How Innovators Think

Most of my time is currently dedicated to writing a book titled How Innovators Think. I was blessed with meeting hundreds of incredible innovators, and decided to research and document the patterns I could find in the way they think. If you are interested in innovation, consider joining the discussion on Facebook and Medium.

“How to start a startup” class 4

Following up on my previous post, here are the notes from Lecture 4 of the “how to start a startup” class at Stanford, featuring Adora Cheung, founder of Homejoy. Notes from class 1-3 are here. I also consolidate all notes into a single page here.

Lecture on how to get users. Disclaimer: every business is different, bring those advices smartly in your context

– Find a problem: what is it?
– Am I really passionate about that problem?
– Is it a problem other people have?
– have a lot of time to develop solutions to the problems you want to solve

– build product in secret
– excessive press launch
– wait for users
– buy users
– give up
Don’t get into that cycle because you won’t get anything good.

1) learn a lot, become an expert in a certain area, immerse yourself. Become a cog in your industry. You can become trapped into an industry you know too well, and start thinking like everybody else. But on the other side, if you’re totally new to an industry, you should immerse yourself in it to see where the pain points are.
Example of HomeJoy: Adora became a cleaner at a local company, learned how to do that job week, but more importantly, why cleaning companies would not scale, and what the market needed. Immersion resulted in key knowledge used to disrupt the industry.
2) identify customer segments. At the beginning, focus on a subset of users and really cater to their needs. You can expand to larger public later, but start with a smaller segment.
3) storyboard ideal user experience, that’s before you create the product or start coding. Not only the web site, but how customers find out about you, how they visit your site, learn more about you, then sign up, to after they finished using the product. Then put it into code, etc.

– minimal features set. Smallest feature set to solve the problem you want to solve. You should be able to go to a person and explain what the company does in one sentence. When you start with no users, need to explain value simply.
– simple product positioning
– but this is not the hard part… getting first users is
– build fast, but optimise for now
– propose features even if they involve manual work, you’ll automate later
– perfection is irrelevant during early stage. Worry about giving a product to as many people as possible, ignore the edge cases
– beware of the frankenstein effect: listen to user feedback, but don’t build all the features you are asked. Give it a bit of time and consolidate all ideas, build only the most relevant ones.

– you and co-founder
– friends and family
– online communities: HackerNews, Reddit
– local communities: influential local community mailing lists (for ex: sites for parents)
– niche influencers
– cold calls + emails
– press

– immediately after first users, make yourself easily available for customer feedback
– if you setup a phone line, have a voicemail so you don’t have to pick up
– survey ok, interviews much better. Meet people using your product, make it into a conversation. Get users at a level where they feel they should be honest with you
– quantitative feedback: customer retention is one of the key metric, but a very hard one to measure.
– qualitative: ask why, why and why again
– beware of honesty curve. People won’t necessarily dare to tell you your product sucks in your face
– you will get more honest feedback on a paying product than on a free product (click on image to enlarge)

– S is for stealth, and stupid…
– there is a first mover advantage
– execution is the key, beat competitors with a superior product

– learn one channel at a time (Facebook ads ≠ google ads, android ≠ iOS) [See for example BuzzFeed, company organised by channel]
– iterate on things that work, get better at them
– revisit a failed channel and try to crack it at a later time

good experience wins
customer lifetime value +  cohort analysis ( important. Look at the graph below, what you want is to push the black solid line up, as repeat users buy more and more (click to enlarge)

wow experience: what’s going to make people shout about your product on twitter and Facebook?
good referral programs (where users can refer the product to their friends, and perhaps get rewards in the process):
1) touch points (where can people learn they can refer their friends? after a certain time of usage, or just after signup? Propose referring friends at point when users are highly engaged and happy)
2) program mechanics: make money when people you refer sign up
3) referral conversion flow: optimise the signup process for someone who has been referred. Might have to be a different process from traditional signup process (for ex, user will already be connected to user who referred them).

[Personal note: remember “advertising is the price you pay for being boring”]
– Search Engine Marketing, display ads, Facebook ads, groupon / daily deals, street marketing, b2b sales, direct mailers
– is your CLV (customer lifetime value) superior to your CAC (customer acquisition cost)?
– CAC = CPC (cost per click) x conversion. For ex: CPC = $10, conversion = 10%, so CAC = $100. If your CLV > 100 -> this advertising makes sense
– try to calculate CAC & CPC per customer segment
– beware of payback time. If CAC takes time to come your way (for ex: customers pay after 6 months), CPC is immediate and will kill your cash-flow.

– when do you decide to pivot? when growth stops, or when the business stops making sense.
– have a growth plan when you start out, try to set objectives for yourself in terms of users growth
– if you see a stagnation in the growth of users for 3-4 weeks [startup time is x10 corporate time!], then it’s time to consider a pivot, you’re probably doing fundamentally wrong.

Surviving disruption

Here is the video of the talk I gave at TEDx Reims (in French) on one of the topic I have been researching and covering for a few years now: how to survive in times of changes. This presentation is the result of more than 15 years of observing large and small organisations in the process of adapting to disruptive changes. My rules for survival are:

1. Protect the future from the past
2. You can’t buy innovation
3. The future looks a lot like the past
4. Always fight positively
5. See through the hype
6. Technology is not always the solution

Great recap (in English) of 200ideas

Patricia Goldschmid wrote an in depth recap of 200ideas that you should probably read if you speak only English and could not follow the event because it happened in French. Here is her post, thanks Patricia for taking the time to highlight the most interesting ideas.

Education: there are increasing numbers of networks offering online courses from most renowned universities such as Harvard, MIT, Berkley, and others. Also, the first completely online university is called Udacity and offers project-based online classes with cases built by tech leaders like Google, AT&T, and Intuit. Newspapers such as the NYT are also engaging in education, creating networks placing their contents at the disposal of potential students.

Interactive services: interactive sports sessions on line with a virtual spinning class and virtual bank tellers you can speak to on Skype.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 9.13.28 AM

NCR APTRA Interactive Teller enables banks to offer their customers the benefits of both self-service video banking and the branch experience in one solution.

Smartphones: Increasingly we are accessing the web through our mobile devices

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New tools will allow us to pay by credit card via mobile Square or submit an accident report form directly to the insurance company via mobile USAA. Aviva Insurance company in the UK also uses an Iphone app to evaluate the drivers performance and calculate the insurance rate based on that result.

Bluetooth glove which allows you to talk through your hand. The left glove has a speaker and a microphone sewed into the finger tips.

SMS Lifesaver is an app that alerts people about someone in their proximity having a heart attack. Civilian responses are usually quicker than ambulances and have saved many lives.