I bought my car on an iPhone app

Buying a car has become dramatically simpler than it used to be a few years ago. I recently bought a car on my iPhone via Beepi’s iPhone app. The transaction took a couple minutes, required a few clicks, an email confirmation and a few signatures at the time of delivery. Beepi andShift are attempting to build a massive marketplace for cars (watch out EBay Motors) by transforming a potentially complex and tedious customer transaction with deft simplicity. While their business model and marketplace design are both efficient, I want to highlight how they offer a superior customer experience through reduced friction.

Buying a car is a non-trivial decision for most customers. Even after narrowing down on the make/model/color/price range of a car, a typical car buyer faces about a dozen decision points through the life cycle of that transaction. Each decision point introduces friction due to three main factors:

  1. Avoidable effort needed to complete a task
  2. Forced context switching
  3. Count and complexity of decisions
Beepi customer receiving a car. Photo Credit: Beepi.com
  1. Avoidable effort needed to complete a task: Beepi reduces friction by addressing basic questions upfront. Some of the most common anxieties for a car buyer are caused by questions such as — “Is anything wrong with this car?”; “Are the basics OK?”; “Is the price fair?” and many more. Typically a customer would check sources such as Carfax to verify the car’s condition, KBB or Edmunds to check the car’s fair market value, and IIHS for the car’s safety rating. Beepi avoids the need for the customer to visit these sources by providing all necessary data to inform the purchase decision. Another task every that every car buyer dreads is to go to the local DMV to get the car registered. Beepi avoids the need to do so by taking care of the paperwork, so the customer does not have to.
  2. Forced context switching: Several decisions and tasks involved in buying a car require a customer to switch context, which often increases friction. For instance, even after deciding the make and model of a car, customers often end up taking the car for a test drive and getting it checked by a mechanic at the local dealership before closing the final transaction. Beepi avoids this need to switch context by replacing test drives with a 10-day “No questions asked” return policy. It also offers a detailed inspection report (sometimes a better report than the local mechanic), so the user does not have to switch context “browsing” cars on an app or a computer to meeting the seller and taking the car to a mechanic for inspection. Along similar lines, existing car owners often end up needing to switch context between buying their new car and selling their old car. Beepi avoids context switching by offering a low-friction selling experience as part of the purchase workflow.
  3. Count and complexity of decisions: The count and complexity of decisions required in traditional car buying are increased due to typical fear, uncertainty and doubt. Beepi shifts the focus from anxiety to convenience by offering generous return policy and peace of mind guarantee.

Beepi’s product experience is a useful case study in taking a multi-step transaction and reducing friction one step at a time.

Nobody loves going to a pharmacy

As a student of “reducing friction”, I often jot down my observations of friction points in day to day experiences in my Moleskine. I’m experimenting with sharing a few observations on my blog, starting with this perspective on going to a pharmacy.

Friction: ​One of the worst things about getting sick or having an unwell family member is going to the pharmacy. Nobody loves to go to a pharmacy (Check Yelp Reviews for your nearest Pharmacy). The first visit often has the worst timing. Besides being in pain, a user may be drowsy and not in a condition to drive or take an Uber to the pharmacy. Upon visiting the pharmacy, she is forced to fill out a paper-form and wait in line to get her order filled. Most major pharmacies offer delivery of generic medications for repeat orders. They periodically ship medicines from a centralized warehouse, so it works for repeat orders. Pharmacies, employers, care providers and insurers are incentivized to improve patient’s health, but lack an efficient way to deliver prescription medications on-demand. Low usage frequency and regulations have dissuaded local pharmacies to offer this service. Startups like PillPack, NimbleRx, Zipdrug and others are attempting to solve this pain point. Given regulatory and scaling constraints, it may take a few years before these services gain mass adoption.

Solution: On-demand services with scale such as Uber, Lyft, Postmates and Instacart are best suited to solve this problem. Won’t it be cool, if they delivered prescribed medications from a local pharmacy directly to a customer’s home or hospital. As an extra credit, the customer could even make her co-payment for the medication via their Uber, Lyft, Postmates or the Instacart app. On-demand companies can reduce friction in the customer experience and add durable value by winning a customer’s mindshare for “convenience”.


Why will Shyp succeed?

Shyp is my most recent investment. In addition to a founding team full of hustle, who have built an unbelievably elegant service, Shyp demonstrates many signs of an effective marketplace. I’ve studied and experimented with various marketplaces for over 10 years, since my failed attempt to build Securamed – a ‘reverse-auction’ marketplace for health insurance in 2001. I’ve found Bill Gurley‘s framework on evaluating marketplaces quite useful and decided to score Shyp on factors outlined by Bill.


If you are in San Francisco and want to check out Shyp, send me a tweet.

Onwards to see the marketplace evolve!


Awesome products avoid WTF moments for users

My teammate @sregmi rightfully pointed out that awesomeness of a product is inversely proportional to the number of WTF moments in its customer experience. WTF moments can be characterized simply as blunders – those moments when your user’s first natural reaction is WTF, usually accompanied with a bad taste and often followed by bad-mouthing about your product. Besides avoiding such blunders, awesome products handle every error condition elegantly :

  1. Acknowledge that an error has occurred
    (deliver the bad news yourself and reassure the user that you’ll fix it)
  2. Tell the user how she got there
    (address the obvious curiosity of every user : “What did I do?”)
  3. Show the user how to get out of here
    (answer the likely question: “Now what?”)

404 pages aren’t necessarily blunders, but many websites make a sincere attempt to address 404s. Fandango’s 404 page handles it elegantly –

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 12.05.10 AMSurprisingly, some of the better designed products also end up serving WTF moments:

  • You made a reservation on OpenTable. You reach the restaurant to find out that the restaurant is closed.
  • You keep waiting for UberX on the curb and it never shows up.
  • You are in middle of an important phone call and iPhone/AT&T drops the call.

What are your product’s WTF moments?


Awesome products address the most common curiosity of users

Awesome products raise the bar of customer experience by addressing the most common curiosities of their users. Not to be confused with the minimum viable product, the most common curiosity indicates the primary need of majority of your users when they are interacting with your product. X-RayForMovies

While designing new customer experiences, I’ve found it useful to observe human behavior and identify the most common curiosities of users. For instance, one of our recent products – X-Ray for Video on Kindle Fire HD – solves a common curiosity of almost all movie watchers – “Who’s that actor and where else have I seen him?”. Shazam raises the bar when it comes to music by addressing the most common curiosity – “What’s that song and who sang it?”.

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A few utility apps have mastered the art of addressing their users’ common curiosities. Google Maps is my favorite among them. Most users are curious to find out how far is a particular place from where they are and how long will it take them to get there. Google Maps addresses them by automatically showing distance and time in search results.

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When a product solves a universally applicable need, it inherently raises the customer experience. It is equally important to reduce friction in the interaction, so users do more of it. X-Ray comes up by just tapping the screen while watching a video, Shazam identifies a track by just tapping the screen to tag it and Google Maps automatically shows distance and time.

What is the most common curiosity of your users?