Consider Text Messaging: Sign Up, Notifications, and More

Ding! You’ve received a text message. I dare you to try to ignore it! It’s almost impossible.

For many consumers (including younger ones), text messaging is vastly preferred over other channels (including voice and email). Think about how many text messages the average teenager sends in a day. (Take a look at this – can you guess which phone number belongs to the teenager!?)

On several client projects, we’ve used Twilio to integrate text messaging into a user experience, such as:

  • For instant, on-the-spot sign up: “Text hello to 818-555-1212”. User gets a response: “Thanks for signing up! Get started now: http://www.acme.com/abc123”
  • For relevant, time-sensitive notifications: “We just sent you a new lead – take a look: http://www.awesomeleadgenerator.com/abc123”
  • For customer service: “Your car is ready to be picked up. Thanks!”
  • For customer-to-business communications. Consumer texts a restaurant – “running late – will be arriving at 1PM”

Like email, we expect text messaging to be a productive customer communication channel for many years to come. And, like email, its utility will exceed far beyond most expectations.

How can you improve your app or business with text messaging?

Maps are Everywhere; Make Them Useful

So many top consumer and business apps use maps extensively. Think about Yelp (local listings and reviews), Zillow (residential real estate), Loopnet (commercial real estate), Waze (navigation), Foursquare (social), Uber (taxi service) and others.

Mostly these companies are using the Google Maps API or the Bing Maps API to draw maps and put “pins” on various locations.

That’s basically it. Two huge providers (Google and Microsoft) are the “default” go-to sources for maps for all startups and tech products.  And there’s been little to no innovation here. Maps can be more useful and can be dynamically rendered based on the exact needs of the user (at that moment in time):

 

  • unnamed-3-They can be skewed, morphed, and distorted.  Think about the iconic Disneyland Map. See this incredible map of Queenstown New Zealand that shows the slope of the streets. See these maps by The Atlantic that visualize the world’s population.While, historically, a cartographer’s life’s work might have been to perfectly map, say, the coastlines of South America, today, for most consumer and business applications, nobody cares. The geography isn’t sacred.
  • Information can be hidden or shown. See this Google map for “tacos” in San Francisco.  And here it is on Yelp. In both cases, the amount of data being displayed is incredible. And how does it serve the user? Does the user really need to see all of those street names, all of those streets, all of that detail?
  • Typography, landmarks, and roads can be promoted or demoted in visual priority. Bigger or smaller. More black or more gray. The actionable data can be brought to the forefront.

Now, all that said, you wouldn’t possibly dare to draw your own maps, from scratch. That would, for most dev groups, be an insane technical challenge and probably a wee bit outside of your company’s core focus and competency (I assume you’re busy tackling some consumer or business application).

Meet our client, MapSense, a killer-team of Computer Scientists, that is just starting to build mapping technology from scratch. Creating beautiful, actionable, user-centered maps.

For the first time ever, because of advances in technology and crowdsourced map data, it has become economically feasible for a modestly funded startup to do so.

Want to re-imagine how Maps serve your users? Contact us (or Mapsense directly) and get early-access to their product and API.

Cheaper AND Better – Use ThemeForest for Basic Web Sites

Need a basic “marketing” web site? For your company? For your new product? For your nonprofit?

You know, the typical Home Page, Who We Are, What We Do, Contact Us, etc. In the old days, we would pay a designer somewhere around $5,000 to design and build a really simple site from scratch (goes up from there).

Those days are over. Head-on over to ThemeForest and browse their “Site Templates.” You’re bound to find one that you really like.

Most are:

  • Meticulously designed using the latest technologies (HTML5, CSS, JS)
  • Well-documented and very easy for a technical person to edit
  • Extremely flexible, with lots of different layouts to choose from Responsively designed, so they look great on Web, Mobile and Tablets

You still might need a designer to make some custom modifications, but the end result should be a much better site at a lower overall cost.

Ways to Discover What People Actually Want

Thanks to Paul Graham (YCombinator Founder who’s written fantastic essays), Lean Startup, and others, you’ve probably been exposed to the concepts of “minimum viable products,” “customer development,” and rapid prototyping.

In a perfect world, we would be absolutely sure that folks actually want (and will pay for) the thing that we’re building before we actually build it.

So, how do we get as sure as possible? How do we get solid qualitative and quantitative feedback? Opinions, feelings, visitor stats, conversion stats, pricing stats, etc?

Here are some useful techniques:

  • Talk to would-be customers in-person and over the phone and ask them about the space that you’re interested in. What services or tools are they using? What do they like / not like?
  • Create rough wireframes in Balsamiq Mockups. Later, create high-fidelity wireframes in Photoshop (you’ll need to hire a Web/Mobile Designer for this).
  • Show those wireframes to a handful of would-be users (in the style of Coffee Shop or Hallway Usability Testing). Print them out or stitch them together using InVision, Flinto, or a similar tool.
  • Create Product Landing Pages that describe what the product is and how it works, as if the product actually exists. Can be done quickly with a Themeforest Template, Weebly (web site creator), or UnBounce (landing page creator with analytics). Check out how we did it here.
  • Bring traffic to the landing page. Buy ads on Google, Facebook, and Reddit. Track how many folks visit the page. How many click on the call-to-action (“Sign up Now”), how many provide their email address, etc.
  • Once you have enough email addresses, send a survey (we recommend SurveyMonkey) asking some questions about what they might want, how much they’d be willing to pay, how likely they are to buy, etc.

User Experience Consultant

Looking for a User Experience Consultant?  We’ll transform your ideas into concrete product designs. We’ll help you develop your product strategy, create detailed prototypes, and more.  See iterationgroup.com

FitnessBuddy – Great App, Can Be Even Better

Some of us here at the office use FitnessBuddy for our workouts.  Great way to get some guidance when you hit the gym.  The app helps you choose a workout plan, shows you how to do each exercise (in a highly visual animated gif-like style), and more.  They recently released a new version with lots of changes, including:

  • Some kind of audio guidance feature (wasn’t immediately understandable to us)
  • More step-by-step tracking for a workout (“do this workout” button
  • Slightly updated user interface: buttons, icons, typefaces.

Overall, there are some improvements, but we think there is room for a lot more.

 

For example, here’s the screen you see after tapping a particular workout.  We think there’s too much unformatted text here (if we recall correctly, there was less text in the previous version).  Text fills almost the entirety of the screen (iPhone 5), and most folks simply don’t read (old, but good information).  Further, the text is likely only useful to first or second-time users.  Repeat users (like us) have to swipe down to proceed.First thought would be to cut-back on the text, if possible.  Next thought would be to format it in such a way that it’s scannable (using bullets, paragraphs, boldness, etc.).  Another thought would be to hide most of the text and intuitively enable the user to reveal more, if they’re interested.

 

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In the following screen, we see a list of exercises that comprise the workout.  We find the images to be especially valuable here, and we’re not sure why they’re so small.  They could be significantly increased in size (probably 30% or so without even changing the app design), which we think would be a big improvement in the user experience (again, most folks don’t read and the images convey most of the information, at a glance, especially if the users, like us, have done the same workout many times before).

 

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Lastly, here we’ve tapped on the “Barbell Bench Press” exercise, and we’re shown how to do it.  Great.  We’re also presented with a whole bunch of icons, which aren’t especially clear.  What do they do?

The top-right icon, for instance, shows an actual video of how to do the exercise.  It’s a really useful feature! And one of us used the app for one year before we knew it existed (we tapped the icon by mistake one day).

FitnessBuddy may want to consider:

  • Removing / consolidating some of the features
  • Re-organizing the features visually on the screen in such a way that what they do becomes more apparent.  Grouping them logically, for example.  Introducing a global menu system, for example.
  • Improving the icons / adding labels.

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Overall, we find the app very useful.  We think the company can significantly improve the user experience, accelerate new user adoption, and increase engagement with some additional investment in user interface design.

Quick Tip: Increase Your Email Response Rates

Sending an e-mail to a prospective customer, partner, or investor?  Trying to get them to schedule a meeting or phone call with you?

Our advice: put your request, up top, in the form of a specific question.

Journalists have a related idea called the “Inverted Pyramid.” MBA’s know it as the “Minto Pyramid Principle” (you can skip the book, this is the central idea).

So, something like this:

Hi John,

Would you be available for a brief phone call on Thursday (5/16) at 11AM or 3PM PT?

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All the best,

Mike

You get the idea. Your goal is to elicit a response. How?

  • Making sure your request is actually seen by putting it up top, with all of the other info and details below
  • Challenging the recipient by proposing something very specific (encouraging them to think about it your request in a concrete way)
  • Framing your request in the form of a question (which naturally begs for a response).

Jakob Nielsen has written up many more useful and related tricks.

Modern, “Clean” and Simple Tools You May Want to Check Out

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We love Freshbooks.  We use it send client invoices, track expenses, and more. Years ago we tried QuickBooks Online, assuming that a cloud-version of the super-popular small-biz accounting software had to be the best. WOW, we were wrong. It was (and, we hear, still is) a UI abomination – really really confusing, overly-complicated, and just not much fun to use. Freshbooks is where it’s at. Plus, they’re one of us: a fast-growing startup with an enviable “sticky” recurring-revenue model (who really wants to switch accounting software!?).
Sending e-mail campaigns for marketing purposes? Tried MailChimp? You really ought to take a look at Campaign Monitor. We’ve used MailChimp several times over the years. Folks rave about it. We’ve tried to get into it, but we just don’t get it. Inconsistent user-interface, super-complicated template editing, dozens of ways to do the same thing. The chimp branding is fun and cute, but we find it difficult to work with. On the other hand, Campaign Monitor is clean, consistent, and very straightforward.

We haven’t tried it yet, but lots of people are raving about ZenPayroll. Our experience with payroll products is that they’re generally awful – resembling old-school online banking systems. We’re really rooting for these guys and hope that they can finally help modernize this space.

Venture Voice – Great Podcast on Startups and Entrepreneurship

 

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Have some time in the car, on a plane, on a train? Check out VentureVoice – a really great (but sadly, discontinued) free podcast on startups and entrepreneurship.

From 2005 to 2009, our friend Greg Galant interviewed 60 really smart and interesting startup founders and investors. It’s full of insightful anecdotes and war stories. We’ve listened to them all – our favorites are probably:

Great “101 Entrepeneur” Event Last Night in Agoura Hills!

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Last night we sponsored an event local to our Westlake Village office.

Thank you to all who attended. Turnout was great. Lots of smart interesting folks building companies (tech and otherwise) in LA, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties.

Special thanks to Gerhard Apfelthaler (soon to be Dean of School of Management at CLU) and Brandon Highland for your contributions and spreading the word.
We love to see the community come together. Like many of you, we plan on planting deep roots in this area, expect to start many companies here in the coming years, and we really believe that developing rich personal relationships with others will benefit us all.

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