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Blog Personal

6 things I learnt from ‘hustling’

Hustle is a popular tech/startup term – but I have never really seen anyone explain what they did when they were hustling – you just hear them say they ‘hustled’ and then they were ‘successful’. It tends to be defined as:

Anything you need to do to make money… if you making money, you hustling.

In mid 2014 I found myself with my back against the wall so to speak – work was scarce, most of my clients had gone very quiet and we had actually just bought a new family home (living in a 2 bedroom townhouse was not sustainable) – and we were moving in at the end of the month with no sign of my next ‘pay check’. My wife is a stay-at-home mom too – so there was no paycheck to rely on there either!

As a result of these circumstances I found myself having to find a way to make some money – and make it fast.

I started out by scanning the conversations, posts and articles of the people I followed on the internet to find opportunities that aligned with my key strengths/skill-set – and remembered a few posts I had read on the Creative Market blog earlier in the year where they had started to share what some of their shop owners were earning selling on Creative Market – as I already had a shop on Creative Market I decided to give it a second chance.

For some background – I started my Creative Market shop early – just after they had launched and felt I saw an opportunity to create design related templates for the new launched Sketch software which was starting to become very popular as an alternative to Adobe Photoshop. I spent a good few evenings and weekend working on a mobile UI kit based on the then iOS 6 – and launched it – expecting great success – and it did get some immediate sales – but literally within days Apple upgraded to iOS 7 and with it came a whole new visual style – which my UI kit no longer catered to – and my sales stopped immediately. At this stage, I was contracted to work with a company – and the thought of having to do all the work over again and use up my evenings and weekends was not that appealing – so I put my Creative Market shop on ice.

Fast forward to 2014 – and I felt I would have a go at creating some products that I could sell on my Creative Market shop again – but I needed to make sure that the products I created could be made quickly so that I could generate sales across a range of products as soon as possible – and so I ended up having to ‘hustle’.

Now more than a year later I thought I would share my experience on what it meant to hustle:

H – Hard work
It’s important to realise that making anything of value is going to take hard work – you can try make a product quickly – but if you want to really ensure your product will stand out and be recognised then you going to need to put in the hard work it deserves. It also means not making sure you have all the perfect tools for the job – I used the old floor in my new house as the backdrop, collected items from my in-laws collection (they hoard stuff) and took photographs over the weekends while my two children had their afternoon sleep – trying to make sure I did not wake them up in the process as I crept around the wooden floor and making sure the photographing session was done by the time they woke up.

U – Understand
Try to understand the mindset of your customer – put yourself in their shoes and look at what value your product brings to them – will it make their life easier, simpler – can they design faster with your product etc?

S – Strengths
Don’t try to create products around a style that you aren’t familiar with as your first products – identify what your strengths are – and play to them – you will find you can get your products out much faster. If you still having to learn on the job, it’s not impossible, it just makes it that little bit harder.

T – Trust
At some point along the way you are going to have to trust the decisions you have made. Not every product or idea you come up with will be right. Just don’t give up at the first roadblock you experience. Learn from it and don’t do it again.

L – Luck
As you go you will start to find new doors and opportunities opening along the way for your ideas and or products. Don’t be shy – seize them and enjoy your success.

E – Enjoy
Lastly, and most importantly – make sure that you are actually enjoying what you are doing – as your customers will see your enjoyment through the time and effort you are putting into your products and the way you interact with them.

In the end, I made quite a bit of money during this period – and while hustling was great – it’s not something I feel you can sustain for a long period of time. I used the opportunity that I got from my sales to pursue other ideas and options and a year later find myself working as part of a great team on some really amazing products – applying a lot of what I learnt during that period of my life to my day-to-day job.

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Blog Thoughts

Build the company you wouldn’t sell

I watched this talk ‘Build the company that you wouldn’t sell‘ by Zach Klein and it aligned well with this talk I watched by David Hieatt around the concept of doing one thing well.

It seems as though the norm these days when building a company is to start building it with your exit strategy in place before you even start thinking about your product or even your customers.

It would be interesting to be able to fast forward a few years and see where most of these products are – or maybe we should look back at some examples of companies or products that have been sold or acquired and see how many of them still exist or are continuing with the original vision – or was the product they sold in fact their customer base – rather than the actual product their customers bought?

 

Categories
Blog Design Product Management

Decision fatigue

Early this year I was part of a discussion around ‘how many design options to present’ and the topic of decision fatigue came up. Decision fatigue is defined as:

Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making.

Wikipedia

It got me thinking about the role of decision fatigue in design and further, eCommerce. The popularity and continuing emergence of ‘curated’ product offerings is a clear indication that consumers are faced with too many decisions – and they are now happy to allow a company or service to help them make these decisions. Companies are continuing to invest in building ‘intelligent’ systems that leverage the data they have on our behavior to automatically curate our experience – thus reducing the number of options we are presented with and ultimately the number of decisions we need to make. As a result eCommerce has transformed from being a – come and look at everything we have process to rather a let me recommend the right products to the right customer at the right time process.

I would suggest that as designers and product managers we need to start including a decision fatigue audit as part of our design process – and not just looking at the final product page – but rather the entire decision making process and see how we can better understand the products we are selling, the differences between them – and look at ways to better recommend these products to the customer – either by using data tools available to you – or by being bold and simplifying the options and pre-empting their decisions. Rather let you customer say yes or no –  instead of I don’t know.

Research suggests that our short-term memory capacity allows us to simultaneously consider 6-9 choices – maximum – without starting to suffer from decision fatigue. I recommend walking through your product as a user to see how well your design accommodates this research. It’s also important to understand that choice doesn’t only relate to content – the more complex your navigation and interface is the more time it takes a user to understand how it works, and what to do next.

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Blog Personal Product Management

Engineering Happiness

As part of joining Automattic – you are required to spend your first three weeks in product support. I was recently part of the first group of the WooThemes team to do the 3 week Support Rotation and it gave me some key insights into customer behaviour – as well as my own behaviour  – and the way one markets/presents a product:

Engineer customer happiness and reduce open tickets.

As a happiness engineer – you are given all the tools at your disposal to help a customer with a query – as such your job it to engineer happiness for that customer using the tools at your disposal. But having said that you have to also weigh up customer happiness vs business interests – i.e. you would not just be able to refund every customer who asked for a refund with the line ‘but it will make them happy!” and realistically feel you are doing a good job. When I thought about this as a product manager I felt I could apply this same thinking to bring clarity to an often ‘grey’ job title: engineer customer happiness in a product while reducing the number of feature requests either through inclusion or exclusion.

Just because there is information online – don’t assume the customer will actually try find it first, and if they have found it, don’t expect them to have read it. And if they have read it don’t expect them to have understood it.

As a Happiness Engineer it’s your job to find the answers to the questions a customer has – often this means referencing articles that they could have as easily found as you. But, you can never expect your customer to have found these articles, let alone read it, and how about understanding them? So if you start finding that you replying to the same questions over and over again – maybe you should have a look at how and where you are addressing these issues in your products design and or messaging.

Don’t assume you have the answer to a customers question until you fully understand the problem they are facing.

We can often start telling a customer what we think they want to hear, or even more so what we want them to hear – rather than actually first trying to understand what it is a customer is asking, or why are they asking this question. I heard this line during my support rotation and it really struck me: You can put a bandaid on the problem – or you can try address the cause now.

Customers come with an expectation of what they think your product can do – and often will actually buy or use the product still fully expectant that it will do what they wanted it to do – even if it can’t.

I had a support query where a customer had a very valid idea for a website he was trying to create – but the catch was that although it was a really good idea – the way he wanted to use some of our products was just not relevant to 99% of our customers. Maintaining your products focus amongst a sea of good ideas is key, you need stay focused on your product goals and keep working towards them.

Categories
Blog Personal

WooCago

25 hours of flying, 9 hours of layover and 6 movies. That’s what it took to get from South Africa to Chicago for my first team meetup since starting at WooThemes. Over the course of two days, 15 WooThemes employees flew to Chicago from around the world. One of the benefits of working for WooThemes – and now subsequently Automattic – is that we are a remote team, which allows us to work from anywhere in the world. But, being able to spend 8 days together as a team and meet the people outside of Slack and Google Hangouts is hugely valuable.


NEW BUFFALO

We started our team meetup in a small coastal town called New Buffalo – about an hour and a half outside of Chicago on the other side of Lake Michigan. We rented an awesome 8000ft² home for the weekend for some fun social time, just getting to know each other and played a crazy game with chocolate as an icebreaker!

Unfortunately the weather did not play along – so we did not get to do as much as we had planned, but when the weather did clear for a short while a group of us hired some bicycles from a local shop and headed off on about a 20-30km ride exploring the area. We did have some discussions about whether or not this amount of exercise could lead to a heart attack by certain members of our newly formed ‘bicycle gang’ – but we all managed to get back to town – even if at one stage it might have appeared we were lost.


TEAM GROWTH

Originally our meetup was held as a joint meetup between both the Marketing and Business Development teams – but by the end of the week we had merged into the newly formed Team Growth. In all my time working with and in various companies I have never worked with such a diverse group of people – but to me that diversity brings with it a real strength that I feel WooThemes have done well to foster and grow within the company and our recent acquisition by Automattic only further serves to enhance that diversity and strength.


THE COOK-OFF

On our second last night of the weekend we had a fun ‘Cook-Off’ style competition mixed in with some Cutthroat kitchen style sabotages. Unfortunately my team started with a handicap as we were one man down at the start (no names mentioned) and we also ended up being on the receiving end of 3 out of the 4 sabotages – but we did manage to come a close second – so congrats to Team Bud on the win!


CHICAGO

After an amazing weekend spent together we headed into Chicago to attend the IRCE conference where we had an exhibitor stand for the remainder of the week. It was a crazy week with the team split up into various groups to ‘man’ the stand, as well as all of us attending the first ever WooCommerce meetup in Chicago. I managed to get out on one morning and capture a few photos of the city – Chicago really is a beautiful city and well worth a longer visit


THE LAST DAY

As with any trip there is always a last day. Slowly over the course of the morning we said sad farewells to teammates and new friends as we all headed back home again. A group of 5 of us were left to wait out the day really as our flights left late in the evening and we managed one last outing to Best Buy – which was apparently just around the corner and down the street – we ended up walking for miles! But I have to say my flight home was a whole lot better after that!

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Blog Thoughts

One size does not fit all

While spending a rather large amount of time in airplanes recently, including one rather uncomfortably long flight from Dubai to Chicago it got me thinking about the idea of one size fits all – and it’s application to the airline industry.

Unless you fortunate enough to be able to fly business class (never mind first class) and you are tall you will know the discomfort I am talking about. We (us tall people) have to make do with economy class – which sadly just adopts a one size fits all approach to passenger comfort. It amazes me that no airline has taken the opportunity to create a custom option for taller passengers in economy class. I know that you can try book a seat at the emergency exits to try gain some extra leg room – but getting one is still very much based on ‘luck’. I would happily pay a little extra for my economy class ticket if an airline would include one or two rows with seats that are larger and have more legroom, which could be set aside for taller passengers – surely this is not something which would decrease overall revenue but rather increase it through slightly higher ticket prices combined with greater customer loyalty?

Or are all people over 6 foot ‘rich’ and able to afford business or first class? Or is it that the demand for tickets is just so high that they don’t actually have to care?

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Update: Since writing this I have found that both British Airways and Lufthansa offer a premium economy option as well as a few other airlines. Seems I was unlucky in my choice of airline!

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