InVision and Why I LOVE this app!

If you’re involved in the processes of web designs; website, web applications or mobile apps and you’re not using InVision – you should stop reading this, go here and check it out.

In a world where the visual representation of applications is key, InVision makes it dead-simple to collaborate early designs across teams, comment and iterate faster.

Before InVision, we’ve used wireframes to communicate the at high level and then a bunch of photoshop PSDs/Images to communicate and review the new feature/website flows.

InVision improves this in two main areas:

Flow vs. Images
InVision allowed our team at Totango present the graphic designer’s artifacts within an application flow. This allowed many of the team members, and in many cases customers as well visualize and experience (almost) the application flow. I’ve learned over the years, that for many people it’s just hard to connect desecrate images into an usage flows. InVision solved this problem for us.

Collaboration and Iteration
InVision allows you to comment on the design, on screen. I’ve used it many times to allow the customers provide their feedback that our designers took into consideration and rapidly made changes. This makes the flow of

concept -> visual design -> flow -> feedback -> design fixes

much faster and reaches a much better outcome.

Kudos for the InVision team – great work!

Trying the new SurfaceRT

I’m writing this post on a new SurfaceRT at the Windows store in Stanford mall. Was trying to figure out for myself what’s the value of this product, can it really be the single replacement for an iPad and a laptop. Short answer – not yet…

Keyboard experience:

I’ve started with the ‘touch cover’ ($119.99) keyboard – that didn’t really work well for me. It kept missing key strokes and I switched to the Type Cover ($129.99) which feels much more natural for typing.

Touch experience on the screen – seems very good. Similar to the iPad – no meaningful latencies.

Design, Look & Feel –

The non windows experience (metro) looks very modern and cool – slick. But when you press the famous ‘start’ button – you get to the old view of windows. Personally not my taste, but I’m sure some people will feel at home ;)

Bottom line – could give a fight to the iPad specifically on productivity, however, I’m keeping my Mac for a bit longer.

 

 

Pro-Customer Company – How to?

We’ve organized the first ever Customer Success Summit last week in San Francisco. The motivation for the event was a constant request by customers and prospects who want to connect with their pier group to discuss their experience and challenges around Customer Success.

We’ve started calling this becoming a ‘Pro-Customer Company‘. Companies have to change to become Customer Centric, they need to pro-actively react to customer lifecycle events and they need to learn and implement the methods professionally.

Here’s my take as presented at the event. Enjoy!

Gmail new Compose and why I like it!

Google has changed the way composing new messages works in Gmail. Now when clicking compose, Gmail opens a new window layered on top of the inbox instead of switching to another widow as it used to be.

I like it a lot. Now I can write several email messages without the need to switch between browser window. Gmail was always rapidly fast, but with this new behavior it is feels even faster than before.

Gmail also changed the reply button behavior. This is something I don’t really get nor like. It feels confusing an improper, but I’m not sure why it gets me such ‘messy’ feeling.

I’m sure that this rollout of new features is highly monitored by Google Gmail analytics capabilities, and within few days Google will conclude their A/B testing and come up with the winning model for the reply button behavior.

This is yet another proof to the power of single page applications (SPA) in modern web development. Now it’s easier to do with frameworks like Ember.js (which we use and love at Totango), Angular and others.

SockExchange ;)

Put bunch of creative people in a single room, task them with solving a serious problem with software, and here is what you get:

sockExchange from Luke Simshauser on Vimeo.

Being more serious, if you have budget for one conference a year, no doubt about it, business of software in Boston.

 

Bill Gates asked me this…

I’ve just received the following email from Quora. What do you think is this the real Bill Gates? Should I answer? Maybe we should pivot Totango into a CRM for VCs?

5 Traits of User Onboarding Craftsman

If you haven’t looked at Jordan Koschei‘s  analysis of dropbox user onboarding flow, you should go ahead and read it here. I’ve also found this interesting thread on Quora with other examples of good user onboarding flows.

User onboarding is a critical part of the product usage and adoption lifecycle. When users have the option from thousands of products and services to choose from, the first ‘feel’ of a product becomes very important to the success of a new product or service implementation.

Every online product manager is aware that to achieve both, there is tension between:

  • getting people to complete necessary steps in order to start seeing value from their product; and at the same time
  • making sure not to overwhelm them with unnecessary information/tasks/steps.


In the case of Totango onboarding, we’ve had a heated internal debate with one camp feeling that we’re imposing too much effort upfront by requiring a Javascript implementation, and the other camp feeling that we could ask for way less information and provide just enough value before getting deeper. We’ve called the new approach the ‘drop-in’ project. I’m happy to admit, as the leader of the ‘aggressive camp’ that I was completely wrong. The drop-in yielded fantastic results of higher rates and much faster  onboarding.

Crafting a great user experience while building a successful user onboarding flows is like an art, or more precisely a craft of minimalism.

Too little effort upfront will leave users underwhelmed with your product and too much effort upfront will turn away new users.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this problem and have been working with Totango customers on their user onboarding flows. You can read about nCircle’s journey here. From working with many customers like this, I have been able to find 5 rules of thumb that lead to great user onboarding implementations:

1. It’s all about the core value
When designing the onboarding implementation you should carefully understand the core  of your application. In most applications, there are many things people can do, however, you’re designing the best way for people to understand your service value without interruptions and without extra unnecessary steps.

2. User-centric approach
Think about who your user is in a very concrete way. Where did they come from, what have they done prior to initiating your “getting started” experience, what language do they speak, which device are they using? By preemptively getting this data, you don’t need to ask redundant questions and they don’t need to fill data you already have.

3. Have an owner, have a team
Someone has to own the onboarding project, which will take time to get right. Have someone (you?) own it and drive it to success. It will require many follow up changes and decisions that will impact the results. Also, important, make sure you have an implementation team in place that can follow up with UI, graphics, flow, copy (language) changes.

4. Iterate, iterate, iterate…
You will probably need hundreds of changes, some of them very minor while other very significant to get it right. You’ll have to go through many cycles of analysis and learning to get it right.
The key metrics you should care about are:

  • Onboarding success rate – of the people who started (and you care about) how many successfully completed the onboarding flow, and how many dropped and why?
  • Time to onboard – optimize for the minimal time to successfully onboard new users. Track that time and find ways to improve it.
  • Engagement – the rate of onboarded users who ended up frequently using the service/app
  • Monetization –  the rate of successfully onboarded users who ended up paying

5. Remove steps

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away“. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery
This is an all-time favorite of mine, and it’s true in user onboarding as well. Always consider removing steps, you’ll be amazed by the results.

Which products do you find with the best onboarding experience? Let’s use the comments thread below to praise those products.

Palo Alto – New home for Totango

It has been 10 days since I’ve moved my family to Palo Alto. Just about the same time, we’ve moved Totango to a new office on Forest St. in Palo Alto.

I’m really excited about the change, these are exciting times for Totango and myself personally.

Techie CEO, Telling the story right!

Totango, my startup, is now part of the official contenders list of CRM Idol. For those who are not familiar with the competition: it’s the brainchild of Paul Greenberg who – in turn – is considered by many one of the founding fathers of the CRM industry.  The competition was first held last year. To give you a sense of how influential Paul is: three CRM Idol finalists were acquired, one during the competition, so clearly Paul has a nose for good companies.

Inspired by the blog of one of our fellow contestants, Mothernode, I wanted to add some color on our own experiences so far. Besides the great honor of being part of this distinguished list of exciting companies in the CRM space,  we have already learnt a ton and the competition has barely begun.

After passing the first round (which consisted of submitting three customer references), we’ve been assigned George and MJ from Infor as mentors – thanks guys! They have been very gracious with their time and have met with us (more than) once a week to listen to our pitch.  What they have been really able to help us with is telling our story. Here are some of the lessons I have learnt so far (which I believe are broadly applicable):

1. The story of the founders matters

I was born in Israel and rose through the ranks of CEO as an Engineer, Architect and Product Executive. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally, but with a little (a lot) of help from George and MJ we are getting there. My natural tendency is to talk about the product and leave out the bits about myself, why I started this company and why my rock-star team at Totango is uniformly passionate about our mission. I now realize my personal story matters.

For too long, CRM was about closing transactions and, more recently, building relationships, from the golf course to social media.  I believe however that the future of CRM is about delivering true value to customers and end-users – every day, all day long. Value for customers is not created on the golf course, but rather through a superb product or service experience, insightful customer support and value-added interactions with your users, whether through the product, social media or in-person. Over my career I have seen too much software end up as shelfware. Especially BECAUSE I have a strong product background I believe in having the product always, always deliver on its promises and make customers successful, not just before the sale, but throughout the customer lifecycle. This is why I started Totango.

2. Focus on the story of your customers

You can speak about all the wonderful features of your product all day long, but in the end of the day, as I said above, a product is only as good as the value it delivers for its customers. We have learnt to tell the story of our product through our eyes of our customers. Now, when we demo our product, we tell the story of how Zendesk was able to increase free to paid conversion over 30% by focusing their sales team, how nCircle increased successful product activations over 3x by learning about product usage and usage bottlenecks and how Clarizen was able to proactively identify and turn customers at risk of churn. We even were inspired by the competition to write more of our customer stories and we launched just last week a new section on our website with these stories. Coincidentally adding this section significantly increased visitor to sign-up conversion on our site (but that’s the topic for another blog).

3. Celebrate success

Our mentors have also helped us realize how much we have already accomplished. We are helping about 100 businesses with over 2 million customers to better understand and engage their customers. Those are big numbers for a little company, which only started to sell earlier in 2012.  Too often you look at the mountains to climb still ahead, but being part of CRM Idol has also forced us to look back at the valley below and see the ground we have already covered.

What’s more important to me personally is realizing the impact that we are having on some really awesome companies. I already quoted some of the numbers above, but perhaps the best evidence of our success is that organizations like Zendesk and BigCommerce are now using us throughout their company.  Both started with us in one department (sales) but over the months other departments started to use customer insights: product teams are building better features, customer success teams are identifying struggling users and reach out and marketing is sending helpful tips by email based on product usage.  When you share user engagement insights throughout the organization magic happens: happy and successful customers lead to better monetization and lower churn.

We are looking forward to our briefing this Thursday and more learning to come.

Good Developer, Bad Developer

I recently read Ben Horowitz’s piece on the importance of training people in startup companies. At the end of this article he put together a document “Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager”. Here’s my spin on it: Good Developer, Bad Developer. Enjoy, I look forward to your comments!

Good Developer, Bad Developer

Good developer is an artist, a craftsman who enjoys the process of creation. Bad developer considers himself as a programmer, responsible for generating lines of code.

Good developer understands the problems of the customers. Bad developer understands only the technical problem at hand. Good developer does not define the why, but constantly strives to understand why. He’s responsible for the how, and still sees the big picture. Bad developer is focused on building classes and methods and configuration files, but does not get the big picture.

Good developer understands the complete architecture of the product. Bad developer knows only the components he’s written. Good developer fully understands the technologies that are used within the product. He understands what they are used for, and how they work internally.

Good developer is not afraid of new technologies but embraces them by quickly getting a grip. Bad developer only sticks to what he knows. His immediate reaction to any technical change is negative.

Good developer is constantly learning and improving his skills. Good developer reads technical articles, and finishes several technical books a year. Bad developer does not have time to learn. He’s always too busy with other stuff.

Good developer cares about the product quality. He is also very much concerned with the process quality. Good developer pushes himself to create bug-free code; bad developer leaves it to QA to find bugs to fix.

Good developer develops features which create value for customers. Bad developer completes tasks. Good developer will never claim the requirements are incomplete, and will make sure to fully understand the features he’s working on. Bad developer will wait until the finest details are available. To emphasize: good developer is the CEO of the feature – he’s going to make sure he always has the information needed to accomplish the feature, and in case information is missing he’ll make sure he gets it.

Good developer is not afraid to go into anyone’s code. Bad developer is afraid of others looking into his. Good developer understands that it shouldn’t take more time to write self-explanatory and well-documented code. Bad developer always needs to allocate extra time to document and simplify.

Good developer will never feel his code is good enough, and will always continue to clean and fix. Good developer always strives to create elegant solutions but understands that his job is to deliver value to customers. Bad developer thinks only about the elegance of his code and leave the job of delivering value to others.

Is that all? Did I miss anything or got some of these wrong? Feel free to chime in the comments below!

Guy Nirpaz
Co-Founder & CEO, Totango