Posts About Business and Startups
We're big fans of superhero teams, such as The Avengers or the Justice League. When we were kids, a lot of us probably thought, "why does Superman need to be part of a superpowers team?" He's the most powerful superhero around after all. Sure, he's more powerful than a locomotive and has heat vision, but he also needs someone to balance out his tendency to trust everyone no matter what. That's where Batman comes in. And Batman needs Superman as well.
It's the same with teams. Individually we can do amazing things. But combine forces with someone who can see things differently, then we can truly achieve greatness. That's something Keith Yamashita, of SYPartners, has spent a lot of time thinking about.
Keith knows a thing or two about collaboration, having worked with dozens of companies, such as Apple, and helping them further solidify their teams. Watch the talk below and take note of the three habits that Keith says allow a collaborative ensemble to soar.
What really spoke to us was when Keith started talking about the inherent contradiction between being a soloist and part of a larger team. As he puts it:
We tend to think of creativity as the work of a soloist ... interestingly, virtually all acts of greatness are the work of an ensemble.
Often, we're taught to think of the solitary artist — the writer, the painter or the designer — as a force to be reckoned with, the one who creates the next great thing. The Steve Jobs, so to speak. But even Steve Jobs had a partner in Steve Wozniak.
We all need someone to bounce our ideas off of, which can spark ideas that we might not have considered had we been working in solitary confinement. After all, chance favors the connected mind.
Yet, how do we reconcile the soloist and the ensemble? Let's take a closer look at the three habits of great creative teams as Keith outlines them.
At the top of the list is focus. Keith says that we often look but don't really see what's in front of us. More importantly, what lens we're using can also shape how we actually see a problem. Is it an obstacle? Or is it an opportunity? If we're not seeing properly, opportunities can fall through the cracks.
But what Keith is talking about is Focus with a capital "F", which is the type of concentration needed to help businesses and teams grow, which has been pointed out before by our own Chief Instigator. It's so easy for us to get our noses to the grindstone that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Strong teams, as Keith puts it, need to see the entire landscape. Focus (big "F") helps us because it allows us to balance the short-term gains with long-term goals.
One way to help galvanize a group of soloists is for everyone to know their superpower, or the strength they bring to the team. Keith mentions it in human psychology terms, such as an energetic person complimenting a person who is a systems thinker. But we'd take it another step further.
Another way to think about superpowers is skill sets. What is the particular skill set that a person brings to the team and can they work across other disciplines in a business, or what Tim Brown calls the T-Shaped individual.
For Keith, it's crucial that teammates bring their superpowers to any collaborative interaction so they can feel that they individually make a contribution. Being T-Shaped allows for that. That's because each person is contributing their strong skill set and expertise, allowing their unique talents to drive decision making. At the same time, this helps reconcile the contradiction between the soloist and the ensemble.
The smallest unit of trust and collaboration is the duo, says Keith. You don't know yet when you bring two individuals together what spark can be ignited. Occasionally, that can cause friction. One way to resolve that, as Keith puts it, is to start by extending trust rather than apprehension (or love rather than fear).
One benefit of a small dynamic duo is that it also helps move projects along faster. That's why a lot of our projects only have a designer and a lead. It allows for both collaboration and for individuals to make decisions that get projects done without a middle manager running interference.
Collaboration is essential to creativity and greatness. Without partnership, without someone to trust, it's hard to achieve both. You can't see the movie of what you're working on when you're in it. We all need someone to look at it from the outside, providing the feedback and insights we need. Cultivating these three habits allows you and your team to become a victorious collaborative ensemble.
Remember the old "Mission: Impossible" show? Each episode started with someone striking a match to ignite a fuse. It's a pop culture image that is sparked (pun fully intended) in our minds every time someone mentions lighting the fire of their business.
We thought of that particular image recently when we read this article by strategic advisors Karl Stark and Bill Stewart. They make some good points about igniting the flame of a startup. But a lot of those points are centered around a business model, or strategy, such as "what are your biggest strengths as a business" or "who is likely to copy your business model or enter your market."
Which are all valid things to ask, what should eventually be asked once the gears of a startup are going. But Karl and Bill dance around and really fail to address the very basic problem that needs to be solved first: what is the spark of your product?
Here's what they say:
So often we find entrepreneurial leaders are focused on the quality of the idea rather than the quality of their own strategic assets. That's akin to focusing on the idea of a roaring fire than creating the spark to get it going.
True, an idea in of itself isn't enough. It's the execution of the idea that counts. Yet, how does that idea form and how does it turn into a product. Something has to spark it. It doesn't conjure itself up from thin air. To do that, we need to seek opportunity and find solutions to problems.
Take for instance, Airbnb.
The idea for the service, as co-founder Joe Gebbia told us at his soapbox, was sparked out of two problems: a need to pay rent and every hotel room in town being booked. Joe and his eventual co-founder Brian Chesky had both left their jobs in 2007 and had dwindling bank accounts. That meant they could no longer afford the rent on their San Francisco apartment after it went up.
The same week their rent got hiked, a design conference came to town, booking every hotel around. Soon they realized they could rent space in their apartment by throwing down a couple of air beds. In that moment, Airbnb was born. A product that solved a problem for their potential customers.
The idea for Joe and Brian's product came out of solving a need and a problem for customers not from dwelling first on a business plan or strategy.
To be fair, Karl and Bill do mention "what do you know about the needs of these customers," but they don't frame it as a means to figure out your product or how it is differentiates itself in the marketplace.
Yet there will come a time when you'll have to address the strategic questions that will keep the fuse of your startup going, as Karl and Bill point out. However, if you don't have a product that meets a customer's needs then you don't really have a spark that will keep your business going.
All that to say, product first, strategy second. Without the product, you don't really have a startup.
Our friend Cass Phillipps knows a bit about failure. After all, she produces FailCon, a conference where leading entrepreneurs and designers speak about their own failures. So it's no surprise that she's got a story or two of her own. And she's got a good one on how failure turned into her passion.
Watch the video below and take note of how Cass took an interest in her own failure and turned it into an advantage:
Our ears perked up when Cass said:
Failure hurts. Failure hurts a lot.
She makes a good point when she says that failure becomes riskier as we get older. It no longer becomes falling off a bike, as she put it. After all, as she showed, passion is dangerous and failure is inevitable. It's easier to give up. Or is it?
What's needed is not just passion, but passion to fail and do so fast. Before we go on, let's be clear on the type of passion and failure we're discussing.
When it comes to passion, we're talking about investing yourself fully into your craft and your ideas, even when there may only be a slim chance of a financial reward or none at all.
For failure, we're referring to the concept of fail fast, which is not a strategy for coping with defeat. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's a means to win by shedding the wrong answers quickly. The concept isn't an excuse to seek failure. In other words, it's knowing how to fall flat on your face so that you can triumph in the end.
Which brings us back to Cass and how she spoke about getting the blueprint to failure. But it's more than just studying the plans. It's dissecting them, figuring out the mechanics of why you failed and how that can speed you to a win. It's something winners have long since figured out.
After all the more you win, the more you're likely to win again. So it's not passion for failure that we're seeking. It's passion to fail fast so that we can succeed.
Polling your friends is a great thing. You can gather quick feedback and come up with an answer — especially when you have basic questions that need basic answers.
Given that feedback is an important part of the design process, we were stoked to see a new app make a debut yesterday, Polar. In case you haven't heard of it, Polar by LukeW and team (disclosure: Luke is a ZURB advisor and good friend) is an app that allows you to create quick polls to share with your friends on mobile devices.
Curious to learn more about how people interpreted the design, we ran a series of Verify tests on the app's new design. Is a user easily able to vote on polls and follow users?
The results await below.
The first test we ran examined if a user knew where to go to vote on an answer. For the purposes of this test, we asked users specifically to vote on the 'Words with Friends' answer — one person was clearly not compliant.
This question is actually not overwhelmingly difficult — the answer in and of itself is obvious. We were looking to see what % of people would tap on the 'Words with Friends' text in comparison to the graphic underneath the text.
A user can touch either the text or the graphic to vote on a poll. Given the larger size of the graphic in relation to the text, it isn't surprising to see that most users opted to touch the picture than the text.
The median user took only 2.66 seconds to make a selection.
One of the key parts of any polling service is the ability to collect results. The Results page on Polar has three main tabs: a tab to see the latest updates on polls you're running, all created polls and polls you've voted on.
In this test, we started on the Results page to see if people were able to accomplish a fairly basic task — view polls they've voted on. Here's what we found:
Great news — the results page is actually very clear as to what action a user should take. About 75% of testers selected the correct button — the 'Voted' button in the top-right hand side of the screen.
The median user took 5.00 seconds to make a selection on this screen.
Finally, we examined if a user knew where to go to follow a user from the feed. Surprisingly, this test yielded several mixed results.
The two places where a user can go to follow a user are the icon (in the upper-right hand side) and 'More,' found underneath the '2' in this graphic.
Six users incorrectly selected the username in the top-left hand side. Nine people selected an answer to the test, which was also an incorrect answer (voting on a poll does not lead to a follow) action.
One potential area of improvement could be improving the visibility of the following system. It seems that users aren't sure where to go to follow a user within the feed.
UPDATE: Luke Wroblewski from the comments section below: "The folks selecting the username or user photo are right too. There's a prominent call to action to Follow on the profile page in our app."
Despite some minor confusion about how to follow in-stream, we're excited about the app and think that the initial design of the app accomplishes the main goal ' getting users creating their own polls and driving users to action with large selection buttons.
We're excited about Polar and its ability to change the way people poll on mobile devices. It will be most interesting to see how the app evolves over time, especially given the app is only available on iOS at the moment.
Seems a lot of people are talking culture lately. What it takes to build a strong company culture? How does culture affect employees? What are the cultural values that a company holds dear?
Watch the video below and take note of the one thing Tony would change if he started the company today.
We completely understand where Tony's coming from and get his desire to have all his ducks in a row from the very beginning. After all, Zappos has written the book on culture and we greatly respect what he and Zappos has done in that arena. But, as we said yesterday, outlining cultural values from the very first day isn't really feasible, agreeing with Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson that it's something you can't create but can only articulate.
It's like what Levar Burton recently said about the casting of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The producers didn't know when they were casting the series whether the actors would have chemistry. That was something that evolved as the actors worked together. The same goes for culture and a company's values.
You can't impose cultural values from the start. You're still figuring out the chemistry of the company, the employees. You're still user testing, so to speak, your company as a product, exploring and refining what you exactly stand for. But the day will come when you'll want to put the stake in the ground and articulate the values that have sprouted from those early days.
That being said, like an acting troupe, you have to toss a group together and see what chemistry comes of it first.
This morning, we had a conversation with a friend over coffee about culture and how it can't be something that's established right out of the gate. Which reminded us of something Twilio's CEO and Co-Founder Jeff Lawson said to us at his soapbox last month. He said you can't create a culture and its values. Rather, you have to articulate them.
Jeff's been thinking a lot about culture at Twilio, and so have we at ZURB. Which is why it resonated with us when he said:
A company should be easy to use like a product is.
When a person joins a company, he or she has a certain experience, much like the relationship of a product with a customer. Culture being part of that. What does it stand for? What does it believe in? What are the things that everyone should carry with them?
And that's something that can't be imposed by hanging up a few gag-inducing motivational posters, with words like integrity or perseverance. It has to be grown. It has to evolve over time. You can't just outline succinctly what those beliefs are, those values, at the outset. Or as Jeff put it:
You don't create them, you articulate them because they have to be something that's already there. If you create them, they're just nonsense on the wall. If you articulate them, they're real and all you're doing is stating what's there.
A day will come when you do have to articulate those values, shine a lantern on them. Or else, as Jeff said, you risk losing them for all time. Leaders will have to draft out the dreadful mission statement, put a stake in the ground, for the company. Verbalize what the company is going to stand for, especially as it grows.
As Twilio has grown from a handful of people to more than 100, they've tried to put the spotlight on their culture, articulate what they stand for. And they've avoided the term "core values," because it tends to make people barf, Jeff told us. They call it the Nine Things.
Of course, it took some effort to spell out those Nine Things. A few years back they listed five values, but Jeff realized that there was an interesting disconnect when he went to a workshop on culture.
Jeff was chatting with several CEOs and mentioned the list of five values: continuos improvement, detailed oriented, life-long learning, humble and hungry.
Then a fellow CEO challenged him, asking if they called a Twilio employee up, would that person be able to list them.
So Jeff called somebody. And she said, easy, simple — oops, she wasn't describing the people. She was describing the product. So, at the time, those values hadn't really be ingrained into the daily lives. They hadn't been properly articulated. They weren't real.
Twilio phrased their Nine Things not as haughty concepts, but relatable words. For instance, they say "no shenanigans" instead of integrity, because everyone can imagine what that means. Everyone gets it. Integrity is nebulous. It's a corporate word on the wall that doesn't mean anything really when you come down to it.
Culture has to be part of the daily routine. It's not a serious of buzzwords. It has to be real. It has to evolve and grow with the company. It can't be something that you stranglehold on the first day. It comes from the group of people that you've assembled like a superhero team or a gallant crew of space adventurers. They make culture reality. Because if it's not real, then culture ain't worth the paper those motivational wall posters are printed on.
Last week, we dug into some interesting numbers which outlined how people use mobile devices while watching television. It turns out that there's a huge connection between the device and the TV set, which led us to believe there are a variety of awesome opportunities for new companies and startups to explore the space.
So what about a slightly more archaic medium ... traditional print publications? Surely, mobile devices have disrupted traditional print publications of all types, to the point of mass layoffs in newsrooms across the nation.
It may surprise you to learn, however, that print indeed still does exist — and people use their mobile devices while reading newspapers and magazines.
The study, conducted by ABI Research, highlighted smartphone and tablet use. Let's take a look at the numbers.
It turns out that for those who use their smartphone while consuming print, browsing the internet and "internet communication" (we assume this means chat) lead the use cases at 64% a piece (552 respondents).
Interestingly enough, finding companion "print reading" activity came in at fifth, but the study still considers it a high-value activity. Apps that focus on companion material may be suited to find unique ways to diversify their smartphone offering so they meet one of the other use cases — if they are purely focused on the smartphone as a primary device for their product or service.
Tablets feature larger screens than smartphones, so we were hardly surprised to see companion content lead the list here at 81% (563 completes). More screen real estate allows for a digestible amount of rich content to be displayed to the end user.
Listening to music is a typical activity for some print readers, and people generally use their tablets to do just this. Internet Communication (chat) generally remained around the same percentage as smartphone users.
As much as mobile technology has advanced over the past few years, print continues to play a key role in most people's lives. These charts show that mobile devices go hand-in-hand with print publications — and are used together more often than you might think.
We're not sure about you, but we're still trying to digest all of the turkey we enjoyed on Thanksgiving this past Thursday. Thanksgiving is a huge holiday for all — and it's not just the food, family and copious amounts of wine, it's the inevitable deals and shopping, too.
As you may already know, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two huge commerce days, at least here in the US, for retailers worldwide. We ran down a few of the key statistics yesterday, which outlined how consumers are accessing stores more and more from their mobile devices — not a surprising shift.
TechCrunch's Josh Constine highlighted another important trend in e-commerce, specifically, social commerce. An IBM report showed that Twitter referred 0% of their Black Friday traffic — certainly a mind-numbingly low number, considering the brand has more than 33,000 followers on their main account. It's an issue of attribution, and it's one of the reasons why social commerce has lagged behind mobile commerce.
E-commerce, in and of itself, is a fairly basic animal. Increasingly, more people consider shopping online as an alternative to braving the cold and the early wakeup time. But layer on social networking and mobile, and things get complicated very quickly.
The biggest difference between mobile e-commerce and social commerce is the business approach. Mobile e-commerce is focused around the transaction — a native or responsive solution falls under this bucket — and social commerce is focused around the affinity. Sure, you see social commerce options increasingly shift toward the transaction, but for the most part, they rely upon trusted first, second and third degree connections to drive awareness of a product and convince a person to buy.
In a way, it's a good thing that mobile commerce is focused on the transaction. If a person knows what they are looking for and want to buy something swiftly, they should be enabled to do so with as little hassle as possible. An optimized solution, whether responsive or native, is necessary for this to happen.
By understanding that social commerce's main goal is to drive brand and product affinity, it isn't surprising to see the referral numbers so low. Some people click through on brand's messages immediately, but some also favorite or save brand updates for consumption later. The latter is problematic, as there is no guarantee a user will go through a brand's previous message or link to a sale — often times, this is the only way a transaction can be tracked.
Given that there have yet to be specific analytics developed around social commerce that can prove or demonstrate meaningful e-commerce value, it's likely that mobile commerce will continue to be a big focus for most brands for the foreseeable future. It's not to say that social commerce is valueless — it plays an important role in a person's decision to buy — but the bet is hedged in the transaction vs. affinity balance.
For companies focused around the mobile commerce space, the decision isn't whether or not to create an optimized solution — this is a given. It's deciding between having a responsive (HTML5, for our purposes) or native solution in place.
Tom Sullivan, an ecommerce web developer, noted another factor in a Quora discussion. It takes a good amount of time investment and overall brand engagement for a person to download a native app from the iTunes Store. To channel Mark Zuckerberg's frictionless approach, it would make sense to build a responsive solution that benefits all.
That being said, it would be a mistake not to consider a native solution as an important part to an overall mobile puzzle. Let's go back for a second to IBM's report. The company notes that the iPad accounted for more than 7% of online shopping traffic — more than any other tablet or smartphone. Building an optimized native solution for the iPad may make sense for some retailers, given the iPad's dominance and demonstrated ability to drive traffic.
Excluding companies with the budget to afford both, the decision between a responsive and native mobile solution will strictly depend on the company business goals. As mobile and social continue to collide together, there's going to be even more attention shifted toward these two distinct, but similar, growth areas for e-commerce in the future. While a responsive design ultimately helps in the short and long-term, some companies may find that a native solution best helps them meet and exceed their business goals.
Some of us on this side of the world avoided Black Friday like the plague. Others of us braved the crowded malls, hunting for a good bargain on that brand-name shirt or pair of designer shoes. And the smart ones turned to their smartphones and tablets to get the best deals, just days before Cyber Monday.
But the numbers for the Thanksgiving shopping holiday are quite eye-opening. Our friend and advisor Luke Wroblewski has once again made the rounds and collected some of the numbers for all of us. We wanted to highlight a few of them here:
If you recall, one of the responsive design myths that's been going around like a bad cold, is that going responsive doesn't makes sense from a retail perspective.
But the numbers don't lie. We're seeing more and more people shop through their mobile devices. So it is imperative that stores consider going responsive for their online stores. Some stores, like Nordstrom, have both a mobile-site and a native app. As we've said before, however, having a site that works across all devices is faster to build and allows mobile users to do what they would naturally want to do on a desktop browser, such as Tommy Hilfiger's site and Currys in the UK.
Not only that, but having to design a native app, which will work on only a specific device, and a mobile-separate site is a waste of time. By designing responsively, stores can ensure that they can reach all their shoppers who might own a variety of mobile devices, from Android to iPhone.
In any case, we have to applaud those stores, like Nordstrom and online retailers like Amazon, for at least having a mobile-friendly version of their sites. But with more shoppers browsing the online racks, a responsive site is the only way to meet the consumer demand for mobile shopping. Stores would be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn't.
We're sure you've heard the news by now about the Winklevoss twins invested a $750,000 round into online shopping startup Hukkster. Or the news that Airbnb launched Neighborhoods, a guide that helps visitors truly understand where they are staying.
Seeing news like this brings to mind how fortunate we've been over the past few months to get some solid insights by the likes of the Winklevoss twins and Joe Gebbia of Airbnb. It also reminds us of how we often we get the scoop before the tech blogs do from our soapboxes.
At their soapbox, the Winklevoss hinted at looking at investing into a shopping startup long before they plunked down any money. And while Joe didn't spill the beans on Neighborhoods, he certainly gave us the inside scoop on Airbnb's culture.
And you can catch up and hear all the great takeaways from our most recent talks. Here's a rundown:
Cameron and Tyler were great sports taking all the questions they got on Facebook and their court fight with the social media giant. More than that, they shared a great deal about their investment venture that hadn't, at that point, been shared with anyone else.
Of course, Joe talked about what it took to scale Airbnb from his living room to an international service. But his biggest piece of advice: allow yourself to do things that don't necessarily scale.
Ev dropped by ZURB HQ just days after his latest venture, Medium, was announced. It was the first time he spoke publicly about the web publishing service. Of course, what really struck us was when he said, "It's not hard to make money on the Internet."
Sahil was very entertaining, but he was also very candid when it came to the origins of Pinterest's pinboard grid. However, he gave us the lowdown on Gumroad and how the product is creating lemonade stands on the internet for artists wanting to get their work out there.
We're planning more great speakers in the coming months, including Jeff Lawson, of Twilio, this Friday. Don't miss the inside scoop and we'll see you soon!