Tag Archives: People

Microsoft’s Aggressive Platform Push

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Microsoft recently announced a number of changes to its Windows 8.x and Windows Phone platforms that underscore it is doubling down on Windows.

Breaking Friday was the news that Microsoft will lower the per-device cost to OEMs to ship Windows 8.x on less expensive devices. Bloomberg’s Dina Bass wrote that for devices that sell to consumers for $250 or less, Microsoft will charge $15 for use of Windows 8.1, a 70 percent decline on previous rates.

This allows OEMs to enjoy far stronger margins on low-cost Windows devices, making the Windows world more attractive to the ever margin-strapped device manufacturer world. Also, this brings the cost of Windows on cheap tablets more in line with the cost of Windows Phone on smartphones, an important change given the coming unification between the two core Windows platforms. Microsoft is still coy on the matter, but its executives have essentially laid the plan bare publicly.

This morning at Mobile World Congress Microsoft announced a sheaf of new product changes to both Windows 8.x and Windows Phone, including improvements to the core desktop experience of Windows proper, and aggressive moves to extend the capability of OEMs to build Windows Phone handsets.

In addition to a ready-to-go template, and work to allow Android handsets to run Windows Phone more simply, Microsoft listed off a grip of new OEMs that are on board to work on Windows Phone itself; if the platform is to live and die by partners, as it has thus far (both flavors of Windows), making the lives of those partners easier is simple calculus.

The announced Windows 8.x changes — detail remains light, expect more at Build in a few months — and the Windows Phone platform improvements continue the company’s bet on both Windows, and its ability to grow a platform of its own. This means Microsoft is wagering that it doesn’t need to retrench to lean on Android, for example, an idea that some externally have floated.

What you need to keep in mind is that work Microsoft does now to improve Windows Phone is work proper to its strategy to unify that platform, and experience with Windows RT. So, the work that the company is doing to better support keyboard and mouse users is almost separate; that work is in a different use-case silo.

Lowering the cost for Windows on low-cost devices could help the company foster a new cadre of devices that will eventually run whatever the Second Windows is; so the new OEM group supporting Windows Phone implies future hardware support for what comes next. That’s important.

All the above — and I’ll have more for you in the coming days — indicates so far as your humble servant can divine from lumpy tea sediment that Microsoft hasn’t changed its course in betting that a unified Windows experience across device classes with a firm shared application development environment is a strategy worth following.

Can Windows Phone take on Android or iOS in the short-term? No, at least not in terms of developer buy-in. But a unified Windows ecosystem that helps developers build once and deploy diversely to a growing set of devices could be something different altogether, in the medium and long-term.

Microsoft is not out of the arboreal subset, but it is wagering on building something big of its own, instead of depending on others. In the platforms wars, there likely isn’t another option. It remains a question of execution.



WhatsApp lost 500,000 of its users to Telegram, but most others seem happy to stay

There doesn’t appear to be drones of WhatsApp users running for a rival service following the messaging app’s $19 billion acquisition by Facebook. Telegram — a security-focused messenger from Russia — looks to have netted the bulk of the migrants after announcing a record 500,000 new sign-ups after the deal, while other apps enjoying spikes include Threema, which attracted 200,000 new users.

Telegram Messenger @telegram Follow

“To the good news. 500,000 people signed up for Telegram today.”

Reviews of the Telegram app on Google Play show plenty of new users who switched over from WhatsApp because it is now owned by Facebook:

Launched last year, Telegram is a messaging client for iOS and Android that is very WhatsApp-like with a basic user interface and focus on sending messages quickly and efficiently. Like its big rival, Telegram doesn’t serve ads, but there are key differences between the two.

WhatsApp charges users $1 per year after an initial 12 months for free, but Telegram is free to use forever. Telegram’s core appeal is a strong focus on security, an area where WhatsApp is less steady. It is open source and based on a custom data protocol, which has led to a roster of unofficial apps being developed and offered by enthusiasts.

Founders Nikolai and Pavel Durov launched Russian social network VK, and are focused on making Telegram a non-profit organization that is solely focused on serving its users.

Its website explains that Telgram is not for sale, and sheds light on its donation-based funding structure:

We believe in fast and secure messaging that is also 100 percent free.

Commercial companies frequently face the need to compromise their values for financial gain. This is why we made Telegram a non-commercial project. Telegram is not intended to bring revenue, it will never sell ads or accept outside investment. It also cannot be sold. We’re not building a “user base”, we are building a messenger for the people.

Pavel Durov, who shares our vision, supplied Telegram with a generous donation through his Digital Fortress fund, so we have quite enough money for the time being. If Telegram runs out, we’ll invite our users to donate or add non-essential paid options.

TechCrunch reported that the app had 100,000 daily active users in late October 2013, no further update has been shared since then.

Aside from picking up a sizable boost from the WhatsApp deal, Telegram has made steady progress in Spain — where WhatsApp rules the messaging roost and Japan’s Line is challenging:

Telegram Messenger @telegram

“@alt1040 Actually, it’s over 200.000 new Spanish users daily now. And still growing. ))”

To be clear, though a promising start for Telegram, this is not an immediate threat to WhatsApp. The company adds over one million new sign-ups per day, and losing 500,000 users to Telegram – assuming that they all came from WhatsApp – would represent a mere 0.1 percent of its total active user base.

WhatsApp appears to have gotten a good reception from its users, with few sightings of user protests and little evidence of large scale fleeing. It seems that most fully believe the company and Facebook when they say things won’t change, or simply aren’t interested in switching to a rival service.

Headline image via LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

Online is the New Real World: Your Digital Reputation Precedes You

With the social web and proliferation of apps, smart phones and always on internet access, we are becoming a society of accidental narcissists. I don’t believe we set out to become self-obsessed and to be honest, it’s not all that bad. Today’s digital lifestyle made self-expression not only possible but also acceptable. Selfies! What once would have been frowned upon as anti-social and narcissistic is now a form of everyday self-expression. It’s the new emoticon in many ways.

Sharing our lives is easy and it’s rewarding as friends, family and followers react with Likes, shares, comments, et al. With each update we receive positive reinforcement and are heartened to share more. We now are at the center of our own universe and with each day that passes, we share more of our lives and encouragement pushes our behavior toward extroversion. The words privacy and publicity now take on entirely new meanings as we place on display the very thing our ancestors cherished as privileged. With each update, post, selfie, we share a bit of ourselves that in their own way contribute to a semblance of our digital persona.

This though, works for and against us…

The virtual world is more real than we realize.

Online, just like in the real world, actions and words speak loudly. Unlike real life though, your digital footprints are there for anyone to find on Google, social networks, and in communities. These disparate pieces are then assembled by employers, schools, friends, lovers, enemies, and anyone and everyone who wish to learn something more about you. Whether pure, sinister or simply inquisitive, whatever the reason, today these pieces construct a semblance of you and whomever sifts through your online legacy is left to their own surmise. This is too important to leave to chance. This is your life.

Online is the new real world.

In his new book, Repped, Andy Beal reminds us of something we should think about but rarely do. We should be more methodical about what we share and why. But online engagement is teaching us to think in the moment instead of anticipating how those moments collect and assemble into something we didn’t initially foresee. As Andy defines, repped is the result of conscious contributions that are intentionally additive.

He’s on to something here. And, if we each think deeply about it, we are indeed the masters of our own digital fate by choosing what we share and how we reward those whom guide us online. At the same time, we are also the beast of our own burden by sharing whimsically. By investing in positive reputation updates, whether for you or someone else, ratings rise. Relationships flourish. Trust builds. Thus, we enhance and shape an individual’s online profile to a more deserving standing. Again, it’s intentional.

If we do nothing and continue to post along our merry way, we become the victim of chance and circumstance. What others see and assume, the impressions that form, the opinions that arise, and the decisions they make as a result, are defined for us if we do not first define and reinforce what we want them to be.

Think about it this way. When you look in the mirror, you see a reflection of who you are right now. What if you could transform that reflection each day into someone you hoped to see staring back at you. With repped, we become architects of our desired reflection. If heedful, this digital reflection will ultimately work for us rather than against us. It’s more than how we see ourselves of course. It’s the broad strokes we paint in addition to the fine detail that we dab to paint a portrait that helps us now and in the future.

What separates reality from aspiration are your actions and words. You earn what you deserve.

It is what we share and how we build relationships that communicate who we are, not only to those whom we know, but also those whom we wish to know as well as those who are seeking to know more about us. It takes work yes. But then again so does anything that matters in life. Where everything begins though is what’s important. Most jump into online engagement without taking what is quite honestly the most important first step…connecting the threads of who you are, your aspirations, and who it is you want others to see.

Take a moment to answer this question…Why do you use social networks?

Is it to communicate your life to friends and followers?

Is it a form of self-expression?

Do you cast your actions to the proverbial audience to enchant or entertain them?

Take heart in what it is that moves you and those who follow you. Consider what it is they see as opposed to what you do online. You’ll find a great divide between what you say and the intentions behind them and what someone else hears or sees and takes away from each moment. Such is true in life of course, but here nothing really vanishes. Again, everything either works for or against you.

What is it that you value and how could that change with a bit of self-reflection?

I refer to today’s value system in social engagement as the 5 Vs. With each update, we seem look for something in return and each represent a shifting balance between what we treasure and what we think we treasure. The purpose of this exercise though is to contemplate the meaning of worth and in turn put stock in what it is we value and what it is that others will value…in the short and long term.

The 5Vs

1) Vision (I learn something, I’m inspired);
2) Validation (I’m accepted or justified);
3) Vindication (I’m right, cleared);
4) Vulnerability (I’m open); and
5) Vanity (Not egotism, but accidental narcissism. I’m important),

To earn or bestow increments of repped require intent and diligence. Nothing though begins without describing what it is you want people to know and see and how that tracks toward your personal and professional goals. The 5Vs require careful balance. Sometimes its best if you audit your online behavior to see which of the 5Vs were out of balance in the past. Doing so helps align your future engagement.

Some teenagers are aware of the “drama” that arises when their posts or pictures are taken out of context. In fact, they’re smart about covering their tracks. In some ways this is a divergent strategy from repped, but its example teaches us a lesson about the importance of building online reputations over time.

Rather than intentionally construct a desired presence, they simply remove traces of their communication after initial sharing. Some “whitewall” their networks by deleting everything after immediate engagement. Others “super log off” by deactivating their accounts when they’re not online. This behavior is what inspired the rise of an ephemeral web, one that automatically vanishes after a fixed amount of time. There’s a reason Snapchat and other apps and networks like it are wildly popular.

Snapchat and the ephemeral web represent an interesting evolution in social media in that it helps people “share without care” or better manage their digital footprint. The ephemeral nature of “now you see it, now you don’t” lets users be themselves, or sometimes encourages deviant behavior, without worry of future leverage against them. This comes at a time when colleges and employers, and everyone for that matter, are reviewing social networks as qualifying criteria for consideration. With ephemerality, the challenge for you and me though is the very thing that makes it so special and that’s the temporary nature of the moment.

Among accidental narcissists however, attention, popularity, and reactions are also catalysts for open sharing. As a result, Snapchat is experimenting with a hybrid of ephemeral messaging that adds a touch of permanence, such as its Stories product. There’s a sense of narrative that tells a story the way a user defines. But they still vanish in the end.

The ephemeral web is just one of two factions of the social web evolving today. The other movement underway is that of the anonymous web thanks in part to apps cum social networks Whisper and Secret.

When I first heard of Whisper, my initial reaction was wow, that’s interesting and potentially addictive. When I then heard about Secret, I felt similarly but then added the words dangerous and finite to the list. Whisper and Secret are representatives of the anonymous social web, which is a branch of the overall private social movement. Similar to its sister movement around the ephemeral web, these apps are promoting a behavior of sharing without establishing a link between identify and legacy.

Secret is interesting in that it connects friends and friends of friends. This makes the content relevant while sparking curiosity and conversations behind the scenes, online and the real world. Because it’s someone you know or could know, it adds a layer of intrigue to the mix. By including social validation engagement such as likes and comments, users are conditioned to continually share provocative thoughts, observations, and also secrets. It’s a promising mix that will keep secret public for the foreseeable future. However, I see it as more as disruptive novelty than I do as a long term stand alone app. It’s the anonymous movement that will outlast many early players. But that’s not the point. It’s how behavior changes in how we engage and share and the levers of identity we pull to align, or chose not to, our brand with the updates we we find interesting.

The people who define the social web are fickle and suffer from extreme cases of shiny object syndrome. But, anonymity can be healthy. Productive conversations can emerge beyond the juvenile antics of immature or mean people.

As founder of 4chan moot once said in a piece standing up for anonymity, “It’s incredible what people can make when they’re able to fail publicly without fear, since not only will those failures not be attributed to them, but they’ll be washed away by a waterfall of new content.” It was his follow-on comment that struck me however, making sense of the rise of social anonymity…

Anonymous or pseudonymous posting can relieve us of the burdens of social media, and the resulting narcissistic behavior.”

The psychological conditioning of users though is shaped by how communities inside and outside of the communities react. And Whisper’s approach is among the most promising for a long-term play. As I shared with USAToday, with Gawker vial traffic czar Neetzan Zimmerman joining Whisper, the anonymous network will morph into a hybrid gossip, confessional, and allegation media network. And with Zimmerman’s first piece making the rounds that claims actress Gwyneth Paltrow is cheating on her husband, Whisper is officially on its way to competing for media and consumer attention while paving the way for anonymous social networking and sharing.

By crowdsourcing interesting revelations and curating or editing them a la TMZ, BuzzFeed and Upworthy, we may see these networks around for the foreseeable future.

We now live three lives online; one that disappears, one that is secret, and one that sculpts our legacy.

This reminds me of a poignant observation once shared by novelist and philosopher Gabriel García Márquez, “Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life.” With the likes of Facebook, SnapChat and Secret, the thoughts shared by Gabriel García Márquez is now a digital prophecy come to life.

Now’s the time to consider how you want to be appreciated. Now’s the time to consider the value of online engagement and come to terms with what you want to invest into and take out of your digital life and the digital lives of others.

An investment in your online persona will help you earn digital significance. Equally, investing in those who are important to you will also help you bestow significance unto others. The value you assign to engagement affects what you place and take out of this so-called digital life.

The value we take away must only be surpassed by what we invest. This is the foundation for your digital legacy and that of others.

This post is the unabridged foreword for Andy Beale’s Repped…published with approval.









Top photo: Shutterstock

Facebook Paper – Thin on Features, Heavy on Gloss.

Facebook Paper aims to deliver a seamless marriage of both social reminiscences and curated snippets of popular media and news, and does so by providing a refreshing and open-ended approach to viewing content. Brilliantly displayed full screen photos with a tilt-to-pan parlor trick are sure to impress your coworkers. Facebook Paper also leaves much of the old chrome at home and hastily assumes that gestures should be the backbone of the user experience. If you take a look at the iTunes Ratings and Reviews for the app, there are an overwhelming number of positive marks, heralding Paper as a worthy replacement for the boring, outdated regular Facebook app.

The designers and engineers at Facebook Creative Labs worked on Paper for the last two years, busily hacking away to create something new and different. It’s safe to say they’ve accomplished that. Let’s take a walking tour of the app and find out what was done right and what design missteps were taken.


  1. A separate Settings subheading just below Settings is a space waster and since it’s the first “section” within Settings, it really doesn’t need a subheading spacer at all, so get rid of it.
  2. A poor choice in displaying inactive and active states contributes to a second-guessing of whether or not the toggle is on or off. Instead of a semi-transparent white a more confident color should have been chosen.
  3. Facebook Paper only affords the user one option for saving content for reading later, which in this day and age, is kind of lame. While other apps generously allow for a true buffet of Read Later options—and rightfully so—Paper falls short on this front.
  4. Tap on Account Settings or Privacy Shortcuts in Settings and you are welcomed by a very crude animation of a newspaper opening up into an antiquated blue Facebook settings menu. Yeah, okay. This is what happens when you make sacrifices to “ship on time.” If this was done right, they would have made sub-menus available via chevrons like they did for Read Later and Legal. Maybe they will actually build this out in a future update when they have more time.

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  1. The Privacy selector has created a new category for a touch target size: tiny hot dog wiener. Not only that, but the pop-out list has a very awkward scrolling cut-off at the top, given there’s no semi-transparent heading to allow the text to run under. It’s not an elegant solution.
  2. I know this is a lowly instructional page to allow for a tagged location, but it looks like a design intern was allowed to “go crazy” with the justification (centered on top, jagged (?) on bottom). Not only that, but the rag on the top dialog is off (in the on the second line should have been dropped to the third line).


The text in the carousel is incredibly hard to read comfortably on the iPhone’s smallish screen. The sad part is that there is no middle ground to this: you either swipe the card carousel from right to left squinting to read the headline text on each card, or you flick up the carousel to swipe through the cards individually. The main culprit is the content on the top of each view, which houses the profile picture of the card along with a bunch of valuable, unused white space to the right of it. The proportions are off, especially in the carousel view where that space occupies roughly 25% of the view. When you expand it to full-screen, it drops to 16% of the view. Whereas if you look at the photos within the designboom card, it stay roughly at about 50% of the card at either size.

Compare this with the Facebook app and you have to wonder why they thought it was a great idea to make that area take up more room that it needs to be.

So what’s a good compromise? There are many solutions to be had obviously, but this one results in the top portion taking up just 15% in the carousel view, which proportionately is in line with what you might see when you go full-screen and see more pertinent icons and information. By moving the profile icon to the right side of the card, reducing its size and moving it up to the top edge, a larger text size may be used, and in turn, afford the user more visual breathing room for content.

Even the text in Friend Requests, Messages, and Notifications has been reduced—why? The text size is perfectly adequate in the Facebook app, yet Creative Labs saw fit to make the text smaller even though the screen size of the iPhone didn’t change.

Getting Back to Search/Settings
From the main stage, if I pull down to reveal Search and go to someone’s profile card view, it’s not entirely clear about how to go back to search. Since you can’t tap a button to get to it (ugh, so obvious), that option is out. So you have to drag the screen, and there’s an extremely narrow actionable area to get access Search again. Grab too high and you’ll pull down the Notification Center tab, grab too low and you will start to “unstick” and exit that someone’s card. Try it. See if you can do this repeatedly on the first try every time, you’d have better luck playing Flappy Bird.

Bold, Bold, Bold!
Mike Matas said Paper was heavily influenced by print designers, so where’s the typographical sensitivity? All the text, heading and body, in the About card, including About, Details, and Contact sections is bold, bold, bold. They try to fool you by make the lower-hierarchical text gray (see Work and Education under Details for examples), but it’s all bold. All of it. Where’s the contrast, the appropriate mixture of weights, the thoughtfulness?

Opening up Duplicate Card Views…But Only Alternating
There’s also some strange behavior concerning opening up duplicate cards, but Paper will only do this if you open up alternating cards. Say I open up my profile card view, then I use the method above to go back to Search and try tapping on my profile again. It will open up that previous card. Okay. Now if I go back to Search and go to a group’s profile, and then back to Search and tap on my profile card view, and whaddaya know, another card of my profile pops up. So now there are two of my profile cards in the deck of Paper cards—how incredibly nonsensical!

Disappearing Card Trick
If there are three cards in the cascading card view (main stage-top, my profile card view-middle, group profile card view-bottom), and I tap on my profile card view, it will automatically discard the card(s) in front of it! Why would you give the impression of a saved state UI if you are going to treat navigation as such a haphazard operation?


1. Cards with multiple pictures are displayed in a vertical fashion and you will have to scroll up and down to view those pics. However, if you tap on a photo to view it full-size, it will bring you to a black lightbox view where you will now have to scroll horizontally. Not only that, but there is no way to get rid of the invasive caption text, icons, and likes and comments that muddy up the view. In the regular Facebook app tapping on the photo would make those disappear, so you could view the pics in all their glory. That functionality is now gone and we are being forced to view the full-size pics with unnecessary text overlapping them.

Where’s my Lists?
Many Facebook users have custom lists for content that matters most. How does a user access those lists in Paper? Is this a Version 2 feature add?

Mirror, Mirror
If you drag down on the card carousel view, you will see a thoughtless execution of the main story image. Why is this mirrored like remnants from iOS 6? Is that the best design solution for this ‘behind the curtain’ area?

You Want Me To Do What?
Some cards will feature a link to a webpage, that you then have to tap on to go to or drag up to open one of those newspaper things. Really? You want me to load the actual webpage in order to view or read it? Just like the iOS app Interesting, which is gorgeous, until you download it and see that it does the same thing. Paper is the visual epitomy of a streamlined consumption model! Yet they don’t offer a way to choose between a barebones reading mode and the actual webpage with all the unnecessary junk. This really is a big fail.

The Untappable Chevron…
There’s a chevron that Paper uses (that looks just like Apple’s) that allows you, from within a webpage opened up from a card, close the metaphor newspaper webpage to land you back on the card. Well, that chevron is also in cards that have mutiple photos in them. Problem is, you can’t tap on them. Try it. You will just bring up lightbox view. So why is it there if you can’t even get to it? Even if you position it right between two photos so that it rests on a white sliver of dead space, your tapping accuracy means nothing.

No Read Later For you!
You get to pick one Read Later option…just one. Choose wisely.

There’s no doubt Paper meets the case for providing a very different experience than the typical user might have in the “outdated” Facebook app. After the excitement of downloading and using one of the newest apps from the largest social networking site on the planet wears off, what’s left? Sure it has fancy animations, sparkly text, superfluous carousels, and copious amounts of Letterpress drop shadows—but is it thoughtfully good?

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So, You Want to Hire a Growth Hacker?


Every startup wants a growth hacker—even if nobody’s really certain of what they actually do. (There are exceptions; those startups have product scientists.) It’s not just startups that want them. I’ve had conversations with public companies, non-profits—organizations of all sizes that have been interested in hiring someone to help with growth.

(If you’re totally lost at this point and have no idea why a growth hacker might be a good thing, I suggest you read Josh Elman’s excellent piece, What is Growth Hacking, really?)

If you’re thinking about hiring someone to work on growing your user numbers or engagement, there are some specific qualities that you should look for.

1. Data curiosity

Here’s my rough definition of what it means to be data curious:

Data Curious is my shorthand for someone who has an intrinsic need to understand a single data point. She understands that a number on its own very rarely tells the full story. Rather than simply being skeptical, the Data Curious person looks for more information and context. That helps her to understand, and increase her trust in, that number.

The Data Curious not only ensure that the numbers are good ones, they understand how to prioritize them. Today’s software companies have an overabundance of data. A good growth hacker filters all that available data to focus on a handful of meaningful metrics.

2. User empathy

Growth hacking is fundamentally about users. To have any hope of growing a user base, you have to be able to think like your users. Of course, this means playing with, and learning from, “big” data. But small data is great too: in-person user tests (during which you sit down with someone and watch him use your product) are an excellent way to gain real insight into how users interact with what you’re building.

I once spent hours staring at funnel data, wondering why there’s such a big drop-off at a certain step. Even though I’d run through the funnel myself countless times, I couldn’t make sense of it. It took ten minutes with a user (an ad on Craigslist and $30 for his time) to realize that on low-resolution screens the primary action button was basically hidden.

If your wannabe growth hacker has never run an in-person user test, they’re not the real deal.

3. Creative problem solver

I realize that this sounds as if it’s straight from a consulting firm recruitment poster, but it’s important. Today’s growth hacker is blessed with far more data than they can ever hope to use. What sets a great one apart from the rest is (1) how they wrangle that data into a good, testable, hypothesis; (2) how they validate that hypothesis with a test that doesn’t take weeks of development time.

Successful tactics in hypothesis design and testing tend to both be highly product specific and also have relatively short life-cycles. Copying an idea that worked for someone else six months ago (which you just read about on Quora) will probably fail.

4. Org savvy

It can be hard to find a growth hacker a home in a traditional org structure: “Should she be in Marketing, or Product? Maybe Ops for now as that’s where we do all the reporting.”

I don’t believe that there’s a perfect answer to this question (though “Ops” is probably a bad answer). In most companies a new function will be pigeonholed somewhere on an organizational chart, so a growth hacker needs to understand, and be sensitive to, where they fit in and how they can still be effective across the organization.

5. Fearless

Products are built based on assumptions…until a growth hacker arrives. Those assumptions might be about user behavior (“users are looking for a better way to post their photos!”) or a particular data point (“the video on our homepage increases signups!”).

Every company I’ve ever known has so-called “institutional knowledge” that is frequently inaccurate and sometimes just plain false. To be clear—the falsehood isn’t malicious: Someone just happened to mention something years ago about reading a report that said that videos on homepages increase signups. Today, it’s a given that the 5MB animation increases your signup rate by at least 20%, even if nobody has actually tested it lately.

A good growth hacker seeks to validate assumptions. But for every attempt to validate, there’s the possibility of invalidating a long-held assumption too. When this happens (“actually a homepage without a video actually converts much better”) it can be hard to explain to new colleagues.

Once you’ve hired your growth hacker, be careful of shooting the messenger. Before you hire them, make sure they’re fearless enough to be a great messenger.

A company that leverages its usage data better than its competitors has a big advantage. One of the best ways to to do this is to have a great growth hacker on the team. But be prepared for uncomfortable truths and challenges to some long-held assumptions and processes. Both the growth hacker and the organization will need time to adapt to the new role.

Daryl Koopersmith, Evan Solomon and Josh Elman provided feedback and ideas for this post.

Further Reading

Be Nice To Your Growth Hacker

 — Evan Solomon’s follow-up post explores what you should do once you’ve hired your Growth Hacker.

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Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Whats App, MotionLoft and The FBI – Here Are Five Stories You Won’t Want To Miss!

1.) Forget Jobs and Gates – Here Are The Tech Names You Should Know

2.) All The Major Companies Worth Less Than Whats App

3.) EU Seeks Peace As Ukraine Death Toll Hits 75

4.) Can Someone Explain What’s App Valuation To Me?

5.) Former MotionLoft CEO Jon Mills Arrested By The FBI

Real-Time Mobile Analytics Platform Amplitude Takes On Flurry & Mixpanel

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Amplitude, a Y Combinator-backed mobile analytics service aiming to take on the likes of Flurry and Mixpanel by offering advanced features at more competitive prices, is officially making its public debut today ahead of YC’s Demo Day. And the company has actually gone through this process before, as it turns out – it’s the same team from the text-by-voice Android app Sonalight, which was in the YC Winter 2012 cohort.

Explains Amplitude co-founder Spenser Skates, Sonalight did “decently” well, reaching hundreds of thousands of downloads, and some number of paying customers, but it never really became a mainstream success. However, the team, as a part of the process of building their own mobile app, had also spent a lot of time creating their own tools for analytics in order to examine their data in custom ways.

Other developers in Y Combinator were soon asking for that same product, after getting a look. So the team pivoted from Sonalight, and built what’s now called Amplitude.

Things got off the ground around a year and a half ago, says Skates. “We looked at the market, and we knew a lot of other mobile companies were really unhappy with what they had for analytics,” he explains. Companies would begin with something free like Flurry or Google, then work their way up to advanced, but expensive services like those from Mixpanel or other enterprise-level players.

But Skates thought they could do something better by building a more developer-centric service, and one that was focused on mobile only.

Today, Amplitude has grown to around 30 business customers using its platform (via its open source SDK), and has a reach of around 20,000 applications, thanks to an integration with the Corona Labs SDK. But the service hadn’t been available for public sign-ups until now.


What makes Amplitude different is not only its strict focus on mobile, but also on delivering real-time analytics for things developers need to track like funnels, segmentation, monetization, and more. Plus, it does so at a lower cost. This is especially important for new launches, says Skates. “If you’re launching a product, you need to know right away if it’s succeeding or failing. You don’t want to wait 24 hours for the data,” he says.


Another feature that makes Amplitude stand out is that it offers direct database access to the raw data. That is, developers can connect directly to its servers and type in a SQL query on the raw data itself, and then analyze the data in any way they want, or pull it into Tableau, for example.

It’s this feature in particular that’s attracted several ex-Zynga employees who are now running their own mobile startups. A few notable customers include former Zynga GM Siqi Chen, now of Heyday; former Zynga VP Bret Terrill, now of 12 Gigs; plus Michael Carter of Game Closure; Hullabalu; LVL6; and others.

Skates says that Amplitude has been attracting customers who have “experienced the pain” of using other mobile platforms, as well as those who are looking for the advanced feature sets without the higher costs of using something like Mixpanel.

“Our costs are probably a fiftieth of Mixpanel’s,” he says. “Mixpanel keeps all data in memory to serve at query time and we pre-process it. But the hard part about pre-processing is you need to be able to predict in advance what people are going to query on, and we’ve figured out a way to do that. We’ve been very smart about how to save space, and computation in memory in order to deliver that very cheaply,” says Skates.


The company offers a freemium service, with plans that range from $299 to $1999 per month up to enterprise pricing. Today, Amplitude is growing at 30%-50% month-over-month in terms of data collected, and is seeing around 8 billion events per month (or around a third of what Mixpanel does, Skates notes).

San Francisco-based Amplitude is a team of four full-time, including co-founder and CTO Curtis Liu. The company still has a small amount of angel investment from its Sonalight days, but is not discussing its funding plans at this time.


Business As Usual In The New Silicon Valley

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Now here is one spectacular tale. A company, with little PR or marketing, grows in just a handful of years to connect half a billion people around the world through a simple messaging app. The company gets acquired for a hefty sum; in this case, the largest sum ever in the history of venture-backed startup acquisitions. Billionaires and millionaires are created almost out of thin air.

And yet, the story is so banal.

There were, of course, interesting threads in this particular version of the tale. We have a thread about immigration and secret police forces behind the Iron Curtain. We have a rags-to-riches tale of a founder moving from food stamps to the uppermost strata of wealth. And we have a story about rejection and later finding the ultimate redemption. But beneath these human-interest stories lies a far more simple message: the Silicon Valley of the past, which developed the awesome technology we use everyday, is simply dead. And it isn’t coming back.

My friends in Palo Alto and Mountain View have often groused to me about all those social media companies up in San Francisco. I can still hear the echoes in my head of the “idiots” who “waste their time” building social networking apps, instead of working on deeply technical products in areas like in-memory databases, advanced wireless technologies, or genetic analytical tools. There was, of course, always an air of intellectual superiority in these discussions, which is now deeply ironic, since those same social networking companies are now getting acquired for billions, while my friends are still grinding at their products.

Venture capitalists have long ago discovered that social media is where the money is. Facebook remains the largest technology IPO of all time, and WhatsApp is the largest venture-backed acquisition of all time. And they are hardly exceptional. In the last few years, we have had Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Viber, with more potentially on the way (Snapchat, Whisper, maybe even Secret). WhatsApp’s acquisition is simply business as usual in today’s Silicon Valley.

The attraction of these kinds of startups is not just their enormous exits though, but also their risk profile. Communications apps are not particularly challenging products to manage, given that their features haven’t changed all that much in the last two decades. They don’t require a lot of recruiting, since engineers enjoy scaling advantage given that these products have such limited features. The messaging category is evergreen, because there is always going to be a novel way to communicate or a new device that needs its core communications app. And these products have definitional virality that makes user growth practically free.

For VCs, these companies are like shots of cocaine. And we need our next hit.

In all honesty, how can a founder of any “hard technology” startup look a VC in the eye and talk about the benefits of working on a difficult challenge when the money can be made so easily somewhere else? I know founders trying to solve cancer, improve medical records, develop next-generation databases, and invent new 3D-printing tools who have had an enormously difficult time finding backers for their startups. Yes, there are VCs and others who will invest out of interest, but they are few and far between, particularly in later funding rounds where financial performance is prime.

Historically, we are walking in new territory. Just take a look at the earliest investments of prominent VC firms. Kleiner Perkins’ earliest investments included Genentech (which pioneered recombinant DNA technology) and Tandem (which developed fault-tolerant computers for finance). Sequoia Capital’s included Apple (which invented the personal computer), Cisco (which developed network routers), and Atari (which popularized video games). All of these were smash hits, and helped define entire product categories.

One of the problems here is that the cost of building a great company has increased – approaching an average of $200 million for the typical $1 billion valuation business. Why embark on a project with prodigious levels of technical risk and work and then end up making fewer returns?

In this way, I am distinctly reminded of Hollywood, where the creativity of the big studios has taken a back seat to remakes of popular franchises. Have you seen the top 20 highest-grossing films of all time? Sixteen of them are sequels or part of multiple movie franchises, almost all of them from the last decade. Hollywood has tended to become more conservative with blockbusters due to the ever-increasing costs of bringing a feature film to market. Sound familiar?

But there are other lessons to glean from WhatsApp’s acquisition than just how quickly companies can make billions in the communications space. For all the talk of design in Silicon Valley, it is interesting how little WhatsApp paid attention to such flourishes.

Its logo is boring, its name uninteresting, and its basic chat theme quite unappealing. In some ways, WhatsApp is more typical of the Silicon Valley of the past than the current incarnation that is obsessed with pretty pixels. Even more, the WhatsApp team appears to be dominated by engineers who actively shunned the limelight and focused on pure utility. That focus is perhaps why they had an 11-digit offer in the end.

While the classic Silicon Valley may have died, it doesn’t mean that innovation is going to just disappear. On the contrary, I think that Silicon Valley’s addiction to these sorts of companies offers the best hope for other regional innovation hubs like Austin or Boulder to thrive. There are wide markets out there that are underserved due to the way that the Valley conducts its business, and any one of these markets could form the basis for a strong startup ecosystem.

For Silicon Valley though, we have to take a moment and pause at this achievement. Even in a world of clones, WhatsApp was far and ahead of the pack. The team has built something truly remarkable, with a product roadmap that will be interesting to watch over the coming years. Now let me open XCode and get going on that email app.


Heat impressive at All-Star Break

This post was originally published at @ HoundSports

Updated: February 17, 2014

Miami Heat All-star break

The Miami Heat entered the All-Star break with a 37-14 record, which is the third best in the NBA. They’re also currently only two and half games behind the Indiana Pacers for the no.1 seed. That’s pretty darn impressive considering the Heat have been the team that has coasted throughout the regular season while the Pacers are focused on getting that no.1 seed and homecourt advantage. The team is also in the middle of a Western conference road trip where they have gone 3-1. The trip concludes this week with games against the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder.

So far in this road trip, the Heat have beaten Western conference playoff contenders Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, and the Golden State Warriors in a game that culminated in LeBron James channeling his inner cold-blooded assassin and hitting the game-winning three-pointer. All three of these games have been impressive wins and all the talk of Kevin Durant being the front-runner for MVP and closing the gap on LeBron as the game’s best overall player appear to have King James on a mission. Right now, I would say Durant is the front-runner for MVP considering the Oklahoma City Thunder have the best record in the NBA despite Russell Westbrook missing a significant amount of time this season. However, LeBron isn’t going to relinquish the MVP title that easy and it should be a close race come April  between these two front-runners. LeBron has also been playing much better defense lately than he had  earlier this year. This defensive intensity should continue come playoff-time. With Dwyane Wade missing time with injuries, Chris Bosh has filled in nicely as the team’s no.2 scorer.


Of course, I would like the Heat to play better, or at least look somewhat interested, against the inferior opponents. It’s ironic that their only loss of this road trip so far at the time of writing was against the Utah Jazz, who are contending for the no.1 pick in this year’s NBA lottery. Hey, these types of losses happen. The lowly Orlando Magic, who are also in contention for that no.1 pick, beat both the Pacers and Thunder in the same weekend, so these types of games will happen in the regular season. I would just like to see less of it with the Heat as I have seen so far this season. Although their victory at Golden State  was good overall, I would like to see them shake off that habit of blown leads, as they did by blowing a 21-point third quarter lead against the Warriors, who can are obviously capable of getting hot from beyond the arc at any given moment. Dwyane Wade’s number of missed games is a bit high and not a major concern.. I understand that this is part of the maintenance program for him to keep him healthy come playoff time but missing both games last week was a bit odd, even if the injuries were legitimate. The good news is that he did look impressive in the All-Star game, even if little defense is played in it, so he should be fine whenever he suits up.

Overall, despite some annoying losses to bottom dwellers, the Heat have done well this season and should continue to battle for that no.1 seed in the East. However, going into the playoffs healthy is a much bigger priority for this team in its quest for a three-peat.

Sergio Carmona

Sergio Carmona

Sergio is a life-long resident of Miami and an avid fan of the local South Florida teams. Although he cheers for all his hometown major sports teams, his favorites are the Dolphins, Heat, and Hurricanes football team. He is also very optimistic that the Dolphins and University of Miami football team can return to their former glory days. Rooting for the Dolphins this past decade has been tough on him but he remains a loyal fan. Sergio is a big fan of the NFL, NBA, and College Football but he follows virtually every sport. His writing experience includes writing for local newspapers Miami’s Community Newspapers and South Florida’s Jewish Journal.

A Primer on Startup Growth

This primer is not original work but pulls together information from multiple sources including articles, slides and talks from Andrew Chen (AppSumo), Andy Johns (ex-Facebook), Dave McClure (500 Startups) and Paul Willard (Atlassian).

Growth is what turns a startup into a large company.

The metric used to measure growth is often active users or revenue/profit. However, it can also be taken from a diverse set of variables and will often change depending on the stage of the startup.

There are a few mantras that always get thrown around: “if you build it, they’ll come” and “you’ll win if you build the best product”. While sounding great in theory, these often don’t hold up in practice. After all, was Internet Explorer really better than Netscape? Excel better than Lotus 1-2-3? VHS better than BetaMax? Rather, whoever builds the best distribution wins.

Growth needs to be planned.

This post is divided into three sections: (i) choosing a suitable growth metric, (ii) monitoring the metric, and (iii) how to go about growing that metric.

A quick aside before diving in. Startup growth is very much dependant on the startup’s actual product. Optimizing for growth can only help so much and, in a lot of cases, time may be better spent on product/market fit. As Donald Knuth puts it, “premature optimization is the root of all evil”; always improve an inferior product before focusing on growth.

In fact, one way to test how badly people want a product (and hence determining the startup’s growth potential) is to erect barriers: make it difficult to invite friends, make it ugly and make it slow to use. If it still grows at a reasonable pace, optimizing for growth will only step up the pace.

Choosing a suitable growth metric

The key to choosing a suitable growth metric is understanding the user conversion funnel. These are the steps a user goes through while using the product. It is called a conversion funnel because people are lost with each step they are made to step through.

User Conversion Funnel
  1. Acquisition: the user arrives in front of the product from a variety of channels.
  2. Activation: the user has a great initial experience.
  3. Engagement: the user keeps coming back because the product delivers value.
  4. Revenue: the user conducts some monetization behaviour.
  5. Virality: the user recommends the product to other people.

Many actions can have varying effects on user numbers and revenue/profit. Only by committing an action in an isolated section of the funnel ceteris paribus, can growth be accurately attributed to certain actions.

If the steps in the entire user conversion funnel are fixed, then the conversion rate (number of people entering the step vs. the number of people exiting the step) is a good metric to use. If the steps aren’t fixed, consider removing certain steps and seeing how the entire user conversion funnel performs as a whole. Reports suggest that each additional page or step in a website’s flow leads to a 20% drop-off rate.

The conversion rate, however, isn’t everything, and we use an example to illustrate this. According to Elliot Shmukler, LinkedIn decided to improve two sign-up channels in 2008. People who had reached the sign-up page were divided into whether they came from email invitations or from viewing the LinkedIn homepage. After some work, the following results were achieved:

  1. Email invitation conversions jumped from 4% to 7%, taking 2 years.
  2. Homepage view conversions jumped from 40% to 50%, taking 4 months.

There are a number of useful take-aways from this example.

  1. The amount of effort is not necessarily proportional to the results. Email invitation conversions took considerably longer to improve yet were less effective in nominal percentage points than homepage view conversions. In certain cases, it’s better to double-down on what works instead of improving parts of the funnel that have a low conversion rate.
  2. User conversions in a funnel only tell half the story. The quality of the users also matter and this can be assessed by segmenting users by channel and following them through the rest of the user conversion funnel. In this case, although email invitation conversions may take more work, what if converted users in this channel are more engaged, monetize easier and are more likely to invite friends? This is called cohort analysis and is a great way to understand the different types of users and their needs. For example, tell-tale signs of a later engaged user at Facebook was whether the user added seven friends in the first ten days, while for Twitter it was whether they followed thirty accounts.
  3. The actual number of users entering the funnel is important. If 10M people enter the email invitation funnel, but only 1M people enter the homepage view funnel, then it may be more judicious to focus on the email invitation funnel since 3% of 10M is greater than 10% of 1M.

Monitoring the metric

All changes made to the product need to be compared objectively. A/B testing serves two different versions of the product to different users. These change can be small (the headline may be re-worded or the color of the button changed) or big (the user may be given the option to try the product before signing up). Once a certain number of users have tried option A and option B, the results are tallied up and a winner determined. As Andy Johns (Wealthfront) puts it: data is wonderful in never letting terrible ideas have a long shelf-life.

A few words of advice regarding A/B testing:

  • It’s often important to find a balance between being data-driven and data-informed. A/B testing blindly is not very effective; the tester still has to come up with the options in an A/B test.
  • A/B testing is often used to determine whether A is better than B, but it’s also an opportunity to understand the market. Perhaps B is better than A by 40% in the general NYC area, but in the rest of the country, it’s worse.
  • Don’t A/B test your core repeat users, it will annoy them if the website looks looks different everytime they visit.
  • Weekend traffic may be different from behaviour during the week, so consider run tests that span the course of a week.

Once a test is complete, the reason behind why users behaved a certain way should be analyzed. It often boils down to this relationship:

Conversion = Desire – Friction

To test for desire, start by changing headlines and the copy. Google AdWords can be a useful tool for seeing which words appeal to people. To test for friction, on the other hand, optimize for speed and change around the placement, size and color of the call-to-action. CrazyEgg produces a heat map and scroll map that helps in gaining a better understanding of how visitors engage with a website.

A/B test results are the conversion rates in the user conversion funnel. A tool like Kissmetrics or Mixpanel is able to link actions from the same user and plot the steps they take through the product alongside the relevant conversion percentages. Alternatively, this can be achieved by trawling the server logs and linking up requests by the same user.

Irrespective of the tool, ensure that a standardised report is spit out automatically for each change that you make. The report should look something like this:

Example Conversion Metrics

This will let you know whether your changes were effective and where next to concentrate your efforts.

Growing the metric

With the growth metric monitoring in place, it’s now time to focus on growing the metric. Unfortunately, there isn’t a systematic framework for coming up with the ideas that drive growth. What’s possible is to monitor their effectiveness and try to understand the rationale behind why certain changes work better than others.

Here are some things that are worth trying:

  • Communicate clearly. Change the colour, shape and size of the call-to-action, copy, headline and tagline. The aim is to effectively communicate the value of the product to the user.
  • Users want to use your product. Don Norman (ex-Apple) believes that everyone comes to a website with a reservoir of goodwill. Things that deplete it are: hiding information I want, punishing me for not doing things your way, asking me for information you don’t need, tricking me, putting obstacles in my way, amateur looking websites. Things that increase it are: knowing the main things that people want to do on your website and making these things easy and obvious, telling me what I want to know, saving me steps wherever you can, knowing what questions I’m likely to have and answering them, providing me with creature comforts like printer-friendly pages, and making it easy to recover from errors.
  • Plot the engagement loop. According to Chen Li Wang (Dropbox), it can be very hard to resurrect people you’ve already lost without coming across as being pushy. Instead, if done right, emails, notifications and app store updates can help get people back to your product. Also, closely monitor engagement and unsubscribe rates of messages before sending them out to everyone.
  • Plan for growth. Paul Willard (Atlassian) reveals that to show growth, only two graphs are needed: the Acquisition Exponential graph (customers vs. months) and Cohort Curves (life-time value vs. months as customer). Cohort Curves should shift higher and steeper as the company grows and their understanding of their customers deepen. This means that newer customers are buying more from the start as well as accelerating their pace of buying.
  • Try different ways of understanding the user. Survey users to understand them better. For example, ask “What would you do if you could no longer use this product?”, “What was the primary benefit you received by using this product?” and “Would you recommend this product to someone else? Why?”
  • Identify the magic feature. Andy Johns (Wealthfront) recommends dumping the session logs of twenty user who love the product and twenty users who never use the product. Then, manually piece together their histories and figure out their usage patterns towards the beginning of their experience. This will help identify the magic feature or behavior that gets people hooked.
  • Make a great product rooted in human psychology. Facebook satisfies the curiosity of knowing what your friends are doing, Twitter, with its public tweets, retweets and favourites, appeals to one’s need for acceptance and popularity, and Instagram is a form of visual escapism.
  • Move fast. Eric Florenzano (Twitter) explains that if you want to move as fast as possible, use HTML5 for components of your app that you aren’t sure about and only implement natively the parts that you’ve already nailed.
  • Make it easy to share. Airbnb’s “Post to Cragslist” link allowed users to post their listings to Craigslist, which didn’t have a public API supporting this function. Have the option of importing the contact list.
  • Make the product inherently viral. Hotmail added a “Get your free email at Hotmail” link at the bottom of each email after determining that 80% of signups were from referrals.
  • Don’t make users wait. Sean Ellis (Qualaroo) recommends identifying the must-have experience of your product and to look for ways to front-load that experience. The sooner your customers experience the value of your product the better. Pinterest populates your feed by forcing you to follow a curated set of quality users when you sign up.
  • Give users a reason to share your product. PayPal paid each referer and referee $10. Dropbox users could invite friends to increase their space by 250MB, helping them to grow from 100K users to 4M in under two years.

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