UX, mobile, entrepreneurship

Pitching a Product Is a Bit Like Dating

These days I am getting in touch with some podcasters to see if they’d like to join the beta of Podrover. It feels a bit like dating.

I have been out of the dating scene for quite a while but usually my approach was “can I buy you a drink?”. I always thought it was the simplest and less “compromising” question. I feel it’s also easy to answer, although once I got an “I don’t know”. I am not kidding.

Most of the resemblance between pitching and dating is in the variety of answers though. While dating I got the following answers:

  • yes
  • no
  • why not?
  • sure
  • gotta go now, maybe tomorrow
  • uh
  • I don’t know (I am still petrified by that answer)
  • Get the hell out of here
  • kjahsd?12=klja; (she was drunk)

While pitching Podrover the variety is still pretty interesting:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Yes but …
  • I don’t care
  • Oh shit, yes!
  • I am not your target user
  • Can I have an account also for my co-host?
  • I’ll pass it to our management team
  • Great idea! I signed up

I feel it’s not worth asking myself: how is it going? Honestly I am happy with the responses I am collecting. Much like in dating, it’s a matter of finding the “right one for you” and “the one you are right for”.

International Podcast Day

I love podcasts. They are with me when I walk, in the bathtub, when I cook and before sleeping. Podcasts are a revolutionary medium and also a means to build a relationship.

Even if you have never met the host of a podcast, don’t you feel you already know him/her a bit? As a host, didn’t you notice that people approach you more easily when you meet them face to face, for example at conferences or meetups? That’s the power of the voice. You have been the voice in their ears, they know you.

There are many ways in which you can celebrate International Podcast Day:

  • Spread the word about a podcast you like
  • Say thank you to the hosts you like the most
  • Leave a review on iTunes/Stitcher
  • Stop someone on the street and teach them what is a podcast
  • Grab your mic and record a new episode of your podcast
  • Start a new podcast!

Check out the official web site for more initiatives.

Every day should be podcast day, but having an official day can’t hurt.

P.S.: To celebrate I am giving away a full year subscription to Podrover. If you run a podcast you might be interested.

Writing Code in Entrepreneur Mode

Here is it, innocent Ruby code:

t1 = "2015-08-27T11:53:00-07:00"
t2 = "2015-09-16T12:33:36-07:00"

t1 < t2 #true

Some of the DB queries in Podrover involve time. For example: “get all the reviews since yesterday”. During the prototyping phase I always worked with strings and when I came to build that query I still used strings. As long as the format (and the time zone) is the same it should work. If you have a case in which it doesn’t work let me know and I’ll update this post.

This is code written in “entrepreneur mode”. Quick, dirty but working. And I am still proud of it, particularly of the way I cut corners.

But the developer side of me took over for a few minutes and I showed the snippet to Ben Scheirman. It took him probably ten words before saying “gross”. And he is right. It is gross. But it took me five minutes to conceive and write it.

In the end Ben talked me out of it and I spent around 2 hours refactoring my code to move to DateTime, as it should be.

The developer side of me thinks I did the right thing. The entrepreneur side of me thinks I could have spent those hours talking to more customers. Both sides are right. It’s my job to balance them. It’s not easy but I am confident I will succeed.

Some “guides” I keep handy.

  • Judicious Use of Shitty Code
  • “Choose the bugs you want to ship with your release” (heard a long time ago, don’t remember who said it)
  • A coin to flip when I wake up, to decide who should dominate during the day, the developer or the entrepreneur.

If you struggle with similar issues let me know on Twitter or even better write a blog post about it.

Lock Yourself Out

Ok a few days ago I said Lock Yourself In and now I say lock yourself out. Both are right, just not at the same time :) An external deadline keeps you accountable. But sometimes you have to step away from the keyboard to get the word out and talk to your future customers.

The code that you push every day isn’t going to announce itself and your product has no value if you don’t explain it. Even if you know that you are solving an actual problem, talking to your customers has a great value and can inform the choices you will make in the short or mid term.

I am traveling to Ukraine today and it’s pretty common when you travel to have a spotty connection. On purpose I didn’t take with me a machine that allows me to work on Podrover. Kinda imposed by the situation I embraced a no-coding rule. I am sure I’d have ended up stressed by complaining about the slow WiFi connection at the airport.

But … my faithful iPhone and its 3G connection is alive and kicking! So what am I doing? Engaging on social media, talking to beta testers, identifying who should I get in touch with to propose the beta. If I were at home I’d have postponed this. I’d have preferred to keep on building the product, but this short travel gives me a great opportunity to do what’s needed now.

Fun facts:

  • I brought with me 3 extra batteries. One was already gone at 11am.
  • After 30 minutes of intense network access the iPhone is quite hot on the back side.
  • Coffee is pretty good at the airport in Istanbul.

Lock Yourself In

No setting a deadline does not work for me. I mean it works for client projects but when I am building my products it just doesn’t work. Honestly I don’t why, I should take some time off to think about it. But not now, because I have locked myself in.

With Podrover I am sponsoring the Release Notes Conference. Since we announced the sponsorship the progress has been huge, especially regarding the UX and anything that is user facing. I am exploiting the power of user stories to the fullest. Every day I start with a story and in the evening I checked my progress against that story. Why all of this? Because I want the app done by the beginning of the conference in mid October. At least the web version.

These days I just can’t stop working. I stop developing and I start talking to future customers. It’s a great feeling. I look forward to show it you.

The Quickest

“Which solution should I go for, this or that?”
“The quickest”.

I have seen a lot of time wasted, especially in the enterprise, to make a decision about a tool or a service. Time spent hoping that the answer would manifest itself, time considered as validation. The more I think about it, the better will be my decision. Just to discover a few months later that the choice made was not even close to what you needed.

By the time you realize that you picked the “wrong” tool, there will be at least ten new similar tools that do the same job better.

Move quick, whenever you can. Leave constants in your code, mock behaviors, write TODOs. Progress will be more evident, you will build momentum, you’ll feel better. Don’t write code that is meant to last one year, you’ll throw it away sooner than that. Just write code that you “trust enough” and move on to the next step.

Fun Facts #1

Discovered this week.

  • Mac OS X has extensions. Really, I didn’t know.
  • LLVM still supports the PowerPC architecture, and Windows XP! Release notes here.
  • When I provision a machine 40% of the total time is spent compiling Ruby. I am tempted to switch to Docker just because of that.
  • I discovered this new font designed for source code. It’s named Hack and I like it a lot. It looks cool on Sublime Text and Xcode.

Have a nice weekend!

Leave Out the Part That Readers Tend to Skip

Elmore Leonard’s tenth rule of writing is “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
I find that readers skip prose when it is written in the wrong order.

This, and most of Daniel’s article, is totally applicable also to building software products. Sometimes we write lines and lines of code forgetting about the body, the “meat”, the hook. I am trying to apply this focus-on-the-body philosophy while building Podrover. When I plan my activities I try to be extremely careful and always ask “Is this relevant for the customer?”. That’s why for example I didn’t pick a CSS framework, because a fast loading app is relevant for the customer. (The fact that I am more comfortable with it is secondary).

When I write prose I tend to be like the writers described by Daniel. I write, I write, I write and … the editor will take care of the rest :) In the case of building a product it’s exactly the opposite. Write just the body and present it to beta testers. They will help you with the “editing”.

How do you approach building a product? Happy to discuss it on Twitter.

PS: If you run a podcast and you wanna beta test Podrover you can signup here.

No Framework Means Your Framework

Little update on my search for a UIKit for web apps. After experimenting for a few hours with some frameworks and kits I decided to go with no framework, that is my framework.

I am following the Trello CSS guide and am really liking it. After all the UI of Podrover is pretty simple and what matters is the interaction. I am happy that ended up with:

  • a single CSS file
  • code that I actually understand
  • code that I know how to tweak

My personal suggestion is: don’t sweat it, especially at the beginning. Pick one tool you feel comfortable with and go with it. At some point in the future every tool will show its weaknesses, especially if you picked it in an uncertain situation, when you don’t have the full picture yet. I feel like I made the best decision I could make at the moment.

Next “dilemma”: all AJAX calls? No AJAX calls? A mix? That’s probably gonna be a bit more complicated but I promise, I won’t sweat it :)

Get in touch on Twitter if you wanna chat.

Picking a Chat Widget

It’s a fact that a channel like real-time chat helps conversions. So I wanted to put a little widget on the home page of Podrover. Much like the the blog generator and the CSS framework the hunt was … wandering in a jungle. I am more and more convinced that a search on Google is not enough anymore. Sure, you dig out a list of potential candidates but how do you choose?

I am lucky to be part of the Micropreneur Academy. I asked there and I got a lot of interesting replies that included personal experiences. That’s exactly what I was looking for, personal experiences of people running a business like I am doing. I got a bunch of candidates (this list is not even close to be exhaustive):

My goal was to have something very discrete on the home page, with the possibility to reply via a web app or an iOS app. Another key feature was the possibility to schedule when to be online and available to chat.

I checked out Intercom. I really like their widget but the tool does too much for what I need: user tracking, auto-responses, etc. And you know I like to keep things very simple :)

Olark doesn’t seem to have an iPhone app. For me it’s important.

Zopim has an iPhone app, but you need to be on the advanced plan to use it. It was a good candidate but honestly I didn’t want something to test. I was looking for a set-and-forget tool.

Tidio was the best candidate. The pricing was crystal clear and it had an app. I’d have set with it if I didn’t find Tawk.

Tawk is free, and I am suspicious about that. I tend to prefer tools that I pay for. I got in touch (obviously via their widget) and they were very very responsive. The widget looks clean and very customizable. The admin UI is spartan, to say the least, but it gets the job done. So are the iPhone and Mac app. There is even a scheduler, but with a drawback. If you are not logged in the web console (or the Mac app) you are offline, regardless of the hours you have scheduled. Not very ideal for me. Every morning I need to remember to open the Mac app, every evening I need to quit it. If the computer goes to sleep I appear offline. And I don’t know how to manage this when I am traveling. But it looks good on the customer side, works on any browser and even on mobile. So I’ll keep it for a while and see how it goes.

If you have some suggestion get in touch on Twitter.