Agile product development for Startups – Part one – First steps

Agile Product Development

So you think you have a brilliant idea that will become a hugely successful product or service. Congratulations!

But how do you turn that idea into a well considered, structured game plan for how you will turn your concept into reality?

Traditionally, you’d do a bunch of stuff around market research, business plans, big project plans and a whole heap of things before you get anywhere near building the thing. But you’re an Agile startup right?

In these short posts, I’ll be referring to the great work of Roman Pichler. I consider Roman to be at the top of the tree when it comes to Agile Product Management specialists. His site has loads of detailed background and resources on the areas I will just skim over.

So how do you quickly get from a concept to an initial Product Backlog you can start working with? Here’s a high level of the first steps you probably want to take.

Step 1 – Understand your users. You should create personas for the different types of user your concept is aimed at. A persona is a fictitious person who represents as closely as possible a typical type of user of your product or service. Personas are important because they remind you that you are developing a product for people, not generic user types like “Author”, “Editor”, “Administrator”, “System User” etc. In most cases, you’ll have multiple personas to represent the different types of people your product is for. Make your personas visible in your team space to remind you everyday whom you are designing for. You don’t have to define loads of detail up front. Your personas will evolve as you learn more about them through user testing and other forms of feedback. Here’s a short definition from the Agile Alliance.

Step 2 – Develop the Product Vision. In short, you need to define who are your users, what of their needs are you going to address, a super high level view of the capabilities your product or service will provide to meet those user needs, and finally, what’s in it for you? You should also define a one sentence “vision statement” to encompass the whole concept. A vision statement for YouTube might be “A free online video hosting, sharing and streaming service funded by advertising”.

The Product Vision is important because it provides scope boundaries. We know that things move in and out of backlogs as we gather insights and inspiration.

We may define a Product Vision for a new car, and as we learn more about our users and our needs, an initial view that they want four seats may change. They may want six seats, because in our target market, people often travel with the whole family. But it’s still a car.

However, if our Product Owner explains that we need to provide 50 more seats, spread over two decks, that’s not a car any more. It’s a bus, and that doesn’t fit within the overall Product Vision.

That’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean we say “No, we’re building a car, so we won’t do that”. If our users really need a bus, we should reset the product vision and the steps that follow it. What we have discovered is that the car is not the right product to build.

The Product Vision is also very important to align understanding and expectations early from stakeholders. If you are going out to angel investors or other routes to seed funding, the PV and other artefacts will be absolutely vital to get your concept across concisely and professionally.

Roman Pichler’s Product Vision board is a fantastic resource that I have introduced to many teams. I wholeheartedly recommend it. Here’s a link to Roman’s site.

Once you have your Personas and Product Vision established, you have a solid foundation to work from. The PV is vitally important, but it lacks a critical dimension – time. In my next post, I’ll explain how you build on the Product Vision to move towards creating that Initial Product Backlog.

JustDial and InMobi are Leading the Indian Startup Scene

Indian startup scene

More continent than country, India is home to 17.5% of the world’s population. One of the emerging economies, it has no shortage of traditional entrepreneurs who have been part of the family business for ages, but the new wave of startups is still at a nascent stage.

The hottest sectors for startups seem to be E-commerce and Online Travel, with many companies having a valuation of about 1 billion dollars. Native companies like Flipkart, Jabong and Snapdeal are giving strong competition to Amazon, which is such a success story in the US.

India has its own Silicon Valley – Bangalore. About 41% of the startups are in Bangalore and 33% of them are ecommerce businesses.

The biggest advantage of starting up here is the sheer number of young people with access to online opportunities. Also, in a developing country, an organization that can develop unique solutions for its problems will be a sure success. For example, JustDial, a company that gives information to people having no internet access by sending it via SMS or InMobi, a startup creating waves in the Mobile Advertising sector.

There are an equal number of challenges to overcome too. The major cause for the slow growth is poor infrastructure, although much improvement has been made in recent years. Government regulations, risk-averse consumers and an overall lack in basic facilities are hampering further growth. It is said, that any organization that can take on the complexities of India may well be equipped to tackle the world!

In recent years, there has been just one Tech IPO (JustDial), while other startups have gone through successive rounds of funding. At the end of 2013, Zomato, a restaurant recommendations app, successfully raised funding from Sequoia Capital India and entered the 1,000 crore club (approximately 160 Million dollars).

India is attracting a steady flow of foreign investment because of its immense potential and fewer market entry barriers in comparison to China. With no dearth of talent and a passion to excel, India’s ‘Startup Age’ is just beginning.

Just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come!

Scaling Startups

Before we start, and to prevent you wasting time if you don’t like what I am about to say, I am not a techie. Not in any way shape or form. I barely manage to operate my Mac let alone advise on the finer points of the dark magic worked by you technocrats out there. However, I have always followed my good friend Shashank’s blog with interest and love to read different views on events out there.

So when he asked me to pen a follow up to his informative and interesting article Seven ways for start-ups to monetize business about how start-ups might scale their businesses once they have established their revenue model, well how could I refuse. So here are my 5 key thoughts, and perhaps (hopefully) they are not what you might expect:

1. Oh, let’s go back to the start

Shashank’s piece identified many, if not perhaps all, of the revenue models available to tech start-ups in a very easy to read and useful manner. What I don’t think he stressed enough is that in my view every single start-up must identify what the applicable revenue stream(s) for their business is (are).

One of my roles (I like to keep it plural) is with the Jenson Seed EIS Fund which made 35 investments in early stage businesses during 2013 and has made 7 so far in 2014. To do that we have seen a lot of business plans during to get to these investments and one of the key failures we have seen is that the entrepreneur involved focuses too heavily on the operations and totally ignores the end customer. Worst still this is most common with pure tech companies who often appear to think that the benefits of their product are so obvious people will find them.

So my advice is look at the most applicable revenue model for your business and make it integral to your vision and business. It can change, and develop, but there are plenty of case studies out there you can learn from. I know you are a disruptive new business and there is nothing else like you out there (raises eyebrow and asks quizzically….”really?”) but if you don’t have revenue you are either a charity, a project or bust.

2. Know your enemy

Most start-ups, whether in tech or old world, fail because they run out of cash. In my experience they run out of cash largely because their revenue predictions fail to materialise as they predicted or at all.

So my advice is get to understand your prospective customers. Spend time with them if possible. LISTEN to what they are telling you and sometimes stop evangelising about your product long enough to take it on board.

Is your product a nice to have? A must have? How does it compare to the completion? Accept there is always an alternative and clearly those alternatives are competitors. Understand the different buying cycles and timings particularly in the B2B environment. Be clear about how difficult it will be to break through in the B2C environment. Being “disruptive” might not be enough.

In short, just as you would in a military campaign, understand your customers as intimately as possible because to know them makes it easier to reach and convert them.

3. Let’s stay together

Once you understand your customer you need to test, test and retest different ways of monetising him. Your original vision might change, as might your revenue model, you might have to pivot (shudder because this word is often misused and I have tried to ban it in our investment panel meetings) but by testing different ways of reaching customers and getting money from them, once you have them make sure you stick with that model.

Too many start-ups assume that their revenue model will work based on no data. As an investor we tend not to support this, and as a business owner I think it is commercial suicide. You need to know how your customer wants to deal with you or how you are going to monetise him most efficiently and then you can stick with that, and them.

4. Do[n’t] stop believing

I was once asked if I loved my products. The question was asked when I co-founded and grew a giftware company (teddy bears, photo frames, key rings etc) to become one of the largest in the sector. My answer was a categorical no. I love my business. I only love my products if customers are buying them and they are making money for my business.

It appears to me that too many entrepreneurs these days love their businesses or products a little too much. Sometimes it is worth taking a step back and considering if what you are doing really has a future or if it needs to change. Whilst persistence beats resistance, blindly banging your head against a brick wall will only lead to a bad headache (often characterised by the phrase “we need to educate the customer”).

5. Bring the noise

If you have identified your revenue model(s), understood your customer and constantly tested and evaluated the data you have received objectively then you should be ready to go. If that is the case, go and go hard. Put all your resource and effort behind supporting this and grab as much scale as you can manage as quickly as you can manage it before somebody else does.

As a final observation, the tech revolution has brought many great and wondrous things and appears set to deliver for a lot longer. One darker side that I have witnessed is a certain complacency in the tech sector, which gave this blog post’s title. However, in my experience in business you might build it, but it rarely makes them come. You have to drag them (metaphorically) kicking and screaming.

For those of you that might have been wondering I decided to use song lyrics for each of the headings. To stop you all going nuts the answers are:

1. Coldplay – The Scientist
2. Green Day – Know Your Enemy
3. Al Green – Let’s stay together
4. Journey – Don’t Stop Believing
5. Public Enemy & Anthrax – Bring the noise

Sorry if they are a little tenuous…but it amused me!

About An Author:
Martin Spiller describes himself on Twitter as an entrepreneur, consultant, lecturer, investor, accountant, barrister (non-practising) and is fuelled mostly by caffeine and nicotine. Martin can be reached on Twitter @MartinRSpiller

Seven ways for Start-Ups to Monetize Business

monatize startups

Most startups emerge from entrepreneurs’ sheer passion to develop something that satisfies their creative inquisitiveness, and therefore they are often clueless as to how to monetize their products and services – or perhaps they end up developing something that is impossible to monetize. So now the question is how these creative geniuses can reap the benefits of their inventions, or what they must keep in mind from a monetization point of view. To answer this question I have compiled list of business models that can potentially be used by startups to monetize their business propositions.

1.SAAS Pay-As-You-Go or Monthly Subscription Model

Widely used in this cloud-based share economy, the self-service subscription model has become an instant hit among startups these days. Salesforce pioneered this model when they offered CRM services online to businesses without the need to install any software on their local server. These services are mainly pay-as-you-go, where users can avail themselves of services as per their usage (e.g. iTunes). However some business offer monthly subscriptions, where the consumer has to pay a fixed monthly cost for usage. (e.g. Hootsuite, & NetFlix)

2.Pay-per-click or Call to Action Display Advertising

This is one of the very old models and is mainly used by the publishing industry or businesses who have managed to build big communities. The idea is to build huge readership (e.g. Tech blogs like TechCrunch or web portal like Yahoo) for your content or create a community (like Facebook and LinkedIn) where users can engage with their friends, families, colleagues or like-minded people, and that helps service providers to understand their users’ intent and interest and to display advertisements and earn money on pay per click or call to action. (e.g. Facebook Ads)

3.eBay-Like Marketplace Model

This is an eBay model where businesses can facilitate transactions between buyers and sellers. This model can be complicated as the startup has to act as an intermediary, which means they have to make sure smooth of payment transactions, delivery, customer service, warranties and returns.

4.Affiliation Based on Price Comparison

Price comparison sites like GoCompare.com, Comparethemarket.com, Priceline.com and Kayak.com created a relatively new model among affiliate marketers where they compare a product’s price from multiple suppliers so that the consumer can choose the best one.

5.Data Licensing Model

In this API world, Data Licensing has become a very lucrative way to monetize your businesses. Usually these kinds of businesses have access to large public data from social networks and become aggregators like Gnip, DataSift and Rapportive.

6.Uber and WhatsApp like APP Economy

This is a reincarnation of the old client-server economy where users can download pieces of software (called Apps), especially on their smartphones and tablets, to play games , watch movies, go shopping etc. Just to give you glimpse of how big this economy is getting these days, recently, Uber (Taxi Booking App) and WhatsApp (direct messaging App) are valued around $17bn+ by their respective investor and buyer.

7.Amazon like Traditional Commerce

The old ecommerce still exists, where, like Amazon, businesses can sell products online. However due to a serge in smart phones and tablets, commerce is focusing very strong around the App economy.

The gist is that if you are building something you are passionate about, you must think of how you monetize your product from day one. It could be another Facebook, Twitter or call of duty game or eBay- or Amazon-like marketplace or retail stores or It may fell across several categories, as defined above, but the sooner you have an idea of how your venture will make money, the more likely is your chance of success.

Why is Google launching new products; and why isn’t Apple?

Google vs Apple

Synopsis
“Apple has failed to introduce new products recently and yet Google is launching a stream of products – This article looks into possible reasons.”

Apple recently bought “Beats,” making headlines around the globe and again put the company in the spotlight, triggering many debates about the future direction of the company. The overall verdict is that Apple may be losing its cutting edge advantage and have taken the routine growth route via acquiring companies like Beats and Topsy.

Whereas Google have lately launched many new products including Google Glasses, a self-drive car and Chromecast, which is a change from their traditional growth strategy under Eric Schmidt, when they successfully acquired companies like YouTube, Blogger and Android to expend their product range.

So, have Apple and Google gone into role reversal with Apple playing it safe to appease shareholders and Google trying to find the next big thing while their search engine algorithm has reached maturity?

Missing Steve Jobs or Playing waiting Game

I think probably the answer is yes, and we may need to accept the fact that without Steve Jobs’ drive, leadership and vision, Apple is lagging behind in introducing new products. Also, Apple might be playing waiting game this time, unlike in the smartphone launching war, where they took all the initiatives and then Google and Samsung copied those to build their own brands in that market.

Next Wave of Semantic Technology Not There Yet

Another reason for Apple to not to introduce new products might be the slow advancement in semantic analysis, which is going to help the next wave of innovation in smart gadget product lines. We still don’t have the technology to understand human emotions, graphics, speech and physical movements, and until we have a robust sentiment analysis algorithm, the next wave of smart phones, TVs, cars, watches, home or wearable technology may not be successful. The recent failure (or at best quiet response) to Google Glasses and Nike’s smart bands substantiates that argument.

Meantime Keep Cash Flow Momentum Going..

And in the meantime, until they are ready to launch a new product, Apple is doing what Google was doing seven or eight years ago, getting the momentum going by acquiring content and data companies like Topsy, and music content and hardware companies like Beats. Both acquisition will give content (plus data) to keep the cash flow rolling.

Google Needs to Find Next Big Thing after Search Engine Algorithm Peaked

On the other hand, as I mentioned above, Google have reached a stage where they have to find the next big thing after their search engine algorithm has peaked. Their efforts in social media (Google+ and Glasses) and mobile technology (Motorola mobility) are not reaping many rewards. They have therefore rightly gone the way of Apple in the late nineties, when Steve Jobs took over and launched multiple products like iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iMac. Google’s recent product lines includes smart glasses, cars, watches, tablets, to thermostats and smoke alarms (after acquiring Nest), and they are also venturing into the space program.

So What Could Happen Next…

Now it remains to be seen whether this role reversal becomes permanent or leads the two companies in completely different directions (Apple becoming retailers and Google turned into an R&D Company) or causes a fall from grace like Yahoo, AOL or Microsoft to certain extent!

Five quick tips for start-ups and entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship

Being involved with two start-ups and working through the nitty-gritty of daily operations to ensure that both ventures can survive another day makes me wonder if there is any light to end of tunnel, where I can reap the benefits of the problems we are solving and the pain of building solutions from scratch. This start-up life is a very vicious circle for any entrepreneur. We usually fall in to this out of sheer love of what we are doing and the gap we’ve identified in the market. However, taking an idea to a successful conclusion is altogether a different kettle of fish, and if we believe the stats over 95% of start-ups failed to see their fifth birthday!

In between the madness of taking these start-ups to the next stage, I scribble some notes whenever time permits, and that helped me to write my earlier blog post on highlighting critical factors to develop a product. For this one too,

I have jotted down some additional factors or reconfirmed old factors that have become quite prominent in my current start-ups’ journeys.
Luckily in this very social-media-oriented world, I can easily find and embed some references to reconsolidate my thoughts, which I have attached to each point to summarise my findings.

1 . Focus, Focus, and Focus

It may be an old cliché but the internet has made this world very small and resources have become readily available and inexpensive, which means that distractions are easy to come by, especially things are not going their way. For example, after the success of Eventbrite, we (i.e. tikbuzz.co.uk) could have been lured into becoming ticket suppliers rather than remaining a price comparison engine for the entertainment ticketing industry. But we stayed focussed to make sure that we develop a product that can help fans to find the best deals among the many already existing suppliers. Result: we are now one of the top three price comparison sites in the UK.

2. Create convenience for users

From Google to Facebook to Microsoft, mission statements categorically say that we want to make world better place and that basically means making things accessible and simple to use, and this is very true for start-ups too i.e. whenever, you envisage a product or service, always make sure that it will create convenience for your target audience. Like they say, build what you like to use, not what you’d like to leverage for a fat bank balance.

3. Learn to say no

Start-up life is all about long hours and doing things which you don’t do in a 9 to 5 corporate job. You might have to do all the jobs from receptionist to CEO, so there might be some distractions that you try to avoid in order to save some quality time for business development. For example, Dharmesh and Naval don’t take any business phone calls, communicating only by email, which means they can save lots of time on exchanging pleasantries or topics that they need to confirm via email anyway.

4. It’s never too late

I know, early successes from Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and then Mark Zackenberg, all in their twenties or early thirties, have given an impression that youth is the predominant factor for successful entrepreneurship, but if we look at the following Infographic, there are many examples where success came later in life, so don’t give up until, you achieve your goal.

5. Set Short Terms Goals & The Journey is J Curve

Having a vision is very important, as this confirms where you want to take your company. However, when it comes to execution, the focus must be on achieving short term goals. Richard Branson summarized this really very well in his LinkedIn post!

Plus, Life is a roller coaster when you run a start-up; one day you reach the ecstasy of ultimate success and the next day you might get so depressed that you feel the world has come to an end. I have found a quote from my LinkedIn contact that summarises this journey. Have a read and be prepared to smile in the end when you reach to your ultimate aim of setting up a start-up. Good luck!
entrepreneurship journey

Twitter Focusing on Big Data & Social Commerce after Ads & Social TV

tt-twitter-net-01-2013_0

A recent Twitter annual report showing lower than expected growth of monthly active users, revenue, engagement and timeline views has sent some shock waves into the market, and as a result the share price is over 40% down since its high in November 2013. Also some high profile clients have raised questions on its effectiveness for driving traffic.

So far, if we look, Twitter is focusing more on display advertising products such as prompted tweets and accounts, in addition to TV amplifier, where Twitter is trying to leverage its usage along with TV programs. But we all know results are not promising and clients have shown some concern.

Despite all its criticism, Dick Costolo (Twitter CEO) is very positive about Twitter’s future growth and promised to launch a series of new products and services to boost its revenue and effectiveness for businesses. Let’s look at what these future products could be.

Gnip + BlueFin + MoPub Means Twitter can become Mobile Google AdWords

Last Year Twitter made 11% of their revenue via data licensing and one of the recent developments was that Twitter ended up buying one of their data licensing companies, Gnip. This will give Twitter a more control over how to use their data powerhouse with over one billion tweets every two days and loads of rich media content, link images, video and text.

We should not forget that last year Twitter acquired MIT based data analytics start-up Bluefin, which means they must be looking to combine Gnip data aggregation and Bluefin’s data analysis techniques to provide a more enriching experience to both businesses and consumers.

Twitter also owns mobile ad exchange company MoPub, which means Twitter can offer advertising beyond their platform: imagine, if Twitter analytics could identify the right trends (images, keywords, and videos) from billions of tweets and let businesses target people on a mobile platform at real-time; they could really become Google AdWords on mobile.

Twitter and Amazon partnership shows Twitter inching towards real-time commerce

Last week Amazon announced a partnership whereby users can link their Amazon and Twitter accounts and then add stuff, via tweets, to their basket. It’s a great first step toward the highly anticipated Twitter commerce where whole transactions (including payment) can be carried out on Twitter.

Twitter Amazon Comerce

If we look based on Twitter’s mobile usage and real time nature, there is a huge possibility for Twitter commerce, as businesses can setup a service where consumers can find and buy their products on Twitter. For example, Amex already allows customers to find the latest deals on Twitter in real-time. Our (i.e. Startup TweepForce) client Payasugym lets you find your nearest gym via a tweet and another client (@Socialretail) runs loyalty campaigns purely on Twitter to encourage users to be more engaged.

To sum up, these last two developments (big data and Twitter commerce) look very promising as they go beyond traditional display advertising and can give Twitter an extra edge on their competitors.