Francis Dierick's Blogfr.anc.is

08 Oct 2013

Trying to create a killer product?
My book, Lean Idea Flow, can help!

Lean Idea Flow

If you've been following what I've been up to this year you know I've been working on a book about customer development. It started out with a little project called "Lean Idea Book": a paper notebook for entrepreneurs who want to practice customer development. This lead to writing a book called "Talk More Do Less". I was never happy with either the title or the content. The book felt half-finished.

So I spent some more time to turn "Talk More Do Less" into a complete book that covers the following: how to collect ideas, how to organise them in a business model canvas, how to validate your ideas with customer interviews, how to build an MVP, how to measure the results of your MVP and finally how to pitch your product. It covers the whole flow from idea to pitch, hence the name Lean Idea Flow

What I felt was missing was a book that touches upon everything you need to know when developing new products, without going into excruciating detail. This very much is a book for novices to customer development & copiously refers to the existing literature. Think about it as a "Customer Development Crash Course".

The book is available as a free pdf download.

But there's more! Customer Development is all about getting out of the building & talking to customers. Whenever I do customer interviews I like to take plenty of notes in a good old-fashioned paper notebook. That's why I created the Lean Diary: a practical paper notebook with plenty of space for your interview notes & your business model canvases. That too, is available as a free pdf download!

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About Me

Hi, I'm Francis, developer & serial entrepreneur. Co-creator of DidThis.co, writer of Lean Idea Flow & principal at AD&A

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Tales of Creation is a newsletter chock-full of startup tips & interviews with founders.

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I've been writing on and off about startups & technology on this blog since 2010. Here's the full archive of my writings. Also available in RSS & Atom

Some of my projects received nice press coverage.


07 Oct 2013

Habit Change: Work on your activation energy, not your motivation

Late yesterday afternoon I was sitting on the beach, waiting to get in the water & take a swim. Waiting for ... well, what exactly? The weather was splendid. A beautiful autumn day with plenty of sunshine & a mild breeze. I'd just spent most of my Sunday working & certainly deserved a break. So what was stopping me?

A tiny ridiculous nagging feeling that the water'd be a wee bit cold. Because, you know, on this early October day I seemed to be the only one on the beach with the intention of taking a swim. Which, in light of earlier swimming escapades is a ridiculous thing to think about. I love swimming & cold doesn't normally stop me.

What's more: I rationally knew that the water in early October still tends to be plenty warm. Large bodies of water take months to warm up & cool down: water temperatures actually peak in late summer / early autumn. But there I was, lying in the sunshine, waiting to muster the motivation to get in the water.

I'm thinking about entering the self-tracking space again with DidThis so in the last few weeks I've been doing research about people's attitudes towards self-tracking & motivation in particular. I interviewed dozens of people & one thing struck me about why they use tracking devices like the Jawbone UP or Fitbit Flex. The surfaces reasons to track tend to be along the lines of "improving my health" & "losing weight". But when you dig a little deeper there's often a big, ambitious, far-off goal hidden below the surface: "becoming a triathlete", "looking like I did when I was in my 20s".

People who pick big far-off goals tend to have something in common: they repeatedly set themselves up for failure. Evidence? Just ask about nearly anyone's New Year's resolutions come February. So why do we keep picking these kinds of goals when all evidence suggests that the key to reaching your goals is to split them up in small-enough milestones.

Don't mix up your goals & dreams. It's good to have far-off dreams, but it's more important to have simple short-term milestones that are actually reachable. That's why I'm running an experiment in habit change this weekend: I'm picking ridiculously easy daily habits that I hope will stick. The long-term goal for me? Build up a solid core for climbing. The short-term habit change: every time I get distracted & e.g. want to browse HN, I will drop down & do a single push-up.

When you're trying to develop new habits it pays off to start with habits that don't require hardcore motivation. It pays off to keep it simple. I like to think of it in terms of activation energy E.g. a single pushup. Try to develop habits that require low activation energy.

And just how easy your habits should be can be quite deceiving: apparently the activation energy needed to get in the water was still fairly high yesterday. But it was simple & easy enough that when I eventually did get in the water I had a good solid swim. Because that's what simple habits tend to do: once you start you don't stop. For this week, I'm betting on that simple pushup habit to cascade into a more solid core workout later on. But I'm starting simple. With a single pushup.

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16 Sep 2013

Invest Money Not Time

Invest Money Not Time

I have spent a good chunk of the last year figuring out this "business side" thing of startup life. I can code, I can do decent UX. But like many devs I'm not exactly a natural business maven. The good news is you can learn this side of things. And in this blog post I'm going to reveal the number one attitude you need to change if you're a developer.

Here goes: "Why is it so hard for devs to invest money instead of time?" I see it everywhere and I've done it myself over and over again.

You probably should not be writing your own libraries if you can buy a solution instead. You probably should not be doing your own hosting. Use a Heroku. You probably should not be sending out your own emails, use Sendgrid. Heck, you probably should not even be running your own mobile backend, use Parse.

And this extends to the non-technical aspects. Get a copywriter for your marketing pages. Buy yourself some design from 99designs or a template website. Learn to spend freely on Fiverr.com. Buy yourself some SEO magic.

It's very tempting for us devs to want to control & build everything ourselves. That's the fun part, right? But the harsh reality of startup life is that in most cases, building the thing is only 20% of the effort. Making sure you built something people want in the first place & then selling what you build will take up 80% of your efforts.

Ask yourself: would you still cut up your own psd file & convert it to HTML if your time was valued at $250 per hour? Wouldn't you be dumping that job on psd2html in a heartbeat? The smart money is on putting such a high value on your own time that buying instead of building becomes a natural habit. And if you're not (at least mentally) paying yourself $250 per hour you're doing yourself a disservice. Get over it. Do some dev work. Save up. Then go out & build your own thing, using your cash reserve to speed things up.

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12 Sep 2013

How the Jawbone UP helped me improve keystone habits

Jawbone UP

In August I bought a Jawbone UP to help me keep track of my sleep and exercise habits. My main motivation was to use the silent vibrating alarm which would allow me to wake up early without interrupting the sleep of my 2-year old in the same room. For that purpose it's brilliant: you do wake up quietly & nicely refreshed.

Ever since I started DidThis I've had an interest in the growing self-tracking movement. Way back when we started 3 years ago there were no mainstream products on the market. You could either choose between clunky early tracking hardware or nerdy software solutions. Except in specific niches like running self-tracking was not a thing among non-nerdy "normals". My attempt to build software in this niche didn't really take off, so I pretty quickly decided to get out of the market & watch from the sidelines. I still vividly remember what one advisor/investor told me in 2011: "Come back when your mother is wearing a tracking device." I think that time has come.

No, my mother is not wearing a tracker, but last summer I started seeing more and more "normals" wearing tracking devices like Nike's Fuelband and Jawbone's UP. I decided to buy one when I saw my son's doctor wearing a Jawbone. She was definitely non-nerdy. A "normal" person square in the middle of the Bell-curve. So maybe it's time to check this market out once again?

The Jawbone allows you to track 4 things: mood, exercise, sleep & diet. I never looked into the diet tracking aspects of the app because I don't exactly need to lose weight, so if you want a review of that part, look somewhere else.

The mood tracking thing got old quickly as well: I diligently tapped the icon whenever my mood changed for a few days. The implementation is kinda nice & really simple to use, but after a few days I really couldn't be bothered anymore. Tracking and manual input simply don't go together in a mainstream product. If I can't be bothered tapping a silly smiley-face icon to update my mood I surely won't use any of the manual diet tracking stuff included in the app. Automatic tracking is a pre-requisite for any app in this space, people are lazy, myself included.

But the sleep & exercise tracking really stuck with me. I'd used a first-generation Fitbit before and simply gave up on it because the device simply didn't integrate into my life. The stupid little clip-on would get lost all the time & manually syncing the device was a royal pain in the nether regions.

The Jawbone wins on charging & syncing over older tech. The Jawbone only needs a recharge about once a week. They claim 10 days but in my experience that rounds down to "a week". You only need to take it off about once a day when you sync it up to your phone through the audio-jack. Yeah, I know: that sounds so vintage it'll even make your Hipster friends cringe. Oldskool, but it works: syncing takes about 10 seconds and since we're syncing to a device I carry all day anyway I don't mind doing it manually. Has a nice "daily ritual" feel to it. But I guess wireless syncing will come in future iterations of the band.

What I like most about the jawbone is the simplicity: there's only one button on the thing and you'll only use it once a day: to put the device into "sleep tracking" mode before you go to bed. When you wake up the next day it'll automatically switch over to "daytime mode" after 250 steps but you can of course also just hit the button again if e.g. you're like me and get out of bed early only to sit behind your computer to write blog posts. Sigh. Modern life.

The worst thing about Jawbone's UP is build quality. It's a genius concept with really great software but terrible terrible hardware. Mine failed after 1 week. I'm on band two now thanks to great customer service but I'm hearing the same complaints from all the people I run into who have a band: the hardware simply randomly fails after a while.

Which brings me to the second thing that simply doesn't work about the band: the team feature. Maybe it's because I'm in Germany and everyone is super-privacy-conscious, but the social "sharing" & "team-building" features simply don't work that well. The social dynamics feel "off". It's hard to find people to team up in the first place (they need to have a band) & when you do team up to share your UP data it feels a little bit like you've just entered an uncanny zone. "Oh, great! Susan is gaining weight again. Let me comment on that! ... NOT!" I suppose it works best when you actually go out & buy the devices together with close friends or as a team who shares the same goal, but for me the "teaming up" part is nice-to-have, not a must.

Now onto the good stuff. The juicy bits. Where the UP band shines is in sleep & exercise tracking. Not necessarily because quantifying your life in numbers is all that helpful, but because it allows you to set two strong keystone habits: good sleep and a minimum amount of daily exercise. Don't get me wrong: 8h of sleep and 10000 steps are ambitious daily goals, but certainly doable. The app chooses smart defaults based on international health recommendations & then follows up with daily snippets of advice on how to achieve these goals. I think the focus on only two habits is really helpful: it's not too overwhelming & you can always find small tweaks to your daily routine to increase your step-count or get in an extra hour of sleep.

The interesting thing about sleep and exercise is that they are so-called keystone habits: once you take them up, they tend to positively influence other aspects of your daily life. There's been quite a bit of research in this area lately and seemingly simple things like making your bed every morning have been correlated with greater productivity. By far the strongest keystone habit is exercise. When people start to exercise regularly, the habit tends to spill over in other aspects of their lives. Typically, people will start to eat better and become more productive at work, just to name a few things. So in that sense, yes, exercise is a silver bullet.

So does the Jawbone UP "work"? On a technical level: barely. The hardware is good-enough but not great. Psychologically: hell-yeah! The app helps me to passively track just two keystone habits & no more. I literally only have to push a button once a day & plug in the band once a week to charge it. It takes the "tracking" out of self-tracking & it's the first device I actually continue using because it requires so few changes to my daily routine. And yes, tracking these two keystone habits did improve my life!

It also addresses one of my pet peeves about the self-tracking movement: most apps & devices in this space still focus far too much on the tracking & analytics part. No one cares about that if it doesn't help with habit change. But habit change is complex. Maybe taking care of your keystone habits first is a new venue worth exploring for apps in this space. Instead of writing an app to track anything about your life, why not write one that only takes care of a carefully selected set of known keystone habits. Hell, maybe I'll write an app for that myself!

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15 Jul 2013

Talk More Do Less: WTF?!

You mean to tell me I need to talk to my customers? So I get this all the time when people are discussing my book: "Talk More Do Less? Shouldn't it be the other way around?" What started out as a little attention-grabbing tactic on my end kinda backfired. It's never helpful when the first thing you need to explain about your book is the weird choice of title. D'oh! Here's what I usually answer to the question: "Talk more to customers. Build less useless products. That's what customer development is about. Hence: Talk More Do Less."

You see, I'm pretty passionate about this Talk vs. Do duality. At one point I even planned to write two separate books to highlight this. One would be about customer dev and titled "Talk More Do Less" and the other'd be about MVP'ing & be called ... (drumroll) ... "Do More Talk Less" ... D'oh! WTF was I thinking?!

Never ever EVER try to be too smart when explaining things to potential customers. "Don't make me think" isn't just about UI design, it's also about copywriting. And a title like "Talk More Do Less" is a big fail in the copywriting department. Here's why:

It triggers our stupid little lizard brain in a negative way. The "efficiency" meme is deeply ingrained in our modern brains. The first thought is "So you're telling me to be less efficient?" What the title effectively does is to threaten a worldview that we are deeply attached to: "Efficiency iz good, you tellin' me to be less efficient, so you is badz."

I hear you asking: "So how are you going to solve this minor clusterfuck of a naming brainfart, Francis?" That's a valid question. Especially after the book has already been read by hundreds of readers & most seem to be stoked about the content but put-off by the stupid title.

Change the name of the book of course! Over the last couple of weeks I wrote 3 more parts to the book that will effectively double the pagecount. New content deserves a new title. The new bits cover everything that comes after the "Talk to Customers" phase. How to build your MVP, how to measure the response to your MVP, and finally: how to pitch your product.

And it's this last part that contains an appropriate quote for this blog post: "... your first job while pitching is to get past the lizard brain. It will try to ignore you. It will filter your message through emotions first. It will radically try to simplify your message." Nice job confusing the lizard brain with your stupid book title, Francis!

The new book will also be available on Kindle, as ePub and as pdf. Coming soon. And this time, a more reasonable title, I promise! In the meantime, remember this:

Get out of the building. Talk to customers. Do more listening & less doing. Create something people want. Create something they will pay for. Take the money. Retire early. Have fun!

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Here's the full archive of my writings.

Francis Dierick's Blogfr.anc.is