What keeps me going? – joy, action and imagination

Joy, action and imagination are my biggest motivators and we work very
hard to ensure that everyone I work with also experience them through
their work. I’ve been taking a lot of interviews lately to hire for our
growing team. One of the most common questions, I’m asked by candidates
is “What makes you coming back to work day after day at IMDb?” I love
this question, because it provides me a direct segue to “sell” the
culture. I’m writing this post to not sell the culture, but to
highlight the key factors of a high-performing team.
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I didn’t start out on day one with an intention of looking for joy, action and imagination in everything I did. In fact one of my biggest motivators has always been “the impact made by the product”. After my team shipped the beautiful IMDb app for iPad in April under extremely tight constraints, I asked myself –

“What kept/keeps us going as individuals and as a team?”

“What made a team member create a custom video player from scratch on the day of launch, when we discovered a bug in the default video player provided by the iPad SDK? All other apps launched with that bug, except ours. What led us push the envelope?”

“What kept a new dad of a one month infant code furiously (of course by choice)?”

Joy, action and imagination surfaced as obvious themes.  We realized that we truly enjoyed working on the products which we were working on. I enjoyed some of it so much that I would even pay someone to let me work on it. When “What’s in it for me?” is measured in terms of joy, the equation becomes more so interesting.

Action is an overloaded term. In a product manager’s language, action = shipping. There is something innately magical about shipping products. Projects with in-built inertia in the form of unrealistically long product cycles and fluid ship dates tend to suck the magic out of shipping. Our approach of being shipping-oriented (action-oriented) assures us that we’ll continue to experience the sheer joy of shipping on an ongoing basis.

Nobody likes to work on unimaginative and bland products. In an ideal world, all unimaginative tasks could be automated and delegated to machines. We ensure that we stretch our imagination and be creative in our approaches as well as products. Imagination is often considered our biggest asset as humans. We make sure that we ruthlessly leverage this asset. Whether it is designing the user interface for an iPad app (which could be visibly imaginative) or it is optimizing the backend caching so that the app is shockingly responsive, we ensure that imagination is the highest order bit in our approach.

Joy, action and imagination continue to motivate me and my team members. Your motivators could be completely different. The highest order bit is to identify your motivators, communicate them to your team members and leverage them to continue to do great things.

What motivates you?

Kintan

ps 1: On a related note, the 37Signals guys have listed passion, pride and craftsmanship as key tools to optimize a person’s happiness and thus productivity in their latest book – Getting Real. http://gettingreal.37signals.com/ch10_Optimize_for_Happiness.php

ps 2: I realized that I had first heard about joy, action and imagination from Subroto Bagchi in his book – High Performance Entrepreneur.

ps 3: The beautiful photo used in this post is from flickr.com and is used under Creative Commons

iPhone appstore marketing – old school marketing rules apply

What's the primary difference between a brick and mortar mall and an online marketplace for both buyers and sellers?

The buyers are able to instantly search and discover desired products and sellers are able to target their services to buyers who are most likely to search/discover their products. While location is critical for the success of a store in a brick and mortar mall, it doesn't have any significant impact for sellers in an online marketplace.

The appstore is more similar to a brick and mortar store than it is to an online marketplace. Discovering apps is painful for users and making the apps more discoverable is even worse for app developers. iPhone users don't typically search for apps (search in appstore is not the best either). Users install the apps which are either listed as the top 25 apps in a particular category in the appstore or the ones which are featured by appstore's editors.

Ranking:

There are several interesting blog posts out there, which talk in detail about increasing the appstore rankings. These rankings are based on the number of downloads in the last few days (with today's downloads given the highest weight). Many app developers use in-app advertisements from companies like TapJoy and AdMob to boost their downloads. faberNovel from France has explained "how rankings work" in detail here: http://www.slideshare.net/misteroo/how-to-market-your-app

Getting featured by Apple:

There is no secret sauce here, except to make an app really "interesting". If the app is unique and interesting, the editorial teams at Apple are always on the lookout to highlight those apps for the users.

Brick and mortar approach:

I want to highlight that app developers can take lessons from old school marketing to succeed in the appstore. Imagine you're are a retailer and are deciding to open a store in a new shopping mall near your home. The highest order bit in that decision would be the location of the store. Location also decides the price a retailer would pay because there are fixed number of stores in the mall.

In a mall there are three types of stores:

  1. Large department stores like Macy's (Nordstrom, JC Penney, etc.) open a large prominent store either near one of the entrances of the mall. These stores depend on both location and their advertisements for bringing the buyers to their store.
  2. Other retail brands like Gap, Abercrombie and Fitch, etc. which have one flagship store in some section of the mall. These stores depend primarily on their advertisements (their brand) to bring buyers to their store.
  3. Coffee shops like Starbucks often decide to open multiple coffee shops throughout
    the mall (say one near each entrance of the mall.) These stores depend
    primarily on their location in the mall, to bring buyers to their store.

 
image from www.flickr.com

The app store is not much different from a mall. Each of the
categories (Entertainment, Lifestyle, Games, Navigation, Reference,
etc.) serve as individual sections of a mall. Users typically browse
only a few categories on the appstore, when they're browsing for new
apps. If your app is not a top app (overall) or is not present in a
category browsed by a particular user, then that user is unlikely to
discover your app.The ideal approach could be to launch a portfolio of apps (often in different categories) and try to cross-sell the apps.
Pick three or four primary categories where your apps could fit (say
Games, lifestyle and entertainment) and develop three apps instead of
focusing on just one app.

 
image from www.flickr.com

Most app developers often don't have an established brand or large
advertisement budgets, so the most optimal strategy for them would be
akin to #3 above. Larger established brands often take approach #1,
where they launch a high profile app (say NY Times) and promote it on
their website. That app could become the #1 app in one category (say
News) and users who browse the "News" category on the app store would
discover the app. However, they'll still miss out on millions of users,
who never browse the "News" category. The key would be to choosse two
or three categories in addition to news and launch apps in those
categories. For instance, NY Times could launch a politics trivia game
under the Games category and  a "What happened on this day in the
past?" app in the Reference category in the app store.

Sometimes launching multiple apps in the same category could be effective as well. Several game developers launch multiple apps either under Games or Entertainment categories and cross-sell them heavily to drive downloads. It is important to note that real estate is limited to top 25 slots (most users only browse for the top 25 apps), so having two or three apps in the top 25 means that your competitors would have to fight for a slot from the remaining 23 slots.

Net net, taking the "Starbucks" approach of launching multiple apps is likely to generate more awareness and downloads for apps instead of taking a Macy's approach and focusing on just one flagship app (at least until the "discoverability" problems are fixed in the appstore.)

Kintan

ps: Thanks Mike Schneider from www.hivebrainsoftware.com for sharing some of these observations earlier this year.

ps: photos are used under Creative Commons from flickr.com   

The f words – fight, flee or flow

Fight, flee or flow – are the three obvious approaches to any challenge.  When faced with a challenging, one can either fight it (read "change" it) or can flee away (read "give up") or flow (abandon your judgement and accept things).

While I've known myself choosing "fight" in more situations, "flee" could proven to be an equally effective approach in certain situations. My intention is not to "preach" here, but share a quick summary of my approaches to address challenging situations.

Fight:

Fight is synonymous to persistence. It is the most common trait in everyone whom I admire. It defines entrepreneurs. In fact, it gives birth to entrepreneurs. Most successful products/ideas have been born, when someone fought the status quo and created a company/organization to manifest that fight. Think "Dyson" vacuum cleaners, think "Apple" computers, think "facebook", think "Kindle" and thousands of other entrepreneurial stories. Most people get this, so I'm not saying anything new here.

Flee:

Fleeing means accepting that fighting may not be the most optimal approach for you, so giving up the fight (and hopefully start a new fight). It is considered a taboo to give up, especially in the entrepreneurial circles. Quitting is often not an option. "Finish what you started" is often the advice young entrepreneurs receive. Most importantly, the spirit of "fighting" is so strong, that even a thought of "fleeing" away from the situation is traumatic for the entrepreneur.

Yesterday I caught up with Peter (an old friend and the co-founder of my first startup – Securamed) over dinner. It was one of those classic "catching up" meetings and the obvious topic of discussion was – "where we were in our entrepreneurial quests." After gobling loads of fried tofu at Thai Tom in the U-district of Seattle, we asked to ourselves – "What would we have done differently at Securamed, if we were starting it today?" We discussed the interns we had hired, tens of conferences we had attended, business plan pitches we had made and hundreds of rejected sales calls, we had experienced as student entrepreneurs.

The over-arching theme of the discussion was – "We should have accepted that our product was not fit for the market conditions at the time and should have started working on another idea sooner. We could have realized the opportunity cost of pursuing the idea further at that point to pick up another fight sooner."

To set the context, we were trying to create a reverse-auction-based marketplace for health insurance by converging health insurance and personal health management. We eventually realized that despite winning five student business plan competitions and a brilliantly designed product, the market was not just ready for it. In some ways the market isn't ready yet for some of the advances in the "business of healthcare". It is apparent from the not-so-successful attempts in the healthcare realm by effective companies like Google and Microsoft. We eventually realized the opportunity cost, reduced the scope of the product and continued a very small portion of the product offering.

The highest order bit is to realize when to fight and when to flee. I'm not a huge fan of putting "stop loss" orders on my investments, but as entrepreneurs the opportunity cost of not doing so could be high.

Let's flee a dud and start a new fight.

Kintan

ps: Don't just flow. It is immoral to abandon your own judgement, so either fight or flee, but don't flow.