Archive for the ‘business’ Category

Why developers should do customer support

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

As a developer, I don’t particularly enjoy customer support. Questions are either about things that are obvious (or should have been) or about things that I don’t have a clue about either and need a lot of investigation. Some customers are just plain rude with “it’s not working” in the subject and nothing else.

At first sight it seems to be a huge waste of your expensive developer time to spend time on this. However, I strongly believe you should. Not only do developers bring value to the customer by providing more knowledge and understanding about the product. Providing accurate support is a guaranteed way to turn dissatisfied users into your most loyal customers. It also helps improving the product thus reducing support requests and increasing customer satisfaction.

Read all 5 reasons why in the full article

Obsessed about monitoring

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

For the past two years, I’ve been working on one of our products: Observu,  a site and server monitoring platform.   The last year we’ve applied it to our existing sites and customers and now we feel it’s ready for others to see and use as well. It took a bit longer than anticipated, due to other projects and responsibilities taking up time, but we’ve always kept determined to get Observu ready to launch.

If you are interested in improving your availability, response times and quality of service in general, check it out at http://observu.com/

I definitely do not feel like we are done now, having it out in the open now is just the start to find out which direction we should go.  We’ve got so many ideas, but we can’t execute all of them right away. Your feedback will be greatly appreciated and help us guide further development.

Startup/Product Blog Inspiration

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

It has been common practice for years now for startups to blog about their new product and its development. It’s one of the key methods to keep your future customers informed. However, as soon as you find yourself in the situation to blog it can’t hurt to have some inspiration.

First, I’ve selected blogs that seem to post regularly and have some traction. The blogs I choose are: kissmetrics, pingdom, flattr and joelonsoftware. After some reading I extracted the following topics from these blogs.

  • Press coverage, if you’re product was reviewed in a paper on an important blog, this can validate your product in the eye of the reader. You are not just an anonymous product, but a serious contender.
  • Jobs, listing job openings shows that you are growing, this can be interpreted as a sign of success, people don’t want to buy from someone that is loosing.
  • Important News, besides the obvious point of informing your users, posting news on your blog will also provide reference for those interested in spreading your news even further.
  • Development Progress, especially if there is not much happening on the outside, it’s good to show that you are still committed to the product. People hate to invest effort in something that’s dieing.
  • Development process/tools, if your target audience is also in the developers arena, blogging about the process and tools can be the start of a relationship. You’re not just a company trying to sell them something, you are a colleague, with the same problems and challenges. JoelOnSoftware mainly focuses on this and is great at it.
  • Niche Related Articles, becoming a resource for your potential customers, without directly selling your product by posting articles related to your product niche is a great way to gain a bigger audience. Kissmetrics does this exceptionally well.
  • The same goes for Best practices/tutorials. Especially if they become easier by using your product, but do not require it.
  • Infographics are very effective link-bait, again Kissmetrics is very strong in this area.
  • Reports/Research based on your data or questionnaires may get you press coverage when executed correctly. Pingdom is regularly featured in mainstream newspapers as a source. A very smart form of promotion.
  • Industry News could also widen your reach, but it will probably require a very very persistent approach to become an authority in your niche.
  • Repost stuff from the internet is a very common tactic often in the form of round ups like: “the best 5 SEO tools” or “10 must visit design resources”
  • Interviews can come in a lot of different ways, you might interview your team members, important customers or an industry bigshot.  Of course the latter is more likely to get you some extra audience.

I hope this listing will inspire you to post more regularly, it certainly inspired me.

Competition Anxiety

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

If you start a new product/website/service  it’s wise to know your competitors.  Find out what they offer at what price and quality. There is nothing wrong with that.

However,  it’s easy to fall in a different trap: get the feeling that you need the same features as your competitors have.  This leads to three problems:   you loose the big picture,  the grown feature set feels like a burden and you’ll get a me-too product.

Instead of focusing on features,  focus on marketing and positioning. Are there gaps?  Untargeted niches,  untried approaches? Only after that,  look for those key features that will attract those customers you want.

Power of Quora: Pick Your Own Crowd

Monday, January 17th, 2011

In my initial review of quora.com, I wondered how it was going to cope with the masses. The current value of quora is largely in the crowd that is on there. There are top-level founders, CTO’s, etc giving valuable insight into their way of doing business and the current use of technology. So what will happen to that when the masses come? On most forums, the experts leave or quality topics get buried by loads of trivial ones.

However, I now believe I figured out the power of quora: you can pick your own crowd.  By following the right people, you automatically select the quality and topics that you are interested in.   In time, generic topics like ‘webdevelopment’ will probably be swamped (at least, without heavy moderation), but brilliant people, will stay brilliant and will keep giving high quality answers: you just need to find them.

Reviewing Quora.com

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Last week I was introduced to quora.com . It’s a smart Q&A on almost everything. The crowd is currently very tech oriented, thus so are the questions.  The most notable difference to existing forums and Q&A sites is the way you select the content you are interested in.   You can follow  people, topics (tags)  or specific questions.  All together building a feed of questions and updates tailored to your interest.

I see some relation to asking a question on Twitter, however with Quora your other followers can actually see the responses. Currently, the quality of answers is one of the big selling points. The people answering are CTO’s, founders, etc. making it a great place to read up on new trends.

Although it took a while for me to figure out the search box,  it works very very well and incredibly fast. It can find people, topics and specific questions as you type.

As with every new service,  there are still a few things in there that are not as smooth as desirable. First of all, it is hard to see what has been read. This has been a standard functionality in almost every forum out there, not without reason. Furthermore, the homepage feed is structured a bit weird. For example to me it would make more sense to group   the ‘new question added’  and ‘answer added’ on the same question  together, instead of having them at multiple points in the time-line. Especially annoying is the fact that new items are added to the homepage at the top, while you are reading, moving you away from what you were reading. Finally, on the homepage it some times it shows topic suggestions on the right, but not always. If it’s not showing there, I find it hard to figure out where I can get those.

There are some other things I wish there were in there:  for example a way to ‘archive’ certain questions, so they don’t appear anymore, even though they are on a topic I’m following. I would also very much like to see a global feed with all questions, that does not look like a diff screen.

In general it feels very promising, however the big question is: how will it cope with the masses? As soon as this goes beyond the early adopters, will I still be able to cope with the large amount of questions on the topics I’m interested in?  Or will I have to wade through batches of unanswered and uninteresting topics?

Rethinking Corporate Twitter Accounts

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Twitter is great for networking as it, contrary too all other social networks, allows you to connect and communicate with random strangers with exactly those interests you are after. That’s one of the things that makes Twitter a great tool for business. For one-man companies, it is easy: the company is almost equal to their person and so can be their Twitter account. They can just sneak in a few business related tweets now and than.

For larger operations, there is a catch: Do you follow business accounts? I don’t. If I’m interested in a business I try to find the founder or an important developer related to it. I might follow a business account if I’m a customer, or are really really waiting for them to launch, but other than that? Nope.

Now let’s look at why this is:

  • News from the company itself is obviously commercial. We don’t like to read commercial messages.
  • Without a real person attached to it, it is much harder to identify. Most people I follow are selected on some kind of commonality: maybe they are into design, maybe they are developers or in a start-up. I don’t have anything in common with your company, except if you are the competition or when I’m already your customer.
  • It is hard to tweet regularly. Without day to day stuff to tell about, it is hard to keep something interesting going. It can quickly slide down to the RSS feed level. Without regular tweets you will not be remembered and get the attention you aspired.

So, company accounts on Twitter can’t work?  Yes, they can.   Let’s look at @Kissmetrics. They are obviously commercial, their twitter account is for a service, nothing personal about that. If you scan their time-line,  there is no  cooking, cleaning, traveling or complaining.  Still,  their feed doesn’t feel unpleasant. Although you are aware of their business interest, they provide great content at a fairly high rate.  Let’s break their strategy down a bit:

  • Great content - Their blog posts are high quality, relevant to their niche, without being an advertisement
  • Great linked content – All relevant links, closely related, but not about their product
  • Good retweets – Again relevant links, without much effort to create content.  It does take a knowledgable person, involved in the business to pick out that quality
  • Smart Quotes – It allows them to put out a message on how they operate and their vision, without resorting to sales speak.

All of this results in:

  • Regular tweets, showing up in the timeline frequently
  • Lots of retweets, that further increasing visibility

What it comes down to:  Publish content your customers want, instead of promoting your product.  Finding a good balance between your own content and linked content can reduce effort and improve continuity.

5 Reasons to delay your product launch

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

We strongly believe in  release early and often. However when you work with other partners or customers, they may not think the same. So in a few years we have had experience with opposite ends and we have learned from it:  Although I still believe it is bad to delay your launch just to get more features in there, there are very good reasons that should stop you from launching your product.

1. You’re product is not clear. If you can’t summarize in a few sentences what users get out of your product and what action they need to take to get that, you might be in trouble.  If you can,  make sure that this message is also supported by your homepage. Not only the ‘what’ but maybe even more important:  the action users need to take.

2. You’re marketing is not in place. There is really no point in releasing a product without a plan on how to gain customers. If you are not able to start promoting your product, what’s the point? Nothing feels more disappointing than releasing a product and getting no feedback at all.

3. You can’t even use it. Aiming to release early does not mean delivering a barely working product. Attention for usability must be included in the most basic version.  So if you’ve got low quality instead of  less quality features go back to the drawing board.

4. It’s not that impressive. Expectations on design and usability have grown quickly over last few years. Users are no longer impressed by just a good look, you need to impress them with your product, but not just the product: the whole experience has to ooze the quality you deliver.

5. You did not review and test the code. Especially if you have outsourced development, I think you need to closely examine the quality of your product internals. If you can’t do it yourself, hire someone.  Even the best developers make mistakes and take shortcuts once in a while.  Even if you have tested everything, you are still going to find lots of bugs and flaws in the first weeks, so the more you find yourself, the sooner you will get real feedback.      If you believe you can rely on bugreports by users:  you can’t.

It all comes down to attention to detail. Some product make it because they are game changing ideas, others are just lucky. However most products only make it because there is someone that is obsessed by every single detail, even when running into unwilling designers, developers or marketeers.

5 Reasons To Release Early

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

There has been a lot of writing about the need to release early and often already, but I feel after doing many projects, I need to write a few reasons down anyway.

1. You are building stuff nobody needs. No matter how nice a feature will be, without real users, you have no way to tell if you are spending your valuable time on something that will convince users to buy your service.

2. Nothing like real user data. Your software may work great in theory, there is nothing like real volumes of data to test it. Many things can grind to a halt if you start having serious amounts of data. ( Things like search with ‘%LIKE%’ or pages listing ALL entries of a table)

3. Nothing like real measurement data. You can ask potential users whatever you want,  there is nothing like properly measuring what they are doing and what they prefer. With real users you can use tools like  Analytics to confirm that users actually do what you need them to do.

4. Ranking in Google takes time. As soon as you’ve got something out there,  Google can start finding your site, you can start optimizing text and titles and build links. The sooner you get started, the better.

5. Enough chances on a first impression. If you are worrying about scaring your first users of, think about the vast number of internet users out there.  The changes of ruining a first impression with all your potential customers are slim. Just don’t start promoting the product till you feel confident about it. There are many ways to steer the first users, e.g. an invitation based beta program.

Why you should not rely on bug reports

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

After building websites for a few years, I’ve reached a very important conclusion:  you cannot rely on bugreports to find major bugs and flaws in your product.  Think about it, what do you do if a website has a major bug? e.g. the registration form doesn’t work? You will just go to a competitor, unless you have some special interest in helping the creator or you really really really need to use it.
The same goes for missing features or conceptual errors: users just leave if they do not like what they experience.

Users that send you feedback, only do so if they already committed to your product. Maybe they’ve already paid, maybe they just entered loads of content or maybe they just like you.  However, this will only get you so far: in most cases this will be exceptions, obscure bugs or obvious features you just didn’t get done yet.

So what do you need to do?

  • Create a list of all important user stories in your site.  For PicturePush I would write stuff down like:  signup, login, create an album, upload a photo to an album, delete the photo, delete the album,  change my profile, delete my account.
  • Test all of it in ALL major browsers. No matter how much you think you’ve made everything cross browser,  there are always subtile differences that sneak in when you add new features or fix stuff.
  • REPEAT this as often as possible. Fixing bugs and adding features, you are very likely to create new bugs, clutter and/or unclearity.
  • Measure if you can. Using Google Analytics or other tools you are able to track whether users reach certain goals. This will allow you to see if your users succeed in the most critical tasks on your website.

Furthermore you can encourage you users to send you feedback:

  • Offer rewards for feedback. You could give away a few months discount.
  • Make it easy for users to delete their account and have an easy option to indicate why they want to leave. I suggest having radio buttons for those that are in a hurry and an aditional text field for those that want to help you even more.
  • Respond quickly to all questions and bug reports, if you can fix their problem quickly they will not only become loyal customers, they will keep contacting you with feedback.