On Being Pushy

A couple weeks ago I gave a presentation to one of my networking groups, to help educate them on what Grouvia is all about.  The purpose of belonging to this group is to expand my salesforce, so it’s important that these people recognize an opportunity for me when it comes their way.  In order for them to do that, they need to understand what problems Grouvia solves.

I haven’t been getting much in the way of referrals from this group, so I really worked hard to come up with some compelling content to present, and at the end of the presentation I gave them a 10-minute homework assignment.  I provided explicit and easy instructions on how to sign up for Grouvia, create a group, and add two small pieces of content.

Guess how many people got all the way through my step-by-step 10-minute assignment?  Go ahead, guess.

TWO.  Pretty pathetic, right?  Out of 25 people, I think about five people actually bothered to give it a try.  Three gave up without ever asking me a single question.  One of the people who completed the task is my business partner.  The other person who did it is the secretary of the group.  So here’s my public thank you to Betsy and Tom for showing some spunk and commitment.

I have come to the conclusion that people will not do *anything* unless you push them.  And I mean really push hard.  I think in my case it’s because people are afraid of new things, web applications in particular.

Many of the people in my audience are not best friends with the http://www.  I would be willing to forgive those people.  But I’m talking about the ones who DO have Facebook accounts and Blackberries.  This should be easy for them.

Why do they resist?

Have they been fed so many bad complicated ugly web applications over the past 9 years that they expect everything new to be bad, complicated, and ugly?  There are many new Web 2.0 apps out there that are outstanding.  The problem is they are not ubiquitous.  The vast majority of web sites still suck.  But when the tides turn, and people start having confidence in the web again, Grouvia will be right there waiting.

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Beta Success!

Last week we launched the new beta site for Grouvia.com.

It was a thrill and a relief. This is a major milestone for Grouvia and it was only a month late.

There are 170 bugs in the application right now.  And that’s down from about 400 a month ago, so it’s actually not as bad as it sounds.  Only 19 of them are considered “major” and that’s just my personal assessment of their severity.  The vast majority of them are typos, layout issues, alignment problems, and missing “nice to have” features.

So if you haven’t looked at grouvia lately (or at all), please go take a look.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I have made one huge sacrifice in the past month about which I am more than a little concerned.  I have completely let our marketing efforts go.  I have barely eked out these blog posts, and have done no posts to the Grouvia Groove blog.  I have stopped reading/commenting on other blogs, I have stopped reading/commenting on LinkedIn discussions, I have stopped all tweeting.  Basically the Grouvia marketing efforts are now in disaster mode.

I’m not sure if I have made the right choices, but I do feel that the quality of Grouvia was too important to let slip.  So I have spent the last month testing, documenting bugs, retesting fixes, and doing my own light coding of the user interface.  I think these efforts have paid off, because Grouvia looks a thousand times better than it did last month, but at what cost I am not sure.  I may not know for a while, if ever, what price Grouvia will pay for this.

I still have some cleanup work to do over the weekend, and then I can leave the developers alone for a while so they can implement the rest of the missing features.  They believe we can have the entire project wrapped up by the end of January.  I am cautiously optimistic but I’m not holding my breath.  There have been too many disappointments on this project so far to believe that sunny days will always shine on us.

But today it’s sunny, and I intend to enjoy it.

Same as Markus, Only Better

About a year ago I read an article about a man from Vancouver named Markus Frind.  Chances are you’ve heard of him.

His story struck a major chord with me that I will never forget.  Markus is one of the reasons I am doing what I am doing today.

To be fair, there are many entrepreneurs and marketing geniuses who have inspired me, but Markus’s story is unique in terms of what I got from it.

Markus Frind created a dating web site called plentyoffish.com.

Apparently he was a jobless slacker and decided to learn ASP to help get a job.  To learn ASP he needed a project to work on, so he created plentyoffish.com.  In three weeks.  All by himself.

He thought it was good so he published it, and as he tells it, the money pretty much started rolling in.  (I’m skipping over all sorts of details here, but keep in mind I read this a year ago and this is how I remember it.)

But the thing I remember most was something Markus said that gave me some insight into the way his arrogant mind works.  After the site had been up and running for a while, his customers started complaining about the site’s functionality.  They said it was ugly, the photos were distorted, and they wanted new features.

So, while Markus romped around with his girlfriend, raking in the dough and working only an hour a day, he completely ignored his users.

The most interesting point here is that he was doing it on purpose.  He had no intention of changing the site, fixing the distorted photos, or adding new features.

His reasoning?  The site was making him lots of money so why change it and possibly put that at risk.  In other words, his income was more important than his stupid users.

O.   M.   G.

I am almost embarrassed to say that I was inspired by his ability to jump into something new, build it by himself, publish it, market it, and manage its growth.  However, I utterly detest his complete disregard for quality at the expense of his customers.  It makes the hairs of my professional ethics stand up on end.

Yet here I am a year later, still thinking about Markus Frind.  Now I’m even talking about him.

The point of this post is that sometimes you get your inspiration from the most unlikely places.  Take it from wherever you can get it, and then take massive action and do what you think is right.

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Why do we think people know this stuff?

I’m overwhelmed right now trying to get the public site up and running so I can use my Google AdWords promotional credit by the end of the month. As a bootstrapper I can’t afford to miss out on $250 worth of free advertising can I ??? Hell, no!

Anyway, here’s my very brief post for this week…

I saw this incredible video the other day on the grokdotcom web site (love those guys).

http://www.grokdotcom.com/2009/08/07/im-not-an-idiot-but-i-play-one-on-online-and-so-should-you/

Watch it and be amazed. Then come back here and read the rest.

Did you watch it yet? Ok.

This was a real eye-opener for me. I thought I had a pretty good sense of what people generally do and don’t know about browsing the web, but this was just astonishing. I get that most people don’t pay attention to the details of HOW it works, just that it gets them what they need. Kind of like driving a car. I don’t particularly care HOW it works, but I do care that it gets me from Point A to Point B. But I know what a “dashboard” is and I know what a “steering wheel” is and I know what the “rearview mirrors” are. I mean, c’mon this is everyday stuff that everyone knows… right? Right?!?!

Essentially this just hammers home the fact that our strategy of keeping things very simple is ultra important. From the beginning we have been very careful to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible while still offering a feature-rich experience. We must be diligent to make sure nothing slips through the cracks here. It can be very tempting when developing software to let “feature creep” (aka “scope creep”) run amok.

Okay, sorry for the quickie, but I have to get back to the grind. BTW, I have received a few proposals from my RFP and they look encouraging. I look forward to sharing some results with you next week. Until then!

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Jakob Nielsen Approves Grouvia’s Breadcrumbs (But There’s More To It Than That)

Ok so it’s not the most exciting headline you’re likely to come across today, but it’s pretty exciting for me. For two reasons.

The underlying story is that I had a disagreement with my designer, Brenda, about how to deal with a disconnect we were creating when we allowed the user to click on a link on their home page and get “transported” to a page several levels down. I had a concern that the user would feel disoriented by that and be unsure how to get back. (Remember from many posts ago I swore I would never let this happen and I keep my promises.) After some debate about what breadcrumbs actually represent (I lost that argument), we could not come to agreement about whether to display them. In addition, if we put them here, we now have to put them everywhere, which means it changes every single page. So, we tabled the discussion as it was getting too heated.

Later, I started poking around Jakob Nielsen’s web site looking for inspiration to brainstorm other solutions. On a whim, I emailed him about my issue (his email link is right on the site) and a day later he responded, telling me to use the breadcrumbs and providing a solid reason why.

So exciting thing number one is that he basically solved my problem. Given that he is THE expert in web usability, and it was clear that he “got” my issue, it was easy for me to go with his advice. It didn’t hurt that he vetted my side of the argument ;-).

Exciting thing number two is the more far-reaching, forehead-slapping conclusion that these people are accessible. We are not alone. The experts are out there and they’re willing to help us! David Meerman Scott commented on my blog about buyer personas several weeks ago and gave me a very useful tip. Guy Kawasaki responded to an email from my marketing parter about another topic, the same day. Jakob Nielsen responded to my email and helped me solve a critical problem. It’s amazing, and it’s comforting, and it makes my confidence in these people soar.

I want to be one of them. I am learning other things from them besides how to come up with a buyer persona and whether to include breadcrumbs on my site. I’m learning how to brand yourself, how to help people, and how to use your knowledge and experience and fan base to improve the web experience for all.

It is enlightening. It is humbling. And I am grateful.

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Train Wreck-norati

My experience with Technorati has been anything but pleasant. As a matter of fact every experience I’ve had on that site has been a disaster.

It’s totally UN user-friendly, the pages are busy and confusing, and the blog claiming process is a complete mess. I finally managed to get the original juntopia blog claimed (I don’t even know how) and now I’ve been struggling for a month with getting the Grouvia blog claimed with no luck and absolutely no help from their support.

Let me show you the sequence of this excruciating process, I promise I’ll make this concise and completely factual without any commentary or diatribe. [Update: I kinda lied here.]

Shortly after I moved my blog from blog.juntopia.com to blog.grouvia.com I attempted to do the technorati claim process. I received an error about my URL being invalid, and managed to enter a support ticket of “other” because none of their choices matched their error message. I received an auto-responder message stating they received my ticket and assigned a number to it. I got nothing after that.

A week or so later I remembered I still needed to do this and decided to try again. I entered the blog url and this time I got a different message. Now the site told me that the claim was “in progress”. You can see this screen here:


This seemed relatively normal and so I waited an hour and the same message was still there. I saw the button that says “Complete the Claim” so I thought “Oh, I have to click that button.” So I did and got this message:

To really appreciate this, you have to see it within the context of the rest of the screen. Look at this screenshot:

Holy cow! (Oops, sorry, that was commentary.) Just pause for a second and look at this screen and ask yourself… what would YOU do next? I tried pretty much everything. I finally decided to contact support because I was getting angry and frustrated. So I clicked on the link in the middle of the error message, the green link that you can barely see, yeah that one. (Oops sorry, I did it again.) And I got this screen:

After selecting “Claiming”, I got this screen:

Technorati5
Uhhh…. Hm. None of those seem to fit do they? So I just blindly picked one and sent a description about my problem, and crossed my fingers that the right person would get it. You don’t even want to see the email I got back from them – oy vay! (If you do, just email me and I’ll be happy to forward it to you.)

By the way this was on June 21st. It is now July 16th (actually I wrote this post on July 11th) and finally got back to this again and the same thing happened, and I sent another support ticket in.

*sigh*

One question I have is this: how does this ultra-popular web application survive with this complete train wreck of a web site??? Am I the only one baffled by this? Is it because all the other ones are even worse??? I shudder to think.

In the meantime, my now-defunct juntopia blog is like number 3,245,761 on the popularity list, or the authority list or whatever the heck that ranking thing is they do. Since Grouvia has little hope of ever getting listed, I might as well just leave the old juntopia one up there and hope a few people stumble upon it. No reference to that OTHER web site intended. Let’s just not go there.

[Another technorati claim code: mpvbjge7hd]

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And the survey says…

I am a little behind on this post because I decided to extend the survey for a couple of days to get more responses… which we did!

People never cease to surprise me, and the results of this survey are no exception. The demo that we put together for the respondents to review before answering the survey question was, I thought, pretty well laid-out and the core purpose of the site was clearly described. But still, some people really just didn’t get it at all. Chalk it up to people scanning instead of reading and making a leap before they absorb the details (“Oh, I see, it’s just another social networking site/portal/cms/whatever.”) Of course, everyone’s opinion is important, but if they don’t understand what we’re trying to do, should their answers be counted in the results? My instinct tells me they should be filtered out. Someone who says we should include a stock ticker clearly doesn’t see the purpose of the site, and so their opinion about whether we should also include a personal blog becomes irrelevant.

The process of removing the results of those people is manual and subjective and time consuming. Needless to say I haven’t done it yet, so for now I’ll just tell you about the demographics and some of the more poignant comments that were made:

Total respondents 45 – not including incompletes

(All percentages rounded to the nearest whole value)

Gender
pretty evenly split @ 51% female and 49% male

Age group
18-29 7%
30-44 33%
45-59 44%
60+ 16%
(kinda reflects real life wouldn’t you agree?)

Employment Status
Employed full time 42%
Self employed 27%
Retired 11%
Other (unemployed, student, or part time) 20%

Calendar and Event Comments
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The most common comment was that people want to see the calendar function integrated with Outlook or Google calendar. We didn’t even have that on the list, but since so many people mentioned it, I think we’ll have to do it.

One person wants to show the grouvia calendar as a pod on his/her iGoogle page. Yeah, great idea. Love it. How many people will use it though? Maybe we’ll do that one in the 2.0 version.

Another biggie was that people want to be notified of new events and updates via SMS to their PDA/SmartPhone. That one was already on the feature list (although only 55% of respondents gave that a high priority), but the people who did want it felt strongly enough to mention it in the comments as well. I’m pretty sure we’ll do that one. It’s easy to do anyway.

Post agendas and upload other relevant files specific to an event. Ok, we’ll do that too.

Miscellaneous Comments of Interest
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“This could almost be like a match.com for groups.” Cool, I didn’t think of that.

Two people wanted to be able to “introduce” people to each other. “Jim, this is my husband’s friend Shawn. Shawn used to be married to the Mayor of Sheboygan, and she now runs the upscale shoe boutique on Main Street. Shawn, Jim is the ….” Something like that anyway. I get it. Not sure how to do that, but it would be fun to try.

Integration with other social networking tools. Yeah, I know we will have to do this, but not for 1.0.

Customize my home page by dragging pods around like iGoogle. Yeah, absolutely.

Sprinkle the advertisements around in the content instead of putting them all in the right hand column. Hmmmm, that’s kind of intriguing. Will people like that or hate it? Can it be done tastefully?

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So I have lots of slicing and dicing to get to. See y’all in a few days.