Tools for thrashing early

If you’re building something, it’s critical to thrash early. The biggest and loudest changes should be vocalized early on.

Everyone gets heard, opinions are out in the open and the design gets refined from there.

If it’s done right, there is little to no thrashing at the end and the project ships on time and on budget.

Here are two resources that will help if your project involves any kind of prototyping or wireframing.

Balsamiq
is a really neat online tool for creating and sharing mock ups.

If you’re more of a hardcopy person (I sometimes use both), Geek Chix has a super handy list of sketch templates you can print for wireframing.

Thrash early.

Ship on time.

Godspeed.

Reducing friction

There is a lot of friction in buying a new house. Agents. Lawyers. Notaries. More agents.

I recently helped design a social media campaign for a client. The campaign was less successful than it could have been because there was too much friction. The process to participate had too many hurdles and some people abandoned it before completing.

One of the most effective things to do to improve your business (not always the simplest but the most effective) is to remove as much friction as humanly possible.

Then remove a little more.

I know a lot of companies that ‘secret shop’ their competitors. Many should secret shop themselves first, with an open mind and a critical eye toward removing friction.

Mint.com beat Intuit’s Quickbooks because it was web-based, but they weren’t the first web-based money management system. A tool called Wesabe was around first. But to use Wesabe (back then), users had to download a .csv from their bank’s website and upload it to their Wesabe account. (I can’t fathom the meeting where that level of friction got approved.)

Friction killed Wesabe.

The lack of friction made Mint.com millions. $187m to be exact.

Netflix took share from Blockbuster by removing friction. With Blockbuster, you had to drive to the store. With Netflix, you just had to go to your mailbox. (Blockbuster quickly followed suit.)

Redbox is taking share from both by removing even more friction. With Redbox, you don’t need a mailbox or even an account.

Think of the amount of friction in a typical Verizon store. Now think of the lack of friction in an Apple store or a Chipotle or a Starbucks.

The simple act of not having to sign certain credit card transactions under $25 removes friction and saves both the retailer and the customer time, saving companies like McDonald’s and others millions of dollars.

Most airlines did a decent job of removing some friction with online check-in and handy touch-screen kiosks. Unfortunately, they stopped there.

Think of the loads of friction in a typical primary care doctor visit. My friend Jay Parkinson is completely reinventing health care delivery, and he’s doing so by removing friction from the process.

I can stop by my local dry-cleaner, leave my shirts on the front counter and smile and wave to the owner in the back. In three days, I come back and my shirts are clean with light starch.

If he can remove friction from his business, you can too, right?

Flowtown knows what you’re wearing

OK, they may not know what you’re wearing but there is a good chance they know your customers better than you do.

Flowtown uses emails from your customer database, (you do have an email database for your customers, right?) and can tell you interesting and valuable information about those customers.

I recently met the founders of Flowtown online. They are wicked smart guys with a product that is immediately useful to almost any business.

Below is my interview with Ethan Bloch.

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Ethan Bloch and I’m the Co-founder and CEO of Flowtown.

Why should companies use Flowtown?
Because social media is hard and Flowtown turns social data in dollars.

How much does Flowtown know about someone from their email address?
Name, Age Group, Gender, Occupation, Location, Influence and almost every Social network they’re on.

Really? Wow. Do you know what I’m wearing right now?
I think you’d prefer I didn’t say ;)

So this would allow companies to do more targeted campaigns. For instance, if only 10,000 of their 100,000 members are twitter users, they could do a focused campaign, right?
Totally, way more focused. For example if you’re not on Twitter it would be annoying to get an email saying ‘Hi Clay, we’re building out our presence on Twitter…” you’d be like “I’m not on there, why are you sending me this?” On the flip side we’ve found that if you know someone is on a network and you mention that in your email, the performance of that campaign skyrockets.

Is Flowtown a replacement for traditional email systems like Flowtown, AWeber or MailChimp?
In the case of mainstream email service providers, I don’t think Flowtown is a replacement but rather an enhancement. For example we’ve built an integration with MailChimp where any MailChimp user can come to Flowtown and in 3 clicks dump a ton of demographic and social graphic information back into their MailChimp list and then use MailChimp’s segmentation feature to get more relevant with their subscribers.

You guys are adding interesting new features to Flowtown pretty quickly. Tell us about some of them.
We just launched an influence calculation (powered by Klout), where now when you import a contact list we’ll show you your top 50 influencers, which you can use to do 1-on-1 outreach i.e. we’re showing you the 20% that will drive 80% of the results, in respect to getting noticed and building buzz.

In fact everything we do at Flowtown is ran through this ‘Pareto Lens’ – early on, internally, Dan and I would speak of Flowtown as the 80/20 marketing filter for business.

Tell me about your partner, Dan Martell. How did you guys meet?
He’s a Rockstar – we wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are today without Dan.

We actually met on Twitter back in September 2008. Did an IRL meetup, discovered we’re both passionate about marketing and moving the needle for business and the rest is history…

Tell us what your typical day at Flowtown is like.
I wake up around 6:30 and immediately touch base with David (VP of Engineering), he’s on EST so by the time I get up I’m already playing catchup.

(I jumpstart my day by using a strategy from Leo at Zen Habits: http://zenhabits.net/2007/02/jumpstart-your-day-night-before-evening/)

I’ll do a brief skim of all the new email that’s came in make sure there’s no bombs going off and then then I’ll work on 1-2 of the most important tasks I have scheduled for the day, for the next 3 hours, usually product, sales or biz dev focused, this could include new product mocks, coding, emails, phone calls, brainstorming and white boarding.

After those 3-hours are up I start going into a more ad-hoc mode, where I’m answering email/tweets, talking to customers, closing new customers, working with David on new features, bouncing around the bay for meetings, testing new features, breaking things and syncing up with Dan.

Later in the day/evening is when I go to the 30,000+ foot view of life, this includes research, reading (going through my Instapaper) and planning.

What did you do before you started Flowtown?
Right before I started Flowtown I was producing/hosting a video show called WSYK? (What Should You Know?) which was syndicated by Revision3. And I was a marketer full time at Cake Financial, a start-up that was recently sold to E-Trade.

Where do you hope Flowtown will be in 3 years?
Flowtown will be responsible for raising the bar on customer experience/service, by helping all businesses care for their customers like Zappos cares for theirs.

What’s the plan then?
Not sure if I’ll be ready, but I want to help fill the massive void in education. I hated school growing up and think there’s a lot we can do to improve the experience for children everywhere.

You’re from Baltimore. Please tell me you’ve seen the Wire or we’re ending this interview right now.

“You come at the king you best not miss.”

I love The Wire. My favorite character is Omar and if you don’t know why just watch this.

Thanks, Ethan.

If you want to try Flowtown yourself, enter your email address here.

She’s a 7

Windows7

Regardless of your personal loyalties in the never ending OS debate, this comment from Slashdot on the Windows 7 launch is pretty funny.

Original link from Slashdot.

I get the impression that the Windows 7 launch is a lot like seeing an old girlfriend suddenly show up on your doorstep wanting to get back together. She’s had some work done, apparently: stomach stapling to take off some of the weight, breast augmentation, and a radical nosejob to make her look as much like your current girlfriend as medical science will allow.

She’s pretty, of course, almost too pretty. She still wears far too much makeup and carries that desperate look in her eyes. The fragrant haze around her is the perfume she overuses to mask the scent of failure.

But standing there in that low-cut top, you’d almost forget for a moment what a psycho she was- how she used to shut down in the middle of a date and forget everything you were talking about and how she was only happy when you were buying her things. You’d almost forget about carrying around her legacy baggage or those nights when, for seemingly no reason at all, she would simply stop speaking to you and when you asked what was wrong she’d just spit a string of hex code at you and expect you to figure it out.

You complained about her for years before finally deciding to get rid of her, and here she is again. Though, somehow she seems like a completely different person now.

“I’m up here,” she says when she catches you staring at her chest.

Tempted though you may be, you know that over time she’ll get bored and slow down on you just like she always does. And then you’ll be right back where you started: trapped. She keeps you by convincing you that you don’t have a choice. You’re just not smart enough for one option or rich enough to afford the other.

“But I’m different now,” she says, batting her eyes innocently. “I’ve changed.”

Indeed she has. Apparently, she’s really into Cabala now or something like that. It’s helped her discover loads of untapped potential in herself. But it also means that you’ll have to buy all new furniture to fit with her understanding of feng shui. That’s not the only change she has in store for you. The minute you let her move in, she’ll have a new alarm system put in that succeeds only in preventing your friends from coming over on poker night.

She doesn’t love you, but she doesn’t hate you, either. The truth is that she couldn’t care less one way or the other. She’s here because she doesn’t want to be alone. Like all human beings, especially those well past their prime, she wants to feel wanted and, after a string of lost jobs and bad investments, she needs a place to stay.

But all in all, she’s OK. She’s a seven. She’ll do, I guess.

How easy do you make it?

Equinox

Equinox, a national chain of health clubs, understands that that thrilled members help spread their story.

The economics of health clubs is fairly simple. The many paying members who belong but don’t frequent the clubs subsidize the few that go often. Just like airlines oversell flights, health clubs oversell workouts. If even half the members of any given health club showed up at the same time, gridlock would ensue.

To compete, top health clubs invest heavily in flashy marketing and fancy club amenities designed to sell as many memberships as possible but beyond that, don’t go out of their way to encourage usage.

Enter Equinox. Instead of offering better soap in the locker rooms, Equinox proactively invested in the development of a super slick iPhone app and a mobile website that allows members to:

    - find clubs via GPS
    - find classes by club, category or instructor
    - learn more about the class or the instructor
    - maintain a MY EQ favorites list
    - track workouts and set goals
    - send VIP invitations to friends
    - reserve a bike for studio cycling classes

Equinox not only made it easy for customers to use their clubs, they gave members a story to tell and made it easy for them to tell it. Brilliant.

How easy do you make it for your customers to use your product or service or tell your story?

Capture everything

You can’t schedule great thoughts.

Sometimes they come while driving.

Sometimes they come in the shower.

Sometimes they come in a dream in the middle of the night.

Sometimes they come in a movie theater.

Sometimes they come at a wedding.

The point is, if you don’t capture the great idea, quote, blog post or song lyric, it’s unlikely you’ll recall it later.

The solution is to always have a method to capture your great thoughts on the spot. I’ll list my coverage strategy here. Yours will be different of course, but my goal is to get you to make the minute changes necessary so you never again lose another great thought.

Sleeping
I keep my small Moleskine and a pen next to my bed. I rarely wake up in the middle of the night with great thoughts but the moment I open my eyes, my mind is a blender of tasks, meetings and ideas and having a way to capture them immediately helps me start my day in a relaxed and organized fashion.
Moleskine

Working
If I’m in front of my computer, online or not, I use a great application called Remember the Milk. It works well with David Allen’s GTD system and provides enough flexibility to implement your own methodology for tasks & reminders. They also have an excellent iPhone app that in my opinion is well worth the $20 per year.

As a backup, I always have my small Moleskine in my briefcase when I am away from my laptop.

rememberthemilk

Driving
**Always focus on the road and never write, text or call while driving.** If there is a passenger in the car, I’ll ask them to write the idea in my Moleskine or shoot me an SMS message reminder. If I’m alone, I’ll wait until I’m stopped, then write it down myself or use a service like Jott or, if I want to immediately tweet my idea or question, Audioboo.

audioboo-logo-174933

Movie Theater
If the movie is so bad that my mind is wandering (or if watching Freida Pinto inspires some poetry) I’ll quickly and silently make a note in my iPhone.
RTM-iPhone

Cooking
I’m usually so focused (frazzled?) when cooking a big meal that my mind is dialed into making sure everything finishes at the same time but if a great thought pops into my head, I’ll quickly scrawl it on the refrigerator in puttanesca sauce.

Fishing
I’ll tell my fishing partner to remind me. Unreliable but cheaper than dropping my iPhone in the bottom of the lake.

Surfing
This is the one exception in my “capture everything”. My mind is always clear when surfing. Mostly because it’s peaceful and I’m one with nature, but also because I’m trying not to drown.

What tools & systems do you use to capture everything?