1. Visual Design in a Lean Startup

    Discuss on HN

    This past Tuesday, Kera compadre, Dave, shared some great perspectives on how to keep engineers happy in a Lean startup. It’s worth mentioning that designers face a different kind of challenge. One that isn’t discussed nearly as often. 

    I wear a few hats at Kera, but I’m a designer first. As an interaction designer, the methods behind agile and lean are far from new. Proper interaction design demands a quick, iterative approach with lots of dirty experiments, no problem. But for visual designers the rules are often different.

    A good visual designer craves big challenges. And designers want to create the entire solution. Ideally, every project goes out to the masses pixel-perfect and ready to live on in portfolios without the chance of future regret.

    But how does a piece of visual design work go from raw idea to public release? In teams or as individuals, designers experiment all the time. However, these rapid experiments most often happen “behind the curtain” with the same teams or individuals.

    So, what if a spree of lean experiments with the rest of your product team is actually the best way to test and validate those different approaches to tone, layout, colour and type. I know you have a bunch of different approaches that you’re playing with. Why not just try all the promising ones through different product iterations and measure what’s most successful. Give your idea a small audience and some room to breathe and you’ll be surprised by what you learn. 

    For most, this article probably isn’t enough to solve the lean creative crisis. If you’re still haunted by the spectre of mediocre creative going out to the wild, there are a few compromises that could help. A good example might be to keep your visual designs quick and messy through product iterations on the inside while flexing all of your creative muscles on smaller outside projects (marketing collateral and other expressions of the brand).

    While it might be difficult, we believe delaying perfection in favour of experimentation will serve us well in the long run. Our creative will make a lot more sense to everyone as it changes organically. Great design will never be an afterthought - it will grow with our business.

    Consider this: What did Twitter look like in 2009?

    - Jon Friis

  2. Product Managers: How to Get Your Engineers to Love Being Lean

    Like most city dwellers, I’m often a quick judge on how well the city allocates its resources.  Anyone who’s waited 20 minutes for an every-5-minutes bus has probably praised themselves on how well they could run things if given the chance. 

    But a former mayor helped change my tune. He once invited city residents to try and balance the budget themselves.  His team laid out everything that needed to be paid for, factoring in raises, community services, emergency services, future growth and expansion.  As you probably  guessed, the exercise is designed to be difficult.  It’s hard to keep everybody happy with limited resources. You quickly learned that sacrifices need to be made in order to avoid running a deficit.

    Unfortunately, doubling the mass transit budget isn’t really an option unless you and every resident wants to pay for it (good luck with that).

    It turns out I learned this lesson again in a different context when I first started working as an engineer in a lean startup.

    It’s a natural inclination for most software engineers to optimize and perfect any bit of code they work on. For them, it’s a work of art upon which they will be judged. So a lean product manager telling an engineer that their work so far is “good enough” can feel like a shot through the heart. They may not be your biggest fan.

    The trick is to give them a bigger optimization problem. Open up your books and show them what you have to work with. You have X developers and Y weeks. These are the Z problems we have to solve by Friday. How can we best solve them?

    It’s even better if you can entirely open up your books to the revenue streams and expenses that keep your office running and your engineers paid.

    Now they have an even more complex problem to work with. How can they churn out quality code *and* accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished *and* take home a paycheque at the end of the month?

    Show them your job is more than just saying “do this” and “no”. Involve them in client meetings so they can feel the same heat you do.  If you allow them to optimize against the resources given, they’ll begin to work with you instead of against you.

    - Dave Wright (@datwright)

    If you’ve had any similar experiences changing your relationship with your product manager or engineer I’d love you hear your story on HN.

    — Discuss on Hacker News —

  3. 5 Must Have Marketing & Customer Success Tools Every Startup Should Use

    - Discuss on Hacker News -

    1. Blogging: Inbound Marketing, Content Marketing, SEO

    Tumblr is a great and easy way to start your content marketing strategy and improve your SEO. Add a subdomain to your site and set up a custom tumblr. Make sure you have a strong banner or CTA back to your main site. 

    We use tumblr for our blog. For some inspiration see the best tumblr blogs for designers.

    Runner Up: Blogger and Wordpress can be just as quick and also allow custom domains.

    2. Onboarding: How it works, Product Tours, Intro Video


    Kera is our product and we believe it’s the best way to teach someone how to use your application after they’ve signed up. Videos are great for generating excitement and getting points across but not that effective in teaching a user how to actually use your application because it’s out of context. An interactive tutorial can really help users assimilate to your application.

    Runner Up: WalkMe is a good alternative for building a tooltip walkthrough.

    3. Communications: Email Marketing, Segmenting users, CRM and Customer Support


    Intercom is the best way to segment, communicate with, and understand your users. We use it to welcome new users, track what stage they are in the funnel, when they signed up, last logged in, etc. We also use it to provide support and send newsletters.

    Runner Ups: MailChimp and Zendesk are powerful specialists. We find intercom perfect for our needs right now because we don’t have heavy email marketing campaigns nor huge support requirements which you might need depending on your startup.

    4. Understanding Users: Analytics, A/B testing, Segmenting Users


    Mixpanel is our favourite way to segment users and understand our data. It’s great for funnel analysis and powerful for understanding where your users come from and what they do.

    Runner Ups: Google Analytics, Geckoboard, and Optimizely

    5. Social Media: Community Management, PR, Measure Social ROI

    Hootsuite is a powerful way to manage all your social media channels including Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and LinkedIn. They also provide good analytics on your social media efforts.

    Notable Mentions

    HubSpot is a very hot and highly respected marketing solution we haven’t gotten around to trying but it’s had great reviews. A bit pricey for startups though.

    Stride is cheaper and easier to use than Salesforce for CRM and Lead Management.

    So that’s what we use at Kera. Thanks for reading and I hope it was helpful. 

    —Taige Zhang (@taigeair)

  4. Painting a User Story

    - Discuss on Hacker News -

    When your software plays host to millions of users, big data aggregates and insights are the only way to manage your understanding of users’ usage patterns.  But a growing business with hundreds or thousands of users still needs to pay attention to the individual.  You need to understand where a user struggles and succeeds.

    At Kera, we still rely on individual user feedback to help us make decisions and, of course, help individual users succeed.  It’s important to us that every customer with the will to succeed makes it happen. But try asking a mathematician to define ‘will to succeed’ and the only correct answer you’ll get is: ‘that depends’.

    What we do know is that trying to contact a customer weeks after they’ve given up or forgotten is weeks too late.  The sooner we know the better.

    We have the usual set of metrics set up: ‘last usage’, ‘error count in the last x days’, ‘logins in the last x days’.  But these only provide a glimpse into a larger data set that makes up the user experience.

    To give us a the bigger picture, we crafted the User Story graph.

    This particular user story graph tells us how the user initially created a tutorial and updated it a few times.  Then a few days later worked extremely hard on making it work. A lot of updates and a lot of errors.  Luckily this user would be caught by our normal metrics that track errors, but it also reveals something we wouldn’t have seen otherwise:  they didn’t open the documentation pages even once.

    Is the user just not aware of the documentation?  Maybe they could benefit from our concierge service to make it for them?

    We know this is a customer with fierce determination to make it work so we definitely want their business. But they probably need a helping hand.

    Now when we reach out, rather than blindly inquiring about the errors, we can also suggest the documentation page or offer our concierge service.  A customer reach-out that’s tailored to the individual.

    New knowledge, new direction

    Then later, maybe we notice the same pattern on more users. And then we have ourselves a new user profile and metric: (# errors received) / (# times documentation opened) ratio.  

    If we see a great deal of users that fit this profile, it brings up new questions. Is the documentation not apparent or obvious? Should there be more inline hints or suggestions?  Should the workflow force a user to open docs?

    All of this stemmed from a metric we wouldn’t have thought to put in the forefront with the rest of our usage metrics: the number of times the documentation was opened.

    The standard set of metrics give you a glimpse into what you already know to look for, but do yourself a favour and allow yourself to see the entire picture.  You might see something you weren’t expecting to find.

    - Dave Wright (@datwright)