Start, Stop and Improve
Back when i was running Contactz I was in this weird delimina, there were tons of things to do but very little time and lack of ability to outsource anything. Needless to say I went about searching a way to control this madness, there were the usual suspects and agile seemed to be the answer. There was a lot of pushback from seemingly everyone involved and I ended up trying to implement Agile and failing. We ulitmately decided on a compromise from everyone’s end which was using Asana instead of Jira. Many more conversations and fights later we ultimately decided to use Trello. Things were going fine until they weren’t, so here we were again back to the drawing board.
What’s the Problem?
I wanted a simple, scalable & suitable meta process to keep track of everything that was going on so that we could ultimately control the chaos. A couple of systems were implemented and each came with its own set of pro’s and con’s. Our designer was probably the most irritated with this ordreal & ultimately told me everyone has different priorities and I need to respect their style of getting things done. This forced me to rethink the why of trying to control chaos: I was busy planning features, trying to get partnerships done and convince people to work with us.
This ultimately came with a compromise: I WAS NOT IN SYNC, not the team or anyone else! So a couple of days of conversations with everyone, reading up a few blogposts and talking to random people on the internet: I had a system that felt right.
Context switching can be hard which was a problem for me, not for anyone else involved. I had enough of trying & failing to micromanage which also made me hate everything and everyone involved. So ultimately I ended up making a hard fork to a much simpler way of working. I ended up listing all of the things that were going on and assigning velocity for them, but the velocity was in shape of: Yet to start, Need to stop, Need to improve. This was essentially how we ended up segreating our roadmap:
- Start: Anything that needed to exist but wasn’t out there.
- Stop: Anything that was not working out and/or did not make sense.
- Improve: Things that were shaping up but needed effort to increase the impact.
Once we evolved to this style of roadmapping and delegation, there was some sense of harmony among everyone. For a while I was the most happiest, Throwing Ideas, Killing everything that did not make sense and Scoping Improvements felt natural & intutive to how I went about about building companies. But the biggest gains was by effectively ending my Drive-By Management charades. This also gave the team a better visiblity to plan their own initiatives, I would like to believe (on worse days) that the biggest gain would be the latter not the former.
Superhuman’s cocktail for Growth:
If conversations in 2014 were all about Slack and its clones, come 2019 and the talk is all about an email client. Did you get any mails that had a “Sent via Superhuman” signature? When i heard about it, i wanted to understand the hype around it and see if the famed Inbox Zero was my forte. After using Superhuman for over 2 months i was surprised at their Growth Rate than their Product’s Offerings. Here are some notes on what makes Superhuman’s growth loops/strategies work:
The “invite only” game: Being invite only is nothing new or innovative but when done right it seems to work a lot of times. In this case the fact that Superhuman was invite only, prodded me further to test it out. This has resulted in me asking my friends if they were using Superhuman and scouring for an invite to try it all out. To be honest, i could have Requested an Invite and waited it out, but that was a game i was not willing to play.
Onboarding: The onboarding of Superhuman was a surprising thing in so many ways. After scouring an Invite (Filter 1), I had to fill a questionnaire along with leaving my card details (Filter 2). Then i had to Select a time slot for an hour of onboarding/demo call (Filter 3). I was then teased with an ask to install their Chrome Extension & Mobile Apps. After all this, it was finally the time for demo call!
During onboarding, the Account Manager scanned how my inbox looks. Understood my email habits, Usage and Labels i had set up. Then she went on show what the magic of Superhuman was all about. She walked through the core of interface. And then let me use it by the use of Keyboard Shortcuts only. I was then asked to compose and send my first email. I then got familiar with Schedule, Search and other core parts of the client. I was onto the Superhuman land post this. The filters and onboarding efforts are good examples of “Do things that don’t scale” mantra.
Force users to get accustomed to habit of Done: Superhuman forces you to hit Inbox Zero by the concept of ‘Done’ aka Archive. Every-time i was done with an email, I hit ‘E’ marking it as Done. This made me feel better about the fact i w with an email, press E long enough you hit the famed ‘Inbox Zero’. Then a wallpaper showed up to reward me for the effort put into managing my email. If i was a Product Manager at Superhuman i would make ‘Done’ my north star and an Atom. And push to build features to move this needle.
The Network Effects: As i started using Superhuman i felt like leaving the ‘Sent Via Superhuman’ on because YOLO. And a lot of people that noticed it hit me up to talk about the same. For every 10 people i sent an email to, 3-4 were curious about Superhuman.
Social Sharing: The first time i hit Inbox Zero i had to share that to my Twitter followers. Their interface makes it a one click affair to do the same. I noticed a lot of people were following suit. While this not a strong source of acquisition, but social proof goes a long way to get acceptance and trust.
What do you think are the reasons why Superhuman is taking off?
I have started a couple of SaaS startups, consulted and worked with a few more over the better part of the decade and most of my learnings come from running SaaS products. Here are a few I have picked up over the years:
The 80:20 Anything: Top 20% of your customers will be radically different from the others and in some sense as they are likely to be your power users. Sit with them often if you want to spot opportunities to grow your top lines without much effort (raising prices, chasing new accounts, improving ARPU from the bottom 80%). Also one of the things to keep in mind is to also understand that most of the features and requests that come from these folks are likely not going to be used by the rest of your users. Oh also the the bottom 20% of your users probably will churn on its own but you can graduate them to the middle if you are focused enough.
Judge intent early on: One of the learnings that I cherish the most is being picky about the customers you onboard. If you onboard folks who are going to likely be well on the way to price-feature fit (Price they pay for : The outcomes they get) from anywhere between Day 1-Day 7 (post onboarding) you will be able to run further. SaaS’s fable land (Compounding ARR, High margins and WOM) only exists when your customers are likely to get the most out of using you as quickly as possible. If that is not the case, refer them to your competitors or improve your offerings before focusing on those use cases.
Optimize your Forms to improve funnels: Its sort of counter intuitive at first but if your sales folks know the intent & get it enriched by as many of the data points as possible, the sales cycles get radically manageable. Often the first and last automated touch points of most SaaS product are forms, make sure you are doing it right and measuring the churn from there. It’s not surprising to hear examples of (lead gen, signup etc) forms being optimised leading to better leads or better yet generating more leads.
Be razor focussed on Why of the requests that flow in: To understand the length and breadth of the offerings go to your feature request tracker and bucket them. Most of the frequently requested features point to an underlying cause that gets your customers to request a feature that is thought from their point of view. Always treat the cause of the problems not the symptoms. A lot of these problems can probably be low hanging fruits and (or) easily solvable. Make the most of it.
Superheroes? That’s good sales guys: That 80-20 rule above? Your good sales guys should fall under the power users bucket. They demo your offerings and offer solutions to the problems that your (prospective) customers are facing. They probably have found out ways to hide glaring bugs and unintuitive flows across your entire offerings. Sit with them to see what can be improved and understand more about your customers. Any sales guy (or gal) worth their salt should know more about their accounts and users than you probably do.
If you are going down, focus on your existing customers: If your business (and product) metrics are tanking intuition points to getting new accounts ASAP. But you are more likely to turn things around if you focus on your existing customers and focus on retention. That doesn’t mean giving away your product for free (not that it can’t work) but rather a tighter customer discovery to understand if the problems your product is solving are the same problems that your customers are facing and want to solve for. Also accounts that are sticking with you even when everyone else is migrating elsewhere? They are probably the areas where you have a true feature-price-market fit.
Hustle improves when you listen to Jay-Z and SaaStr
Saastr is a great place to learn and develop your own playbooks for running your SaaS ships. Getting to 1 Million in ARR is easier than ever thanks to likes of SaaaStr, but then that’s not the only thing you should learn from there. Oh also Jay-Z? Some random experiment I ran (sample size:1 viz me) pointed out that listening to Jay-Z helped improve the hustle by 200%. So go knock the hustle?
Your first week as a PM Checklist
It doesn’t matter if joined a new workplace, took on the responsibilities as a Product Manager for the first time or are joining another team in the same org as a PM. Here are a couple of things you can do on your first week to supercharge your work so that you can get started as soon as possible.
Stack: If you are working on a Product, it would be built on top of one or more technologies. Sit with the team you are going to be working with and ask them (sometimes stupid) questions like: What’s powers this Product/Feature/Page? What are the layers involved for making sure that this product works in Production? Draw a (data/process) diagram of the core parts of infra and then how they connect with other parts of the infra and 3rd party tools/infra. This will help you a lot when working on RCA’s, Writing PRDs/Specs and Estimating timelines & complexities. You will also from a very top level view of what your team is dealing with them they push code & pixels to production from your PRD’s and Specs.
Analytics: One of the things I regret not doing enough, is sitting down with someone from the engineering team (or a data analyst or a PM) to understand various Analytics infra that they use and where. Once you get understand the What & Where of your data infra you can start then go about writing SQL Queries or fetch the data from other data tools.
KPI’s: Everything moves a needle and some (help you) move the right needles. Understanding KPI’s of various teams and products that your daily work will encompass enables you to work in a structured manner. This will help you get super powers since you can start thinking about things that will move the right needles and ultimately (influence) the North Star of the Product. It will also end up helping you define a roadmap and or get a general sense of where Product Market Fit is at or Where the company/product/customer expectations are heading.
Design System: While the new buzzword on the block is design system but chances are your Product Design team has an informal design system already. Most of the designers are paranoid about making sure that the entire product feels like one product and not cobbled together. Chances are they have defined how much space forms will have, a font system, a general sense of how all the common components will look like. Sit with your design team and understand these, this will help you envious whatever you want to build.
Marketing Stack: If you are in B2C focussed product/biz, you can get a lot of leverage from your marketing team. Just like there is a stack for your Product chances are there is an (informal) marketing stack. Any new feature you end up building you can retrofit them into the customers marketing journey. You will also be able to predict how to market something or what sort of marketing efforts are required if you get a good grasp over this.
BD Dealflow: If you are in a B2B focussed product/biz, sales and BD teams can be your powerful leverage. I can’t stress on this enough, chances are any sales/BD guy worth his salt will know your customers inside out. They can market your upcoming products and get you (paying) beta customers, push your users to use features/products they know is a good fit for the problems they are facing.
Customer Support: One of the most underrated places to understand more about your customers is your customer support team. They can be a highly resourceful place to get your insights and validate your hypothesis with. Since they are in touch with your users a lot more than every other team you can use their learnings wherever applicable.
Hope this helps you streamline yourself and gives you superpowers to do your Product wizardry and solve worthwhile problems.
A year of writing
I remember it as if it was yesterday when I was still trying to find a good Wordpress theme. I decided that I would be finally sticking to writing rather than experimenting. One random day when i was lurking on HackerNews, I came across Blot.im. For some reason I loved the pitch which felt close to the Postach.io/Ghost on steroids.
One of the promises I made myself last year was I would write one blog post a month without fail and never give up. Yesterday when I was cleaning my Dropbox folder i peeked across my blot folder. After glancing across drafts and published blog posts, boy was i happy with myself. With 18 posts and counting in less than a year. I have not had the urge to switch to a different platform or move out or worse change the domain.
At the beginning the blog felt empty. So I started writing something or the other. Then the couple of next posts were result of me feeling like putting something out there. Everything else was a result of me sticking to the monthly goal of 1 blog post a month. A decent collection of posts later, the monthly traffic is picking up pace. It’s time to retire the rule of writing 1 post a month and let my habit muscle flex take over from here?
Write like no one cares and then edit mercilessly: I have wrote so long form articles that ended up being so short reads that I would ask should I hit publish.
Write like no one is looking: For some reason I wanted to tagline this blog with something. And then I realised I wanted to write everything I felt like writing since this was my blog.
Writing muscle helps you think: One of the most profound impacts has been is it has helped me think and structure my thought process. I sort of meta edit my thoughts before I say them and I would be lying that happened on its own.
30 Day Challenges: One month at a time!
I had once heard that you typically over-estimate what you can do in a year and under-estimate what you can do in 5 year (or a decade) and I now understand it better than ever. At the start of 2019, I allowed myself to set the expectations on a lot o fronts with the intent of growing 10X and not 10%. Suffice to say I has come back to bite me as there are less than 4 months left and I am still not even 1% through to keep up on those goals. So I decided to find a hack that I would be excited about, as well as get back on chasing the backlog. So here is the solution:
The 30 Day Challenges: I am become a huge fan of minimalism in the last few months and came across Matt D’vella who made a couple of videos on 30 day challenges. I thought to myself, maybe this is The Thing I need. So here are the key things I wanted to still get better at by the end of this year:
- Better Life
- Better health
- Becoming better at things that are stopping me right now
- Do one thing I loved doing a lot of but have cut down on
30 days of meditation: I recently started using Headspace which was installed on my phones for nearly 2 years now and meditating once a week has helped me in a lot of ways. I want to do it everyday for a streak of 30 days to help me make this a habit. I wanted to do this first of all of the challenges since this will possibly help me with the will power needed to do the rest + its the easiest out of the bunch.
30 days of no sugar : Anyone who knows me, knows I am on unofficial sprint for becoming the ambassador for Coke. Switching from Normal Coke to Diet Coke changed a lot of things for me, I now want to actively avoid all forms of sugar to help get over the addiction to sugar that I have somehow picked up. Possibly the hardest of the bunch, I still want to do this especially as I have seen the effect of not having sugar for a week. Hopefully this pays off in a lot of ways.
30 days of writing: I have wanted to do this for a long time now, but for some reason or the other I had excused myself from doing it. I truly think knowing how to Communicate and Write Well is the secret to a lot of things and it will help me in a lot of places. Along with finally completing reading: On Writing Well that I have somehow put off for as long as I can remember.
30 days of Long Walks: I used to walk 10-12 KMs a day only a couple of years back and now its hardly 1 KM. I want to go back as close as possible to those streaks, especially since long walks were a way for me to allow to think more effectively. Plus this will also help me in maintaining an active lifestyle which I have no handle over right now.
I plan on writing about the experiences of doing all of these so keep checking back for more updates :D