Synergy is an amazing thing. Especially when it pertains to three of the hottest topics in web innovation. Several years ago User Experience planted the seeds of Web 2.0. By offering solutions that take down technical hurdles for the end user, User Experience focused products allowed the mass influx of non-tech people into web publishing, sharing, blogging, and social engagement online. Product Development groups and Entrepreneurs alike embraced the opportunity by offering the numerous web and social media applications that now saturate the web market. Yet the wave is moving forward…
This year’s Y Combinator Startup School and some of the recent Google Tech Talks shared top of the line advice from the thought leaders in User Experience, Product Development, and Entrepreneurship. After watching the separate presentations over a period of a few weeks, I could not help but to connect the three topics. Those disciplines together shape and the Web 2.0 environment and its current leaders and will more likely than not affect the industry for years to come. Below is my summary of recurring themes and notes interconnecting the three topics that and I hope will provide inspiration to Entrepreneurs, Intrapreneurs, Marketers, Brand Managers, and Product Leads alike:
Product Development + Entrepreneurship
Startup School ’08 brought in speakers from 37 Signals, Google, Amazon , leading Venture Capital firms, and Entrepreneurs from the Silicon Valley to a selection of anxious future entrepreneurs gathered at Stanford. The presentations are all available online and while very engaging to entrepreneurs I could not help but to notice the amazing parallel that each one of the lessons had with Product Development and Management in large and small organizations, period. Here is the brief list of most prominent ideas:
- Pick well the Market, Team and Product: learn how to ride the market wave, while motivating your team, and shaping a targeted product to address customers’ burning problems. [ by Greg McAdoo ]
- Follow your market — markets waves are forces to ride but they are not meant to be straddled. The most successful products are those which surf the biggest wave and manage to stay on top of it. [ by Greg McAdoo ]
- Be good – people naturally side with and help benevolent brands and products. Paul Graham lists three improtant reasons why company should grow and stay benevolent – being good improves morale, helps other people want to help you and helps you in being decisive
- Find the problem in every need and the need in every want – don’t look for solutions, look for problems. Seek feedback early and often and listen to the problem, not the suggestion. This theme came up in several of the presentations
- Be flexible and fast – start small and scale based on feedback – launch the solution quickly and ask for the few happy users. Then listen to supporters and try to find others like them. Improve on what the happy people ask for. If you can find 100 happy clients, you will probably find many more. [ Paul Buchheit ]
- Every department is only as good as its weakest employee – An interesting thought by Marc Andreessen who shares: “The law of crappy people: A people hire A people. B people hire C people.”
The capabilities and the confidence of the people at any level of the company as you grow are going to degrade down to the the worst person at that level. It is astonishing. If someone is is just as good as the lowest higher level person, all people promoted that way will get compared to that lower person.
- Promote products that will make your developers proud – The very best people are idealistic. They don’t need to look for a job, they want to make the world better. [ Paul Graham ]
- Stay positive – there is nothing more constructive or destructive to morale than attitude. [ Another great thought that was shared throughout several of the presentations ]
User Experience + Product Development
Adaptive Path’s “Subject to change” book and their presentation as a part of the Google Tech Talks series also brought up an interesting topic on sustaining products success by focusing User Experience and product extensibility while keeping things simple. A message that stuck was on extensibility of digital products connecting to a web environment to allow flexibility and adjustment to user demand. The Nike pedometer was a great example, but so are many other portable digital and desktop gadgets that we will be seeing more of in the near future. Here are my notes on the presentation:
- Tell an exciting story – customers respond to emotion.
- Focus on boosting your peaks, and controlling your lows – what your users remember is not the cumulative average of your performance, but the high and low most points and the average between those two.
- Treat your stakeholders – under-promise and over-perform; customer loyalty is based on a consistent string of positive experiences. Provide them with a little treat in every product update. Pace added functionality over time. The web platform allows numerous centralized upgrades and a tasteful use of those can allow each of your customers to gradually enjoy and savor those moments of surprise.
- KEEP IT SIMPLE: Have a user-friendly platform, not a feature-laden product
How is Web 2.0 different?
While Web 2.0 is an opportunity to cash in to the rich flow of new active and engaged web users, building successful web products is no longer about mimicking successful features offered by the strongest competitors. An increasing overflow of information in social networks and applications is already cluttering the user’s attention span.
In the words of Chris Anderson “Every abundance creates a new scarcity […]An abundance of information can create a scarcity of context. An abundance of choice can create a scarcity of advice.”
As a result, the need for social involvement is converting into a need for better focus. Putting the above best practices in action through Product Management, while targeting the most burning problems that apply to the widest range of users on the web is how the products of the near future will get their fair chunk of the Web 2.0 market.
The key to this bank is with those who are able to prototype and push their solution to market the fastest. Those who listen to their customers and adjust their product strategy to match the users who need it the most, by treating them with unsurpassed User Experience. And yes, UX is in the beginning and the end of this industry. It is no longer a feature, it is a higher standard of development that now a must for those who dare to compete for attention online.
Posted by: Diana Zink on Monday, 26th May, 2008