Branch, a deep linking SDK, is now a unicorn

From TechCrunch:

Branch, the deep-linking startup backed by Andy Rubin’s Playground Ventures, will enter the unicorn club with an upcoming funding round.

The four-year-old company, which helps brands create links between websites and mobile apps, has authorized the sale of $129 million in Series D shares, according to sources and confirmed by PitchBook, which tracks venture capital deals. The infusion of capital values the company at roughly $1 billion.

I remember seeing a talk from these guys when they were brand new at the (now defunct) Where 2.0 conference in 2014. Back then, deep linking was novel and new, and was not widely supported by the mobile platforms.

We use Branch at FATMAP, and I can say it’s a very easy way to get deep links set up across a range of content types in a mobile app.

That they are now worth a billion dollars is on one hand a bit odd: they are basically packaging platform functionality in an SDK and charging app developers for it. There is nothing particularly unique or defensible with what they are doing, and it’s nothing a medium or bigger sized app developer can’t build on their own.

On the other hand, it’s a signal of the health of the app development platform industry. I have to wonder what their exit strategy is though. An obvious potential acquirer would be Google, while would buy it for the data, or Microsoft, who would buy it for the developers and make it part of their overall developer platform.

Either way, they are now a rather expensive acquisition.

Apps caught sending location and other data to advertising companies

From ZDNEt:

A team of security researchers behind a popular mobile firewall app say they’ve identified tens of iOS apps that are collecting location data from iPhone users, data they later pass on to monetization firms.

In all cases, researchers say, the collection occurs via packaged tracking code monetization firms provide to developers to embed in their respective apps.

The only surprising thing about this is that there are only “tens”, not hundreds, or thousands.

Back when I was at Nokia/HERE Maps, I was managing a product with several million active users. I was contacted nearly daily by advertising or data monetisation companies, offering us easy money to just add their small SDK to our codebase…

These companies make an offer for developers that’s easy to accept… spend a few hours implementing their SDK, and forget about it… and in exchange, receive “free money” for every active user. These companies are especially interested in apps that collect or handle location information.

I do have some sympathy with the developers who accept the bargain… the app business is a brutal, hard one, and when you’re trying to turn a profit, a few extra cents per MAU for essentially no effort can seem like a great deal… but you’re selling your customers’ privacy, and in the long run that’s going to backfire.

My advice to app developers is to reject the seemingly free money, and stay focussed on building great value for your customers, and building your monetisation model around that. Going for the easy money might make your ARPU look momentarily better, but it’s not what your customers are paying for.

On Strategy…

I came across this quote in a fantasy novel* I was reading:

“Strategy is just a fancy word for a special kind of common sense, the ability to see options, to make them where there were none. It’s not about knowing the rules. It’s about knowing how to break them.”

When it comes to building Product, There are thousands of frameworks, books and ways of looking at strategy. But at the end of the day, no framework will replace the ability to see… to be able to look at your situation, at the strategic context of your product, and see your options.

Frameworks can help you organise and explain what you see, and sometimes even deduce or discover things you might not have otherwise seen. But the strongest Product people I know use a strong combination of instinct and pattern recognition to see their strategic options and deduce the right way forward.

* The novel is called “A Conjuring of Light“, and it’s part of the Darker Shade of Magic series by V. E. Schwab.

Distribution-centric beats product-centric product companies

There is a lot of gold in this interview with Marc Andreessen.

The key insight for me was the notion that a superior product can easily be beaten by an inferior product with superior distribution.

“The general model for successful tech companies, contrary to myth and legend, is that they become distribution-centric rather than product-centric. They become a distribution channel, so they can get to the world.”

You need a great product, and the right product, to get to product market fit. But to scale beyond your early adopters you need distribution.

For consumer products, that’s going to be your growth loop: how to turn one cohort of users into another cohort of users.

Great interview.

A general plea on all App Store and Google Play users

If you have time to leave a review, you have time to respond to the developer when they reach out to you to try to solve your problem.


Behind every app in the App Store, behind every game, sticker pack and camera filter, is an app developer.

These individuals, or most likely team of individuals, got together and decided to spend their working hours building something that they hope brings joy, utility, or both, to people’s lives.

App developers work hard to make sure the app works on hundreds of different types of devices and screen sizes, across smartphones, phablets and tablets, in tens or hundreds of countries around the world.

App developers want you to have a great experience with their app. Their business, and their livelihood, is directly influenced by how successful their app is, which is directly influenced by how well it works for you, the user. So it’s in their interest for you to have a great experience.

But a smartphone app is a piece of software, and software is never perfect. Software is complex and software developers are humans, and humans overlook things, they make mistakes. Sometimes they even cut corners to meet a deadline or they rush to deliver value to you, the user, faster. And sometimes that means the software they release has problems. It has bugs.

When you’re using an app and it doesn’t work for you, or it does something unexpected, by all means write to the developer and tell them. If you’ve paid money for an app, then you have every right to expect, and to demand, that it works. So send a message to their support teams. Most developers will get back to you quickly and will be more than happy to help you get your app working.

When you have a problem with an app, it’s always polite, and good karma, to try to solve it directly with the app developer first, before posting a negative review on the App Store.

App Store reviews have a direct impact on the developer’s ability to find new customers and generate profits to keep their business running and their pay cheque coming. I would ask you to think about this before posting a flaming review on the App Store.

There are two genuine reasons to post a negative review on the App Store:

  • You have a problem with the app (it crashes, or behaves unexpectedly) and you contact the developer – and you don’t get any response, or the response isn’t helpful.
  • The app is obviously trying to trick you by providing fake or misleading content.

My final plea: if you do post a negative review on the App Store, and then the app developer responds to your feedback and offers to help fix your problem: then take the time to respond to them. If you have time to leave a review, you have time to respond to the developer when they reach out to you to try to solve your problem. And if the developer can solve your problem or at least tries to, then update your review. Help others see that the developer is willing to try to help their customers have a great experience.

Don’t be that person who leaves a flaming review and never takes the time to respond or update their review. Be kind to app developers. 🙂

On solitude and taking a break for a day

On Friday, I did something I nearly never do. I took the day off, and spent the day outside in a Kayak.

The simple act of being outside, alone on the water, was not only fun, but it was refreshing and energising. I relaxed. I had nothing to do, nowhere to be, no emails or slack messages to read: just me, my kayak and the water in front of me. It was nearly meditative.

It took me an hour or so to relax. I couldn’t paddle fast enough. The kayak kept going in circles. The rudder was tangled. I was stressed. I pulled up at a small jetty to try to fix the tangled rudder cables, and as I was getting out I did the classic kayaking newbie trick and rolled the kayak over and fell right into the water. I suppose in hindsight that could have made me even more annoyed, but the unexpected dunk into refreshing cool water actually calmed me down. I laughed out loud at myself, and at the silliness of it. Then I untangled my rudder cables, got back into the boat and set out for a totally relaxing few more hours on the water.

Just from taking one day off, and spending it in solitude, has worked wonders. I woke up this morning feeling energised and happy.

Solitude can be a rare thing to find for someone with a young family. Between the office and home, it’s rare that I spend more than my 35 minute bicycle commute on my own. But the value of solitude to your stress level and focus can be profound.

Many of the greatest thinkers rely on long bouts of solitude to get any thinking done, from Carl Jung to Bill Gates. Cal Newport talks about many of them in his book “Deep Work”.

The act of stepping outside of the daily routine is refreshing and energising. Our weekdays are full of meetings and work, and the weekends are often full with friends, family and other plans. So take a day off. Just one day. And spend it doing something by yourself. Go to a museum, go for a hike, hang out in a park. It doesn’t matter; just take yourself, maybe a book, and step outside of your daily routine.

There’s something nice about doing it on a weekday. Sure, you could do it on the weekend too, but something about knowing that the rest of the world is carrying on, and you’re stepping away from it, just for one day, makes it special. For extra impact, make it a Friday: then you get the bonus of waking up Saturday, refreshed and energised, with your whole weekend still ahead of you.

I’m planning to do one of these “think days” once per quarter. For my mental health and overall productivity, I see only upside.

Kayaking in Berlin, Wannsee

Kayaking in Berlin, Wannsee

The new way to display outdoor maps on your website

There is a new way to embed beautiful 3D Maps into your website.

Meet the new Map Embed from FATMAP. There is no better way to embed a high-resolution 3D map onto your website.

Chamonix, France

The map is fully interactive: use your mouse or trackpad to move around, and hold the SHIFT key to adjust the tilt and rotation. Or just use the map controls on the right hand side.

Map embeds are super easy to add to a page on your website, or a blog post. You just need to insert a snippet of HTML in an iFrame (similar to how embedding a YouTube video works). You can customise what types of outdoor adventures are visible on the map, whether the map shows summer or winter imagery (where winter imagery is available), and of course what location you want to see.

Map embeds are currently available in Beta for partners. Contact us if you want to be part of the trial program.

COMING SOON: Embeds for single adventures. Soon, you’ll be able to create your own adventure on fatmap.com (by drawing a route on the map, or uploading a GPX track) and then embed that in your blog on your own website. If you’ve wanted to show the world what adventures you’ve been on in the outdoors, or what you’re planning – this is how you’ll want to do it. Adventure embeds will be completely free and available for everyone to use. Email me if you want early trial access.

Barrels and Ammunition

I came across this quote from Keith Rabois:

If you think about people, there are two categories of high-quality people: there is the ammunition, and then there are the barrels. You can add all the ammunition you want, but if you have only five barrels in your company, you can literally do only five things simultaneously. If you add one more barrel, you can now do six things simultaneously. If you add another one, you can do seven, and so on. Finding those barrels that you can shoot through — someone who can take an idea from conception to live and it’s almost perfect — are incredibly difficult to find. This kind of person can pull people with them. They can charge up the hill. They can motivate their team, and they can edit themselves autonomously. Whenever you find a barrel, you should hire them instantly, regardless of whether you have money for them or whether you have a role for them. Just close them.

It’s a really interesting way of thinking about the people in your teams.

You know the people that can make things happen. They can take initiative, and then push through organisational and other problems to make things happen, without needing someone to approve or unblock them.

The amount of things you can get done in parallel is limited by how many barrels you have.

You generally know a barrel when you see one; but here are, I think, some common characteristics:

  • “Ask for forgiveness, not permission”. Barrels will not wait for approval or consensus. They take initiative, and follow through.
  • Barrels take accountability. They stand up and own the plan, and the result.

When you find a barrel, the most important thing you can do is point them in the right direction, and let them go.

On Medium’s new ‘applause’ feature

I really like Medium’s new ‘applause’ feature for ‘liking’ articles.

medium-applause

The idea is that the extent to which you like something is not binary… it’s not either “I like it” or “I don’t”. It’s a spectrum.

There are other ways they could have done it. They could have made it a star rating, a rating from 1-5, or 0-10 (like NPS). But all of these have a meaning that’s so closely associated with rating things (hotel rooms, websites, products and so on) that it would feel odd attaching it to Medium content, where the author is clearly visible. Replacing it with ‘clapping’ makes it a much more human interaction.

Clapping is something we humans do all the time to indicate how when we like something, and generally, how much we like it. The more we like something, the harder and louder we clap. The Applause-o-meter is a common method for gauging audience reaction to a contest between a few different people, with the candidate who receives the loudest applause winning the match.

That’s what I like about the clapping UI on Medium. It takes a very common behaviour on the internet (rating something) and gives it a very human and emotional touch. The more you like a piece on medium, the more you click to ‘clap’ for it. This also makes clapping a lot more meaningful than just going for the 5 star button… each click to clap is an additional investment – you need to decide once again on each click if it’s worth one more – so five ‘claps’ is worth much more than one-click to leave a 5-star review.

The downside?
Each click is an additional investment. In our time-drained world, each click is a little bit of friction. Will people leave as many ‘claps’ as they might want?

There’s also possibility for abuse, such as clicking a hundred times on one article to artificially bump up the total number of claps – but that’s something Medium can easily secure against with a bit of logic.

Product Transparency, and some tips to help increase it

A little while ago I ran a retrospective with a product team where we focussed specifically on the product process. We invited a cross-section of the company: engineering, design, marketing, operations and the founders. Everyone present in the retrospective had the opportunity to give feedback on what was working and what wasn’t with regards to the way product management and product development overall was running in the company.

Sifting through the feedback, there was a common theme that encompassed nearly all feedback received: it all came down to transparency.

Everybody wanted more visibility into:

  • What the product team is doing
  • What they are not doing
  • Why they are/are not doing thing X
  • How the decision on what to do gets made and who is involved

Nearly all the different feedback points came back to one of these things.

It’s all about product transparency.

A more transparent product organisation leads to more trust and better-informed product decisions. It’s hard to imagine having too much product transparency. Some companies even publish their roadmaps publicly online for all to see.

Product prioritisation and planning should be an open book. There cannot be secrets in the product team. Any good product manager should feel comfortable articulating their rationale for any product decision whenever necessary. This is not about justifying themselves or proving anything – it’s about explaining the rationale so that everyone can understand why we do what we do. Often if the PM is uncomfortable explaining the rationale, it’s because there isn’t one – so the way to fix this problem is to ensure that product managers have a structured, goal-based and data-driven approach to product decision making.

People also want to feel like they are involved in the process. In my experience, people are happy to allow someone else to make a decision as long as they feel like they have been consulted and their opinion has been heard. Generally, people hate making decisions. It’s easier to find reasons not to decide at all – and if people aren’t involved in the decision process, that’s often exactly what they’ll do. But if they feel like they’ve been listened to, people are generally more than happy to let someone else take the responsibility for making the actual call.

Here are some tips for Product Managers who want to help make their product process more transparent:

  • Share the quarterly product goals/KPIs/OKRs regularly. Everybody should be able to easily quote what the product team is focussing on at any given point of time.
  • The Product Roadmap should be a public document that’s available for everyone to see. Keep it up-to-date and make it available on the intranet or somewhere that everybody has easy access to. Each item on the roadmap should clearly map back to one of the product goals (see point above).
  • For new features, run workshops to collect feedback and ideas from different people across the company.
  • Create an “idea box” that anyone in the company can use to submit product ideas/suggestions. Screen these suggestions often and interact with the contributors, so they know that someone is reading their suggestions. It should be understood by the team however that not every product suggestion will align with the product goals, so not every suggestion will be turned into a product feature.
  • Identify the stakeholders in the company for any key decision, and always try to collect direct feedback from them before making a decision. Even when – or especially when – your decision does not align with the stakeholders’ preferred outcome, the fact that you’ve consulted them beforehand will greatly reduce the likelihood that they will try to sandbag your progress after you make your decision.
  • Open your sprint/development planning meetings for anyone who is interested in attending. You should explain to any visitors that in order to keep the meeting efficient, they should avoid interrupting or asking questions – but the process of planning should be open and transparent for everybody.
  • Document the results of planning or design meetings, including the rationale for any decisions made, and post it somewhere shared such as the company wiki.
  • Share your learnings from all product workstreams as early, as often and as widely as you can. Whether it’s the results of an A/B test, findings from a customer survey or discoveries from customer interviews – document everything you learn and share it with the company. This helps bridge organisational boundaries and helps everyone align around a shared understanding of the customer. Plus the act of documenting and sharing information helps you as a PM understand and internalise the learnings as well – so it’s a double-benefit!

If you have some other ideas on how to increase transparency, I’d love to hear them! Either leave a comment below or send me a mail.

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