This week Kat Manalac (Partner at Y Combinator), Nikhil Basu Trivedi (VC at Shasta Ventures), and Jack Altman (Growth at Teespring) join me (Ryan Hoover) in the second episode of PHR. We chat about online-to-offline apps, a product to fight those darn San Francisco parking tickets, and the trend toward anonymous communication.
Intro/outro music by eldienneproductions
Last week I created mockups of an improved comment system for Product Hunt. The design certainly wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t even complete. But I shared them anyway and am glad I did.
Within 24 hours I received over 50 annotated pieces of feedback from the community.
I quickly discovered what they liked:
And best of all, new ideas to make Product Hunt even better:
I began to wonder why more startups aren’t doing this.
The Benefits of Building in Public
There are legitimate reasons not to be this transparent but IMHO, the majority of startups, especially those building a community, have more to gain than lose. By providing a sneak peak and involving users in the design process, founders can:
Increase Buy-In - People want to be heard and when their feedback is acknowledged, their investment in the product increases. Even better, if their ideas are incorporated into the final product (like Geoffrey’s sorting suggestion), they feel a sense of ownership (and rightfully so!), leading to increased engagement and loyalty.
Get Feedback Early - It’s often difficult for designers to see usability issues when they’re so close to the product. Fresh perspective is helpful, as shown in the feedback shared above. Early feedback, ideally before design is committed to code, results in a better product and less waste. Of course, people don’t always know what they want, especially for products driven by emotional needs. The best product designers know what to listen to, what to ignore, and how to identify useful feedback.
Excite the People! - We love sneak peaks. Fanboys pay a premium for a backstage pass to their favorite band. Kickstarter backers pledge top-tier prices for behind-the-scenes, early access. It’s fun to get a preview of what’s to come; to see the inner workings of a startup. This excitement captures the attention of consumers and creates evangelists for the product.
A Trend Toward Transparency
I’m not the only one building in public. In fact, there appears to be a growing trend in this direction.
Last year Monkey Inferno reacquired the once successful social network, Bebo, and set out to revive the brand through a series of apps. Instead of taking a traditional approach — building a product and revealing it to users for the first time months later — they created Bebo Insiders, a mobile app to give their anxious audience a preview of what they’re building. As the team iterates on their next mobile app, Bebo Insider users receive a push notification soliciting feedback. Within the app, fans can chat in real-time with the CEO himself, Shaan Puri, offering their input.
Buffer may be the most transparent startup around. They’re public with employees’ salaries, employee equity options, monthly financials, and culture principles.
Sandi MacPherson, Editor-in-Chief of Quibb, is known for her authenticity and personal touch. This January she announced a friends and family round, giving the community an opportunity to invest in the company. Is there a better way to get users invested in the product than having them invest their own money?
When Matt Deiters, Assembly's CEO, and I met up to chat about his new startup idea, I enthusiastically expressed excitement and skepticism of the crowd-building platform. Assembly-made products are literally built in public; crazy ambitious and potentially very disruptive. Its users submit product ideas and submissions that receive enough support, are designed and built by the community itself. Each project’s feature ideas, roadmap, contributions (designs, code, etc.), and financials are exposed to the world. But what’s most unique is that the people building the product, receive equity, compensation for their contributions.
Empowering Public Builders
Furthermore, we now have more tools to empower creators to build in public.
Funding - Kickstarter, Crowdtilt, Patreon, and Alphaworks enable businesses to raise money directly from their audience.
Communication - Intercom, Customer.io, and Olark provide direct access to users, opening a channel to communicate. But what’s arguably most impactful is Twitter which has removed barriers to engage with people and broadcast information personally.
Storytelling - Medium’s simple writing platform makes it easier for founders to share their story.
Marketing - Thunderclap assembles fans to spread news through Facebook and Twitter in a coordinated “crowdmarketing” event.
While not every startup can or should build in public, I appreciate those that do and look forward to seeing more companies funded, designed, and supported directly by their users in non-traditional ways. I’ve found tremendous value in feedback from the Product Hunt community and the positive influence sharing its story in public, has had in building community.
Will you build in public?
Say hello on Twitter (@rrhoover) and visit Product Hunt and subscribe to follow along as I share its story and experiment with new ways of building in public.
This essay originally appeared on The Next Web.
I just spent an hour on Product Hunt, looking back at February’s hunts. I really should be working but couldn’t help myself. There are so many creative, useful products being built and while many of them are clearly not for me (e.g. Bellabeat, a pregnancy tracking application), I enjoy learning about them and chatting with its founders.
Here are a few of my favorite Product Hunt finds, posted this February:
Quickly add events to your calendar from any email, added by Michael Galpert
I describe Super.cc as an “invisible” product. When coordinating a meeting over email, simply cc “firstname.lastname@example.org” to automagically create a calendar invite with the stated day and time mentioned in the email. Although it only takes a few seconds to open Google Calendar and create an invite, many people (myself included) do this frequently enough that this slight annoyance has a meaningful impact on productivity. Super.cc is early and I’m anxious to see how its founder/CEO Michael Galpert and team make scheduling less painful. Please, help us! :)
Reading reimagined. Technology for faster communication, added by me!
Last year I asked the question, “If you could make just ONE thing more efficient, what would it be?" My answer: make communication and knowledge-transfer more efficient. This isn’t far off from Spritz's mission to, “change the way people read and make communication faster, easier, and more effective.” The speed-reading tech empowers people to read at 500+ words per minute and its demo inspires me to brainstorm ways it could be applied to our everyday lives.
Whatsapp-esque messaging app but open, cloudbased, encrypted, added by Adam Kazwell
My buddy, Kevin Li, recently pulled me into Telegram Messenger. Damn, it’s fast. I especially appreciate the muting and notification settings it provides, giving users the ability to modify notifications for private vs. group chats.
Build Realtime Search, added by Romain Dardour
Ahh, Algolia. I love you so much. The team approached me a few months ago with a functional demo of Product Hunt real-time search. They didn’t ask me first. They just did it. And as Maxime Salomon, product marketer at Algolia, describes, it’s better to show than tell. With that, instead of describing how awesome it is, you can check it out yourself here.
Cool stuff, huh? Take a peak at Product Hunt and share your favorites with me on Twitter (@rrhoover).
I’m a loyal Instacart customer. Not just because of the time it saves me restocking my fridge, but also for its fantastic customer support and personability.
Last week I ordered groceries from Instacart unaware that the streets outside my apartment were closed off for an event. The deliverer, Fernando, parked two blocks away, wheeling the heavy order to my door. I greeted him thankfully and returned to my computer to submit a review on Instacart’s website:
Fernando walked 2 blocks to my apt due to a street close off. Awesome. :)
Five minutes later, an Instacart employee replied:
Thanks for using Instacart and for letting us know more about your order!
Fernando is a phenomenal shopper and always going the extra mile.
I’ll be sure to pass along your complements.
We look forward to shopping with you in the future!
Companies often never acknowledge customer reviews unless they’re extremely negative. It feels good to know my thanks will be forwarded to Fernando and it only took Sam a few seconds to let me know.
When a delivery is running late (sometimes due to unexpected traffic jams or weather issues), Instacart emails an apology with an updated delivery time. But it doesn’t come from an automated system as you might expect. An Instacart employee (in this case, again my buddy, Sam) personally sends the message, opening a dialog if there are any further questions:
I want to apologize and let you know that we are running a bit late on your order today. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to arrive by 7:00-8:00pm but should be able to arrive by 8:00-8:30pm. I am really sorry for the inconvenience, please
Let me know if there is anything I can do for you!
In moments like this, small human touch can relieve frustration.
Several months ago I congratulated Instacart on their expansion to Chicago. Apoorva, Instacart’s CEO, quickly sent his regards through email, not Twitter as one would expect:
Hey Ryan - Thank you for being such a big fan of Instacart.
We really do appreciate it.
He took the extra effort to reach out via email to open a private dialog. We later met up to chat about product and brainstorm marketing ideas for Instacart.
Instacart faces heavy competition from Google Shopping Express and Amazon Local Express (Amazon just announced Dash, a hardware device to help customers order everyday items). In comparison, these tech giants are impersonal and feel unreachable. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ll continue to support Instacart and one of the competitive advantages small startups have against large incumbents.
If you’re up for it, subscribe to my email list and don’t hesitate to say hello on Twitter (@rrhoover).
Photo credit: certified su
In the inaugural episode of Product Hunt Radio (PHR), Shaan Puri and Furqan Rydhan joined me to geek out about product. We chat about the Bebo reacquisition, the backstory behind Monkey Inferno’s new video walkie talkie app, Blab, share our favorite Product Hunt discoveries, and brainstorm epic product ideas.
Listen to the embedded episode below and subscribe on Soundcloud.
- 00:00 - Intro to Monkey Inferno, Shaan, and Furqan
- 1:34 - Blabbing about Blab and Bebo
- 23:00 - Favorite Product Hunt Finds
- 34:02 - Billion $ Product Brainstorm
Related links and products mentioned:
Intro/outro music by eldienneproductions
Thanks all 65 of you for joining me at the first Product Hunt Live Founder AMA last Friday at the majestic Monkey Inferno (thanks for hosting!).
Shaan Puri gave us the backstory on the Bebo reacquisition and shared the inspiration for Monkey Inferno’s new video walkie talkie app, Blab.
Michael Galpert used virtual assistants to “MVP” his initial product which led to the stupid simple calendar scheduling service, Super.cc.
Sandi MacPherson shared her early, “unscalable” tactics growing Quibb (ask her about cranks!).
Jonathan Howard gave us a look into his diverse background from politics to gaming to now healthcare as the co-founder of Emissary.
Zack Shapiro told us about Luna and his ridiculous/awesome idea to own every rooftop in San Francisco.
Sorry to those that couldn’t snag a ticket before they sold out but hopefully these pics will alleviate the FOMO ;).
via Joe Mahavuthivanij
via Ryan Hoover
via Brenden Mulligan
via Brandon Waselnuk
via Lyle McKeany
Have questions for the founders? Check out the original AMA discussions on Product Hunt:
The man across from me waved his hand. “Excuse me,” he said for a second time. I looked up, removing my headphones.
"Yes?" I replied.
Sitting behind his laptop, the man asked, “What’s the WiFi password?”
"Oh, yeah! It’s ‘@capitalone360sf’" I gladly responded.
After he thanked me, we briefly bantered about the cafe’s terrible but cheap coffee and then reaffixed our eyes to our laptops. I put my headphones back on.
That Warm Fuzzy Feeling
My brief exchange with the fellow coffee shop camper made me smile. We all know that feeling.
That moment when you pause a few more seconds to hold the door open for an elderly woman.
That moment when you recover a dropped notebook from the overwhelmed clutches of a passerby.
That moment when you point tourists in the right direction.
These small signs of respect and appreciation may not be significant on their own but compounded over time, they can make the world a better place.
So how can we encourage more of these empathetic world? Can technology help?
Empathy in Technology
Can technology elicit these feelings of connectedness same feelings as the human interactions described above? Technology may appear soulless and impersonal on its silicon exterior but it has remarkable ability to elicit empathy and bring people together.
HandUp puts a face behind homelessness and charitable giving. Donors give money to specific individuals in need. Aaron needs dentures. Beth needs a winter coat. Chester needs money for school.
Anonymous secret-sharing app, Secret, contains lewd, offensive, and hateful content. But so do Facebook, forums, websites, and middle school hallways. Anything that empowers ideas and thoughts to spread (which is generally a great thing), will contain both love and hate.
Secret is a vehicle for empathy, empowering people to share things they’re too scared to expose elsewhere (like the image shared above).
Even products like Snapchat encourage more frequent, intimate communication with remote friends and family. Its photo-centric focus embodies more emotion and context than traditional text messaging which fails to translate the subtleties of face-to-face communication.
The question-and-answer app, Jelly, set out to make the world more empathetic. In an interview Jelly co-founder Biz Stone, shared the motivation behind the new venture:
Beyond being a very useful search engine, like I said before, it creates this circle of empathy, where people realize that “Oh, there’s other people who need my help and I can actually help them and they’ll feel good about it and they’ll get trained to thinking about helping other people. And, maybe that’ll even jump outside of the app and just into the real world and they’ll start looking around and helping people and wouldn’t that be great?
I’m cheering for you, Biz, and other entrepreneurs that use technology to make the world more empathic.
Empathy as a Strategy
Jelly has a long way to go to achieve its altruistic vision. While skeptics may discount Biz’s motivations as just marketing (and good marketing it is), the empathy he hopes to encourage isn’t entirely selfless.
Studies have shown that people are happier when giving gifts to others than when they make a purchase for themselves. Answers on Jelly are gifts, a token of attention given to another individual that may actually benefit the answerer more than the questioner.
Empathy is a core part of what makes Jelly and other empathy-inducing products compelling. We have an inherent desire to feel socially accepted. Millions of people use photo-sharing apps, play games, tweet, and blog for this feeling. Although these products may appear like distractions, they bring us closer together.
If you’re building a product, consider how you can evoke empathy to build a more compelling experience and make a positive change in the world.
Thoughts? Share them with me on Twitter (@rrhoover) and subscribe to receive more of my essays.
The other day I received this email from Buffer:
It’s a receipt for my monthly subscription. Instinctively, I opened the email, quickly glanced at the charge to verify the dollar amount, and archived it.
Later that day I reflected on that moment and thought, “What a missed opportunity.”
Every month Buffer’s email receipt captures the attention of (arguably) its most valuable users: its paying customers. But it’s wasted with a message that goes unnoticed. For a company intently focused on wow’ing its users, I think they can do better.
The email copy is friendly but it’s the same each time. Furthermore, does anyone read their receipts? I didn’t until writing this post. The receipt should be an extension of the brand and opportunity to delight customers.
Perhaps its monthly email receipts could look like this:
Buffer is very transparent and its team is the face of the brand. In this example, recipients get a glimpse into the lives of these people, exemplifying their dedication and appreciation of support.
Buffer sends 16,401 receipts each month. That’s 16,401 opportunities to inspire 16,401 smiles.
If your business sends receipts, consider how you can:
- Delight your customers with something unexpected
- Add variability to capture attention
- Reenforce your brand and become memorable
What do you think? Have you seen good examples of creative, delightful email receipts? Share with me on Twitter (@rrhoover) and if you’re up for it, subscribe for more of my essays (I won’t send you a receipt, though).
Photo taken from Joel’s Instagram.
A few weeks ago Clément Vouillon from SaaS Club, sent me this heart-warming email:
I’m @clemnt on Twitter, you’ve kindly proposed to feature SaaS Club on Product Hunt this week end! Just wanted to write you a little email with the results;
In one word: amazing!
Basically I was featured by Maxime saturday morning and from saturday until yesterday night 1008 people registered. Which is huge for me!
However it’s hard to tell exactly how many of them came directly from Product Hunt since quickly after I got “Hunted” somebody from the community shared SaaS Club on HN where we got 150 upvotes and spent some time on the home.
I got at least +400 direct registrations from PH
The 600 after I cannot be sure what is the % between HN and PH but it’s still awesome
I still consider that the +1000 were generated by PH since the HN post came from here. So in my view PH accounts for 100% of them: direct and indirect subscribers
From a qualitative POV I’ve received only positive feedback
Thanks again Ryan and keep up the good work!
Smiling, I responded:
You’ve put the biggest smile on my face this morning.
Products are often an offline, water cooler topic but there was no online community to geek out about products with smart folks. I wanted Product Hunt to exist for myself and I think we’ve achieved that initial goal. But the site and community has surpassed my initial selfish motivations to help startups and people like yourself, get early, deserved attention. I love it.
Glad to hear the people liked it and thanks for jumping into the discussion. :)
This isn’t just a self-promotional piece for Product Hunt. I share this conversation to express two things:
It’s incredibly motivating to work on something that genuinely helps people in their personal or professional lives. Beyond altruism, it encourages founders to preserver when things get hard. Nir Eyal has a fantastic piece on the morality of manipulation that everyone should read before starting or joining their next venture.
Small acts of appreciation can make someone’s day. We all use products that improve our lives in small and significant ways. Why not express your appreciation? Consider emailing or tweeting to the founders with your thanks.
Let’s have some fun and make a few people smile. Take 60 seconds to do this now:
Look at your phone’s homescreen.
Choose an app you love.
Search for the founder on Twitter. If they’re not on Twitter or too difficult to find, search for the company.
Tweet your appreciation and love of the product. The more personal and specific the better.
Feel good — you just made someone smile. :)
Feel free to subscribe to my essays or say hi on Twitter (@rrhoover).
Twitter is confusing. Early on, skeptics questioned, “What problem does it solve?” Even its founders couldn’t quite describe it, let alone foresee what it would become.
It wasn’t clear what [Twitter] was. They called it a social network, they called it microblogging, but it was hard to define, because it didn’t replace anything. There was this path of discovery with something like that, where over time you figure out what it is. - Ev Williams (source)
How can stupid sounding startups with untested ideas, become so successful?
"It sounded crazy. So we went with it."
Last month I met Abdur Chowdhury, ex-Summize/Twitter and now CEO of Pushd. He spent the last year and a half building a team and infrastructure for experimentation. They created three products and killed them all before launching publicly. With each one, they learn and invest in technology for their next idea. The small team of six are positioned to move quickly and accept that failure is progress as long as they learn.
Their latest product is an odd one. Abdur unabashedly admits it’s kind of crazy. They call it Gummy.
Gummy is a mobile app where users create Gummies, digital cards people pass to nearby friends. The app uses GPS and Bluetooth to deliver Gummies to friends only when they see each other.
Curiously, I asked where the idea came from. Abdur explained:
Me and the team sat in a room, brainstorming ideas. Then Ben [one of the mobile engineers on the team] suggested a concept around sticking pieces of media to friends and people in the real world. It was absurd. It sounded crazy. So we ran with it.
A week later, the team had the first version of the Gummy app.
They didn’t talk to people. They didn’t do market research. They didn’t create a landing page to see if people would enter their email. They just built it. For the past year, they invested in the team and technology to prioritize speed of iteration with disregard to traditional methods of customer development and company building.
Some Things Just Have to Exist First
As I’ve written about before, not all feedback is equal. Someone that proclaims interest in an imaginary product provides a far less reliable signal of true desire than a person that has attempted to build their own solution to the same problem. Furthermore, a paying customer is an even better indicator that they truly care. Feedback fidelity varies and matters a lot.
Lean methodology and the startup community at large, espouses customer interviews, landing page tests, concierge experiments, and other tactics for testing hypotheses and measuring demand before building a product. In many cases, this is good advice but sometimes it’s a waste of time or worse, directs entrepreneurs away from something truly great.
In Twitter’s case, no interview or experiment would have predicted its success, in fact it may have even deterred the founders from building it in the first place. Sometimes actual product usage is required for meaningful learning. This is often true of consumer products like Twitter, Snapchat, or Foursquare that introduce significant shifts in user behavior.
We like to think we act rationally, but we don’t, particularly when it comes to products driven by emotional needs. Like Twitter, Abdur and team can make intuitive assumptions but ultimately, actual user behavior will reveal if Gummy is a good or bad idea.
Unpredictability and Anti-Patterns
Late last year, Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures published a study on billion-dollar startups, partly in attempt to identify patterns in these wildly successful, “unicorns”. While some commonalities exist, their paths to success are diverse.
Humbly, the 14-year VC vet admitted the difficulty in picking winners. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Aileen. She shared Cowboy Ventures’ investment thesis and her approach to evaluating potential investments.
A few years ago, she met with the founding team of an early startup. The founders lacked the positive signals investors typically look for. Their pitch was unpolished, product vision unclear, they had little understanding of their metrics, and traction didn’t stand out from competitors. Aileen passed on the deal.
That startup is now valued at more than $4 billion.
Aileen and other wise investors rely on intuition and patterns when unicorn hunting, but at the end of the day, startups are by definition, unpredictable. If they weren’t, fewer startups would fail and investors would look like fortune tellers. While best practices exist, most startups fail and some of the most successful are outliers, built on anti-patterns.
WhatsApp, recently acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in cash and stock options, challenged traditional Silicon Valley logic. Semil Shah wisely articulated the risk of hive mind thinking in his recent piece about the wildly successful messaging app:
Silicon Valley and the tech world at large are filled with a variety of conventions. These conventions are now created, captured, and shared ad nauseam disguised as blog posts, tweets with links, and countless message boards. The benefit of such a canon is we all have access to a rich repository of knowledge — the cost, however, is we all, perhaps unwittingly, are exposed to the same suite of playbooks, which contain the same conventions, which could, if we’re not paying close attention, and especially when amplified in an echo chamber, trick us into believing a certain reality which, in turn, script our actions and lives down a path of predictability, or worse, mediocrity.
Abdur and the team are far from naive. They’re very aware that Gummy probably won’t work - at least not in its initial form.
Honestly and humbly, Abdur shared a number of reasons why Gummy is a bad idea but still worth doing:
Changing the way people think about their encounters and having forethought about someone is good. Technology that makes us see others and be more compassionate is really cool. While this product probably won’t work, creating things that are new, novel and make you think of others are worth trying out.
I respect that.
Abdur’s passion and belief in his team, coupled with an understanding that meaningful learning must come from actual user behavior, is what sets them apart.
Conventional “best practices” and ways of thinking may not be right for your startup. The most innovative entrepreneurs often go against traditional wisdom. Consider the input of experienced entrepreneurs, learn from their successes and failures, but realize there’s no right way to startup.
What do you think? Let me know on Twitter (@rrhoover) and if you’d like to receive more of my essays, subscribe.
Photo credit: Josh Elman’s “Three Growth Hacks” presentation
This essay first appeared on The Next Web.