chemical-reactions-startup-ideas

How Startup Ideas Can Be Modeled Like Chemical Reactions

I’m sometimes envious of people who studied subjects in college that correspond to their actual careers. Finance majors who become bankers. Computer Science majors who become software engineers. Must be nice to actually *use* the knowledge you spent four or more years studying. As a guy with two biology degrees, a career in marketing and (non biotech), startups is a fairly orthogonal direction.

However, I have discovered a few ideas from my academic studies that come in handy when thinking about startups. One of them is how a chemical reaction is a great model for a startup idea. But let’s first take a step back.

The Four Key Points Needed to Discuss a Startup Idea

I was recently in a conversation with a coworker about some of her startup ideas. She had one idea around revitalizing musicals that, while not her main startup idea, got me thinking about the best way intelligently discuss these types of ideas. [1] It boils down to four major questions / answers. Continue reading…

Minimum-Viable-Transaction

Test Your Startup Idea with a Minimum Viable Transaction

The entire startup world owes Eric Ries a huge high five for everything he’s contributed to our understanding of how startups are created and grown. One term that he coined back in 2009, minimum viable product, has stood for the difference between shipping “error-free” shrink-wrapped software, and releasing something barebones that you can test and learn from. And while Corporate America and the Federal Government are just starting to adopt the ideas of lean startups, the term is starting to show its age.

The world has changed a lot since 2009, and I think we need a concept that goes beyond MVP. Many of the fastest growing startups right now – Instacart, Homejoy, Airbnb – they facilitate real-world transactions of goods, services, and money. Sometimes this is called online-to-offline: technology facilitates the transaction, but it is just the beginning.

Transactions are the New Products

When I was in DC, I met a woman working on an interesting app idea: a marketplace bringing together piano players and piano owners who rarely use their expensive instruments. The idea was that pianos could be listed on the marketplace and players, who often couldn’t afford a piano of their own, could play their instrument. When I asked this woman what her current plans were for the project, she said she was trying to wireframe the marketplace for a web and mobile application, figure out payment processors, etc. Continue reading…

No Silver Bullets: Etsy’s Randy Hunt on Product Design

product-design-for-the-web-randy-hunt

While on my Peru Trip earlier this year, I read a great book  called Product Design for the Web: Principles of Designing and Releasing Products for the Web.

As one of two interaction designers who joined Etsy in 2010, Randy Hunt, now creative director, has written the book on best practices of product development for successful modern-day Internet companies. I highly recommend it.

I sat down with Randy recently to learn more about his perspective on product design. But before I jump into that conversation, here’s a brief look at some of the big ideas from the book:

Takeaways From Product Design for The Web By Randy Hunt

Note: these are not direct quotes but pretty close paraphrases

  • Great products are understandable (set expectations and live up to them) and meaningful (help people solve problems or accomplish goals) and, hopefully, delightful
  • It can be helpful to reimagine your product spec as a press release defining what the update is, who it is for and why it matters Continue reading…
A Gardener's Best Friend

Start Smaller

If a product is to succeed at all, it must first succeed on a smaller scale.

Small products  do not always succeed, but they are easier and faster to build, test, and tweak than bigger products. This also applies to features. Perhaps John Gall put it best when he said:

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.Gall’s Law

Continue reading…

Welcome-to-Genius

Design Teardown of the Genius (YC S11) iPhone App

Disclaimer: Rap Genius was in the YC S11 batch along with Ridejoy. I’m friendly with the founders but have no financial stake in this article nor many details of their future plans (besides world domination of course =D)

On Tuesday, Jan 28, 2014, Rap Genius launched their iPhone app, Genius, a project cofounder Tom Lehman called “the true launch of Rap Genius“.

Having started as an annotation platform for rap lyrics, Rap Genius has since branched into rock, poetry, and even news. Until now, they were only available on the web or via a mobile website. But a native app has been in the works for a LONG time – remember their ad for a “Mobile Czar” way back in October of 2012?

Lehman also says that 50% of Rap Genius traffic is mobile and they only expect it to grow, so Genius is basically represents their first iteration of the future of their product and company. Given how crucial this app is, I thought it’d be valuable to study the app’s design for lessons and ideas.

The Genius Design Teardown

[Click to enlarge]

[Click to enlarge]

Onboarding

Genius takes us through a basic set of explanation screens when you first open the app. The key feature being the reading of annotations, with three secondary features of getting lyrics and annotation of your own music library, playing the actual song of the lyrics you’re reading, and a Shazam-like music recognition feature. You’re then prompted to sign up, sign in or, if you’re reading carefully, use the app without doing either.

Thoughts

I think they’re right to focus on the music annotation as the primary benefit. I assume they are not only trying to satisfy their core user base, but also expand their audience, many of who might not even be aware of their core offering. The other features seem pretty neat though – we’ll see more about them in a second.

Continue reading…