words on the internet

i'm will dennis. these are my movie reviews and thoughts. i don't proofread before publishing so forgive the editing or lack thereof

Tag: hollerback

How to Talk About Design

I watched a talk yesterday by Ryan Singer, design guru of 37 Signals. The talk has a bunch of great points, but one struck me in particular – his description of how to qualify effective design.

Effective design is a lack of friction.

I love this definition because it fully captures the iterative process of design and the trade offs that come with iteration. The best part is that it doesn’t rely on “designery” language.

It’s not just a great definition, but it’s a great way to tackle design problems and opportunities.

Designs can always be better if there is friction in the system. That’s why iteration is necessary. Finding the best design is often a process of designing then using then designing then using. Using your product allows you to find friction. Design allows you to eliminate it. It’s tricky because eliminating friction in one area can introduce it in another. That is what makes design so fun and challenging.

If you’re able to kill friction without introducing it elsewhere in the system then you’re on your way to a great design.

“Friction” is just so much more tangible and human than terms like simplicity, aesthetic, design, feel, or ux. Simplicity and aesthetic result from an absence of friction – I don’t think they drive effective design in and of themselves.

Our understanding of friction as a word and a feeling is basic, it’s human. Your mom can feel friction just like a designer can feel friction.

We have frequent field tests at Hollerback where the entire team goes out and uses the app for a few hours. When we come back, we discuss bugs and potential UX improvements. The UX part of the discussion was good, but hard to nail down exactly what UX was.

From now on we’ll be using points of friction as the focus of our discussion. I look forward to seeing if it pushes our design and product in a more effective, delightful direction.

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Why We’re Not Hyping Our Launch

We’re launching our app Hollerback in a few weeks and with any new app or site launch there’s an interesting question: To hype or not to hype?

By hype I mean launching with press, tweets from influencers, marketing, promotion, getting featured on the app store, etc. The full-on “our app is the next big thing” hustle out of the gate. Of course, the goal of launch hype is to get people so excited about your app that there will be a rush to download it and you’ll shoot up the app store charts. Hell, maybe even buy some downloads and juice the charts and make it seem legit?

From there, users will be in love with the app, the thinking goes. It will live up to the hype. All will be grand. “Bring me a goblet of wine and the head of a pig!” we’ll say. Valuations will rise. Riches will follow. Universes will be dented.

If we time everything just so and the product and viral loops hit just right, we’ll just take off! All we need is some launch press and buzz.

It’s tempting. But we’ve decided not to do it. Here’s why.

Growth vs Engagement

Some might think hype increases user numbers and therefore makes fundraising easier. While hype does lead to larger early user numbers, it will hurt your percentage of daily and monthly active users because people are just checking it out rather than sticking around. Savvy investors look to more than raw user or download numbers.

You can raise a seed round with either of two metrics: user engagement or user growth. Engagement is a factor of the product while growth is a factor of time and money. Products are hard to get people to use. Contrastingly, time and money are just resources (and what investors are good at providing). If either metric is looking great, you can make a strong case for your product’s viability and future promise.

Growth can accelerate with time (and marketing) if real engagement is there. While there are varying schools of thought, our perspective is that engagement can promote growth but growth itself does little for an individual user’s engagement.

Accordingly, we’re optimizing for early engagement over early growth.

Hype only has downside 

The unfortunate truth is that hype doesn’t make products succeed. We all know that. Too much hype makes great products seem good and average products seem terrible. There are graveyards full of companies because press and friends exclaim the product “didn’t live up to the hype” and was correspondingly discarded.

And therein lies the true problem with hype: Hype kills evangelists. Hype turns product-loving early adopters into jaded skeptics. It turns users from curious explorers to jurors deciding a verdict.

This app raised how much money? Pssh. It’s not that well designed.

Their investors are who? Hmm. It’s kind of buggy.

Their cofounder is who? Huh. Idea seems played out.

Really, the last thing a start up needs to do is set a bar of expectation too high for itself. Start ups are already under-resourced and in most cases under executing on one or several fronts. Even the best new companies have to simplify the user experience considerably for their first version.

Hedge your product bet

Here’s the argument for going hype-less for initial release:

If your product hits with your demographic out of the gate, phenomenal! Start marketing it. Start spreading the word as aggressively as possible. Start running.

However, if it turns out there are a few kinks to work out, you’ve saved some public scrutiny and avoided bad user experiences. No one knows about your app. No one cares about your app. You still have a largely fresh slate with the early adopter community. It’s all (relatively) still good.

When you don’t impress your early users with the product, you can impress them with your customer service and feature improvements. You can build relationships with your early users (because there will only be a few) and turn them into future evangelists.

The beauty of waiting for your product to gain some traction before marketing is that you already have a core user base. Not only is this important for word of mouth, it’s important for your company to internally know that you’re building the right thing. It can set your direction. It’s honest usage that’s not diluted by drive-by downloads.

Focus on getting your product to level “Wow”

It’s incredibly difficult to make products that make people say “wow.” It takes time, feedback, and tweaking. Doing all that behind closed doors, or even with a group of testers, is extremely risky. Instead, focus on getting something shipped that early adopters (for your market) are going to use and potentially love.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be pushing to make great product from day one, it just may take some time. By the time it tips past early adopters, it should be surprisingly great. When something is surprisingly great, people will talk about it. They will become advocates for the experience and the product. They will be your evangelists.

Most importantly, they’ll explain to their normal friends why they should use the app. That’s when your product had potential to go from tech app to cultural force. That’s when you can demand your goblet of wine!

Focus on getting your product to “wow” and hopefully your users will be all the hype you need.

As I mentioned, we’re releasing Hollerback in a few weeks. 

When we do, we won’t be buying downloads to climb the charts and we won’t be announcing it on Techcrunch. You probably won’t see any “influencers” tweeting about it for awhile. 

We do think it’s an experience that will make you say “wow.” But before we market it, we want to prove people are excited about what we’ve built first.

So if you’re a lover of technology and experimental new apps, we’d love to have you try Hollerback when it’s ready. It’s like a party on your phone. 

Leave us your email here: www.hollerback.co 

 

Don’t Forget to Talk

When working on a technology start up, much of your day is comprised in silence, clicking away at a computer. Whether you’re an engineer writing code, a designer working in Photoshop, or a marketer firing off emails, it’s easy to go hours, or even an entire day, without having a business-focused conversation with your peers.

Especially with the “meetings are a waste of time” stigma floating around, it’s easy for start ups to become companies that only consist of two actions: deciding and implementing.

Decide. Execute. Repeat.

A crucial component to the creative process of product creation can be overlooked. Talking about the problem you’re solving in a free-flowing, organic discourse is often strewn by the wayside. It’s discarded as inefficient.

In our experience building Hollerback, some of the best ideas have come out of impromptu discussions. These discussions weren’t spawned out of a need for a decision. They were  one person electing to talk to another about a problem or idea. Whether it was pertaining to code, branding, distribution, or design,  speaking out loud to someone often brings new ideas into the mix.

Some of our best product decisions, and perhaps those that truly matter, have come out of healthy spoken discourse.

I’m now conscious of the power of spontaneous conversations and careful not to dismiss them as inefficient.

Embrace the unguided train of thought – sometimes it can lead to a creative opportunity or solution that can’t be found in silence.

Burn Your [Product] Ships

burn your product ships

When the Spanish explorer Cortez landed on the shores of modern Mexico, story has it that he burned his ships to ensure they were “All In” on their conquest. This is a beautiful metaphor for building software products.

Many tout the benefits of both iteration and simplicity. The problem is that to iterate and preserve simplicity, features have to be cut. You have to burn your ships that got you to where you are. There is no turning back.

This can be tricky.  You have to kill the features that individual developers and designers had personal relationships with, features that took careful planning and months to develop. They have to be swiftly killed.

It’s the right choice. If they’re not on the critical path to your best user experience, they have no business seeing the light of day.

It’s tempting to keep that one cool feature, to leave that one option in the settings, to leave a little bit of product flexibility in case users want to do Y and Z in addition to X.

But remember – users will actually use the features you give them. If you include features that are “good” but not “great,” some percentage of your users will experience your product as good and not great. Only great products survive.

Make bold and specific user experience choices, let them ripple though your product, and kill the features that are tangential.

By focusing on only one core experience, you have no choice but to make that the best in its class.

You have no choice because there’s no going back. You’ve burned your ships.

 

Don’t Ask Users to Bring the Beer

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Your app is a party. It’s great. You know that. Unfortunately, users don’t.

Accordingly, your app’s first-time user experience needs to act like an invite to the party. You want to drum up excitement, give guests a taste of what to expect, and provide key details so they can prepare to have as much fun as possible.

A succesful party invite gets people interested enough to commit their time to your party. An app’s onboarding experience is no different.

Imagine getting this party invite:

Dear Guest,

Please bring beer. We have a lot of awesome things planned, but to be honest this party is going to be super lame without beer.

Once you’ve bought the beer, you’ll see what I mean.

Thanks!

-Shitty Host

So many apps start their onboarding process with “Invite Your Friends!” – the new-user equivalent of “Please bring beer.”

This is an awful approach to product onboarding, not to mention user growth. You’re putting a lot of the responsibility on a user who can’t properly be an advocate for your service. In addition, many services aren’t significantly improved with friends. “Invite your friends” comes off as a thinly veiled effort to fuel an app’s user numbers.

If you’re looking to build your user base, don’t focus on invites from first time users. Instead, show users the core value of what you’ve built. Give them a taste of the experience. Ideally, boil down your app to the “Ah-Ha” moment. Get the user to that point as soon as possible.(Even before signup if possible).

Product walkthroughs and tutorials, though common, aren’t successful onboarding strategies. They’re boring and have no “Ah-Ha” moments.

Aside: An “Ah-Ha” moment is a single occurence of your app’s core value. It solves the user’s problem. Often it is dependant on a user taking some action. Ah-Ha moments release dopamine and should be the main cornerstone of your product’s user experience. When looking to improve product, think about increasing the speed to and frequency of Ah-Ha moments.

If your app relies heavily on network effects (and the corresponding “empty room” problem), craft a unique onboarding experience that hacks the Ah-Ha moment. Create fake users, manually generate content, make a “single-player mode.” If the onboarding process doesn’t mimic the full in-app experience 100%, that’s OK. It probably shouldn’t.

Any good app gets users to the Ah-Ha moment during onboarding just like any good party has a well crafted invite. Focus on getting users to have an Ah-Ha moment and RSVP to your party. If they’re a good guest, they’ll show up with friends and a six pack of cold ones.


If you want to see how we handle the onboarding process, sign up for early access to our app Hollerback.

Let me know if I can be helpful.

will@hollerback.co // @willydennis