Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Please Vote for Me - How Election Change Human Behavior

Last night, while every TV channel was showing Obama's inauguration speech and the never-ending series of inaugural balls, I ended up on KQED, local PBS channel, which had this striking documentary called "Please Vote for Me". The premise is:
In an elementary school in the city of Wuhan in central China, three eight-year old children compete for the position of Class Monitor. Their parents, devoted to their only child, take part and start to influence the results.
Here's a clip - check your local PBS station to see airtime

What's insane is how the candidates' behavior towards their classmates changes. Without any coercing, they start forming alliances, offer bribes for votes, become rude and even demeaning to their opponents -- all in all, pretty disturbing traits for eight-year old's. Then things get worse as their parents get involved in shaping their campaign strategy and speeches.. and we wonder why Karl Rove was (and probably still is) so sought after by candidates.

Election to these children mean their own friends need to make a choice -- who do their friends like the most? And these three candidate go through excruciating emotional torture trying to deal with this, asking their friends to make the choice, and even sell them on it by any means possible.

Maybe it is just wrong to have such young children go through this sort of experience. They just acted out their normal reaction to the situation, probably made worse by their parents' participation. As they mature, they'll be better able to mask their emotions and act more cordially and keep a straight face when they try these questionable tactics to win the election. But I can't help but wonder -- if these children's behavior is any indicator of normal reaction of a human being running in an election -- God help all these candidates we have running for offices deal with their demons.

Business Intelligence for Startups

A product's progress is measured not by features, but by user experience.

You can add a lot of value to your product by removing features.

Spending 6 to 12 months with a 4-5 person team to develop the first release of your product is way too long
. You can't wait that long to get market feedback.

These were just a few golden nuggets of wisdom in Dave McClure's presentation yesterday at SD Forum's BI SIG meeting. At one point, Dave said -- "I come from an engineering background, I used to write code.. and I can't believe that I'm saying this to you -- but all the architecture, algorithms and engineering behind your product don't matter as much as how strong your marketing is, which starts with user experience.. we all tend to develop a lot of cool features which the user never ends up discovering" -- reminded me of that tree that fell in the middle of a big forest (did it really fall?)

Much of Dave's talk may seem like web analytics 101. He's got a (cleverly named) "Startup Metrics for Pirates" called AARRR (stands for Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue) to measure your overall success. Then as a startup, you focus on improving these metrics one step at a time (here is his detailed presentation):
  1. Make a Good Product: Activation and Retention
  2. Market the Product: Acquisition and Referral
  3. Make Money: Revenue and Profitability
Personally, I get the step 2 and 3, but it is the first step where a great many of us falter because it is not so easy as it sounds.

Part of making a great product is to have inspiration, vision, and an intense passion to solve a particular problem -- and then you hope that there are millions of others out in the market who see the problem with the same high priority as you do -- and then also hope that your solution beats the competition by being in a completely different league, either by being the first of its kind, or by introducing a completely superior technology, er, user experience.

So can you do all that in 3 months or less? Seems like you have to, if you want to survive in the web 2.0 world (or whichever version we are on these days)

This clearly does not apply to everything. It only applies to a certain class of products/services where customers can experience the
product on the web, and where the quality of user experience can
be measured (even if it is a model of lead generation online and fulfillment being offline)

So if you are building a new product/service today -- can you fit it into this model? Well, one way to try it out is to strip away all the features until you are left with just one or two that are your core differentiators, and see if you can create a version of it that can be experienced completely online. But the point is, if you can do this, you have a framework to measure success a lot earlier in the game. One key edge that startups generally have over bigger organizations is the speed of their product development iteration. How soon can you release a feature to your customers, get feedback and go through a series of subsequent iterations and releases?

Dave's "Pirate Metrics" are about tracking the effectiveness of these iterations, but first you have to configure your business practice so this model can fit. Not a bad thing if you can.