Don’t Forget About Quality


Some of your product’s bugs could be as devastating as a safety issue that leads to car fires.

“The FAA prohibits you from plugging your Samsung Note 7 into any outlets on this aircraft.”

I heard this on a recent flight and felt bad for Samsung, a brand I had come to respect for what they’ve done to compete with Apple.  After hearing this, though, I’ve lost all respect and have a great response to my wife’s plea to switch to Android.

You can’t rush a good product.  Quality takes time, because it means the squad took time to understand real-world scenarios, and how to test them before launching your product or a feature.

This doesn’t just apply to software products.  Chipotle had an e. coli scare in the spring, they later reported an 82% drop in profits, compared to the spring/summer of 2015.

Who’s job is quality?  While it’s on the entire squad to deliver a quality product, having a good Quality Assurance team makes it so much easier.  They’re the ones asking “what happens in user scenario X?” and thinking about the best way to thoroughly test the changes.  So if you haven’t already, give everyone on your QA team a hug, high five, or bug zapper.

Want to talk about how to improve your product’s quality? Drop me a line.

Do you need a roadmap?

Not having a roadmap is like off roading. You can certainly get somewhere but it may not be the most comfortable journey.

April 2017 update: my thoughts on roadmaps have changed – if you’re working in Agile, be sure to read Why Agile and roadmaps don’t mix.

Not every product needs a roadmap.  They’re a lot of work to produce but are definitely appropriate for more mature products / organizations. Unless you’re pre-revenue and there entire company is sitting in the same room (as in, there’s no way you don’t know what the product team is working on), you probably need a roadmap to communicate:


Your roadmap should be a reflection of the changes to your product that are most likely going to improve one (or more) of your KPIs, which define what success means for your product. (more on KPIs in this post).   So the highest priority items on your roadmap are the ones that are expected to move the needle the furthest.


When is that change gonna go live?! Timelines are also really important to your customers, whose businesses might depend on the timeline (maybe they need to integrate with your product and need to plan for that or are going to change a business process as a part of a change you are making).

Be careful in presenting these timelines. If you only did t-shirt sizing to estimate the timeline, your estimate might be off (especially towards the end of your roadmap). My recommendation is to remind the audience that these are estimates and that the accuracy of the roadmap should get better as epics come closer to starting.  Also, as the timeline nears, don’t forget to be Agile and demo too customers often – wireframes, comps, half-built functionality, etc. That way you can get feedback and provide status updates on timing.

Even if you don’t have a roadmap, you should still have defined KPIs to measure the success of your product so that you can know whether your changes are meaningful.

Want to talk about your product’s roadmap? Drop me a line.

Breaking Down An Effective Print Ad

I saw this ad on the way to work on the El and thought it was really effective (or at least compared to the other ads on the train). Specifically:

  • Effective layout and content – I glanced at this for 3 seconds and immediately knew what the ad was for.
  • Great imagery – I can see what running in the race downtown would be like. (Bonus points if they had used the behavioral technique of visualizing my future and had an image of people celebrating as they crossed the finish line instead. I know it would have gotten me thinking how great it would feel to finish the race)
  • Call To Action – visit the site!  It’s an easy URL to remember too.
  • Urgency – the $10 discount that expires at the end of the month makes me realize I’d better act soon. And the discount code is easy to remember.

Now, as much as I like this ad, having just had another kid, I’m not gonna register for this race. But kudos to the designers and I’m sure they’ll fill up the 15,000 spots quickly.

Want a free analysis of one of your ads? Drop me a line.

Marketing 101: Always Include A Call To Action


Not having a CTA is like a local car dealership paying for a TV ad without the “Come on down to ______ and see our great deals” at the end.

I like NatureBox – they mail you snacks each month.  I bought a subscription for my wife as a Christmas gift because she works from home and likes to snack between meetings/calls.  They have good food (although I’m not sure it’s so healthy).

I was excited to see they’re now offered in select Target stores – got a coupon to get a free bag in our last NatureBox.  I also got the above flyer to refer a friend.  I would definitely have done it, but there was no Call To Action – no “log onto, visit” – nothing.  Now I know that I probably need to log onto the site, but at this point, I’ve lost interest.

Key lesson? Include a CTA on all marketing (especially really expensive print materials!) and make sure you’re providing clear, detailed instructions if there are many steps needed for the person to take the action you want them to take.

Want a free analysis of your current marketing campaigns? Drop me a line.


Don’t Rebuild Your Product From Scratch


Rebuilding a product from scratch is like upgrading to the latest model of your car – it happens all at once, and until you do it, you’re still driving a beat up jalopy.

I see it all the time.  People spend years building a product and then throw it away to rebuild it from scratch.  It’s one of the most expensive SaaS product mistakes out there, especially if you’re planning a “big unveil” – a single day when all users/customers will switch entirely from the old version to the new version. Here’s why it’s not a great idea to throw away an entire product and start over:

The New Product Can’t Be Sold

I’ll use the new car model analogy above.  Even the slickest car salesperson couldn’t sell you a car that didn’t have doors, or an engine.  Think about it: you’re working on a new version of your product but it’s not quite ready because it doesn’t have feature X or Y yet, so you’ll never sell it.  Maybe you can demo parts of it, but if it’s not all done, customers won’t (and can’t) buy it.  So what value has your new product generated?  None, until it’s ready for prime time.

It Takes A Long Time To Rebuild

This may sound obvious but if you’re building a new version of your product you can’t take features that your existing product supports away, unless they’re not used at all.  (and even if they’re only used a little, you’d have to figure out a transition plan for the users who are using them).  Assume it will take about 50% as long to rebuild each feature as it took to originally build it.  So if you built your existing product in 2 years, a rebuild will take a year.  That’s a long time to not have new sales. (I’m assuming you’re rebuilding because the current product isn’t selling).

Feedback Is Hard To Get

Maybe you have a really engaged user base willing to beta test your new version (or whatever’s built so far).  But probably not – maybe you’re disciplined and are running usability tests along the way.  But that’s not with your existing users, and it’s not with their own data.  The point is this – in a world where you’re betting big on the new version, not having a way to validate your new product from existing customers/users is really risky.  What if they don’t like it?!

Migration Is Painful

In the wild, migrations are ugly – water buffalo get eaten by lions, birds die flying south for the winter, etc.  You’re gonna lose users along the way.  Plus moving data around is hard – especially if the data doesn’t map exactly to the new feature set.  (“well, what should we do with THIS user data?  It doesn’t exactly fit into our new version properly.”)

An Alternative Approach

So what’s a better way to upgrade your product without a “big bang” release? Unlike cars, software can be updated slowly and doesn’t require that “all at once” upgrade.  You can update each page in your web app, you can update the most important features in your mobile app.  You can take a much more Agile approach.  And I’d strongly recommend it.

Fix The Biggest Problem First

You thought you needed to rebuild for a reason.  Maybe Tech told you the existing product can’t support a new feature.  Or that the current architecture is brittle.  Or that you got a new team and no one likes / understands the existing product / code base.  All legit motivations to want to rebuild, but not legit reasons to actually rebuild.  Product should prioritize what single change would make the current product better.  Start there and see what you can do to address that issue.

Partner With Tech

This approach can’t be done without some help from Engineering and QA.  They’re gonna have to think of an iterative approach to get from what you have today to where you want to go, whether it’s a backend replatforming, a Service-Oriented Architecture, or a new front-end tech stack.  The ultimate question is what can we do in 1-2 sprints to start releasing parts of “the new product”?

See Immediate Value

Google Drive did a good job with this a year or two ago.  They wanted to revamp their product, but they did so iteratively and told users they could “Try the new Drive”

Try the New Drive

Great – users could still use the existing product, but they could also explore the upgrade and provide feedback.  Perfect for Google to slowly perfect the new version and eventually sunset the old one.  You can even default users into the new version, when you feel like the feedback suggests that it’s “good enough” – just make sure they know they’re looking at a new version, and give them the ability to toggle back to the old version in case they really like a feature that doesn’t yet exist in the new version, or just hate the new version (tracking how many users toggle to the old version and for what is a great way to gather data to know if you’re new version is ready for release).



How to Get More Mobile App Users

App makers who don’t optimize the adoption funnel are like car dealerships who still using the same marketing tactics as they did in 1980.

Let’s take a look at the standard adoption funnel for your mobile – the steps a prospective user needs to take to register for your app (or “adopt” it).  The funnel below has some made-up stats for the purpose of this post.  Note that the overall conversion rate is the product of the 3 conversion rates between the 4 steps (50% x 25% x 75% = 9.375%).


Step 1: Discover

This is all about building awareness of your app, and what your marketing team is probably focused on.  The more people that get here, the more users you will have.  But beware: you may not want to drive a bunch of people to this step before your funnel is optimized, as this is perhaps the most expensive step.

Getting People From Discovery To The App Store or Google Play


Channels like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram  are great for targeting and relatively cost effective as a starting point.  The call to action should drive them directly to Step 2 – your page in the App Store or Google Play.  You could send them to a landing page, but you’d be introducing another step in the funnel, which won’t help overall conversion. (but this might be worth A/B testing with your audience)

(Side note: I wouldn’t recommend non-digital ads (TV, radio, print) as a starting point because even though you’ll reach a broader audience to build awareness, you’ll lose a lot of people in the process of getting them to take out a digital device like a phone, tablet or laptop and come to your web site or search for your product.  Most startups can’t afford non-digital ads.)

Get press

If you have something unique to offer, tell the world.  But make sure there’s a story there for reporters.  To learn more, here’s a decent primer on writing a press release from HubSpot. Again, the call to action from the story should be to check out the app in the App Store or Google Play.

Hold events

If your app is specific to a city or region, or you’re initially targeting users based on where they live, holding events like launch parties might be a great idea.  The key is to make sure there is a good reason (like a raffle prize or exclusive feature access) for attendees to fly through the funnel and download the app at the event itself.

Generate referrals

Once you have a decent user base (or a very engaged user base), you can recruit them to help spread the word. Build a referral feature and/or program and make sure your users are incentivized properly to direct their friends and family to Step 2.

Step 2: View in App Store

Once a prospect knows about your app, they have to get to the page in the App Store to download it.

Getting People From Viewing The App To Downloading It

App Store Optimization

A lot of people discover new apps by searching the App Store or Google Play.  Just like you might optimize your web site to appear on the first page of search results (Search Engine Optimization), you’ll want to know that your app shows up at the top of the list when people are looking for new apps.  For more information, read this: Top 10 Ways to Optimize Your App Store Search Ranking and Presence.  In particular, make sure to use screen shots and videos to visually explain the benefits of your app, as well as a good description and solid set of (hopefully 5-star) reviews.

(There are a lot of great apps for creating beautiful screen shots to use in the App Store and Google Play – I like

Test your discovery techniques

Context matters – the way that the person got to the app store may very well influence whether she decides to download your app.  For example, if I ran an ad advertising “the best new dating app”, I’ve set a high expectation – if my app’s description, reviews and screen shots don’t also scream “the best new dating app,” she might not download it.  On the other hand, if my ad read “the hottest new dating app”, she’ll come in with a different set of expectations.

Small changes like these matter – track click through rates on your ads and periodically take a survey of what’s working and what’s not.  Ideally each ad has a unique URL that it goes to, so you can track the download rates on a per-ad (or at least per-campaign) basis.  For more on how that works, visit:

App Store

Google Play 

Step 3: Download

Once they get to your app’s page in the App Store, you still have to convince them to download your app. (Side note, this applies mostly to iOS apps – Android is launching Instant Apps, which lets a user download your app without going to Google Play).

Getting People From Downloading The App To Registering

Once someone has downloaded the app, there’s a good chance they’ll open it immediately, but if they don’t, you’ve significantly lowered your chance to get a registered user, unless you’re confident in what cue might later prompt them to open the app they just downloaded. (for example, with dating apps, I know that boredom at home is a prompt that gets people thinking about dating apps).

Talk To Users

Optimizing the conversion rate of people who’ve downloaded the app to the number of registered users probably requires some user research.  Ask random people in your target audience to download your app and talk out loud as they open it and look at your splash screen / registration page.  Look for clues on what might be confusing – what barriers / open questions are there that might prevent people from registering?   Should you hae a link to your FAQs on the registration page? Make sure to address the barriers in the next release of your app (which hopefully isn’t but a month or two away, if you’re using Agile).

Demonstrate Value Quickly

Ideally a prospective user doesn’t even have to register before getting some value from your app.  If it’s possible to let them explore a feature or experience the sweetness that is your app before registering, do it.  Then create a compelling reason for them to create an account after playing around (for example, maybe in a dating app you can let them see potential connections quickly and they register in order to start messaging people that look interesting).

Tracking the conversion rate between steps 3 and 4 isn’t hard – the App Store and Google Play will let you see how many downloads you’ve had during a specific time period, and hopefully you have some kind of reporting dashboard that tells you the date/time that new users registered so you can calculate this conversion rate.

Step 4. Register

Victory!  Nothing sweeter than a new user.  In a future post I’ll write about how the onboarding experience (AKA first-time user experience or FTUX) plays a critical role in determining whether new users continue to use your app.

Want a free analysis of your mobile user acquisition funnel?

Why A Generic Cover Letter Is Worse Than No Cover Letter

Writing a cover letter is a really good way to make your application stand out — few people do it. But don’t get me, the hiring manager, excited about a cover letter only to find something like:

Dear Recruiter, your company is really exciting to me. Here’s a summary of my resume, which you easily could have deduced from 15 seconds of actually looking at my resume. Please interview me.

The cover letters that really help your chances are way more specific to the role I’m hiring for (and yes, I can tell how much time you took to research the role and company). Tell me why you’re excited to work at my company. Tell me how your past experience would make you a good fit for the role (especially if you’re trying to transition into a new function). Tell me how you‘ve already talked to one of my colleagues — or even a former colleague.

Ultimately the point of the cover letter is to provide me with information I couldn’t have seen from your resume, and the most interesting information is why you’re interested in this role and why you think you’d be a good fit.