Last time, we talked a bit about what we do for entrepreneurs that come to us with an idea for a consumer web or mobile start-up. Today, we’ll quickly go through the process we use to get to BETA.
First, it’s important to remember that there are usually two challenges that most startups face when they start building their BETA.
Having blurred product vision is pretty common. This comes in many shapes and forms. For instance, we often see a fairly decent vision, but a long list of features. Parts of the product may have been worked out, but other key parts, such as the user experience is full of holes. This is OK. It is often the reason why entrepreneurs come to us in the first place.
Having limited capital is a given. Sometimes though, there are also limited resources available as an entrepreneur may not have the time available to put 100% into the startup and often is not familiar with the large work load that comes with starting something from ground up. This is where our process comes in handy.
The basic steps are:
This is the quick and dirty work flow. In some cases, we have to work hard on concept development while other times it's more a matter of focusing on key user experience challenges. There are two rules we always follow:
Keep it simple and focus on the one thing you have to get right for users
Get your BETA up fast!
Once the BETA is up, we start working on the Product / Market fit, which is really just all about user feedback loops and product iterations. In our experience, this is really the hard part, but it's also the fun part. There's nothing as exciting as getting real people to give you feedback on your invention!
Next time, we’ll look at what kind of documentation we are looking for when we start working with you (hint: it’s not your business plan).
We get a lot of questions about this, so we thought we should just do a quick summary of what we’ve done and what we’re interested in doing for you entrepreneurs out there.
First, we’re just really passionate about start-ups because we enjoy the process and we love to see new underdogs challenge the big boys. Some of the people on our teams have done their own start-ups in the past including the fun task of raising capital from investors. Some would say we’ve learned the hard way. You can take advantage of all that learning so you don’t make the same mistakes we made. (Good right?)
We are mostly focused on consumer web start-ups because that’s what we know. For instance, right now, we’re working with three consumer web start-ups in BETA. Through our agency business, we’ve learned how to work with big brands and we understand how small start-ups can become valuable to potential acquirers or partners – such as big media or publishing.
Our Product Group has years of experience developing actual web products and this experience has made our team a perfect partner for two different scenarios:
In most cases, we come in to build the Alpha – or first release (BETA) version of a web or mobile product. Fabric’s Product Group adds what is needed to the mix and usually delivers a complete product. During our process, we work with the Entrepreneur from the initial concept stage, through experience design and development and into Alpha or BETA. Once the first release is out, we often help entrepreneurs get to their first 1,000 or 10,000 users.
Next, we’ll go through our process in more detail and we’ll tell you what we look for when we consider new projects:
It's really fantastic to see that people are pouring energy into the LA startup scene. Several new incubators have popped up and some, such as LaunchPad LA, are offering serious cash for young startup entrepreneurs. Thanks to people like Mark Suster, who has become a top five VC blogger over the past few years, the energy in LA is real and it seems as if the city might just explode with tech startups.
Working with entrepreneurs in the early stages (pre-seed) is very exciting. We're super lucky to have the chance to work on some interesting products with some amazing people. Watch this space for the next few months. I think you'll see a few strong companies unveiled. Thanks!
For the past year, we've spent most of our time focusing on a new path - a new strategy - for Fabric.
Today, we announce (officially!) that we are 100% committed to helping entrepreneurs, brands, and media build new digital products and drive key usage metrics for those products.
So why would a Startup or brand work with Fabric and not just hire it's own team?
It's fairly simple. Most startups or brands that come to have two key challenges:
What we offer is a faster and less costly route to market for those who do not have their full teams in place. We are focused on the first 6 months of the product cycle - taking a product from zero to 100,000 users. Fabric's teams and process is focused on driving key usage metrics from fast learning and rapid product iteration.
At the product development level, we bring:
We know that the most challenging aspect of bringing a new product to market is to get initial traction and drive usage. Therefore, in addition to our Rapid Iterative Product Development Process we also offer go-to-market services for new products and Startups:
If you have a new Internet/mobile consumer or SaaS product, we want to talk to you. Right now, the product we build sits within social, mobile, geo-location, and SaaS, but we're open to any project that is utility based and/or is attempting to solve a real problem. Call us!
How many times per week do you ask your friends: “Where are you?” There is no doubt social networking on your mobile phone is a big opportunity. According to Emarketer, the size of this market is expanding fast. 800 million people will be using their phones as mobile networking devices by 2012. (It was about 82 million in 2007).
So, who's playing in this market? Who's worth your (limited) attention? Here's a few that might kick up some dust:
Sniffu. Really? That's one of the worst names I've heard in a while. While the name sucks, they got some things right. I like the value proposition. It makes immediate sense. I also like that they don't seem to be trying to do too much. Keeping it simple. Their “Safety” page clearly illustrates the big issue all of these companies face: “Do people really want other people to know where they are in real time?”
Dodgeball is an established player in start-up terms. Odd name. Not certain I get it. On the positive side, they did some good work on the user interface to explain what it is. I think the experience can be improved by giving the user more control of the animations.
Loopt got their partnerships down. Last week, they did a deal with Yelp. This makes a lot of sense for established and new Yelp users. Loopt is in a good position to make some moves. It works on 80+ phones, which I think is a real critical factor to success.
Next2Friends: Decent design. I found it interesting that these guys are funded by Simon - a real estate company. Why? Well, they own a bunch of malls, so they might possibly be making a play for mall-rats. “I'm in the store! Come see me while i try on some new boots!”
Their “Proximity Tagging” uses P2P Bluetooth to connect and record relative matches to other users and businesses that you come into close proximity to. Smart play for a real estate company. However, they have to be careful with the user experience. Make it too commercially driven and they risk alienating users.
Zannel is all about life-streaming. Share your pictures and video. Unfortunately, they stuff the UI with Google ads. This ruins it for me. Sorry lads and ladies. That's not the way to go. Please, let's see less - not more - clutter.
Radar has done a really nice job on their interface. Smart and clean design. For many users, photos drives sharing. Radar gets it.
Plazes Back in 2007, I wrote a post about them here. I wasn't too happy about their user experience at the time. They fixed it and they just got acquired by Nokia last month. That means this is possibly the gorilla to watch. Coming out of Berlin, Plazes is still a bit German-centric and, as with all mobile social networks , that's a challenge if you live in Los Angeles (or any other US city).
Another player in this space seems to be Brightkite, who seems to be in private BETA. I've not tried it yet, but I'll give it a run once I get access.
Information at our fingertips was the old black. Information at our fingertips — wherever our fingertips actually are — is the new black. Worldwide sales of smartphones in 2009 were almost at 175 million and increasing rapidly. Of course, as advertisers, we'd love to reach out to consumers on this media. However, internet on the desktop and internet on the handheld machine were not created equal. Here are a few general key differences:
1. Pageviews and visits will be much lower on smartphones than the desktop/laptop. People browse and hang out on the internet; people use smartphones only when it's convenient and only to look up specific information and then put it away once they're done.
2. Consumers are more understanding of ads on mobile, probably because these ads do not interfere with the main content as much as ads on a regular browser which can create angry backlash by way of expandables, full-page overlays and sound that automatically plays when the ad loads… yet.
3. Quantifying results on mobile is not nearly as easy as quantifying results on desktop. There is no DFA/DFP type of program that exists on mobile today. Each publisher has their own impression and click numbers, sometimes making it difficult for the advertiser to assess the effectiveness of mobile campaigns.
For the past few years, we've worked with several startups. Most of our work has been from idea/concept stage. Our team is passionate about this work. We love working with entrepreneurs. We love the energy of it.
So, what kind of startups are we looking for?
Our expertise area is consumer web and mobile. We've built social networking sites, transaction/commerce applications, and self-help products.
Today, we're looking for big ideas from passionate entrepreneurs. For instance, we're frustrated by the inefficiencies in every day life. We look at food, waste, energy, transportation, and the endless data silos - left over by legacy systems - just making our daily life a pain. We focus on startups that go after problems we understand.
For instance, right now, we are working on a smart dating product (sort of the anti-eHarmony), a useful recommendation site for parents with young kids, and a crowd-sourced fashion site. All cool stuff!
We also like simple B2B stuff, like what Basecamp did for project management and collaboration. Game changer. Simple. Solved a lot of problems for millions of people. Complex? Not really. Hard to execute? Yes, but mostly because it required dedication and focus on user problems.
We like simple ideas. Solve one problem. Keep it focused.
In short, we want to build kickass products that solve real problems we understand and care about.
Feel as if you should call us? Do it. Ask for Erlend.
We spend a lot of time working with web/mobile entrepreneurs and we're super lucky to be working with amazing people with cool ideas, tons of energy, and a lot of passion. For the past six months, we've tried to pull our clients, both startups and brands, into following our methodology: Lean Product Development. The benefits with Lean are clear: better products from a science/testing approach, less time to market (or less time to get in front of users), and less waste.
For our clients, the “trouble” with Lean is that you never really know “what you will get.” You don't know what you will eventually build even when you've spent 25% of your budget. You cannot, and you should not, estimate the “entire” project up front and you should not spend time on specs and documentation of “features” that you may or may not build.
This can be unsettling to clients. We understand why. The traditional model, most often used by agencies is very clear and straight forward. It goes like this:
In the traditional model, because you “know what you are building” up front - you can tell how much it will cost and “what you will get.” This is a great feeling. It seems less risky. I can touch it. It's a “deliverable.”
The problem is that this “method” does not work at all for consumer web/mobile product development of any kind today. The reasons are many, but the main one is: You will most certainly be wrong about “what you need to build” and you can be sure that what you build - the whole thing - won't really work or connect with users until you are well into future releases.
Despite this, this “waterfall” model, is the standard among most agencies and many development shops. Most of our clients who have interactive or agency experience are familiar with this model. We understand why it seems to “work.” The problem is: We cannot build products that way, because it is wrong. We know that it doesn't work.
The truth is that you never know what you will build
You don't know what you need to build in the beginning of the project and you don't know what you have “left” to build when you are 50% “there.” It is wasteful to do big estimates and loads of documentation up front - before you get users engaged. It is wasteful to spend time on spec writing and requirements that does not center on specific assumptions, test cases, data from learning, and/or user feedback.
It is true, neither you nor we know “what it will cost” and exactly “how long it will take.” You don't know when you will be “done.” In fact, being “done” is not a possibility. You will never be done. (Unless you sell your product or exit in some way.) You have to get used to it. There are no “complete estimates” and no “complete specs.” You don't need it.
You should focus on what matters. That is not documentation. That is not estimates. Those are wrong always. What you need is what every scientist spends her time doing every day: EXPERIMENTS. Well structured experiments.
This is what we try to do with every client. We do it because we have tested the traditional model vs the Lean model and Lean wins hands down every time. We hope you do it too. Do you?
There seems to me to be a two kinds of mobile social users: the Mobile Gamer and the Mobile Braggart.
If you're in the tech industry, as I am, you're one of these two whether you like it or not. It's merely a matter of personal preference. You can “think different” with all your iPhone buddies, look important on your BlackBerry or even hang with the new disciples of Android and still fall into one of these two categories, although I have my opinion which users fall pretty hard into the Braggart definition.
The Mobile Gamer
A gamer is an imaginitive individual at heart with strong escapist tendencies who loves to assume alternative personnas and waste valuable time acquiring vast hordes of e-stuff (read: treasure, coins, $, dead dragons, etc). I fall squarely into this category. The Mobile Gamer is interested in the actual game mechanics, the gameplay challenges, the refining of strategies and the satisfaction of winning.
The Mobile Braggart
A Mobile Braggart wants everyone, everwhere to know exactly what they are doing, where they are doing it and who they're doing it with. It can be as simple as getting breakfast on a Sunday morning with friends after a “crazy” Saturday night hopping from hotspot to hotspot. Checkin. Tweet about how awesome this event is. Checkin somewhere else. Tweet about how awesome the late-night food is. Checkin. Post a picture of your totally amazing Sunday brunch with friends. It really is that amazing.
Written by Ryan Nash (mobile gamer and escapist artiste)
Right now, we're working with several clients who are asking: Should we do a native (iOS or Android) mobile app or a mobile web app in HTML5?
Naturally, you'll always have to consider the business objectives such as experience, speed, and hardware feature advantages of native, but often the final decision comes down to budget. Curiously, we've found that a large portion of iPhone apps could have just been done in HTML5 and reach would have doubled. (I suppose iOS developers made the decision to go with what they know.) There are of course frameworks such as Appcelerator that allows native development and deployment to iOS, Android, and Blackberry, but such frameworks have natural limitations and may not work for your needs or turn out to be too expensive still.
For those of you on the fence, we found this to be a good primer on HTML5 vs Native mobile development. It gives you a fair idea of what the cost vs benefits are and it's a good framework for thinking about your priorities when making this choice.
You think about the future? Can you see it?
We're looking for a passionate web/mobile app developer with 3+ years of experience and PHP in particular. Straight out of school with raw talent is fine. We are looking for an independent thinker, problem solver, and curious mind. You must be a strong team player looking for a challenge. We offer a casual work environment, flexible hours, nice people, and interesting projects. (We work with start-ups in the areas of geo-location, real-time-web, SaaS, mobile lifestyle, and data aggregation.)
Additional preferred qualifications
Come on! Call or e-mail us.