What Lean Startup Is Not

I feel for Eric Reis. He seems compelled to say, in every talk, right in the beginning, “Lean is not ‘cheap’!”

I’m sure it’s because he gets hit with this constantly. Just yesterday I was reading about Education startups and a well-regarded startup founder and investor was quoted as saying that startups in the Education space need to be “pudgier”

“One of the things I feel strongly about is that everybody
pushes the notion of a lean startup,” said Katzman, who founded
the Princeton Review, online education company 2U (formerly
2tor) and his current startup Noodle Education. “And I’m kind
of in favor, especially in the education space, of a pudgier startup.”
John Katzman, as quoted in GigaOm

Katzman goes on to say some pretty smart things about the complexities of the Education market, but this “pudgier” statement has nothing to do with Lean Startup.

I believe the “good mix of people with deep backgrounds in education and business” Katzman calls for would do well to validate their assumptions and develop their product using the Lean Startup approach. Katzman seems to agree — he goes on to recommend strategies very much in keeping with Lean Startup. The video is worth watching.

Katzman makes a great example because he’s an experienced entrepreneur who actually agrees with the Lean Startup approach, whether he knows it or not. This is a guy who knows his stuff, who knows how important it is to listen closely to customers, who tells great stories of realizing after just a few usability tests that his assumptions were wrong. This is a guy we should be listening to, other than his mischaracterization of Lean Startup.

Make Something That Matters…

to Someone.

Thats the core of the Lean Startup. You start with your customer and the job your product is going to do for them. Does it solve a problem for them? Engage a passion? Develop your ideas about this (your Hypotheses) and test them. Keep at it, learning each time around, until you have a minimal product that is a viable solution for those customers — the Minimum Viable Product, or MVP.

I like the approach taught in the LUXr Bento Series, a set of workshop boxes that teach a user-experience based approach to Lean Startup. It’s methodical and incorporates tools that promote good team dynamics and clear thinking. This method is taught at some of the premier startup incubators and in my workshops. You can also now get the program directly from LUXr

Emotional Connection — Facebook and Instagram

People love photos. They always have. It’s the crappy snapshot of you and your sister at 3 and 5 playing on the new swing set in the backyard that is your favorite. It’s not the technical quality of that photo that makes it special. It’s the emotional connection.  The brilliance of Instagram isn’t just about 30M users taking photos. It’s the emotional connections they are making. Instagram figured out that people like their photos, they like to share them, and they like them to be better photos. So they made it very easy to take a photo, crop it and try a filter or two before sharing it — all from your phone in a few seconds. Instant emotional connection. Purchasing Instagram is a signal that Facebook understands that Instagram has something that they need.

Facebook is a dominant force in the way people connect on the Internet and have made it possible for millions of people to share their thoughts and lives. But Facebook’s position at the top is likely only temporary. Like Microsoft and AOL they will probably be around for many years, but they won’t be the juggernaut that they are now.  Facebook and Google both share this problem — both struggle to “get” emotional connection.

Apple gets emotional connection. They don’t know how to do web-based services, or at least somehow don’t put the care into them that they do into their devices, so they haven’t cracked the “Social Web” nut. But their computers and iOS devices have an amazing emotional connection. 6 years ago, who would have said that they LOVE their cell phone? How many non-nerds would have said that they LOVE their laptop? Who but a nerd would have even used a tablet before Apple invented iPad?

I think Mark Zuckerberg understands all this.  Maybe not — maybe he just saw 30 million users and crazy growth and an engaged community and said “that should be part of Facebook.”  But I think it more likely that he said, “These people really get this emotional connection stuff, and we need more of that.”

Future Computing

Predicting the future of computing is difficult, and these days possibly the word “computing” itself brings along baggage of its own.

Today’s computers don’t spend a lot of their time computing. What we find useful in them is farther removed from computing in every succeeding generation of these systems.

Think about the implications of Moore’s Law. When computing power increases so quickly, things change. At 10x computing power, everything is faster. At 100x computing power, new things become possible.

It’s hard to imagine the “new things” that 100x computing power makes possible. We’re saddled with our old conceptions of user interfaces, input devices, and of work itself.

Today, there is a lot of argument about touch interface devices, and the future of “real computers”. Real computers are, of course, the ones that we’re used to. They are powerful machines that have keyboards and mice, controlling window and icon based user interfaces in which we do serious work. The touch interface devices are different, and clearly only good for consumption, right?

Or are they? What if these new touch interface devices are capable of more? What if other interfaces are possible? What is it about the keyboard and mouse that so necessary to “serious work”?

A keyboard is a very poor interface device that we’ve learned to use extremely well. The common QWERTY layout of the keys was originally created to prevent jamming of the swinging arms of machines called typewriters. Most of us would have a hard time typing on a mechanical typewriter today. But we are so used to the key layout, that even when a demonstrably better keyboard layouts are invented[cite] that will make us faster and more efficient, very few of us put in the effort to learn to use it. Similarly, the mouse is a pretty poor pointing device — but it’s what we’re used to.

Reimagining even something as simple as text input is very difficult. We tend to jump to flights of fantasy; solutions that sound like something out of 19th century science fiction. If we’re lucky, we’re as prescient as Jules Verne, but having a good concept for the distant future doesn’t always help us get there.

We do know that people who are disinterested in computers and technology take to the iPad immediately — they just “get it”. The touches and gestures are easy to understand, not because they map conceptually to how we manipulate real objects, but because the engineers and designers at Apple have attended so carefully to the responsiveness of the interface and the way objects on the screen move and change. There’s a lot of computing power going into making that all just right, and a lot of brain power that went into the details.

You don’t get to a result like iOS on the iPad by asking people what they want. You get it by re-imagining what they need.


The Internet Is Worth Protecting

I’ve been on the internet more than half my life. I consider myself a digital native.

Today many people are protesting the SOPA and Protect IP Act legislation that threatens the internet. This threat is real, as this legislation breaks some fundamental things about how the internet works. If you are interested in the technical details and arguments against this legislation, many have written about them. Here’s an interview with my friend Elliot Noss on CBC Radio talking about why his business has “gone dark” today.

This is a big issue, so I’m going to share some of my thoughts on why the internet is so important.


The Internet Is Made of People

From my early days on “Usenet”, what drew me was real people and their ideas. Usenet was a big distributed forum for people to talk about subjects ranging from computers (comp.sys.sgi) to rock climbing (rec.climbing) the game of go (rec.games.go). People on computers all over the world, connected on the internet and with dial-up UUCP connections, would talk about these topics, and it fascinated me. There were THOUSANDS of people out there!

Fast-forward to the early-90’s and this new thing called “The World-Wide Web” came along. I was at SGI when I first saw it, on an Irix machine running a browser built by some guys at a university. The Web quickly grew so big that whole businesses were created just to index it all.

The internet grew all sorts of businesses, many of them crazy. But for me, it was still about people. When I came to Silicon Valley many years ago, I knew I was going to be surrounded by brilliant people. Now, with the internet I can find them wherever they are… no matter where I am — The people AND their ideas.

The Internet is Made of Ideas

My internet wanderings have always followed my interests. I found people out there talking about topics that interested me. It was wonderful! But no group of people ever stays “on topic”, so over time you get to know people and understand their ideas about the world. Exposure to new and different ideas makes your world bigger and richer.

My wife an I are aficionados of “Podcasts”. They are really just radio or TV shows, but packaged for the internet. But you don’t just watch what’s on, like we did back when there were just three channels on the TV. You get to pick! We love to listen to smart people talk about interesting ideas, so we listen to TEDTalks. I like computers and tech, so I listen to shows from the TWiT network and 5by5, and we both love good story telling, so we listen to The Moth and This American Life.

All over the world there are people with something to say. More than any other invention, the internet allows people with ideas to be heard; to spread their ideas. I believe this will make the world a better place.



The Internet is What We Make it

What we do, say, and look at on the internet makes it become what it will be.

Let’s use Google Search as an example. Google’s original search algorithms considered page linking structure as an indicator of value and intent. It was a way of measuring what people thought and what they valued. Google’s PageRank algorithm also considered that a link from a page with a high PageRank conveyed more PageRank forward to the linked page.

a page can have a high PageRank if there are many pages that point to it, or if there are some pages that point to it and have a high PageRank

http://infolab.stanford.edu/~backrub/google.html – Brin & Page,

In the intervening years, the Google algorithms have been improved and changed. Many of the changes are intended to reduce the influence of certain cynical forms of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that seek to raise search listings artificially. Notably, the Google Panda update use machine learning algorithms to detect non-useful sites and reduce their search ranking.

At its best, SEO is about optimizing websites so that they are easy for search engines like Google to catalog and rank, and so that they earn the strong ranking and visibility they deserve. But there is a lot of SEO that is really just tricks to try to get attention. When the search engines fight back, the internet gets better. They all try. And when people choose quality content over link farms, they can succeed.

Quality content comes from real people. Whether they are making a funny cat video or writing an important essay, real people are behind the best on the internet.


The  Internet is Important, But…

What is really important is US. You and Me. The ideas we share, the things that make us laugh, cry, and think. For this, the internet is just a medium. But it’s a medium that connects us throughout the world in a new way, spreading ideas and culture and making the world a better place. (Yes, that’s a long video, but Joi’s talk is worth every minute.)

The internet is under attack by corporations that are trying to protect their failing business models. They want you to believe that the internet is a problem to be fixed. Don’t believe them.

The internet is for making people heard, for allowing us to connect to one another. Don’t let the non-people take that away from us.



Google Plus and Google Wave

Google Plus is promising. Even the tech pundits that are quick to find flaws are having a hard time coming up with anything to complain about. There’s a lot of talk about how much Google has learned.

As Gina Trapani says:

I’ve been been watching Google flail around social web apps for a few years now, so what I appreciate most about Google+ is that it’s a well-thought out product informed by past experience.

Gina Trapani, SmarterWare.org – http://smarterware.org/8248/what-google-learned-from-buzz-and-wave

Google has made a lot of good design decisions. A lot of the credit goes to Andy Hertzfeld and his team doing the design. They have thought through the way people will interact on this new system, but also more subtle points of sharing, privacy and control that have previously evaded comprehension in Google’s analytical culture.

The insight that people talk and share differently with different groups of friends, family and acquaintances is as important as it is obvious. Many have pointed this out as a problem with all the social networking systems, but none of them have sorted out how to deal with it. First reports from this limited Field Trial are that Google really got this right. They created a simple drag-and-drop interface for creating and managing Circles – it’s actualy fun!

But I don’t want to list out all the features and what’s right and wrong with them. I want to talk about what’s missing…

What’s missing is collaboration.

Google Wave was a fascinating if flawed try at redefining collaboration. Many errors were made in the design and workflow in Wave, but the biggest error was trying to make it a replacement for email. Because while we use email for all sorts of things that it does poorly, email isn’t what needs to be fixed. Collaboration is what needed fixing. Rethinking.

What if the collaboration potential of Wave is rebuilt and re-imagined on top of Google+? What if there was a wave-like instant collaboration stream available to your Circles?

Flock or Rockmelt? Neither.

This morning I spent a few minutes using Rockmelt and Flock, two new “social browsers” that integrate your social networks into the browsing interface. Both browsers are built in Chromium, the open source version of the Google Chrome browser. Because they are built on Chromium, both are fast and relatively lightweight and stable.


This is a nice browser, and I like the Friends on the left edge and Feeds and Apps on the right. The Friend edge has two views, to see your friends by online status, or see only your “starred” friends. A Share button allows a quick share of whatever you’re browsing. I had a bit of a problem importing my Chrome settings – it worked but not the way I expected.

TIP: Chrome bookmarks get put in an “imported from Chrome” folder, and so you have to drag them over to where you really want them using the Bookmark Manager.

Extensions don’t work properly. I use a few important extensions, including Google Voice and Bit.ly, and they just don’t work in Rockmelt. When installed, they show up on the Feeds and Apps edge, rather than the toolbar, and when clicked, they just open the website rather than their drop-down menu. This kills Rockmelt for me, but hopefully it’s something the developers can fix quickly.

My last complaint is a bit fussy: the bookmark bar drop-down menus have a strange double-spaced feel to them. This seems odd since the rest of the browser is nicely designed, and it is probably easily fixed.



Flock has a simple side-bar for seeing feeds. Here you can select what group of friends you want to watch, and you can manage who is in which group and add new groups. The interface is easy to understand and everything worked for me as expected. The Profile Page for your Flock Account features a Favorites feature that tempts me to start tagging websites again.

Flock has also really thought through the friend/connection interface. At first, I thought it didn’t work right.  I had my friend Adina Levin showing up three times… Nope, just combine them by dragging one Adina onto another. Once all your Adina’s are combined, you can click the combined card to see detail of all their accounts.

TIP: The one you drag ONTO is the one that shows up as the picture for your friend.

One suggestion for the Flock developers: Flock should handled combining of friends using the  identity consolidation microformat “rel=me”. This would allow the above consolidation to work automatically or be greatly simplified.

[ more on rel=me can be read at: http://microformats.org/wiki/rel-me ]



Neither browser is quite doing it for me yet. I like the simplicity of the Rockmelt Edge interface, but the bugs make it unusable for me. Flock is more stable, but the interface makes me do too much manually and it doesn’t have the industrial-strength multi-network features of a social networking app like Seesmic Desktop 2.

But I’ll be watching both of these effort closely. Both teams have done some interesting work here and with a little work either could win me over. I would love to see them synchronize with my google account. Both should parse and understand the lists I’ve already made on Twitter and elsewhere. And both should be able to do something interesting for me based on whose shared links I click and the updates I read. There is a lot of interesting opportunity here for an integrated experience that might make these browsers much more than a browser with some extensions.

IIW Fascinates Me

Since the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW11) last week, I’ve been reflecting on how far we’ve come – and how far we still have to go.

My Google ID, Yahoo ID, Facebook ID, and even my own domain’s OpenID can all be used to create and maintain accounts around the internet. Many services also have connections between them, allowing my Flickr photos to show up on Facebook and Google Buzz and making every post to my blog show up as a tweet @dariusdunlap.

Unfortunately, this is still all too complicated, but it is getting better all the time. Many people are working on the problems, and at IIW they are all sharing results, ideas, and making new plans. For example, the Google security team presented their excellent research on user interface for shared IDs and subsequently released impressive documentation of their work.

Today (well, yesterday if you are living in Europe like me) Google released a demo site – it is a store – and accompanying material like videos, tutorials, and best practices that provide detailed explanations on how to become a relying party, match an existing user base with OpenID, and much more.  Eric Sachs, product manager, Google Security, announced this on the OpenID mailing list today.

From: Google Releases Impressive Documentation of OpenID Implementation | Not So Relevant

?Behind all this are serious concerns about privacy and data ownership. The kerfuffle between Google and Facebook over contact data sharing is just one very visible corner of this iceberg. Although Facebook is more open than ever, their stance is more than a little disingenuous.

Suffice to say, you cannot bring your Facebook contacts into Gmail, as you can with Yahoo and Microsoft. Thus, the issue clearly isn’t that Facebook doesn’t think you have the right to mass export emails. It seems that Facebook simply doesn’t want you to mass export them into Google — not unless, I suppose, it gets a business deal with Google. And if it doesn’t want to do a deal, then those emails don’t get to go. They aren’t yours. They belong to Facebook, and can only be exported to the business partners that Facebook agrees with.

From: ?Facebook: You’ve No Right To Export Email Addresses (Unless It’s To Yahoo & Microsoft)

Yes, Facebook is more open than ever. But will they be able to navigate through their dominant position to become a truly open partner, or will they fade like so many walled gardens before?

Walled garden
?Walled Garden by recursion_see_recursion on flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Why does this all matter?

The creativity, expression, and commerce the internet enables has already changed our lives. Although some Americans seem to believe they don’t need it, there is no doubt that it has transformed our society and will continue to for many years.

The internet works because it is an open platform. Nobody has to ask permission to create the next Facebook, the next Google or Yahoo!, or (more likely) something completely new. The people and organizations at IIW are working together to define how the internet handles identity and the related aspects of security and data ownership, including links between people and connections between services. All the biggest organizations are represented, including Facebook and Google.

This underlying open platform for identity and control of personal information is still being formed. There is much to be done before this all “just works” the way email does – but that’s exactly what needs to happen.


Liberating your contacts from Facebook

Here is a simple method of getting your contacts out of Facebook and into your Gmail.

It starts with Yahoo! Facebook allows exporting of contacts to Yahoo!, reportedly through a lucrative arrangement. You will need a Yahoo Mail account, but they are free: ? http://www.yahoo.com/ – and click “Signup” if you don’t already have an account.

in your Yahoo mail, there is a Contacts selector in the left column. it looks like this:




Once you have selected Contacts,  Select Tools -> Import, as shown:



You will get a dialogue like the one shown below. Select Facebook:



Facebook will ask you to confirm that you want to share contacts with Yahoo!, click “Okay”.




Yahoo! will report success, including the number of contacts imported.




Now you export the contacts, using a very similar method. This time, select Tools -> Export, as shown.




Choose an export format in the dialogue shown below. Yahoo! CSV works best for importing to Google.



Yahoo! checks to see that you are a real person by asking you to transcribe some mashed up letters:



Once the export is complete, open and log into Gmail, select Contacts, and then More Actions -> Export. You will get an “Import contacts dialogue like the one below.



Choose the file, and I recommend also adding these to a special group at the same time, which will help you see them all. Google seems to do a pretty good job of merging duplicates, but having them in a special group will help you check and fix any problems. (I had no problems from my import.)





Congratulations! Your Facebook friends’ contact info are now all in your Gmail!












Why your computer runs slow – Flash

My computers are all set up with Adobe Flash installed. I also run a Flash Blocker on every browser. Since first installing a Flash blocker, my computer is more reliable and websites load faster. Adobe’s CTO is happy to blame Apple, of course:

“That’s what upsets me the most,” he says. “That people put energy into making this stuff, and now some percentage of viewers can’t see it anymore because one company chooses so. That’s just totally counter to our values.”

Excerpt from: Adobe CTO on MacBook Air, HTML5: Flash Battery Problems a “False Argument” | Fast Company

Apple’s fight with Adobe over Flash is a symptom of a problem. It’s not the problem. I don’t see any Flash ads. Ever. The only time I click to box to allow Flash is when it is actually delivering the user experience I want. I think that’s going to be less and less.