The Skimm – Product Review 3

TheSkimm

Attribute #1. Delivers on a singular value proposition in a world-class way (purpose): Grade – B
In my opinion, the Skimm exists to make sure you never feel stupid during a discussion of the news. The value proposition of the Skimm isn’t just synthesis of news. It is never walking into a discussion with a fear that you may be perceived as someone who doesn’t even keep up with the news. It delivers on that value proposition very well.

However, I give it an B because I think it targets readers in the US and does well to serve this demographic. I do find myself wondering if they could provide more color on what happens globally. At the very least, I’d love to have that option.

Attribute #2. Simple, intuitive, and anticipates needs (design): Grade – A
This is an area where The Skimm does really well. The email shows up every morning and is typically a 5-7 minute read. They pick out around 5 key pieces of news and ensures you know enough to be going on with while also having options to click through in case you are reading more.

The Skimm understands that users want a byte sized news meal in the morning. And, it delivers on this really well.

Attribute #3. Exceeds expectations (customer love): Grade – A
I’ve had no reason to feel anything less than satisfied. I definitely love it and recommend it.

Attribute #4. Emotionally resonates (feel): Grade – A+
Another strength. The Skimm is witty and fun. This personality is a big part of what makes it an enjoyable read.

As I review products, I am learning that emotional resonance is so critical. Products can’t just be functional. They need to have an identity. And, the Skimm feels like that smart, witty friend who always has something interesting to say.

Attribute #5. Changes the user’s life for the better (impact): Grade – A
I’ve experimented a lot with my consumption of the news over the years. I think it is important to stay abreast of what is going on. However, I also think spending an hour reading the news isn’t going to be my preference. So, I’ve ended up zero-ing on reading headlines and a short description on my Feedly / feed reader and defaulting to The Skimm for a slightly more in-depth read.

It has definitely had a positive impact.

Overall Rating – A
Really simple and really well done. I think it is the emotional resonance that sets the Skimm apart. The team recently celebrated the 3rd birthday – congratulations and well done.

PS: Click here if you are interested in subscribing to the Skimm

Audible app for iOS – Product Review 1

A big part of this blog has been about learning “how to see.” I see failure as learning today. And, getting to that has been an incredible journey. I’ve wanted to learn how to “see” and understand products for a while now. So, thanks to a suggestion from a wise friend, I’m going to review interesting products and services. In looking at products and services critically, I hope to understand what makes great products/services and also develop an awareness while I use them so I can, hopefully, design great experiences myself.

My framework for reviews will be based on Jeff Weiner’s 5 attributes of a great product. Hope you enjoy these posts.


 

My first product will be Audible’s app for iOS.

Attribute #1. Delivers on a singular value proposition in a world-class way (purpose): Grade – A+
The Audible app exists to enable users to read audio books. It does that better than any other app out there. The Audible audio book library is fantastic and the app ensures easy access to it.

Attribute #2. Simple, intuitive, and anticipates needs (design): Grade – C
The app does okay on being simple and intuitive. You click it open, pick a book from “your library” and start reading. The other tabs are easy to understand.

I definitely think there still is room for improvement – for example –
– I’d like it to play and pause no matter where I touch
– I wonder if the “more” tab could do with less options
– I wish they did something useful with the badge collection
– And, I’d love for them to analyze my reading data and push insights and/or reminders to read

However, it isn’t a bad experience so I would still give it a B. But, it gets a C because it fails in anticipating my needs. Audible has great improved its app over time but its recommendation engine / “Discover” tab remains woeful. For instance, I have 91 titles and a quick scan will tell you that I read certain kinds of book on audible – always non fiction with a heavy bias to topics like psychology and technology. And, yet, the Discover tab never does anything except list out current fiction best sellers.

Attribute #3. Exceeds expectations (customer love): Grade – A+
I have contact Audible many times over the past 7 years and I’ve been well taken care of every time. And, every once a while, I’ve been blown away. They do a great job here.

Attribute #4. Emotionally resonates (feel): Grade – A+
3 words that come to mind when I think of how Audible makes me feel – learning, productive, and happy. 

Attribute #5. Changes the user’s life for the better (impact): Grade – A+
I’ve been thankful to Audible many a time over the past years. It has helped me read a lot and enabled me to learn and grow as a person. Definitely among the highest impact app that’s been an ever present on my home screen and the quick access bar.

Overall Grade – A-
The team has improved the app a lot over the years. And, I’m hoping the team keeps improving. It is a “star” product. A few changes could make it an “all star” product.

Fitbit and lifestyle

Since receiving a Fitbit as a wedding gift from a couple of close friends 2 years ago (thanks guys!), I’ve carried a Fitbit around most days. Thanks to traveling to my California, my new temporary location, without my fitbit charger, I went three weeks without wearing a Fitbit. As far as my lifestyle went, I’d been exercising as per normal. So, I assumed all was normal.

I finally managed to borrow a charger on Monday and realized within a few hours that all was actually not normal. I was barely walking a couple of thousand steps a day. I walk a lot more from home to school on normal days but, thanks to driving everywhere here, there’s barely any walking done. So, I stopped taking the elevator on Monday and have been trekking up and down our five floor building since. The step counts are getting closer to normal and I feel much happier.

I realized 3 things –

1. It is so easy to let things slip when you don’t measure them. The degradation may be gradual but it is degradation nevertheless.

2. Not walking much may seem like a small thing. But, over time, the effects of these small habits compound. Leading a healthy lifestyle, in my eyes, involves standing enough (go standing desks!), walking enough and exercising. And, the 10,000 steps on Fitbit / 8.7km / 5.4 miles is a great proxy for whether I’ve walked enough in a day.

3. I love how transformative a product can be. I know there are many fitness trackers out there these days but I associate the whole space with my Fitbit. I just want to express my gratitude to the Fitbit team for what they’ve done. To anyone on the Fitbit team who’s reading this, congratulations on your IPO – well deserved!

Amazon pop up stores and retail

I saw this at a mall close by last weekend. I’d read about Amazon opening up pop up stores in a couple of locations but I hadn’t seen one myself.

Amazon Pop up

The question in the mind of anyone who is interested in Amazon is – is this a sign of Amazon’s commitment to physical retail? My hunch is that it isn’t clear anyone, including Jeff Bezos, knows for sure. Amazon’s growth has been nothing short of stunning. However, of late, that growth, especially in retail, has slowed. And, it is clear that the retail behemoth is looking for ways to continue accelerating the growth. However, online retail as a percentage of physical retail has been hovering at the 10% mark for a couple of years now – this means 9/10 retail purchases are still made offline. And, Amazon definitely wants in. Or, does it?

The downside for Amazon is that it’ll lose a significant part of its cost efficiency if it takes the plunge into retail. But, on the other hand, it might help Amazon make its 1 hour delivery ambitions real. It all depends on how retail shakes out.

Retail, in the past, was pretty much physical. Aside from a few niche services that allowed you to call and order, you had to show up at a store and buy things. Thanks to the internet, we saw players like Amazon run e-commerce stores that did not have a retail presence. Over time, 10% of shopping in North America has shifted to e-commerce. This proportion will undoubtedly increase, but, it isn’t clear by how much. There are, after all, many who actually enjoy the physical shopping experience. In the last few years, Europe, and more recently the US, has experienced a rise of the hybrid experience – order online and pick up at store. If retail stores still stock a reasonable selection, this has a best-of-both-worlds effect as it enables shoppers to save time on the essentials by having them pre-ordered, packaged and ready and leaves them to enjoy the pleasure of shopping. It also saves money for the retailers as they can enjoy the savings due to scale.

All of this leads to the big question – what does retail look like in the future? I think, in 10 years, we will see –
1. 30% physical/traditional
2. 30% online
3. 40% hybrid

I don’t believe physical retail will ever go away. I just think the experience will need to be differentiated and unique so it caters to those who really enjoy the physical retail experience. It’ll also mean we’ll see physical do well in goods that are unique – e.g. clothes (think Bonobos) – and no longer need to worry about choosing a bottle of vinegar from 73 options. I think online will continue to grow but I think there are too many advantages for the hybrid model not to work.

So, if I were Amazon, I’d double down on the pop up store test. This could be key to whether they’ll thrive as a retailer. (Note: the key word is retailer. I am bullish on Amazon thriving as a company as long as Bezos is leading it)

Waiting 15 minutes to try out a watch

I needed to charge my phone when I was out last weekend and went down to an Apple store in the mall and asked if I could borrow a charger. As my phone was getting charged, I thought I’d ask to try out a watch. I was politely told that I have to wait 15 minutes to try out the watch. Would I be willing to wait?

Since it would take that long for my phone to get charged, I said sure.

And, so, I waited. Every 5 minutes, I’d have one of the store folks walk up to me and say – “Thank you so much for your patience. You are #__ in queue.”

And, 15 minutes later, I was told I could finally try it. It turned out to be quite the anti-climax as the queue was for a blank watch with a screen wiped out. The wait was only to test how the watch feels on my hand. I soon realized I could have played with the watch’s user interface without waiting 15 minutes. But, as I walked out, I reflected on how ridiculous this would be in any place but an Apple store. If the screen is blanked out anyway, why not just have a few more straps lying around? While the official reason is that this is to guard against theft, I think they have other more strategic reasons.

Apple would like two things to happen with customers interested in the Apple Watch –
1. They want the trial to feel special – sort of like test driving a Lamborghini. Anticipation brings excitement -> Marketing 101.
2. The first generation of the watch is far from perfect. While I enjoyed playing with it and can see utility, it is similar to the first generation of iPhone. Potentially revolutionary, but not fun to use as yet. So, Apple would want the sort of person who wouldn’t mind waiting hours in the queue or, in this case, wouldn’t mind waiting 15 minutes to just find out how it feels. This sort of person would fall in love with the watch right away and wouldn’t mind the fact that it is buggy. This sort of person would also report the bugs and make sure the next version is much better.

Apple doesn’t want a customer like me. So, it does things that alienate me. Instead, it focuses on the real fans. Smart strategy.

The only caveat – there are very few companies that can pull this off. Don’t try this at home..

The Dropbox peace-of-mind – MBA Learnings

If I had to summarize my learning on pricing from my Microeconomics classes, it would be -> avoid price competition like the plague. And, to do that – differentiate, differentiate, differentiate.

We discussed Dropbox’s move in August last year to lower prices to compete with Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. The big question was whether this was going to be a race to the bottom in a future where storage would inevitably be free?

Now, Dropbox is one of my favorite products. I have been a user since the early days when they used to be hosted on “getdropbox.com” and their brand has nothing but positive associations. All my working files sit on my Dropbox folder and, ever since I did that 3 years ago, I’ve never had to fret about whether my working files will ever be lost.

So, I thought I’d put together 2 recommendations for Dropbox based on what I’ve learnt in Marketing and Microeconomics in the past few months. These recommendations are based on the principal that differentiation matters. If we make the argument (and we can) that most storage providers inherently offer a similar product, the game-changer will be Dropbox’s ability to horizontally differentiate, i.e., inspire great brand loyalty among its users. That, then, leads us to a marketing question – how can they do that? My line of thinking is to think around the traditional 4 P’s – product, price, promotion and place. And, my 2 recommendations are going to be based on promotion and price –

1. Target the peace-of-mind business. The question is – what can Dropbox do to differentiate? That leads me to – what is the market? The first answer seems to be storage. But, is it really storage? Or, put differently, do we want it to be storage?

When I look at why customers use Dropbox, collaboration is obviously a massive reason and is at the core of why they do what they do. They have understandably worked really hard at making collaboration easy. My recommendation would be to also target the peace-of-mind business. Every user who collaborates via Dropbox likely has many important files on it. Why not just move them all onto Dropbox and make it a full set?

I pay Crashplan a yearly fee to back up my photos. That could easily be Dropbox. I think Crashplan works fine but I don’t love Crashplan the same way and would be more than happy to pay a bit of a premium for that love and trust.

In short, I think the customer problem that Dropbox could look to solve is to remove the worry about files not being backed up. This needs an investment into customer education and a few tweaks into the way it is marketed. But, if done well, I think this could be a huge win.

2. Get creative with pricing. The current “band” approach to pricing from the storage providers is staid. The problem with bands is that it only feels like a good deal if you are near the edge of the next band. Why pay $10 for 1 terabyte if all you have is a 100 GB worth of content to store.

An approach that could be really impactful is Amazon Web Services-style “you-pay-for-what-you-use.” This could work well for 2 reasons –
1. Foot-in-the-door. Even if I’ve not fully made up my mind, I could put in 10 extra GB into my Dropbox folder and try it out for a month. Once I’m in and experience the peace of mind, it’ll be hard to get out.
2. Customer’s use will expand with time. It is much easier to get a customer paying $6 to pay $10 vs. one paying $0. This use expansion is part of the reason behind the fact that Dropbox and Netflix still use AWS for storage.

Dropbox has a strong edge when it comes to differentiation because its brand associations are all linked to storage. Amazon, for example, has begun offering photo back up for free for Amazon Prime members but I still haven’t checked it out because I don’t associate Amazon with photo storage (yet). It’ll be interesting to see how the storage wars play out. Good luck, Dropbox!

Things that will not change

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was recently asked about what Amazon might look ten years from now given all the changes sweeping through the world thanks to technology.

His response was that, instead of looking at what would change in the next decade, Amazon preferred to look at what would not change. So, there may be big shifts in the devices customers use to shop, for example, but customers will always favor low prices. A focus on things that will not change helps anchor Amazon to its objectives.

News websites and blogs called described this line as “Jeff Bezos’ advice to entrepreneurs.”

I think of it as advice for life. As we think about our lives in the coming years and decades, it should be clear that a lot of what we think will happen will not actually take place and that there will be more change in the way we do things than you and I can probably imagine. Instead of focusing on that, we’re better off focusing on what won’t change – our values and principles. It is worth thinking intentionally about these values and principles as we adapt to all that happens around us.

Despite its focus to lower prices and deliver a customer-centric experience, Amazon does make the odd misstep. We will, too. Change demands a relentless focus on what really matters.

It won’t be easy… but, boy, will it be worth it.