Solve a problem

Over hyped apps Airtime & Color have been making the headlines again and getting a fresh round of criticism.   It underscores a few things… the importance of when you build something that you need to actually have a problem that you’re trying to solve, people need to have that problem, and   you have to be in a unique position or have a unique approach to solve that problem.

The Importance of Feeling Heard

As we’ve seen day in & day out in the headlines, the Apple Maps that was released via iOS 6 was a big flop.  In many cases, the maps were just wrong.  Lauren and I went to Hilton Head last weekend for a wedding and were consistently frustrate with Apple Maps as we tried to navigate.

The poor quality of Apple Maps led to a media and community up roar.  Countless blog posts were written about it.  There was even a Tumblr blog about all of the app’s mistakes.

When you’re the user and you’re having a problem with a product, the worst feeling in the world is when it feels like the company who made the product is so out of touch that they don’t know that there’s a problem.  That’s when the relationship between the user/customer & the company starts to disintegrate.

Well, I was really happy to see that Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote a letter on their site saying that they realized that Apple Maps for iOS 6 was sub-par and that they were working as quickly to fix it. They even went as far as alerting people to their competitors, as possible alternatives while Apple Maps improves.  He was saying to the Apple community, “I hear you. We screwed up.”

Apple’s not known for being a company that’s overly communicative or transparent.  So, seeing this kind of olive brand extended is definitely a notable moment.   I hope that we’ll see more.

It’s also a great object lesson in crisis communications for us all.

Give me more than just your app.

Every 5 minutes there’s a new startup popping up that’s building some new & exciting app to solve some problem I have.  It’s great but to be honest I get bored with it all.   Yes, your app’s functionality solves my problem but so does a dozen other apps out there.

What can you do to be different?  In addition to solving my obvious problem, solve the deeper problem.   Serve my life in a way that I didn’t anticipate.  Surprise & delight me.  Make my life happier.  Make me feel better about my future.

For example, does a great job of helping me connect with & buy from designers & artists.  The deeper problem they solve is that they make my life more exciting & fun.    Additionally, Zillow helps me find houses that are for sale.  Right.  The deeper issue is that I want to find a place for my life to unfold… for my future to happen.  I want some security that I’ll find the right place.  Zillow makes that possible.

Coincidentally, both companies have just put out TV commercials selling this.

First from…

Second from Zillow…


Entrepreneurial Milestones

In his latest post, NYC Investor Chris Dixon talks about the dangers of defining your company’s worth by  the vanity milestones that you hit(investment, partnerships, press, etc)…

What is worrisome is when founders equate vanity milestones with success. The attention will go away very quickly if your company fails.

I couldn’t agree more.  Young entrepreneurs especially are getting the wrong idea.  While getting written up in TechCrunch isn’t bad, it can actually help you acquire new users & investors, it’s not success.  Success is building a successful and sustainable business.

So… do we need to create a culture where we are more transparent about the real milestones that we hit?   What if we all started disclosing more about the revenue we make or don’t make?    Could we change how we judge success?

Start a Revolution!

Twitter Chairman & Square CEO Jack Dorsey spoke at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference.  From the article on his talk…

Dorsey asked founders and entrepreneurs to “pick a movement, a revolution, and join it” — as if to say that anything is worse than not being a part of something, contributing to a movement forward, rather than adding friction and moving against.

I totally agree.  When you’re starting a company, do something that changes/adds to the world.   Have a cause.   This will allow you to build an amazing community, both inside and outside the company.   It gives people a reason to work hard.  They realize they’re working on/for something bigger than themselves.  I’ve seen this first hand at HelloWallet.

Fear of Feedback

Ilya Lichtenstein wrote a great post about how startups overly extend their product’s free beta periods and don’t charge out of a fear for actually having to find out whether your product can turn into a sustainable business.

Definitely recommend the post for every existing and budding entrepreneur but there’s an even deeper fear that plagues entrepreneurs from achieving greatness or from becoming entrepreneurs in the first place. It’s a fear of feedback.

I have lots of friends with great ideas for businesses but they’d never act on them. The notion of putting their ideas or something they created out into the public consciousness is paralyzing. There’s a fear that people won’t like what they do or that they’d fail so they never put themselves out there.

This disease strikes existing entrepreneurs as well. Once you have a business and a product, it’s easy to stick your head in the sand and not actually talk to your customers. You think that your initial product success with a core audience predicts bigger success but you don’t realize that you need to be talking to your users so you can continue to evolve & optimize to really create something great.

Or… maybe you need to go in a different direction with your product. The only way to know your new direction is if you talk to your users and find what they think, what they want, and what will really meet their need.

I get it. Putting yourself out there is scary. You don’t want to extend your hand because you’re afraid someone will take an axe and chop it off.

I’ve done customer service and taken countless amounts of feedback about how we were performing. And yes it’s hard and draining. We had customers that weren’t happy with us for whatever reason.

The key is getting beyond the anger or frustration and to hear what they’re really saying. That’s where the magic lies. You can hear and understand the heart of your customer. You can understand where the felt need is and learn how to meet and exceed it.

Isn’t that the best feeling? I love knowing that something that I did or worked on made the difference in the lives of others.

But none of that is possible if you don’t put yourself out there. You have to open yourself to feedback.

Surprise and delight your users. Give them chocolate chip cookies.

On Saturday, Lauren and I caught a flight from San Francisco to New York City’s JFK airport.  Tomorrow is the last investor demo day for Umba Box as part of the 500 Startups summer program.

Our flight was at 3pm and got us into JFK at 11pm.  If you haven’t flown into JFK before, it’s actually pretty far away from Manhattan.  It took us 30-45mins to get to our hotel by taxi.   Once we got to our hotel, I was tired and a little cranky.

We were finishing up checking-in for the room and the guy behind the desk said “And to start off your stay on the right foot,  here’s a warm chocolate chip cookie.”  I then noticed that he had a warmer-thingy behind the check-in counter filled with cookies.  SCORE!

The cookie caught me off guard.  It made me smile and feel a little less tired & cranky.  It made me feel good about the hotel we are staying and it did start my trip off on the right foot.  🙂

It got me thinking more generally about the web & technology space.  We need to do more to surprise & delight our users.  We may not be able to give them chocolate chip cookies but there are other things we can do.

Tony Hsieh of Zappos is the class example that everyone likes to bring up.  He gave people free overnight shipping, even when they didn’t pay for it.

What are other examples where folks have gone above & beyond and it’s absolutely enamored you with their business?