Here's a preview of a promotional spot we're going to be airing on Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and Science Channel soon:
We launched this a couple weeks ago and I'm just now getting a moment to post it here.
It has been my baby for some time now and my team has been awesome through the first sketches, user testing, prototypes and prime time build.
43 five star ratings in the app store so far. :)
Today is a big day for our team.
We're proud to announce two things:
1. Our team building Curiosity.com has spun out of Discovery Communications and is now an independent company.
2. As part of the spin out, Discovery Communications has invested in our new company, along with Chicago's best tech investors: Pritzker Group, Origin Ventures, Chicago Ventures and Corazon Capital for a $6M round of funding.
The last year has been a great ride, but there is no finish line. This is just the beginning and we couldn't be happier with the great partners joining in this mission. Now, onward to bring the web's best learning content in one place, for millions of people around the world to enjoy and have fun learning everyday!
Thank you to everyone who has supported us in so many ways.
Never stop learning.
Don't wait to dive into the feedback pool.
Don't do three redesigns from only three pieces of internal feedback.
Don't let your product flail due to lack of feedback, the oxygen needed to keep momentum and improvement on a steady basis.
Give your product air. Free it. Cheaply and easily.
Talk to users any way you can. Social media is one of the easiest ways to do it. On their turf, on their terms. Get in person. Use Craigslist. Use the phone. Use the coffee shop. Just talk to real users in person, ideally in the environment where they might use your product. Don't fake the environment. The 5-day design sprint is a GREAT framework to start using for early stage product development.
Then get busy figuring out if you've found product/market fit...the only thing that matters.
To help with what, check out the below list of tools. This list isn't exhaustive. To consistently update all things product management (especially processes, which I'm not covering below really), I just launched Productmanagers.co. Check it out here.
Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the growing index of learning content for product management videos on Curiosity. We're focusing on other categories at the moment but if there are video sources we're missing please let me know!
**Update 9/16/2014** check out this list of Product Management tools on Product Hunt. It is a good list, but some I've listed below aren't on the Product Hunt list. My list is focused heavily on feedback from users, both qualitative and quantitative.
Some of the below tools are free. Some aren't.
Say to get a good toolset is $300/month. Is $300/month cheap? If you compare that to a month designing and building the wrong thing with three people at 50 hrs/week and $20/hr maybe (assuming a Ramen eating startup) you're at $12,000/month. $300 and feedback is a no brainer.
But calculate your hourly dev rate at a seed or Series A startup and you'll find that the time and rate of $300/month is insane not to be spent compared to the opportunity cost of wasting your team's time at say around $50/hr for 3 developers...before benefits you're talking around $25k/month. What's even $5k of time and tools to ensure you're building the best product?
Note, I'm not listing design apps below, just those focused on ideation and feedback loops. For that there are many product design tools here: https://www.producthunt.com/e/design-tools (One tool missing I think on that list is http://www.invisionapp.com).
For analytics set up and comparison's Andrea Klinger's blog post here covers all that.
Then go back and read this one, again from Andreas Klinger: The simplest and most important dashboard for early stage startups.
Let it set in that the earlier you are the more qualitative your feedback is going to be. Don't shy away from this fact. Buy gift cards on Amazon for people that help. Fire them off instantly via email. Be thankful it is all this easy.
- http://verifyapp.com - Great for getting static mocks in front of a lot of people quickly a few different ways. $19/month + $1 per user if you want to buy traffic. A/B test pages without ever building a site.
- http://usertesting.com - Sometimes $49 for a user to use your site (or whatever URL or link to static clickthroughs like Invisionapp for 15 mins). Get discounts buying credits.
- http://peek.usertesting.com - The free version of UserTesting. Good to start out.
- http://ethn.io - $49/month. Use it to help funnel a large net to get users for in person or more phone type feedback.
- https://clarity.fm - This tool is a way to connect over the phone with top experts in tech. Some use it for mentorship (I do as well for first contact) but I've had great success using it for feedback in certain areas of product development. Want UX feedback? Why not get a UX expert on the phone tomorrow? :) The cost is variable depending on who you talk to and how long you talk. I got great feedback from Product Hunt's Ryan Hoover himself not too long ago!
- https://usabilityhub.com - Find real users. Free, then $20 to start out. Just used once so far. Not too bad.
- https://www.google.com/insights/consumersurveys/home - Just cents to target and survey people very quickly on ideas.
- http://unbounce.com/ - Test an entire business idea in a couple hours. I often recommend this to friends with new ideas. If this stage stumps them they get a wake up call.
- http://www.producthunt.com/ - Of course! Submit your new thing and be very open and responsive when users respond with feedback of all types.
- https://www.intercom.io - $79/month to start with some minimal JS implementation. Great way to message your users. Use in conjunction with the 'first dashboard' concept from Andreas' post above. Intercom's service is awesome, by the way.
- https://mixpanel.com - Free, then quantity pricing based on users. Focus first on retention...what drives it? Amplify that. I have a list of things I'd like to see automated but it is improving and their service is great.
- http://www.google.com/analytics - Free and good for overall traffic numbers. I prefer Mixpanel for event tracking however.
- http://www.elasticsearch.org/overview/kibana/ - Free, but very feature rich and pro level and used only with elasticsearch. We're using it here at Curiosity for much more granular user analysis.
On-page and in-app testing
- https://www.optimizely.com - $17/month to start. Doesn't have heat maps. Have a good testing framework and tests or you're just slowing down page load for your users for headline testing.
- https://vwo.com - $49/month to start. Save caveat as above. Includes heat maps though.
- https://mixpanel.com - They also has some A/B testing options now. Haven't looked into them yet, but assume they're up to the quality of their other products.
- http://qualaroo.com - $63/month to start. Quick onscreen surveys to users.
- https://www.crazyegg.com - $108/year to start. Headmaps, clickmaps, scrollmaps. See where users gravitate and click.
To quickly see what your favorite companies are using to track your passive and active feedback, install https://www.ghostery.com.
Ideas and workflow management
Caveat: we print out flows on the wall and have daily standups for most communication. These below are more repositories and ways to capture conversation during remote work. Tools can't ever become excuses for poor communication. Like scrum wall better? Use it. Constantly prioritize.
- https://basecamp.com - $20/month to start. We use this as our catch all for ideas, ranking todo lists as a general roadmap so we can all track design iterations and attach qualitative feedback to them.
- https://www.pivotaltracker.com - $7/month to start. As the work moves from 'discovery to delivery' each day/week (we push to prod 5-10 times/day) we use Pivotal to track work more granularly with different states meaning different dev environments before deployment.
- http://www.cockos.com/licecap/ - Instant GIFs to share with your dev team for showing front end bugs / weird UI.
- http://www.useronboard.com/ - Good ideas for onboarding.
- http://patterntap.com/ - More UI ideas.
- http://www.uxarchive.com/ - Yet more UI ideas.
- http://buzzsumo.com/ - Target users talking about your thing. Contact them. Offer some value first before you say "hey you, give me feedback!".
Product management is many things rolled into one. This post only covers some tools. The point is, as Josh Elman so eloquently states, "Help your team (and company) ship the right product to your users". So, keep learning how to do this better and better everyday.
I've been collecting posts on product management for some time, always thinking that a Hacker News-esque site by product managers for product managers would be cool.
So I joined Postatic, routed the custom domain productmanagers.co to it and started posting a few times a week.
Also, you can follow @productmgrsco on Twitter.
Please check it out and send me your feedback.
Recently some friends have asked me for advice. They want to join a startup. Their reasons varied, but what was clear was they were lacking a framework to think through this critical decision. Joining a startup is risky and like most things, there is an opportunity cost.
If you're thinking of joining a startup for the wrong reasons you'll end up 'working 80 hours to avoid working 40 hours' for the wrong reasons. And that is before counting the opportunity cost of earning possibly more in the immediate term as well as the risk of failure in the long term.
If you're thinking of joining a startup for the right reasons, and there are many, then this framework will help you write those reasons down. Often writing them down forces you to clarify what you really want.
First, some reading material. Don't make any decisions until you've read this post by Mark Suster: http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2009/11/04/is-it-time-for-you-to-earn-or-to-learn/.
Now that you've read that post, you might decide you prefer 'earn mode'. Best of luck. Nothing wrong with this mode.
If you want to join a startup to learn, ask yourself these fundamental questions:
1. Who are you learning from? A newbie founder or an expert at engineering, product development, sales, marketing, etc? If you are starting yourself, where will you get advice? (You will get advice or face a long lonely road).
2. What do you really want to learn? A specific skill? Or how to become a jack of all trades? You might go in for a skill but come out a jack of all trades. Depends on the stage and needs of the company and the skills of the people in it.
3. When do you want to learn? And what do you need to learn first? If you're staring the company yourself I suggest you learn what your customers want first or you're in trouble.
4. Where do you want to learn? In a specific industry you love or a specific city? To build a network you'll want to marry both location and industry to the extent possible.
5. Why do you want to learn? If the answer is anything other than to the virtue of learning, go back to earning mode. Do you want to start your own thing one day? What do successful founders say why they started or joined a startup? Anything resonate?
6. How much are you giving up? Really, do you know? You can calculate some possible compensation here https://www.wealthfront.com/tools/startup-salary-equity-compensation as well as here http://www.tejusparikh.com/projects/equity_calculator/index.html but these are just numbers. They don't tell the true cost. You have to count the personal wealth, savings, earning potential, etc costs.
For me, there is no better accelerated learning and experiencing path than a startup. And the dedication I can bring is only possible because I answer all the above questions with honesty. Do the same and you'll be fine. Good luck.
Skateparks are commonplace in cities all over the world. But they didn't used to be.
Local governments first attempted to rid the streets of skaters by legislating, zoning, ticketing and arresting offenders.
Then some innovators finally accepted the direction the wind was blowing and got in front of the trend to build public skateparks. They realized it was more cost effective and beneficial to everyone in the long term.
This example isn't high tech. It isn't analogous to dictators shutting down entire communication channels to stop uprisings while other countries invest heavily in tech infrastructure. And it isn't an exact parallel of battles that are happening today in tech, like these:
- Car dealers fighting Tesla over direct to consumer models that people love with Apple.
- Cab companies fighting Uber in court when people are flocking to the UberX market.
- Hotel chains fighting Airbnb through courts in New York.
- Massachusetts fighting non-competes while talent mobility is essential for growth in a knowledge economy.
- California moving to shut town learn to code schools without formal regulation.
- Aero fighting everyone in broadcast TV all the way to the supreme court...but now on Chromecast.
But skateparks are a small, local example of closed vs curious thinking. The closed way vs many new ways of doing things. The creation of platforms vs dams mentality.
Closed way: as soon as you get to a certain tipping point, the cost/benefit analysis posits that it is more effective to legislate or force away any competitive or unwanted trend than it is to innovate in the emerging landscape.
More lawyers, lobbyists and intimidators are better than more builders. More, as Steve Blank calls them, "rent seekers".
Curious way: keep building. Don't miss the future. Build, test, measure, iterate. Create, don't destroy.
This isn't a generational thing. My generation isn't the first to innovate. We're all standing on the shoulders of those innovators that came before (including the innovation of a legal system that, while not perfect, created a foundation for innovators). However, my generation can access and share more data and information than ever before in history. Tech has accelerated the pace of change so quickly, the closed way is now even more polarizing than before.
Closed thinking is short term thinking. Curious thinking is long term. Mercenaries think closed, missionaries think curiously.
In The Everything Store, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the quintessential long term thinker, rattles off the below list of what is cool and not cool:
- Rudeness is not cool.
- Defeating tiny guys is not cool.
- Close-following is not cool.
- Young is cool.
- Risk taking is cool.
- Winning is cool.
- Polite is cool.
- Defeating bigger, unsympathetic guys is cool.
- Inventing is cool.
- Explorers are cool.
- Conquerors are not cool.
- Obsessing over competitors is not cool.
- Empowering others is cool.
- Capturing all the value only for the company is not cool.
- Leadership is cool.
- Conviction is cool.
- Straightforwardness is cool.
- Pandering to the crowd is not cool.
- Hypocrisy is not cool.
- Authenticity is cool.
- Thinking big is cool.
- The unexpected is cool.
- Missionaries are cool.
- Mercenaries are not cool.
Which leads me to this recent article about what the Millennial generation trusts.
Information is cool.
Choice is cool.
Learning is cool.
Trying again after failing is cool.
Tripping the person beating you in a race vs running faster isn't cool. This is basic stuff parents teach their kids.
Unfortunately in business, those lessons are too easily forgotten. As the recent book "Flash Boys" points out, closed thinking from mercenaries fuels a system that started as innovation, but in the long term doesn't work for the sustainability of a trustworthy economy.
David Brooks eloquently reviewed the book this morning, with a poignant close:
The most rational people understand that regulation isn't an all or nothing matter, but a matter of degree, experimentation and iteration. And they also understand that because we have intrinsic values and intrinsic selfishness, regulation to stop awful pain in the lives of people sometimes can't wait generations in some cases.
So now that we are seeing the powers of technology streaming faster down the mountain, upheaving old closed ways of doing things, I hope we shift our thinking to curiosity and long term good for all.
This means learning faster, making mistakes and building platforms for people to innovate rather than dams to hold them back.
More skateparks, less dams.
Today I'm proud to share that we just launched Curiosity.com.
Since May of 2013 I've been fortunate to work with an awesome team of developers and designers who deserve all the credit in the world.
We're a startup inside Discovery, which is a unique hybrid setup. Add to that my move from leading purely mobile product at cars.com to taking on product, content, wholesale redesigns and iterations and everything in between and it has been a fun ride.
But today is just the starting line.
Please check it out and send me feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feedback on the product is exactly what we need at this point.
Here are a couple videos: our mission and a demo.
Svbtle is "a new kind of magazine" I joined a while back but never got around to trying until recently.
While Medium is very cool, I've found the content on Svbtle to be much more product and design focused, so I thought I'd try it out. The writing UI's are similar (easy markdown writing, clean workflow, drag/drop photos) but I'd say Medium is more elegant and design focused.
Here is the post about the feeling of power: "People only feel 6 core emotions. Make them feel one more."
WebRTC is fascinating to me.
So much potential, so many ways to play around with it.
Playing around with https://togetherjs.com is up next.
In the meantime, picture yourself in Chicago:
I've been a diehard, paying user of Spotify. I'll use Rdio, Pandora or Last.fm, but mostly Spotify.
Don't use iTunes unless I have to use it.
I've been 'streaming' all music for the last couple years - so much so that I recently backed up a few live albums these services didn't have, then deleted 300 gigs of old mp3 albums and 'ripped' music that I don't care to keep around even on extra hard drives.
From the Improbably Rise of NPR Music, to the New York Times article about Living with Less, and the growth of the major streaming apps, there are many themes today: we want discovery and experience but we don't want the overhead. We are non-committal and fickle.
Platforms for discovery and experience that will last will recognize that, just like Oscar Wilde wrote, "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months." -- flexibility is a core competency. Spotify is even changing their business model.
So when I heard about 'digital ownership' services popping up (I get keeping vinyl to an extent) I was honestly baffled.
Why would I have a need to "own" mp3 files that I can stream - and will continue to stream more efficiciently the better LTE and other networks get - whenever and wherever I want AND layer apps that help me discover, share, refine, etc etc all that music on ANY device?
I'll gladly give up the "ownership" of a file for this next evolution. I don't own any other experience with music. Here's why:
- Sure I can buy a live recording of a concert, but the moment is rented. That is what makes it special.
- Emotions from music pass just like anything else. Listen to the same song at different times in your life or days of the week or times of the day and you'll get it.
- I have enough things in my life already that I own and managing more files is the absolute last thing on my list, especially for something I want to enjoy. When rearranging my iTunes collection is a todo I hate music.
- Sharing files still sucks (yes I'm also a diehard Dropbox user, but sharing a media file also means the person on the other end has work to do other than a single click most of the time...and ask people to do work to enjoy music?).
Along comes SoundSupply (a Chicago startup that recently raised some funding) and I'm surprised that this is something people would see as a solution to their music problem. Can't find good curated music? OK. There are thousand critic sites from Rolling Stone to Spotify playlist creators to Pitchfork's hyperhipster editorials.
But that is one problem. Can't find physical files of great music? That is another.
I actually really like the selection that SoundSupply put together. They are great at curation.
I've been listening to all the albums as fast as I could get to them. But the problem: 99% of the albums are already on Rdio and Spotify. If you are like me and already pay $9/month to Spotify, you can get all their #drops here:
After debating buying SoundSupply drops, I thought, "don't I want all these on my phone? and don't I hate iTunes and don't I love SoundCloud but don't have the time to mess with it?". Of all the SoundSupply drops, there are only 4 albums that I couldn't find on Spotify: Sister Suvi, Right Away Great Captain!, Gobotron, Via Audio.
So, if you have Spotify, click here to access all the awesome music that SoundSupply curated:
I believe that SoundSupply will quickly get into the partnership curation business (grow curation into themes and 'playlist' like lists) and leave the physical download model - or another similar change that Spotify is going through - or SS is proving that they have a better start. I'm not going to get into their business model. They and their investors no doubt focus on it enough. But then what makes them different than a previously mentioned curation app? I wish them the best because the music selections are great.
Most people can't define what success looks like, even when they are getting ready to spend massive amounts of time and energy working on something.
Is it qualitative? "I'll feel good about myself for just accomplishing this."
Is it quantitative? "I'll be able to do X amount of pull ups" or "I'll be able to make X amount a week consulting" or "I'll be able to pay off X amount of debt a month by then".
Most people aren't sure. They feel that something is just right to do, but then subconscious feelings of treading water get them down. Then they quit, not fully knowing where they stood in their progress.
Next time you are going to start something, ask yourself:
Who? Who am I answering to? What would they say? "You met X goal making X amount of money by X time?"...is that right? Even if you're answering to yourself what are you demanding?
What? What do I need to help me get there? Tools, people, research?
When? What day/time/hour will I set to check my progress?
Where? Where am I willing to go to do this? Places I've never been skill set wise? Out of my comfort zone?
Why? Have I backed up and answered the REAL root issue? Am I rushing off with busy work to attack a symptom or am I disciplined enough to back up and attack the real goal/challenge/opportunity?
How? How will I measure this? Money, time, clicks, etc?
Don't answer these critical questions and you'll just waste your time and those who try to help you fumble through pointless work.
**update** I've since taken hashtime offline.
I was watching the NFL Football Chiefs lose their season opener two weeks back. OK, I wasn't watching all that much because they're not so awesome anymore and I'm not so much a huge fan anymore. So I started playing around with Twitter Bootstrap, a "sleek, intuitive, and powerful front-end framework for faster and easier web development". The scaffolding is all about responsive web design. It is cool enough. I like jquery mobile a lot however. This is different but since the whole demo was using Twitter I figured what the hey.
I thought a few weeks before "wouldn't it be cool if you could follow a game and teams all in once place without firing up TweetDeck?". The entire sports universe isn't probably up to that type of social stream management...yet. They'll have this in fantasy apps, but here's hashti.me anyway:
I only input a couple games and have more plans, but no reason to continue without good honest feedback.
*no, hashti.me isn't a drug reference. it is a quick attempt at Twitter reference + sports reference + $3.99 godaddy credit = brevity
*go landscape mode in iPhones (iPad is fine)...CSS isn't playing so nice with me right now when tweets appear.
*there is a better way than iframes (I know) but for now developing on the api is second to getting feedback on the proof of concept.
*if you're logged into Twitter you can post from within the page, but scrolling can still be a bit funky.
Friends keep asking me and while there is a lot of crap out there that promise to teach you to be a freelancer charging $100/hr in days or become a ninja, these are decent. Some will say don't learn to code, but here are some sites to learn to code the basics to at least be more knowledgeable. Some paid, mostly start free. In no specific order:
- http://www.khanacademy.org/cs - basically for kids
- http://www.w3schools.com/ - mostly text and reference
1. Put the index.html file in the Public folder (include CSS, JS files and folders as well)
2. Create the public URL for sharing like normal
3. Email, text, etc to yourself and open as normal on your mobile device.
4. If you want to get really fancy and put a customized domain with it:
- Go to settings in your domain admin (godaddy has it in domain management / information).
- Forward to your Dropbox URL
- You can mask (keeps the new domain) or unmask (forwards to the dropbox URL)
*If you totally screw up your files Dropbox even has versioning...not that you'd want to depend on it that much.
*It will take a few mins for changes to take effect and you'll want to clear cookies in your browsers if you're making a ton of changes.
Hope this helps. Any comments: andy at odower dot com
Recap of latest 9 month chapter:
Loving Chicago with my wife.
Replacing 'want, need, more' with 'thank you'. Feel much better.
Closed biz. More on that soon.
Started new gig @ cars.com. More on that soon.
Digging into code much more. Yep, I'd better have something soon.
Working out much more. Setting bigger goals.
Went to Canadian wilderness with family. Didn't want to leave.
All in all, a bunch of 1st world problems, losses and victories. I'm lucky to know great people.
Back in a few with a lot of takes...until then, a great quote that Mel likes:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
*Backstory to the pic: Muir invited Teddy to see Yosemite Valley in 1913. Teddy ditched his personal guard and escaped into the wilderness with just Muir for 3 days, camping under the stars. It was there that Muir convinced Teddy to save Yosemite and it eventually became a national park. Couldn't see it possible for any world leader to do something like that today.
The three things that Freakonomic's authors will tell you that influence someone's decisions are: economic, social and moral. In terms of influence in commerce:
Amazon, Ebay and Google own economic.
Facebook owns social. Obviously Twitter is coming, but not integrating with brands front and center the way Facebook does.
No one owns moral. Maybe a non-profit brand like the Red Cross. But most tie-in moral into their offering. No one does it exclusively for commerce. Tom's Shoes aren't bought just because they're a moral company. Much goes into the messaging on the economic and social side.
The best brands tie in all three.
But, what happens now when Google combines economic and social? Intent and demographics and context?
The difference between Facebook ads and Google ads are intent. Most people don't search Facebook for their nearest restaurant or a shoe they want to buy. Sure, they spend more time on Facebook but when it comes time to INTEND to buy they go to Google.
The new place to play is ads (insert daily deals here too) in context and discovery: where you live, where you socialize, where you are right now. Best of all, the ads are smart and come to you...but they don't care about your real intent...they want to form your blank slate of a day with their intent. Native apps (iOS, Android, Windows) and HTML5 apps with geolocation and social API integration are just the beginning.
With a new layer of social search results you be able to get your economic + social influencers in one place.
For those that don't care what the experts say, they just want to know if their friends own it, bought it, liked it, etc...you're all set.
Wait, I guess if you're friends would just join Google+ or Google will integrate Twitter and Facebook a bit more, then you'll be all set. :(
Full credit to www.svproduct.com for this piece. When talking to start ups, the all too common theme is the product takes a back seat to the blue sky business model. Assumptions and tunnel vision that people will instantly like + use + share your product give way to time wasting long term planning over the pragmatic build > test > learn > re-build cycle.
Same goes for a new internal product or project at a large company.