Extreme Customer Development – A true story


Dina’s foot hit the curb, and her body jolted forward.  The cane fell off her hand, and she felt her palms and knees hitting the hot sidewalk. The fall reminded her of her days at elementary school, but her body was now much older to take it gracefully. It was painful. And despite the fact that it was early afternoon, it was pitch black. Her mind hated the paradox, but she knew that if she needed to survive, she’d better adjust to her new situation. Everything sounded much louder: car honking on the street she just ran across, voices of pedestrians, and footsteps on the sidewalk she just fell on. How would she ever get used to this?

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How I launched a profitable product in 3 hours

do it

Today, Keynotopia is two months old. What started as a single blog post in June of 2010 became a product that got over 1,500 customers in the first 60 days. Before jumping into the story and lessons learned, here are some quick stats:

  • Total time spent creating the minimally viable product: less than 3 hours
  • Total startup cost: $47.50 ($5 hosting, $7.50 domain, and $35 wordpress theme)
  • First paying customer within 10 minutes of launch
  • Copies downloaded in the first 60 days: 1,491
  • Page views on the original blog post: 40,894
  • Unique visitors to Keynotopia: 19,235
  • Link backs/mentions: 769
  • Total product returns: 2
  • Total variations/tests on the landing page: 29
  • Made it to Google’s first results page in less than 2 weeks for the following search terms: iPad prototyping, iPhone prototyping, Android prototyping, Keynote prototyping, Keynote wireframes, …
  • I’ve never sold any products in my life (except my old laptops on eBay and CraigsList).

The story:

I pressed the update button and took a deep breath. The website was finally online, and a surge of questions rushed to my head: What if it’s not good enough? What if people call me an opportunist for redirecting the blog post to a product page? What if no one wants to buy it?

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Lean Interactive Requirements – The End of Specification Documents

One of my most dreaded tasks as a program manager has been writing product specifications. It seemed unintuitive that, after brainstorming and discovering the details of the user interface and interaction, the best way to describe it all would be screenshots and endless pages of pre-conditions, action, post-condition, edge cases, etc…

I wasn’t surprised that developers didn’t like reading them. Spec review meetings used to feel like one of the scenes from office space – and I didn’t even have my red stapler.

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How to create an iPhone app prototype in 13 minutes using Apple Keynote [Video Tutorial]

After posting the previous tutorial on prototyping an iPad app in 30 minutes , I was asked by several peeps to put together a video tutorial on how I’d create an iPhone app prototype using the same technique:

  • No design tools
  • Zero lines of code
  • Prototype can be tested on the iPhone
  • All created under 30 minutes

The video below shows how to use Apple Keynote and Keynotopia interface libraries to create a prototype for an iPhone apartment hunting application in 13 minutes.

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Cheap and fast interactive web prototypes with Apple Keynote

Apple Keynote has become my favorite rapid prototyping tool for putting together iPad and web interfaces, and testing them with real users. It quickly replaced all my previous prototyping tools, and I am constantly discovering new tricks and hacks to prototype more productively.

First, let me thank you for all the feedback that you provided about the iPad keynote prototyping. I hope that the hundreds of developers who downloaded the theme template are finding it useful.

As promised in the last post, here are some additional assets (all created in Keynote) that I’ve been using to rapidly prototype web applications and demo them within my presentations.

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How to create interactive iPad app prototypes in 30 minutes Using Keynote or PowerPoint

How long would it take to go from idea for an iPhone or iPad app to a prototype that you can test with users? A month? A week? Few days? How about 30 minutes?

What if you can prototype your next idea quickly and cheaply without learning any new tools or programming languages?

What if you can send your prototype to friends to play with and give you feedback, without having to install anything on their mobile device?

What if you can integrate your prototype into your presentation, and click through it to show your audience how it works, rather than boring them with bullet points?

And what if you can do all this without touching a design tool or writing a single line of code?


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Finding the G-Spot: startup lessons from Lady Gaga

I was intrigued by Lady Gaga’s latest music video, Alejandro, and I started thinking about what makes her so spellbinding to millions, and whether startups can learn to create their own spellbinding success.

Lady Gaga’s best feature is her voice. Her strong and unique voice will likely capture your attention if you hear to it on the radio; when I first heard Bad Romance in my car, it sounded interesting; it was different than the other songs playing on the station. It broke the monotony of my drive. And the song kept repeating in my head for the rest of the day.

Then there is the form. Lady Gaga consistently delivers each of her songs in a unique style that complements her voice, her feature. Each video is interesting, polarizing, shocking, intriguing and provoking in its own way. You can’t help but watch. And if you can’t watch, you switch it off and later you may talk to your friends about how weird or abnoxious it was. Your opinion would make your friends intrigued enough to check it out, and they may agree or disagree with you. Either way, Laday Gaga made you listen, made you look, and made you talk.

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Docverse acquired: An Inspiring Success Story

Working with Docverse has been one of the highlights of my career. When I reconnected with Shan and Alex after they moved from Seattle to San Francisco, and heard their pitch, I got totally hooked by their vision for the product; what excited me wasn’t just how great their technology was, but how focused they were on providing the most  intuitive and transparent user experience. When I asked them during the kick-off meeting about the limitation of current technology, they both answered – almost at once: “Don’t be limited by what we have. Let’s focus on designing the best user experience, and technology will follow.” And they delivered on every word in that promise. We always refined and picked the best designs to have, no matter how difficult they were to implement. This is the holy grail for any UX designer: to have a carte blanche for envisioning the best thing, knowing that there is a team of wizards who will make it happen.

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The Elephant in the Dark: A Story

Once upon a time, there existed a village that was completely inhabited by blind people. 

One day, an elephant came to the village.

Since none of them had ever seen an elephant before, they all gathered around the animal to figure out how it looked like.

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Customer Development Hacked: How to find and interview 10,000 customers in one day

If you’re creating a new product, a question might be lingering in your mind: How do you find the right customers to interview?

Here is one of the traditional methods for conducting customer interviews:

1. Make an educated guess about your target audience’s demographics

2. Look in your contact list and social network for people who might match your criteria

3. Create an online survey and send them to these people. (better, ask them for a phone interview)

4. Ask for more recommendations and introductions.

The biggest flaw with this method is the assumption that your contacts provide a valid sample of your target audience; At best, you might get few answers that help you refine your questions, and your criteria for interviewing future, and at worst, you might end up believing the wrong answers because they happen to support your idea.

So what’s a better strategy?

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My four steps to the epiphany: Lessons learned from creating a minimally viable research product

In the summer of 2004, I had my first entrepreneurship experience in an unlikely place. I was still working on my PhD, when I received an invitation to spend the summer at Microsoft Research. Some of the finest researchers there have been working my topic of interest, and I was eager to see what they’d been working on, and to contribute to it. So I took the blue pill.

After the first day orientation, I went to my mentor’s office to find out which project I’d be working on. When I sat across the desk, he peeked at me through the stacks of research papers and notes, and said with a big smile: “Well, here you are. You’ve got 12 weeks to spend with us, so come up with something useful and exciting!” I looked at him waiting for a specific task, and he proceeded ” You’ve got access to hundreds of researchers and thousands of employees. Make good use of it. Good luck!”. He then introduced me to the rest of the team members, and showed me the way to my office where I would spend the next 12 weeks coming up with the next big thing. Or at least, that’s how I felt back then.

On the following morning, other interns were already printing out research papers, looking at source code, and discussing tasks among their teams.  I didn’t even know where to start. I was scared and excited.

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Which moment does your product own?

During a pitch practice at the Founder Institute, I heard something that really captured my attention and  inspired me to think about product stories in a new way. After describing a scenario, the founder in the hot seat said:

“… I want to own that moment.”

I started thinking about which successful products own which moments in my daily life. Here are some examples:

  • ” I want to share some files with my team”. DropBox owns that moment
  • “I’d like to show you how I am imagining this interface”. Balsamiq owns that moment
  • “I want to embed a form in my blog”. Wufoo owns that moment
  • “I want to create a cool slideshow for my website”. Animoto owns that moment
  • “I am starting a new client project”. BaseCamp owns that moment
  • “I’d like to know what my friends have been up to lately”. Facebook owns that moment
  • “I’d like capture some thoughts.”, Evernote owns that moment.

You get the point. read more…

The User Journey – How to Design for Ecstasy

Yesterday, I read a post on Derek Sivers’ blog about how drama can be mapped on a two-dimensional charts, and I was inspired to think about the user’s journey through a product in a similar fashion.

One of the most useful design practices to create good landing pages is to visualize each website visit as a journey that leads users to a destination. That destination is not just a goal that the user needs to accomplish, but also an emotional state that the user would like to experience.

It’s important to understand that the journey doesn’t typically start when the user reaches a product’s homepage. It starts earlier, when she identifies a need to have or accomplish something, or when she finds a recommendation from a friend or blogger to try a new product. When she comes to the site, she will have many questions in her head that she wants answered.

There is a wide range of emotions that users experience during a website visit, including: indifference, boredom, confusion, disappointment, curiosity, engagement, and ecstasy.

Let’s look at how a good design can create an ecstatic user experience:

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The eagle who lived as a chicken

One day a young eagle fell off the nest and was picked up by a farmer. The farmer was kind enough to bring the small bird to his barnyard so that it doesn’t perish. The young eagle found a good home with the chicken and grew up believing he is a chicken. He waited for the farmer to bring food, he quacked when a chicken laid an egg, and he enjoyed running around and sitting in a hole in the ground on sunny days. Life was good and comfortable, and the eagle’s wildest adventure was to run under the fence with his friends to that cliff where they looked at the mountains and wondered what lied on their other side. read more…

Don’t violate design laws – even if you’re Apple

I love taking voice notes on the go.

But when I started using the voice recording app that comes with the iPhone, I was frustrated by its horrible usability: the application dedicates the largest screen real-estate to a giant microphone screenshot that does nothing, and places the functional buttons of the app in the two bottom corners, occupying less than 5% of the screen space.

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The Day Death Spared Me

Based on a true story

Traffic on the freeway slowed down to a halt that Friday evening. Everyone was coming from the same direction and going to the same destination. After a long sunny week, clouds were starting to gather, looking down at the streets in sarcasm, and preparing the town for another rainy weekend.

He stops his car few inches away from the one ahead of him. He glances at the infinite line of cars that disappears in the horizon and realizes that the week won’t let go that easily. He turns on the radio in search for some distraction from this moment. The same songs that were playing last week are playing again. He turns it off and glances up at the sky. read more…


Monkey trap

There is a popular method used in the East to capture monkeys: A hunter places a banana in a bowl with a narrow opening at the top, and fixes the bowl somewhere in the jungle. A monkey passes by and notices the smell of banana coming from the bowl. He inserts his small arm through the narrow hole, grabs a banana and pulls his hand out. But the hole in the bowl is too narrow for his fist holding banana to pass through. The monkey tries pulling harder but he only hurts his wrist against the sharp edges of the bowl.

In the meantime the hunter is approaching confidently. He sees the monkey struggling frantically and smiles at the sight he’s witnessed hundreds of times before. The monkey is holding on to the banana so hard that it’s impossible for him to realize that it is the one thing that is standing between him and his own freedom.

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I'm a serial entrepreneur, product designer, and startup advisor.

Previously designed and helped launch more than 12 startups, four of which have already been acquired.

Currently, I run several profitable eCommerce and educational platforms for designers, and I am working on a new startup.

Featured by Inc magazine, Entrepreneur magazine, Mixergy, Smashing Magazine, Swiss Miss, The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW), and several entrepreneurship and design publications.

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