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06 Jul

The Innovation Smorgasbord – call for input for our new research project

In BlogPost by werdelin / July 6, 2014 / 0 Comments

“The innovation smorgasbord”

 

Innovation model

 

I am doing a new research project in collaboration with Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg author of ‘Innovation as Usual‘ , looking into different approaches to making innovation happen. The question we’d like to answer is:

If you are responsible for driving innovation in your business, what kind of practical approaches or models are currently available? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach? What are they most appropriate for?

A lot has been written about innovation strategy and the like. What interests us here is a more hands-on question, focused on creating a neutral, data-driven overview of the main existing solutions that are currently available. We sometimes use the metaphor of an ‘innovation smorgasboard’: if you are looking to make innovation happen, there is this whole buffet in front of you, full of different options for getting the job done, from incubators to traditional R&D to corporate venturing. Each approach has strengths and weaknesses – and some may be more effective than others.

With the project, we want to create an overview of the main options that can help people make better decisions about how to make innovation and growth happen.

We are in the early stages of the project, so we’d love to get your input. All (significant) contributors will be credited in the final report. Some questions we are currently looking into are listed below – all kinds of feedback welcome:

  • What are the approaches? The figure shows how we have currently classified the different ‘types’ of innovation approaches we want to look into. Are these the right approaches? What are we missing?
  • Data. What kind of data or research is there on each of these approaches and their effectiveness/pros and cons?
  • Cases. We are looking for evidence-based case studies to illustrate the pros and cons of the different approaches.

For the purposes of the study (and in line with Thomas’s book on the topic), we define innovation as “Creating results by doing something new”. So innovation is not only or necessarily about new technology or big-bang disruption; it may as well be getting better at identifying new needs and solving those with existing technology. In this sense, innovation is really about answering the question, “what new offerings will our business live off in the future?”

If you want a note when the report comes out, please fill out the form below or send us an email on research@prehype.com.

The underlying logic of the model above is based on the recognition that successful innovation has different components, from need identification to building the organization that can deliver the product/service, and that the available solutions address different parts of this. The logic is shown below (click for full size).

the-innovation-smorgasbord-framework-draft

16 Jun

The 6 counterintuitive ways we grew BarkBox into a 100m E-commerce Business

In BlogPost by werdelin / June 16, 2014 / 1 Comment

Despite the the massive growth in online shopping, ecommerce is still incredibly basic and utilitarian as a user experience. You show up, buy, we ship.

At BarkBox, we focus on a customer-centric approach that incorporates a bit more emotion and experience design. We do this by constantly finding new ways to meet potential customers, delivering a better experience when they visit our sites, and building a strong and personal relationship once we begin to service them (and their dogs). We focus on trust and by extension, authenticity, in every pixel of our presence, and every dog butt pic we share on Instagram.

Constant testing, trials, and experiments have led us to the six pillars outlined here, and following them has been key to achieving real scale.

1. Give a shit

Thinking that customers are idiots and you’re the smart one is toxic, and that attitude seems to be prevalent in corporations and startups alike. Customer support shouldn’t be viewed as reactionary, like something you only do when you have to. We did a few things differently early on at Barkbox, some by accident, some by design:

A) By necessity, the founders handled support from day one. We talked to customers every single day by phone, email, Twitter. We put our phone number on the homepage. As we began to grow, we put a very senior person, who some might say is overqualified, on running support. We then added other important responsibilities to the support team, like our pro-social work, some aspects of analytics and reporting, and marketing. Elevating support as a focal point of the company.

B) We reframed support as “Customer Love,” and constantly rely on the team to provide insight into customer’s motivations, interests, and complaints. The feedback loop between support, management, and product development is super tight. That allows us to turn customer complaints into insights, and pass those into tangible features.

C) Even when a customer did something wrong, we go to great lengths to make them happy. The most vocal critics become the loudest supporters once you listen to them and understand why they feel you were unfair or frustrating. Engaging in real dialogue like this helps you gain permission to ask customers all kinds of questions, and introduce them to new products and features. Some of our best features and ideas comes from open customer conversations. As a result we now ship special boxes to ‘heavy chewers’.

We evaluate many aspects of our progress based on changes in call volume relative to certain issues, number of tickets, customer win-backs, and other key support metrics.

2. Find million dollar stickers – by obsessing about your user flow

Sometimes huge pools of revenue are hiding in plain sight. The conversion funnel (from homepage visit to check-out) is the artery of an ecommerce business, and small tweaks there can pay outsized dividends. Below is an example of what we call a “million dollar sticker.” This little “best value” sticker has been tested dozens and dozens of times and after introducing it, the composition of our customer’s subscription values increased by 40%. This little sticker earned millions in revenue.

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Think deeply about what users are motivated by and interested in as they move through your landing, registration, and checkout pages. Especially now that ecommerce shopping takes place more frequently on mobile screens, you have less real estate and need to make small tweaks a core exercise to profitability.

3. Email is one of the most underappreciated tools

If email is not a core driver of growth in your revenue, then you’re definitely doing something wrong. Ecommerce companies aren’t thinking as innovatively and creatively about email marketing as they should be. Maybe because we all feel like email is spammy now, and our own inboxes are full. But in reality, the inbox is more than ever the homebase for communication and the jumping off point for sales conversions. Mobile people check their inbox 100 – 300 times per day. Carving out a brand presence there is a big opportunity to increase the length and monetary value of customer relationships.

Think of email like a pulse check over time as your customer travels from day 1 signup to day 90 being a loyal customer and evangelist. Emails are like signposts on the side of a road. The customer is in control, but you can influence their route quite a lot by posting the right signs at the right times.

Email needs to be personalized, well-timed, and tightly correlated with what a customer wants to hear from you at that moment in their relationship with you. Some key tips to driving repeat purchases, engagement, and loyalty with email:

A) Be aggressive in capturing emails. Not too aggressive…. but collecting emails should be a focused effort for your marketing team.

B) Be really personal. Get out of the “batch and blast” mentality. Be entertaining, and not just salesy. Even when promoting a special offer, make it fun, and not just urgent.

C) Plan emails as an if-this-then-that chain over a 30, 60 and 90 day period. Design the content to guide customers along the ideal onboarding and activation path.

4) Let users do the talking

For as much noise as people make about “tapping into social,” most integrations and share triggers seem to be poorly or haphazardly integrated. The customer is the best resource and inspiration here. They are naturally social, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just listen to them closely and understand not only what they share, but also why they are sharing. What’s their motivation? Why would they tell their friends about a purchase? Why would they tweet about your company’s existence?

People value content that is any combination of entertaining, helpful, or educational. Be one or all of those. Sharing is mostly motivated by our need to feel smart, cool, or unique. Help users feel that. Help them humble brag.

Your social strategy should be to amplify and encourage the natural sharing tendencies of your customers. The days of the borderline rude pop-up window “Congratulations, you bought some shoes! Post on Facebook // Share on Twitter” are mostly over. – And yes, you can you just trick everyone into sharing? But then again, it’s really not ethical. Read more about that at “The Product Developers Dilemma: Morality vs Virality”

5) Be the place to hang, even if customers aren’t buying

Apple’s flagship stores changed the future of offline retail in my view. Computer stores are no longer a place where you just buy gear; they are venues for taking classes, meeting geniuses for support, or snagging free wifi and hanging out.

Our experience is that the Apple approach is highly relevant for e-commerce platforms. At BarkBox, we aim to do for dog parents what Apple does for computer buyers. We give them a place to hang out – even if they aren’t buying anything yet. We created a popular content property called BarkPost, and are super active on Instagram. Our Facebook properties are fresh with dog-related content. Facebook in particular has been a great partner and a good platform for publishing our content in a way that people enjoy while allowing us to quietly promote our services too.

But we seldom talk about our products on our hangout properties. Our content outlets are for sharing our passion for dogs with like-minded people – not scooping a quick “like” or forcing sales offers down people’s throats.

6) Be a smart salesperson once you’ve established intent

In your content and social presences, you should not be be pimping your products and services heavy-handedly. But once you have purchase intent, turn on the direct sales. Try offering additional impulse offers at checkout, discounts to incentivize larger order sizes, free shipping incentives, and complementary product category recommendations. The more your customer feels like they are discovering a value-add as opposed to being sold an additional product, the better.

Be smart about marketing around abandoned carts or cart items that didn’t make it through purchase. Every dollar counts in ecommerce, and just like million dollar stickers, small improvements in your sales flow go a long way. So look at your flow as a journey – and find polite ways to upsell when you think you can. (read my post about ‘Flow vs Feature’) But don’t overwhelm customers with too many options early on. Most customers think they want options, but really they want the right options.

24 Sep

3 reasons why you should take digital badges seriously

In BlogPost by werdelin / September 24, 2013 / 0 Comments

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When reading Reid Hoffman’s essay “Disrupting the Diploma” it became clear for me that badges are growing up. Once something you claimed for fun on Foursquare, badges are now being used in new, different and awesome ways — for pretty much everything. It seems the time has come for badges to be taken seriously and become serious business. Here are three reasons why:

Badges are becoming real.
The core thrust of Reid Hoffman’s recent essay “Disrupting the Diploma” is that diplomas and other devices for communicating accomplishment, skill, dedication and expertise are outdated. They’re ready to be ushered into the 21st century. Pieces of paper, Reid argues, just can’t keep up with the dynamism of an authentic digital badge (or collection of badges) and the way a badge can be shared online and brought everywhere on mobile phones.

Reid is perceptive to point out that a badge can only be real and valuable if its distribution is limited. Over the past two years, for example, thousands (and tens of thousands) of people have been claiming badges on basno every day. They do that because they trust (and can verify) that the badge was issued by the right issuer in the right way to the right people. By understanding a badge’s source and how it’s been distributed, people can place value in the story it tells.

For those of us in the badge business, it’s therefore a big deal seeing the word “badge” used in a serious essay written by one of Silicon Valley’s finest. Gone are the days of badges as little images you collect for checking in on Foursquare. Today, the badge world is humming with talk of great potential. This is a huge shift in public perception that is just starting and crucial to our collective future. Badges are real, versatile and will increasingly provide real life value for their owners.

2. Badges are not just for education.

The attributes that make people special (that are #badgeworthy) stretch way beyond their coursework and job training. (There’s a reason that a good interview quickly skips to the “Interests & Activities” portion of a resume!). The impact of a great digital badge platform will likewise stretch far beyond education and professional development.

Badges will touch athletics, health and wellness. The medal and trophy will go the way of the diploma.

Badges will be part of sports, music, movies, television and entertainment. Souvenirs, ticket stubs, memorabilia and other mementos will all be badge-ified. Exactly as they have been in the ‘real’ world for a long time. What is new (and required for digital badges to work) is that we build a way to verify the authenticity of badges. Give them series numbers — and track who issued them.

Badges is already for supporting causes, non-profits and charities. Badges as appreciation from brands and businesses. Badges for traveling to great places and climbing mountains and going shark diving. Badges for interests and affiliations. Badges for style. Badges for reasons no one’s even thought of! Check out a few examples here from ‘a badge you get when you are a serious Lego Builder, over the digital version of your New York Marathon Medal to proving that you are an accredited investor.

3. Badges will be big business.

Badges are incredible communication devices, capable in a second of conveying immense context. (And as our friend Gary V says: “context is king.”) That’s why what Reid dubbed “certification as a platform,” my co-founders and I call basno.com. A platform build on the fascination on how to create authenticity for virtual goods that is now the leading platform for badges.

For Reid’s vision of a world where the diploma is a collection of badges to be realized, it will require the issuance of many badges by many sources. That in turn requires an open platform for the creation and collection of digital badges: A place with both robust badge creation, distribution and authentication tools, and also a layer of services and apps that recognize those badges and help connect people with access and value based on the badges they own.

This is similar to when the creation of domain names started a whole new industry of domain hosts. It’s similar to what YouTube did for online video, SlideShare for presentations, etc.

@werdelin | http://henrik.me

13 Sep

10 articles all ‘intrapreneurs’ should read

In BlogPost by werdelin / September 13, 2013 / 2 Comments

Below is a list of articles that I think are super relevant for everyone who deals with corporate innovation or incubation.
If you have articles that should be added then tweet me.

1. The Jeff Bezos School of Long-Term Thinking

2. Think Like An Entrepreneur

3. You can’t fix what you don’t understand

4. For Innovation, Knowledge is a Poor Substitute for Experimentation

5. The Manual-First Startup

6. Why More Features Doesn’t Mean More Success

7. Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything

8. Lean Startups & Big companies

9. How To Choose Your Startup Idea

10. The Case for Stealth Innovation

05 Mar

The five best ways to use a mentor

In BlogPost,Uncategorized by werdelin / March 5, 2012 / 3 Comments

Over the past five 5 years I have had the pleasure of being a mentor for a number of accelerator programs and early stage start-ups.  I am about to start mentoring another batch of TechStars, SeedCamp, and 21212 entrepreneurs, and it got me thinking about who I have enjoyed working with and which founders have managed to extract the most amount of value from me.

But first a disclaimer: just because Tisch, Reshma, and Marcelo asked me to be a mentor, doesn’t mean that I know anything at all about the business that you are about to build. My views are random reflections based on learning that I have had building products and companies, and my pattern observations on user/founder behavior.

Now here are my five tips to get the most out of your mentor:

1. Get introductions

The easiest value extraction you can get from any mentor is introductions to people who would normally not take your calls or answer your emails. Most mentors get a bit of a kick out of sounding important and will name-drop a bunch in the first few meetings with you. Be prepared by having a notepad ready to jot down the names they drop. Then after the meeting, do your research, find out which of the names you can actually use, and send an email to your mentor that they can easily forward. Your chance of getting introduced to high-level people is proportional with how little effort is required of your mentor to make them.

 

2. Specific learnings

Many mentors have a hard time accepting that the best direction for you might be different from their journey to success. So, I find the best way to tackle this is not to have too many open-ended feedback sessions. Don’t ask “How can I improve my UI?” but be more precise and tailor your feedback request to your mentor’s past experience,. e.g., “When you launched your company you went for an invite-only launch strategy. What were your key learnings from that?” or “In your e-commerce site, which credit card clearing providers have your tried and why did you decide on X?”

 

3. Staying at the top of their minds

Most of your mentors have busy lives and won’t be thinking of you if you don’t force them to do so. So make sure to write interesting, easy-to-compute, weekly updates so you at least once a week get to the top of their mind share. I find that slightly pushy entrepreneurs get more out of me, and I don’t mind them being a bit pushy if they just accept that I’ll ignore their requests if I have to too much on my plate. The smart ones also remember to talk up their mentors when they meet other people in the industry. It’s an easy way to use vanity to make your company the center of conversation.

 

4. Emotional support

One thing that few people tell you before you start your own company is how to manage all the anxiety you will get feel in the early days of building your company. As a founder, you will be worried about a ton of things and you will have very few people who you can vent your concerns to. You don’t want to tell your investors because you don’t want them to be worried about your business; you don’t want to be too worried in front of your staff because you probably just got them to leave great jobs and you don’t want them to feel bad about that decision; and you should not reveal all your worries to your partner, because they really are already supporting you way too much. So if you don’t have a good co-founder who you have known a long time, a good mentor can be a good emotional wingman. Pick a mentor who has actually built a company from scratch and they will be able to both sympathize with and support you when you get to the dark days of being worried about what the hell you are actually doing. (Trust me, those days will come.)

 

5. Pick the right mentor for the right things

Many of the mentors you will meet have never actually build built a company like yours. They will be lawyers, corporate entrepreneurs, or investors. So when you choose what mentors to work with, make a small map of where you think you are weakest and make sure you map your mentors onto that. They will all try to give you advice on your product, which is ironic as it’s often the area where their advice will be weakest (especially the ones who have never built start-up products before). Make sessions with different mentors so you can focus the conversations on problems that you will need to solve besides product brainstorming, e.g., the best way to fundraise, brainstorming about who to hire and how, short-cuts to distribution, and so on.

14 Nov

Why big retail will be the Internet’s next victim

In BlogPost by werdelin / November 14, 2011 / 0 Comments

New technologies regularly change the rules of competition. When a fundamental shift happens, companies that seemed unassailable flounder and newer firms quicker to grasp the changed rules take their place: if it’s big enough we call it an “Revolution”. If it small, we call it innovation.

If we go back 200 years ago, the shift with the invention of mechanized production introduced changes at that scale, as local businesses in a range of industries from ceramics to textiles disappeared, and bigger firms figured out large scale mechanized looms, porcelain production, and global transportation of quantity goods from cheap labor markets.

We’ve been living under the terms set by this last shift for so long they’ve begun to seem unquestionable: producing more in places with cheaper labor, mechanizing when possible, building scales of economy, just makes sense.  Firms with the biggest retail distribution networks will always win, as they can take advantage of owning the point of sale and the leverage of negotiating with suppliers. Right?

Perhaps not. The combination of nearly universal internet access, the bandwidth to support rich media, and the social network is changing the nature of competition at a pace that has not been seen for the past 200 years. Industries that sell goods that can be digitized have already been transformed: Blockbuster, HMV music stores, countless newspapers and others that never saw it coming have gone the way of rifled cannon – even trophies and awards are getting the digital treatment.

The effect is now beginning to spread to industries that focus on physical products, as the same rich communication and rapid information exchange mean that small-scale entrepreneurs have access to each other, to a global audience of customers,  and to production facilities. It’s suddenly possible to have design a one-off product in London, sell it to a customer in Germany, source production in Asia and have it shipped directly.

Low-volume, no upfront costs, no need to own a big organization. It’s also suddenly possible to calculate the tradeoffs of shipping/customs and consider bringing back local production. This last scenario looks a lot like the potential revolution – as cottage industry once again becomes feasible.

Small startups are emerging globally to take advantage of this new value chain – one that makes it possible to reach a mass audience, to gauge enthusiasm for potential products, to actually sell those products, and then produce and and deliver to-order. Suddenly barriers of entry have disappeared, and small entrepreneurs are able to build businesses on Etsy, Youtube, Ebay, Kickstarter, and a host of other platforms, and building networks of globally dispersed partners.

An interesting firm I have had the pleasure of working with  in this space is MUUSE.com. It is an entrepreneurial platform for independent fashion designers. The designers gain access to a global audience,  back office, and production services by sharing these services through MUUSE.

Easy access to small-scale producers globally means that rather than invest in large quantities of clothing, MUUSE is able to produce to-order, at whatever quantity is needed, turning around orders for individual customers within 6 – 8 weeks. It is a risk-free way for independents to be able to get exposure and then to scale to fill the orders that come – a business-in-a-box for design entrepreneurs that also fills a need in the consumer market: the need for unique, high quality clothing that can set them apart from the mass luxury brands that have become common and copied.

I think we will see this trend across the board, from fashion over furniture even to digital hardware with the rise of platforms like Auduino.

15 Aug

Three reasons why email still rules the Internet

In BlogPost by werdelin / August 15, 2011 / 4 Comments

Email is, besides all its flaws, still the cornerstone of the Internet. If you look at new successful services that are gaining traction, many of them are companies that use email in a smart, new way. The past couple of years, we’ve seen this from daily deals startups, like Groupon, GiltCity and Living Social. These companies take advantage of email’s ubiquity and deliver deals in your inbox. While you can view daily deals on an app (like ScoutMob or Tenka) or a browser, email is still the easiest, most inclusive and most memorable way to get discounts and save money. You get it once a day – it’s quick, digestible and habitual.

Even Twitter and Facebook  — communication channels in their own right – are heavy users of emails. Think about the email notifications you get when you have new followers, messages or events.

After all the talk about the shortcomings and impending death of email. it is still here and pretty much unchanged. Here’s why:

1. It’s where we spend most of our lives

The inbox is where people spend most of their Internet life. 107 trillion emails were sent on the Internet in 2010, the average number of email messages a day was 294 billion. It is one of the most effective places to prompt users to do something. While we may have profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and now Google+, it’s still people’s default communication platform for private and work use. In short, it’s where your eyeballs are most of the day. Especially now that mobile email is filling every small micro-boredom moment in the taxi, waiting by the bar and in the bathroom :)

2. It’s still our core identity online. 

An individual message commands more time and individual attention than most social media platforms. Whtespace  capitalizes on this fact by providing a way for people to share ideas and inspiration with more thoughtful curation. Although Facebook and Linkedin are getting very close, email is still our default form of identity on the web – particularly for real friends and professional circles. Personal email addresses are like our phone numbers only the people we care about actually know it. Furthermore, most websites anchor their interaction with you through email – it’s the way they keep you informed on changes, help if you’ve forgotten your password, etc. Because of its ubiquity, it helps consolidate and streamline communications into one channel.

3.  All emails are born equal and play with human curiosity. 

Our brains are amazing when it comes to filtering out information that is not relevant. Most eye-tracking heat maps of users looking at a normal web page will tell a clear story about users’ ability to ignore not just ads, but whole areas where ads normally appear. So far, emails are equal (besides auto filters and smart inboxes). While the subject line, sender and first line will give you some clue as to the content of an email, you won’t know if the email from your client is a message giving positive feedback on your last presentation or an angry diatribe until you actually open the email. It’s a big game of emotional email lottery. You never know what will appear.  This can trigger curiosity and a higher sense of alert.

So while other forms of communication will take more of your attention, email will be around for a while.

(blog post co-written with Melissa Andrada)

 

10 Aug

Rethinking how people interface with computers

In BlogPost by werdelin / August 10, 2011 / 0 Comments

How three events this past week, involving Microsoft’s Kinect, a trip to a bio lab and a brainwave headset, have made me certain that we will soon have to say goodbye to the mouse and keyboard.

There is great book called The Singularity is Near. It discusses, among other things, the interesting fact that we as humans can only think about innovation in a linear way, when it is actually being developed exponentially. As an example, it argues that we thought it would take 10 years to map the human genome, which it would have if we had continued to make progress at the speed of year one. As it turned out, we mapped it all in just 3 years, as new developments and ways of thinking helped us to discover it in an exponential fashion.  I think we will see this same increased speed of innovation around how people will interface with computers. I realize that we have been speaking about touch, gesture, voice and brainwave interfaces before a while. However, think for a moment about how quickly we have come to see touch-screens, fingerprint door-looks and gesture games like the Wii as ‘standard’. If this kind of technology is being created and adopted exponentially, then we may be much closer to a time when talking to, waving at or thinking via your computer becomes part of mainstream use than most people are expecting.

I had a few different experiences this week which suggested to me that this new interface paradigm is much more likely to become a reality within the next 2-5 years than the next 10-15 years;

 

Daydreaming about Microsoft’s chances of beating Apple on Monday:

The first hint that made me think of funky new interfaces methods happend  somewhere over the Atlantic on a flight to London. I was dozing off having just read about Apple’s latest amazing financial results. Half awake and half dreaming, I, for some reason, was role-playing in my head what I would say if I worked for Microsoft and was doing a ‘Here’s what we have up our sleeves for 2012′ presentation to a skeptical looking board of directors. In my dreamy state, I was making the argument that we are heading towards a phase where people will interface with computers in a completely new way; a time where computers communicate with us on our terms instead of us having to interface with computers in a way that is easy for them. I was reminding everyone how quickly the world went from thinking ‘holy moly’ when seeing a TED talk showing the ‘pinch screens gesture’ to being both surprised and annoyed when they today encounter a non-touch screen. I was showing amazing developments and hacks of the Kinect and highlighting how gesture and voice interfacing is not a distant promise but very much a reality today. Then I was making the argument that while Apple produces amazing hardware and nice looking screen interfaces, they are behind when it comes to online services (I my dream I got happy nods when saying; ‘no one uses .me’) and might even focus too much on touch which are screen based – and if a paradigm shift to the cloud and human interfaces was imminent, then Microsoft was in a good position to reclaim this new hidden type of HAL 3000 type of OS.

Now, in reality I actually do believe that Apple is very well aware and pushing new interfaces. Having met with the Siri guys while they were still part of the Motorola Advance Tech Lab,  I am certain that Apple bought them because they also think that voice interfaces are ready for primetime. Link to story about Apple buying Siri | Evidence that voice and picture interfaces are part of OS5

 

Realized in a bio lab how often you need a computer but cant use a mouse/keyboard on Thurday

I was in a very inspiring meeting with a client. We were working on the best way to introduce laboratory workers to digital tools in their daily workflow (the pen and paper is still the preferred tool). While getting introduced to the amazing properties of antibodies in biology experiments lab and the issues that poor naming convention for monoculs  create, it became clear how often we could use computer assistance where a mouse and a keyboard is just not practical. Most readers of this post will be using computers to make their lives easier, but look around you and check out how many areas could be very easily become optimized if computers could assist you without you having to pull up your phone or go back to your office and look something up on your desktop.

 

Bragging about my new brainwave bluetooth headset to a friend on Sunday

On my way back to NYC, I had brunch with an old friend who is both a great product developer and extraordinary curious when it comes to innovation. I was telling him about a new gadget I had bought a few month back  called the ‘Neurosky‘. Its a brainwave headset which allows me to monitor my brain activity. It’s even got a nice small game called Neuroboy, which allows me to use my thoughts to manipulate my avatar in a virtual world, for example to lift a box or push a ball. Even as I write this I realize it sounds a bit science fiction. However, it’s technology which can be bought for a few hundred dollars and actually seems to work. A core part of new technology becoming mainstream is that its price level gets low enough for ‘normal’ people to afford it. These new brainwave headsets are now in a decent price level and even got nice open APIs so that nerds (like me) can try to connect them to all sorts of stuff. (My plan is to connect it to a remote controlled car so I can drive it with thoughts…. but thats for another blog post).

So maybe its just stress after a bit of daydreaming in a plane, a trip to a bio lab and nerding with a brainwave headset :) but I do think there are an increasing number of datapoints that suggest that we are closer to Hal 3000 than people realize. If this is true both the way we interact with computers and the companies that are world leading could change rapidly.

 

 

10 May

How to deal with the excitement and anxiety of releasing a lean startup

In BlogPost by werdelin / May 10, 2011 / 7 Comments

The release of Project Whtespace…

Releasing a new product onto the web is always a bit daunting. You know there are tons of features that you could put in; you know there’s a bunch of bugs, and you are somewhat worried that your user-flow, or even the basis premise, of your product is wrong. Don’t think I have ever gone live with a digital product that I felt was ‘ready’. However, few things are as exciting as putting your product out there and seeing what happens. It’s a product guy’s crack: the constant refreshing of your stats page, staring at the red real-time user dial on chartbeat, or seeing the comments about the product on Twitter. The days prior to release are always filled with anxiety about launching the product – often including heated discussion about postponing the release, or frustration that there are so many small UI bugs that are still outstanding. Eventually you have to declare ‘it’s showtime’. In these days of rapidly iterating lean start-ups, the whole notion of a launch is kind of outdated anyway. The product will be better after the next sprint, and even better after the sprint after that. So sometimes you just have to trust your gut that the product is ready enough…

Well, today is a day like that.

As I am writing this, we are pleased to introduce you all to a new product that Prehype has made together with Wolff Olins (one of the world’s leading branding company).

The product is called Whtespace, and is the result of the hard work of Melissa, Kris and Malcolm from Wolff Olins, Prehype partner Philip, and interaction designer/developer Mirza. It’s been amazing to work with people who are passionate, have so much user empathy and a fantastic sense of design. The whole project came about via an internal venture competition that we did together with Wolff Olins but I’ll write much more about that in my next post; first things first. What is Whtespace?

Whtespace came out of the premise that we all see great stuff that would be great to share with either friends, family, clients and/or co-workers but we dont want to bother them with 2-3 emails a day. They do the same. We all also dont want to spent a lot of time taking these link and put them on wiki or design a newsletter. So we dont – and  we end up not sharing the information at all.  Whtespace tries to solve that by making a collective one-click email digest that everyone receives when its most convenient for then.  A happy combo of the best from Instapaper, Yammer and Flipboard – all wrapped in an email because, let’s face it, that’s where we live most of our lives.

We call these collections “Whtespaces” – you can create a Whtespace and invite people to participate in that Whtespace. It could be a general Whtespace for your co-workers about interesting developments in your business area; or a topical Whtespace about restaurants for your foody friends; or even a Whtespace for your work with an outside partner or client – to allow both to share links about industry-specific developments. Made so easy, that even your non-tech friends can use it – and all in email so even the non-techs can benefit from them too.

We are soft-releasing the product today – so please give Whtespace a go, create your own, add some friends, use the bookmarklet and enjoy! Remember that the paint is still wet, so be gentle and please do use the feedback page to send us comments.

Try it here

More detailed presentation of Whtespace

 

06 Mar

How your digital trail could be used to introduce you to people you ought to know.

In BlogPost by werdelin / March 6, 2011 / 0 Comments

As part of our work at prehype – we get to come advisors to various great entrepreneurs. One of these is Anthony from StreetSpark who with what seems to be everlasting energy keeps trying to find out how you can best match people.

He and the other great guys at Streetspark does this by looking at your digital trail and introduce you to people who have overlapping interests. It started out being very much centered about introductions to people who you could flirt with based on stated preferences. However, half way through development on StreetSpark we had a thought. There should be a system that looks across users’ sharing activity on social networks and works out who they should be introduced to based on what ‘shared things’ they have in common. It should show you what you both have in common right up front so you can decide if you want to meet them. Like a good host at a party.

There are people out there that hang out at the same types of places you do (and check in there), follow the same people on twitter, listen to the same music (Pandora, LastFM) and ‘like’ the same types of articles as you on blogs. They went to the same University and are in the same profession or maybe even worked for the same company (LinkedIn). And they’re sharing this stuff now as this stuff is what’s on their minds at the moment (people’s interests change all the time). All of this is recored and shared across social networks. So why not use this data that people have already shared for their own benefit?

If you were matched and introduced based on social network sharing data, it’s more likely that you’d have a good conversation with the people you’d meet. And it would open up the possibility of more serendipitous encounters – you’d see overlaps of not only interests but timings – things you’d both done around the same time. To do this used to require knowing someone who knows you both and then having them take the time to introduce you. Not any more. Your digital trail gives you away.

Turns out it takes a system that matches based on singular (1 to 1) connections and matches both sides to create a single matched ‘object’ rather than just a filtered search. This is the only way the reasons for the match (the common overlaps) can be shown up front. This is exactly the back-end system the guys at Streetspark had built. As so often happens, they just stumbled across a better use for our technology along the way.

The challenge now is to create the UX that will allow the existing user base to get full benefit from this more advanced matching – as well as allowing new users to use the app for getting introduced to like-minded people. What we are currently trying to figure out – is if we should build a separate app for users who are only interested in meeting like-minded people and leave the current app to their flirty colleagues.  Thoughts are welcome? :)

If you are interested to play with it – here is the link to the itunes store and their twitter account.