Don’t Try to Build a Cronut

August 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’m not sure what the cronuts in NYC taste like as that is where this craze started, but all of the cronuts I’ve tried here in San Francisco have been a complete and utter execution fail*. The problem is that it’s a “dessert” attempting to be a donut and a croissant – both very delicious in their own rights – rather than focusing on one, and taking the best “features” of the other. The cronut is attempting to be too many things to too many people but ends up being a subpar, and rather pedestrian execution of trying to be the very best of the donut and the very best of the croissant.

This is a problem seen with a lot of early stage startups. Their product, in an attempt at appeasing too many people, ends up appeasing no one. The product goal of an early product is simply to validate that it solves a problem. Or rather, that it’s the right execution for a solution to a problem. An early product should be feature minimal, or, more commonly,  a Minimal Viable Product. It shouldn’t attempt to integrate multiple very strong, known-to-be-successful, mechanics – the focus should be on validating the core and the problem.
For the second iteration of GleeBox (no, not the now nonexistent Chrome Extension, but the platform connecting consumers to local goods *shameless self promotion: download here for iOS!*) , I had a list of features I wanted to implement. I wanted user profiles, I wanted a notification center, I wanted people to be able to message each other, etc etc. I ended up stripping those features out of v1.0 when designing all of that became overwhelming and building all of that would be daunting – especially since we knew the focus should be on validation. We didn’t want to become the cronut – we were okay with not appeasing everyone if we could appease at least some, rather than none. (If you’re wondering what happened to the first iteration, we invalidated that execution of the problem we’re trying to solve and moved on quickly). The problem with the second iteration is that it was a giant step in the right direction, but a giant misstep in execution. We were trying to build a platform on mobile and web, without first testing the idea.
For the third, and current iteration (not quite a pivot because we aren’t changing our focus on the problem we’re solving, simply the execution of the solution – we follow more of a Design-thinking philosophy rather than the “pivot” of the Lean Startup Movement – possibly because Design is a core part of GleeBox’s company DNA), the product is super minimal. Most of our users can only browse the local goods around them, and a small minority of users can add content. Users can share on Facebook, bookmark, and comment, but they cannot follow each other, message each other, see what’s trending, see what’s new, etc etc. We intentionally have chosen to keep the app incredibly simple and for product we are focusing on fixing massive bugs that affect usability, as well as fixing weird UX nuances – this is about 40% of our focus. The other 60% is going towards validating and seeing how people use it.
The cronut takes the two best parts of two delicious baked goods without focusing on one of them and improving it. Of course there are a number of bakeries focusing on one and adding “features” to it for a delicious execution win on taste (Bouchon Bakery’s almond croissant, various iterations of donuts from tequila infused pastry cream to ginger grapefruit donuts - The New Cupcake: The Donut).
With GleeBox, we’re attempting to do just that – focus on one set of users and the core of our product to validate, before we start integrating additional features or attempt to appeal to other types of users. We want to create the very best donut or croissant and slowly add features that make sense, rather than just take known successful social mechanics and create a craze. We’re in this for the long-game, not for a short-term craze.
PS: If you download GleeBox, definitely pass along your feedback! feedback@gleebox.com 
*Cronut opinions are my own, and based on the cronuts in San Francisco.

Sketchnoting: Seed Investments at Perkins Coie

April 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last Thursday, I went to Perkins Coie for a panel that they hosted on fundraising - Seed Investments: How To Be Attractive to Early Stage Investors and the “Right” Seed Investment Structure For You. As a first-time entrepreneur with my background, experience, and focus in product and design, fundraising is completely new to me and I’m learning everything I can about it before we’re ready to start raising. Here’s my sketchnote on the event – sometimes I find that drawing out visuals gets my mind to make connections better.  

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Click to view a larger version of the sketchnote. The panelists included: 

  • Topher Conway, Partner, SV Angels
  • Michael Glaser, Partner, Perkins Coie LLP
  • Ajit MedhekarMember of Band of Angels, Former Venture Partner of ARCH Venture Partners
  • Richard MelmonManaging Director of Bullpen Capital, Co-founder of Electronic Arts

What’s not included in the sketchnote above are the panelists thoughts on seed-stage deal structures. Some believe that founders shouldn’t do debt, others are saying restructure so you receive pre-common instead of preferred, but the most common is still convertible debt. One of the panelists mentioned that founders should just do an equity strategy because it’s transparent. Keep things simple in the seed round and focus more on your product and building out your company. Most importantly, talk to your lawyer first about the various structures. They represent your company and therefor have its’ best interest at heart and can break down the benefits and downsides of the various structures. If you invested some of your own money, you should put it in a nonconvertible note (I’m not sure what the reasoning for this is, or what other options there are – a lot of what was discussed are things I’ll need to look into a bit more).

If you have any advice on fundraising for first-time entrepreneurs, then definitely pass it along in the comments below!

 

You’re Not a Founder If You’re Getting Paid

April 4, 2013 § 2 Comments

Edit: This post was syndicated to Women 2.0 on April 5, 2013 and can be viewed here

I recently went to an event on Fundraising where Ajit Medhekar, part of Band of Angels, sat on the panel to discuss early stage fundraising and the various seed investment structures (I might share my crude sketchnotes…maybe. Stay tuned!). He mentioned that if you’re getting paid, you’re most certainly not a Founder, specifically if this is an early stage company where all you really have is seed investment. Barely 40 minutes later, I met a founder who’s considering shutting down their company because it wasn’t performing well. They sounded defeated and heartbroken, but this is a tale that’s all too common in Silicon Valley. As they were telling me their story, they kept bringing up how they had to make so many sacrifices (welcome to entrepreneurship – expect to stay hungry and foolish), how they couldn’t spend like they used to (evidently for this Founder, it was designer labels – congratulations, you’re learning what it means to make short-term “sacrifices” and live like no one wants to, so you can one day, live the way most people can only dream of), and how once they raised a small seed round they had to give themselves a salary which was reduced considerably from what their market rate would be. Wait…what?! Pause for a second.. they were giving themselves a salary beyond the necessities?!

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It’s not that I wasn’t interested in them as a person, but that’s about the time I excused myself from the conversation. If you’re a founder of an early stage company and all you have is a small seed investment you really shouldn’t be giving yourself a salary. The only people that should be receiving a salary are your early employees, specifically your engineers, designers, and possibly even a community/sales person depending on your needs. When this founder told me they were taking a salary, I about lost all sympathy I had for their trials and tribulations. First of all, it’s a massive turn-off to investors, and second, if you’re giving yourself a salary, you probably don’t have your skin in the game or are not dedicated enough in your product or in building your company (and if you’re not dedicated towards your own vision, why should anyone else be?

Starting a company is not glamorous at all. If you can’t pull yourself away from owning labels, driving a fancy car, or you’re not capable of making incredibly hard sacrifices and being really really really stressed out, you really shouldn’t start a company. Sell that fancy car and pay for that designer you think will work for free – seriously, we know we’re as highly sought after as engineers and there are startups willing to pay us a very nice salary…explain why we should work for free sans equity? (This is a story for another time, and not mine to tell).

There are so many things I’ve had to give up when I decided to take the plunge: buying a new car (you don’t need a depreciating asset anyways..), buying new shoes, buying 1st world necessities, buying anything really, traveling, fine dining, a salary, a social life, my sanity (just kidding..kind of..) etc. Expect there to be fairly significant changes in your social life – it’s not that you won’t be able to relate to your non-tech/startup friends, just that you’ll realize fairly quickly how different your priorities become (not for everyone, but for a lot of them). It’s also not really necessary to be best friends with the whole world. It’s great to have many friends, but they don’t all need to be your best friend. That being said, you still want a few close friends – as a founder, any given day can be your absolute best, or your absolute worst. And on those days that it’s your absolute worst, you really want those closest to you there. The friends that remain there when you “make it” (whatever that means) or don’t, are the ones worth having in your life forever.

Forget about relationships, unless you’re already in one, and they’re absolutely supportive and wonderful! Hold onto those. However, if you’re seeing someone who’s clingy (seriously, what’s up with this new trend of incredibly clingy guys?), is high maintenance in that they need a lot of attention (another ridiculous trend – what’s up with that?), or you’re having to sacrifice important things you need/should be doing to build your company or product in order to spend time with your significant other, consider moving on. Overall your significant other should be adding to the quality of your life when you’re having to sacrifice so much already, not creating more stress or strain than necessary. But I digress..

…the point is, if you’re not able to make massive sacrifices, and if you’re expecting to take home a salary (i.e., anything that goes beyond paying your basic expenses of rent, food, non-spa gym membership, etc – in which case, that’s not a salary, that’s barely surviving), then you should seriously reconsider building a company. You shouldn’t be a founder for the sake of being a founder, nor should you start a company for the sake of starting a company.

Design: Skeuomorphic vs. Flat vs. Skeuominimalism (Almost-flat)

March 18, 2013 § 3 Comments

(Originally posted on Quora at samihah.quora.com on March 17, 2013)

There’s recently been a lot of backlash against Skeuomorphism, partly because design has seen an oversaturation of skeuomorphic design to the point of ad nauseum, and partly because there’s value in design being as minimal as possible (some of this is related to the interconnectedness between engineering and design, in that heavy design elements can weigh down product performance). With this trend of moving away from skeuomorphic design, we’re seeing more designers adopt Flat design into their work. Perhaps the most famous example of flat design is Metro (design language) (yes, I know it’s no longer called Metro, but it’s what’s most familiar to people, so for the sake of this post, I’m calling it Metro). There’s another design language that’s been gaining momentum, and it’s a happy medium between skeuomorphism and flat design: Skeuominimalism (or more commonly known as, Almost-flat design). We’re seeing skeuominimalism in a lot of Google products – the Google Maps app for iOS being the most significant example.

Since a lot of non-designers and people interested in design are curious about the various design languages/styles, I’ll break down each of the three mentioned above.

Skeuomorphic Design:
Perhaps the most famous examples of skeuomorphic design come from Apple. They pioneered the adoption of skeuomorphism in design. Skeuomorph, is literally defined as, an object made to resemble another material or technique. In software product design, specifically iOS apps, we see this a lot. Take, for example, Calendar (iOS/Mac App) - it’s made to resemble a real calendar with tears at the top to resemble pages that have been torn. In a real calendar, there’s use for the tears in that, those are actual pieces of paper that have been torn from the app. In digital, there’s no purpose to it other than the aesthetic. When comparing Apple’s hardware design to their software design, it’s interesting to note how different in design philosophy the two seemingly are. Apple’s industrial design is all about being as minimal as possible with clean lines, and as little details as possible. Apple Human Interface Guidelines, and their overall software design philosophy, is filled with details from drop shadows, to gradients to make elements look more 3D and an overall focus on making objects appear more tactile (even if the medium is digital). If you need another example other than Apple for skeuomorphic design, check out LinkedIn’s iOS app. It feels like skeuomorphic design on steroids.

(Example of skeuomorphic design from a Dribbble designer)

Perhaps it’s because of my admiration of Dieter Rams and his 10 Principles of Good Design, or maybe it’s because I’m completely sick of seeing skeuomorphic design being overused, but skeuomorphic clearly violates the most basic of design principles: Good design is as little design as possible. But, great design shouldn’t be obvious and therefor, it’s important to look at what you’re designing for to see if it makes sense to adopt skeuomorphic design.
Flat Design:
Flat Design is often perceived as being on the opposite spectrum of design languages from skeuomorphic design. As previously mentioned, Microsoft’s Metro design language is the most famous example of flat design. Flat design champions clean design, and a focus on colors and typography. Because of the increased adoption of 2x/HiDPI screen resolutions (“retina” screens for you plebians – just kidding..), as well as increased performance and development speeds when design is clean and there aren’t many design elements that need to be loaded or created, we’re seeing more companies adopt Flat design philosophies. The increased adoption of HiDPI screens make it possible to focus on typography in UI design since these screen make thin fonts more readable.

(Example of Flat Design from a Dribbble user).

Skeuominimalism (aka, Almost-flat Design):
I’m not sure if Skeuominimalism is an actual word or if I made it up (edit: I did not make it up – just Googled it and it was introduced by Edward Sanchez) - but it’s essentially flat design with elements of skeuomorphic design. The focus on skeuominimalistic interfaces are on colors, shapes, and to an extent, typography. Shapes and colors are used to add dimension. The use of subtle drop-shadows are okay since it can create a level of dimension in design that’s not over-the-top or tacky. While Google has the most famous examples of skeuominimalistic design, my favorite examples come from LayerVault. Their website uses interaction, colors, and shapes to create dimension and a delightful user experience. The focus is on the content and their product goals instead of shiny UI. Even though the focus is on educating the audience on their product, they still maintain a level of elegance in their design without the UI being obtrusive and affecting the user experience. If you study the UI, you’ll see that rather than gradients and other fancy layer styles, they use colors and shapes to create depth but are still able to maintain a clean interface.

(Example of Skeuominimalism from Allan Grinshtein - isn’t it just breathtaking? I highly recommend going over to http://layervault.com and fully experiencing the UI with it’s beautiful UI and interactions).

While I’m more favorable towards skeuominimalism, that’s not to say that designers should completely drop skeuomorphic or flat design. There’s a time and place for everything. You should always design for your users and what makes sense for your product. So if it makes sense to use skeuomorphic design (example: social gaming, where the UI often should be more skeuomorphic so that it’s invisible and matches the feel of the game), then by all means, you should be using skeuomorphic. Don’t adopt flat design or skeuominimalism because it’s just now becoming “trendy.” Adopt a design language that makes sense for your product and the vision of the product.
TL;DR: Skeuomorphic=Apple, Flat Design=Microsoft, Skeuominimalism (Almost-flat Design)=Google. Do what makes sense for your product and users, and not just what’s trendy.

Persevere

March 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Persevere

“…And your work will be as good as your ambitions.”

Do We Have to Give Up Our Femininity?

February 5, 2013 § 5 Comments

Edit: This post was syndicated to the Women 2.0 blog on February 6, 2011, and can be found here.

I recently had a conversation with one of my lawyer friends who’s very stylish and fashionable, about blogging. It’s no secret that I have friends who choose my clothes for me since I’d be completely lost on fashion without them. I was recommending a few blogs that some of my fashion-forward friends run/own, and T (we’ll call her T), said I should start a blog. I told her I already have one and she said I should get all of my friends to follow it. The rest of the conversation went something like this,

Me: Well, my blog is kind of boring for anyone not in tech because I mainly talk about tech or anything related to tech. Which is fascinating to me, but boring to non-techies.

T: So? Start talking about other things. Cater to your audience. Give a makeup tutorial or something. That way girls will see it and go, “oh! She’s a nerd but also girly!” and can relate to it.

Me: But…I..my audience IS tech..

Women in tech

I NEED this. Anyone know if Toys “R” Us has any in stock?

I then started to explain why I couldn’t/wouldn’t talk about other things and realized that I’d been compromising my femininity. As women in technology, do we need to turn our noses up to anything that’s remotely feminine or girly to be taken seriously? Conversely, do we need to be ultra-girly in order to be relatable by girls, or by women who aren’t on the development side of product development – in either design or engineering? Why is it that when a guy finds out that I like video games but hate shopping, I’m no longer considered, a “normal” girl, or that I’m “practically a guy.” What does that even mean? And what does it mean to be considered a “normal” girl. What IS normal?

I’m used to being the only girl, or one of very few women, in a group (whether it’s a work group, a conference, or a meetup), but this ratio needs to change – and not for the sake of just changing the ratio, but for the sake of having more voices heard, and creating a level of acceptance that women can kick ass while still being “girly.” A woman that I knew (we were the only women in a group of guys), completely shunned anything feminine. It’s fine if you don’t care for the color pink, or shoes, or sparkly things, but is it really necessary to turn your nose completely up at women that do? Interestingly enough, none of the guys cared if any of the women were “girly” or not since they cared more about the work we did (THIS is the kind of environment that should be encouraged everywhere).

Maybe I AM weird – but when I was growing up, I admired people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. I thought Madeleine Albright was pretty bad ass. But I also loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Spice Girls, and Destiny’s Child (all of which had messages that girls can kick ass – none of that Twilight shit). I was obsessed with science, but wanted to play with makeup (my parents were strict – there was no playing of makeup for me until I reached my Sophomore year of High School). I do love video games, hate shopping, love the color pink, could talk about software product design and development all day, and am obsessed with anything that sparkles (squirrel! Kudos if you get that reference), but I’ve been unintentionally hiding that side of me that loves shoes and the color pink.

Instead of outcasting women that hate shopping but love to play video games (pretty sure Fifa is the best game in the world), or looking down on women who love glitter and pink (hot pink glitter shoes – I NEED to find this), we should encourage women and girls to enter technology as a “builder” regardless of what their outside interests are. I love that there are organizations like Hackbright Academy (we need one that teaches women design also! I’m talking, fundamentals of UX, Photoshop, HTML/CSS) and Women 2.0, I just wish there was more outreach to the younger generation of girls to let them know that it’s okay to be feminine but also love traditionally male-dominated “geeky/nerdy” things.

We shouldn’t have to compromise our femininity to be taken seriously.

Adventures of a First Time Entrepreneur – The Plunge

January 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

I recently decided to take the plunge and start a company – it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile, so I figured, if not now, then when? Someone recently asked me how I could give up the comforts and security of a paycheck and what possesses someone to start a company. I think there are a couple of answers to this. Certainly, there are people who are in it for “fame,” whatever that even means. And there are even others that are in it for money. But most of us – or at least most startup entrepreneurs that I come across – are in it because we want to work on something that excites us, that we believe in, and that solves a problem.

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For me, I always knew I wanted to work on a product that users loved, and build a company that’s focused on the team and culture. I just wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to solve because every few days I’d come up with something different – and something new would excite me (blame it on my designer mindset). I knew the right problem for me to work on when I couldn’t stop thinking about it – when everything else just seemed less exciting – and the existing solutions people were using for this problem were incredibly ad hoc. After a few months of constantly thinking about it and thinking about how I could solve it, I figured that this was what I should work on. I became obsessed. It was all I could think about, dream about, breathe about. I turned down offers (nice 6-figure ones) and security for risk and instability. But I’m okay with risk – and money isn’t a motivating factor for living life. I don’t care about brands/labels (I mean, I shop at Urban Outfitters and Target..), I don’t care about driving a fancy car, and it’s more important for me to constantly be progressing in life.

Will I fail? Maybe. Will I succeed? Well that’s the goal..

 
Photo Cred: Flickr user: Hankplank
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