To say that resources are scarce in a startup is an understatement. They often times don’t exist. This is a big issue for startups that are still just a handful of people. So how do you make sure that you can keep everything moving forward? Just make time for everything.

It’s far to easy to get heads-down on any one thing and neglect other areas. Before you know it you’ll be woefully behind on those other areas.┬áSo let’s try this:

Reserve some time for each major business area every week or two.

So if you’re focusing very heavily on product right now, you should still try to reserve 3 hours a week for marketing. Big push on sales? How about you don’t forget to budget half a day every other week to think about your product strategy. Booking a few hours in your calendar to work on those things you keep putting off, gives you a chance to force yourself to step away.

The truth of the matter is that if one area is top of mind, interesting, or even on fire, then it may never seem like a good idea to context switch out. This is especially true if the things you aren’t doing are less interesting or just not your cup of tea.

In startups, there are a million things that need to get done. Reserving time for each area of the business allows you to knock the things off the top of multiple lists. Rather than trying to prioritize everything, you just need to timebox areas of less importance.

I heard a news story (quite) a while ago about how hospitals were using robots more and more to assist with surgeries. This isn’t some sort of futuristic Asimov style robot, more like 3D goggles and remote control of laparoscopic tools. Anyway, the interesting part was that the doctors were convinced that their hospital had to have the latest robot.

If you don’t have it, I think it would be a really big problem, but I think everyone just assumes you have it because why wouldn’t you? You know, it’s like having blood or beds or lights in your OR now. You have to have a robot.

This is the echo chamber at its finest. A bunch of people convincing themselves that the world works a certain way because the only people they talk to are experts in that world-view. And this happens everywhere – I see it all too often.

There’s a pretty easy way to figure out if you live inside the echo chamber. Just as yourself when the last time you sat and talked with someone from your target audience/market and asked them about their needs?

The scary thing about the echo chamber is that it can often times start feature and product wars amongst vendors that are scarcely relevant to customers’ actual needs. But this is an opportunity for those with good listening skills, you can avoid that war by talking with your audience and learning what truly causes them pain day in and day out.

Get a few people on the phone who don’t think about this problem all day long. Someone who needs your product, but doesn’t obsess about it. You may be surprised that they have better insights than you.

Postscript: if you are interested in the NPR news story, you can find it here: Medical Innovations Can Come At A Cost

Earlier today I had a conversation about complexity of systems, and how simplicity is worth its weight in gold. Interesting stuff, mostly techie talk. But later when I was thinking about sites that go viral I put two and two together. Those sites that just explode – they have something very simple at their core. No wait:

Sites explode because they are nothing but a simple core.

Take Pinterest, it’s nothing more than a wall of things you pin. I mean, sure it’s gussied up a bit with ‘boards’, or whatever you call them. But really it’s just pictures on a wall.

It’s really just twitter, but you’ve replaced the status messages with interesting images. And wasn’t twitter really just youtube, but you’ve replaced the videos with statuses messages. Which was really just … wait, what did we waste our time on before youtube? I’ve digressed…

Now eventually complexity creeps in – you get rich media, you get links in and out, you get integrations. That’s fine, but if you want adoption you need A Simple Core.

These things originally go viral on because people get the idea in a few seconds. There’s no learning curve, the whole concept is laid bare before you in mere seconds. So what’s my point, it’s simple:

G+ is just too complex

No one is going to switch over for some incremental improvements – even if there are a lot of them. G+ is a very complex product because it is striving to replace several established social media outlets. These are outlets that have long ago gone viral and since then have matured in complexity.

But you can’t disrupt and go viral at the mature state – at least according to my wonderful Simple Core Theory™. You have to do something new, something truly innovative. You know what? For all the innovation that Google likes to talk about, I think they’re actually just really good at making Much Better mousetraps.

That works fine for business apps, which is why adwords wins. It’s why google analytics wins. But people don’t upgrade their social network for incremental efficiencies.

They want something new and exciting, maybe like Pinterest, but where you’ve replaced the interesting images with… well, I’ll tell you in six months when everyone’s ga-ga about the next big viral site.

For the win, flickr: n0sebluntNo feature is unimportant. If it serves a purpose then it’s important to someone. And while those purposes may vary wildly, I have started to think about all of them in terms of two camps: Winning and Keeping.

Winning Features

Winning features are those that help you win a deal. They often times have the sizzle that gets people excited about what you’re doing and give you a leg up on the competition. These are the things that the sales guys get excited about and might just get you written up in techcrunch.

(Updated to include…) An example is eye popping reports, they often look great and seem to convey the info you need. However, after a month or so within an application you may find that they are lacking key information that make them truly functional. Now, it wasn’t the intent of the graph to not do a good enough job, but as is often the case, without a lot of careful thinking and planning, many graphs & reports fall short of providing truly actionable results.

Keeping Features

These are the trusty guys that keep churn down. Keeping features are the ones that sales usually doesn’t bother showing, but that makes the everyday user happy. These are things that people often don’t think of when they are buying, but within 1 week of using your product they couldn’t imagine a world without it.

(Updated to include…) An example here is general navigation and workflow. Getting yourself to the place that you use within the application most often may take 3 or 4 clicks. While this doesn’t seem like a big deal during a demo, after a few weeks of having to work your way in to your destination you’ll be wishing for a shortcut. It’s important to note here that calling out easy navigation probably won’t make a huge difference in a demo unless you are very good with positioning that statement.

They can’t be both?

No, I’m not saying that. I would never say that you should be building features that just get people in the door and are useless afterwards. It’s more about who you are appeasing. Winning features may still excite your existing customers, but they probably aren’t going to get the daily use that Keeping Features get.

There’s also the question of where they come from. Sales, competition, and innovation will usually drive the creation of Winning Features. Existing customers and support teams will usually drive the creation of keeping features.

and so?

Well, I’m not saying this is revolutionary. But recognizing that your features live in these two camps; that they have two masters – Sales and Churn Prevention – may help you to strike a better balance based on the stage of your company.

Also, being able to communicate goal bucket sizes for Winning vs Keeping may better help set expectations across the organization from quarter to quarter. It also helps you to ensure that you development team isn’t off in Winning land when you need them focusing on Keeping, or vice versa.

So, where do your current features land, Winning or Keeping?

So I just read the apology email from Reed Hastings (Netflix CEO), turns out it was a bait and switch. He wasn’t apologizing, he was doing more of the same, focusing on his needs at the expense of his customers.

He started out apologizing, but ended up slapping me in the face. Awesome. For those of you who didn’t get it, or haven’t read it, Reed does apologize, but then he announces that they will be splitting out the DVD and Streaming services into two companies. Here’s a recap on Wall Street Journal: Netflix Separates DVD and Streaming Services.

Focusing on their needs

This reeks of someone changing things to make their life easier. Netflix has a lot of confusion internally, and this helps them to remove that and focus better. That’s fine, I get that.

However, any good company will figure out how to eliminate internal problems without disrupting their customers. As a product manager, I’ve had to fight many battles where an internal team wanted to simplify their process at the expense of the customer’s experience.

All business changes need to be run through this filter: Does this improve the customer experience?

The pricing and company rodeo they’ve been running us through fails that test miserably.

People want more, not less

Look at Apple, they are offering more services in more areas (streaming media, better integrated products, etc), and people are eating it up. By removing the integration between streaming and dvds they are adding complication to customers’ lives and eroding their value.

Netflix should be looking at ways to provide further integration with other services and offerings that can leverage the data sets and customer base they have. This move embodies the “do one thing and do it well” mindset, which is admirable, but isn’t what is generally needed in the media world today.

I’m sure, as Netflix claims, the products will move faster now that they are becoming disentangled. But I don’t think that product problems have been their stumbling block, it’s been media and availability. This change seems to be more of a distraction for customers for than anything else.

What now?

Well, I’m not canceling my account now, but the bar to disrupt Netflix has just gotten lower. The biggest hurdle in this space is still content, getting the right amount of media available is key. But pure digital players no longer have a huge hurdle of physical media to overcome, and other players like RedBox, could consider getting into the streaming side with a huge advantage.

Will Netflix disappear because of this? probably not. Will they look back and rue the day they made the switch? Maybe. Will I end up on another service? I’m not sure, but the likelihood is higher now than ever.

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