Weekly reads, week of January 11 2016

The Story Behind How Pocket Hit 20M Users with 20 People via First Round

  • This one is worth reading multiple times.
  • Small, understaffed companies have the opportunity to ruthlessly prioritize ‘the most important thing’. Don’t waste this opportunity.
  • All companies face the challenge of losing focus. When the entire company is working on fewer things, synergy effects result in big productivity gains.
  • Leaders at every level over-index on their influence on the company’s culture. If it’s not working the way you want, look inward.
  • Make your product dead simple. The easier it is to learn, the easier it is to engage. The easier it is to engage, the easier it is to find value.
  • Power users are a great collective PM. Utilize them.

The Rise and Fall of Everest (the App) via Katherine Krug

Reflecting upon the demise of a promising goal-accomplishment platform.

Positives = great design, sales pitch, and investors

Not so positive =

  • Too many features outside of the core offering
  • Site speed and tech debt matter…to a degree. Blaming the cofounder is a bit disingenuous, but what follows makes sense. Don’t overbet on big features that you haven’t tested for user interest (and that may be outside your core offering). Also, unit testing is really important (as is, one could argue, dogfooding).
  • Didn’t pick and effectively track core metrics
  • Cash burn
  • Didn’t build a strong user feedback mechanism. Comments around not cracking motivation, etc, belie a lack of obsessive customer focus. Great comments later on regarding making it easy first, then fast, and then pretty.

How to Swallow $200 Million Accidentally by Blake Ross

  • “Judge a company’s priorities by it’s pixels” can also be pointed inwards. Judge your own company’s priorities by its pixels. Make your company’s pixels reflect it’s priorities.
  • “Professional assassins don’t introduce themselves” — It makes sense to test and iterate on relatively small % of your population, so well-positioned competitors don’t jump into the fray before you’ve worked through the kinks. Easier to do for a small startup than a Facebook of course.

Building a design-driven culture by Jennifer Kilian, Hugo Sarrazin, and Hyo Yeon

  • User empathy and UX focus produce compound returns over time. Many companies state that they focus on these things, but metrics and budgets state otherwise.
  • Understanding the ‘why’ behind customer activity is meaningfully more important than the ‘what’
  • Move fast and iterate. “Consider Instagram, which launched by rolling out a product, learning which features were most popular (image sharing, commenting, and liking), and then relaunching a stripped-down version.”

Shoppers are choosing experiences over stuff, and that’s bad news for retailers by Sarah Halzack

  • Retail product sales were weak over the holiday season; however air travel and restaurant sales were relatively strong. Hypothesis is that this represents a millenial-driven mix shift in preferences towards experiences over materials.
  • Physical retailers are experimenting with incorporating more engaging interactions into the shopping experience. Nordstrom allows users to design their own shoes. Lululemon enabling exercise. Urban Outfitters and Pizza?

More reads 146 Startup Failure Post-Mortems via CB Insights

  • Lots of good lessons in here, but the biggest takeaway is that there are a lot of ways that things can go wrong, and a lot of luck involved.
  • Until product-market fit is achieved (and long after), maintaining speed and discipline creates the greatest odds of success.

How Many Funnels Does Your Startup’s Product Have? by Tomasz Tunguz

  • Fairly straightforward read → map / know / understand your funnels