Making it up as we go along

by Alex Godin

Building Dispatch

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Build Boring Features

Internet companies are all about big visions, big ideas and big swings, but what happens after that first at bat? You’ve spent months planning your massively creative shift of the universe and the core of your product is out in the world. What do you do the morning after you launch? The answer: build the boring features.

The Startup Illuminati love to talk about the “growth hacker”, a magical hybrid of a marketer and a developer. Before you’re huge, everyone on your team should be a growth hacker. Pick the one or two numbers that need to grow* and only build things that increase those numbers. Get everyone on the team in a conference room and brainstorm 50 small things you could ship to grow your product. Do it tomorrow. Be sure you write down the small, boring, features because those are the ones you need to do first.

The features that grow numbers aren’t the massive endeavors you...

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Good Products Have Features, Great Products Have Stories.

Getting people to notice your product on the web is hard. Getting them to understand what you do is even harder. One of the biggest challenges startups face is cutting through the noise and attracting those early customers. Unfortunately, a lot of early stage companies focus on their features, building new ones and highlighting the existing ones. The companies that win focus on the stories their telling instead of their list of features.

Successful products create a strong narrative about the way their features come together, not the features themselves. Instagram isn’t a camera app with a newsfeed, it’s a way to “share moments with friends”. Simple isn’t a bank with a goals feature, it’s a way to solve all your banking woes. Evernote isn’t a notepad with and text recognition, it’s “your brain in the cloud”.

Often these stories tie into a pain point, “Sending money to friends is hard,...

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What Dr. Dre Gets that Google Doesn’t

Google Glass will fail. Not because the technology isn’t brilliant, it is, passive computing is the future. No, Google Glass will fail because Google doesn’t understand fashion. Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine did 350 million dollars in revenue in 2011 selling headphones, historically a commodity product, by turning them into a fashion statement.

The thing is, Beats are shitty headphones. They’re overly bassy, clunky and expensive. But, Dre doesn’t sell Beats as headphones, he markets them as a fashion accessory. People buy Beats because they’re hip and they’re what their friends have.

Fashion companies don’t sell better products, they sell emotion. No one buys Beats because they want to listen to music, they can buy something for half the price if they want that. They buy Beats because they’re in vogue, they’re hip, and they make them feel cool. Selling fashion is all about selling a...

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5 Under-appreciated Tools I Use and Love

For this week’s Startup Edition a few of us are sharing some of the tools we use. I wanted to give a shout out to 5 tools (software and hardware) that I don’t think get enough hype.

1. Intercom.io

If you’re building something that connects to the internet and has users you need to be using Intercom. Intercom is an amazing way to figure out who your users are and communicate with them. It’s half help desk, half CRM for your users, half lifecycle marketing tool and 150% awesome. We were early beta testers and are now happy paying customers.

2. Draft

Draft has made me a better writer, hands down. It’s like Google Docs collaboration and comments but, useful. It makes it easy to share what you’re working on with your team. Every blog post I write goes through Draft, I’ll share a link to the post with a braintrust of fellow bloggers and incorporate their feedback easily.

3. Fagor 3-in-1

...

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No More Downtime: The Death of The Social App

Attention is the currency of mobile apps and it’s a finite resource. As time goes on, our attention for social apps gets spread thinner and thinner. What can the next generation of apps do to combat shrinking attention spans?

The last few years have brought the rise of the “downtime” mobile-social app: Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tinder, the list goes on. These guys have a big problem and it’s only getting bigger: we only have so much downtime.

When smartphones came out, a whole new block of time opened up to app developers. We needed something to do while we waited in line (or ignored our friends). Now, there’s a plethora of options at our fingertips and each new one canabalizes the others. Photos I take on Snapchat or Days.am are photos I’m not Instagramming.

The iPhone and its kin are reasonably mature. We’re out of that unallocated time. Apps have to compete with each...

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Building a Modern Brain Trust.

A few months ago I tried to start blogging and failed miserably. I was stuck, I didn’t know what to write about, and I wasn’t confident in my writing. I needed help.

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Then last month I had an idea, what if I got help from people I respected and trusted? Over the next 10 days I built out a mailing list of the best bloggers I could find and asked them for just one favor: take a look at my posts and offer feedback. I also invited them to share their posts and solicit feedback from the group.

The results have been magical.

We’ve got 25 members of the blog group commenting on and helping each other with their posts. It’s dramatically improved the quality and consistency of my posts.

Surprisingly, the biggest benefits to come out of the group haven’t been from the feedback I’ve gotten on my posts. I’ve learned and grown a ton by helping the other members with their posts. I do my best work...

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A whole new ball game

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Some of the most successful tech startups of the last few years aren’t really tech startups. They’re from a new class of companies that don’t create innovative technology. Companies like Fab, Airbnb, Sidetour and Yipit use innovative business models backed by existing technology as their competitive advantage. These companies have an entirely new set of challenges that are often very different from a tech-heavy company.

Traditional tech companies are all about product and engineering: pack as many engineers and designers (and the occasional sales guy) in a room and give them some Red Bull. On the other hand, tech-enabled companies innovate at the core business. Skillshare is all about teachers, Fab is all about designers, Etsy is all about the sellers.

As technology becomes more accessible and easier to harness we start to see businesses based on off the-shelf tools. While we treat...

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Staying on the Same Page without a Standup

Many software teams use stand-up meetings to keep everyone on the same page and maintain accountability. Stand-ups are great but they have some major flaws: they’re synchronous, everyone needs to be in the room (or on the phone), and often after the meeting much of the content is lost. At Dispatch we’ve been trying something a bit different and it’s been working really well. We call it Show and Tell.

Instead of reporting in at a meeting, every member of the team sends an email to everyone else with an update on their work. It’s got the usual stand-up stuff: yesterday’s work, today’s work, and any blockers. We tend to send them as we begin to dive into the day. This means that Mike can send his update at 7am when he starts work and Nick can send his at 10:30 a.m. when he dives in. No one’s flow gets broken and we can work whenever we feel most productive.

If anyone needs to start a...

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