Get Crispy

When hard decisions need to be made, a generic purpose statement is useless.

Today I sat in on two corporate functions. I won’t give out names, so let’s call them by their first letter: M and Ü.

Both companies pitched their positioning “Purpose Statement”. The primary goals of a purpose statement are:

  • to help align team focus, and
  • to guide decision making (especially during hard times)

Here is M’s purpose:

“We power people to live their best lives.”

Here is Ü’s purpose:

“Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere, for everyone.”

You might have guessed by now who Ü is.

M, on the other hand, is a complete mystery. Their mission could be (and often is) applied to just about any business.

Their purpose statement utterly fails in its goal, because it’s far too broad. With this purpose, I can justify doing almost anything. When hard decisions need to be made, a generic, unspecific purpose statement is vague and useless.

Ü, on the other hand, has deftly navigated troubled waters, because it remains focused on a very specific point on the horizon.

We need our purpose to be crisp and precise. It should be relevant specifically to our business.

Could your company’s purpose be crispier?

Find Your Game

Of course they’re out of your league! They’re not even playing the same game!

Today I had a meeting in the most corporate part of Brisbane city. Tomorrow, I’m in Sydney, meeting in the offices of bankers, architects, and insurers.

As I passed yet another grey suit in the street, a thought crossed my mind:

“These corporate business types are way out of my league.”

But, after some consideration, I realised I was making a false assumption. To extend the sporting analogy: Of course they’re out of my league! They’re not even playing the same game!

This simple realisation allowed me to walk on past the constant stream of jackets and ties with a smile, wishing them the best of success.

My game isn’t law or finance. My game is innovation, emerging tech, and Product.

What’s yours?

Tangible and Social

In our ultra-connected, hi-fidelity world, the vinyl trend seems out of place. What drives interest in such an outdated format?

I’ve just spent the last 20 minutes poking through vinyls in a record store.

Despite modern music streaming services like Spotify and iTunes, vinyl record sales are booming, reaching $11.5 billion in 2015. That’s almost double what they made in 2013.

In our ultra-connected, hi-fidelity world, the vinyl trend seems out of place. What’s driving the interest in such an outdated format?

I believe there are two reasons: Vinyl is tactile, and vinyl is social.

There’s something visceral about holding the large square of cardboard, smelling the musky scent of old plastic, feeling the grooves in the wax. This tactile sensation is becoming rarer as the world becomes more digital.

No social media experience can compare to a group of friends choosing a record, and sitting together to hear it. Yesterday I lay on the floor with my son listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. We could have done the same with Spotify, but never would have. Vinyl brings people into the same room – another social sensation which is becoming rarer.

What would it look like if we took these two principles (perhaps we could even call them basic needs?) and applied them to our product?

Mailchimp giveaway a toy mascot (Freddie) to their devoted user base. Unique and interesting swag is one way of making your web-app more tangible. How could you literally get your software in the hands of your users?

Gimlet Media host events where people can meet the hosts of their podcasts in person. Conference booths, launch parties, and training days can all bring your users together into the same room. How could you literally bring your product’s community together?

Getting Serious

Serious products have a very clear purpose. The player is moved along a narrative from Point A to Point B.

Have you ever played a “Serious Game”? The term refers to a video game which has been designed for a purpose other than entertainment.

Some of the “serious” games I’ve played explore themes like depression, ageing, innovation, empathy, and of course, education. Serious matters.

Serious games have a very clear purpose, and every single element of the game is designed to achieve this purpose. For example, if the goal is for a player to recognise the warning signs of occupational burnout, interactions will revolve around long-hours, anxiety, and sleep. The player is moved along a narrative from Point A to Point B.

We can use this same approach to create a user-flow “narrative” in our Products. What are our “serious” objectives? Who are our players, and where is their Point A and Point B?

Dishonesty by Omission

We must endeavour to be more transparent about our revenue sources.

Dishonesty is easy. Dishonesty by omission is even easier.

Sometimes, dishonesty disguises itself as innovation. For example, Google is dishonest about the user data it collects. This crafty monetisation strategy is easy to justify: Free Search, Better AI, etc. But it’s still dishonest, and it leaves a bad taste.

Facebook is another example of deceptive innovation, trading your privacy for profit. They’ve built an amazing product, but at what cost?

Apple understands this principle. Since they don’t compete in the big-data arena, they can uniquely offer their products as more private. They advertise this, knowing that privacy influences buying decisions.

User awareness of these ethically-grey practices is growing. As a result, there now exists a “Free-Pause” – a hesitation while our audience asks what’s in it for you?

There’s no need to throw away big-data innovations, but we must commit to being more transparent with our customers about how we make money.

How can you to set your audience’s cynical minds at ease?

Paper and Pen

Shift your brain from good-idea mode, to get-it-done mode.

Today I signed a contract to purchase land and build a house.

The very act of signing a contract, putting pen to paper, creates a mental shift. The brain shifts from good-idea mode, to get-it-done mode. Putting a commitment in ink creates a sense of imminence.

Writing it down makes it real.

Digital roadmaps and PDF contracts don’t quite cut it. If we are committed to shipping our Products, then we must find a blank piece of paper, then write down our goals and responsibilities.

What mid-to-long term project, sprint, or deadline are you working toward?

Sign it, date it, and frame it.

What next?

Your Product is built, your audience is engaged, and everything is sailing smoothly. What next?

We’ve all heard the pithy maxim “Do one thing, and do it well”.

This “Unix Philosophy” was invented by Ken Thompson in the context of modular software development. Later it was famously repurposed by Steve Jobs with a broader application.

Today, we apply this principle to lean Product Management. We aim to create Products that do one thing, really well.

So, when our Product is built, and our audience is engaged, and everything is sailing smoothly, we can be left wondering… “What next?”

One answer is to keep building more and more features, leaving our original lean intent behind. Another option:

Do the same thing, do it well, for someone else.

Take out your Business Model Canvas, and rethink your Customer Segment. You can repurpose your existing work, leverage your success, and create a whole new revenue stream with very little investment.

What are the use cases for your Product that you’ve intentionally avoided, which could open new revenue opportunities? Who are the people you have yet to reach?

Momentum

How do you transform an idea into a product? Open your calendar.

I had a conversation with a close friend today. While we talked, a product idea surfaced. The more we explored the possibilities around this idea, the more excited we became.

This experience happens to everyone, frequently. But most of the time, that’s where the idea stops. Nobody is sure of the next steps, and even if you were, nobody thinks they have enough time, anyway.

So, what’s the next step for transforming an idea into a product?

Traditional Product Management might tell you to Validate your idea. That’s terrible advice. Validation this early only serves as a means of letting negativity and pessimism end your product before it started.

No! Trust your instinct. Back yourself. Worry about validation later.

A better first step is to open your calendar. Find just one day in which you can cancel all your other meetings, take the day off work, and create a prototype or MVP.

When that day is done, you’ll have a number of things: something visual, something usable, something to demo, something to validate. But more importantly, you’ll have momentum.

Colour and Meaning

The best names use metaphor to allow both colour and meaning.

Choosing a product name is hard. There are two schools of thought:

  1. Spend time finding the right name, it should be memorable, unique and descriptive. Your URL should be easy to remember.
  2. Name isn’t important. Your brand builds its own meaning over time. Choose the first random words that come to mind. Any domain will do.

I’d suggest that these are both right.

Your name is important. Your brand does build its own meaning over time. Your name should be memorable, but only needs to be unique in your niche. Finding a good URL can be helpful, but isn’t that important.

Should your brand be descriptive, like Meetup.com, GitHub, or iPhone?

Or, should your brand be random, like Gimlet, Apple, or Drupal?

I believe the best names are a mix of both. They use metaphor to allow both colour and meaning. Consider:

  • Google – A googol is a huge number, a metaphor for the amount of results.
  • Amazon – The largest river in the world, just like the online store.
  • Basecamp – An area used for staging a long climb, or your project.

Find a metaphor for your product, and from that, find a word which is short and memorable. You’ll figure out a domain name that works.

A Smile, and Nod

Creating community within our Products doesn’t need to be a fully fledged social chat. All you need is a smile.

One of my favourite ways to start the day is with a quick dip in the surf.

Every morning I’m on the beach I see the same people. We don’t really talk much, nothing more than a smile and a knowing nod, but seeing them there helps me feel like I’m part of a small community of early-morning beachgoers.

Likewise, creating communities for our Products doesn’t need to be a fully fledged forum or social chat. All it needs is a smile and a nod.

This might take the form of a high score list, featuring profile pictures in appropriate places, or simple emoji reactions.

How can you enable your users to cross paths?