Co-Creator of Product Hunt. EIR at Tradecraft. Creator of Startup Edition.

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Is Your Product Too Engaging?

This week I met with Hsu Ken Ooi to chat about his new project, a “Tinder for startup professionals,” called CoffeeMe. Having just opened in San Francisco, Hsu Ken spent his afternoon manually approving applicants to nurture a high-quality, relevant early adopter community. After logging in with LinkedIn and being approved, users browse through profiles of entrepreneurs, designers, hackers, product managers, and other startup folk one at a time.

CoffeeMe is beautifully simple as evident by its minimal aesthetic. This isn’t just a design decision but a byproduct of Hsu Ken’s limited resources and recognition of the importance of early user feedback. The initial reception has been incredibly positive. Maybe too good. The product first launched in Seattle a few months ago, resulting in hundreds of introductions generated from an average of 34 yes/no choices per user. The...

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I Never Sync My Jawbone Up

But I wear it every day.

I recently joined the Quantified Self (QS) bandwagon and purchased a Jawbone Up. I wear the step and sleep-tracking wristband everywhere but I didn’t purchase the Up just to measure my activity and sleep patterns - I’m already a self-quantified, calorie-counting maniac. In fact, I haven’t synced the device in weeks. Admittedly, I purchased the wristband largely as a fashion statement.

The Jawbone Up and similar QS wristbands send a message as do apparel, jewelry, and other artifacts in fashion. Fashion tells a story and coveys an image.

  • Gucci handbags communicate class and wealth.

  • Kid Robot t-shirts communicate playfulness and an enthusiasm for urban culture.

  • Jawbone Up’s communicate tech-savviness and physical fitness.

The brands we associate with are a personification of ourselves, a vehicle for branding and establishing an association with others.


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Impostor Syndrome

Hate him or love him, Kanye occasionally spits the truth.

I recently watched his passionate interview (embedded below) with Zane Lowe where he eloquently states:

That’s the main thing people are controlled by: their perception of themselves. They’re slowed down by the perception of themselves. If you’re taught you can’t do anything, you won’t do anything. I was taught I could do everything.

The Impostor Syndrome is common and especially crippling for entrepreneurs who by definition, are trying to go against popular opinion. Despite our achievements and capabilities, we convince ourselves that we are a fraud, undeserving of success. We attribute past achievements to luck or someone else’s doing. I’ve experienced this feeling.

Next time you feel like a fraud, reflect on the awesome things you’ve accomplished, pump your chest a little, and recognize that no one else knows what...

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Tactics for Better Customer Interviews

I often interview customers (mobile game developers, marketers, executives, etc.) to gather product feedback and better understand their needs. This customer-centric focus was the primary driver of our latest pivot and continued success at PlayHaven. It would be cliche to state how important it is to listen to customers, but you shouldn’t listen to everything they say.

People don’t do what they say they do. People don’t do what we think they do. People don’t do what they think they do. - IDEO

Here are a few tactics we use to help identify customer pains and needs:

Ask for a Stack Ranked Priority List

When you ask how important a particular feature is, you’ll find everything’s “1 priority”. In isolation, it’s difficult for people to recognize or communicate how important something really is without a comparison. Asking for a stack rank priority list forces customers to choose...

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Dangerous Advice

This essay is inspired by this week’s Startup Edition topic, “Where do you get advice?”

Startup advice is everywhere. Books, blogs, podcasts, comment threads, and face-to-face conversations inundate us. Everyone has an opinion, experience to share. That’s a great thing, but advice taken blindly can be dangerous.

Here are some truths I’ve internalized when seeking and giving advise.

  • Context matters. Your market, audience, and several other factors must be considered. Advice given to an early stage mobile consumer app is much different than a mature, SaaS business. This is of course an extreme example but even a slight lack of context can render advice useless or worse, damaging.

  • Context changes. Markets and people change. As technology evolves and new user behaviors form, so must startups. Zynga and many other early adopters of the Facebook platform, capitalized on the...

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Frontback: The Gift and Curse of Selfies

For many, success in mobile apps seems like winning the lottery. There is just so much competition. You’ve got an idea for a photo app? Forget it. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, the built-in Camera app, and thousands of others already did it.

Just when you thought there wasn’t room for another photo-sharing app, Frontback enters the scene, capturing the attention of tech luminaries like Jack Dorsey, Kevin Rose, and Ashton Kutcher.

The app launched in mid-July, attracting more than 200,000 selfie-loving users! How on earth did they accomplish this? More features? Nope. Frontback lacks photo filters, doodles, stickers, and even social comments. So what makes it so popular?

Although Frontback commands a tiny fraction of the photo app market, its early traction is impressive, especially considering the app was built in only four weeks thanks in part to its simplicity. Like...

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Why Distraction Apps Matter

I haven’t called my parents in weeks and it’s been great. I hate talking on the phone and I know I’m not the only one. Why? It’s a terrible way to communicate: the audio quality is poor, calls drop, and its fidelity of expression is limited to our words and tone of voice.

Plus, calling is intrusive. Unexpected interruptions demand control of our busy schedule. The ring of a phone is the equivalent to nails on a chalkboard. Miss a call? Prepare for further phone tag interruptions. Once you do connect on the phone, it’s often a time-suck. We’ve all been dragged into a 30 minute, drawn-out conversation. Sometimes it’s damn difficult to politely end the call.

Despite the deficiencies in this legacy technology, the phone is still perceived as a more intimate and respectful form of communication than mobile messaging. But should it? Today’s mobile devices are equipped to enable new...

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The Dribbblization of Blogging

The blogging community is generous, sharing its wisdom and experiences. It’s a great thing; however, advice taken blindly without context is dangerous.

Early in my professional career, it was the peak of gamification’s popularity, and I was caught in the hype. I read essay after essay about gamification and pitched my employer on a badge system we could use to better engage users for a product we were still developing.

The product never made it to market. I wasted my time and even more dangerously for my career, my employer’s, on an idea that wasn’t well-thought-out.

I failed to digest a true understanding of game mechanics.

Last week Paul Adams wrote about The Dribbblisation of Design, stressing the importance of communicating context in design.

Often designers share pretty pixels without describing the “why”. As visually stunning as their work may appear, good products...

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Don’t Be So Smart

Don't Be So Smart

It’s easy to discount crazy ideas.

That isn’t possible.

That can’t be built.

That won’t scale.

It’s hard to let go of your ego and pre-conceived beliefs to uncover the impossible. Practicality is important in life but has no place when discovering magic.

Don’t let your smarts get in the way of magic.

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Easter Egg Marketing: How Snapchat, Apple, and Google Hook You

Last week I received this Snapchat from a friend:

I was quite surprised to see a black-and-white photo. “When did Snapchat add filters?” I asked in response.

With pride and delight, my friend responded with instructions: enter the text caption, “B&W…”, to activate the black-and-white filter. Grinning, I immediately sent a dozen B&W Snapchats to my friends, anticipating their curious replies because I knew something they did not. I knew a secret.

The black-and-white filter is one of Snapchat’s many Easter eggs. An Easter egg is an inside joke or hidden feature. The term was first coined by a programmer who hid his signature inside a secret room within the Atari 2600 video game, “Adventure”. Decades later, Easter eggs are a recurring meme in gaming, a head-nod to players, and have expanded into non-gaming, consumer products. Look closely and you may find Easter eggs hidden...

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