Tag Archives: Facebook

Creating artificial constraints as a means to innovation

Many of the entrepreneurs I know have created new innovative startups thanks to real constraints they had. For example, I was hearing AirBnB’s Brian Chesky, on the Corner Office podcast and he mentioned that when he and his cofounder were trying to get some money to get started and the only way to keep afloat was to “rent” their air bed they had in their room. That, then led to Air Bed and Breakfast, which is now AirBnB.

This was a real constraint they had – no money to “eat” so they had to make it happen somehow.

I have heard of many stories of innovation where in the protagonists had real constraints of either financial, technology, supply, demand, economic, social or any number of other characteristics.

The interesting story that I have also recently heard of how Facebook has “pivoted” from being a desktop offering to getting a significant part of their revenue from mobile is how they were given the arbitrary constraint of only accessing Facebook via the mobile phone.

So there are ways that you can create “artificial” constraints to force innovation to happen.

Most larger companies and some smaller ones as well, have to constantly find ways to create artificial constraints – to find a way to innovate and be more be a pioneer.

While some constraints are good – lack of funds at the early stage for example and lack of resources, there are entrepreneurs that are stymied by these constraints and those that will find  a way to seek a path to go forward.

I think this is a great way for you to think about innovating in a new space. If you have constraints, find a way to use it to your advantage.

 

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The one thing I learned blogging everyday for 180 days

Community first, content next.

Today marks 181 days of my journey to blog every day. Over the last 6 months I have written about entrepreneurship and technology. Most articles are about 500 to 1000 words and some are fewer. During this period my “audience” has grown from 70K subscribers to nearly 100K (Still shy by about 3000 subscribers).

Mukund's Email Subscriber Base
Mukund’s Email Subscriber Base

According to my email metrics, about 19-25% of people open my emails daily. Not sure how many actually read. Besides this I have a few thousand Twitter and Facebook readers and about 1000 app subscribers.

There are many things I have learned.

First, is that writing is not at all hard. In fact, it is pretty easy. My writing routine is pretty simple. I get up, finish working out, and take exactly 21 – 32 minutes to write a new blog post from scratch. No pre-writing, no backlog of posts etc. I start with a blank slate on 95% of the days.

Second, writing makes you focus. When you have little time, like most of us do, then it makes you concentrate and get it done, prioritizing it over other things.

Third, it teaches you discipline. If you get into the habit of writing daily, then it is rewarding to see the body of content in a few months.

Fourth, quantity does not equal quality. I have written 180 posts, but most have not hit the bar in terms of get more readership over and above my usual subscriber base.

Fifth, writing is a counter productive way to spend 30 minutes to achieve you goals of building a personal brand. There are other, better, easier ways to do the same for 30 minutes a day.

The most important thing I have learned, though is that building a community, one fan / audience member, individual, reader at a time trumps generating lots of content for many people to read.

If you are considering blogging, writing, etc. I would recommend you first understand your goal

Is it to build a personal brand?

Is it to showcase thought leadership?

Is it to share your thoughts and expect nothing in return?

Is it to build a base of followers?

Regardless of your goal, I would still recommend you engage with your “community” via tweets, commenting on their post (Facebook or Twitter), connecting with a large set of people before you start writing.

What I have observed is that people who connect with their audience get away with writing really poor content, since people really like them.

If, however, you dont spend time building and engaging your audience, you should be prepared to have “killer” content each time, which is highly unlikely given that you might have to write frequently.

In fact, only 11 of my 180 posts have crossed my own threshold of over 30K readers for the post.

The number one thing you should do if you are starting or want to start building your audience base is to engage with them. Comment, reply or write to them on Twitter, their blogs, etc. Dont start writing.

Then make sure you engage and build your base of engagement with 1-2 posts each week, still keeping up your engagement.

Then you can get a schedule as rigorous as writing daily.

To build a large audience (similar to a media property such as BuzzFeed, etc.) you might need lots of content which is good, but for an individual, that’s impossible.

The same goes for your startup’s blog.

Build your community and audience first, then build an editorial calendar to hyperfocus on a specific topic and keep the schedule.

This also changes how you spend 30 minutes a day to build your personal brand. I will share that part with you tomorrow.

Here are two other posts I have written about what’s working in B2B startup blogs and how to focus on better insights not a better narrative.

Why I published a personal social network app

I started blogging in 2006. It has taken me over 7 years to build an audience of 60K. When I started, I believed that the best content always won. Now I know that the best content with the best distribution wins.

In 2006-7 the prevalent method to distribute my posts was RSS feeds. I focused a lot of effort to get RSS subscribers. Then FeedBurner got acquired by Google and I noticed that my subscriber base was dropping slowly from 2000+ to under 1000.

I realized that SEO was another mechanism to get new readers to read my posts, but I was not going to do anything unnatural to optimize my content to be “search” friendly.

I focused my efforts on Facebook to distribute my content between 2007-2009. I grew my readership from over about friends and readers to over 4000 in 2 years.

I realized late in 2009 that the Facebook feed algorithm was being changed constantly. This meant fewer friend had a chance to see my posts on their news feed. From an average of 25% of my friends who would read my posts via FB, it started dropping to < 10%.

From 2009 to 2011 I got focused on getting more users on twitter to follow and read my blog posts. I have over 10K followers and about 10-20% of the users come to read when I post.

Some of my friends were in the US, others in India. To optimize time and delivery I created 2 accounts. On one, I’d post at the local US time and at local India time for the other. This was to ensure a better chance of delivery on their twitter feed.

In 2012 I noticed many of my friends and readers from twitter coming to my blog also started to drop. Turned out that most folks were following multiple people and unless you timed it right for that person, it was near impossible for them to see it on twitter.

From 2012 to 2013 I put a lot of efforts into building my email subscriber list. Which has helped me go to about 60K+ readers. Then Google tabs happened and my email open rates dropped from 25% to ~18%. Many of my friends asked me when I stopped blogging. Turns out my blog posts were going into their social or promotions tab in their Gmail. There were not seeing my blog posts at all thanks to the new Gmail tabs.

It was frustrating to see the effort I put into building a channel go waste in 2 years. The more frustrating part was that in all these cases I was not in control.

During the last 7 years I have been constantly posting my thoughts and have not significantly increased or decreased the # of posts per year. I still average 120+ posts a year or about 2-3 a week.

The other part I wanted to clarify was if the quality of my posts dropped, which may have been the reason my readership rose (expectation) and fell (reality).

I think there might be some truth to that, but  engagement with my posts has constantly risen throughout this period. I measure engagement by time spent on my blog, average number of posts per visit, the number of comments and the # of Retweets / Likes on Facebook.

By all measures except Retweets my engagement has steadily risen over the last 5 years.

Over the last 6 months I noticed that more users were reading my posts on their mobile phone than PC or tablet. I also wanted to create a deeper sense of engagement with my friends and readers, and since I like to build a deeper connection I thought the best way to do this was to build a mobile application.

It is available on Apple app store and the Google play store. The Windows phone version will be out soon.

The apps are going to be my primary means of engaging with my friends and folks in the startup community. I am giving up on email and slowly paring down from facebook. It’s lack of immediacy in a real time world bothers me a lot.

There are 3 primary features I wanted in the app:

1. Ability to post items and get feedback / learn from my friends.

2. Find ways to meet friends and readers when I am “close” to their location.

3. Create a close network of friends who can help each other.

The beta version is out now and I’d love for you to give it a spin and connect with me there.

Startup trends: China: The “hunt and peck” has given way to the “touch and tap”

I have been spending a lot of time with startups from China the last few months. Reading about them, meeting them and learning from investors, partners and startup entrepreneurs. My intent was to understand what’s happening there that might most likely happen in India in a few years, based on market trends.

Without doubt the area that’s immensely competitive and hotly contested is mobile applications. With a large number of Internet enabled smartphones and a ARPU that’s nearly 2-3 times that of Indian consumers, it is a ripe area for innovation. I had a chance to talk to over 300+ entrepreneurs at GMIC in Bejing.

There are 3 major trends that I found particularly fascinating that I think will have some impact in the Indian ecosystem as well.

1. Messaging. Similar to Indians, the Chinese use a lot of messaging. SMS and text messaging have largely given way to messaging applications like What’s app clones in China. I was surprised to learn that the average Chinese user has a minimum of 4 messaging applications and most have close to 10. That struck me as overkill. Then I looked at my own phone and I was surprised that I had a lot of “inboxes” on my phone. Skype, What’s app, SMS, Lync, Yahoo messenger (to chat with my sis and brother-in-law, who are die-hard Yahoo users), Google talk and finally Facebook messenger.

2. Twists on messaging: There was one app that I saw that only had 2 icons and a Send button. The 2 icons revealed 20 to 30 standard messages but with icons instead of writing. Imagine they are “shortcut icons” to “How are you”? or “I am happy” or “I am late”. That’s it. The entire app was built on top of simple messages represented by icons.

It struck me that the hunt and peck of the laptop / notebook has given way to to the touch and tap of the mobile.

The amazing part of this app was that it supported folks that were not “literate”. Which is a large problem in India, given that only 20% or less of us are multi-lingual.

So an icon for “What’s up” is the same in Gujarati, Hindi, Bhojpuri or Tamil. Language barriers solved. Awesome.

3. Purpose built messaging instead of one size fits all. Tom wrote about unbundling of social networks and I think that’s what’s going to happen to messaging as well. Right now we are all happy with What’s app, but its ripe for disruption. I can imagine a couple just using a I love you messaging app to send sweet nothings to each other in 100 different ways during the day. Or two college buddies swearing at each other all day on their Galli De messaging app, just for fun. There’s another Chinese messaging app that’s just a blank canvas screen for people to message drawings to each other.

I’d love to get your perspective on if you have more than 1 messaging app on your phone and if you’d download and use multiple purpose built messaging apps.

A sample of the “values and culture” of leading technology companies

As part of the culture and values post I looked at what were the values & culture statements of the top technology companies. From Amazon to Zynga, the key things that they believe makes their company unique and successful. Some observations:

1. The older the company is the more “traditional” its values are, like integrity, customer focus, etc.

2. If you had to allocate a % to the categories of values, hiring people features in almost all of them.

3. Customer (or User) features next in 70% of them.

4. Innovation (or the commitment to it) features in less than 50%.

5. Interestingly only Apple talks about products.

  1. Google

1)       Focus on the user and all else will follow.

2)       It’s best to do one thing really, really well.

3)       Fast is better than slow.

4)       Democracy on the web works.

5)       You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.

6)       You can make money without doing evil.

7)       There’s always more information out there

8)       The need for information crosses all borders

9)       You can be serious without a suit

10)   Great just isn’t good enough.

  1. Apple

1)       We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products.

2)       We believe in the simple, not the complex.

3)       We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make.

4)       We participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.

5)       We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.

6)       We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot.

7)     We don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.

  1. Facebook

1)       Focus on Impact

2)       Move Fast

3)       Be Bold

4)       Be Open

5)       Build Social Value

  1. Zynga

1)       Love to play

2)       Level Up (Meritocracy)

3)       Be CEO

4)       Zynga Speed

5)       Zynga first

6)       Innovate

  1. Salesforce.COM

1)    Get Your Aspirations Right

2)    Field Your Best Possible Team

3)    Focus on Your Best Customer Segments

4)    Create Your Competitive Advantage

5)    Build Your Sales and Marketing Factory

  1. Amazon

1)       Customer Obsession

2)       Ownership

3)       Invent and Simplify

4)       Are Right, A Lot

5)       Hire and Develop the Best

6)       Insist on the Highest Standards

7)       Think Big

8)       Bias for Action

9)       Frugality

10)   Vocally Self Critical

11)   Earn Trust of Others

12)   Dive Deep

13)   Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

14)   Deliver Results

  1. Microsoft

1)    Integrity

2)    Honesty

3)    Openness

4)    Personal excellence

5)    Constructive self-criticism

6)    Continual self-improvement

7)    Mutual respect

  1. IBM

1)       Dedication to every client’s success

2)       Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world

3)    Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships

  1. Netflix

1)       Judgment

2)       Communication

3)       Impact

4)       Curiosity

5)       Innovation

6)       Courage

7)       Passion

8)       Honesty

9)       Selflessness

  1. HP

1)       Passion for customers

2)       Trust and respect for individuals

3)       Achievement and contribution

4)       Results through teamwork

5)       Speed and agility

6)       Meaningful innovation

7)       Uncompromising integrity

  1. Zappos

1)       Deliver WOW Through Service

2)       Embrace and Drive Change

3)       Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

4)       Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

5)       Pursue Growth and Learning

6)       Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

7)       Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

8)       Do More With Less

9)       Be Passionate and Determined

10)   Be Humble

  1. Twitter

1)       Grow our business in a way that makes us proud.

2)       Recognize that passion and personality matter.

3)       Communicate fearlessly to build trust.

4)       Defend and respect the user’s voice.

5)       Reach every person on the planet.

6)       Innovate through experimentation.

7)       Seek diverse perspectives.

8)       Be rigorous. Get it right.

9)       Simplify.

10)    ___ it.

  1. LinkedIn

1)       Demand excellence

2)       Take intelligent risks

3)      Act like an owner

  1. SAS

1)       Passion for excellence

2)       Enthusiasm and initiative

3)       Responsibility

4)       Focus on customer

5)       Emphasis on Competence building

6)       Cost consciousness

7)       Team work

8)       Integrity and loyalty

9)       Organizational pride

10)   Knowledge sharing

  1. Cisco

1)       Customer focus

2)       Corporate citizenship