Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Do the Simplest Thing You Possibly Can

This post borrows ideas from TPS and metacool but hopes to bring ideas to these ideas to life with a concrete example.

Right now at work, we have a project that seeks to get a better understanding of how small businesses could use voice technology to organize workers and streamline process.  Very cool, cutting edge stuff and quite complicated.  In fact, in order to work with businesses, I’m going to have to set up a VOIP line for each…


Wait just one minute here.  Whats the goal? To understand how small businesses can use voice technology (VOIP, transcription, recognition, etc).  Okay, but is it possible to achieve the goal without actually bothering with the technology?  Seems silly, but in this case it actually is.

In fact, I can provide any one person with a state-of-the-art voice recognition system lightyears beyond what’s on the market today with just 5 minutes of work.  All I need is a home telephone line, an answering machine, and my brain (which happens to be able to process audio files, extract semantic meaning, and transcribe to text).  See, in this case, voice technology has actually nothing to do with the problem you are solving.  It has everything to do with scale.  But when you are just trying to prove that there is a business case, the technology really doesn’t matter.

Now before someone thinks I’m advocating for the proliferation of vaporware, I’m not.  You’ve gotta love the technology too.  Before you get all excited that you’ve just invented the next gazillion dollar industry just because you know how to use an answering machine and can speak english, you need to know that you can get the technology to work.

But my suggestion is this: first, do the simplest thing you possibly can.  prototype your solution.  Then, with all the time you have leftover (because how hard is it to answer phones?) get a real grip on the technology.  Once you have a good understanding of both the customer problem and the technical solution, then you are free to get excited.

The power of data aggregation

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing.  Now that Lasso has a first version out in the wild, my focus must shift to reaching my potential customers.  One challenge that i will have in this task is the fact that I, personally, am not a potential customer of my product (i.e. I’m not a business owner, the customer that i need to reach first).

Now, I don’t have a lot of experience in marketing (read that: none), but intuition tells me that step #1 in being a good marketer is having a deep understanding of your customer and your market.  So, the question then becomes, how do I gain deep insight into how and why business owners make decisions about how they reach out to their customers.

One of those is, of course, directly visiting businesses.  I talked about this in a previous post and it is still the #1 way to gain insight.  But unfortunately, visits take a lot of time and resources.  I want to find more ways to learn from the experts.

Being the self respecting techie that I am, I naturally turn to online resources to begin my learning process.  I’ll start finding industry blogs.  I’ll find influential + knowledgeable people on twitter.  I’ll start reading relevant news. etc.  There’s 2 problems with that approach

  1. This type of knowledge seeking falls in the “know that i don’t know” category.  Useful, but I’m less likely to be surprised
  2. It’s pull not push.  By that I mean, I have to seek out the information i’m looking for.  And if, for some reason, i don’t do it for a few days I am liable to miss interesting opportunities.

Enter the wonderful world of data aggregation.  This weekend, I spent about 3 hours setting up a series of data feeds that will deliver the news and information I need right to my feed reader.  Using a combination of Google Blog search, Google site search, Postrank, Twitter search, and last but not least Yahoo Pipes.  I made a very simple way to keep on top of all relevant and interesting news + articles about the restaurant industry.  The great thing is that although the breadth of information that I am pulling is quite wide, the amount of information that i have to process is pretty low (thanks to awesome services like Postrank).

Now, it’s certainly not perfect yet and i still have a lot more tweaking to do, but I’m feeling confident that, used properly, powerful tools that allow for this type of data aggregation and transformation  will (and certainly already are) positively transform the way that we think about market research.

Learning from customers: 3 ways to improve

Over the last 3 weeks, I’ve spent quite a bit of time doing interviews with potential customers of the product i’m working on.  I’ve done seven over the last 3 weeks and plan to do several more in the next few weeks.  I’ve had an awesome time doing all of them so far and learned a ton, not just about my product, but also about being good at doing interviews :)

After reflecting for a bit on what went well and what didn’t go so well, i think i have a few ‘take-aways’ that i’d like to make sure to remember for the next time around

1. The less I talk, the better

In an interview format it never ceases to amaze me how amazingly easy to lead a subject.  I don’t do this intentionally of course as my goal is to learn from them, not to lead them to whatever “answer” i think i have.  Unfortunately, on several different occasions, I asked a question or made a statement and then watched in horror as the person I was interviewing stopped, thought about what i said, and then changed course.  Ahh!  sometimes i open my mouth too quickly and unfortunately once said, you can’t take that thought back

2. Allow for “digressions”

Being the all-too-often linear person that i am, i generally get annoyed by digressions in conversation.  after all, in the case of an interview, I’m there for a specific reason right?  Well.. true but with interviews like these, digressions are actually a really powerful tool for two reasons.

First, it puts the interviewee at ease.  A quick question about something on the wall or the history of the building might not be what you take away from the interview, but it’s important to remember that the interviewee is usually nervous.  They aren’t sure if you are judging them or if there are going to give the “wrong” answer.  Digressions help them to relax.

Second, remember that there are 3 categories of knowledge: things you know, things you know you don’t know, and things you don’t know you don’t know.  If you never digress, you will never uncover things in the latter category.

3. Never answer questions (at least until the end)

Usually the interviewee is really nervous about doing something “wrong”.  They often become self concious and will start reverting to asking questions.  I do my best to resist the temptation to answer them.  Many times, questions will come regarding the product (if you are showing them one), but the topics can range a great deal.

It’s best to pretend you are a politician and just deflect the question.  “what do you think that means?” or even at times a little white lie like “i’m not sure” will help avoid the inevitable leading that will occur if you answer a specific question.  after all, you’re not going to be sitting there with them when they are actually trying your product :)

anyway, I’m still definitely just a beginner at customer inteviews, but i hope that this is a skill that i can continue to develop as i know that deep customer insight is a key ingredient to innovation, and speaking with customers is the main ingredient to deep customer insight!

Technology Empowerment

Over the last few days I’ve had a thought running through my head: is there a need for an NGO whose mission is to provide individuals and businesses in the developing world with the technology tools they need to get ahead?

Right now this is definitely a solution looking for a problem, but I wonder if, in fact, there is a problem to be solved here. If so, how could i find out? Is there a demand for technology or technological expertise that can translate to the developing world? What is needed more: funds to acquire technology, or the knowledge of how to use it?

This is still just a seed of an idea that is bouncing around in my head. I’m trying to look for resources that might help to educate me on this problem. Searches through amazon and the web aren’t yielding anything particularly helpful. If anyone happens to come across this post and has some ideas i would love to hear them.

Other questions to ponder:

  • What are major barriers to adoption of technology solutions in developing nations today (this is a crazy broad question and i know that)
  • Are applications for cell phones a viable distribution mechanism for software in developing nations
  • What incentives to western corporations need to become more involved in the developing world (i.e. when does the ROI become attractive?)
  • At what point will nations such as India turn their technologically educated minority toward empowering the technologically uneducated majority?