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.
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.
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 relentless march of technological improvement means that by their very nature technology businesses fail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
At some point every product owner ponders how to make it go viral, as a thought experiment if nothing more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When a customer asks for a new feature, it’s quite often something that makes perfect sense.