- EP245 Downloads — class materials from the Udacity “How to Build a Startup” course.
- scrz.io — easy container deployment.
- The Factoring Dead: Preparing for the Cryptopocalypse — how RSA and Diffie-Helman crypto might be useless in the next few years.
- How to Design Programs — 2ed text is a work-in-progress.
Startups Class, Container Deployment, Cryptopocalypse, and Program Design
Understanding the Difference Between User Problems, Business Needs, and Solutions
First, let me say that I love all the emphasis on Customer Development, Early User Research, and Product Market Fit that I’ve been seeing these days. What I don’t love is the massive confusion that often comes along with it.
There’s a particular type of confusion I’ve seen on teams at the very beginning of the product development process that I’d like to try to clear up. Or possibly add to. We’ll see.
Some people don’t seem to understand the difference between a Business Need, a User Problem, and a Solution. But you have to understand the difference, because if you don’t, you’ll end up doing the wrong sort of research and designing the wrong product.
A Business Need
At its very simplest, a Business Need is what a product will do for your company. This can often be expressed in the form of a metric that needs to be moved or a hypothesis about how building a new feature or product will make you a billionaire.
Here are some examples of business needs:
- Improve the conversion rate on a landing page so that we get more people trying our product.
- Increase revenue by selling more widgets.
- Get more registered users for free by getting our current users to share our product.
- Increase engagement with our product so that people are more likely to be retained users.
- Build a huge user base so that we can eventually monetize it.
What’s interesting about these Business Needs? Well, in one way or another, all of these things, if executed correctly, should eventually increase our revenue or decrease our spend. We need to do these things to have a viable business. But there are all sorts of ways to do them, some of which are great for users and others that aren’t.
To identify a business need, typically you’re going to want quantitative data. You need to know what your metrics are in order to figure out which ones need to be higher. You don’t determine a business need by talking to users.
Obviously business needs might be caused by user problems. For example, if your onboarding process is hard to use, you could have low conversion rates. But the business need is increasing the conversion rate, which you might do in a number of different ways.
A User Problem
Your users have problems. Some of the problems they’ll pay you to solve for them. Some of the problems you’re probably causing for them with your terrible UX. Some of the problems they don’t even know they have.
Here are a few examples of user problems:
- It’s hard to share documents across different computers.
- The first time experience with a particular product is confusing and complicated.
- The user can’t use an app when it’s not connected to the Internet.
- A person has trouble finding a good hair salon in her area and booking an appointment.
You’ll note that these user problems are all quite different. The first one inspired lots of companies, like DropBox. The second one is common to many products. The third one is mobile specific. The fourth one could be solved by a number of different types of products, some of which are quite low tech. There are roughly an infinite number of other user problems that could exist.
The common factor here is that these are problems experienced by humans. The other common factor is that there is no guarantee that solving a user problem will actually fulfill a business need. Sure, solving problems for people is generally a good thing, but there are some user problems that people will pay you to solve and others that they won’t.
To identify a user problem, your best bet is observational and generative research. Watch people in the wild using your product or other products. Follow people around while they perform various tasks or do their jobs. Understand the things that make life difficult for people and then identify the biggest, most important problems that you could solve for them.
A solution, as the name implies, is how you solve a problem. Ideally, your solution will solve a user problem which will fix a business need.
Here are a few examples of solutions: Read more…
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” —Samuel Beckett
Entrepreneurial success hinges in large part on a founder’s mastery of psychology. This requires the ability to manage one’s responses to what Ben Horowitz calls “The Struggle,” that is, the emotional roller coaster of startup life. Paul DeJoe captures the ups and downs of being a startup CEO in a post reprinted in a book that I edited, Managing Startups: Best Blog Posts.
It’s all in a founder’s head: the drive to build something great; the resilience to dust yourself off when you repeatedly get knocked down; the passion powering a Reality Distortion Field that mesmerizes potential teammates, investors, and partners. But inside a founder’s head may also be delusional arrogance; an overly impulsive “ready-fire-aim” bias for action; a preoccupation with control; fear of failure; and self-doubt fueling the impostor syndrome. That’s why VC-turned-founder-coach Jerry Colonna named his blog The Monster in Your Head. In a recent interview with Jason Calacanis, Colonna does a nice job of summarizing some of the psychological challenges confronting entrepreneurs. So does a classic article by the psychoanalyst Manfred Kets de Vries: “The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship.”
User research you can do now
There’s a lot of advice about how to do great user research. I have some pretty strong opinions about it myself.
But, as with exercise, the best kind of research is the kind that you actually DO.
So, in the interests of getting some good feedback from your users right now, I have some suggestions for Tiny Tests. These are types of research that you could do right this second with very little preparation on your part.
What is a Tiny Test?
Tiny Tests do not take a lot of time. They don’t take a lot of money. All they take is a commitment to learning something from your users today.
Pick a Tiny Test that applies to your product and get out and run one right now. Oh, ok. You can wait until you finish the post.
Dozens of companies now exist that allow you to run an unmoderated test in a few minutes. I’ve used UserTesting.com many times and gotten some great results really quickly. I’ve also heard good things about Loop11 and several others, so feel free to pick the one that you like best.
Positive Copyright Coalition, Programmable World, Clever Inventors Interviewed, and Weighty Words
- Our Fair Deal — international coalition (EFF, InternetNZ, Demand Progress, Creative Freedom Foundation, many others) raising awareness and petitioning lawmakers to reject copyright proposals that restrict the open Internet, access to knowledge, economic opportunity and our fundamental rights. (via Susan Chalmers)
- Welcome to the Programmable World (Wired) — For the Programmable World to reach its full potential, we need to pass through three stages. The first is simply the act of getting more devices onto the network—more sensors, more processors in everyday objects, more wireless hookups to extract data from the processors that already exist. The second is to make those devices rely on one another, coordinating their actions to carry out simple tasks without any human intervention. The third and final stage, once connected things become ubiquitous, is to understand them as a system to be programmed, a bona fide platform that can run software in much the same manner that a computer or smartphone can. (via Sacha Judd)
- Inventables On The Road (YouTube) — new series where the Inventables folks interview their customers to show awesome projects. We’re trying to demystify the process of digital fabrication, give some visibility to people working on interesting things, and have some fun.
- Psychological Pitfalls and Lessons of a Designer Founder (Aza Raskin) — You are a founder, which means each word you say lands like an anvil. Even in a very small company, and especially in a larger one, it takes fortitude and courage for a team member to honestly critique your work. The courage required isn’t a one-time cost. It’s incurred every single time. By nature of being a founder, you are used to saying things with charisma and force and you will undoubtedly be excited by your solution and argue for it. This just makes it worse. A final note: it doesn’t matter how nice you are, or how close you are to your team. As a founder, your words are always more powerful than you think.
China Threat, China Opportunity, Open Source Sustainability, and SQL for Cohort Analysis
- China = 41% of World’s Internet Attack Traffic (Bloomberg) — numbers are from Akamai’s research. Verizon Communications said in a separate report that China accounted for 96 percent of all global espionage cases it investigated. One interpretation is that China is a rogue Internet state, but another is that we need to harden up our systems. (via ZD Net)
- Open Source Cannot Live on Donations Alone — excellent summary of some of the sustainability questions facing open source projects.
- China Startups: The Gold Rush (Steve Blank) — dense fact- and insight-filled piece. Not only is the Chinese ecosystem completely different but also the consumer demographics and user expectations are equally unique. 70% of Chinese Internet users are under 30. Instead of email, they’ve grown up with QQ instant messages. They’re used to using the web and increasingly the mobile web for everything, commerce, communication, games, etc. (They also probably haven’t seen a phone that isn’t mobile.) By the end of 2012, there were 85 million iOS and 160 million Android devices in China. And they were increasing at an aggregate 33 million IOS and Android activations per month.
- Calculating Rolling Cohort Retention with SQL — just what it says. (via Max Lynch)
Massive Security Problems, Hardware Locks, Closed Libraries, and Entrepreneurial Chaos in Detroit
- Information Security Breaches 2013 Report (UK Gov) — over 80% of small UK firms reported a breach, and over 90% of large. (via The Register)
- Google Glass Forbids Resales (Wired) — leaving aside the braying naysayers with their “GLASS WILL DESTROY THE SOCIAL FABRIC AND OUR ESSENTIAL HUMANITY”, there’s a valid point about software being used to control what users do with their devices. Given that this run of Glass is limited edition and they’ve hand-picked to whom they go and for what reason, Ed from Philadelphia is both greedy and naive if he believes Google’s letting him buy a pair to resell on eBay.
- Locked Stacks — As the British Library makes a glacially paced transition from being an analog behemoth to being a digitized one, an opportunity arises to lower the institution’s ivory tower-like walls and to create extensive access to its impressive catalog. The only problems, of course, are a lack of money and the currently insurmountable problem of UK copyright law.
- Young Community Entrepreneurs Rebuilding Detroit (Fast Company) — from information-sharing real estate ventures to transportation startups and doomsday clocks to see how close the city is to bankruptcy, it’s a crazy world out there. Should be easy for them: Detroit comes pre-disrupted.
Hardware is back and makers are driving it. Here are some of the signals.
Chris Anderson wrote Makers and went from editor-in-chief of Wired to CEO of 3D Robotics, making his hobby his side job and then making it his main job.
A new executive at Motorola Mobility, a division of Google, said that Google seeks to “googlify” hardware. By that he meant that devices would be inexpensive, if not free, and that the data created or accessed by them would be open. Motorola wants to build a truly hackable cellphone, one that makers might have ideas about what to do with it.
Regular hardware startup meetups, which started in San Francisco and New York, are now held in Boston, Pittsburgh, Austin, Chicago, Dallas and Detroit. I’m sure there are other American cities. Melbourne, Stockholm and Toronto are also organizing hardware meetups. Hardware entrepreneurs want to find each other and learn from each other.
Hardware-oriented incubators and accelerators are launching on both coasts in America, and in China.
The market for personal 3D printers and 3D printing services has really taken off. 3D printer startups continue to launch, and all of them seem to have trouble keeping up with demand. MakerBot is out raising money. Shapeways raised $30 million in a new round of financing announced this week.
Wikileaks Code, Account Afterlife, Digital in Museums, and Companies and Conferences
- Wikileaks ProjectK Code (Github) — open-sourced map and graph modules behind the Wikileaks code serving Kissinger-era cables. (via Journalism++)
- Plan Your Digital Afterlife With Inactive Account Manager — you can choose to have your data deleted — after three, six, nine or 12 months of inactivity. Or you can select trusted contacts to receive data from some or all of the following services: +1s; Blogger; Contacts and Circles; Drive; Gmail; Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams; Picasa Web Albums; Google Voice and YouTube. Before our systems take any action, we’ll first warn you by sending a text message to your cellphone and email to the secondary address you’ve provided. (via Chris Heathcote)
- Leo Caillard: Art Games — Caillard’s images show museum patrons interacting with priceless paintings the way someone might browse through slides in a personal iTunes library on a device like an iPhone or MacBook. Playful and thought-provoking. (via Beta Knowledge)
- Lanyrd Pro — helping companies keep track of which events their engineers speak at, so they can avoid duplication and have maximum opportunity to promote it. First paid product from ETecher and Foo Simon Willison’s startup.
- A Quantitative Literary History of 2,958 Nineteenth-Century British Novels: The Semantic Cohort Method (PDF) — This project was simultaneously an experiment in developing quantitative and computational methods for tracing changes in literary language. We wanted to see how far quantifiable features such as word usage could be pushed toward the investigation of literary history. Could we leverage quantitative methods in ways that respect the nuance and complexity we value in the humanities? To this end, we present a second set of results, the techniques and methodological lessons gained in the course of designing and running this project. Even litcrit becoming a data game.
- Easy6502 — get started writing 6502 assembly language. Fun way to get started with low-level coding.
- How Analytics Really Work at a Small Startup (Pete Warden) — The key for us is that we’re using the information we get primarily for decision-making (should we build out feature X?) rather than optimization (how can we improve feature X?). Nice rundown of tools and systems he uses, with plug for KissMetrics.