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Archive for January, 2011

5 Ingredients That Will Change Your Life

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

I told you in my last blog that I will change your life with my new startup, but I’m still not prepared to reveal my business proposition. However, what I can tell you right now is, which ingredients will make my business a success. Indeed these ingredients are those making the success of many other endeavors, so it’s just a matter of grabbing them, mixing up, adding salt and pepper and consume, right? Well, I hope you will tell me what your angle on this is. Here is mine.

The ingredients are:

1. Give me the dream of a different world
2. Don’t make me think
3. Software as candies
4. The fun theory
5. The choice of tools is key to success or failure

1. Give me the dream of a different world

Let’s start with a thought experiment. Let’s take some undisputed great successes: Apple, B&O (well, I’m writing from Denmark) and Harry Potter.
We can put these 3 to a test to try and extract which characteristics have determined their outcome. The test is to think whether a, let’s say standard, business proposition, would be able to convey the chances of success that we now know the three businesses have experienced. So: How would an honest business proposition for each of these three endeavors have been?
Perhaps:
  • “Computers and handheld devices with superior performance and usability. A distinctive design”, for Apple.
  • “TV, radio and sound equipment with superior finish, total integration, a conservative touch”, for B&O
  • “A fantasy series, telling the story of three magical friends during their stay at a wizard school. The reader follows the story of three friends while they overcome all adversities in a caleidoscopic world of witches, wizards, villains, supernatural forces and strong family and friendship relationships”, for Harry Potter.
It is clear that no one would bet a dime on such business propositions. And why not? No one would, because these statements can be applied to thousands of other similar companies and literature works, that are the living proof of the fact, that such business propositions are not describing something able to strike a chord with so many people as it is the case for our three champions.
It is possible that Apple is now defining what superior design is, however the opposite is by no means the case. What is superior design?  A mouse with one button? What is finish, a telephone that weighs 200 grams more than necessary? What is an irresistible fantasy world? A school? We could of course go on and on, the point however is that no single element in these projects is the joker that made it, or the single answer to a specific need, neither the key to success is to be found in a description of what these projects are by and in themselves.
No, my thesis is that the success comes from the promise of a different world and from providing the stepping stones, each leading towards the realization of that same promise, and each being reaffirmation of that promise.
A world where we are free from some of the laces that binds us in the current one. It is the realisation of the fact that when I dream at night I dream of flying, I don’t dream of a cheap intercontinental ticket.
Acknowledging and reproducing this, will have to be my first ingredient.

2. Don’t Make Me Think (or the Ego Wow)

Of course Don’t Make Me Think is the title of a great book on how to design websites, but the statement encompasses in general another of the traits of what makes a winning product and not only a winning web design.
In some sense it might seem counterintuitive, because one could argue that people want to think, because they want to be creative. And yet people want to make their own thoughts, actually people love to be able to produce more thoughts and be more productive, and reach more of their goals… with less effort.
This means that each additional thought that doesn’t spring from their own mind is a barrier put in the way towards their goals. In this sense, “don’t make me think” is at the root of every person’s choice, it means: “give me the tools to reach my own goals without having to think about the how”. “I don’t mind having many goals as far as these are mine and well within reach”.
As we see, this ingredient is complementary to the above: the one is the promise of a different world, and the other is the how to reach it with no effort or, more correctly and in a more fundamental way, with less effort that it seemed possible. In the end, it is a “wow effect” applied to personal performance. It is about nourishing the little child in us shouting “Mom, look what I’m capable of!”.
“Don’t make me think” will have to be the second ingredient offered to my customers.

3. Software as candies

At this point I think I must reveal at least that my startup has much to do with software, computers, the Web and all the rest (you had guessed it anyway, hadn’t you?). And speaking of software, at some point I came across a concept that I think stems from Joel Spolsky’s blog. Nonetheless I cannot find it with a search on the site, so maybe I’m wrong (can you point me to the right article, by the way?). The idea, as far as I remember, was to architect software as an experience for the user that consists of a chain of small candies, that one by one will attract the user and reveal the entire package. The goal of this approach is to not overwhelm the user with too much information and/or functionality all at a time and elicit some pleasure for the discovery.
Ideally, one should present the user with the right information only at the right time. The right time being not simply when the user needs it, but more effectively when the user is in the mood, the position, the ability, the right circumstances to explore more, even if it is just for the pleasure of it. This is of course easier said than done; however, it is a good principle to keep in mind, and combine with other very good principles like Less is more and Murder your Darlings.
This will have to be the glue that keeps all the other elements together, my third ingredient.

4. The fun theory

No trace of  “software as candies” was to be found on Joel Spolsky’s blog, however I found another article that leads me to the next ingredient bound to make my “recipe” a resounding success. In his “What Is Great Design (first draft)”  JS writes about conflicting constraints, the author brings the design of a dustbin as an example and concludes his analysis of requirements writing: “Ok, light, heavy, big, and small. What else. It should be closed on the top, so rubbish doesn’t fly away in the wind. It should be open on the top, so it’s easy to throw things away. It should be really, really, really cheap.“A paradoxical example which by itself is very enlightening, however these conflicting constraints and solving them is “only” the part that I as a software developer must solve, and my work will possibly be OK: never great, hopefully not lousy, probably something that by it’s nature will always have some flaws.
So, how can I even think of producing a great business success based on software, knowing that shortcomings is the name of the game? Well, as it is shown by this other dustbin, the secret is to let people forget about the flaws, by creating enthusiasm or fun, this is the fun theory. This ingredient will have to be used sparingly and only after due consideration of the context.

Closing remarks

This post is long enough so I will close it here and leave the last ingredient for a next post. But if you at this point still feel like reading more words, I can point you to a place where you can find as many as you wish and you can choose too.
It is clear to me that the 4 principles – and some subprinciples – mentioned above, are all descending from or necessary to fulfill the first one: The ability to suggest/evocate a whole world where things are different, easier, and where the me in the picture is a more capable person. Not simply able to exploit this or that particular feature, but more empowered, able to do more with less, and confident that, if ever in need, a loving Hermione will come to the rescue.
Many more than 4 or 5 are the ingredients that make up a business, however these seem to me absolutely required if a business is to be making an impact on the life of people.  What do you think?

I Will Change Your Life!

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

As a new year resolution I’m starting this blog series about my findings and thoughts on the way to build my new startup. I’ve already been a long way “on the road” and met the most diverse sites, ideas, technologies and people. Starting from today, I will write down some notes about these encounters and how my project develops.

Why do I do this? I should have more important things to use my time on, than just write about what I’m doing, right? Yes, however this is a very good way to come out of my comfort zone.  To expose myself, so to put myself in a position where a failure is no longer an option, as it would be too expensive in terms of reputation.

Last year I came across one incredibly wise writer about investments, startups, good ideas and the like: Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator. By the way if you are interested in startups, VCs and surroundings, I encourage you to read all of his essays.

Well, in the one entitled “How Not to Die”, Paul Graham tells about one of the founders of Octopart, that besides dropping out of school to follow his dream, also appeared in Newsweek with the word “Billionaire” printed across his chest.

PG writes: “He just cannot fail now. Everyone he knows has seen that picture. Girls who dissed him in high school have seen it. His mom probably has it on the fridge. It would be unthinkably humiliating to fail now. At this point he is committed to fight to the death.”

I don’t necessarily want to be a billionaire, but certainly I do want to change your life, with my simple yet revolutionary innovation. Remember this, you girl of long time ago, that ditched me at high school, and you old friend that are looking for an early retirement and are laughing at my enthusiasm to work on this project, and you casual reader that for now don’t really see where this is going to lead.

Follow me on the next posts, because I will change your life.