Does Your Team Know What Success Looks Like?

Shot of a group of businesspeople high fiving in an office

When Jason Nazar and I launched Docstoc years ago, we got 30,000 unique users on the first day.

I was ecstatic. I remember how my team of engineers and I were all high fiving each other, with big smiles on our faces. Then I walk into Jason’s office and he had a very different reaction. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hey, we got 30,000 unique visitors on the first day.”

Jason: “Yeah, we got 30,000 users on the first day.”

Me: “Yeah, we got 30,000. That’s great!”

Jason: “No, we got 30,000. That’s horrible!”

Me (scratching my head): “What do you mean? No one knew about the website yesterday and we got 30,000 uniques today. That’s great!”

Jason: “No, you don’t understand. We got only 30,000. That’s way too low.”

And then it hit me: We never really defined what success for the launch would look like. So we both looked at the very same facts — 30,000 uniques — and came to very, very different interpretations of what it meant for the business.

You’ve probably had a very similar experience at some point in your career. It’s not that you failed to deliver on the project goals. It’s that the bottom line expectations were not clearly defined. Someone, maybe you, didn’t define what success looks like. And if you don’t define what success looks like, how do you know when you’ve succeeded?

So many times when we plan projects for our businesses, we think through a mountain of details — the timeline, the budget, who’s doing what, and how we’re going to follow through after launch. We consider every little task that needs to get done and who will do it. We then manage it carefully, sprint by sprint.

Except, we often forget to go through one of the most critical tasks of all — agreeing on what the bottom line success will look like, and how we’re going to measure it.

Here is another, more recent example. At unGlue, we decided to build a new feature called Steps for Time, which rewards kids for physical activity like walking, running or working out. The more you walk, the more screen-time minutes you can earn.

You take your dog for a walk, you can earn more time. If you walk to school, you can earn more time. I loved this idea because parents are always trying to encourage their kids to be more active.

And so we decided to develop this feature. We decided on what it would look like and how it would work. We considered all of the steps needed to get the feature shipped. I worked on a PR strategy and a marketing launch plan.

Later, as the data come in, I remember meeting with my product lead. He’s telling me it was a huge success.

And I said, “What do you mean? It was not successful at all.”

He says, “What do you mean? We hit the goals. We hit the milestones on time. It looks amazing. It behaves beautifully. The users who are using it, love it! It’s a huge success!”

And I’m telling him: “What do you mean? We got almost no PR for it. Fewer than 5% of the users are using it, and we didn’t get any noticeable increase in app downloads. It’s a failure.”

And that’s when I realized, once again, holy shit, I fell into the same trap. Even though it was clear to me what success should look like, I didn’t clearly communicate it to the team. From where he stood in terms of responsibility, the project was a success. We hit our product milestones, and we launched on time. It looked absolutely amazing and people who used the feature did love it.

But from my perspective and from the business standpoint of getting A LOT more users to sign up for unGlue, it was a failure. It didn’t move the needle at all. We were both right, of course — looking at things from our own lens.

There are things we both could and should be celebrated. We completed the project on time. It looks amazing. People love it. People are using it. We should absolutely be proud of it and celebrate it, even if it’s not a huge business success.

However, we all needed to agree that this was not a good outcome for the business, as measured by the number of new users it drove. It didn’t change the metrics that were important for the business. If we had come to this understanding, we could have avoided, we could avoid having an argument about opinions and agree on the facts.

With the Docstoc launch, we had some things to celebrate. And we also had a lot of room for improvement. Yes, we were able to launch the website without a hitch (well, maybe a few…), but we also didn’t hit our biggest milestones for site visits. Both of these realities are true.

The vision of success for the overall business is a critical piece of information that is often not clearly communicated to everyone. So the leadership is disappointed and frustrated while everyone else is celebrating. They’re scratching their heads, asking: Why is everyone giving high-fives when we just wasted all of this time building something that didn’t make any difference whatsoever to the business?

Successes and failures should be shared across the company. But when success looks like failure to one team and failure seems like a success to another, then you’ve all made the crucial mistake of not setting the right expectations.

Make sure to clearly define what and how success should look like and share it with the team every time you meet. Bottom line: it’s hard to reach a goal that is not clearly defined.

Microsoft Windows 8. Is it A Game Changer?

Like all of us, I’ve been using Microsoft Windows forever. Thank to Bill Gates, Windows became a fact of life. We know that a computer is built from parts like a CPU, memory and a hard disk, hardware you must have in order for the computer to work. Microsoft made sure that you  must use its Windows operating system for it to function. It did more than that, it made sure that no matter where you buy your computer: Dell, HP, or even build it yourself, you must use their Windows operating system. Now, that is a nice market to have.

It wasn’t an easy ride for Microsoft, and there were many competitors along the way: IBM with OS2, different Linux operating systems, and of course Mac OS. But Microsoft kept the status quo, partially because of competitors’ mistakes, good products they created (sometimes, not always), and people’s tendency to stay with what they know. But the main reason that everyone wanted Windows was software. Everyone needed software because everything was implemented as software. Every game, productivity tool, utility, chat, email, etc. (and there were millions to chose from) had software you needed to install, and they all run on Windows. Other OSs had only a tiny fraction of the software built for them, which is why everyone flocked to Windows. The masses would not think about buying a Linux OS because it could not run their favorite game and Word. It was a market Check Mate.

But in the past few years things have changed. The Internet evolved, became faster, reached more people, and new types of sites were created. Not just for consuming content but for sharing content (aka, web 2.0) and lately for productivity and collaboration. You can now do everything online, you can chat, check your email, create documents or spreadsheets, work on your photos, play tons of games and everything in between. If you think about it, what software did you install on your computer lately? There are only three categories that still require installation: Anti Virus/Security, Office, and sophisticated games (i.e. Call of Duty). Everything else you can do online. There are other niches like Photoshop and movie editing but for 99% of consumers, that short list is pretty much it.

So, if everything is online do you really need Windows or just a browser? This exact question is what Google wants everyone to ask and Microsoft dreads. With less than 45% browser market share and dropping Microsoft is not even situated to control the browser market. Google was smart and fast to promote their Chrome browser, which is biting at Microsoft’s IE market share like nothing we’ve seen in the past. I guess when billions of people come to your website each day you can promote your product pretty effectively.

Microsoft was late for the smartphone market and is now in a long and expensive uphill battle. Even though Windows 7 phones are very good and not just another icon based smartphone, it’s a hard sell for the iPhone addicts market. Google is coming fast from behind with Google Docs and Spreadsheets, conquering the Microsoft Office market share and not just on the consumer space, but also in Microsoft’s backyard, the Enterprise space. Microsoft was also late for the tablet/slate market and is working extra hard to catch up with the iPad. While Apple just released version 3 of the iPad (read my though on it here), Microsoft’s slate is still in the works. To top it all off, Mac sales are at an all time high and, if it was once, too expensive and all around strange to buy a Mac, more and more are flocking to Apple stores and buying one. It feels like Microsoft is under attack on all fronts and is losing ground. Not an easy situation to be in.

The question we need to ask is the following: is Microsoft the type of company that, when major challenges arise, will make tough choices and come out on top?

I believe so. I’ve been paying close attention to what they are doing and I strongly believe they are making a comeback, and it’s called Windows 8. It’s not just another OS with nicer icons and cooler drop shadow effects. Microsoft is making some brave decisions here that, no offense, we’ve seen coming more from Apple than Microsoft. Windows 8 is significantly different from anything else currently in the market with its Metro style, navigation and user interaction. They are basically betting the house on this one and they know they can’t lose. Playing with my Windows 8 tablet (slate) I was fairly impressed. It’s very different from anything else out there and its something we haven’t say about a Microsoft product in a while: IT’S COOL! It’s designed in a way that tech babies as well as dinosaurs can understand, which is very important to Microsoft. They have about 500 million Windows 7 users that they hope to convert to Windows 8. They integrated a store into the OS and are working hard on getting as many apps as possible ready for launch. Windows 8 will work on all computers from tablets/slate to heavy servers, which is a huge advantage to developers and consumers alike. Since Apple brought the importance of installing applications back from the grave, I believe Microsoft will take that approach with a thunder. This time, Apple simply followed Microsoft’s gameplay not the other way around. Apple only called them “Apps” instead of Applications or software, but Microsoft invented the concept.

Doing a pivot in a startup is easy, turning a ship the size of Microsoft is hard, slow, and risky but it looks to me like they are doing it right and with a lot of though. I would not bury Microsoft just yet; more likely start buying Microsoft stock while the price is low, before Windows 8 hits the shelves.

iPad 3. Really? That’s it?

Let me start by saying that I owned an iPad from the very beginning. I had the first iPad and currently have the iPad 2 and I love it! My wife loves it and my kids love it. The iPad is on a very short list of technologies that changed the world as well as changed us, and probably for the better. I’m sure that we’ve seen only the beginning of that the iPad/Widows8/Android type devices will do in the future. The question I’m asking here is: should you upgrade to iPad3 if you already own an iPad?

 

As part of my responsibilities as a CTO of a technology startup is to try different technologies, being software in nature or hardware. So I really “had” to get an iPad 3, ahem… I mean the NEW iPad (sorry Tim) and check it out. Yes, I know you feel my pain… so here goes:

 

The screen is crisp and sharp like nothing you ever seen in your life. And that’s about it.

 

If you look hard and watch the hour+ long Apple presentation video, like all good tech geeks, you’ll see other cool features. These will make you feel good about spending about $800-$900 on this new purchase. Don’t tell me it’s cheaper, you’ll need the cool cover and the Apple Care is a must and, of course, you have to add tax unless you plan on driving to Vegas.

 

But most people are not tech geeks, they don’t watch the Apple videos (and cheerfully clap while watching) or read TechCrunch or share every new small feature discovery with everyone else they know. They don’t know about “Retina display” (it was funny to see my kids’ reaction to that word when I told them) or care about the A5X processor. Most people are, well, normal people that like the iPad because it an amazing device that a two year old can figure out.

 

Until now Apple took the market forward in leaps and bounds in each release, and not just on the iPad front. I was pleasantly surprised each time to see the advances they make between releases and in a relatively short time. Not just in software changes, but especially hardware ones. I think we just became used to actual change that is worth our time and money and Apple delivered.

 

My reaction to the new iPad was chill and a bit disappointed. I expected more for the money. My kids reaction, when I put the new iPad next to the iPad 2 was: “What’s the difference?”. So I pointed it out and zoomed in on some email to show how crisp the text is, but then I realized that it’s too late, they don’t care. As for my wife, you really don’t want to know her reaction…

 

In conclusion I can say that if you don’t have an iPad stop being a dinosaur, step out of the cave and run to the next Apple store and buy one today. If you have an iPad 2 save your money for something better because this is not it. If you have an iPad 1, think hard if you want to spend $800 now.

 

Apple, I expected more from you.

 

Navigating the Challenges of Effective Outsourcing – Startup Uncensored #7

outsourcingThis month’s “Startups Uncensored” will be on “Navigating the Challenges of Effective Outsourcing”.  It will be an open and frank town-hall conversation discussing topics such as:

  • Outsourcing best practices
  • Do’s and don’ts of outsourcing
  • Top mistakes people do when outsourcing
  • What can and should you outsource? Architecture? Code? Support? Content creation? Testing? Other?
  • How to find outsourcing solutions?
  • How do you manage a remote team?

We are joined this month by James Siminoff, founder/CEO of PhoneTag and Aaron Hawkey co-founder and CEO/CTO of Cramster.  Both have extension experience in identifying and working with outsourced teams to build their technology companies.  Plus this month’s event will be moderated by Alon Shwartz.

These events are put on in conjunction with our friends at DealMaker Media. TO SIGN UP FOR THIS EVENT, CLICK HERE

The event is free and is followed by a reception and mixer at the Docstoc Offices in Santa Monica by the 3rd Street Promenade. The venue holds about 140 folks, ALL PREVIOUS EVENTS WERE FULL WITH STANDING ROOM ONLY. If you are not one of the first 140 to RSVP and confirm, we will have a waiting list.

Thursday, May 28th 6:30pm – 8:00pm (Townhall)…. 8:00pm on, Reception
Cost: FREE
This event is capped at 140 attendees.
Confirmation will be required or your spot will be given up for our waiting list.

Santa Monica Public Library (Auditorium) 601 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

TO SIGN UP FOR THIS EVENT, CLICK HERE

About Startups Uncensored

Startups Uncensored is a free monthly speaking series, townhall, and networking event for entrepreneurs and technology aficionados, hosted by Jason Nazar, CEO of Docstoc.com. These monthly meetups are centered around different topics meant to help startups build their businesses. The event, brought to you by DealMaker Media, contributes to the growing Los Angeles technology scene by bringing together various entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, social media experts, and professionals in the tech field. The format of the series typically includes a 45 minute presentation or panel followed by 45 minutes of questions and answers, and its co-hosted by notable CEOs and Investors.

Running a Startup without Losing Your Family

Prefix

This post is for everyone, married, singles, with children and without. I tried to focus on a few, non-common, lessons I’ve learned along the way. If you don’t have children but plan on having some in the future, please continue reading at your own risk. If you do have children, please sit down…

A starting Point

You really though it will be easier than this, didn’t you? You though you can do it all with time to spare. I can almost hear it “I can do/manage multiple projects at once, how difficult can it be?” or “I’ll just have to be more efficient” or “I will change!” or “my wife will help…” or probably all of the above. Instead, it became your life’s biggest underestimated challenge and you find yourself in an uncharted territory. It is very challenging to have a demanding job while raising a (mentally) healthy family.  I’m not going to tell you that it’s going to be easy or share some “tricks” I’ve learned that will make it all better and easy. There are no easy answers or 10 golden rules that, if followed, life will be rosy and simple. Than again, if you read this post you’re not looking for a simple and rosy life.

However, I will tell you that it IS possible. I will tell you that you don’t have to choose between your carrier and your family! You just have to adjust some things in your life, people’s expectations (including yourself), think about it as much as you think about issues as work, and make even more sacrifices.

Ready?

Balance

Think of your life as a triangle with the following sides: your family life, your professional life, and your personal life.  This triangle needs to fit into a 24 hours timeframe. You can’t increase one side of the triangle without shortening another. The first instinct we have is to believe we can cut our personal life to zero, but it really doesn’t work. Everyone needs some time for themselves, to charge batteries, to enjoy life, to take a break. We don’t even notice it we just end up in front of the TV or with friends or at the gym or at another conference, which cuts the family side of the triangle.

Once you realize the triangle of life and understand that every part of the triangle needs to be represented, you start understanding the need to balance. Many years ago, when my first son was born, my wife kept telling me I have to stop working seven days a week. I didn’t understand what she’s talking about and kept saying I’m only working six days, at most. So she started taking notes every day, when I left and when I came back, when I started working at home and when I finished. After a few weeks she showed me the list. I was shocked. I was working seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day. I didn’t even notice. I realize there was only one side to my triangle and I need to make room for three. I needed to balance my life.

Share is Caring

Many people don’t tell their husband or wife almost anything about their professional life. Yeah, there’s the chit-chat about office stuff and the usual “How was your day honey?” but with no real substance. Starting a business, working on a tough project or any other challenging effort impacts our life and resonates on the other sides of the triangle. There are no firewalls in our head; there is no switch we can turn On or Off when we get home. You can take your clothes off your body but not your mind off things.

The answer is to make everyone at home part of your professional life, your wife/husband, your children, your parents, everyone! The more they understand what it is you do and how important it is to you, the more they’ll help, the more they’ll empathize, the more happy they’ll be when you are, and the more understanding they will be when you’re not.

Once you start sharing you’ll realize how much you gain by it and in ways you can’t imagine. When I explained to my older son what is Docstoc and what I do, he was so exited he started thinking with me about new features and how to make the site better. Many times, before he goes to sleep we think together about new features, the product roadmap, and the features he wants. He’s ten years old.

Be More Efficient At Work Not At Home!

It is important to be efficient, to be able to achieve more in a given unit of time. If you prioritize your tasks in order of importance, you can usually accomplish half your daily list, if you’re good. If you finished your list for the day, you did something wrong… at work, it’s all about efficiency.

At home it’s NOT! You cannot and should not be efficient with your kids or your wife. The concept of “quality time” is nonsense, as you cannot efficiently play with your kids. You cannot efficiently prepare them for life. You cannot have an efficient relationship with your wife. If you need to finish stuff at the office better stay late that day and come early the next day. It’s better than coming “somewhat late” both days and spent seven and a half minutes with them.

Sleep

Our society made us believe that sleeping is overrated. We find ourselves sleeping less and less stretching ourselves to the limit. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy stretching myself to the limit but I also understand what it means.

The problem with sleeping less is that we use most of our energy during the day, at work. That leaves very little energy when we get back home. We’re tired and cranky and don’t really enjoy what is an important part of our life.

Dude, get some sleep, you’re a mammal, a human, it’s natural, you need it.

Get Energized – With Them

A lot of people get energized when they’re by themselves, with friends, hiking, running, reading, watching a movie, etc.  Think about doing some of these activities by with your family. I’m not talking about a family trip to Vegas or Hawaii. I’m talking about doing whatever YOU need to get energized but taking someone with you.

I really don’t like floor games, it’s boring and hurts my back. I do like hiking and biking, the air and the wind are great for recharging. So I spend less time playing Chatters and Ladders and more time hiking/walking/biking with the kids. Find what YOU like to do and see if you can fit your family with you.

Last Words

Someone once told me that you could either be a businessman or a family man. I believe life’s ultimate purpose and challenge is to be both especially if you want to make a positive change in the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur, a Rabi, or the president of the United States, you do better if you do both.

P.S.

If you’re lucky you’ll also have a loving, understanding, and supporting wife with endless patients that will help you along the way. I certainly do. Thank you Orit, I love you very much.

 

Wars and Start-ups

I’m Israeli if you didn’t guess and usually very moderate in my political opinions. Without getting into specifics I would say that I’m usually trying to understand both sides of every argument even though I may not agree with one, or both sides. My reasoning is that there is something to be learned from each side, which does not require agreeing. Notice I used the word “argument” related to politics and not the usual “discussion” or “idea” because in this side of the world, political discussions are usually arguments, with different levels of severity.

I’ve been an entrepreneur and in the startup business for many years now. I’ve also been involved and/or interested in conflicts and wars in Israel and other places to the point I began to see similarities between these two worlds: Startups and Wars. That said war is very, very different from business, especially when war is due to religion, philosophy, business, and other non-life-essential topics. At best, I categorize war as “necessary evil” and this latest war in southern Israel certainly qualifies.

But there are similarities too. For example, starting a startup is like starting a war. First, you think you’re right and you have the right. Many others have done the same thing before successfully and you’re smarter than most of them. Yes, you’ll need resources and funding but you can start relatively small and grow. It doesn’t have to be “shock and awe”…

You will need to get support from your investors/cabinet and other influencers/politicians. You will find yourself maneuvering between them making sure everyone is as happy as possible, even though you are the commander in chief.

You also have one or two a basic exit strategies, which makes perfect sense for you and your supporters. These strategies of course changes one month after you launch your product/attack. Both have casualties (though very different of course) and you require special talent/forces to do the job as efficiently and effectively as possible. No wonder they call startups “an uphill battle”.

On both there is some “turning point” that redefines the effort. Some breakthrough or event, some added ingredient that, when looking back, changes the picture and drives toward the win. But that point, the “win” is the most difficult thing to achieve. I think that beyond the obvious difficulties like funding, resources, competition, politics, etc it is actually the very definition of what WINNING actually means. And it is very different for each effort.

From all the different slogans I heard about wars it is the following, from the early days of Israel that caught my ear: “The Eager to Win Is a Prerequisite of Winning”. Seems pretty obvious but it’s not. Many people which are directly involved in startups (and wars) are doing it for different reasons: fame and glory, money, it is fun and cool, other people’s expectations, to prove that you’re right/can and other reasons. Most times, all these reasons fade the original reason they started this effort in the first place. “The Eager to Win” beyond anything else has to be at the top of the list .You can be famous and have some “action” while doing it but unless you want to win, you will not. Unless you remember why you started, chances are things will not work out.

We are working on it right now at Docstoc.

Last words

Without going into “war is bad”, I want to express the reason for this blog entry: learning from experience. Maybe it is best to learn from bad, sometimes, horrible examples to do some good in the world.

Alon