Category: product

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In November, two spectacles occurred. The first is Dreamforce, Salesforce's annual event and the largest software conference in the world. The second is Elon Musk announcing the Tesla Cybertruck. Benioff and Musk use these events strategically. They engender an operational cadence to Salesforce and Tesla. There's no feeling like launch day. It's the day you reveal to the world the sumtotal of your team's efforts for weeks or months. That's how I felt as a PM - a huge sense of urgency, anxiety and motivation.
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10 June / product / saas / startups
You've found product market fit. You've hired a team, including some managers. Your initial, small customer base is very happy. You've discovered an initial channel of customer acquisition that's working. You've raised a meaningful round of capital. And then, right then, product innovation decelerates to zero. The fast pace that characterized the past 12-18 months, when you would germinate an idea and write the code in less than a few days, has evaporated.
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28 February / sales / marketing / product
A founder posed me a question earlier this week: Do you have any data/perspective on whether it's worth keeping the unassisted free trial flow vs. providing only one path which leads to a demo and an assisted free trial? This is a complex question. Let's break it down. The unassisted free trial has benefits. There's a deeper discussion in this post: Confessions of a Perpetual Freeloader. You capture the buyer at the point of maximum intent and reduces the activation energy of the sale.
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19 February / pricing / product / best practices
Startups are innovation machines. They identify market opportunities, develop novel products and go out to change the world. Some companies want to change the world in one dimension: a better product or a disruptive go-to-market. Others want to innovate in every dimension and re-invent every discipline from pricing to marketing to support to customer success. Brad Birnbaum, founder and CEO of Kustomer, discussed the challenges of innovating on two dimensions simultaneously on the Saastr podcast.
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04 December / best practices / strategy / product / books
I’ve wondered what it’s like to work at Apple. I’ve read books and articles about Steve Jobs and the turbulence the company experienced. Ken Kocienda co-wrote the Safari browser and developed the first iPhone keyboard. His book, Creative Selection, is the first book that provides a view of the day to day environment at Apple. It’s full of wisdom. These are my learnings from the book. There are few brainstorming sessions at Apple because ideas are difficult to debate.
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03 December / strategy / product / saas
Customers will pay you to build your SaaS product. It's one of the great advantages of a SaaS model. Annual prepay contracts - wherein customers pay for a year's cost on day - is a free loan from customers. And every startup can benefit from this advance. There's only one requirement: you must be able to sell your product while you're building it. Step 1 is reaching product market fit, the point at which some group of potential customers will pay.
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There are three types of product features, a seasoned head of product told me recently. MMRs, neutralizers, and differentiators. MMRs are minimum market requirements; basic features that every customer expects and demands. Neutralizers mitigate competitive threat. Differentiators are your startup's competitive advantage. As a product manager, I'd never thought about this type of roadmap segmentation before. But it made a lot of sense to me. When a startup has established product market fit, the differentiator is clear.
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29 June / product
One typical Friday morning in 2004, I walked into a government building and headed to work. I was a junior Java engineer and part of a hired team building an internal system for a government agency. We were a few days behind on schedule, and a technical issue arose. During the morning team meeting, we made a plan to refactor a small key part of the codebase - an effort that should have taken just the morning.
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19 April / trends / product
At SaaStr earlier this year, I spoke about the huge potential of machine learning in SaaS. In that talk, I broke down some of the advances in ML that might be useful for software companies. In the discussion that ensued, I stressed the importance of not letting the technology obfuscate the value proposition of the software. Yes, ML is a huge step forward, but it's not enough by itself. In fact, it likely isn't the most challenging part of building a disruptive product.
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05 April / product
There's no quicker way to lose a user or buyer of your software than to lose their trust. The software didn't save my data. The database suffered corruption. The website is down frequently. Data integrity is a challenge every company storing data faces. Machine learning SaaS startups face another trust risk – one introduced by probability. When Nate Silver forecasted the successful election of Barack Obama in 2008 with nearly 100% accuracy across districts, probability theory shined.
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07 March / product / saas / sales
After a SaaS startup has gained traction with SMBs and mid-market customers, they often feel a pressure to move up-market. Sometimes, demand for a product is so great, larger customers the pull the company up-market before they are ready. The startup finds itself in a critical position - both the product and the sales motion must evolve quickly. Zack Kass is a friend who advises SaaS startups on their enterprise selling motions and playbooks, refining the account executive profile, and developing a deal strategy.
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10 November / product / trends
A few weeks ago, I had my first customer support experience of the future. I was in a meeting when my Android's caller ID told me American Express was calling. I stepped of the conference room and answered the call. A machine-generated woman's voice identified itself as the American Express fraud department. “Do you have a bluetooth headset or headphones you can use with your phone?” she asked. I replied that yes, I did.
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12 October / product
Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away. Antoine de St. Exupery I remember launching a new filtering feature a Google within the AdSense product. At the time, we had hundreds of thousands of website publishers using our user-interface to accomplish many tasks. They might download reports of their revenue from running AdSense ads, configure ads to match their website's style, and indicate their preferences for the content of the ads to be shown on their site.
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10 October / saas / product
What are the attributes of the ideal SMB SaaS company, an entrepreneur asked me recently. It's a good question. There are product, marketing, and sales attributes to that ideal company that successful SaaS business have exemplified in the past. Product A beautifully designed, simple and elegant product is the first and most important thing. The product satisfies the top three priority for the software buyer and consequently the software buyer uses a software very frequently.
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24 March / product
A user has maximum intent. She has watched the humorous demo video, chuckled when reading through the clever marketing copy, and filled out the abbreviated, optimized user registration form. She wants to give the product a spin. How long does the account verification link take to appear in her email box? Is it long enough for her to switch tabs, change contexts and lose interest? The half-life for new product trials brief.
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15 March / product / saas
Numi is a little calculator with a twist. Unlike most calculators, it understands English and other languages. I've used many different types of calculators: from the Texas Instruments TI-89 graphing calculator to a HP 12C with its Polish notation, to software calculators Excel and R. All of them employ similar user interfaces. There's a syntax to translate the user's desires into something the calculator can understand. Numi takes that one step further.
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07 January / product
At its essence, a product is a combination of different funnels bringing the user from one state to another. How many funnels does your startup's product have? How many are you measuring? How many are you optimizing? Uber's consumer experience has two funnels. The first is user on boarding: registering a user and collecting their payment information. The second is booking transportation from opening the application to rating a driver's performance.
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16 December / product
When I was at Google, we worked with a user experience team frequently to help us design changes to the AdWords front end. After having reviewed our designs within our product team for weeks, we often thought the design was complete and foolproof. But we were consistently proven wrong by the UX team whose work surfaced face-slapping oversights. At UserOnboarding, Samuel Hulick has taken this approach with more than 40 different on-the-mark and a bit irreverent UX critiques of many top internet and mobile services.
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19 October / marketing / product
In 1964, IBM announced a mainframe computer family called the System 360. The mainframe wouldn't ship for another three years, but the announcement reduced the mainframe sales of their competitor, Control Data Corporation, sufficiently to warrant an FBI investigation. And so a new marketing technique was born. To be clear, there are many different forms of vaporware. Coined in the early 80s by Esther Dyson to describe software companies preannouncing a product, the term vaporware can refer to three different types of these announcements.
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25 August / product
Over dinner, a veteran product manager argued most SaaS products’ onboarding practices miss a crucial step: create value for the user in the first session. After that conversation, I signed up for many brand-name SaaS products pretending it was for the first time, and I couldn't help but agree with him. Most SaaS products guide a user through three steps. First, collect the requisite data to create an account, like email and password.
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01 December / product
What are the pains and aspirations of your customer? Does your product truly solve your customers problems? And fulfill its promise of doing something in a better way? Most startups wrestle with these questions at their outset, when they are in the customer discovery and customer validation phases of the lean startup cycle. But all startups should reevaluate these questions periodically. After all, a company's customers evolve with time and so do their jobs.
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20 August / startups / best practices / product
Though the term k-factor, a measure of the virality of an application, has waned in popularity since Facebook's sheep-throwing glory days, the idea of spreading a product through referrals lives on. We all know a good referral mechanism when we see one. Dropbox's invite-a-friend feature which awards free storage for both the inviter and the invited is the canonical example and resulted in torrid growth for the company. In April 2010, Dropbox users sent 2.
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Recently I met a startup founder who explained a technique for building his product roadmap in a novel way. “We research what our users are doing three minutes before they start using our product and the three minutes after.” I like the idea because it is a simple and ingenious mechanism for brainstorming product ideas, and this type of product development exploration evokes empathy from a product team, which is a the first step of the Stanford d.
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