What can you be the best in the world at?

And what can you not?

In a recent chat with a good friend of mine, we discussed the fantastic book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. The key focus for us was assessing what you’re great at, and what you’re merely good at.

We took some time to each go through areas of our businesses, asking each other where we believed we could truly be “best in the world”.

At first, my desire was to say "yes" to multiple suggestions – "sure, yeah we can be the best in the world at that!", and "yeah, we can be the best in the world at that too!"

But you can't be the best in the world at many things* – and the more "things" you try to be the best in the world at, the lower your chances of being best at any of them.

To build a world-class, truly successful business, choose what you want to be the best in the world at. And stop spreading your energy thinly across the stuff you're merely "good" at.

* We focused primarily on features and product areas when discussing what we were great or not great at. On reflection, I think it'd be more useful to focus on the customer-focused solutions and use cases – or the "jobs" your product is hired for – than the features themselves here. Focusing too much on a specific feature can lead you down a narrow and dangerous path and ignore the true requirements and desires of the customer.

Have a nice day!

Walking to work the other day, my route crossed paths with that of a bin lorry doing its rounds.

I saw the guys moving a bin back to the building where they took it from – a heavy, dirty thing that most people wouldn’t dare go near.

When I stopped to let them go across my path I was pleasantly surprised to be met with “no sir, after you!”

I said thanks and the same man replied with “have a good day, sir, thank you!”

Perhaps I’ve been living city life for too long but I didn’t expect such manners, and such kindness from a stranger – let alone a man focused on collecting and emptying bins.

It’s not that I’d expect someone who empties bins to be rude – it’s that as a profession it’s not traditionally focused around exceptional service.

The exchange put a smile on my face and I found myself walking to work with a spring in my step.

When was the last time you were kind without any expectation of a reward? What opportunities do you have to brighten someone’s day?

I’m trying to be more like the bin man – be polite, be kind, and don’t expect an instant reward.

Instead, enjoy the the feeling that you’re making someone else’s day a little better.

What Starbucks can teach us about consumer behaviour

“A tall skinny macchiato with syrup and 4 shots please.”

On a recent visit to Starbucks I spent some time watching and listening as customers flowed in, collected their drinks, and left to head to their busy work days ahead.

One gentleman walked in and if I had to guess I’d have put him as a standard cappuccino kinda guy. But I was wrong – instead he asked for a tall skinny macchiato with syrup and 4 shots.

I always enjoy people watching, but after hearing a few orders – even within the rush hour in the centre of London in a coffee shop – something blindingly obvious struck me: people can be so very different from each other.

It’s pretty obvious when you think of anywhere that has a menu as extensive as Starbucks, but it made me reflect on assumptions we often make throughout the day when running a business.

It’s easy to think people are “like you”. And it’s easy to think “no one would do that!” Or “why would anyone ever ever want that?!”

Figuring out what people want doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hold a bunch of user groups or feedback sessions or do extensive research.

Sometimes all you need is a reminder – get out of the building and just watch the world go by for 10 minutes.

Starbucks is a great place to observe consumer behaviour in all its wonder.

Jump in at the deep end

I was in central London doing some last minute shopping today, and I debated getting the Tube back with all my bags, or being lazy and jumping in an Uber.

It's been a knackering week, so I opted for the Uber.

But I'm so glad I made this choice – I ended up having an extensive chat with the driver who had moved here from India to become an IT consultant.

He's a freelancer so is keen to get more work, hence why he's driving for Uber on the side. Naturally, we got onto the subject of building a personal "brand" – or at least, finding ways to get people to notice you.

We were talking about starting a blog and how he's not written in a long time. I could hear him finding reasons to hold off on writing – he wasn't ready.

But I hear this all the time – "I'm not ready". When will you be ready? How will you ever be ready?

You will never be ready unless you start.

So I started pushing him to just write. Just Do It!

You have to just start, with the knowledge your first attempt will probably suck.

Then he told me a story that really resonated with me: he explained how when he lived in India he desperately wanted to learn to swim.

The pool was deep at the deep end – 16 feet deep! Because it had a diving board.

He would walk around and walk around and become increasingly nervous, just staring at the depths of the water.

He'd stand back and watch as others swam up and down, growing more and more frustrated.

Until one day he jumped in (at the shallow end), and just started to try.

He kept trying and gradually swimming further and further from the edges until he could fully swim.

This simple story just emphasises so much of what holds us back from doing new things – fear. And that fear leads us to push back the idea of even starting.

You can’t learn to swim unless you jump in and try.

Whatever you're hoping to start in the new year – don't wait. Just start. Jump in.

Photo by Artem Verbo on Unsplash.

iPhone X

I've spent about a week with iPhone X now.

While I doubt the world needs another review of Apple's latest device, every time people see it they have questions, so here's a few thoughts I've been keen to jot down.

When you work in the software world, it's easy to get so caught up in the latest gadgets, innovations, and ideas that you forget most people in the world don't live and breath tech every day.

Last weekend, I popped home to Kent to celebrate bonfire night, let off fireworks, burn an effigy of Harvey Weinstein, and talk iPhone X with my extended family.

A conversation with my uncle

So, how’s this one different to your old iPhone?

Well. It’s got no home button. It’s just all screen.

Oh right…

Yeah! So you used to use your fingerprint to unlock (like an animal) – you now use your face.

So does it actually work?

Yeah! It really does! Look let me show you!

Tries Face ID. Points it to my sister – nope. Points at me... – It works!

(This was a far more successful demo than at the Apple keynote)

Oh cool, so is that the difference then?

Well, no, that’s not all, you can now use the tech behind Face ID for loads of other cool camera stuff – like… erm… well it’s got Animoji.

Animoji?

...

Yeah, let me show you...

So this is what we've done with the world's most advanced technology? Talking poop?


To a lot of people, iPhone X is simply "this year's iPhone".

They haven't watched the keynote. They haven't studied the Apple site in detail for ridiculous amounts of time. They haven't been tuned in to MacRumors for months.

Thank God for that – most people are far more grounded and sensible with their time than me.

My last iPhone was an iPhone 6 – I was thrilled to get this device back in 2014. That iPhone introduced one of the biggest changes to the lineup – a highly anticipated larger device with a larger screen.

But in the three years since then, Apple's "lack of innovation" has seen a swathe of incremental improvements compounding to make switching from iPhone 6 to iPhone X a huge step up in experience.

Face ID

Touch ID is an action. Face ID is invisible.

We talked a lot about "courage" last year when Apple removed the headphone jack launching iPhone 7. Arguably it took even more courage to remove Touch ID in favour of a totally new, unproven technology as the primary way to authenticate iPhone X.

On day one, I'll be honest – I had a few hiccups with Face ID. I didn't realise how often I unlock my phone when it's very low compared to my face. I wear glasses too – and when I first set it up, I didn't have them on.

After a few hours of mild frustration, I set Face ID up again, and since then I haven't

Taking a break

I never took a day off in my twenties. Not one.
– Bill Gates

It's easy as a founder to think that working your socks off every single day continuously for years is the quickest route to success.

I used to firmly believe working hard and working fast, avoiding breaks, would get us further faster. It's only after many years in this world that I've come to the realisation that a break – even a short one – is needed frequently to continue to perform at your best.

This doesn't just apply to startup founders of course – anyone in any job needs regular breaks, but it seems the world of startups is particularly focused on working your ass off until you make it big time. Hearing of the success stories like Musk and Zuck and countless others reinforces the feeling that if you're not "working" you're wasting your time.

I just took a week out to stay in Cornwall (south west England, it's a beautiful place if you haven't been). I had poor phone reception, unreliable wifi access, and ~300 miles separating me from GoSquared. It's not natural for me to be as disconnected from the business.

You know how when you've had your computer on for weeks and haven't switched it off? And you have 30 tabs open in your browser, and you've left 5 files open in 3 different apps? Your computer starts getting a little sluggish. Sometimes you just need to hit reboot, maybe install an update or two, and get back to full speed. That's exactly how taking a break this last week has felt – it's been like flushing my RAM. And I feel a hundred times better because of it.

There's nothing like a few days out of the office, away from an internet connection, and away from your normal surroundings to clear your head.

When was the last time you took a break? Don't feel guilty if you feel like you need a few days off – you've earned it, and you owe it to your team to take it.

The 5 dysfunctions of a team

The dysfunctional team pyramid - 5 dysfunctions of a team

We recently grabbed lunch with another London based startup, and during conversation with the founder, he recommended a book I hadn't come across before – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni.

As anyone who has managed people before will know, building a team is really hard. You work your socks off to hire the best people you possibly can, but getting those people to work together as a single unit doesn't happen by magic.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team applies a relatively simple set of guidelines to spot and resolve problems within your team and encourage everyone to collaborate effectively.

Absence of trust

If people are unwilling to be vulnerable within the group, it can be hard to build trust within the team.

Fear of conflict

If the team seeks "artificial" harmony, it can harm your ability to have a constructive and passionate debate.

Lack of commitment

A lack of buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the team resulting in outcomes that no one sticks to.

Avoidance of accountability

Members of the team avoid the responsibility to call out peers on counterproductive behaviour, resulting in low standards being accepted across the group.

Inattention to results

Individuals focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success causes the team to suffer.

Overall, each of these attributes is no surprise, but having a framework to align your team is incredibly helpful.

Is your team performing well in all five of these areas? What can you do to address any "dysfunction" within your team today?

The best Watch face

I'm in San Francisco this week for a conference, and it was only when I was getting off the plane from London that I got another reminder of just how helpful the Apple Watch can be in daily life.

When I first started using my Apple Watch, I used to set my Watch face to whatever Apple's marketing shots showed – usually one of the analogue faces because they visually look great.

But in recent months I have been more comfortable with setting my watch exactly how I want it to work for me, even if that means it doesn't look like a minimal Dieter Rams watch on my wrist.

I've found I've settled on the "Modular" face as the most practical watch face for my daily life.

Modular

Modular watch face on Apple Watch

The density of information on the face is exactly the right balance for me – any more information and everything would be too small to see. Anything less and I need to dive into the OS of the Watch to find what I need – nobody's got time for that.

With the Modular face, everything is just a tap away. I find myself jumping into my Activity Rings far too often every day to check on progress (the screenshot above was taken just after I woke up – I promise).

This face is perfect for anyone who travels a lot. Being able to switch on a secondary time zone in just a few taps is incredibly helpful. Sure, analogue watches have had the ability to set secondary timezones for decades upon decades, but the ability to say "I want to put the time in London down here now" makes it so easy and so effortless that you actually make use of the functionality.

The Apple Watch is a great watch

There's a lot of pressure from the tech media to push the Apple Watch to replace the iPhone in some way. That's not the Watch I want to see any time soon.

Right now, the Apple Watch for me is a really versatile timepiece, an addictive fitness tracker, and a handy way to check notifications on the go. If it keeps getting better in those three areas then I'll continue to be a very happy customer.

Talking on the Kobestarr Digital Podcast

I recently had the privilege of speaking with London-based founder Kobi Omenaka on his new podcast "Kobestarr Digital".

We spoke about the challenges of finding your first customers, finding product-market fit, what metrics to focus on, and some of the backstory of how we built GoSquared.

It's almost an hour long, so if you're feeling brave, give it a listen – I would love to hear your thoughts!

You can download the podcast and read the show notes over on Kobi's site, or head to iTunes to subscribe.

Enjoy!

Apple Watch: One Year On

Those who know me won't be surprised to hear I picked up an Apple Watch on the first day it came out.

I hadn't been as excited to own a gadget since the original iPhone back in 2007. Seeing Apple enter a new category is always an exciting time, and with the hype surrounding the launch of the Watch, this was no let-down.

Would the Apple Watch be "the most personal device yet"? Would the Apple Watch change my life in any significant ways? Apple's promotion of the device certainly suggested it would, but it seemed too early to confirm or deny these suggestions after a few weeks of owning the product.

Exactly one year in, I feel I've given the Watch enough time to form a solid judgement on the device and the platform as it stands today.

What I love

It seems fashionable to bash the Apple Watch right now, so let's start with something positive – what I love about the device.

Bands

The bands for Apple Watch are designed and made with extreme care and attention to detail. They make many other watch bands (otherwise known as "straps") look like junk.

It's not just the fancy Milanese Loop or Steel Link Bracelet that are beautifully designed, though. The Sport Bands are actually my favourite – they're the most comfortable by far, they're playfully coloured, and they're refreshingly simple compared to almost every other watch strap I've ever seen.

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Every first-party band epitomises Apple's design ethos of simplification. The Sport Band is ingenious in its ability to keep securely fastened to your wrist without needing an extra buckle or clip. The fastening mechanism took a little getting used to in the first week of owning it, but once mastered, it's easy to do with your eyes shut.

Wearing the Apple Watch with Milanese Loop on Boxing Day

I was given the Milanese Loop for Christmas (Bands make a great present, and extra revenue stream for Apple), and so had a reason to change my band. The Milanese Loop is beautiful and great for wearing on smarter occasions.

Until receiving the Milanese Loop, I never had a reason to switch out the Sport Band, so I didn't appreciate a big chunk of Apple's pitch from the start – switching bands is easy and, dare I say it, fun. Again, the simplicity is ingenious. No tools required, just a button to push and slide out the band.

What's great is that with every band it feels like you're refreshing the whole Watch. One day it's a playful gadget on your wrist. Next it's a smart and sophisticated (albeit, electronic) timepiece.

Fitness

No gadget has impacted my day-to-day exercise regime like the Apple Watch. I won't profess to be an athlete, not by a long shot, but the Apple Watch has profoundly changed my attitude towards fitness.

It all comes down to the concept of task completion. I have to complete my daily fitness goals. The activity rings have become

When is it good enough to ship?

Every company sets their bar at a different height.

Everyone wants to move fast (and break as few things as possible).

But building a robust, easy-to-use product that's reliable is also considered table stakes in the world we live in.

The curse of the MVP

The lean startup movement has led to the term “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product) becoming a commonly used phrase in product development at startups and large companies alike.

The intention of building an MVP is to validate an idea as soon as possible. It's about proving or ruling out an idea as soon as feasibly possible before developing it further or ditching it.

It's hard to argue that the concept of building an MVP doesn't make sense. Of course you don't want to spend weeks on refining your button styles or getting your typography spot-on when you are trying to direct the course of your business in the first few weeks or months of starting out. You want to be seeing if anyone gives a damn about your new product.

The problem with the term “MVP” is I hear it being used all too frequently as an excuse in later stage businesses to ship a feature before it's ready for customers.

“It's ok for now, we can improve it later, let's just get it out the door and see what people think.”

“It's good enough for now.”

“Let's see if anyone wants this first and then add the onboarding.”

It seems we live in a world where the term “MVP” now means “fuck it, ship it”.

MVPs are useless unless the purpose of pushing the new feature out is to learn and iterate based on immediate feedback from users and customers. This feedback should then guide the feature to be improved or killed, and everyone working on that MVP should be aligned on that.

Back in ye old days

Before the term MVP came along, and before the lean startup movement, many software teams worked harder to refine an idea or feature before it made it in front of customers. This often led to a slower release cycle, but often the quality of features and the user experience was higher.

Speed and quality

Having a slower release cycle can be the death of a software company. If you're not iterating and learning fast enough then it's only matter of time until someone overtakes you.

But you also can't afford to give your users and customers an experience that's anything less than delightful.

So how do you decide when something is ready to ship?

Here's a few questions we ask to help guide us at GoSquared to try to work out way around this conundrum.

Is it better than what's already out there?

If the feature is replacing existing functionality in the product, is it better than what our customers are already using right now?

Is the new feature providing the same or more functionality than what's already out there? Is the new feature easier to use

Start with yes

One of the exciting things about building a business is bringing together a group of people to make something from nothing.

Whenever you have a group of people in the same room, people often have different opinions and ideas. Sometimes you can have bold, potentially very hard-to-build ideas. Other times you might have simple, yet meaningful ideas for incremental improvements.

Sometimes, though, you find yourself with no ideas of your own. When you're in this position it can be very easy to find flaws in any suggestions that have already been made.

"That's great but..."

"That'll never work because..."

"How do you intend to do that when..."

While it's important to be realistic about ideas and plans, often the realism can come in too early in the lifecycle of an idea.

If you find people saying "no" to an idea too early, it can be enough to hold back a potentially great idea from ever being worked on and considered. In the long run, that's a big problem for a creative team – ideas are fragile and need to be nurtured.

At GoSquared, something we try to hold as a value whenever entering any sort of early stage creative discussions is this: start with yes.

I don't mean say yes to everything throughout the process of building a product. Crikey, if there's ever a way to build an awful product it's to say yes to everything people ask for.

Instead, what I'm saying is don't shut down potential avenues and ideas too early. Don't narrow yourself down too soon. The best solutions come from considering a plethora of options and picking the best and then refining and refining.

Next time you're in a creative meeting with your team and you find yourself wanting to criticise an idea or say "no", hold back. Hold back and think "if we said yes to this, what would we need to do?"

Start with yes. There's plenty of time for a "no" later.

The scale of giving a damn

Everyone has an opinion on things.

If you're in a small team and you're building a product then it's likely everyone has a deep level of involvement in your product, your marketing, your hiring, and everything else in your company.

The thing is, when everyone has an opinion, it's likely they won't always be the same opinions. People clash. Ideas are fought over. Arguments happen.

Most of these arguments and debates are good. But when you need to narrow in on a really tough decision then it can be hard to stop the discussion developing for hours. Worst of all, it can be the case that no decision gets made at all.

Decisions being deferred is how startups die a slow death. As we always like to say in the team: Act now. Not tomorrow.

So how do you make decisions more quickly when debates are going on about new features, about styling, about copy, about coding styles? Etc. Etc.

What we've found pretty handy is adopting a "scale of giving a damn". It's inspired by this slightly more sweary post from Cap Watkins of Etsy.

Essentially, for a discussion or debate that's seemingly taking longer than it should, that has no clear sign of ending, where neither side has enough data at the table, someone tries to pull out the question: "on a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a damn do you give?"

Each side of the debate figures out where they're at on the scale of 1-10 and whoever cares more (gives more of a damn) makes the call.

This isn't the answer to all of life's problems, but it's certainly helped cut a lot of conversations down from 5 hours to 5 minutes. It's helped a lot of decisions get made. And it's helped a lot of people get on with their jobs without feeling pissed off or shouted down.

No one wins an argument, after all.

Thinking out loud

Lately we've been doing a lot of thinking about the problems we're trying to solve at GoSquared.

Sketching and writing help me to get ideas out of my head and onto paper.

But talking to other people – friends, colleagues, and especially difficult-to-please acquaintances outside of my immediate circles – helps to filter through the ideas that are good from those that suck, and refine the ideas that are good into those that can be great.

There's nothing like having to explain a concept out loud and pitch it to someone. Even without any feedback, the process of turning thoughts into spoken word can be enough to refine a pitch, rethink an idea, or turn a concept upside down to make it understandable.

When was the last time you pitched a new idea out loud to a stranger? Give it a go, you'll be amazed at how much it can focus your thoughts.

If you're worried about pitching your idea to someone else, is it because you're nervous about what that person might say? Is it because you don't have confidence in the idea?

You have very little to lose by telling someone your thoughts and your plans.

Building Software in a Team of Eight

Putting a product out in the world is really difficult.

It starts easy enough, especially when you're a one person show.

When you start out you can be opinionated. You can make bets. You can just get stuff done.

The more people you throw in the mix, the easier some things get. But some things get harder. Product management is one of those things.

As you grow, even to a team of just eight people (small when compared to most funded tech companies) you have eight voices and opinions on where the future of the company should go.

Here's a few thoughts on how to bring eight people together to build a great product, and ultimately a great company.

Democracy vs dictatorship

A lot of companies present themselves to the world as being a utopia for developers, designers and product people. They pitch their workplace as an environment where you can develop anything, push it live to customers, and watch as the money keeps rolling in.

Product experimentation, trial and error, and getting things in front of customers ASAP is essential. But things turn to chaos extremely quickly if you don't have a higher level vision, and an overall framework of priorities as a company.

What matters is giving everyone a voice, ensuring it's heard, and then making a decision for the whole company that gets everyone working together in the same direction. Aligning everyone is key.

Sometimes the decisions may be right, often they'll be wrong. But the worst situation is to spend weeks or months debating, and not deciding where to go next.

Sometimes you just need to make a call and move forward.

Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

The loudest voice

In team discussions, there's often someone who can speak louder than everyone else – someone who is more aggressive at getting their opinions heard. Good teams building good products ensure everyone's voice is heard. Good teams ensure once everyone has been heard, that the best ideas win, not the loudest.

The most cynical voice

In an earlier post, I wrote about how fragile ideas can be. Some of the best products and features can start as barely formed thoughts that are very easy to squash with a small comment thrown in a team discussion.

You have to work extremely hard – you have to obsess over this – to avoid ideas being shot down too soon. People often err on the side of caution, and great things can often start as ridiculous sounding ideas. There are many things to laugh at in this world, but the product ideas of your team are not a laughing matter. No matter how ludicrous they seem, early stage ideas need to be listened to and given time to fully form or fizzle out on their own merit.

Don't let the most cynical voices of your team drown out the potential of your most crazy ridiculous ideas. There is a time to focus and say no to things, and

The tip of the iceberg

There's more to a company than meets the eye.

When you're using an app or a service, it's always easy to assume it's "such a simple" piece of technology. That there's not much to it, and that you could build it in a day if you had nothing else to do.

Every app, no matter how simple, requires work to build and to maintain. But the code and the front-end design are just the start.

Businesses selling software online have far more than just a codebase to maintain. But all your customers see is the 4 screens of your product they use every day.

What customers don't see is the rest of the work that goes into running an online business – The support software. The analytics tools. The internal dashboard for measuring key business stats. The mashed up tools for giving customers trial extensions when they need it. The home built email builder that makes nice emails look great in all email clients. The dev tools to get team members onboarded quickly.

Customers also don't see the other ideas you're having. They don't see the endless hours of design and development that result in features and products that don't actually end up shipping. The hundreds of sketches. The Sketch mockups you've been playing with for months for the native app you can't commit to just yet. The entire interfaces you've coded up and built but that fell short of great in the final stages so never got pushed live.

And perhaps most of all, customers never see the time and effort and exceptional hard work that the team puts into each and every feature and product iteration.

Next time you think to yourself "How is that a business? I could build that in a day!" Hold that thought and think about how ridiculously difficult the whole process of running a company is.

What you see of a business you buy from is just the tip of the iceberg.

Ship early. Ship often.

It's a mantra you hear a lot in the world of software development.

Ship early. Ship often.

But for such a simple piece of advice, it can be really difficult to stick to.

We're trying to get better at this at GoSquared, so I thought I'd share a few things we're trying to help us ship updates and features earlier and more frequently.

Ship early

  • Be clearer before writing a line of code on what you want to give to customers. What's the point of this feature / improvement? Sometimes this takes a bit more deep thinking before diving into code, but it often leads to an update getting to customers faster in the long run because it avoids mid-stage pitfalls in the product development process.
  • Get something to production as soon as it's better than what's already out there. Yes you can wait until it's 100% of what you intended it to be, but if 80% is already better than what customers can see today, then it likely deserves to go out now. And the next 20% can go out shortly after when it's ready.
  • Debates about new functionality and UI ideas are rarely solved quickly through discussion internally. What usually leads to a clear decision and an agreement is cold hard facts, and real user feedback. The quicker you can put a real feature or updated interface in front of real users and ask them real questions and track real usage, the quicker you can make a decision to kill, improve, or completely change said feature.
  • Avoid guess-athons. Watch this talk. Watch it now.

Ship often

I think it'd be fair to say we have the "ship early" part a lot more nailed down than the "ship often" part.

Frequently shipping code, updates and refinements takes real discipline.

"Shipping often" requires listening to your customers and taking their feedback seriously. It requires tracking feature usage and interactions in your product carefully. It requires ingesting a ton of data, and swirling it around with all the other factors in your brain, and making a call on what and how you improve the product. It's an art and a science and it requires military-like disciple to do properly in a product team.

  • Ensure when a feature is shipped that the key interactions are tracked – either with an internal analytics tool, or with something off-the-shelf. You wouldn't believe how often teams get to a point where they want to redo a feature or interface, and only at that point realise they haven't got any usable data to back up their decisions.
  • Get new features in front of users. Even if it's just another team member who's been less involved in the project at hand. Ideally get someone who's a long-term user AND another who's a complete novice, and see how their usage and interactions differ.
  • The longer you leave a feature or UI element, the less likely you'll be to go near it again to improve

Build something people love

...And how to measure it.

It seems every piece of startup advice out there tells you to build something people need / want / love.

It's great advice, but I'm skeptical that many founders start businesses to build something people don't want.

Striving to build something people love is obviously a sensible idea, but how do you measure for that? How do you prove you're building something that's truly delighting users?

You can measure daily / weekly / monthly active users (DAU / WAU / MAU) but that just shows people are using your product. They don't necessarily love it.

One step further, you can charge for your product and see how much people are willing to pay for it. You can measure Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) but this is still a second-order result of someone loving your product. They may be begrudgingly paying for your service and actively seeking a replacement to get them out of the horror they're experiencing while dealing with your awful UI. Or they might be in love with your product and telling all their friends about how incredible your Super-Awesomizer-Filter feature is.

Talk to your users

The best way to truly understand whether you're building something people love is to ask them.

Sounds obvious, but it's still extremely rare that product focused people in software companies actually reach out and talk to their users. It seems people don't have time. But the value in talking to even one user is huge when compared to not speaking to any.

There are a few challenges, though, in asking hundreds or thousands of users what they think of your product:

  • Unlike reporting on DAU, or ARPU, you won't have a complete data set. You'll only have a sample – some, if not most of your users won't respond to a survey or even a short email asking them for feedback.
  • It's extremely difficult to turn thousands of emails into actionable information. You have tons of handy, interesting emails to read, but you have no way to measure whether people are happy or satisfied with what you're building. You have to translate their message into "loves us 😘" or "doesn't love us 😭".

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

The good news is there's a tried and tested method for measuring customer satisfaction – whether people love what you're building. It's called Net Promoter Score (NPS) and it was introduced in 2003 by Fred Reichheld in this Harvard Business Review article.

Whether you know it or not, you've almost certainly seen an NPS survey before. It's a simple question:

“How likely is it that you would recommend our company / product / service to a friend or colleague?”

You can then answer this question on a scale from 0 – 10 – with 10 being the highest accolade a user can give you. You can ask for more feedback beyond this – following up with a question on why the user gave the number they did naturally forces a more insightful answer.

At this point you might be wondering why

Get stuff done

“A good plan violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” – General George Patton

If there's one thing that's become clear to me over the years of running a startup, it's that you need to value people, decisions and actions that get stuff done.

There is certainly a lot of value in doing things “right” and striving for perfection in design and development and marketing and sales. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, an attitude and focus on “getting it done” almost always leads to a better outcome in the long run.

Getting something done means you can learn from it quicker and do it better next time round. Iterate faster. Learn faster. Improve faster.

Act now. Not tomorrow.

We've had a saying for a while at GoSquared – “Act now. Not tomorrow.” It started as a way of explaining our product – super easy to use, real-time analytics that your team will actually use. But it developed into more of an attitude that we work with across the team.

We've still got a way to go, but we try to, in as many cases as possible, take action sooner rather than later, even if there's a possibility of doing something better or smarter or cooler tomorrow.

Why not wait until tomorrow? Sure, what does a day matter? A few hours here and a few hours there. Who cares?

It turns out, hours add up. Hours add up to days. Days add up to weeks. As you multiply it out across the team, across multiple projects, weeks become months.

You end up spending months with code and designs and projects and conversations that just sit stale and lifeless. You spend months holding back new features and ideas from users. Of holding back questions from real insights.

You waste months, an hour at a time.

“If everything seems under control you're just not going fast enough.” – Mario Andretti, racing driver

Sometimes it can feel like pushing a new feature out today, or starting a new sales conversation this morning is just too soon. What if people try it and it breaks? What if things move quickly and they want to get going before we're ready?

When running a software company, there's very few things that aren't undo-able. You can hit CTRL+Z on almost every decision you make when you're a young, small, hungry tech startup.

That's why erring on the side of “do it now, worry about it later” often works far better than “worry now, prepare, and then do it later”. All the worry, all the planning, all the preparation is often worthless because that new feature will only be used by 10 customers, and that sales conversation is going to take 3 months before you get a commitment.

Find people that feel comfortable when things are moving fast. Set up processes that encourage quick decisions. Remove barriers to shipping features to customers. Don't punish people for moving fast and breaking things.

Act now. Not tomorrow.

The power of goals

I never used to care how many steps I walked in a day.

Since I've had an iPhone that tracks my steps, and more recently, an Apple Watch, I've become obsessed with the number of steps I do.

I have to do 10,000 steps a day.

Having known friends who've owned Fitbits for years, I understood 10,000 steps to be a healthy yet obtainable goal to aim for every day. aside from that, I don't fully know whether 10,000 is life changing compared to 9,000 or 11,000, but it's a line in the sand to aim for. That's become my goal every day, along with filling all the Activity rings on my Watch.

In fact, with the Watch, it's become more than just a habit – I can't stand the idea of getting 95% of the way to my goal but not hitting it. Often when I get home in the evening I'll walk out again just to make sure my goals are all achieved.

"It's hard to improve what you aren't measuring"

In just a year, I've gone from not knowing how much I walk, to obsessing over every step and reaching higher every week. I feel a healthier person for it, and importantly, I feel in control. I feel far more aware of my overall fitness, and what I need to do to improve.

I wonder, though, how much I'd be striving to walk that extra few steps, or take the long route to work, if I didn't have a number to aim for. Goals, even if they're arbitrary to some extent, can be a fantastic motivator, and a great way to test what your limits are.

It's not just fitness. Aiming to get a new feature deployed by the end of the week, or aiming to send 10 emails to existing customers by the end of the day, or aiming to aiming to spend under £5 at lunch – these are all goals that you can force yourself to aim for, and the result might be a whole lot better than if those goals weren't there at all. At least you'll have something to measure – did you achieve it or not?

Next time you're setting out to do something – whether it be a new feature to ship, a new sales technique to try, or even just going out for a walk – try giving yourself a goal and see if it makes you do it better.

Startup Priorities

In a startup, everything's a priority.

If everything's a priority then nothing's a priority.

Sometimes it can feel like there's an infinitely long list of Things To Do. It can feel like starting on that list is pointless because it'll never be done. You end up in a cycle of inaction. Or, you have so much to do you panic, you try to do everything. You get others on the team working on things for the wrong reasons, not because they'll have an impact.

How do you cut through the chaos and prioritise?

It starts deep. It starts with having a reason to exist. I'm trying to avoid sounding too "Silicon Valley"ish, but you need a North Star to hang everything off. And you need to believe in that North Star very strongly. When you know what yours is, then a lot of thinking and a lot of decisions become a lot easier.

What's your North Star?

If you don't have one, spend as long as you need to find it. Once you've found it, ask yourself: How can you get closer to it over the course of the year? How can you get closer to it over the course of the next week? The next day?

A few things to consider:

  • Who are you fighting for?
  • What is the technology or incumbent you are trying to replace? What do they stand for?
  • What makes you different?
  • Why are you the right people to tackle this?
  • Why now?

Taking time out to have a plan

If you're a small team, it's easy to spend 100% of your time on the day-to-day. There's always a customer to respond to. Or a bug that needs to be squashed. Or a feature that needs to be shipped.

"Planning" is almost considered a swear word in startup land.

But when was the last time you spent a solid day planning your future? Do you have a plan? Do you know who your next 3 hires will be? Do you know when you'll make them? Do you have an expectation for revenue growth over the next 3 months? Do you know what will impact it? Do you have a well prioritised backlog of things to work on beyond the next 2 weeks?

Sometimes you need to take time out to plan. Don't spend weeks. You probably don't even need days. But you do need a plan.

OKRs

Objectives and Key Results are a great way to align the team around a few important things over the course of a quarter. The framework seems to work pretty well for Google, who have been using the concept for many years, along with a thousands of other companies all around the world.

If you're looking to try out OKRs in your startup, here's a few things to help:

  • Make them visible to everyone. On a big screen, emailed out at the start of every week, stuck on a post-it note on your screen,

I don't have time

Have a look at your phone. How many of the apps on your home screen are primarily for consuming content? How many are for producing content?

Have a look at your schedule this weekend. Have a real good look. How many hours of your weekend were spent consuming (content, food, beer, you name it)? How many hours were spent producing content?

Everyone needs their downtime.

But the default in society is not to produce. It's to consume. The default is to watch every episode of Game of Thrones. Every episode of every new show. To not miss out. The default is to catch up on your Facebook feed. To get rid of the red badge on the Twitter icon. To read every message that hits the inbox.

When you've done all the consuming you need to do, is it any surprise there's no time left for producing?

Making more time for producing

I've struggled with this challenge for a long time, but I feel I'm producing more work, and better work than I have in years.

What I'm doing differently:

  • Replacing the "consumer" apps on my home screen with "producer" apps – apps for writing, for drawing, for sharing.
  • I never interrupt my day to read an article. It gets saved to Instapaper for reading at a convenient time.
  • I use Instapaper's "Speak" feature to read out articles while I'm commuting and walking. So I save my eyes and my time.
  • I'm setting myself a small but significant goal of writing once a week. It doesn't necessarily get published but it gets written.
  • I almost never check my Twitter timeline. I am not up to date to the second on every single tiny message that everyone on the Internet shares, but I'm ok with that. Instead, the very most important news is pushed to me from the BBC News app, and the most shared articles on Twitter make their way to me via Digg's "Digg Deeper" feature that gives me a list of the top shared links from all the people I follow on Twitter.
  • It's not to everyone's taste, but I've found the Apple Watch to be a big influencer on my habits – I no longer get distracted when I get an email or a notification. I just glance at my wrist and then carry on with my day. My old routine involved checking one app, then checking all the other apps that have a red badge on them. And then inevitably reading my Twitter timeline.
  • As a team we've been getting smarter about our use of Slack so we each get notified about the information that's most relevant, and can tune out of less relevant updates.

A quote I read a while ago that's really stuck with me (unfortunately I can't find who originally said it):

"No matter how much time you spend watching TV, watch less."

We all have time to learn. We all have time

Ideas are fragile

Steve used to say to me — and he used to say this a lot — “Hey Jony, here’s a dopey idea.”

And sometimes they were. Really dopey. Sometimes they were truly dreadful. But sometimes they took the air from the room and they left us both completely silent. Bold, crazy, magnificent ideas. Or quiet simple ones, which in their subtlety, their detail, they were utterly profound.

And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished."

– Jony Ive

There's no room for cynicism in a creative team.

Shooting down ideas can't happen at the start of a creative process.

When you're trying to build things that don't yet exist – when you're trying to do creative work – there are always people who will tell you it can't be done.

There are also people who figure out a way it can be done. Usually both those sets of people are correct. The cynics move onto a different idea, the rest let the idea run.

Every significant invention has looked impossible up until the moment it's made possible.

It's fine to have cynics on the outside. In fact, there's often nothing better to spur you on than to have cynical competitors, or customers telling you "it can never be done!" from the outside.

But on your team – the people coming together to put new things into the world – you have to aggressively reject cynicism. It's a poison that will destroy the creativity of your team. And a team without creativity is a team headed for failure.

Ideas eventually need to be narrowed down and focused. Ideas eventually need to be carefully prioritised and broken apart into achievable steps that can be implemented and built. But in many teams, and in many creative processes, the implementation steps come far too soon and limit the possibility of producing a truly different or unique result.

To illustrate

Apologies – all I had was a Moleskine and an iPhone. And a pen, of course.

A cartoon about cynic, inc and ideas, inc

Encouraging creativity

The key goal for us is to ensure everyone on the team, no matter who they are or what position they're in, feels free to share their ideas with everyone.

No one should ever ever feel worse off for having shared their idea with the team.

It might sound obvious, but it's incredible how many teams unintentionally punish the creators of ideas with the feedback that is given to them. It's far too easy to spot the issues, the problems, the reasons why it can't be done. The reasons why it'll be impossible with the current team, technology, budget or resources.

A few steps we're taking to ensure no one ever regrets sharing an idea with the team:

  • Start with yes. Think

Measuring vs reporting

It's a subtle difference, but "reporting" and "measuring" mean quite different things to me.

It feels like "measuring" is far more actionable. When you measure your sofa you know if it will fit in your living room. You don't report on your sofa dimensions to a third party for approval.

Reporting seems inherently generic. Measuring immediately ties the action to the "what" – what are you measuring? What are you measuring against?

Nobody measures for the sake of it – there's always a reason or a need. People produce reports on meaningless numbers all the time. Reports don't always have conclusions.

At the end of the week do you want to produce a report on a bunch of numbers, or do you want to measure your progress against your aims as a business?

Next time you're looking at metrics for your business, ask yourself if you're merely reporting them, or measuring something.

Advertising the lottery

The National Lottery in the UK advertise a lot.

Today they're advertising a quadruple rollover.

It seems pretty obvious, but when they advertise the lottery they pitch you the result – the mansion, the "I'm on a boat" lifestyle.

What they don't advertise – the news agent you go to. The little piece of paper and the tiny chained up plastic pen you use to circle a bunch of numbers. They don't even advertise the price to pay for a ticket. They don't advertise the different ways you can play, or offer suggestions on how to pick your numbers. They also don't advertise the result of not winning.

Why don't they advertise all those things? They're dull. They're pretty common knowledge. They dilute the message. Those things don't make you successful or happy. Winning does.

It's so simple. And it works.

But it's not just the lottery that can be advertised like this. I'd wager that most startups don't advertise or pitch themselves with the clarity of the lottery's message.

People don't buy your product for the features. They might not care too much about the price. They almost certainly don't care too much about the process of getting set up.

They don't care about anything as much as the result – what's the reason for them to use your product? How do they win if they use you? Advertise that.

P.S. Yes I bought a ticket.

P.P.S. I did not win. This time.