Podcast: Monday Morning Mimosas

Back towards the end of 2017, my friend Sarah Bettencourt asked for me to join her on her podcast to chat about entrepreneurship. It posted this past Monday! We covered a ton of topics and the one I wouldn’t shut up about was Slack.

Monday Morning Mimosas with host Sarah Bettencourt

Here’s why I think Slack is interesting. There are a bunch of hidden communities around the world leveraging Slack as their communication channel and a place to cultivate an audience. The trick is you already have to have an audience to get the channel going, and you’ll need well over 100 people to use it often to bring in enough interaction.

Joining a Slack channel can be near impossible or extremely easy if the host allows it. Either way, the application creates a lot of engagement and opens up the door for a new kind of online social experience.

Side note: Discord is another chat app that falls in this same world, but with a focus on the gaming community. What’s amazing is their onboarding experience…holy moly it’s frictionless.


Instead of a music video, you get the lovely Sarah’s voice:

How Slack Can Help You Be A Better “Preneur” With Anthony Catanese

Winded by Design Sprints

Also posted on Medium:

I love when groups get together and collaborate, but please try to avoid making the same mistakes our team did… It only leads to the group becoming drained, wiped-out, and winded.

TL;DR: Design sprints are amazing, but they aren’t magic. After 5 years, 50 design sprints, and countless ideations for tech, HR, and financial firms, I’m worn out by companies misusing them. The worst thing a product team can do is get stoked about a new sprint process, run five of them back to back with the same team, and burn them out in the process. Below are 12 things a team can do to get the most of their sprints.

A little background: What is a design sprint and what is the typical process? Google Ventures does a great job breaking it down: http://www.gv.com/sprint/ or buy the Sprint Book by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Brand Kowitz

david-marcu-69433 Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash

When design sprints rock.

Be clear and concise about what you’re trying to solve. Design sprints are not designed to solve world hunger, one giant problem. They’re designed to focus on one specific piece of a big problem and optimize it.

We did this by leveraging “How might we…” questions to break down our big (world hunger) problem into bite-sized chunks. Then we focused on solving only one of the questions during the sprint.

“How might we…” questions are a helpful way to frame the problem at hand and move the team in the same direction.

For instance, How might we… (in regards to the massive problem of world hunger)

  • … inform the public that world hunger is a real problem? (marketing and messaging)
  • … get excess food to the people who need it? (logistics and distribution)
  • … work with partners that will provide the food? (sourcing)
  • … etc

Bring the real voice of your customer into the room.
Before the sprint, set up a time for a customer or two to chat with the team during the beginning of the sprint. Ideally, the chat will take place after the team has figured out what part of the big problem they’re trying to understand. This can be a video call, phone call, or in person interview that the whole team sits quietly and listens to while a facilitator asks questions. The goal is to gain empathy, and understand how the customer’s world works today.

My favorite question to ask during a customer interview is, “If today was my first day on the job, how would you train me to do this part of the job?” It puts your customer into teaching mode which gives the team a whole new view of the problem.

Constraints are key.
Many of the workshops we ran were left wide open with little constraints for the sprint participants. Our hope was to open up all ideas. It didn’t work. Participants often times froze and the ideas that came out fell flat most of the time. It’s like handing someone a blank piece of paper and saying, “Draw me a picture.” Instead, give them some lines and dots on the piece of paper and a mission.

What types of lines and dots can you create to help participants solve the problem? Maybe ask them, “If we only had a week, how would we solve it?” or “How would another company solve it?” or “If smartphones didn’t exist, what would you do?”

Keep everyone present.
Context changes are your absolute enemy. It’s rare to get a dedicated team together to give their full attention to a single priority. Treat this time as sacred. Starting the sprint a little later in the morning, like 10 a.m., gives people the space to get life/work in order so they can focus on the rest of the day.

Let participants design ideas alone, but share as a team.
The bookSprint by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz talks about giving people personal time to work by themselves. This was my biggest takeaway from the book and it created the most dramatic and positive results from our workshops. The ideas were thoughtful, more complete, and gave everyone a chance to contribute.

marvin-ronsdorf-196913 Photo by Marvin Ronsdorf on Unsplash

When they suck.

Here are the top ways to burn your team out on sprints.

When the wrong users/customers are tested at the end of the sprint.
Reach out to an array of potential users/customers the week before the sprint and tentatively schedule them to demo the solution at the end of the sprint. Set the right expectations that it’s tentative and their participation would be invaluable. After the first day, when the problem is defined, check your interview list and make sure your potential testers match what you’re looking for.

If the team still feels they demo’d to the wrong users/customers, run the demo again the following week with a new cohort.

When the team can’t be together for the whole week.
Break the sprint into three parts, but don’t feel like you have to run all the parts back to back. Each part can be scheduled separately to find a time for everyone to participate.

Example:
 – Part 1 – Defining the problem
 – Part 2 – Prototyping
 – Part 3 – User Interviews (In my opinion, this is the piece you want the whole team together to experience live. It brings life back to the team.)

When the group leaves without a final recap of the week.
Be sure to do a recap with the whole group, get them to share feedback, and determine your next steps. Take lots of pictures during the week, bring them out at the recap to help people remember what was covered.

When the team has no clue how the results translated to a change in the company.
Treat the sprint team like internal customers. Update them continuously as the product is developed or the problem is solved. Keep them informed and encourage them to advocate for the sprint process. Nothing sucks more than time wasted.

When the team feels like they wasted a week of their time.
Set up parameters that are very clear about what it will take for a successful sprint. Success is learning that what is being tested is either right or wrong…anything in the middle is hard to move forward with. Avoid flowery language.

When the facilitator overlooks the little things.
Don’t miss the care and feeding of the team. Be an amazing host. It’s a mentally taxing week. Provide healthy snacks and lunches to keep people moving. Check-in with the team before moving on to new pieces of the agenda. Make sure everyone is on the same page. Questions such as “What’s your biggest concern at this point?” will help bring out a candid conversation.

When it’s the same team, same process…over and over again.
Stop running the same team through the same sprint process over and over again. Change up the problem, add new unexpected teammates that would not typically be involved, like customer support, and try new things in the sprint process. Here are two great books for collaboration exercises: CTRL + SHIFT and Gamestorming.

To wrap-up, team collaboration is an amazing tool and my favorite part of what I do. Don’t give up on the process, keep the team working together, try out new processes, and avoid being winded by sprints.



P.S. here’s a quick tip on remote user interviews:
For remote testing: we’ve used Lookback.io. Great product, but enterprise users may have restrictions on the types of Chrome plugins they can install. Webex is your answer if that’s the situation. Have the user share their screen, and turn on their video. The session can be recorded for the rest of the group that couldn’t attend. Also, be sure to have at least 30mins between interviews to give the team a chance to recap and get some notes down.

CAKE – THE DISTANCE

No, I agree

I’ve had this one in the hopper for awhile, and silly enough I wasn’t sure how to write it. It’s about communicating.

My Biggest Struggle, Communication

I have to say my biggest struggle, and I think for most people, is with communication. This plays such an important role in everything we do from interacting with families, coworkers, and helping people solve problems, yet we’re all so good at sucking at it.

I realized just how bad I was when I heard myself say, “No! I agree.” Which is it Catter (my friends call me Cat), No or I agree?

In this situation, it’s always I agree.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for me, and is a little communication deal that can be solved just by changing my personal habits. A much bigger struggle  though lies in the same realm, framing the problem.

Frame the Problem

You can conquer nearly anything in this world if you can do one thing, frame the problem. What does that mean? This means that you can take a problem that you’re trying to solve and change your approach based on who you’re talking to. You frame the situation for them in a different way that speaks their language and get’s them emotionally involved in what you’re solving for. Simple…I know.

There is a short blog post here that explains techniques to do this in more detail: www.idea-sandbox.com, and a great video from Clayton Christensen called “Jobs-to-be-Done” that shows this working for a company that wanted to understand why people bought their milkshakes.

Clayton Christensen- Jobs-to-be-Done

Did you catch the reframe of the milkshake problem? The reframe is in the, “Why did you hire this product?” This tilted the problem and gave a  different view to the customers. It took them out of the  process of thinking what they’re doing, and put them in a state of why this milkshake was in their life.

This means that as a product owner you  need to change your messaging for every person involved. You need to nail the problem of your customer to the customer in their language, you need to frame a customers needs to a developer in their language, and you absolutely need to speak the language of your investors.

This is all simple stuff, but we struggle with it – all of us. If we didn’t, then we would understand every product ever created. My hope is that by writing this I can revisit it and understand how poorly I explained it 😉

The Delfonics – Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time – Live 1973

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOvfctgwnug&w=420&h=315]

I chose this song because I finally saw Jackie Brown last night and because honestly….Didn’t I Blow Your Mind? 🙂

A Letter to Enterprise Product Development

Dear Enterprise Product Development,

I hope this letter finds you well and development on that 3 year project is moving smoothly. I understand you’re very busy, so I’ll make this short.

Do you remember that small company that you read about a year ago on TechCrunch? It was run by 3-4 guys, they only had a few hundred thousand dollars in funding, and were charging only half the normal price of the industry.

Remember how we joked about how all the startups in San Fran operate in a bubble, only provide services for each other, and just exchange each others resources.

I thought you should know they just landed one of your competitors top clients.

You may be saying, “Ok, now what?”

I say IgniteWithUs.

Sincerely,

Anthony Catanese

———————

I heard feedback that this didn’t make sense. Maybe I tried to be too deep and obscure. I thought of this letter when I read about a startup that’s starting to make headway and it happens to be in a similar space as the company I work for. A year ago I read about them and I shrugged it off. They’ve grown, pivoted, and now they are competing with our competitors head-on…they’re changing the industry conversation.

That’s where the the last 2 lines of the letter come in. You say, “Ok, now what?” As in, what can I do about it?  Make better PowerPoints? I say you create a new group that innovates, which is what we do: IgniteWithUs.

———————–

Le Loup – We are Gods! We Are Wolves!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCzUW38zv0E&w=560&h=315]

Tales of a PO: Week 7 – Hacked…Growth Hacked

During the last few weeks, the hot topic around the office has been focused on growth hacking. We’ve each been learning as much we can through researching, experiments, and  sharing how the latest startup was able to pull it off. These articles were the most helpful so far: 21 Actionable Growth Hacking TacticsGrowth Hacking, Email and Mullets and then there this is one: The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking.

The following is what stuck out to me the most, especially since I work in a intrapreneurial startup incubator:

There are some areas of growth hacking that larger companies cannot get away with. Some growth hacking tactics flirt with the boundaries of either legality or good citizenship, that are really only employable when you are small, scrappy and easily forgiven.

It’s all so Machiavellian, growing users by any means possible.

Machiavelli

It then struck me…I’ve growth hacked in the past. It was 16 years ago, but whatever…. I did it like a CHAMP! In the span of one day I grew the users of my first website by 900%.

This is the rest of the story.

It was 1997ish when my family bought our first REAL computer, a Micron. I remember it really well because it came with a PC game that absolutely blew my mind, POD. My interest in PC games quickly grew from there, as well as my interest in learning to build websites.

Building pages became my life. Making text flash, marquee, and animating GIFs was the jam, as well as using MIDI files to set the page’s mood. I hosted on either AOL or Geocities, and I remember the first time I had to upload everything to a site… with no clue or understanding of what I was doing. I thought I was essentially building a complicated MSWord document.

Age of Empires Horse
Animating my own GIF’s. One of my life passions…one pixel at a time with screenshots

The site was called “The Basement” (I so wish I had some kind of screenshot). It encompassed everything I knew about my favorite PC games; Command and Conquer, the Neverhood, Age of Empires, Resident Evil, and Diablo. I posted cheats, videos, saved game files, and there was even a hosted crack for Paint Shop Pro  6…dumb kid.

What does this have to do with growth hacking?

With all the content, tips and tricks, and even cracks I was sure somebody was going to find it. But how could I tell? Google Analytics didn’t exist yet.

The answer was a sweet/tacky web counter.

A week into having the counter, I reached a whopping 7 hits. I’m pretty sure they were all me too.

Really…7….I didn’t get it. The page covered lots of topics, provided great content. I even had an amazing navigation system using frames 😉 I was so sad.

I was now focused on one measure, how many hits can I get. I started posting links in chat rooms, forums, and spamming every source I could find, but it wasn’t working.

While researching (cheat codes for Quake) in the school library, it hit me that security on the schools computers nearly didn’t exist. Operation: Get Hits, was now in effect. There were a ton of library workstations and students used them constantly.

My solution, change the Internet Explorer homepage on every computer in the library to point to my site. BOOOM!

That evening my counter read 108. I was a happy guy…until the pesky IT guy in the library realized what happened and changed the security.

I didn’t care though…I started getting regular visits from kids in school and even made friends from it. It was my first growth hack.

Lesson learned

Act as if…..you were a 14 year old kid who has nothing to lose.

Diablo – Soundtrack

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcTAVQYMZv0&w=560&h=315]

Tales of a PO: Week 6 – Ask for Help

You don’t win friends with salad, and you certainly don’t win friends by taking a really long time to solve problems.

The lesson for this week is to ask for help to get it done. This is especially important when it affects the ones around you. I know simple simple advice, but it’s the simple things in life. I finally accomplished a task tonight that has taken nearly a year. It took 9 months to accept help.

Outside help was brought in about a month or so ago and it was great working with them. There were some troubles though with  equipment failure. I felt bad to continue to ask for help, and because of that, it just drug out instead of just getting it done. Tonight was the end of it…wooo! I felt accomplished for about 5 minutes until I realized how long this whole thing took. Then I thought about the lesson.

Leaders put people in the position to get things done properly and don’t pretend to know everything. Get it done by letting others do what they do best.

The Beatles – Help

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNahS3OHPwA&w=420&h=315]

Tales of a PO: Week 5 – Band-Aids

How did the telephone get traction?

Seriously. I thought of this while watching Downton Abbey with my wife. I know…but it’s pretty good.

Image

They install a telephone and the younger generation is completely taken by it, but the older sir’s and madam’s are unsure of it. They just didn’t get how it could be used, but there is one comment that I thought was interesting.

“Who are we going to call if nobody we know has one?”

Yeah, who would they call?  When you’re trying to grow users in a social way, how do you grow your early-adopters? The first installs of the phone weren’t cheap either. Lines were not run, there was no wireless. There was also stiff competition: telegraph, couriers, and letters. These are people that are set in their ways.

So how do you spur traction? On Quora, http://www.quora.com/How-did-the-telephone-gain-initial-traction, it’s a pretty simple answer: they sold to businesses first.

They found their true early adopter. Businesses make money by being ahead of the game and information is money. The person who receives information faster makes more money. They found a pain, and they solved it. The phone first spread in large cities, then the high-class began installing, and then they told two friends…and so …and so on.

You have to find the people you are really solving problems for, the rest will follow.

The moral of the story for this weeks PO lesson is: business problems are business problems no matter what time period you’re in.  If you’re not selling band-aids to the people who bleed then you’re the one that’s going to run out of life. Solve real problems for people and others will find cool uses for the same technology.

Architecture In Helsinki – Heart It Races

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZjpWs1h7pU&w=420&h=315]

“and we’re slow to acknowledge the knots in our laces”

Tales of a PO: Week 3 and 4 – Don’t Break the Chain

Being productive has to be one of life’s hardest things to accomplish and even though we have this amazing thing called computers to help keep us productive it can really do just the opposite. Thanks a lot internet.

Focus is the topic today.

What are you focusing on and is it the most important thing? There are about 4 million distractions out in the world and they’re all aimed at you. Email, phone calls, text message, instant messages, music, advertising, etc. You name it’s out there and it has your name on it. How do you entice yourself to not get distracted?

Seinfeld actually had a solution to help with this:

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”P

“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.

http://lifehacker.com/281626/jerry-seinfelds-productivity-secret

It’s the same in the product world. What’s your key activity that takes you a step further in validating your business model? Do that everyday in some way.

And another great quote:

“If you know you have to swallow a frog, swallow it first thing in the morning. If there are two frogs, swallow the big one first.”
-Mark Twain

Fleetwood Mac – The Chain

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcawnRIyeok&w=420&h=315]

Tales of a PO: Week 2 – Dating

Day 6 of the Product Owner role. Click here for backstory.

The major process we follow while developing products at Ignite is lean. It’s an interesting process that has quite a bit of similarities to other frameworks, such as Pragmatic, with one huge factor of a difference, it’s very very slimmed down. That’s a big ‘duh’ just based on the name.

The lean process  hinges on 1 major factor, getting out of the office. This means interview, interview, interview. You need to understand the problem the market is having, how it’s being solved currently, and where does your idea fit. Taking this approach will hopefully lead you to talk to a ton of the right people who will help you mold, pivot and shape your business model into the rip roaring product you hoped it would be.

I’ve taken this seriously with the seeds I managed, and now I get to do it myself.

Key lesson #1 – Networking is a lot like dating.

Remember the really rad times of being single? The days where you would go out with friends, enjoy a bunch of laughs, and have amazing conversations. They were awesome right? Yeah, they were. They were even better when one of our friend’s would build up enough courage to get a lady’s phone number. Big smiles, high-5’s, and confidence for everyone! Point’s on the board for the home team and mark off the checkbox next to “have a good night.”

This is essentially business networking. This is the same thing as going to a Meetup group, conference, or LinkedIn (networking version of online dating) and getting the contact/business card you were hoping for. You have the card!!!! Now what?

Now do you remember the really crappy days of dating? The moment that number gets in your hands, it’s a minute of excitement and then about 20 hours of, “ohhhhhhh nooooooo.” You now have to talk to this person.  Many of us become a mangled mess of self-consciousness while we analyze our next moves.  You build up enough courage to call…and leave a message.

Now you play the waiting game. You’ll go through the phases of, “It’s been a few days and I haven’t heard back. I should follow-up with an email.” Then you’ll hit, “They could be on vacation and they just forgot their out of office.” Maybe you’ll call from a different number …say from the local PizzaHut. You can see where this is going.

If this is your only lead you’ll smother them.

The successful few won’t put all their eggs in one basket. They’ll be like three little Fonzies, and what’s Fonzie like? Cool. They’ll keep finding leads and make sure they spread their attention out until somebody shows more attention back.  Then you can spend more time with that person.

So the lesson is, don’t worry about it. Go on with your life and treat your leads just as they are. A person. Not an early adopter, or a contact.

Yeasayer – Ambling Alp

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKXujEphWS8&w=560&h=315]

Leaders Pour Concrete

I talk way too much about Daft Punk. I can hear myself talk about them and I cringe. I think to myself, “Really, Anthony. Again?”

Well here it comes.

concrete

What is a Daft Punk? It’s a fun/serious electronic musical duo that have songs that can be listened to over and over and over again. They have relatively been unknown in the U.S. until this past May when their latest album was released. Except they were only unknown by name. Nearly the whole world over the past 20 years has heard parts of their tracks or were listening to tunes that were influenced by them in some way.

How could that be?

Because they’re leaders.  Silent robotic leaders.

Their new LP, Random Access Memories, is a great example of how they set their own rules. It’s funky, not too fast, very different from most things they’ve done, but you can tell it’s them.

The funny thing is I don’t know what they actually did on it. Every song is a collaboration of other artists, producers and electric magicians. The album brings back the days of funk and splices in the sound of the current era.

I was put off when I really started to think about it. Can they claim credit for a great album when every instrument, vocals, and production are provided from others? How can their name be behind it?

Because they’re leaders.

They knew the sound they wanted. Their spirit drove them to find the people to collaborate with, and take their industry in a new direction. They poured the foundation and found the best people to build the dream. They partnered with the biggest names that specialized in the music they were looking for, such as Nile Rodgers of Chic, Panda Bear, and Pharrell Williams.

This isn’t any different when launching a business. The founders job is to pour concrete, find the right builders, communicate the dream. The hard part is letting the dream become bigger than the team….even bigger than the silent robotic leader.

George Barnett – Get Lucky

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6NDY8FSr9M&w=560&h=315]