Afrolive

I’ve been planning a rebuild of my blog for a while now.

If I’ve learned one thing from product development, it’s know what problem you’re trying to solve.

So I sat down and actually thought about my goal: To write more frequently.

I wanted to worry less about maintaining a server, designing pixel-perfect user interfaces, performing backups and fiddly upgrade paths.

My previous blog was held together by an outdated version of Perch and a whole bunch of duct tape that was wearing thin.

I’ve Been Around the Block

  • I tried SquareSpace but didn’t like that I couldn’t setup a local dev environment to tinker with the templates.
  • I didn’t fancy Medium or Svbtle as I’m still a bit unsure of their business models. And, as much as I wanted a blog to do the heavy lifting for me, I still wanted to be able to play around with the templates’ markup and style -- for this parallel universe where I lots have spare time.
  • I never really got into the Wordpress theme engine and I hate writing php in views. I prefer a model–view–controller architecture that separates concerns.
  • I thought I might use Craft. We use this at Fruitful and it’s a brilliantly comprehensive CMS. I thought I could tinker around at the weekends with my personal site, and that might help me day-to-day with Fruitful’s marketing website. I thought all of this and completely lost sight of my goal.
  • I tried Ghost and I liked it.

Why Ghost?

  • The experience of writing and publishing posts is very good. Clearly the team has put a lot of thought into this.
  • I like the templating engine. It’s Handlebars which keeps the markup in dynamic views readable and declarative.
  • It’s Markdown based.
  • They offer a hosted solutions for just $10 per month. Part of this contribution goes to supporting the continued development and support of Ghost. They dub it sustainable open source and although there’s been a bunch of criticisms of this movement, I feel that it’s a practical way to incentivise ongoing development -- but that’s a topic for another post. Bearing in mind my original goal, I went for this option.
  • It’s open source, so if I ever wanted to spin the site up on VM of my own, I’d be able to.
  • It has an active community behind it and it’s a culture seems to care about design and user experience.
  • The documentation is solid.
  • It’s written in Node.js and it’s super fast.

So now that this blog is back on its feet again (not to mention its new identity), I’m hoping I’ll get into the rhythm of writing more frequently.


Same Same. But Different.

It’s Sunday, late morning, and I’m right in the middle of cleaning the bathroom. In the other room I hear a frustrated girlfriend struggling to find accommodation on - lets say - website X, for our trip to the Amalfi Coast.

Complaints flying left, right and centre, vented in a tone that kind of suggests that this is all my fault:

  • “Why won’t this?”
  • “It won’t let me!”
  • “I keep loosing my tab when I go to trip advisor for reviews!”
  • “I hate this”
  • “Why can’t it show me what’s available on the dates that we’re going”
  • “Oh FFS!”

At this point I’m scrubbing the bottom of the shower. The smell of bleach is intense and my trainers squeak on the floor as I scrub back and forth. Before I hear the next complaint come in, I stop and shout - “try AirBnB?”

“Ahhh! I can’t use this useless website anymore.”

“Try AirBnB!” I shout.

No reply…

30 seconds later:

  • “This place looks gorgeous”
  • Then there was laughter “this guy’s review is hilarious… ‘It's a great place to unwind and get away from it all. Especially given the wifi and flatscreen TV doesn't work’ haha”
  • “I’m loving the ones that look good, ok”
  • “we can go through them later“

3 minutes later, “I’ve found somewhere! Let’s book this one!”

Same problem, solved differently

AirBnB and website X offered the same thing, that is: A product that helps you find, compare and buy accommodation for your travels.

One had concentrated on designing a delightful user experience, the other clearly has some work to do.

What fascinates me though, is the impact that poor design can have on someone’s Sunday morning.

Put another way, how important our work as designers is.


How to Pitch Your Product to the Press

Last Tuesday I popped in to DoES Liverpool to see Matthew Hughes give a talk on how to pitch your product to the press. He’s a tech journalist at MakeUseOf — so he had some lessons to share from the other side of the table.

In no real order:

  • Be as concise as possible - journos receive mountains of product pitches each week.
  • Sounds stupid but: There’s a difference between product pitches and press releases. The former is an anchor to entice the journo to sign-up for your product, check it out and write a review.
  • If you have notable investors > name drop them. This adds validation.
  • You need to entice the journo - lead with the problems you’re solving.
  • Personalisation is important. Do your research on the journo. What have they written in the past that might make them want to write about your product?
  • Gifts are cool, but not bribes $$$. UPDATE from Matthew: “Should probably clarify I meant gifts with no monetary value though, and after an article has been published. ;)”
  • Obvz grammar is super important.
  • Journos like phone numbers for follow up - so share yours.
  • Don’t talk about yourself (founders) - especially if it’s a product pitch.

Bookmarks:

  • press.farm find journalists to write about your product.
  • blonde20.com good PR agency. Do retainers from around £4,000 a month — much more competitive that London agencies we’ve spoken to.
  • uber.com/presskit Uber’s press kit is a good example.

You produce results: Learn from these

It’s nearly been a year since I joined Fruitful - a fintech startup that’s working to rethink how savers save and how borrowers borrow.

Since then we’ve been through a significant product redesign, a complete branding overhaul, a successful soft-launch and a customer response that has more than overwhelmed us. With customers investing with Fruitful from all over the globe, it’s clear that people are in search of an ‘alternative’ that offers fair interest rates, secured lending and the flexibility that we should expect from a modern investment product.

So as we venture into 2015, I thought I’d share a handful of the lessons that I’ve learned and have considered tattooing to my forehead.

Mostly product focused, take from this what you will:

Integrate Around Concerns

When working with a team of designers, developers and content people, there’s always a temptation to separate tasks by role, such as a ”design” todo list and a ”programming” todo list.

The problem with this approach is that it’s difficult to assess progress from separate to do lists or issue backlogs. On top of this, there’s an increased operational risk. Since the QA effort stutters, stopping and starting as each role’s to do list is completed, you run the risk of failing to test the feature as a whole.

Learning from this, we’ve formalised a workflow that integrates arounds concerns. Instead of organising around roles (e.g. design tasks, programming tasks), we organise around areas of concern (e.g. registration form, email receipts). As Ryan Singer puts it:

Marking one piece “done” is powerful because it requires design, programming, support and review to integrate around a specific point in the product.

Whenever a list is finished, it shows a piece of the product is ready to review and mark ”done”. It feels great to know one part of the product has no remaining contingencies. It’s ready to go.

Minimum Marketable Product

Give that I:

  • joined the project just after its inception and
  • had limited experience in the mortgage market and
  • was (initially) unsure of its legal and regulatory commitments

I failed to ask some important questions about minimum marketable product (MMP).

And yes, I prefer MMP as it underscores the importance of building something that is sought-after, by customers, (marketable) vs. something that is viewed merely as feasible, by the company, (viable).

On top of this, MMP forces you to:

  1. Think about the important areas where you should adding value (i.e. your differentiators) in conjunction with:
  2. Working hard to develop those areas, so that they reach a high level of finish, giving you a better opportunity to win the hearts and minds of your customers.

Given the choice, I’d always favour a good job of half, than a half-assed job of all. Much later than I should have, I noticed that as a team, we were stretched and chasing our tails to reach our fast-approaching launch date.

After some belated conversations about the product’s essentials, and a hash through our priorities, we were left with a much more slender view of our MMP. As a result, we were able to achieve a higher level of finish with features we developed, we were less stretched, and we shipped quicker.

In short: dream big, implement small.

90% + 90% does not equal 100%

The ninety-ninety rule lassoed us a number of times:

”The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.”

Tom Cargill, Bell Labs.

In short: be very careful that you do not underestimate the time, effort and energy that the remaining 10% will demand from you and your team.

Deadlines are hard to reach. And they’re even harder when you mis-judge the magnitude of your plans.

Go broad before you go narrow

Common talk in the world of human-centred-design, but this is useful in most walks of start-up life.

When you have to make a decision, go far and wide with your ideas, no matter how daft or bizarre they sound. Superglue the Devil’s advocate mouth together while you go broad with your thinking. You never no what inspiration you might draw from this left field, brainstorming effort.

This method of thinking has helped us overcome some real challenges and produce far superior solutions and ideas.

Effective concepts often draw on multiple sources of inspiration and thinking, and this process will help you along your way.

Finally: on Venture Capital

“It’s all about burn rate, about burn rate, slow spending...

Fingers crossed I’ll find more time to write and share what I’m learning in 2015. I hope you do too.