Thursday, July 31, 2014

First Movers get the press....

I have seen articles in all the major tech news services the past two days showing AgileBits 1Password product working with Apple's upcoming IOS 8.  
It should be notably to you, and how you market your software to note that 1Password is not nessasarilly even on the lips of most people when they think about password managers (of which it is one).  All this important press, and the long tail behind it should have gone to the market leaders in the space (The RoboForm & DashLane 's of the world.).

Lesson learned, when there is an opportunity to showcase your product integrated with a new, or upcoming platform, you devote resources.  Make certain you are first to showcase your product.  First movers always get the press.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Twas Marketing that killed the tablet

So I'm just now hearing comments from the CEO of best buy that iPad tablet sales and other tablets are plummeting in sales. I can't help but think that the problem is not with tablets per se - the bigger problem is with the people that are running product.

So they introduced tablets and their answer for the next generation tablets are let's not make it 5 inch let's make it 6 inch let's make it Nine let's make our phones tablets blah blah blah blah blah. Let's stop for a second.If you wanna understand what's going to drive tablets understand their place in the world.

Number one you have a country (forget the rest of the world world for a moment) of the United States with 300M + consumers who have landline phones from Ma Bell connected to  copper wires that have been sitting on their wall forever. With voice over IP with Skype video services there is  no reason why we should not have one of these iPad (or other) tablet devices in every one of our rooms. So instead of working on a different size tablet - your product managers need to wake up and ship  devices that are made to replace the old phones and become the new video phones to replace decades of copper wire connectivity. Additionally try to understand what a consumer needs, not what you want to sell.  For me as a stock trader  I would love my monitor to be surrounded by six different tablets all held up by a  little flexible gooseneck that holds them in place.  My wife, who reads or watches video on her Tablet when going to bed might want something to hold it up for her as well.  

So stop breaking the Tablet market by making up random sizes you think might work...the simple solution is what a tablet might be used for, and how it is held. Ship some configured as 'phone-first devices', and instead of changing form factors every quarter, try introducing new and interesting tablet stands, not tablets.

What do you think?

Yelp blew it with video

Yelp recently announced that it would add the ability for it's users to upload videos. Yelp blew it for multiple reasons in my opinion.

First, understand that Smartphones are already a thorn in the side of many businesses.  In Yelp's main playground (restaurants), not only do they cause tremendous delay in the whole customer experience (people put wait staff on hold while they take selfies, etc), but more importantly for Yelp - Restaurants (and other small businesses) HATE Yelp. Now a business may or may not have a legitimate gripe with their online reviews, that's a different issue.  But for Yelp the issue is that businesses that should be advertising and embracing Yelp disdain it. 

Instead, Yelp should have made the ability to upload videos available to the business, not the consumer.  Yelp wins two ways.  Yelp has now thrown businesses a peace offering, a tool if you will to make their product or service appear better on the Yelp platform.  Yelp then also has the ability to sell yet another product offering to their businesses - their real bread and butter customers.

Maybe Foursquare will take the ball and run with it.  What do you think?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Do you Window Shop?

I blog over and over again about how your products UI is one of the most important pieces to get right if you want to keep and grow your userbase. I can not stress it enough.  If you're like me, you are ALWAYS looking extra closely as the user interfaces that others put on their apps and websites.  Is it simple?  Can my grandmother navigate it?  Is it pretty?  So here's a neat trick I like to use. I don't just indulge myself with apps and websites.  I like to go Window shopping.  Try it, next time you're at the local store, or mall look carefully at their window displays.  Notice what makes them nice - or ugly, what draws you in or away from entering the store.  What I hope you learn is that a lot of what works in the physical world, will work for your app or website as well.

I personally am a huge fan of 'White-space'. Look at any apparel retailer's window display.  Do you see mannequins all the way across their windows?  No, instead more often than not, you will see a group of Mannequins in a cluster - surrounded by white (empty) space to either side.  Now, go back and re-visit your UI .... Empty space can, and should be your best friend!

Mobile first?

Ask an entrepreneur 20 years ago what platform they were developing for, and you might hear 90% - Windows - 10% Mac. Asking the same question 15 years ago, you likely heard 75% were developing for/on the web, less than 25% for the desktop market.  Fast forward to today, most startups are developing for Mobile first, and of those many choose IOS first, and eventually Android. Many of these Mobile first companies even remain Mobile only, never even considering the web or desktop market.

I believe within just a few short years (if not now), many should be considering Cloud first. By architecting as much of your product to exist in the cloud you immediatly make it a much easier, and less expensive challenge to enter your next market.  So today, you might be launching IOS first, because you  might only need a UI Shell (If you run in the cloud) to launch Android it may or may not make sense for you.

HOWEVER, the point of this post is that you want to plan for tomorrow, not today.  And the tomorrows of the world are filled with new platforms. With 5G coming and a plethora of new platfroms and devices it's  No longer a question of which platform first - Android or IOS, it will also include Wearables like Google Glass, SmartWatches, IoT's, VR (ie Occulas), etc so plan ahead.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Disruption over 5G

The advent of the Internet never ceases to amaze me. Both in how many ways incumbent businesses are being disrupted, and more importantly how many dinosaurs go down blindly, or kicking and screaming trying to protect their legacys (think Blockbuster, Radio Shack, Newspapers, Magazines, etc).

Within the next 5 years we will likely start to see wide scale deployment of 5G (the next generation of bandwidth) networks and with that even more disruption.  You do not need to be a seer to watch the current growth in video served up over IP networks, just look at stats from and startups such as YouTube, Aereo, FilmOn,Netflix,etc.

I personally can not wait, as I believe we will start to see major film projects arrive 'IP first, theatre second' as a common practice once 5G arrives.  In the interim, I expect only one brave and bold studio (out of the majors) to launch their 'IP First' initiative now, over 4G that we currently enjoy.Hollywood studios - who among you has the brilliance to eat your own lunch?  To the victors go the spoils, let the games begin....

Friday, July 25, 2014

Microsoft's Skype Phone

I am currently an 'Android' person, previously I had an Iphone - and had an Android device before that. For me switching between the two proprietary operating systems has been easy.  But as we move forward, it will become more difficult to switch. This is (should be) what companies do, if they are smart - try and lock you in. So while in the past the ecosystem might consist of a tablet, a smartphone and an app store, going forward it will include Telematics, wearables, your thermostat, stove and fridge...anything and everything that can communicate. Third parties will also try and 'own' this space as well, such as what Quirky is doing with it's recent spin off of Wink.  Ultimately though in my opinion the only decision that will be a must will be IOS or Android. But this does not mean that companies like Microsoft can't give it their best shot at being there as well.

Microsoft can play catch up in other ways.  Microsoft needs to think of their Skype property more as a central focus for now, and not their thus far failed mobile OS. A Skype phone would make things very interesting in jump starting Microsoft's mobile efforts in my opinion.  Skype has almost 400 million users already, so the audience is already there.  Microsoft should make a second device (after launching the Skype phone) that is not dissimilar to their already existing tablet, the Surface.  This product should also have Skype as it's central, focal point.  This is the video phone that will replace all the old bell telephones we grew up with in every room in our house. Unlike earlier attempts at video phones 10 and 20 years ago, this time it's different.  The bandwidth is plentiful, the video software works, and to be frank, i'm shocked that this isn't main stream as we speak.  Microsoft can take this initiative even further, with other existing technology they have (they just don't know it).  I have been reading about some Skype software initiatives that they are going to be launching next year.  This is their translation play.  They tout it with spots like "...imagine Skyping with someone on the other side of the world, who speaks a different language, and Skype translates that in real time...". While that sounds really cool, if you are speaking to someone on the other side of the world, and neither speaks the same language, you are likely transacting business.  Are you really going to risk a translation app on a business call??  The real value, and beauty of what Microsoft's software can do is not the translation, it is the real time speech to text.  There are 700 million people around the world who are 'hearing impaired'.  Imagine if they suddenly had a method of communicating like anyone else.

So between Skype's existing 400 million users, and another 700 million that are hearing impaired, you have a potential market of over 1 billion for a Microsoft phone.  That's how you get back in the game, Microsoft. Longer term, if you read my earlier blog post you know I believe that the software and apps will ultimately all be up in the cloud, your phone will be 90% about sensors and hardware. All Microsoft needs to do right now is get in the game.

(The purpose of the above blog post is not so much about Microsoft, you should think about it in terms of how YOU and YOUR startup can enter a market where players already dominate...there's ALWAYS a way, so don't give up!!)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kickstarter & Indiegogo have a Potato Salad problem

By now you've likely heard of, or seen the over funded Potato Salad project on Kickstarter. To everyone's amazement, it not only met its intended goal of raising $10, but went on to raise over $61,000 from over 6000 backers. Cute...and it likely was a phenomenal PR event for Kickstarter, but they now need to be careful that they don't have a Potato Salad problem.

Those who know me, know that I am a huge fan of both of the aforementioned services. I visit them often, and recently I am noting a huge influx of Potato Salad 'like' campaigns.  Not in the literal sense that people are raising money to create a recipe, but more like Cyber begging.  Some want money to fix their car, or to buy something, etc.  While there is nothing wrong with this, both services (and yours!) need to carefully model their UI's and website flow to filter such offerings more selectively. If not, they risk alienating users who search (for example) for technology as a filter, and expect to see technology related campaigns.

If you do not think this can create a huge usability issue for your start up think again.  All you need do is look at every successful service, and how spammers ultimately take away from an otherwise pleasant experience. I not only get this spam in my email inbox, but also as Trolls on Twitter, Bots on Quora,etc. It has gotten so bad on Craigslist, that I rarely am able to search there anymore (Try searching for 'Prius' under cars, and see how users have abused Craigslist by inserting 'Prius' as a keyword into ads that have nothing to do with Prius.)

Is your Startup  experiencing this yet, or perhaps you want to stop it in advance?  Reach out to me, and I will show you how to fix it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why you shouldn't hire me

One of my ventures AFPR is a consultancy where I offer all of what I have learned (mistakes and successes) over the past 20 years to small software and app. developers. Even though my greatest successes have been in product, or business strategy, and not just business development deals, that is often why entrepreneurs seek me out. The conversation us usually the same .... "Andy, I want you to do some business development for us. I noticed 'XYZ (their competition) corp. is having tremendous success and momentum...."

More often then not, I either try to structure these engagements as more of a strategic consult, or I turn them down outright.  Why would I turn away a potential client? If your product is inferior to the competition, or something is wrong with your funnel (there are many points of failure for a product) you need to ask, what would be the end result that new business relationships would add  to the bottom line?

In the Freemium world, from my experience the average conversion rate from free to pro is 1.5%. I always use this as my benchmark, and  mark how successful I am by how far I can exceed this.  While at RoboForm, I was proud that I had this rate converting far in excess of that average. If you approach me already knowing that your 100,000 monthly free users are converting at only .25%, there is nothing of value to be gained by me getting those 100,000 monthly's up to 500,000, or even millions.  You have a more critical flaw somewhere with the product,pricing  funnel, etc. This is why I prefer to approach any potential consulting engagement top down first. So should you.

So before you ask to hire me to do business development, let's have a more strategic conversation first.

Dear @Twitter ...

The past few months it has become more apparent that Twitter has a user issue.  Specifically, new users, and retaining them.  When Twitter reports their quarterly earnings at the end of July, you can expect to see their MAU's to likely be flat to perhaps up a few percent sequentially.  Twitter will ask analysts, investors et al to focus on other metrics, such as the billion + reach of their mobile ad network.  While I agree that Twitter will have an easy time monetizing, and showing great revenue growth, let's face it - Without user growth, Twitter is a dyeing asset.  It puzzles me that it takes such a large company, with likely product teams that are 100 people + so long to figure out how to fix it.

I believe that Twitter, and it's hoards of engineers might be looking at their product through colored glasses. After all, if you're Jack Dorsey, or Dick Costello and you use Twitter, you are likely using it as many narcissists do, or perhaps as your bully pulpit.  Who doesn't like the feeling of having thousands of followers who hang on every word, and re-tweet what you have to say? So problem number one is that Twitter needs to understand that for the average Joe (who may or may not have the false expectation that people will immediately flock to follow, and retweet them), the initial Twitter experience is likely to be a large disappointment if indeed that is how they intend to use it.

Instead, this is what Twitter needs to do to fix their user retention issues:
 Twitter needs to understand that most Twitter users (at least the ones that I am aware of) do not want to necessarily follow (or be followed by) their family and friends.  They have Facebook for that. So when on-boarding a new user, just offering to scour their contacts to recommend people to follow is not going to cut it. Twitter needs to 'learn' about who a user is, what their demographic is, and what their interests are.

As a new user, this is what one will see currently.
My first issue is how Twitter determined that I would want to follow that list.  Personally, I would not want to follow any of them.  Twitter should do a better job of guessing whom a user might want to follow, and not just draw from their location (I assume this is why it suggested the New York Islanders to me).

Here are two alternative methods that I believe would be a more welcome initial customer experience. Ask the user a series of questions, that better serve to 'profile' the user.  It is only at this time, that Twitter is in a more intelligent position to recommend who I might find interesting to follow. A second method might be to consider showing a user 'interests', not people to  follow.  For example, if a user selected current events, perhaps then Twitter should recommend CNN, and other news sources. Maybe a user would check off sports, or even more macro - automobile racing.  It this juncture, Twitter could recommend following NASCAR... you get the point - why doesn't Twitter??

The Death of Brick & Mortar Retail

Traditional Brick & Mortar retailers have seen sales chiseled away over the past 10 years by a scrappy little sales channel called the Internet. This is a disruptive trend, and one that we all see. The smarter retailers saw this coming, and rather than conceding the war, the fought back. This is why even with the mega-success of Amazon, is right there fighting the good fight.

Now however, with the advent of the Smartphone, retailers asleep at the wheel will find that the online challenge has 'stepped up it's game'.  I expect that within 5 short years, we will see even some traditional Brick $ Mortar retailers that obtain more than 50% of their sales via a Smartphone (and other mobile devices).  For etailers, perhaps as much as 75%.  If you're not already, you need to start immediately plotting out your mobile strategy.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Your blunder is your biggest PR opportunity

If you have not already seen it, AirBnB just announced their new logo design. As horrible as it is, it is also the talk of the town.  You can not view a twitter of Facebook stream without seeing it mentioned.  Here lies opportunity.  Should I be part of the AirBNB team (I am not), I would be all over this.  How AirBnB could leverage this even more is simple.  Announce that you now wish to crowdsource a better logo design, and watch 'em talk about you even more!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Kickstart your Marketing

I have done all forms of marketing over the years. These include online ad spends,Adwords, SEM,SEO,Website and Product funnels - and at the other end of the spectrum, PR,Social Media, Print ads, and Broadcast. I am always on the lookout for new methods of getting the word out, in a cost effective manner.

Recently, I have found myself on the consumer side of new web start-ups such as Kickstarter, or Indiegogo. I am convinced that you, as someone who is launching a product or service should be looking at services such as these, even if you have no need to raise money for your launch. Specifically, I am suggesting that you should look at these services (and others), as an ongoing 30 day advertisement for your product, and not just as a method of raising funds.