Messaging and Chat are the next big channel for Growth

Growth is about finding new channels.

Messaging in general as a channel is young and fresh – and there will be a goldrush very, very soon. Services like Slack and Facebook Messenger are following the lead set by the asian chat successes like Line and WeChat in turning chat into a platform that allows access to services over the top – services like payments, shopping, games and more.

You can now order an Uber by typing a command in Slack, or you can order a pizza within the WeChat app in China.

What happens when chat becomes our interface with the world?

Before the point-and-click windows-based GUI evolved, the earliest PCs running DOS or similar operating systems had a ‘chat-style’ interface – a command line.

Messaging could be the next Operating System, and the starting point could be, once again, the command line. The difference is this time the abstraction level is much, much higher. Instead of a command like cd /uber which would change your working directory to the one called ‘uber’, now a command like /uber ride can literally order you an Uber. What’s old is new again.

There is a big possibility chat will be the next user interface. Chat – or personal assistants – or more likely a combination of both – will replace the apps grid as the next major UI paradigm. The chat window is always open. Yes, you use it to talk to your colleagues or friends – but it is already replacing email, and will piece-by-pice replace everything else around it. It’s so much easier to order an uber by typing “/uber ride” into the chat window that’s already open, than pulling your phone out, unlocking it, opening an app, etc.

(As a fun thought experiment: What comes next? What does the next part of the cycle look like? What does a GUI for chat look like?)

OKRs: How we use OKRs to empower teams

I did a presentation at the ProductTank Berlin February event last night.

My slides are available here.

I’m happy to chat more about OKRs, and how we work. Contact me!

Will Gill at ProductTank Berlin, February 2016

Amazon Kindle and the Perfect Product Vision

In the recent fantastic piece on The Verge covering interviews with the top brass behind the Amazon Kindle, the ultimate product vision behind the Kindle series of eReaders is articulated beautifully. From the article:

For Amazon, paper is more than a material for making prototypes. It’s the inspiration for the Kindle of the future: a weightless object that lasts more or less forever and is readable in any light. “Paper is the gold standard,” Green says. “We’re striving to hit that. And we’re taking legitimate steps year over year to get there.”

The beauty of this is its simplicity. Amazon are striving to create electronic paper. “Paper is the gold standard. We’re striving to hit that.”

There is nothing here about the joy of reading, or empowering people through instant delivery of information, or making money. The beauty of this is that all of those things flow naturally from the core premise: to make better, electronic paper.

This is what the Kindle team says about itself. It’s clear, it’s inspiring – and it’s impossible to misunderstand.

Compare that with this:

“Reach the largest daily audience in the world by connecting everyone to their world via our information sharing and distribution platform products and be one of the top revenue generating Internet companies in the world.”

That mouthful appeared on a slide at Twitter’s first analyst day. Inspiring? Do you even understand what the hell its trying to say? It could mean anything and everything – and that’s the problem.

Imagine your first day on the job at Amazon in the Kindle division. You ask, “So what is our mission? What are we trying to do?” In answer, someone might hand you a piece of paper, and tell you: “We want to make that.”

A good product vision is inspiring and motivating; an irresistible imagined future that pulls you towards it like gravity. But a good vision is also impossible to misunderstand. Everybody should share the same view, and be pulled in the same direction.

Product Manager in the middle

The Product Manager isn’t just a middle-man.

If you’re a PM, and your answer to every question is: “I don’t know, I need to go and ask ___”, then I’m afraid you’re doing something wrong.

You might not be able to give engineering estimates, but you should know your team and your technology well enough to give an educated guess; even if you have to follow up by saying “I’ll double-check that with engineering and get back to you.”

You might not have a slide prepared on every possible strategy question, but you should be able to form an opinion immediately if somebody throws you a strategy curve-ball.

You might not have the answer – but you should at least have an opinion.

Good Product Managers don’t wait to be told what to do by stakeholders. They anticipate stakeholder needs and suggest new ideas.

Good Product Managers don’t push decision-making up to senior management. They take responsibility, and if anything push decision-making down. Either way, they stand accountable for the decision and own up to it.

Good Product Managers never say “I don’t agree with this decision, but…”. Even if they think it.

No company needs more middle-men.

Companies need passion, vision and conviction. Grit.

Kickstarting Potato Salad

In case you missed it (although the tech press have had little else to report on today, it seems), some guy launched a kickstarter project with the ambitious goal of raising $10 to make a potato salad. (Link)

The project description:

“I’m making potato salad. Basically I’m just making potato salad. I haven’t decided what kind yet.”

On one hand, it’s absurd. It’s something like the tech equivalent of lighting your cigar with a burning $100 bill. It’s opulent, conspicuous consumption. Frivolous and wasteful, it seems to embody at least partly the recent backlash against the Silicon Valley tech industry, and the accusations that money is being invested generally into products and services aimed at making life cushy for the privileged and entitled elite, while more fundamental problems concerning the welfare of everyone are ignored.

On the other hand, why not? If people want to shell out their own hard-earned cash for something so frivolous, and have a bit of fun with it, why not let them? Although gratuitously wasteful, it’s not really doing any harm to the world as we know it. And maybe it might make a couple of people chuckle when they receive their $3 portion of potato salad.

Microsoft: Services Everywhere (not Windows Everywhere)

I came across two interesting pieces of Microsoft news today.

Firstly, Microsoft have bought the company behind a Visual Studio plugin called UnityVS which enables developers using the cross platform game engine, Unity, to write and debug their Unity programs directly within Visual Studio. Unity has support for all the major mobile operating systems, and then some – and Microsoft is slashing the existing $99 price tag and giving it away to developers for free. (Link)

In other words, Microsoft are investing in, and giving away for free, tools to make it easier to port games to a variety of platforms. Instead of reinforcing the old paradigm of “Windows everywhere”, they are literally helping to strengthen competitor platforms like iOS and Android.

The second piece of news was a rumour concerning a possible upcoming wearable device. (Link) Other than the first gasp-moment that it might not have a screen at all, the real news here was the rumour that the device might be compatible with Android and iOS mobile devices. This, compared with the wearable strategies of Android, iOS and Tizen (Samsung) devices, is a revolution. All the competitors mentioned here enforce a strict our-platform-only policy when it comes to their wearable offerings: the Tizen-powered Gear devices only pair with Samsung Galaxy devices, Android Wear only works with recent Android and the rumoured iWatch will of course only work with iOS devices. And here’s Microsoft with a device that could work with anything.

What does it mean? Perhaps it is a recognition of the inevitability of an Android/Apple-dominated smartphone market for the foreseeable future. Maybe it’s a strategy to increase sales: after all, Visual Studio still costs, and it also needs Windows to run; and the sales forecasts of any wearable device that only works with Windows Phone devices could not have been good (a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction). Either way, it’s a far-cry from the Microsoft of the 90’s and 2000’s and “Windows everywhere”, and it’s certainly some more clear signs of the company’s increasing play to become services-first.

Amazon Dash is another great example of un-bundling the smartphone

The newly launched Amazon Dash device (link) is a single-purpose hardware device that allows users to scan the items in their fridge or pantry that they’re running low on, and an order is automatically sent to Amazon’s fresh grocery service.

I find it very interesting because it is representative of how you can now build hardware so cheaply that the advantages of the unique form-factor versus a smartphone app outweigh the marginal cost of purchasing the hardware.

Sure you could do everything Dash does with a smartphone app… but having dedicated hardware makes it easy, and it is cheap (enough).

As the cost of embedded processing, sensors and (in some cases) glass continues to collapse, I predict we’ll see even more smartphone un-bundling into discreet, single-purpose connected hardware devices.

What the Whatsapp deal can teach all Product Managers

There are lots of lessons behind the curtains of the $19 BN Whatsapp acquisition by Facebook. There’s lessons about the scale and value of social, about the continually evolving mobile platform. There’s of course the rags-to-riches story of the founders going from food stamps to being billionaires in just a few short years, and a casual reminder that investment bankers are greedy.

But a few layers deeper there’s another lesson. It’s simple:

Whatsapp was not the first mobile messaging app.

When talking with Product Managers at lots of different companies I often hear sentences like these:

  • That’s not ‘new’ enough.
  • No, there’s already an app that does that.
  • If we could just find a completely new idea…

The problem is:

“There are no new ideas under the sun.”

Whatsapp was not the first mobile messaging app, and Facebook was not the first social network.

So what is the lesson? You don’t need to be first to win.

In fact, often not being first is an advantage. Look at Facebook – Mark Zuckerberg was able to learn from the failings of all the social networks that came before him. He learnt the importance of scaling from the failed Friendster, whose incredible pains scaling under rapid growth ultimately killed it. He learnt about network interactions from MySpace, which was still the biggest social network in 2006.

Another particularly good example: look at the category of To-Do List apps. There are literally hundreds in the app stores, and more pop up every month. Some are more successful than others, but the most successful ones, such as Wunderlist (currently #44 on the iOS store, and #29 grossing app), have only been around a relatively short amount of time. There were countless To-Do list apps before Wunderlist, and there’ll be countless more. What makes Wunderlist successful?

The value in a new product or service is seldom that it finds a completely unmet need. The value is often solving a known need in a new and innovative way.

When looking at product opportunities, the question is not if there is another product that solves the problem you intend to solve. The question is: can we be different? Can we be better?

A Very Simple Model for expressing a Customer Value Proposition

There are many frameworks available to help product teams develop and express a customer value proposition. One of my favourites is this Value Proposition Canvas, which was based on the canvas from the creators of the Business Model Canvas.

Expressing the proposition on this canvas is a great way of forcing you to think through the whole proposition, from beginning to end, and it is particularly useful for helping you identify problem-solution fit – that is, identify and articulate which needs or problems your product is addressing, and how.

While this model has worked very well for me, I would like to share a different, (even!) simpler model. It’s a well-known idea that any product or business should be able to be expressed within a single sentence. This model is all about getting to one sentence.

It’s as simple as answering three questions about your product:

  1. What it IS
  2. What it DOES
  3. HOW it does it

Step 1: Answer the three questions

What it IS

This describes the broad product category. What IS this thing you’re building? An app? What kind of app? Is it a service? What type?
Examples:

  • A messaging app
  • A maps app
  • A customer relationship management service

What it DOES

What does this product actually DO?
Or to put it another way – what are the benefits that this product provides to the customer? What needs does it solve?
Examples:

  • Send a text, image or video message to anyone you want, instantly, for free.
  • Find new and trending places to try that match your tastes in your neighbourhood.

HOW it does it

How does this product deliver the benefits you’ve described in the section above? What particular features or experiences are key to how your product will do this?
Examples:

  • Extremely simple interaction model with delightful user experience.
  • The fastest, most robust messaging cloud service.
  • Recommendations based on the activity/history of your friends.

Step Two: Prioritise

Do you have multiple answers under some or all of the questions above? If so, prioritise them. What is more important? What is critical? What is core to the whole product, and what is secondary?

Which items, if removed, would result in the product not being viable any more? These are your core propositions.

Step Three: Circle the differentiators

Which items you’ve circled are the ones that differentiate your product from others on the market? Which ones make your product truly different from the competition?

Step Four: Your proposition in one sentence

Now, try making a single sentence out of your answers in the three columns, focussing on a) what is top 1-2 in terms of priority, and b) what is differentiating.
(Hint: you don’t need to use every column!)

The formula for the sentence is as follows:
This product is a x (what it IS) that y (what it DOES) by z (HOW it does it).

Example: This product is a messaging app that allows you to send a text, image or video message to anyone you want, instantly, for free.

If you find that you cannot get everything you want into one sentence, or if your sentence is more than two lines long, start cutting. Keep cutting until you reach one sentence. What is really core? What is truly differentiating?

Why does this model work?

This model works by forcing you to prioritise. What is really important? What is really core? What is really differentiating?

It is also helpful because it helps visualise where your product’s differentiation lies. Some products differentiate on the benefits, or problems solved, and others differentiate on the solution to those needs. Knowing which is crucial when formulating your value proposition.

Try it, and see. I am interested to hear your feedback and if this model works for you.

The unbundling of Facebook and the evolution of mobile

Last week Facebook announced the new Paper app – an app that turns your Facebook news feed into your own personal newspaper. At the same time they announced Facebook Creative Labs and promised further small, single-purpose apps.

This is all part of a growing trend from Facebook to un-bundle their core mobile product/service into smaller, focussed single-purpose apps that solve specific problems. The first move here was Facebook Messenger, which was designed to compete head-on with the growing number of successful messaging apps that are growing incredibly in the marketplace (Whatsapp, Line, WeChat, Snapchat, etc).

When the giants of the desktop web era (Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and so on) moved to mobile, to begin with their service architectures stayed more or less intact. On the web, a single product has a single URL, a single brand and a single interface and structure. Facebook on the web is an entire product service that exists behind the facebook.com URL.

It turns out on mobile, however, that there are different dynamics driving user behaviour and expectations. On mobile, how users interact with apps, and how they choose to create and consume content, is very different than it was on desktop.

The structure of apps and the multi-tasking abilities of modern smartphones makes changing apps really easy. It is nearly always easier and quicker to press the ‘home’ button on your smartphone and open another app than it is to navigate the menu structure within the app you’re already in to access a different function.

This dynamic is driving the un-bundling of Facebook’s offer. Others are following. Yahoo already has offered a variety of mobile products since Marissa Mayer joined as CEO. Others, such as LinkedIn, will surely follow. (LinkedIn experimented with an email application, which they have since pulled. I predict they will release a news reader, similar to Paper, some time soon).

On mobile, users prioritise simplicity and speed over flexibility and broad functionality. Apps have a single use-case or purpose, as opposed to web products, or pre-mobile software in general, which cater for maximal different use-cases and functionality.

This is all a further acknowledgement that the paradigms that drove software and user behaviour in the pre-mobile world don’t fit completely to mobile, and the platforms are still evolving and changing.

Benedict Evans has posited that we really don’t know what it even will mean in 5 years to say “I installed an app on my smartphone”. So very little is settled – which means big opportunities – and also big risk – for mobile players.

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