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Product 101: best of the internets on product management, MVPs/MDPs, pricing, product/market fit, and more!

This is a curated collection of articles on building a product, part of my ongoing 101 series. The links are free and all from respected entrepreneurs and VCs. It will be updated and expanded over time.

Here’s a list of published 101s to-date:

If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late. – Reid Hoffman.

For this 101, I changed the format from questions to topics, since it better suited my breakdown of the subtopics.

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Kevin

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Product 101

Total links: 48

Topic 1: Analysis/Analytics
Topic 2: Design
Topic 3: The Lean Stack
Topic 4: Marketplaces
Topic 5: Minimum Viable and Minimum Desirable Product (MVP and MDP)
Topic 6: Net Promoter Score (NPS)
Topic 7: Quality
Topic 8: Platforms
Topic 9: Pricing
Topic 10: Product Management
Topic 11: Product/Market Fit (PMF)
Topic 12: Strategy
Topic 13: UI and UX

Topic 1: Analysis/Analytics

71 Things to A/B Test by Robin Johnson (Optimizely)

13. TL;DR. Find out if your site visitors prefer shorter versions of headlines, taglines, product descriptions, and other content on your site.

Cohort Analysis for Startups by Tomasz Tunguz (Redpoint Ventures)

Average Monthly Revenue By Cohort – Chart the revenue by cohort to see if newer customers generate more or less revenue than older customers. Really good for marketing spend evaluation.

Conversion by Bill Gurley (Benchmark Capital)

You need to understand the rate for each and every landing page. You need to understand it for each and every source of traffic. You want to understand it in each section of your website. You want to know what it is for each and every outreach campaign. You want to know and understand bounce rates for each and every page. “Conversion Rate” is a misleading term. To truly understand conversion you need a “conversion matrix” for every path through your site.

Ignore PR and buzz, use Google Trends to assess traction instead by Andrew Chen (entrepreneur, blogger)

Consumer demand is the leading indicator, uniques are the lagging indicator
The reason why a graph of navigational queries is so powerful is that it partially removes three major sources of traffic which are often inauthentic, unsustainable, or susceptible to artificial inflation

Use this spreadsheet for churn, MRR, and cohort analysis by Christoph Janz (Point Nine Capital)

Cohort analyses are also essential if you operate a SaaS business and want to know how you’re doing in terms of churn, customer lifetime and customer lifetime value.

Jump back to the ToC

Topic 2: Design

Nine rules for running productive design critiques by Jake Knapp (Google Ventures)

The design owner should — very briefly! — remind everyone of the goals of this project. This should be something like one to five bullet points, and hopefully at least one of the goals is measurable (e.g. “increase task success by 50%”).

Jump back to the ToC

Topic 3: The Lean Stack

The Lean Stack – Part 1 by Ash Maurya (Spark59 founder)

In lean thinking, a process is not something passed down from the top and set in stone, but rather a living product that is owned by the people doing the work. They are charged with a singular directive – reducing waste (i.e. eliminating non-value add work). You start by documenting your current process (with a value stream map) and then challenge everyone to continuously improve it.

The Lean Stack – Part 2 by Ash Maurya (Spark59 founder)

Risk prioritization in a startup can be non-obvious. The best starting point is identifying gaps in your thinking and talking through them with formal and/or informal advisors. Another great tool is studying pre-existing analogs and antilogs.

Jump back to the ToC

Topic 4: Marketplaces

All Markets Are Not Created Equal by Bill Gurley (Benchmark Capital)

High buyer and supplier fragmentation is a huge positive for an online marketplace. Likewise, a concentrated supplier (or purchaser) base greatly diminishes the likelihood of a successful online marketplace.

Here’s the email lesson from 1-Read-A-Day.

Liquidity hacking: How to build a two-sided marketplace by Josh Breinlinger (Sigma West)

One way to make things function reasonably well at low volumes is to curate one side. There is a question of whether a “curated marketplace” is really a marketplace at all, but so what? Curation is really important.

Six strategies for overcoming “chicken and egg” problems by Chris Dixon (a16z)

In the last 90s, most people assumed that dating websites was a “winner take all market” and Match.com had won it, until a swath of niche competitors arose (e.g. Jdate) that succeeded because certain groups of people tend to date others from that same group. Real-life networks are often very different from the idealized, uniformly distributed networks pictured in economics textbooks. Facebook exploited the fact that social connections are highly clustered at colleges as a “beachhead” to challenge much bigger incumbents (Friendster).

Jump back to the ToC

Topic 5: Minimum Viable and Minimum Desirable Product (MVP and MDP)

Communicating with code by Paul Buccheit (former Googler, YC partner)

The point of this story, I think, is that you should consider spending less time talking, and more time prototyping, especially if you’re not very good at talking or powerpoint. Your code can be a very persuasive argument.

Don’t Let the Minimum Win Over the Viable by David Aycan (IDEO)

An MVP should be the easiest way to test your hypothesis, but that doesn’t mean that building one is easy. A common mistake is refusing to tackle the tough technical problems that create revolutionary offerings. As Ries writes, some entrepreneurs hear “minimum viable” product as “smallest imaginable” product.

How I built my Minimum Viable Product by Ash Maurya (Spark59 founder)

It is very important to use the customer problem presentation as an exploration of problems and not solutions. This is NOT a sales pitch. You don’t know what to pitch yet. It is best to let customers freestyle and go on rants. Rants are a great indicator of a pain point worth addressing.

How To Create A Minimum Viable Product by Emre Sokullu (GROU.PS founder)

But if you were to build it on bootstrap.js, the user experience on both mobile and desktop would be so linear and seamless that you could get along well enough by just having your users bookmark your site on their mobile devices so that they can use it like a mobile app.

Minimum Viable Product: a guide by Eric Ries (author of The Lean Startup)

It requires judgment to figure out, for any given context, what MVP makes sense. As I talked about in a previous interview, IMVU’s original MVP took us six months to bring to market. That was a pretty big improvement over a previous company, where we spent almost five years before launching. Yet in another situations we spent two weeks building a particular feature that absolutely nobody wanted.

Minimum Desirable Product by Andrew Chen (entrepreneur, blogger)

A minimum desirable product (MDP) would focus primarily on whether or not you are providing an insanely great product experience and creating value for the end user.

What did LinkedIn use as first minimum viable product? by Quora users

The MVP included user profiles, the ability to invite people to connect with you, the ability to search for users, and the ability to send email-like requests to users who were two or more degrees away. There was also a page summarizing your network stats. I think there was a way to upload an address book in various formats so that you could bulk invite many people simultaneously, but that might have been a feature added shortly after the MVP.

In 1-Read-A-Day, Lesson 65 summarizes LinkedIn’s Series B pitch to Greylock.

Jump back to the ToC

Topic 6: Net Promoter Score (NPS)

The One Number You Need To Grow by Frederick Reichheld (Bain director emeritus)

It turned out that a single survey question can, in fact, serve as a useful predictor of growth. But that question isn’t about customer satisfaction or even loyalty—at least in so many words. Rather, it’s about customers’ willingness to recommend a product or service to someone else. In fact, in most of the industries that I studied, the percentage of customers who were enthusiastic enough to refer a friend or colleague—perhaps the strongest sign of customer loyalty—correlated directly with differences in growth rates among competitors.

Jump back to the ToC

Topic 7: Quality

How do I balance user satisfaction versus virality? by Andrew Chen (entrepreneur, blogger)

For example, if you are building a product like Skype, finding your friends and sending invites is clearly a high value prop, high virality action. After all, you can’t use Skype by yourself. But if you take the exact same feature, and try to bolt it onto a non-viral product like, say, a travel search engine, then you’re just creating spam.

Lead Bullets by Ben Horowitz (a16z)

He said: “Ben, those silver bullets that you and Mike are looking for are fine and good, but our web server is five times slower. There is no silver bullet that’s going to fix that. No, we are going to have to use a lot of lead bullets.” Oh snap.

The Only Two Questions Founders Need To Answer by Jason Calacanis (entrepreneur, blogger)

1. Would I recommend this product?
2. Will I remember this product next month and next year?

Jump back to the ToC

Topic 8: Platforms

The three kinds of platforms you meet on the Internet by Marc Andreessen (a16z)

A “platform” is a system that can be programmed and therefore customized by outside developers — users — and in that way, adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform’s original developers could not have possibly contemplated, much less had time to accommodate.

What is a Platform? by Ryan Sarver (ran Twitter platform)

A lot of people talk about Amazon Web Services, Urban Airship, Twilio and other similar services as platforms. However, I think of them more as software as a service (SaaS) instead of a platform, since they aren’t multisided businesses and only provide services to developers.

Here are my highlights from Ryan’s post.

Jump back to the ToC

Topic 9: Pricing

A Rake Too Far: Optimal Platform Pricing Strategy by Bill Gurley (Benchmark Capital)

If your objective is to build a winner-take-all marketplace over a very long term, you want to build a platform that has the least amount of friction (both product and pricing). High rakes are a form of friction precisely because your rake becomes part of the landed price for the consumer.

Freemium Software: A Guide for Startups by Jules Maltz (IVP)

Free users are only worthwhile if they provide value to your business. Often the most alluring (but dangerous) aspect of freemium is the relative ease of acquiring free users. What entrepreneur doesn’t want to see 100K, 1M, or 100M people around the world using her product? But if these users don’t ever lead to paid customers (directly or indirectly), they can become an expensive burden that slowly bankrupts a company.

How To Price and Sell Your Startup’s Product by Tomasz Tunguz (Redpoint Ventures)

The main difference between freemium and trial products is product complexity: trial products are more complex and need time for the user to gain a deeper understanding of the value. CRM tools like Salesforce and 37Signal’s HighRise both use limited trials. The goal with these marketing mechanisms is to drive customers to explore the product for a brief period of time and then force a conversion. Allow too much time to pass and the customer will forget the value proposition.

Pricing Your Product by Sequoia founders

In order to set a price, you’ll need to form a hypothesis. You can A/B test it and use other analytics to refine it. But don’t rely on data alone to inform your decisions. Also take into account input from your customers and employees, what the competition is doing and your intuition.

Here’s the email lesson from 1-Read-A-Day.

Jump back to the ToC

Topic 10: Product Management

A Guide to Lean Product Management by Giff Constable (Neo CEO)

3. features begin as hypotheses to be tested before heavy investment
4. features come not just with acceptance criteria but success criteria
5. a feature starts as a minimum valuable feature, and then iterates

How to hire a product manager by Ken Norton (former Google Group PM)

It’s important to remember that – as a PM, you’re expendable. Now, in the long run great product management usually makes the difference between winning and losing, but you have to prove it. Product management also combines elements of lots of other specialties – engineering, design, marketing, sales, business development. Product management is a weird discipline full of oddballs and rejects that never quite fit in anywhere else.

How to Work with Software Engineers by Ken Norton (former Google Group PM)

3. Sweat the details
4. Involve them early
5. Streamline process

The Leading Cause of Startup Death by Steve Blank (author of Four Steps to the Epiphany)

We had no clue what our market was when we first started. Yet we used the product development model not only to manage product development, but as a road map for finding customers and to time our marketing launch and sales revenue plan. The model became a catchall tool for all schedules, plans, and budgets.

The product manager’s lament by Eric Ries (author of The Lean Startup)

Focus on speed of iteration rather than utilization of every function. Let people go idle, if they can’t help the current iteration succeed. I’m contiuously amazed how many people have untapped creativity and resourcefulness. They don’t want to be idle. By letting them focus on the success of their team exclusively, you empower them to do whatever it takes to make the team successful. Will that mean someone in design will jump in to help QA get the release certified? We’ll see.

Jump back to the ToC

Topic 11: Product/Market Fit (PMF)

How I Interview Customers by Justin Wilcox (Nimbus Health founder)

2nd rule of validating your idea: Do not ask about the future. No hypotheticals, no projections, no guesses. The way I remember this rule? I never ask a question with the word “would” in it…

Here’s the email lesson from 1-Read-A-Day.

Product > Strategy > Business Model by Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures)

Once you find product market fit and start thinking about business model, I suggest you take a step back and work with your team (and investors) to develop a crisp and well formed strategy for your business. Investors, at least good investors, are very helpful with this stage.

The only thing that matters by Marc Andreessen (a16z)

In a great market — a market with lots of real potential customers — the market pulls product out of the startup. The market needs to be fulfilled and the market will be fulfilled, by the first viable product that comes along.

Here’s the email lesson from 1-Read-A-Day.

Your Startup’s Office Is Missing A Room by Tomasz Tunguz (Redpoint Ventures)

Stepping out of the startup’s usability lab, I left wondering why labs aren’t more common in post-Series A companies and incubators – and why I hadn’t suggested the idea to the entrepreneurs I work with. Despite the work required to find and study users during our product work at Google, the effort always yielded a handful of key insights we might not have discovered otherwise.

Jump back to the ToC

Topic 12: Strategy

9 Deadliest Start-up Sins by Steve Blank (author of Four Steps to the Epiphany)

Founders, presuming they know their customers, assume they know all the features customers need. [...] Yet without direct and continuous customer contact, it’s unknown whether the features will hold any appeal to customers.

Lesson 11 of 1-Read-A-Day summarizes those 9 sins.

Stop asking “But how will they make money?” by Andrew Chen (entrepreneur, blogger)

So when you see the next consumer mobile/internet product with millions of engaged users, let’s stop asking about their business model expecting a clever answer – they’ll have dozens of off-the-shelf solutions to choose from – and instead, let’s start asking about the parts of their business that aren’t commoditized yet.

The Vast and Endless Sea by Jeff Atwood (StackOverflow founder)

It turns out that traditional carrot-and-stick incentives are only useful for repetitive, mechanical tasks. The minute you have to do anything even slightly complex that requires even a little problem solving without a clear solution or rules – those incentives not only don’t work, they make things worse!

Why Founders Fail: The Product CEO Paradox by Ben Horowitz (a16z)

A founder develops a breakthrough idea and starts a company to build it. As originator of the idea, she works tirelessly to bring it to life by involving herself in every detail of the product to ensure that the execution meets the vision. The product succeeds and the company grows. Then somewhere along the line, employees start complaining that the CEO is paying too much attention to what the employees can do better without her and not enough attention to the rest of the company. The board or CEO Coach then advises the founder to “trust her people and delegate”. And then the product loses focus and starts to look like a camel (a horse built by committee).

Jump back to the ToC

Topic 13: UI/UX

7 Things Every Great Landing Page Needs by Neil Patel (KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg founder)

From Truste to Hacker Safe to secure badges, trust elements help boost conversion rates. Make sure that you use these trust elements throughout your funnel and not just on your landing page.

13 UX design practices startups shouldn’t overlook by Scott Gerber (Young Entrepreneur Council founder)

9. Quick Guides
Most people will only spend several seconds on a Web page to figure out if it’s something they want. They want what they want, they want it now, and they won’t give you much time to help guide them along the right path. Keep your design simple, and focus on strong, clear calls-to-action to get people to convert.

Airbnb UX Wins and Losses by Jason Shah (HeatData founder)

Tell the user what they can do on the site; NOT what your site does: It’s a subtle difference but notice Airbnb’s language: “Find a place to stay.” That’s all a user cares about. If you tell them, “We bring together renters and rentees…” or “We are a marketplace for sharing space…” a user has to take that and then process what it means for them. It’s a 2 step process. Make it 1.

How Quora Onboards New Users by Samuel Hulick (startup product onboarding blogger)

Ask around about the best onboarding experiences out there, and Quora’s flow is likely to come up. That’s for good reason – it’s brief, it’s effective, and it’s even kind of fun!

The highest ROI way to increase signups by Mattan Griffel (entrepreneur, blogger)

Navigation and hyperlinks are almost always absent. Over the years internet marketers have developed what they call the “Squeeze Page” with minimal content and a single clear call-to-action because they discovered that additional information could distract a visitor or cause them to click away to a different website. Notice that there’s nothing below the fold on any of these sites.

Who Owns Your UX Philosophy? by Brad Feld (Foundry Group)

When I start feeling uncomfortable with UX, I start counting extra key and mouse actions. When I think I should be able to do something with one action and it takes three or more, there’s a problem. When I realize in one part of the app that I can do something with one action, but in the other it takes four, there’s a problem.

Jump back to the ToC

That’s it! Yay. The next 101 will probably cover startup stories and case studies.

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