Faraz Khan and Don Goodman-Wilson of Screenhero give an overview of the engineering challenges involved in building a high-quality video streaming system while also offering a detailed look at some of the ways Screenhero solves these problems.
The grammar of graphics: demystifying data visualisation with d3
Alastair Dant is an experienced software developer, focused on interactive news and visual journalism. Now at The New York Times, he escaped the world of enterprise Java to record the sounds of cities on interactive maps, develop a popular cartoon monster game and build an award-winning team at the Guardian.
Image by Silicon Prairie News
Why do we still consume news like it’s 1899?
Serial entrepreneur Matt Galligan first heard this question in a presentation by Cheezburger (yep – the cat videos) Founder & CEO Ben Huh. It piqued his curiosity. As he started collaborating with Huh, refining his own ideas on media and news, Galligan realized he had the makings of a solution. That solution is now the mobile app Circa.
AllThingsD gives us an idea of Circa’s success: according to Flurry, users stay 50 percent longer in Circa than in other news apps. Of users who open the app more than once a day, more than half return twice daily for their breaking news. Galligan even mentioned in an interview with Jason Calicanis that there are users who, between Monday and Friday of a given week, had opened the app more than 100 times. That’s a whopping 20 times per day.
Prior to starting Circa, Galligan had already sold two previous ventures — Socialthing to AOL and Simplegeo to our friends at Urban Airship. Having raised $1.65 million in funding, Circa is looking to change the way breaking news is consumed on mobile devices.
Digg co-founder and Google Ventures partner Kevin Rose interviewed Galligan on his Foundation series. Galligan shares his mobile product expertise with Rose:
Find Ideas by Scratching Your Own Itch
How do you determine the direction for your mobile product?
“None of the three companies that I’ve founded have anything to do with each other – other than than the burning desire to solve a particular problem,” explains Galligan. Most of the time, these problems can be observed in daily life. If you’re an entrepreneur, take note of problems you wrestle with day-to-day. As Galligan was pondering the state of breaking news, he’d realized that most news articles were too long for the mobile device, where he did most of his reading.
Galligan’s idea to fix news wasn’t originally his problem. After he sold Simplegeo to Urban Airship, Galligan was examining a few ideas. None of them resonated with him, until he listened to Ben Huh’s presentation on his in-depth examination into the news landscape, entitled The Moby Dick Project. During the presentation, Huh had suggested any audience members interested should contact him if they were interested in collaborating; Galligan took him up on the offer.
This demonstrates that if you want to examine opportunities for a mobile solution, you’re not limited to to solving your own problems. Chat with the teammates who work with customers regularly in order to understand recurring complaints or challenges they’ve observed. For example, meet up with different areas of customer support – each helping clients with different technical or service challenges – and see if there’s a chance to leverage mobile technology.
Stay Focused with a True North
While brainstorms and whiteboarding sessions stimulate creativity, they can also overwhelm you with potential features and ideas. Stay focused by keeping the original problem in mind. When Galligan was building Socialthing, a solution that would connect disparate social networks together, he would refocus his team with this tactic:
“I think that a good formula to building a company is solving a problem; but constant repetition of that problem. So at my first company, we literally wrote it on the board: ‘Does this make social networking easier?’” If the answer was a No, then the idea would not make the cut.
As interviewer Kevin Rose observes, this question served as Socialthing’s product equivalent to the “True North.” Former chair and CEO of Medtronic, Bill George, originally used the term True North to describe a business leader’s inner compass; by repeatedly asking your team whether a certain feature helps solve your overall problem and benefits your audience, you are effectively aligning them to the direction of the product.
“So at my first company, we literally wrote it on the board: ‘Does this make social networking easier?’” (Click to share.) Use this True North to guide the product in the right direction and filter out unnecessary and overwhelming tasks.
Make Use of Warm Networking
Unlike many entrepreneurs, Galligan rarely cold e-mails people. Instead, he always networks through mutual friends. (The exception to this rule was when Galligan cold e-mailed Jack Dorsey when he was trying to integrate Twitter into Socialthing, and both companies were similar sizes. Galligan and Dorsey chatted on the phone for an hour.)
“By going through warm introductions and having qualifying statements…the person vets you and says, ‘Hey, I think these guys have a great idea,’ or ‘I like this guy but I’m not sure about this idea but maybe with a little work it’ll get there,’ and in almost every circumstance that I’ve ever had a warm introduction, something has turned out good about it. Either that has turned into a business relationship, or a personal relationship, or something like that.”
“…in almost every circumstance that I’ve ever had a warm introduction, something has turned out good about it.” (Click to share.)
Not all of this was planned; Galligan found the CTO of his first company when his softball league teammate (and fellow Best Buy Geek Squad agent) offered to help out Galligan’s side project for free.
Remember, your network is your net worth. If you’re looking for initial team members or co-founders, consider the people you already know. Take networking seriously – and don’t feel restricted to building relationships just at formal “networking events.” Build relationships everywhere, from your jiu jitsu class to random family friends…or even your teammates at softball league.
Start a Team of Like-Minded Individuals
When he and Huh had refined the initial idea of Circa, Galligan set about building a team. The process is relatively straightforward on paper: find talent and convince them to contribute to your idea. Unfortunately, the tactics to achieve these goals can be more complex.
“Sometimes, it’s like finding like-minded people. First, to really flesh out an idea is still really important. Even though I can’t put all the pieces together and start developing something, if it’s an app, I can at least put mockups together and have somebody walk through it. Or I can illustrate the big picture and big idea. If you can get somebody on board with that, then that’s step one. That’s a good start.”
In order to get buy-in from potential teammates, create something tangible that will help you communicate your idea more effectively than just a verbal pitch. This could be a set of mockups, wireframes, design concepts, market data, prototypes, or various other forms of information.
Don’t Create Barriers for your Minimum Viable Products
Circa’s presentation is primarily based on a process called “atomization” — news is broken down into smaller core elements, such as facts, stats, and quotes. It’s about making succinct points and offering coder-like version control on stories. When he first started building Circa, Galligan simply had an intern write news in Google Docs point by point. Galligan already knew the company would be lean, and relatively scalable because his new points would simply be building upon old points and wouldn’t require volumes of writing (like articles do). He didn’t let the technology stop his startup. Do you really need that much proprietary or new technology? If you’re a service-based startup, or what venture capitalist Ben Parr calls a traction startup, don’t let non-existent barriers stop you; be scrappy and see how much of it you can build manually. If you’re building a service, perform all the tasks in a process by hand before attempting to automate them. Entrepreneur Ben Ogle even highlights a startup that was an enterprise API – “When called, the API would just email the founders, they would do the work manually, then asynchronously return the result.”
When Dan Martell started Clarity, the only tools he needed were Skype and Paypal. Joel Gasciogne built landing pages for Buffer describing the product, and tracked how many links viewers clicked through to gauge demand. Zappos founder Nick Swinmurn didn’t need an eCommerce backend, fulfillment services, or inventory – he created web pages with photos of shoes from nearby stores and manually bought them by hand and shipped them.
Turn Off Marketing (Occasionally)
Solving a problem is crucial to telling a compelling story. And telling a compelling story is a prerequisite for getting press coverage. Although Galligan had a pretty wide-reaching team of investors who connected him with press, he wouldn’t have been able to secure it if his product wasn’t interesting. A week after the initial launch, Circa was featured on the iTunes App Store as the Editor’s Pick. For the entire week, it was widely exposed to users and featured on the front page. (Later, Circa 2.0 would hit #1 on iTunes App Store’s top carousel — one of the perks of a high-quality product.) At this point, Galligan decided to hold off on marketing. He’d already gained a significant amount of users because of the press push and the App Store exposure; now, he wanted to remove the marketing so he could see if users would sign up organically. He also wanted to shift his focus to retention; without marketing, would new users desire this app, and — more importantly — come back to it? While Galligan was about to find out whether users really liked this product, this maneuver was risky because Circa would experience a slower growth period and Galligan could risk losing users without acquiring new ones. Fortunately, it worked out well; with “good growth and amazing retention,” Circa resonated with users and kept them coming back for more.
Know When to Let Go
Having done it twice, Galligan knows a thing or two about the price to sell companies for. However, his method isn’t related to a formulaic valuation of EBITDA or some other metric:
“The best advice I ever got around this specifically was when somebody told me, “You need to sell for the amount of money that it takes you to never worry about this problem again.” If you think about it, the whole purpose of you building a company is to solve a problem, right? If you’re going to just forget about solving this problem, then you need to be okay with that somehow. Money’s maybe one way of getting there.”
When Rose asked him to elaborate, Galligan responded:
“To give up your baby, how much would you pay for it?” (Click to share.)
While some entrepreneurs may suggest formulas and equations, Galligan’s method is much more simple and instinctive. If your valuations aren’t up to par, or if you feel like the problem still isn’t solved, then don’t sell your company.
Using these techniques, undoubtedly amongst many others, Matt Galligan has created an undeniably engaging product that resonates with a wide variety of people. Apple put Circa in the spotlight as the best News app of 2013. Likewise, Circa was chosen by Google as one of the best Android apps of the year. As VentureBeat points out, even Yahoo!’s ‘News Digest’ app – recently unveiled at CES – borrows product elements from Circa. Although it’s still early in its life cycle, Circa is hooking in and engaging users and disrupting media through news. Matt Galligan is not affiliated with Pivotal Labs. We just thought he had some interesting insights on mobile product.
If you’re interested in learning more about Galligan and Circa, watch the full Foundation interview, read our recap when Galligan spoke at LAUNCH Conference, or check out his interview with Jason Calacanis in This Week in Startups.
Matt Galligan and Kevin Rose just showed you how news is changing. Now, learn more about how TV is changing with our whitepaper on next-generation TV.
The game of Chess is a Kingdom’s of strategy, problem solving and battle together in conquest. The pieces and tactics in the game of chess are not so different than those on a product team, just hopefully less bloodshed.
The King (♔, ♚) represents your Users.
They can move in any direction, but only one square at a time. Without them you have lost the game; you’re just moving pieces around on a board.
The Queen (♕,♛) is your CEO.
They can move in any direction, any number of squares. This player is most powerful, and can easily transfer firepower and control the opposition.
The Rook (♖ ♜) is your Product Manager.
They have limitless horizontal and vertical movement. They can safely exert control of the board and have a special relationship with the King.
The Knight (♖ ♜) is your Developer.
They move in a two-step, one-step L shapes-shaped direction. Their power comes from jumping over pieces in closed positions especially early on.
The Bishop (♖ ♜) is your Designer.
They have limitless diagonal movement. They are underrated by beginners and gain strength as the board opens up with their power of influence.
The Pawn (♙♟) is Marketing.
They advance only forward a single square except twice in their first move. They are the front-lines and promote to any piece if they reach the opposing edge of the board.
The positions of the Pawns (Marketing) can determine the flavor of the entire game. Similar to brand strategy and community development, they’re the only piece that doesn’t attack head-on. If a Pawn can endure the length of the game and reach the other side of the board unscathed, a Pawn is promoted. It’s most common to promote the piece to a Queen (CEO) adding significant charge to the board.
The Queen is most powerful when the board is open, when there is not much product competition or an unsolved problem or need. She can swiftly change direction and seize control, even at long distances. Experienced players know to develop minor pieces in the beginning and make this piece more active in attacks later on.
Surprisingly, two Rooks (PMs) are more valuable than a Queen. They are often blocked in the beginning of the game by other pieces but when opened up the two together can seize control of the entire board. They are good for pawns advancing for promotions but also are at high risk of pawns in opposition.
The Knight (Developer) and Bishop (Designer) are equal in value but differ in power. The knight is especially powerful at the beginning of the game as it can get out on the board and make strong attacks, and build a good framework for the game, even in tight situations. Two knights are not said to work together as well as two Bishops (designers) because of the how they move and strategize.
However, near the end of the game, the Bishop becomes extremely valuable, especially in pairs since it can influence the entire board (unlike the Knight) and can introduce long term threats (like killer user experience or usability) for an advantageous endgame.
Of course, in Chess, the opponent is simply another Kingdom, rather than competitors and technical, societal and political barriers. The ratio of players on the board differs than that of a product team but there sure are some tried and true strategies that have worked for this game over 13 centuries.
Chess strategies courtesy Wikipedia
This report examines the results of a survey commissioned by Pivotal Labs and conducted by Harris Interactive. With our exclusive survey data, you will learn:
- How much executives plan to invest in mobile in 2014
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Download our free report, “Investing in a Mobile Future: A Report on Investment Trends in Mobile,” to find out how your peers plan to invest in building mobile solution in 2014.
This post was co-authored with Shan Lian.
Despite a consistent increase in mobile traffic, conversion rates remain low for smartphone devices. While 35% of all retail purchases occur on mobile, according to Marketing Charts, 65% of those transactions take place on tablet devices. Does that mean smartphones are a lost cause for retailers?
Definitely not. Traditional conversion metrics are just not enabled to capture new types of consumer purchasing behaviors associated with mobile usage. The transition from path-to-purchase to omnichannel purchasing is just one symptom of how mobile technology has changed the way consumers make purchasing decisions. Let’s take a look at some of the others and how they affect conversion.
“Micro Session” Behavior
As this study highlights, the average consumer checks their smartphone upwards of 30 times every day. Visits tend to be shorter, isolated, and more reward-based versus traditional desktop visitations which are longer, immersive, and continuous.
There are three factors driving these types of micro session visits:
Urgency. When consumers require a product or information immediately, they turn to their smartphones. This is why flash sale retailers often have higher than average smartphone conversion rates – consumers have no other choice but to buy on their phones when a time-sensitive sale happens.
Seeking information. Consumers are looking for last minute information to reinforce their purchasing decision – such as price comparison, product reviews, and information on quality.
Pre-shopping and passing time. This is the biggest factor for increasing total traffic and engagement minutes without leading to conversion. Despite not facilitating transactions on the mobile device, this is a great opportunity for retailers to show off their merchandise.
How this Affects Traditional Metrics
These types of micro session behaviors are why metrics designed for measuring conversion rates on desktops do not translate well for mobile devices. The total number of purchases remain constant while the amount of time spent and user traffic are driven up through incremental visits, thus resulting in a lower conversion rate.
Traditional E-commerce Conversion Metric:
Total Purchase / Total Traffic = Conversion Rate
Smartphone’s Effect on Traditional Metric:
Total Purchase / Total Traffic = Conversion Rate
So where is all this smartphone traffic going?
They are converting to future sales – most often on another device. Micro session visits are opportune moments for brands to showcase products, drive impulse purchases, and profile consumers to prompt a return to purchase in the near future (online and especially in-store).
More importantly, these repeated micro sessions on smartphones contribute to easier conversions on PC or tablet later, typically with larger basket sizes. Much like how mobile heavily influences in-store performance, it also serves as a catalyst to e-commerce performance.
Update Metrics for Mobile
In order to accurately measure smartphone influence and define where dollars should be spent to increase relevant conversions, here are four new metrics to consider:
How many customers started their basket on smartphones and returned on another device to purchase?
What is the average time between a smartphone visit and a return visit on another device for purchasing?
What is the difference in basket size for customers who started pre-shopping on smartphones vs. another device?
How many “micro session” visits does it take before a customer returns to purchase?
Traditional conversion metrics are no longer enough to capture how smartphone really contributes to ROI. Consumer behaviors on smartphones are much shorter, more isolated and more reward-based – driving up total traffic but not as much increase in total purchase. However, this behavior results in future purchasing in-store or on another device, with faster turnover rates and larger basket size. Therefore, it is essential to find the truly critical smartphone conversion metrics that retailers should be optimizing on.
NYC meetup for SASS enthusiasts and professionals.
Host: Ward Penney
To kick off the new year, we’re going to look at a case study in how Agile methods were applied to improve visibility and productivity for a project team at Harry’s
Host: Jonathan Berger
UX School’s mission is to help UX designers build their skills and portfolio, through hands-on workshops, one-on-one critiques, and lectures from leaders in the field.
Host: Jonathan Berger
Bring your laptop or just yourself, and come hang with other Rubyists.
This is a group for anyone interested in anything D3.js related. All skill levels are welcome.
Host: Joshua Clark
Focused on learning and applying Ember.js to ambitious web apps.
Host: Micah Young