Category Archives: Minimum Viable Product

Google Analytics Academy

Google Analtytics copyMetrics are a very important part of the Lean Launchpad process. By keeping track of interactions with customers in a variety of ways you are building a convincing story about the viability of your business model; a story that will be invaluable when you start selling, acquiring users or raising money.

Some of the things you’ll need to be measuring can be tracked with a simple spreadsheet:

  • Customer conversations
  • Development milestones for your Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
  • Customer roles and relationships

Interactions that take place online, via the Internet or mobile, are a different story. Google Analytics is free software activated by placing a line of code into your site or app. That line of code gathers a wide range of information about those interacting with your site or product including:

  •  Where, when and how (what device or browser was used)
  • Length of interaction and where you ‘lost’ them
  • Hotspots on your pages
  • Behaviors within apps and sites
  • Their ‘path’ through the experience you are providing

…and much, much more. So much, in fact, that even experienced users of Analytics often miss important stats and metrics or don’t understand how to use them to do testing. Fortunately Google offers a service called Analytics Academy that provides both structured and self-guided courses for both beginners and experienced users.  Find out more here.

This really isn’t optional, though many startups don’t take full advantage of it. The reason I say that, is it gives your startup an incredible advantage as you gain sophistication with these powerful tools.

Excerpt: Stay in The ‘Problem Space’ for As Long As Possible

(this is an excerpt from The Customer Discovery Matrix; A Concise Guide To Starting Anything)

Listen closely. This is the key takeaway for the entire Customer Discovery Matrix:

Stay in the ‘problem space’ for as long as you can.

When you go through your twelve weeks of Discovery, you are basically looking to learn and flesh out three aspects of your business model:

a) The problem you are solving,

b) The nature of your solution,

And

c) The ultimate value gained by the customer.

All of these are critical to the success of your endeavor, but the first is far more important than the others, since finding solutions and ascertaining value are completely dependent on getting the problem right.

Most businesses, products and initiatives that fail do so because they are solving the wrong problem. The ones that are successful have discovered that all-important ‘product/market fit’, which stems from an intimate knowledge of the problem they are solving, from a customer perspective. This fit must be pursued much like the work required for the fit of a good suit. The tailor measures everything. He knows the way the fabric will respond, where to build in movement and what is best for your physique. Only then does he ‘productize’ this knowledge and cut you a suit – one that fits like it was made with your personal needs in mind, because it was. Get your fit right before you start cutting and sewing.

This means that you need to be relentlessly thorough about uncovering your customers’ real problem, the one whose solution will make them eternally grateful (or at least until the next problem pops up!).

Don’t solve multiple problems at the beginning. If there are multiple problems you could solve, work on the one that represents the biggest pain point for your customers. When you see what we in the software business call ‘feature creep’, you’re seeing someone trying to solve multiple problems. They are adding bells and whistles to add value, but the reality is that they are usually causing distractions and delays, and this is something startups can ill afford.

When you read the stories of successful businesses, you almost always find that they started with one problem and focused on it. Google’s founders wanted to find a way to search the research data at Stanford when they were grad students. They spent their first years, all the way up to their IPO, refining their approach to search until it worked. Everything else followed on from there. Oxo Good Grips started with a potato peeler. If you’re old enough, you remember the stamped metal potato peelers that hurt your hands. Peelers had not changed for 50 years, until Oxo came along. They made a comfortable potato peeler, and then leveraged that success to hundreds of related products and a great brand reputation.

Google solved the search problem.

Oxo solved the comfort problem.

There are endless examples of this and few exceptions. In fact, when you read about the companies that got off track, it is usually because they became distracted with adding features and solving a universe of problems before they mastered the one problem that was within their grasp to solve.

The Problem Space is an interesting place. We believe that immersion in it will make product development much more successful. Simply identifying the most important solution for your customer, the one that solves a pressing need, will get you started as a business. Knowing as much as possible about the Problem Space will give your new business legs.

Utilizing Google Analytics for your Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

While our team sifts through the 33 applications we’ve received for the HTRLaunchPad 2014, I’m going to jumpstart the thought process they’ll need when setting up their Minimum Viable Product (MVP). At this stage, prior to customer discovery, your MVP should be as simple as you can get away with- a sketch, a story, a video, a simple user-interface design. As you learn more about the problem you’re solving you’ll refine your solution as demonstrated by the MVP. And when your solution is out there where users can play with it analytics will be very important to understanding how to improve it.

In this week’s AlertBox, usability guru Jakob Neilsen covers five Essential Analytics Reports for UX (user experience) Strategists. It’s a great intro to setting up and understanding the power of Google Analytics when analyzing web and mobile apps.

He covers:

  1. How Fast Is Mobile Access Growing?
  2. How Much Do Social Networks Impact Our Ability to Meet Goals?
  3. What Sources Drive the Most Conversions?
  4. How Many Visits Does It Take for Visitors to Convert?
  5. What Desirable Actions Do People Take on the Site?

If you don’t understand what these things mean or why you should understand them, the article is required reading. But even if you think you know this stuff, read it- there’s a ton of very useful information that will help you get the metrics part of your lean startup off on the right foot.

Finally, I highly recommend you sign up for his weekly Alertbox newsletter. I learn something every time I read it.

Scaling Slowly

Software startups typically face a big challenge early on: Scaling up their user base to show traction. And in the LaunchPad methodology a startup is defined as a search for a scalable, profitable business model. You need to have a market that is large enough for growth and profits as you grow. So the pressure to build a footprint and constantly expand can be pretty intense, especially if you have investors watching that growth and measuring your success against it. So it may seen counter-intuitive that one of the leaders in the startup accelerator world has written a lengthy and convincing argument for scaling slowly as a strategy.

Manually Add Early Users

In a post titled Do Things That Don’t Scale, Paul Graham advocates for scaling slowly and getting things right for those early customers and supporters.  Let’s look at some of his logic:

“The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually. Nearly all startups have to. You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them.”

When you’re working with a minimum viable product (MVP) that is barely operational, this makes total sense. Sign people up manually, add users one by one and build functionality as you learn during the process. We’ve seen several of our teams do this early on, helping early adopters build profiles, set-up usage models and generally cobble together enough functionality to get started.

Watch Your Weekly Growth Rate (10% per week can add up fast!)

“The other reason founders ignore this path is that the absolute numbers seem so small at first. This can’t be how the big, famous startups got started, they think. The mistake they make is to underestimate the power of compound growth. We encourage every startup to measure their progress by weekly growth rate. If you have 100 users, you need to get 10 more next week to grow 10% a week. And while 110 may not seem much better than 100, if you keep growing at 10% a week you’ll be surprised how big the numbers get. After a year you’ll have 14,000 users, and after 2 years you’ll have 2 million.”

This is a technique called ‘reduce to the ridiculous’ that is often used in sales as in ‘you can have a nicer car for only pennies a day’ or ‘for less than the cost of a caramel latte once a week you can…’ When you’re sweating growth early on, setting little incremental goals can not only make it seem easier, it also keeps you motivated as you reach these easier goals. One of the rules of goal-setting is to choose goals that are achievable. 10% growth weekly seems doable, yet it adds up. Setting a goal of 14,000 users in your first year seems pretty hard until you break it down like this.

Handholding, Coddling and Happy Users

“You should take extraordinary measures not just to acquire users, but also to make them happy. For as long as they could (which turned out to be surprisingly long), Wufoo sent each new user a hand-written thank you note. Your first users should feel that signing up with you was one of the best choices they ever made. And you in turn should be racking your brains to think of new ways to delight them.”

Early customers who have a great experience will be loyal customers even if you screw up. They like the personal attention that even a small effort entails and they are likely to refer others your way. But isn’t this really time-consuming? Yes, but that’s what you’re here for!

“Another reason founders don’t focus enough on individual customers is that they worry it won’t scale. But when founders of larval startups worry about this, I point out that in their current state they have nothing to lose. Maybe if they go out of their way to make existing users super happy, they’ll one day have too many to do so much for. That would be a great problem to have.”

Scaling is integral to getting your new business off the ground but it doesn’t have to mean reaching thousands or millions in your first year. Treat each new user as a gift and work at keeping them coming in slowly but steadily and you’ll get there.

And read the whole article. He has worked with hundreds of startups and this a is a core strategy he and his partners at Y-Combinator recommend to their company founders.

Names and Domains

dot_com_250x251Sue Laluk, a partner at the law firm Hiscock and Barkley, spoke to the teams last Friday about copyright and trademarks including issues around naming things. One of the mot important takeaways was that getting the dot com domain for your name is perhaps more important than what that name is. If you cannot secure the domain at dot com, you need to change your business or product name to one that you can get.

This is not insignificant.

If you cannot get the dot com domain (without dashes, etc.), it means someone else has it. You can try to buy it. Fortunately, for early stage startups, you might be able to get it for a decent price because you don’t need it that badly and the seller probably doesn’t know why you want it. If you wait and you start to build a public presence, the seller can do searches on you and raise their prices. The basic process for buying a domain, that is not new, is to do a WhoIs search (your domain registrar/internet provider should offer this) to learn who owns the domain (in some cases the owner’s name is private and it is likely that they do not want to sell it). You then contact them and ask if they are willing to sell and for how much. Let them name a price and then start negotiating. You’ll know quickly whether it’s more than you can afford. If you make a deal there are escrow services that will hold the payment until the domain is transferred to you. Use them. Many domain dealers are unscrupulous.

The preferred route is to find an unclaimed domain through the search service provided by your registrar. If you find one that is available, buy it immediately. You should not pay more than $12 or so. You need to buy it when you find it because it is rumored that many firms monitor domain searches and buy any that are being searched. They then resell them to those who wanted them, for a big premium. I cannot verify that this is true but several domains that I found available were gone the next day when I went to buy them.

The key here is to base your name on the available domain, not vice versa. And don’t worry about being descriptive. You can always add a tagline to deal with that. Short, memorable and easily spelled are better criteria than being descriptive.