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.

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!

Will Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft reach their 100th Anniversary, like IBM?

IBM 100 YearsIn 2011 IBM celebrated its 100th Anniversary with a bang. The company was a merger of three companies: the Tabulating Machine Company, the International Time Recording Company, and the Computing Scale Company, and since then it has gone through many changes from high tech product manufacturing to a service-based company. But despite all these ups and downs, company survived and now employs over 450k employees, has a 100bn turnover and operates in over 170 countries!

In hindsight, two reasons stand out for IBM’s success. First, their ability to reinvent themselves time and again, and that includes change in the business model, new products and services, geographical expansion and becoming a more agile firm by cutting resources or selling off their business units, such as selling their hardware business to Lenovo. Second, focusing more on the enterprise market than business to consumer, as the enterprise market is more long lasting and cash rich.

Now the question is, will tech giants from the current age such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft exist 100 years after their inception, like IBM?

And like IBM, the answer will lie in their ability to reinvent themselves and rebound at every tipping point they will have in their 100-year voyage. In fact, these giants have already gone through some rough patches and managed to negotiate them so far.

However competition is getting bigger and stiffer day by day, and the reduced price of infrastructure has levelled the playing field between big players and start-ups such as Dropbox and WhatsApp, which have recently disrupted and created their own space in the already established cloud and private messaging industries.

We have looked into some factors these companies are focusing on to survive longer.

Buy Start-ups with a huge user base or serious IPs

The big cash companies are not shying away from buying start-ups and already are on a spending spree. Microsoft bought Yammer, Skype and Nokia; Google bought Next, YouTube and Motorola ( which it then resold); Apple bought Topsy; Facebook bought Instagram, WhatsApp and Opus. However this is a very high-risk policy. Recently Google took a hit when it sold Motorola Mobility at half the buying price.

Keep innovating and launch new products and services

Another proven theory is innovate to keep going i.e. keep launching new products and services to remain ahead of the competition. Google and Apple are really ahead in this game and have huge future product pipelines ranging from wearable technology to renewable energy products to space programs. Microsoft and Facebook are more focused around mobile and cloud friendly technologies.

Expand aggressively into rapidly growing BRICS countries

Expanding business into emerging markets (Far East or BRICS countries) is a very popular option these days, as consumer spending is increasing in these markets and so is a craze for products and services from tech giants. This is therefore a great opportunity for these companies to leverage that market.

 

But there is problem with proven methods:

I am not sure if buyouts, geographical expansions and new products and services are enough to keep big companies going for another century, as product life cycles are shrinking. These days people discard their new phone in months, change cars in year or two, change jobs every three years and homes every five or six years. In this environment people don’t often remain loyal to one company’s products and services. Plus, in order to maintain cash flow sustainability, Google, Apple and Facebook, and to a certain extent Microsoft, have no serious products or services like CRM, ERP, DB servers or Cloud computing with which to break into the enterprise market. Finally, companies like Alibaba and Samsung from the Far East are also making inroads into the Western market and presenting very stiff competition.

Perhaps only the guardian of crowdsourcing might survive

I think, if Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft really want to survive that long, they have to create a worldwide cross platform ecosystem (not like their existing vertical App stores) to crowdsource any future product and service, so nothing slips under their radar. Otherwise they will perish simply because easy access to high speed internet, software infrastructure (e.g. cloud computing), and technical talent abundance far beyond their labs means new product and service creation won’t be limited to these giants.

Kabir , Frank Underwood, Mark Zuckerberg, WhatsApp – hey ho 2014

Facebook and WhatsUp

I have finally managed to get a moment or two to spend writing a blog post. Following birth of our first baby, the last few days were as hectic as I have ever known in my life, with no respite from changing nappies, reorganizing furniture and looking after both mom and baby, however, during all this madness, I also watched house of cards series two, which like season one is full of Frank Underwood’s antics around Shakespearean emotions to gain ultimate power and made me rank this soap along with Thick of it, and Yes Minister!!

Let’s rewind the topic to kid again, we have called our new-born “Kabir”, a name that caused some disagreement with my other half, family and friends. Kabir being an ancient Indian saint, some find the name too dated and others question whether such a name is controversial because it could symbolise a certain section of society or religion. But luckily, with some deep convincing and back channelling (Frank Underwood, #HouseofCards), I managed to persuade everyone that Kabir was the right name for this kid;

My reasons were very simple. 1) It has a nice, simple, easy ring to it, unusual but easy for everyone to pronounce. 2) The original Kabir (The saint from India) did rise above cast, gender and religion and showed society that humanity is the best thing going forward, which always inspired me and influenced me to name my son after him!

OK, that all was personal. It’s rare for me to post personal stuff but emotion is pouring out from me. Everyone says life takes different turn after a child and it may be that that is forcing me to show personal emotion on my tech blog!!Probably this is the first and last time I will talk about things other than tech and product development here!

Let’s get back to business. Looking back to when I last blogged, the main stub was that Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) bought WhatsApp for $19bn. Looking at the stats, WhatsApp has 450m active users with over 1bn of messages exchanged every day. Facebook is valued at almost $42/user despite the fact that per user revenue is just under a buck – as a result many questioned if WhatsApp was really worth that much. At MWC14 Mark replied to that question with some hesitant affirmation i.e. he thinks it is but he might be wrong for the first time!

So what does this mean for Facebook and especially for Mark Zuckerberg?

He Continues to Lead from the Front
I think Zuckerberg continues to show his astute foresight and strong leadership skills when it comes to social media or new age communication tools, because first he managed to buy Instagram and then WhatsApp, despite both Google and Apple (far more cash riche than Facebook) being on the lookout for new generation tools!

Most Respected Among 21st Century Entrepreneurs
It also show that Zuckerberg enjoys high respect among start-ups or 1st generation entrepreneurs because, if rumours are to be believed, Larry Page from Google tried to offer a higher price to WhatsApp before Facebook bought it. The same is believed to be true for Instagram, which Zuckerberg managed to grab despite Jack Dorsey (Twitter co-founder) being on the Instagram board!

Facebook won’t be vanishing in 4/5 years’ time
Despite promising that WhatsApp will remain as independent as Instagram after buyout, Zuckerberg has managed to expand the Facebook product inventory, especially when some reports suggest that Facebook has already reached maturity and a downhill path might now be inevitable.

But what does this mean for the product development industry?

The Cross-platform Subscription Model has Legs!
WhatsApp is a cross-platform subscription-based messaging service which is not a new phenomenon. Similar services existed from the inception of dot com in the shape of Yahoo, Hotmail and AOL chat and then BBM brought that in on the mobile platform, but WhatsApp made the money. i.e. a lesson can be learned that a product which is better than anyone else’s and accessible from any device can leverage its success!

2014 belongs to Social Commerce, Bitcoin, Wearable Tech and Sentiment Search

2013 saw the rise and rise of mobile commerce, the stock market launch (and surge in share price) of social media sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook, the introduction of wearable technologies like Google Glass, and high demand for Bitcoin took its valuation to $1,000.

Google shares reached over $1,000, LinkedIn shares are trading at over 300% of their original value, Twitter and Facebook shares are strong too. Overall, the year was very exciting and reached heights that caused  critics to suspect a tech crunch just around the corner.

On  the downside, 2012 stars like Zynga and Groupon have struggled to maintain their share price and profits, and Samsung and Apple went to war over various patents.

Amid all these highs and lows, I have spotted some trends that might dominate the coming year’s technology developments.

1.Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn might need to think beyond display advertising or parish

Social media networks have become the most popular and most time-consuming sites and applications for users and the big three ($FB, $TWTR and $LINKD) are already trading on Wall Street with a combined valuation of over $200bn and a valuation per user over $100,  but revenue per user still in single figures. Therefore, I think to justify their valuation and competitive advantage, these networks will be forced to find means for brands to do commerce solely on their platform, because revenue merely based on display advertising and industry specific marketing products is not good enough and might only take them to closure rather than leading them to flourish.

2.Google, Samsung and Apple will indulge in a big wearable technology domination war

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2014 in Las Vegas is full of companies (including LG, Intel, Sony, and Samsung) demonstrating wearable technologies, such as: smart watches, smart bands, smart ear buds, and smart glasses.

Apple and Google are not participating in CES 2014 but undoubtedly they must be keeping track of their competitors with an eye on the almost saturated smartphone and tablet market.
Apple has already filed a patent for iWatch and, due to shareholder pressure, might launch this in 2014. If we believe in the continuation of historical trends around competitors product launches following Apple’s new product release, I am sure Google glasses will come out of beta and Samsung will improve their already launched Galaxy Gear in order to be top of their industry; a wearable technology war seems inevitable.

3.Sentiments and Location Search will replace Google Keyword Search

For many, Google keyword search is still the primary form of data finding service. However, the rising popularity of Q&A engines like Quora, Facebook’s Social Graph, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Map, and recently launched Social search app Jelly, by Twitter founder Biz Stone, indicate the futuristic search trend is more aligned to human sentiments, where users can search stuff based on real intention rather than generic search terms.

4.APIs accelerate Marketing Automation but surge bot rates too

“A study by Incapsula suggests 61.5% of all website traffic is now generated by bots. The security firm said that was a 21% rise on last year’s figure of 51%; however, Activity by ‘good bots,’ it added, had grown by 55% over the year.”

The trend will continue because marketing automation with artificial intelligence is gathering momentum and content networks and providers are giving access to their data via open APIs.

5.The direct messaging industry is poised for disruption or consolidation

Snapchat, WhatsApp, Blackberry Messenger (BBM), Twitter Direct Message, and Facebook Messenger process over ten billion direct messages every day. However, none of these has managed to determine their monetisation model, which means consolidation is inevitable. Biggies like Facebook and Twitter in particular are trying to spread their wing in this sector.

6.Bitcoin or virtual currency will become mainstream

Recent developments in the virtual currency industry are:

1) Bitcoin is trading at $1,000 after Zynga announced that they will take Bitcoin as formal currency to sell their products or games.

2) Many companies are already following the Bitcoin success story and launching their own currency such as “a new Bitcoin-like virtual currency inspired by rapper Kanye West is set to be launched, and has been named “Coinye West”. Kanye West is not involved and has yet to comment on its inception. It will follow in the footsteps of “Dogecoin”, another virtual currency based on the popular Doge meme.”

3) Amazon and Facebook are pondering their own currency too! Overall, 2014 will see virtual currencies become mainstream!

4) National government such as Singapore Tax Authorities (IRAS) Recognise Bitcoin;

Eight Qualities that make a good Product Developer

Product Development Recently product development has become very intriguing career choice in computer science field. People like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Jeff Bezos have become household names and role models to aspiring entrepreneurs, and computing has, to a certain extent, replaced the oil and commodities sectors on Wall Street as a future investment bet. Many big universities have already introduced product development as a separate subject and unsurprisingly these courses are oversubscribed despite high fees.

However, having been involved in product development for both consumer and enterprise software and hardware, I am inclined to believe that product development cannot be learnt or taught over a relatively short time period as it is a continuously evolving process to find a solution for identified problems.

Based on personal experience, and after researching the thoughts and actions of many product developers from companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, eBay etc., the following characteristics have identified that might help product developers to become successful!

1.Passion:

Passion is about determination – finishing the job with calmness and confidence; it is not shouting and swearing.

Passion is the first characteristic everyone expects from a product developer, but I am not sure if all developers understand what passion stands for; some confuse it with obsessive aggression, argumentativeness and impatience, which can have an adverse effect.

In my opinion, the passion means a determination to finish what you start, regardless of pain and hurdles, and the work must be carried out with confidence so that you can remain focused, productive and immune to failures.

2.Drive:

There is nothing wrong with being driven by money or fame

Hunter Walk wrote a very good article and he emphasized the three most important things for product development: love, greed and fear. I must admit that the second one, greed, left the most lasting impact on me, as he rightly mentioned that greed relating to becoming famous and/or rich can potentially bring a focused and non-egoistic approach to developing a product quickly. 

3.Proving yourself:

Use personal grudges to motivate  yourself.

I was attending an event and one of the most experienced entrepreneurs in that meeting mentioned that he wanted to develop successful products  because, ”I need to prove many people wrong and rather than talk the talk, I like to do walk the walk and make things happen.”

Another example is in Nick Bilton’s new book Hatching Twitter:  Square is the byproduct of proving those people wrong that pushed Jack Dorsey out of Twitter.

4.Standing away:

Don’t get emotionally attached and learn every day.

Emotional attachment to a product can become hurdle to its development. Just because you want to shape a certain product in a specific way does not mean that everyone will buy in to your idea. As a product developer, you must be fixated on the problem you are solving but not on the way you choose to solve it i.e. if your product ends up completely different to what you first envisaged but solves the problem, you are winner!

5.Aptitude over qualifications:

You don’t need to be an engineer to build product.

Companies from Google to Facebook emphasize that product developers must be engineers. However, there are many examples in the technical world where people from a non-technical background become product developers. Steve Jobs was art school drop put was not a technical guy; he was a salesman at Atari and had vision to shape computer hardware in certain way to make it accessible. Working with the technical skills of Steve Wozniak, he developed the first personal computer and the rest is history.

6.Control the whole development cycle

Product development is not just about developing a piece of software and/or hardware; it needs a holistic approach.

As well as doing the things you love, you have to manage people, processes and technology.  You might have to be a tester one day and project manager or blogger or legal representative another day.For example, a developed product must go through legal checks to ensure that no copyright is infringed. As the product developer you can’t shy away from taking that responsibility and you will need to engage with non-technical people to ensure the whole product is ready.

 7.Build an honest team:

Surround yourself with people who can criticize.

Build a team that can identify issues with your product, not “Yes boss” colleagues, who are either charmed with your enthusiasm or have no clue about your product and therefore fail to pinpoint any issues. For example, I suspect that Microsoft’s failure to identify the internet opportunity and Yahoo’s inability to convert their content to context, losing the race to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, is result of this misinformation to their main product developers.

8.Step out of your comfort zone

Product development is a very time consuming activity and comes with huge responsibility and leadership. However, for greater productivity, and to remain in touch with the ground zero reality, every product manager must take some time out from their routine life and must involve themselves in activities that force them to think outside the box, such as become a volunteer worker at a sports club or charity, go to new places and work with people whose skills don’t match yours.

The key is you must work at something which doesn’t fall into your usual professional, social or personal domain and challenges you to step out of your comfort zone and broaden your horizons.