Writing for Intercom, a selection
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The problems people encounter in their lives rarely change from generation to generation. The products they hire to solve these problems change all the time.
Kaizen is the philosophy of continuous improvement. Web businesses searching for product market fit think they can follow this philosophy just by shipping code.
The most important tasks for any early stage startup are to write code and talk to users. When we started Intercom the latter was my job.
Sometimes your customers really want to use your feature or product, but they also want something else that simply isn’t compatible with it. People really want to be slim and healthy, but they also really want soft drinks and fast food.
When you analyze your company it’s easy to look at everything in its current state.
There are two harsh truths for startups. 1: Until you have users, you don’t have a product. 2: Until they’re paying you, you don’t have a business.
Sales first, marketing first, technology first. There’s lots of ways to build a company. Today we’re in an era of product first companies, and because of this lots has changed.
Startups are knee deep in customer acquisition metrics. Click through rates, cost per click, cost per lead, conversion rate, cost per acquisition, and more.
We’ve just released a new book, Intercom on Starting Up.
Choosing the correct pricing for your product is a daunting task—particularly if you’ve never priced anything before.
Sending product announcements without considering your audience is like writing a love letter and then addressing it “to whom it may concern”.
Voice is either a genius technology whose time has finally come, or the most overhyped waste of time we’ve seen since bots, blockchain, or winding back the clock, gamification.
The definition of an “engaged user” varies from product to product.
Blaming your customer support team for unhappy customers is like blaming weathermen for the rain. Sure they’re involved, but only on the receiving end.
This week, one of our readers emailed us to ask: “What advice would you give someone who’s just getting started with public speaking?”
Churn is one of the most important metrics tracked by today’s startups. But also one of the most misunderstood.
The relentless march of technological improvement means that by their very nature technology businesses fail.
This week, our question comes from Gabriele:
At Intercom, we’ve worked with hundreds of our customers, helping them target messages to their customers and improve their messaging schedules.
A badly-written email is about as effective as a love letter addressed “To whom it may concern.” Don’t waste your time writing them.
The shift away from one-time transactions toward recurring revenue has made user onboarding the critical step in scaling a product company. Hence our latest book is all about onboarding.
We like to believe that if you solve a real problem with a good product, a successful software business is magically created. That’s never guaranteed.
Marketing works best when it connects your customer’s description of their problem with your product.
The best lessons in business come in plain English and speak uncomfortable truths. One such example is something we learned from Hunter Walk.
Today we launched our fourth book, Intercom on Jobs-to-be-Done.
From the moment your beta app lands on Product Hunt you’ll ask yourself what way it should grow.
Most product feedback is categorized by what was said, and occasionally who said it.
Word of mouth is the first traffic source. You can’t put a price on its value, and it sure as hell isn’t free. You’ll only get word of mouth when the same words come out of lots of different mouths.
Today we released our third book, Intercom on Customer Support. It explains how we think about customer support, and the principles we applied as we scaled our team to support over 8,000 customers in 85 countries.
In the 7th century, Archilochus wrote ”The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” A simple quote with a deceptively deep meaning.
A clichÃ©d piece of advice is to ignore your competitors. It’s universally agreed on, yet ask any founder how their competitors are doing and you’ll see it’s almost universally ignored. They’ll fly through a list of players providing commentary quicker than a sports announcer.
In the world of recurring revenue, SaaS companies realize they need engaged customers if they are to grow a healthy, sustainable business. This is where having a solid customer engagement strategy comes in.
If you’re not making mistakes then you’re not making anything. Some features will be a win from day one, some need a few tweaks, some need a few weeks, but some just Don’t Work Out As Planned.
The way technology is sold to businesses has changed fundamentally in the last decade and as a result so has the role of customer support/success teams in helping to close sales.
We’ve published a lot of articles on product management over the past two years. Rather than leave them in our archives, we’ve updated them, expanded upon them, and consolidated them into our first book. We think you’ll like it.
What gets measured gets done, no matter the cost. But there is a genuine danger in reducing product onboarding and design to an exercise in metric manipulation.
Earlier this year we began investing in our blog, by hiring a full time editor and deliberately increasing our publishing frequency. Today marks another step with the launch of a brand new design for Inside Intercom.
It rarely makes sense to take product feedback from all users and it never makes sense to get it all at once.
Customers will always surprise you with the creative ways they use your product. It’s not deliberate on their behalf though. They’re just adapting your product to their needs.
What does a napkin tell you about a restaurant? Quite a lot, surprisingly.
Are all your users using all the features in your product? Of course they’re not. Let’s talk about that.
Here’s a simple set of Yes/No questions that you can quickly answer before you add another item to your product roadmap.
We recently released a completely redesigned team inbox for Intercom to make it even easier for companies to talk with their customers.
The quicker you can get feedback on what you’re thinking the better your idea will be. Usage is oxygen for ideas.
Software is most impressive when it gives you things for free. When just a simple few taps or clicks delivers instant value you’re in awe. It’s magical. And then you come to expect it.
A product roadmap is built out of hard decisions. The bugs you must fix will fight with the features you must finish, the features your customers want will compete with the ones they need.
Analytics tools are great for collecting data that’s easy to measure, and visualising it in beautiful charts. Sadly, this usually leaves you with more questions than answers.
Research and analysis help show you the workflows, usability principles ensure it’s clear and intuitive, but how do you get to delightful? You’re on your own there.
The gif is the cockroach of file formats. Every time we think it should die it re-appears with a new use case. In Intercom we create GIFs all the time to help our customers, and they love them.
Launching a successful feature demands the same skills as launching a successful product. The difference is that you also have to navigate around all of your legacy decisions, and appease current customers too. It’s tricky.
The most effective messages we see in Intercom either educate or persuade customers. Let’s talk about why they work.
Don’t confuse consulting revenue, one-time deals, or charity donations with actual recurring monthly product revenue. They’re very different beasts.
For Microsoft to survive the gravitational pull of enterprise irrelevance, a lot of things need to change. Starting with focus.
The same companies who produce lengthy, hard-to-read press releases create bloated, hard-to-understand products. It’s no coincidence; it’s all connected.
Conversations with customers are valuable, but they have to be the right type of conversations—not merely questions about forgotten passwords and the like. They have to add value, for you, and them.
We talked to Andy Budd about the role of design in startups, the difference between designers and stylists, and the danger of chasing MVPs. Andy gave a fascinating interview packed with insight and experience.
Conversion rates and usage patterns will cause you many a sleepless night. Your team deploys a new feature or flow, posts the announcement, then sits back and waits for glory. Instead, you get nothing.
When you think about feature creep and bloated products what comes to mind? Endless tabs, toolbars, settings, and preferences, right?
If you’re building a product, you have to be great at saying no. Not “maybe” or “later”. The only word is no.
“We want to limit the length of a review in the product to 140 characters, because we may want to use SMS at some stage. That’s a small change, right?”
When everyone involved in building a product are also using the product themselves, they’re said to be ‘dogfooding’. Dogfooding empowers good design decisions, but it has its downsides.
Any startup founder knows the pressure of launching first. The belief is that if your competitor beats you to market, untold riches await them… while your company is now a dead duck.
“Most businesses are eventually faced with the key question: How much should we charge? There’s no one true answer. There are no gurus. There’s just you, your financials, and the need to make money.”
Every start-up from every incubator claims to be disruptive nowadays, but the claim always falls apart under any close examination. Usually it’s one of these three reasons.
Communicating with a large user base is damn hard. Every product owner knows this.
Growth hacking is a dirty world. Scraping websites and spamming activity feeds grows a business in the same way anorexia solves weight problems, swapping sustainable solutions with short term kludges.
Situation: You’ve built a great feature that solves a real problem that you know your users have. They’re not using it though. Usually, it’s because they haven’t seen it, or they saw it and didn’t know what it did.
Understanding the value of offline advertising is messy. Billboards, for example, are priced based on how many cars drive past them. Compared with impressions or click-throughs, that sort of metric is a joke.
The last significant innovation in email came 8 years ago with Gmail which introduced conversation threading, gigabyte storage, speed, powerful search, and lots more. Not much arrived since, but it looks like 2013 has a lot in store.
It’s risky to try to improve any part of a product without understanding the job that it does for customers, and what their success criteria are.
Problem: You’ve launched your product, it’s getting plenty of coverage. People are signing up, but no one is actually using it.
Designing software based on a checklist of screens can blind designers to the overall customer experience.
To create an anxiety relievable only by a purchase… that is the job of advertising.
“Advertising on the web is easy: just calculate how much money a customer is worth, then find a way to advertise where you win customers for less than that amount. Voila! A money factory. Right?”
Advising any business is hard. I’m hesitant to do it. It’s all too easy to give bad advice, which steers companies in the wrong direction, all based on my whimsical throwaway idea shared over coffee.
Explanations are explanations, promises are promises, diagrams are diagrams… but only performance is reality.
At some point every product owner ponders how to make it go viral, as a thought experiment if nothing more.
Spending money is very easy. Spending money effectively is very hard. There are lots of dodgy people & service providers out there who will promise the world, send the invoices, and deliver mediocrity six months late. Or worse.
Most analytics tools and applications focus on two things: tracking data that is easy to measure, and showing visualisations that look sexy. This means you end up with sexy screenshots, but no lasting value. You are presented with lots of data, but very little actionable insight.
Product demos can be a great marketing tool when they focus on giving the attendees a fantastic experience. Customers should leave a seminar knowing how to kick ass at their job, not how to use an interface. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.
Any product serving two distinct sets of users is addressing a two-sided market. eBay connects buyers and sellers. Google connects searching consumers with advertisers. Social sites like Twitter and Facebook are also two-sided connecting consumers with advertisers.
The Swiss Army knife is a remarkable product. By combining many products of low utility, it becomes a product of some utility. This is one of the rare occasions where a core product gets better by adding mediocre features.
Gathering useful timely feedback from customers can be a long process. Intercom makes it faster and easier than ever before but just because it’s now easy to ask it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to waste your customers’ time. Answering a question well is always tougher than asking it.
The world of web analytics is full of ‘golden rules’ about dated metrics like bounce rate, time on site, pages per visit and many more. For web applications these rules are bullshit.
I remember daydreaming in the boardroom of a renowned university in Ireland while pretending to listen to a group of stakeholders argue over a label on a web form.
The most important thing a product manager does is decide where their product stops and someone else’s product takes over.
The goal of preparing wireframes is to solve design challenges regarding layout, and priority. This is usually done in wireframes through experimenting with layouts and the application of contrast, similarity and some other principles.
There are 3 types of data that every product manager or application owner should have easy access to: User Activity, Product Usage, and Revenue.
It’s crucial for start-ups to know who uses their application and how.
“Today we launched automated emails in Intercom. A feature that evokes the old Spider-Man quote: “With great power comes great responsibility”.”
A closed beta is an excellent feedback loop. It lets you see what works well in your application, and it helps you understand the jobs your customers are trying to do. However—like any system—if you put garbage in, you get garbage out. Your beta users and their feedback are massively influential, so picking users at random isn’t wise, as it can lead to a one-size-fits-none product.
Naming a product is difficult. Branding legend Marty Neumeier says that good product names have seven characteristics.
The total market for coffee in America is worth about eighteen billion dollars. That’s $18,000,000,000 if you like to see zeroes. If you’re opening up a coffee shop in SOMA, is this figure relevant to you?
Everything you design—from slide decks to email newsletters, from marketing sites to company t-shirts—has a goal, and that goal is to get someone to decide to do something that benefits you or your company.
The funnel is a lousy metaphor for measuring conversion. In real life, funnels let everything pass through–a 100% conversion rate if you will.
Private betas are great for controlling access to a product as you tweak it.
The second part of our interview with Bob Moesta discusses topics specific to start-ups. We look at how a start-up can apply these Jobs To Be Done thinking, why hypothetical feedback is useless, and why beta testing must also test for value. Part one of the interview was posted previously.
Grandma’s rule has a common meaning across countries & cultures. At a simple level it’s usually understood as “eat your carrots, then you can have dessert”.
The world of start-ups is obsessed with outliers. Companies who have achieved remarkable success through a combination of their activities.
In Gimmicks and Patterns I wrote that new features either become table stakes, or are dismissed as being gimmicky. As some readers noted, this is a simplification of what happens. The Kano model shows exactly how the slide happens, and explains why any one particular feature or trait will never be a sustainable advantage.
As the music companies found out, distribution is about ease of use. Actions that make products harder to buy and consume ultimately hurt sales. Actions that make it easier to buy products than to steal them improve sales.
Personas are a tool for sharing a common vision of a target user with everyone on a project. When everyone knows the sort of end users being targeted it helps cut out some unnecessary debates.
Launching an app with distinctive interface features can work out incredibly well. Path did this last week and has reaped the rewards of great design.
The mathematician searches around the lamppost on his hands and knees. “What are you looking for?” a bystander asks.
Sapient released a truly awful video today, reminding us that you can’t fake culture and you can’t buy cool.
I use the above graph to pick what features to add or improve based on how many customers use them, and how often. This leads to curious but clever decisions.
“In a talk titled Reinventing IT, Prof Clay Christenson, author of The Innovators Dilemma, asks a simple question: Why do so many big businesses fail?”
Karl arrives late into work. There’s no starting time or closing time, his store is always open.
Meaningful companies are built upon a strong timeless vision. Let’s look at some examples.
When a customer asks for a new feature, it’s quite often something that makes perfect sense.
A dashboard is a single screen showing the status of an application. At a glance you should see what’s going well and what areas are struggling. Customer retention is down. Sales are up. Complaints are at an all time high.
We’ve had a phenomenal response to the product since we began our private beta back in June. It has been amazing to get such qualified feedback from such passionate app owners. We’re incredibly thankful for this, and we’ll talk about our superb beta customers in a separate post.