Technology

Innovation, for Everyone

Brexit. Trump. Putin. North Korea. China. EU disruption. These are turbulent times around the world and they are impacting everyone on a political, economic, environmental and social levels. While many may find this uncertainty a reason to hide, Matt Britton of Google told the Startup Grind Europe audience that it’s the best time to be an entrepreneur.

All that uncertainty and turbulence is what allows for disruption to be accepted and implemented across industries and countries.

Britton focused on three key trends — connectivity, AI and smarter tools. Each of these mean new ways to learn. From an average of 2.5 connected devices per person in many countries and the new access to affordable devices in developing countries, the world is more connected than ever.

Technology is allowing for smarter tools that are changing how we can solve problems. Artificial intelligence is becoming more mainstream in both consumer and business applications.

Finally, more people in the audience admitted that they had turned to sites like YouTube to learn something new from someone they didn’t even know. This platform as well as the many other on-demand learning sites is an extraordinary way to teach ourselves new skills and further develop our capabilities to generate the kind of change we want in the world rather than fearing what those now in charge may do.

To hear more about how everyone can get involved in innovation and drive the pathways of change, click here to watch the rest of Britton’s insightful talk.

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Jeremy WebbInnovation, for Everyone
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Phoenix on the Rise: The City of Growth

[I wasn’t going to publish this post because it’s all about Arizona, by someone who loves this state. As I found the city of Phoenix absolutely beautiful and enjoyed this piece — I thought that you may also enjoy it.]

Arizona is home to 6.9 million people, with Phoenix being the nation’s sixth largest city in the US and the most populated state capital, having 1.6 million people. There are about 4 million people in the metro area which is half the size in population to New York city. Phoenix is bigger in land space, however, than New York City with it’s 8 1/2 million people. Phoenix averages 211 days of sunshine per year. It has the sun shining 85 percent of its daylight hours.

The Valley of the Sun and Forests

Most people know about the 200+ golf courses, but few realize that one fourth of the state is forested, having 11.2 million acres of National Forest, six National Forests, and six lakes within a 75 minute drive of Phoenix.

The state of Arizona has seen tremendous growth and innovation in the five years. As a result, Phoenix is quickly becoming a hotbed for venture capital, innovation, and startups. Just since 2015, there have been more than 35 articles chronicling the growth and success of Phoenix. Consider the following facts:

Fast Facts

Chief Executive Magazine has rated Arizona has #9 in the country as best state for business in 2015. The favorable business development programs, low taxes and regulations, good weather, and high quality of living attract and keep big-name businesses.

The Arizona Republic reported in 2016 that Arizona had a zero chance of recession after the historical Great Recession. Arizona was ranked as having a zero percent chance of falling into recession in the near term and has been expected to grow at a solid rate of 2.5 percent in economic output.

Startups are moving to Arizona in record numbers.

According to the online publication Thought Catalog in 2016. The cost of living is low, the cost of gasoline and transportation is low, and the cost of doing business is low. The business climate encourages success by having a government that supports business activity instead of stalling business activity.

Not only that, the beautiful year-end weather encourages a balance between playing and working. There is more productivity time in Arizona because there is no daylight savings, and the (no daylight savings), the infrastructure is well-developed so traffic isn’t nearly as bad as LA, and the diverse and growing talent pool contributes to thriving companies.

Phoenix ties San Francisco for best high-tech job growth two years in a row. 

According to the Phoenix Business Journal in 2016, Phoenix added 12,662 new high-tech jobs from 2012 to 2014. That is a 42.7 percent increase for the Valley’s tech sector, tying San Francisco for the top spot among the 30 largest North American markets.

In terms of percentage growth, Phoenix had a higher rate than the likes of Austin (33 percent), Silicon Valley (27 percent), New York (22.6 percent) and Seattle (18.3 percent). Phoenix also added more overall tech jobs than Chicago (10,192), Austin (9,313), Boston (7,755), Los Angeles (3,799 and Dallas (8,193) over the two-year time frame.

Arizona has the second fastest job growth in the country and is the second best state in which to find a job, according to Kiplinger Magazine in 2016.

Arizona is one of the best states for future job growth in the United States, according to Forbes in 2016. Arizona’s projected job growth is 3.1 percent annually through 2019, the best in the U.S.

In addition, net migration into the state is projected to total 679,000 over the next five years. Only Nevada is expected to enjoy a faster migration rate.

Arizona is ranked third behind San Francisco and Silicon Valley as best state for information technology jobs, says Forbes in 2016.

The desert city’s information workforce has expanded by 39.29 percent since 2010, the third highest increase of any metropolitan area, just behind the Bay Area.

U.S. News reported in 2016 that three of the ten best high schools in America are located in Arizona. Contrary to popular belief, education is strongly supported in Arizona, with half of the state’s budget being committed to education. Arizona is the national leader is school choice, which provides students and parents the freedom to choose where their child goes to school.

The Startup City

The success of a city largely depends on three factors: the cultural framework, the legal framework, and the economic framework. If a city, wants to grow and innovate, then it needs to pursue policies and behaviors that encourage a cultural, legal, and economic setting that allows entrepreneurs, startups, and companies to thrive.

Phoenix is less than a two-hour flight from San Jose, yet it stands in stark contrast to the Silicon Valley that is always experiencing a growth spurt. Hotbeds of innovation and wonder are beginning to reach many other cities in the US and in the world. What these new cities have in common with Silicon Valley is a belief that the cultural, legal, and economic frameworks of a city should allow the city to thrive. 

Image: Getty Images

[If you like pieces like this, about other cities stats, please let me know. deanna@startupgrind.com and I will curate more like this for you].

[1] Coffin, J. (2016). 2015 Best & Worst States for. Chief Executive Magazine. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[2] Hansen, Ronald J. (March 2016). Economists: Zero chance of Arizona recession. azcentral. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[3] Park, Daehee & Marino, JT. (2016).  If You’re Building A Startup You Need To Move To Phoenix (Not Silicon Valley). Thought Catalog. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[4] Sunnucks, Mike. (2015). Phoenix ties San Francisco for job growth in high tech. Phoenix Business Journal. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[5] 15 Best States to Find a Job in 2016. (2016). www.kiplinger.com. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[6] Badenhausen, Kurt. (2016). The Best States For Future Job Growth. Forbes.com. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[7] Kotkin, Joel. (2016). The Cruel Information Economy: The U.S. Cities Winning In This Critical Sector. Forbes.com. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[8] The Best High Schools in America, Ranked. (2016). Usnews.com. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

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Jeremy WebbPhoenix on the Rise: The City of Growth
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What Avengers Personality is Your Startup?

Heroes like the Avengers make us dream of what it might be like to develop superpowers. Part of their appeal is that unlike the X-Men, many of these powers were not genetic but obtained through some fluke event – which means we might just be able to relate to it. More importantly, Avenger characters tend to be unapologetically human, powers combining with personality traits to give each one advantages and disadvantages.

The question is, what is your Startup’s Avenger Personality, and what does that mean in terms of your strengths and weaknesses?

Black Widow

Natalia Alianova Romanoff was born in Russia and started her training towards the life of an assassin when she was just a child. In spite of having no superhuman powers, the Black Widow is an expert martial artist with thorough interrogation skills, a scientific mind, and hacking skills.

She can be particularly charming and sexy, ruthless, and loyal. Career-driven, she is the sole female Avenger and is the only person who can calm the Hulk down to a gentle version of his green self and back into Dr. Banner.

The risk Black Widow runs is that she is a woman in a man’s world and needs to avoid the pitfall of trying to be a man but instead, continue harnessing the fact that being a woman is a strength.

Business & Startup examples: Huffington Post & Thrive Global – Arianna Huffington is changing how journalism works, and now also how we live; Nasty Gal – the whole company is based on the founder being shamelessly herself; and Goldieblox – for taking on the gender gap by owning a skill set typically assigned to men (engineering).

If you’re a Black Widow startup… Own the fact that you might be playing in a man’s world, but don’t forget that you can still play by your own rules and that this is your strength. Don’t apologize. Lean in, connect with other women, and kick butt.

Captain America

Rogers is old school, literally from another era. At his core are values such as honor and integrity, complemented by serum-induced regenerative powers, stamina, strength, and speed.

A Captain America startup has strong values that dictate its direction, and although some of its attributes may be more classic than revolutionarily innovative, its reliability and integrity make it stand out amongst its peers. On the downside, it may be reticent to accept change.

Business & Startup examples: Nokia – their relaunch of an old but improved model is a potentially brilliant move that might put them back on the spotlight; Alibaba – for taking the concept of EBAY and improving it while targeting the growing and seemingly unquenchable market that is Asia; and Waze – for taking an old school tool, maps, and adding the user base interactivity to make it more performant and reliable.

If you’re a Captain America startup… Don’t try to keep up with your competition by following what they do while lagging one step behind. Dig deep & think of how you can harness your old school flair and core values to do something better and show them how it’s done.

Hawkeye

Clinton Francis “Clint” Barton, codename Hawkeye, is the world’s greatest marksmen and is the only Avenger to have a family. This means he has the most to lose if anything goes wrong, which is a unique motivation to succeed every world-saving mission and survive it. Hawkeye is not a leader but always has his friends’ backs and has saved all their lives countless times.

Business & Startup examples: SAS – a software myriad companies use to run their operations; Square Space – which revolutionized website development and design; and Mobilize – leveraging the power of networks and communities for a different kind of people-powered startups.

If you’re a Hawkeye startup… Be one with the fact that you may never be quite in the spotlight, because anyone who knows what you do understands that it’s quietly revolutionary and essential to innovation. You are the catalyst that allows other superhero startups to shine.

Hulk

Dr. Robert Bruce Banner is a genius scientist who is exposed to gamma radiation and as a result, transforms into the Hulk whenever his heart beats at intensified speeds, often brought on by anger.

Anger management issues aside, a Hulk startup is prone to fast growth and is likely to be science-based. While it risks being reactive rather than proactive, it can also bypass “bandaid solutions” and go straight to the root of a problem. This earmarks it as visionary and potentially transformative.

Business & Startup examples: J&J – big pharma company providing medical solutions worldwide, known for treatments but striving to also focus on prevention; and AlphaMundi Group – an impact investing firm providing innovative startups with capital, focused on both a financial return and a measurable social impact.

If you’re a Hulk startup… Go to the source. Rethink what got us in trouble in the first place, and help the rest of us catch up with this better way of doing things. Just be careful of fast growth and its implications.

Iron Man

Tony Stark is a tech genius, perhaps even a genius all-around. However, he is very proud and stubborn, and because he has a seemingly infinite amount of money, he sometimes assumes money can solve problems.

An Iron Man startup is pushing the boundaries of innovation and changing the world as we know it. However, it also risks hubris – that condition described in Greek mythology whereby humans start thinking they are on par with the gods, which inevitably leads to their being struck down by the gods as a reminder that they are, in fact, mere humans. A worthwhile risk given the chance to quite literally change the world.

Business & Startup examples: Tesla – going from cars to batteries to solar power and roof tiles, and its sister company SpaceX launching rockets into space and preparing for Mars colonization; Virgin – dealing in everything from records to airlines to traveling to the moon, hotels, mega stores, and so much more; Ariana – providing an AI chatbot for personalized health solutions; and Curious AI – a Finnish startup working on solving the unsupervised learning.

If you’re an Iron Man startup… The greatest challenges you face are potentially spreading yourself too thin as well as figuring out your legacy. You have to pick your battles and focus to ensure impact and successful ventures before tackling the next initiative. Additionally, after a founder with such charisma, vision, and genius, a solid team needs to be in place so that any change in leadership stands the test of time

Thor

Thor Odinson is an Asgardian warrior-prince, the God of Thunder, superhero and a self-proclaimed protector of Earth. He had an idyllic childhood in Asgard, a futuristic Viking kingdom with warrior culture. As a result, Thor values strength, courage, and loyalty above all else. The eldest son of King Odin, he is a great warrior in line for the throne. However, he is also known to be reckless and can have vain tendencies.

A Thor startup may give the impression of being arrogant or vain but is in fact based on solid core values and has as an integral part of its mission to protect the environment – which, until recently, sounded alien to more traditional capitalistic business ventures.

Business & Startup examples: Patagonia – actively encouraging people to buy less while ensuring their production processes are as environmentally friendly as possible; and Sans Soucie – a fashion brand that uses hosiery factory waste to create beautiful clothes.

A Question of Your Weaknesses and Strengths 

The question of which Avenger personality your startup has was intended initially as an entertaining lunchtime conversation. However, if it ends up as a way to constructively bring up some of the challenges you face, as well as learn from other startups or entrepreneurs how to manage challenges (or how not to depending on the case study in question) so you can better dare to be different – all the better!

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Challenges You Don't Know You'll Face as a Non Technical Founder

I’ve been marketing various products and services for years. Everything from dating programs to weight loss supplements. None of them have been as attractive to me as the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. 

In my mind, it’s simple – build an app people love and watch it get ten thousand users in two years. I was wrong.

There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes of building a web app that has nothing to do with the idea, marketing, and or sales. 

Since my strength is in marketing, I was basically lost at sea. Below are the challenges I faced (and still face) while creating KyLeads – an app to help entrepreneurs build viral quizzes, optin forms, and landing pages. 

Choosing a hosting environment

I’ve hosted a lot of websites in my day. I’m partial to WordPress. It’s easy to use, can be customized, and most hosts have a one-click installer. 

It’s a different ballgame when you’re looking for a service to host your SaaS app. The language on the marketing sites is targeted at developers. I’m not a developer. 

They used language like: 

– CLI (Command Line Interface)

– SLA (Service Level Agreements)

– vCPU 

– SSD Disk

– Elastic GPUs

– Spot Instances

I was lost. There isn’t much literature about it on the web either. 

Don’t even get me started on the pricing structure. 

Google Cloud Computing and Amazon Web Services had the most convoluted pricing structure. I don’t even know what I’m paying for. Digital Ocean had the clearest pricing structure. 

The following questions helped me clarify what I needed 

1. Who’s worked with them in the past?

This lets you know if they’re able to support the type of app you’re building. It also gives you an idea of their scalability. If they can boast huge players then you know their system is robust. 

2. What about the support and SLAs?

Are they ready and willing to hold your hand when all hell breaks loose? It will – trust me. How much uptime are they guaranteeing you in their SLA? if it’s anything less than 99% then you need to take a long hard look at what you’re signing up for. 

3. Do they take security seriously?

You’re about to build an app that could be worth millions. You don’t want to be taken down by hackers or careless security issues concerning your data. What measures are they taking to actively secure your investment?

4.. Can they scale with you?

SaaS is all about scale. Is your hosting environment able to handle 500 as well as 5,000 users? Will the cost be prohibitive? Will they be able to properly distribute and balance the load? Does their system have built-in redundancy?

I went with Google Cloud Platform. It took me weeks. Only time will tell if I made the right decision. 

Choosing programming languages

This one was a doozy. There are so many languages to choose from. off the top of my head you’ve got:

– PHP

– Python

– Ruby

– Java

– Swift

– Objective C

The list goes on. I’m not a developer. This process was like reading Latin. 

After I discovered the sheer number of languages available, I took a step back. The approach was wrong. Instead of looking at the language first, I needed to look at what the app would do. 

Questions to ask yourself

1. How fast do you need to develop the app?

Do you have all the time in the world or are you on a strict deadline because of internal and external pressures? 

2. Are you cash-strapped?

Certain languages need more time and energy which translates to higher development costs. Can you swing the bill or are you staring the end of your runway in the face?

3. Is cross-platform support a priority?

Your app needs to look good everywhere every time. Some languages make this easy while others will make you pull out your hair (if you have any left after getting your startup off the ground).

4. Does your product run on big data?

If so, you need to be sure you’re choosing a language that can easily handle your needs. Not all of them are built with scalability in mind. 

Hiring technical people

I’m still actively struggling with this one. At the moment, I’ve outsourced to a small firm to help me with the development process. We’re coming up on private beta soon. I’ve dabbled with a few freelancing sites and my results haven’t been ideal. 

The problem is that I’m not qualified to vet their technical skills. I don’t know enough. 

I’ve learned. 

Don’t hesitate to fire fast. 

I’m all for giving people a chance. You come on board, do some work, and we go from there. The thing is that a startup moves fast. A bad hire can have horrible consequences. I can’t afford to teach you what you should already know. 

They’re not your friends or your family members. They’re your employees. If they’re not pulling their weight then let them go. It’s simple. 

Define their roles clearly. 

Working at a startup is a fluid experience. Developers are part of the sales, marketing, customer service, and product teams. That’s no excuse for slacking. If they want to help out in certain areas, fine. At the end of the day, they have responsibilities to take care of. Period. 

Get Help

Look, unless you’re willing to put in a lot of time right now to learn how to hire tech talent – get help. They’ll guide you through your first few hires. You’ll avoid common mistakes and may find a few rock stars too. 

If you don’t get help, I can almost guarantee you’ll mess this step up. It’s easy for someone with a basic understanding of computer science to convince you they can fill a key role.

When you find out they aren’t a good fit skillwise, you’ve already wasted 3 – 6 months.

Hiring isn’t foolproof. There will be mistakes. Your job to avoid a fatal one as much as possible. 

Conclusion

I’ve just begun my startup journey. I’ve already been thrown out of my comfort zone and into uncharted waters. 

There are so many challenges still ahead. It’s easy to look at them and give up before even starting. Hell, I almost did.

You can’t do everything by yourself. Your best option when it comes to navigating the tech side of things is to get a partner you can trust. I lieu of that – educate yourself. 

Ask the hard questions and define what you’ve set out to accomplish. That’ll inform everything from your first hire to which hosting company you eventually settle with.

I’m in it for the long haul, are you? 

Image URL https://unsplash.com/photos/71Ql9l7dyrQ

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The Myths and the Realities of Product Testing at Tech Conferences

Testing product concepts and assumptions is critically important to the success of tech startups who bring new technologies to market. To do it properly a sophisticated approach is often required. However, it is a common misconception that you can’t do product testing at a conference, because it is just too complicated.

Testing at conferences, takes team prep.

It often becomes complicated as a result of lack of team preparation or misunderstanding of Product Testing practices. This inevitably means that founders are often concerned about the value they can get from attending conferences as a startup. Is it worth the price of the ticket plus related expenses? Will our ROI for the event be negative?

In this article, we reflect on our experiences of testing our product at conferences to address some of the common misconceptions, so that our startup peers can get as much value from attending conferences as possible.

Please note that ‘Product Testing’ forms part of the overall Customer Development process, popularized by Steve Blank in his book “The Four Steps to the Epiphany.”

Myth One:

“You can only test finished products.”

​A common mistake startups make is that they are afraid to show their alpha / beta version to the public waiting too long until the product is perfect. But the truth is that perfection isn’t a realistic target, just like chasing the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow, you’ll never quite attain it.

As Reid Hoffman says: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

Typical mistakes.

A typical mistake is that when startups spend too much time on development, they don’t have time to listen to customers to understand their real needs and perceptions. The result is they often need to redevelop large parts of their product, because they aren’t taking quite the right approach to the customer problem.

  1. It is important to keep in mind that most attendees of tech events have early adopter mindsets. They often don’t get hung up product flaws and bugs and are instead more interested in the product concept. So no need to be embarrassed if your prototype isn’t perfectly polished by conference day, do your best though!

  1. In most cases you don’t need to test the whole product. In fact it is better to focus in on testing only the features you need to, to inform next steps along your Product Development journey.

When YouTeam attended Startup Grind Europe we were testing only one major product update: our new search results. So we focused all our efforts on polishing the search results page.

The booking process.

The booking process of particular software engineer, for example, didn’t provide a seamless user experience, but rather than addressing issues with the booking process, we placed all our efforts on preparing a new version of the search results page. Our focus for this experiment was to gain insight into what the users were expecting to be shown in our search results in response to their query / search request.

Before you can sell your product effectively, there is a lot of learning and discovery that needs to happen. Conferences can be an excellent source of feedback, provided that you have hypothesized who your target market is and they are present in significant numbers at the event.

Product tests.

There are many types of Product tests you can do before even creating a semi-functional prototype. Here is a list of some of the prototypes you can take to conferences to gather feedback from your target audience:

  • Problem-Solution Presentations – slideshow listing the problems, their implications and screenshots of the proposed solutions.

  • Video of the Solution – some products are inherently hard to explain without video, i.e Dropbox & Slack, videos are often quicker and easy to create than developing products.

  • Product Marketing Collateral to test the comprehensibility of product descriptions or stickiness of Unique Value Propositions etc. (e.g. product fliers, presentation deck, coupons, vouchers).

  • Low Resolution Wireframes – can be done in grey scale, created within Invision.

  • Facade Prototype – high-quality, full colour representation of only the workflow(s) under investigation created within Invision or TestFlight.

  • UI Prototype of the Full Experience – Full color, high definition prototypes of complete workflows through the product including onboarding / sign up for users to explore, created within Invision or TestFlight.

  • Website Landing Pages – to test product comprehensibility, Unique Value Propositions and decision making related to onboarding / signing up processes.

  • Fake Door/404 Page – to test user’s interest-level in a particular feature, you can add buttons to your product which lead to screens, you haven’t even designed yet!

  • Semi-Functional Prototype –  to verify user interactions with certain features which have now been fully developed, the learning process never stops.

  • Wizard of Oz Prototype – An application which looks like it is fully functional, however, in actual fact, many features are facilitated manually by someone behind the scenes.

  • Mechanical Turks – Most of the application is fully functional, however some of the processes that appear to be automated are actually done manually in the back office.

Clickable UI Prototype.

The following is an example of a clickable UI Prototype, which depicts of the selection and shortlisting process of engineers which can be hired through youteam.co.uk. It is designed to test what kinds of information are most important in the decision making process; rating, price, availability, tech stack etc.

It is often difficult to anticipate when a startup product company will be able to ship enough value to its target market, so in the meantime it makes sense to focus on testing your most fundamental product & market assumptions. This will assist you to steer product development and also to ensure those pesky assumptions don’t come back to bite you further down the track.

Myth Two:

“Everyone will flock to our stand and be super interested in our product concept.”

People are naturally curious about new ideas, however at startup conferences visitors can be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of stands and everyone wanting to showcase their own ideas/products.

WhatsApp Image 2017-08-09 at 11.44.11.jpeg

It is also difficult to read an attendee’s mind, so it is hard to know whether visitors to your stand are just browsing or there is the opportunity to connect with them in a meaningful way. People at conferences are typically in a good mood and friendly, which adds the confusion because you don’t know whether they are just being polite or if this an idea that genuinely resonates with them.

If your idea genuinely resonates with an attendee, the next question to ask is which group does this individual fit into:

  • Leads in our Target Market, who would be interested in:

    • Helping us testing our Product at the conference,

    • Becoming a future customer

  • Potential Investors – Strategic Angel Investors or VCs, who have the right backgrounds/experience

  • Strategic corporates/partners – who can help us bring the product to market quicker or more easily

  • Other connectors in the Target Market (Sales Agents, Distributors and Re-Sellers)

Our experience is that providing entertainment for entertainment’s sake does not translate into meaningful engagement. However, don’t let that limit your creativity!

Our horribly designed shirts.

For one of the first conferences we attended, we decided to wear some horribly designed shirts showcasing one of the most important parts of our product. Our product allows for searching a database for the availability and technical profiles of full-time employed software engineers working for Eastern European development companies.

So we wore shirts with our faces and showing our experience & tech stack, as if we were software developers who could be hired based on our credentials.

For the record, none of the team attending the conference were in actual fact developers ;).

The response was fascinating, people were intrigued about why we were doing this & many even took photos of us and posted them on Twitter.

But more importantly, we were recognizable among a sea of attendees and the shirts were interesting/engaging, they provided a reason to strike up conversation organically.

Myth Three:

“Everyone attending conferences is too busy to test our product and give us feedback.”

It might come as a surprise but it is often possible to convince the ‘right people’ to come and test your product and be interviewed at conferences, in sessions lasting up to 30mins.

During one of the first conferences we attended we were able to interview more than 20 target customers! Each interview lasted over 20 mins and we were able to record the feedback as audio & video files as well as all of their interactions with our web app! Holy Moly!

So what are the secrets?

  1. Planning. You need to think through the Target Market recruitment process in detail.

  2. Rewards. Appropriate rewards for Target Market participation!

Here is an example of the vouchers we were offering Product Test participants at a conference, 40 hour of free development services!

Here are some other examples of ways to incentivize Product Test participants, which are suggested by getworm.com:

  • Recognition (profile badges, special mentions on your website/newsletters, moderator rights);

  • Free upgrades to premium versions of your product

  • Discounts on your product or services, or free at best;

  • Merchandise (stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs)

  • Skip the waiting list, etc.

Myth Four:

“No need for preparation, I just need to get my product in front of the right people and they will give me the feedback I need!”

Your product and market assumptions.

Startups should always be clear about which product and market assumptions they are testing before attending conferences. The assumptions you will be able to test at conferences typically fall into one of the following categories:

  • Positioning

  • Customer/User Persona

  • Buyer Persona

  • Target Market

  • Product Design/UX

  • Onboarding Process

  • Execution/ Go-to-Market Strategy

  • Stakeholder Management

Indicatively, this is the process to prepare for Product Testing at Conferences (at high level):

  1. Agree with your co-founders upon the Product’s:

    1. Target Market(s)

    2. Use Case(s)

    3. Problem-Solution Pairing(s)

    4. Unique Value Proposition(s)

    5. Overall Product Positioning

  2. List all the assumptions you need to test and decide on 1-3 most important assumptions. There is so much you can test but focus is everything.

  3. Create a plan of what and how you are going to test (which product features, elements, how (asking questions, observing the reaction etc.) and where to store the feedback).

  4. Develop the Recruitment Strategy – to maximise outcomes you should start the recruitment 2-3 weeks in advance.

  5. Develop prototypes to allow for carrying out of the Product Tests (Refer to Point 1 for further details)

  6. Create all the supporting documentation to carry out the Product Tests:

    1. Brief information on product positioning

    2. Interviewing Scripts

    3. Pre & Post Interview Surveys

  7. Source all the technology you will need to run the Product Tests. We use Loom for video recording, Typeform for surveys, Invision for prototypes.

From our experience, all of the above takes quite a while to prepare with a lot of sync meetings, but it is definitely worth the effort because Product Testing (Customer Development) needs to run in parallel with Product Development.

Myth Five:

“Product Testing participants are easily converted into leads.”

It is often true that “if you ask for money you often get advice, and if you ask for advice you often get money.” Our experience is that Product Testing participants rarely convert into leads. This is because the chances that they need your product at the precise moment you introduce them to it, is relatively low. But that is okay, because the primarily objective of Testing Products is to get feedback. Also your product might not be ready to be sold.

With this in mind though, you are still demonstrating your product to your target market and they might gather all the information they need to make a buying decision, which might result in sales. However, it is important not to overestimate the number of sales and website visits which will occur as a result of interacting with the target market at conference.

Myth Six:

“The preparation process for all conferences is more or less the same.”

Unfortunately, this is another misconception, because different conferences attract different demographics of attendees.

This may affect the list of assumptions you will be able to test. It makes sense to check who is in attendance to ensure that they match your current needs with respect to Product Testing.

Usually global big conferences provide access to their attendees list in advance (so you can search them and filter according to the type of industry, job title, country etc.). Also, many conferences provide the attendees with useful apps to connect. If you are applying as a startup you might also try and get in contact with organizers to get more info on the attendees list if it’s not available online.

Bring it all together.

As a startup you might have different strategic purposes for attending conferences. Many of the outcomes you desire will only be possible if you have a great team and are well prepared.

If you decide to conduct Product Testing, make sure you have at least two full-time team members assigned to carrying out the process.

As a final note.

A lot can be achieved with respect to Product Testing, but don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations!

Best of luck with your product testing at conferences! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

​About YouTeam.co.uk

YouTeam is a curated b2b platform that matches businesses with vetted software agencies and engineers around the world.

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Jeremy WebbThe Myths and the Realities of Product Testing at Tech Conferences
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The Biggest Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) of 2017

This year has been the breakout year for blockchain-focused startups. With massive gains on the top 100 cryptocurrencies, early investors within the community are re-investing in projects of all kinds.

This year specifically hundreds of blockchain entrepreneurs have set out to disrupt industries of all sizes. From traditional industries like education with AcademyCoin to modern file storage with FileCoin, there are exciting projects launching every month.

These are the top eight largest ICOs of 2017 (so far)

1. Tezos is a new a blockchain that fixes the governance issues that blockchains like bitcoin face. They’re bringing a self-governance mechanism built into the protocol and recently launched a $50M fund for developers. The Tezos ICO ended in 14-days and they raised $222 million.

2. Filecoin is pioneering file storage on the blockchain. Despite having technical issues during the ICO, they raised $200 million from US accredited investors in under 60 minutes. Some notable investors include Silicon Valley investors like Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, and Union Square Ventures.

3. EOS is building a blockchain specifically for businesses and corporations. It plans to provide blockchain solutions that offer efficiency, security and data integrity.  They launched their ICO in June 2017 and raised $183 million.

4. BANCOR is trying to build a decentralized exchange ecosystem that will allow investors to trade peer-to-peer with little risk to the security of their assets. An interesting goal of theirs is to support any token that is issued regardless of the number of users. Backed by amazing investors like Tim Draper they raised $153 million in June 2017. 

5. STATUS is essentially going to be the WeChat of the blockchain. They are a browser, wallet, messenger app, and a gateway to dApps (decentralized applications) that built on Ethereum. They took the mobile first approach and the team raised $95 million in June 2017. 

6. TENX is building a cryptocurrency debit card and developed a protocol called COMIT that enables every blockchain in the world to connect to TenX. Currently, the platform supports Bitcoin, Ethereum, ERC20 tokens, and Dash.  In June they raised $80 million in 7 minutes. 

7. MOBILEGO is a mobile gambling platform and app store for in-game purchases. With hundreds of mobile games already available on the platform, they set themselves apart from many “pre-product” ICOs. The MobileGo team raised $53 million during their ICO in April 2017.

8. BRAVE is a browser competing head to head with Google Chrome. Often called the ANTI-CHROME, in many cases, the browser has sped search times up by 7x to 10x. In June they raised $35 million in under 30 seconds from many elite Silicon Valley funds and investors.

Overall, blockchain startups will continue to rapidly change industries in the coming years with the fuel of many high growth cryptocurrencies. As the market capitalization continues to grow, investors will continue to re-invest in ICOs making the crypto-space a powerhouse for exciting innovation.

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Business to Interface Translation — BIT

Smartphone and tablet innovation is exploding. The potential of mobile apps is yet to be realized to its full extent. We are still researching and innovating on various ways to put the interface on digital touch screens to use.

Some of the interfaces and businesses that exist today are already phenomenal. That said, we are not just limited to screens on your phones or tablets, you have watches, HMDs, TVs, IOT and other smart devices; there’s a whole new world being built in these spaces.

There’s a huge no. of people wanting to build and need help with apps to run a business on and for most already established businesses, it has become a need. There are costs & time commitments involved along with acquiring & retaining skill to build and keep your app running.

When it’s about building an app, we mean business, Essentially building out a system that can communicate and manage a business process with an app as front end. And, when it’s business, it means money.

Driving digital products from idea to implementation involves building the product, carrying out various processes needed for sustaining, managing the business, ensuring profitability.

Most content that you read online is about idea validation, design and development/build of the app but, there is more involved than just this for turning successful. It’s quite complicated to understand and do it right and hence, there are failures.

Start

Your journey as the owner can start anywhere based on the understanding you have and it completely depends on the your background and profile and the competence of your team.

Driving digital products from idea to implementation involves building the product, carrying out various processes needed for sustaining, managing the business, ensuring profitability. Most content that you read online is about idea validation, design and development/build of the app but, there is more involved than just this for turning successful.

It’s quite complicated to understand and do it right and hence, there are failures. Failures are not the end of the world, they could be handled by thinking through with a clear detail.

Plan

How detail can it be? Really!!

If you go out and order pasta at 10 different restaurants, it would definitely taste differently at different place. We’ll a place has full right to define how their dishes should taste but, you are the one eating it. You wouldn’t like all the 10.

Or may be you will not like any restaurant at all. Working with people and getting a product out is also the same. It’s not easy to get it right. It call for the owner to be more aware and mature with thoughts and operations.

You approach someone or put together a team and define the product to get some help. Would it match what you need without your involvement? Are you clear on what needs to be expected at a sharp visual and functional details covering all the cases possible?

Well, are you completely aware of the details involved?

Videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tO5sxLapAts and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zc4bGkU05o should help you get the context of it. 

Things to note from the meme

There was a presentation done that exactly misses out key detail. Most Product Requirement Documents(PRDs), UI mockups, wireframes, functional descriptions, system definitions have bazillion such details that don’t come out clear!

And, one cannot define these detail unless they are clear about what is needed and a deeper understanding of various lines of work involved in building and turning profitable.

“There’s more thought while production than while conceptualizing the solution.”

A Case

For example, A button to book a Stay with an aggregator service/app:(the label of a button, state changes and transitions). Most common first thoughts about such buttons are size, shape and position but, there’s more..

A whole lot more than what just meets the eye:

  1. Label

  2. State

    1. Pressed/Touched,

    2. Idle

    3. Being Pressed

    4. Force Press

    5. Duration of Press/Touch

    6. Before Press

      1. Active

      2. Disabled

      3. Hidden

    7. After Press

      1. Success

      2. Fail

      3. Something else happened

        1. Error ? What’s the error ? What should we say to the user

          1. How do we say it ?

            1. Modal ?

            2. Toast ?

            3. Something else ?

        2. Was it really an error ?

        3. Internet went off ?

        4. Server went down ?

        5. App crashed ?

        6. Was that a bug ?

  3. Style

    1. Padding

    2. Margin

    3. Border

    4. Border Radius

    5. Shadow

    6. Icon

    7. Background Color

    8. Text Color

A label:

Let’s cut down and focus on the Label

The possible labels in the this case are Book Now, Reserve, Request Booking for the various kinds of reservation options that the business has.

At the Designer’s Desk:

It’s not anybody’s fault that our dear designers use the word Book Now on their designs. Their job doesn’t really include a responsibility for adding a dynamic label for such simple point of interaction. There are some good designers who think this through and leave a comment about it on the developer handout or a PRD.

At the Developer’s Desk:

Our dear developers on the other hand have a whole lot of action going on trying to build functional aspects, dealing with engineering challenges, killing the bugs that show up every now and then. They obviously have their own problems to deal with, relating to the product again.

With so much going on, there’s a very good chance that a developer would ignore such detail about what’s written on the button. They’d rather focus on what the button does.

To get to this point in discussion, the designer on the project had to be good, not just visually. This is where the difference between UI and UX is.

Or, the developer had to take some time to think and call this out for discussion and most good programmers do. FYI, programmers are very good thinkers… They think, they write logic, they relate things that’s their everyday job.

So, Is a product manager to be blamed?

At the Product Manager/Owner’s Desk:

Well, a product manager’s job is never complete nor the responsibilities can be thoroughly defined. But they are assumed to take the ownership of the product and any aspect related to it. In a way, this is the responsibility of the product manager to address this issue. It might be too late by the time someone identifies this issue and it would be in most cases of the startup world.

In fact, Product Managers do not exist in early stage ventures probably because the value for such a role is not understood and then, there are very few good product managers around and a good product manager can happen only with great experience with how things are actually built. Some mature companies have PM roles split across different people viz.

  • Product Marketing

  • Product Operations

  • Product Development/Technical Product Manager

But regardless, there are many chances for details to be missed:

#What if the designer didn’t have enough information about the business?

#We might want to call it common sense to know these. But, common sense is not common. It’s one’s own perception of things. If somebody working had such clear understanding, they would definitely be in a better position to create a business than the guy trying to use somebody else’s efforts to build.

#What if the developer did not pay attention to details mentioned?

#What if the product manager or the acting product manager is not capable enough?

#What if the team is so busy trying to do things with an assumption that everything is clear?

These are the kinds of issues that would fail a product during initial phases of launch. Good products are the ones that are well thought through.

Digital products deal with dynamics of design on the Front End and multiple layers of complexities data collection, available data, correlations, background jobs, various sorts of intelligence across data available, involving framework limitations, and a lot of learning and understanding across design, engineering, architecture, communications and end user experience management(UX).

“Simplicity is ultimate sophistication.”

That comes from Leonardo da Vinci. One of the best designer, engineer and an artist that has ever lived. It’s not simple to design, engineer and build something simple. It involves a lot of thinking and a deeper understanding across verticals and most importantly, sitting down and building.

What we’ve discussed here is just about a label on a button. When you are actually venturing into running a business from a screen, there would be a million other factors that play a role. Please be aware and get right help when needed.

It’s always a good practice to have consumer journeys first and a PRD that talks about various key UX specs and decisions involved by a consumer. It’s completely okay to keep things open and call out things that you do not have clear thoughts about on PRDs and figure out a way to deal with them later.

If neglected they will call for one’s own imagination, turn into disasters, wasting the time and resources involved and it hurts. You wouldn’t want to do that.

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Jeremy WebbBusiness to Interface Translation — BIT
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Why Tech Startups Should Focus on Innovation to Weather Brexit

It is important for tech entrepreneurs to pay attention to global movements, issues, laws, and changes in the ecosystem. So, it is no wonder that many entrepreneurs are worried about Brexit and for good reason.

As of now, no one can really tell how the UK’s departure from the EU will concretely affect businesses. Tech has been a notoriously fierce environment that, even without Brexit, startups face numerous challenges in terms of growth, profitability, and sustainability.

While there are arguments saying that tech would be affected less by Brexit compared to industries that rely on cross-border trade of physical goods, the UK tech industry has its own share of concerns. East London has already made a stake of being Europe’s Silicon Valley, and it had no problems attracting businesses and talent from across the continent until now.

Unlike other sectors, tech has mainly been reliant on talent. However, with post-Brexit immigration policies still unclear, uncertainty now looms over many of the cosmopolitan talents that have made Tech City their home. Attracting new talent from abroad would now be more complicated if not impossible as the government still has to define the exit plan.

A number of tech firms have already considered relocating elsewhere after the vote. The flow of investments has also been quite shaky as of late. VC investments in financial technology dropped 33.7 percent in the UK, despite being up everywhere else. But should this concern serve as a moratorium for tech startups?

Rather than be stymied by fears, startups should reframe this as an opportunity. Whether there is Brexit or not, tech firms should be striving for innovation. Regardless of whether or not the UK is part of the EU, disruptive innovation can propel any startup to success.

This is why it is critical to revisit the fundamentals of what can make a startup great.

Provide a valuable product or service.

Go back to the core principles of marketing. Is there a need you can serve? Or another way to put this: Is there a problem you can solve?

Or perhaps a more benevolent framing could be: Could you change the world for the better? No matter how you choose to frame it, your product or service should be providing something of value to someone.

Offer a fresh and unique solution.

Startups have a tendency to run with the pack. Being abreast with trends does not necessarily mean that you need to jump on bandwagons.

Take the mobile application scene. Search for a keyword and you will find scores of apps trying to perform the same function that it is tough for any of them to truly stand out. Study your audience and you may find something new to offer them.

Deliver effortless experience.

User experience is at the core of design these days. The shift to mobile created new challenges in making people interact with tech. The less effort for them to accomplish a task, the better. Optimise your product for performance, as well. Leverage the use of cloud technology to deliver content and resources faster to cater to people’s demand for responsiveness and speed.

Promise privacy and security, and deliver.

With cyber security becoming a growing concern for both individuals and enterprises, make the effort to protect customer data. This means providing high-grade encryption across all connections. You can also enhance customer trust with a Grade A+ SSL certificate, which can ensure better protection against attacks like Heartbleed and POODLE vulnerabilities, which endangered applications and customer data across the globe.

Ship a stable and usable product.  

An idea, even a unique one, is not worth much unless you can actually create the product. Avoid jamming the product with too many features, so that you do not keep pushing ship dates because of too many features.

Focus on the ones that are essential to solving the need, and concentrate on doing those tasks well. It is easier for startups to be agile compared to your larger competitors. Embrace that. Involve your customers early. Test and adjust. Do not be afraid to iterate.

Work towards sustainability.

Another pitfall for a number of ventures is starting with the end goal of selling out or getting VC funding. Have a business model. You have to figure out how you will make your money. Google did not become Google because of search alone.

Their success was being able to monetize search through ads. Mind your cash flow. The shift to subscription models means that you can have access to scalable infrastructure without having to make large investments upfront to build your infrastructure.

Change the game.

Too often, tech ventures get caught up in the adversarial mindset of trying to beat the big players like Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Is there something that these big guys are not doing? Look for those angles and opportunities and you might be able to change the game.

Brexit may have shaken the tech sector in the UK, but what is critical for startups is to remain calm. It is tough to innovate when worrying about these things.

As some of the big players may have to undergo transitions, startups that are not affected should take the opportunity to focus on innovation and strike first towards building that next disruptive technology. 

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AI Revolution

It is beyond the shadow of a doubt that The Law Of Accelerating Returns has been working in favor of human progress. Our species is exclusive to experiencing such exponential development. And statistically speaking, it’s only about to get more fast-paced. But with the wake of AI, human beings may not have to do all the heavy lifting. 

In the world of tech, AI does not lie in uncharted territory. It is no stranger to the industry. John McCarthy coined the term Artificial Intelligence way back in 1956 in the first ever conference held for AI. He believed that “every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it.” McCarthy’s Lisp computer language is still used today as the standard AI programming language and is used for a plethora of internet-based services. 

Researchers have established three tiers of artificial intelligence based on the AI’s caliber.

The first tier houses Artificial Narrow intelligence (ANI), also known as weak AI. In this part of the spectrum, AI can solve very specific problems but can’t go beyond its narrow scope it was programmed to stay within. 

The second tier is known as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) or also sometimes knows as Strong AI. Creating AGI is a much harder task as AI on this level is as smart as a human across the board. 

And in the final tier lies Artificial Superintelligence. We don’t want to get into that right now. I may have to use words like “human” and “extinction” in the same sentence.

It is important to know about these three categories as it is important to know which one we reside in. The world currently runs on ANI and the paradigm of the market is constantly shifting because of it. According to Digiday, the artificial intelligence market is estimated to reach $5.1 billion worldwide by 2020. 

It’s advised that entrepreneurs of today best be prepared for the ways AI is going to change the face of the market. There are three major ways in which it will: 

1: AI will be used to curate relevant content to consumers by tapping into the vast and growing field of recommendation engines. Companies will begin to employ AI systems to make creative decisions. 

2: AI will be employed to optimize the marketing industry by allowing AI systems to dig deeper into questions like why a campaign succeeded. 

3: AI can be even more potent for knowledge-based service marketplaces. It can be used for things like medical diagnosis where the AI system would have to be trained with a bunch of data related to a specific field of knowledge. 

One of the biggest concerns raised against the upsurge in the use and advancement of AI is if it’ll replace humans in the workspace, in the future. And the upsetting answer to that is Yes. But as human beings, we need to understand that these intelligent agents can be used to our advantage. Instead of seeing AI as a threat, we can learn how to use it as a tool to enhance the lives of people. AI will inevitably increase the quality of services while at the same time, decrease the costs. But just as how AI will be sweeping the need of humans at existing workspaces under the rug, it will also be creating new jobs and new business sectors.

Entrepreneurs who infuse AI into their products will ultimately be the ones bringing the world closer together. 

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The Startup Killer No One Talks About

What happens when you give 2,000 companies each at least a million dollars?

Well…as it turns out, about 1,500 of them will fail. They will either slog along without growth or shut down altogether.

But, why?

James Allworth, of the Exponent podcast, has insight on this question — 

“At a high level, it’s going to be easier to start things at the bottom, but even harder to break through to get to the top. The middle is getting destroyed and that middle is what you need to get through to get to the top.”

Let’s unpack that statement.

It’s easier to build Google circa 2000, but way harder to build a company that turns into Google, circa 2017. 

Put differently — more companies can win small, niche parts of the market.

And, bigger companies can thrive with huge swaths of the market.

But, it is even harder to grow from a niche startup into a tech giant.

Hasn’t it always been hard to grow a company? What’s changed?

It’s easier to make startups that thrive in their niche.

There is more cash for startups than any time in the history of tech.

Early stage investment went from ~$2.5 billion per year in 2002 all the way to nearly $13 billion last year.

What else makes the journey easier for startups? 

Here are some key pieces:

You know what else? There are just more people making companies. The rate that US workers start new businesses is at one of its highest points in 15 years. More cash, more support and more companies. That’s the landscape for small players. If you want to go deep into why there are more startups, give a listen to this episode of the Exponent podcast.

What has changed for big companies?

It’s harder to challenge the incumbents.

Because tech giants have ballooned in size. You can use IBM and Apple as an example. In 1995, IBM brought in about three billion dollars in profit. In 2015, Apple brought in roughly fifty-three billion dollars in profit.

You can see this same effect amongst all the tech giants:

The ten biggest tech companies went from ~$9.5 billion in profits in 1995 all the way to ~$115 billion by 2016.⁵ The consequence is that they can out-spend and out-compete companies that would otherwise be a threat. Did you build the next platform for photos? Get eaten by Facebook. (Instagram). Or chat? Same deal. (WhatsApp)

Maybe you built the best, new ecommerce site to buy shoes? Or diapers? Or soap?

Get clobbered and then purchased by Amazon. (Zappos, Quidsi)

I know, these startups sold and made tons of money. Boohoo. But, for each example, there are lists full of stories from startups that got stomped by the big tech companies. 

Why are the tech giants so damn big? 

Network effects.

The internet creates a world where companies can make billions from connecting two groups who want to exchange value with one another. 

Uber drivers want passengers. Amazon sellers wants buyers. AirBnB renters want travelers. Facebook users want their friends. And, when a company becomes big enough to own a network, they become incredibly hard to challenge. Note — there are other contributors to the growth in tech profitability and size. See this a16z presentation for more.

Wait. What is the startup killer?

If it is easier to make startups that get investment, then why do so many companies fail? 

It’s all about the Valley of Death. It’s about the period in a startup’s life when it ramps up to take its solution to a bigger market. Specifically, it is the time when costs exceed revenue as the startup attempts to grow into a large, enduring business. 

You can see it here:

Sometimes, startups make the right decisions and take off.  Most of the time, they make the wrong decisions.

You can see how it happens, right? 

Everything changes as a startup scales. The customers, the product, the team, the competitors.

The Google of 2000 is not the same as the Google of 2002, 2004 or any year since. But, startups do not have time to pontificate about each change. They know there are accelerators pumping out startups to steal their market. 

And, on the other side, they know they must face off with tech giants that make billions of dollars and wield massive network effects. Startups are forced to operate with limited information while they burn tremendous amounts of cash to spur growth — all the while with other startups chasing right behind them and tech giants ready to clobber them.

That’s the startup killer.

Why bother? 

Why work with a startup when so many fail? It sucks when startups fail. I had one that flopped and it felt awful. But, we do it because there are problems that need to be solved.

We know the chance that we can help bring a solution into the world outweighs the likelihood that the startup will fall apart.

I do it because, no matter the numbers, I believe the right people, with the right commitment, working on the right problem can solve anything.

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