terms of productivity through a combination of fire in my pants and the discovery of the pomodoro technique. I’ve been keeping an excel worksheet for each of my ongoing projects and find that the time boxing aspect of it pushes me to solve problems rather than spin my wheels ‘engineering’ it.
What Went Wrong
Quite a few things hit the fan this past month which was amplified a bit by the fact that I didn’t have as much time to work on my own products as I would have liked.
I originally had hoped to teach a class on lean startup methodology mixed with intensive out of the building ‘talk with your target customers’ techniques and I put up a landing page at http://leanlauncher.com. After talking with the ten people I thought were most likely to give me good leads on candidates I gave it up as a failure. I’m confident there is value in teaching the class; but very much skeptical that the bay area is the correct location. I failed for now but will hopefully revisit the concept in the future.
I discovered that a recent update to Phone Search broke all functionality. The most recent update swapped in a keyboard that had numbers for faster entry, just like the native phone app. Unfortunately the bottom right button, which was previously ‘Search’, is actually the backspace key. That means that no one who downloaded it was able to search for anything. Not exactly a happy ending. I’ve submitted an update to the appstore but am still waiting for approval.
The inspirational quotes approval process was also pretty rocky. Originally I was rejected for not having a ‘restore’ functionality for the in app purchases that are available despite including that functionality in the top right corner of the screen. I submitted a message back to the reviewer with the requisite screenshot who approved it about 5 hours after that event. Once things went live I happened to hit a problem in which Apple’s IAP servers were having caching problems. That event resulted in IAP’s not being available for ~18 hours. There were about 5k users who upgraded who missed out on an opportunity to purchase those in app upgrades, but it’s pretty likely the the best candidates for upgrading are repeat users so it shouldn’t be a big problem in the long run.
In the next month I plan on finishing up client work and pushing inspirational quotes as far as it can go from a marketing perspective, likely using mobile install ads from facebook. If you are at all interested in the app I would very much appreciate a download, which you can do here: Inspirational Quotes for iPhone and iPad
Join The Mailing List
If you liked this post please subscribe to my mailing list. I’ll keep you updated with monthly stats as well as learnings as to what’s working for me as I strive to build a lifestyle business and suite of products. Also if you are in south america I would love to meet up with you sometime in November or December so drop me a note!
I stumbled across this post from my old (and now defunct) tumblr account today. It is dated June 23, 2012, right after I graduated from Stanford to begin working on the startup I will be leaving on August 30, 2013.
As I take some steps away from the shore and safety of the bay area I think it’s appropriate to repost.
Tomorrow marks a beginning for my current fledgling startup. We will begin pilot testing with real users, plan to get user feedback for a couple weeks while we fine tune our user interface, and then will begin to distribute our app to our customers. It’s been a whirlwind of a few months for me between graduation, moving into a new apartment, and working hard on our product.
But you know what the most important part of today was? My parents sending me a little flash animated e-card to tell me good luck, congratulations, and that they are proud of me.
That little card means more to me than any of the work I’ve done in quite a while and served as a great reminder that life isn’t about how good of an iOS app I can make, how successful I hope to be, or following the newest technological development.
You only get one shot at life. Surround yourself with people who make you happy and who love you. Don’t be fooled by money, fame, or power. You have the power to impact everyone around you if you choose to.
So stop kidding yourself into believing that extra 15 minutes of coding will get your new startup somewhere and go spend time with your kid, your wife, or someone who really matters in your life. And never forget how the smallest things can have the greatest impact on someones daily life.
Tell them people around you how much you love them, you never know when you will see them again.
My life plan after I leave my current company August 30 is to backpack around the world for at least a year, and hopefully longer. I have some money saved up, but ultimately want to build out my own products to provide me with income rather than freelancing (although I will freelance a bit to start).
Defining the Lifestyle Business Challenge
Timeframe: 1 Year
Target Profit Per Month: $5,000
What counts as ‘lifestyle’?: In my mind ‘lifestyle’ is anything that is not intended to be VC funded. I’ll be bootstrapping everything with the ultimate king being cash flow.
You can expect a monthly report (likely the 15th) every month detailing my efforts. I’ll keep track of time spent on each project, revenue, profit, next steps, etc. In addition I’ll try to post blogs about each attempted project idea so you can get a feel for what I will be developing in the coming weeks.
Join my mailing list
I would be super excited if you joined my mailing list. Not only will I send you a note when I publish a new report, I’ll also be passing along as many lifestyle business ‘learnings’ as I can. Feel free to join me on Twitter or Linkedin as well.