3 Destructive Distractions That Every Entrepreneur Should Avoid

Published Originally on Entrepreneur.com 

3 Destructive Distractions That Every Entrepreneur Should Avoid
Image credit: Rennett | Stowe
Distraction comes in several forms for entrepreneurs. It can arise from not having the ability and resolve to say no or from taking on too much too soon or not being organized for success. More important than a good idea is the ability to execute on it.

Being able to protect yourself and your team from the following three distractions can go a long way in ensuring your venture prospers:

1. Self-inflicted scope creep.

Scope creep, in any form, is dangerous. But the worst kind is the one that entrepreneurs impose on themselves. Self-inflicted scope creep can happen under two circumstances

Entrepreneurs should be careful to not misinterpret requirements or use cases from their customers in a way so their plans overreach and attempt to solve issues outside what’s absolutely necessary.

In addition entrepreneurs often become distracted by excitement that comes with building something fresh or adding a cool new features to a product. This zeal can often hide the real problem at hand and can prompt the entrepreneur to gloss over better, cheaper or more suitable ways for solving a problem. In the pursuit of new technology and bigger, better features, valuable time and resources can get lost.

The discipline to avoid self-inflicted scope creep does not come easy can can often take years to develop. Here are some tips to develop this discipline:

Write down use cases in the words of your users.

Perform a root-cause analysis of the problem.

Do a desired-state analysis.

Brainstorm about ways to solving the problem for your customers.

Test the solution’s concept with real users.

2. Fragmented mindshare across multiple initiatives.

Another common distraction for startup leaders is attempting to have the same team focus on multiple large initiatives at the same time. Fragmenting the thought processes of staffers across different complex problems reduces their ability to function and deliver results.

This lack of central focus prolongs the problem solving for the projects and forces team members to make tradeoffs across all initiatives to try to progress in parallel across all fronts. Staffers also pay a high price when they switch their context as they move between these diverse initiatives.

Here are some tips to detect when you might be in this situation:

You are attempting to solve multiple distinct problems.

All at the same time, you’re addressing the needs of distinct segments of users and use cases.

You’re building several complex, multifaceted value propositions simultaneously.

The people who are finding solutions are working on all problems at once.

3. A disorganized operation.

A frequently occurring distraction crops up in a disorganized enterprise. Given that time is limited, entrepreneurs are tasked with not only dealing with multiple issues at once but also leading their teams to make progress.

With aggressive growth, organizations can evolve organically and this can lead to multiple centers of power or expertise on the same or similar features or technologies. Disorganization can lead to multiple parallel efforts to solve the same or similar problems.

Here are some tips to ensure that you’re organized for success:

Organize around primary customer use cases and tasks.

Ensure a consistent user experience across your product’s surface area.

Overcommunicate and develop shared goals when multiple teams are tasked with building similar components and experiences.

4 Strategies for Making Your Product ‘Smarter’

Originally Published on Entrepreneur.com

“Smart” is the dominant trend in the area of entrepreneurship and innovation. In recent times, a plethora of new products have arrived that make an existing product “smarter” by incorporating sensors, connecting the product to their backend or adding intelligence in the product. Reimagining existing products to be smarter and better for the end user is a gold mine for innovation. Here are four ways to rethink your products and make them smarter.

1. Understand user intent and motivations.

Make your products smarter by making it listen and understand the intent of your user. What is the user trying to do at a given time or at a given location on a specific channel? By listening for signals that motivate the usage of your product, and accounting for how variations in these signals change how your product is used, you can predict and influence how your product should adjust to better serving the end user.

For example, a smart refrigerator can detect the contents, match it against the required ingredients for a decided dinner menu and remind the user to restock a certain missing ingredient.

2. Reach users at the right time.

You can make your products smarter by reaching the user at the right time with the right message, even if the user is not using the product at a given point in time. Making the product aware of the user’s environment offers the opportunity to craft a personalized message to enhance the user experience. You can then motivate and influence the user to use the product at the opportune time in the manner that is most beneficial for both the user and the product.

For example, a smart app can detect the user’s location in a particular grocery aisle and alert them an item they need to replace is on sale.

3. Enable good decisions.

Smart products help the user make the best decisions. By understanding the user’s context and their current environment, you can suggest alternatives, recommend choices or simply notify them of changes in their environment they might otherwise not have noticed. This capability enables the user to make informed choices and decisions, thus enhancing their experience and satisfaction from the product.

For example, by integrating traffic signals in a navigation system, the user can be notified of alternate routes when there are problems in their usual route.

4. Enhance user experience.

You can make your products smarter by enhancing the user’s experience, regardless of where they are in their journey with your product. If they are a new user, your product should help them onboard. If they are an active user, your product should make them more productive. If they are a dissatisfied user, your product should detect their dissatisfaction and offer the appropriate support and guidance to help them recover. In parallel, the product should learn from their situation and use this feedback in redesigning or refactoring the product.

For example, a product company that performs sentiment analysis on their twitter stream is able to swiftly detect user discontent and feed that into their support ticketing system for immediate response and follow up.

The ability to collect telemetry of how your product is being used, use sensors to detect the environment in which it is being used and use customer usage history in the backend to understand user intent has the potential to reinvigorate your existing products to be smarter and more beneficial for their users. Similarly, reimagining or innovating using the above principles offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to disrupt current products and markets and ride the “smart” wave to success.

3 Signs That Your Partner Program Is Going Belly Up

Published Originally on Entrepreneur.com

While launching partner programs can offer many benefits to businesses, if not set up correctly, they can also spell disaster.

For those a little confused about what exactly a partner program entails, it is basically a formal program and process operated and managed by a business with the goal to attract, engage and retain other partners. For example, Google offers an advertising service to publishers and advertisers. The ultimate goal of these programs is to increase revenue generated from these partners. In addition to the services offered to partners (i.e. advertising platform), a partner program includes trainings, tools, support, documentation, help and strategic services to empower partners to succeed.

For a program to be considered a success, there should be a strong partner membership, robust usage of the services offered and large stream of revenue generated per partner.

If your partner program is struggling to stand on its legs, you may be making one these three following mistakes:

1. Your return on investment is low or not being measured.

Without clear metrics and goals, most partner projects end up getting defunded as the return on investment (ROI) is simply not there (or not measured) to justify continued investment.

Another symptom of a flawed partner strategy is a misalignment of expectations between senior management/executive sponsors of the platform and the actual implementers. If ROI does not match the expectations of the sponsor, a partner program can be classified as a failure.

To ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to ROI, determine metrics right off the bat. To do so, companies need to know exactly what metric is important to them and to their partners. For example, the rate at which partners sign up or the time it takes for a partner to go from onboarding to generating revenue might be relevant metrics. Companies need to understand and establish the baseline for these metrics and then measure the efficacy of their program by ensuring the metrics move in the right direction.

Once you have figured out metrics, make sure your platform can deliver. A well-designed service platform makes it easier and cheaper for other teams in the enterprise to go to market with new services, products. If the cost to enhance and expand the platform is not getting smaller for each additional new service, your program might be in trouble.

2. You have built an ineffective service platform.

If your partner program has struggled to attract, retain and enable partners to develop and grow their businesses, it is an ineffective service platform.

To fix this, you have to make your platform sticky, meaning partners cannot succeed without your services. If this isn’t the case, you have a serious problem.

For example, if your partners are signing up to work with both you and your competitors, it might be because they consider you a risky investment. If your partners build only a single one-off application on your platform, your program is probably not on their investment roadmap and growth strategy.

One company that does offer a sticky program is Microsoft’s BizSpark. Initially, startups can build on the platform for free but after a certain time frame – and after a lot of resources have been built on it – Microsoft starts charging. And this creates a huge revenue stream for the company, as what startup is going to want to jump off the BizSpark platform and start over?

3. Your monetization strategy is all wrong.

If you are not making money off of your partner program or generating leverage from its usage, your monetization strategy needs to change.

The key to successful monetization is identifying and expose only products and services that have a high demand from partners. For example, a great tactic may be to survey your potential partners or analyze the needs of your targeted partner persona. This will inform you about the matching subset of services in your arsenal that offer enough value to the partners that they will pay for it.

If you not thinking about your program monetization by investing in marketing, pricing optimization, adoption and growth or performance management of the platform, you are probably stuck with a stagnant partner program with sluggish usage and high churn rate. A successfully monetized partner program requires that it be constantly analyzed and optimized.

If your partner program is an IT initiative and does not have a business team behind it thinking about its ROI, effectiveness and monetization, it will not only struggle to get adopted but also starve for investment dollars from your executive sponsors and revenue dollars from your partners. As these investment dollars dry up, the partner program that runs on top of the platform will be considered a failure and will eventually shrink, get branded as a failure and cease to exist.

The key to success with a partner program strategy begins with carefully selecting what your program offers, convincing and onboarding partners and doing everything and anything to make them successful. Once that is the case, you can monetize the partner program and as you open up new revenue streams for your enterprise, see the program grow, expand and become a line of business.

When Your Product Design Makes Your Customers Feel Smart

Published Originally on Entrepreneur.com

Users love products and services that make them feel smarter. The more efficiently they can spend their valuable attention, time and money, the smarter they feel. The smarter that users feel when interacting with your product, the more they love it. We call this the smart-user theorem.

Strong examples of the smart-user theorem in action abound. Facebook and Instagram save users time by enabling them to connect and share with friends and family quickly and efficiently. Similarly, apps have become popular and ubiquitous, partly because of their availability to fulfill virtually any need or task.

The simplicity of the interface and the entire value chain on the iPad, the ease of planning a trip on Expedia via a mobile device or using Dropbox to store files — these are more examples that offer powerful guiding principles for enterprises as they engage customers with their products and services.

Taking this a step further, analyzing customers’ behavior can quantify the time, attention or effort required to engage with a business’ products and services and bring about a new understanding of the user experience. This awareness, in turn, arms businesses with strategies to fine-tune their products and services to be more efficient, streamlined and intuitive.

If enterprises carefully evaluate and optimize their products and services to make their users “smarter,” they will be rewarded with loyalty, engagement and a higher transactional value.

User investments: attention, time and money. There are three types of “capital” that customers invest in your products and services: attention, time and money. First, users turn their attention to your messages, advertisements and product communications. They interpret and internalize your message to inform their next steps.

Consumers also spend time thinking about, searching for, discovering, deciding to access, learning about and using your products and services; it’s safe to assume that they spend the same amount of time learning about your competition. Finally, there’s the money part. This one’s pretty obvious: Users pay you for your products and services.

The attention, time and money model provides a framework to optimize the design of the end-to-end user experience. Maximizing the value of the attention, time and money spent by users on your products and services can be achieved through a combination of baselining and experimentation.

Baselining involves breaking up the product-usage flow into logical stages and measuring the time and attempts it takes users to move through it. In addition, the consumer’s reliance on certain information and features should be analyzed to understand whether they encourage a person to move to the next stage in the flow.

Experimentation is the stage whereby, through the use of data analysis or customer interviews, product problems can be identified. Hypotheses are developed and then tested through changes in the product flow until the desired goals are met.

Big data’s role in smarter interactions and smarter users. Users save attention, time and money as a result of personalized and customized messages, which enable them to find the right tools to satisfy their needs quickly at the right cost. Creating these messages and products requires capabilities that the processing of Big Data can easily provide. This can involve the following types of analyses:

1. User-environment analysis, in which information is collected about the environment where users interact with the product or service.

2. User-profile analysis, whereby information is collected about consumers and their characteristics such as gender, age, likes and dislikes.

3. User-interaction analysis, in which data is collected about users’ activities and behaviors as they interact with a product along the customer journey.

4. User modeling, whereby data is collected and modeled to represent the behavior of a segment or cohort of users.

The analyses and subsequent correlations are used to optimize the messages delivered to users according to their environment, profile and behavior patterns, as well as their stage in the customer journey.

As users receive personalized messages and information that enable them to be smarter by helping them complete their tasks faster, more inexpensively and with less attention, the overall value realized from the product or service increases. This leads to higher productivity for the user, higher and sustained engagement with the product or service, a customer who feels smarter and, in the end, greater value for your enterprise.

Delight, the Awesome Product Metric That Rules Them All

Published Originally on Entrepreneur.com

Product success can be measured in numerous ways, including the rate of user signups, the number of popular features, the frequency of use and the duration of sessions. But the one metric that’s hardest to measure but most significant is delight.

In short, delight produces long-lasting loyalty and passion in users. It persuades and convinces them to not only continue using a product but also encourage everyone around to do so, too.

Delightful products stand out from the competition. Often, such products have little to no advertising because it’s not needed. These products are characterized by the ease of discovery, learning, use and reuse. Delightful products are talked about, tweeted about, shared and possess extensive word-of-mouth.

Members of a development team should understand what delight looks like. They need to postulate, hypothesize and understand what it would mean. They should determine how to detect the difference between a delighted user and an indifferent one.

The raison d’être of any product should be delighting the customer. The faster a product achieves this goal, the sooner it embeds itself into a user’s work flow, creates a sticky consumer experience and makes it hard for the customer to walk away.

The moment when a user is delighted for the first time directly maps to when that person could be considered likely to convert into an engaged customer. Engagement is that point when the user has bought into the value proposition of the product and adopts it as a means to solving his or her problems.

Delight causes users to be transformed into a company’s forward-marketing team. Fueled by euphoria, these users talk about the product to friends and family and on social media and their thoughts are circulated across their networks.

That same passion encourages customers to join the company’s user communities, contributing best practices and support techniques to other users. Delighted users share the capabilities of a product that’s pleased them (similar to cheat codes in gaming). This, in turn, spreads the delight to other users.

Creating sticky experiences.

If you’re not sure which features are pleasing users, this doesn’t mean there’s no delight.

You might simply be missing the feedback loop that’s required to capture that delight. Understand the types of features that are delighting users and those that are not, diagnose the root cause for delight or the lack thereof. It could be that you’re targeting the wrong category of users, that your market is changing or a new unsupported use case is developing that your product is primed to serve.

Delight can restore users who abandoned your product or prevent ones on the brink of bailing from doing so and instead restore them as active users. Understanding what delights users is a great way of ensuring that other features can leverage these insights in the quest to be delightful. Piggybacking on top of delightful features (by connecting new features to proven ones) can make the whole product better.

Resolving problems.

It’s important to track problems, issues and outages. When users encounter problems while using your product that prevent them from completing what they have in mind or the item does not live up to its marketing promise and only barely delivers on customers’ needs, the inverse of delight happens.

Understand whether a consumer’s usage of a product drops after an outage or whether a change in an opinion coincides with a bug.

No products are devoid of issues. But building delightful features (and focusing on this metric) leads to an insurance policy of sorts. Delighted users are more likely to forgive mistakes or outages. Take a popular service like Gmail or Facebook. Outages happen but the delight factor that these products bring prompts users to easily forget them.

Measuring and optimizing for success.

The faster a user becomes delighted with your product, more likely he or she is to stick with it and look beyond any outages and problems. This is how companies like Apple have ended up with fanatical users who wait for weeks in line to get their hands on the next product. Users do seemingly unexplainable things when fueled by passion and delight.

So how does one measure delight? Start with auditing the capabilities of your product and identifying the set of features that map directly to its core value. Measure usage of these features, social mentions, reviews and support questions.

If delight is not spotted, you may have one of two problems. Either the set of features that you believe are central to your value proposition are not the right ones or you’re measuring delight incorrectly. Go back and understand if you’re addressing the needs of the users who matter and whether you have the right sensors in place to learn if these consumers are delighted.