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Friday, December 25, 2015

Do Less So That You Can Do More

7:46 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , No comments
Tech industry has been going through a transformation in the last few years, particularly in the area of product development. Terms like "lean startup", "UX" and "user focus" have taken over the industry. It surely is a good change; however, while this approach to product development is being followed and discussed by almost everyone involved in making tech products, it is being executed by only a small subset of people.

This problem is especially true in the enterprise world, and there is a good reason for that: FOMO. Just like FOMO affects user behaviour and drives them towards more consumption of apps & information, FOMO affects companies as well, driving them to build more features in to their products in the fear that they might miss out on the demands of prospects and customers, driving them away.

Let's be clear here - having a lot of features is not a bad thing, especially in the enterprise world where "a few more features" can make the difference between winning or losing a deal. What's bad is having a lot of features upfront in the anticipation that users are going to use them. This is not just a problem for startups but even for mature companies. I am not going to go into the whole "lean product" rant, as there are a lot of awesome articles and books written on this topic, but I will list down three reasons why building a lot of features upfront is a bad thing:

  1. You do not know your customers yet - This is straight from the pages of "The Lean Startup" and is more suitable for new products. While building a new product, you bring in a lot of assumptions with some knowledge and probably some experience; however, the fact remains that you do not know your customers well enough yet. No matter how much knowledge and experience you have of the business domain, remember that you still are in the student mode, and just like a real student there is only one way to get your Masters degree i.e working your way from the lower levels to the higher ones.
  2. That's a lot of effort wasted - This one stems out from the first reason. There is no point in putting a lot of effort building a solution when you have yet to figure out the problem. Instead, you could have used this engineering bandwidth in enhancing existing features and improving user satisfaction.
  3. Removing features is hard - Every product manager worth his salt would tell you that all products require removing features occasionally. It's kind of a necessary evil, because on your way to learning about the customers you realise that some of your assumptions were wrong and that users actually do not need those features. So in the interest of not making your product bloated, removing features becomes a necessity. However, removing features is not easy - some customers might complain, others might even leave, putting you under pressure. The more features you build upfront, the worse the situation becomes. On the other hand, if you decide to play safe and not cut the features, you risk having a bloated product.

Okay, so now that we have established that we should "do less", how can we ensure that we execute this approach?

  1. Treat every major feature release as an MVP - Do not forget about the MVP approach after your first release. Every tech product has two kinds of work streams: minor enhancements and major features. Use the MVP approach for every major feature release. Build a minimal viable product for that new feature of yours and then add onto it through enhancements, based on data and user feedback. This will also help you in getting that much needed time for enhancing experience for that feature.
  2. Always be learning - No matter how much experience you have in the area or no matter how established your company is, always be in the learning mode. Drop your "Steve Jobs complex" and start learning about your customers through constant iteration and user testing.
  3. Err on the side of doing less - When in doubt always err on the side of doing less, because it is always faster, easier and better to add features, than to remove them.

You might be wondering that "doing less" goes against all product advise and can make you lag behind your competition. Bear in mind, though, that doing less is not the same as going slow. The whole idea is that rather than building all the functionality upfront (and losing your agility), you move fast and progress iteratively. While it is counterintuitive, the fact remains that when it comes to making great products, in order to do more, you have got to do less.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Will we ever have a perfect task management tool?

8:26 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal No comments
The Problem:
All of us have tried various productivity tools for task management in the hopes that we will be able to find that one perfect task management tool that does it all. Unfortunately, we all have given up after trying different products for a few days/weeks/months, falling back to notepads and spreadsheets. Many companies have tried to build the ultimate task management tool. Some have come closer than others, but no one has been able to crack the code.

Just like everyone else, I have tried various task management tools: Wunderlist, Asana, iOS Reminders, Trello, Google Inbox, Excel, Notepad, mind maps - the list goes on. I used to get excited whenever a new task management product was released in the hopes that my knight in shining armour has finally arrived. But after trying out the product (or worse, just looking at it), the realisation used to dawn on me that this isn't what I am looking for. My heart has been broken so many times that I have now almost given up looking for a new productivity tool. Only rarely do I get excited about a new task management tool now.

Cause of the Problem:
Why is it that, like the legend of Big Foot, we have only heard of the perfect task management tool, but never seen one. There have been talks about this legend every now and then, but when you closely examine the evidence, it turns out to be a false alarm or a hoax. Why is it that something that seems so simple and basic to implement has turned into one of the hardest problems to crack in the software industry?

I believe the reason we are not able to come up with the ultimate task management tool is that this is a real world issue - not a technology issue. Different problems require different approach. While some tasks are easily managed as a list, some require Kanban style boards, others require mind maps and yet other require tables. This problem becomes even more complex when a other factors related to a task are considered - such as due dates, dependencies and priorities.

And then there is another aspect that makes task management even more complex: source of task. We get tasks from different channels and sources: email, personal needs (shopping or attending an event), work-related needs (preparing presentation or launching a marketing campaign), specific work-related software tasks (e.g. CRM tasks, JIRA tasks). It is not easy to pull out tasks from different sources and putting them in one command center for all your tasks.

The Solution:
All this begs the question - will we ever have a perfect task management tool? Will we ever have a single product that captures tasks from various sources and allows us to arrange and manage those tasks the way best suited for our needs. Well there isn’t one yet, but hopefully the day will come when for once the rumours will be true.

Like I said earlier, we have some good task management tools that have come closer than others in solving this problem. Asana and Trello are definitely two of those. In my view the perfect task management tool will have the following characteristics (in the given order of priority):

  1. Ease of use: Task management product companies hate to admit it, but plain old Notepad is probably one of the most used task management tool out there. Its simplicity and ease of use make it the best tool for creating lists quickly. The ideal task management tool has to be super easy and quick to use. Slow loading screens and multiple fields are a big no-no. The best task management tools I have ever used also have some of the easiest interfaces to use. Trello for example is brilliantly simple and intuitive to use. Speed is, of course, a major factor in making a product easy to use, and if you might think that this is a hygiene factor and any product can get it right easily, you would be wrong. Take Asana for example. While it is one of my favourite task management products, its iOS app sucks big time mainly because it does not work offline and feels very slow (as it connects with the server for every action). Wunderlist iOS app on the other hand is a lot better at offline access and performance. Wunderlist and iOS Reminders are in fact the best task management tools I have used, when it comes to performance.
  2. Ability to arrange tasks best suited to the user: People think in different ways and approach problems from different perspectives. While some people are able to work better with lists, others like working with mind maps and yet others like breaking tasks in Kanban style boards or lay them down in tabular form. There is no single best way to manage tasks. In my view, this is one of the biggest reasons no single task management tool has been able to dominate the market. The "perfect task management” tool will have to address this problem and come out with a way that allows users to arrange and visualise tasks from different perspectives. This is a tricky one because a lot of product companies trying to fit different requirements end up building a bloated product full of features. Balancing the requirement to visualise different perspectives, while still maintaining the ease of use, simplicity and speed of the product, is a very tough act to achieve.
  3. Don't forget email: Email is definitely one of the biggest sources of anyone's ToDo list, and the perfect task management tool will have to work well with emails - which unfortunately none of the good task management tools currently do. That is why I got excited when I came across Google Inbox first; however, the problem with Inbox (or any similar tool) is that it is restricted to email and is not fit for managing other tasks.
  4. Work as a service, rather than an app: A good task management product will have to be a service rather than an app. What I mean by that is users should be able to access or add tasks from any context (email, browser, mobile app, work products) rather than just being able to do so from within its web or mobile app. In order to do this, the product will have to integrate with other services and products well and, in doing so, it will need to ensure that it leverages its context properly. While a lot of task management products now do have their apps for different platforms, a lot of these do not integrate with other products (which can be possible sources of other tasks) and are not able to leverage their context (platform) well - even the best ones.

There are probably other important characteristics that I have not listed here, but these are the core features that any product vying to become the silver bullet of task management will have to get right. Currently most of the product offerings “think” that they have achieved characteristic #1 and [some] are going straight for #4. However, unless they get these characteristics right, in the given order, they are no where close to becoming the perfect task management tool.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Shadence sold, but the journey continues

11:25 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , , No comments
My last post at OLSUP was two years ago. I had blogged then about working on my startup, Shadence. Actually, I had been working on Shadence, for months before I posted that blog. Anyway, I have been thinking of posting a quick update about what has happened since then and have been unable to do so. I have finally decided to stop pushing this task lower in my TODO list, and so here it goes.

I had been working on Shadence for months, but after refining the idea for months and trying to make it work, I realised that if I keep spending more time on it - without any income - then I will be unable to renew my visa and stay in London, which was (and still is) important for me because of some medical reasons. So I stopped working on Shadence and picked up a contract in the tech division of a global investment bank. That was in May 2013. However, I did not want to shut Shadence down just like that after putting in so much effort. So I tried to reach out to people to see if anyone was willing to buy it.

After some trying, I was contacted by a user of Shadence, who liked it a lot and thought that she could do something with it. After exchanging some emails, and almost calling the whole thing off once, we finally agreed for the sale of Shadence (for a small amount). The lady and her husband - a lovely couple - decided that they want to change the name of the website, and so now Shadence is live as CityBlackBook

Since Shadence, I have been trying to figure out my next move. I tried my hands with an IFTTT for the enterprise world (named Clocen) and a meal planner for healthy ethnic recipes (named GrubActive), but eventually closed both of these for various reasons, primary of which was that I could not see myself as a user of either of these services.

My frustration with not being able to see myself as a user of my own services ended on 25th October 2014. I started exploring the idea of smartphones and various ways it can affect our lives, which led me to exploring the world of appcessories and Internet of Things - a field that I find really fascinating. So after a reasonable amount of research and background work, on 19th Jan 2015, I launched Flipboat - a platform for people to discover and buy smart connected devices. Currently, I continue to work on this new initiative, while working on a contract (which finances my personal and startup expenses). 

Each of my startup endeavours has taught me something, and I hope to apply these lessons to Flipboat so that it can make a difference into the lives of its users.

Thursday, January 17, 2013 - Discover unique and interesting experiences in your city

12:00 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , , No comments
As you might have noticed, I have stopped blogging for some time now, and won't be blogging on this website in near future. That is not because of procrastination, but because nowadays all my time and energy is going into my new venture - Shadence.comShadence is a platform to discover unique and interesting experiences in your city. For now we are only focusing on London, as finding out unique experiences is a job much harder than it seems, but we plan to expand into other cities.

Shadence was born because I decided to scratch my own itch. There were many times when I wanted to spend my weekends and holidays in an interesting way, but ended up going to the same places and doing the same things. Later I realized that it is not just me, and that this is a common problem. Though there are many players in the market that help you discover places, there were a lot of problems with them 

  • Primarily these players cover places, not experiences, so while they might talk about Covent Garden and all sorts of restaurants and bars in it, they rarely cover other various interesting things we can do in Covent Garden. I mean, come on! How much can one eat? Obesity is already a big problem 
  • Second, they cover everything under the sun, so while there is some good stuff on their websites, most of the time it is just loads of crap covering every single places you can think of. And because of this we have to sift thought a lot of crap to find out an interesting place to go to (again, not experience, as they mostly cover places)
  • Their web applications are badly designed not helping users with discovering good experiences

Shadence, on the other hand, makes sure that it does not do any of the above. We make sure that not only do we share most unique and interesting experiences with you (and not everything under the sun), but also that we provide you with a user interface that is intuitive, clean and simple. 

While, we have done well till now, there is still lots to be done to make Shadence the go to place for everyone to discover interesting experiences around them.

Well, I got to stop writing this blog now, as I better get back to work. But please do browse Shadence to discover interesting experiences, register with us if you want to get regular updates on new experiences and share your comments and feedback with us (

Take care.
Deepak Nayal

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Legal Stuff

10:00 AM Posted by Deepak Nayal No comments
Almost everybody hates the legal stuff. They slow things down, cost a lot and the language...well the language is just awful. I am not sure why lawyers cannot use normal sized comprehensive sentences like other human beings, and what do they have against full stops. I am certain that even many lawyers do not like the labyrinth that is the legal world. However, no matter how much we hate the legal stuff, it is a necessary evil, especially in the world of technology, as is evident in the patent wars. 
Patent Wars
While we might think that creating new products and applications is all nice and creative and does not have to get into the legal mess, the legalities can actually affect your product design, and I recently learned this first hand. 

While working on my product I had initially settled on a backend data provider, and did the mistake of not reading through its legal documentation thoroughly. After integrating the provider with my product, I stumbled upon a legal term of service that highlighted a major constraint. Now, here I did another mistake. Instead of writing to the provider and clarifying/working things out, I just switched to another provider. Because of this, I had to make some changes to my product design as the new provider had its own constraints, which affected the interface and performance of the product. This switching of providers obviously costed me a lot of time and effort. 

Finally I got some sense into myself and approached the original provider clarifying my doubts about some of the terms and constraints, and it turned out that those weren't as bad as I had originally thought and that things could be worked out. I will now be switching back to the original provider - it has been my primary choice for a lot of reasons - and have learnt my lessons. 
  1. ALWAYS READ THE LEGAL STUFF FIRST. While you might want to start with a proof of concept first, make sure you read through the legal terms thoroughly before working on the actual thing. 
  2. If you come across a term or condition that seems to be a constraint, just clarify with the service provider whether it actually means what you think it does, and if it can be worked around/out. 
  3. Make sure that you keep the written proof of your discussions with the service provider. You never know when you might need it - hopefully never.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Every Job Is A Sales Job

12:16 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal 3 comments
All jobs are sales jobs and everyone has to sell. The things that change are how often and how much of selling you have to do. Sales is one common aspect that can be found in every job - from accountant to software engineer to CEO to the Prime Minister of a country. Now, selling does not have to be in exchange for money. You are selling if you are pitching an idea or trying to get someone's buy-in or explaining why you did what you did. You got the idea - everyone sells. 

I have played many roles throughout my career - software developer, project manager, consultant and business developer. The one common thing that I had to do in all these roles was selling - either to my peers or my juniors or senior management or clients. And this is true for all of us. We all sell - at one or the other point in the day. And if you think that you just work on your computer and are not really involved in selling anything, then you are wrong. You might not realize that you are selling, but you certainly are. If your job requires you to be in contact with another human being, then you have got to sell. 

Everyone thinks that their job is important and that others should learn about and understand it as well. Software engineers think that their jobs are very important since software is changing the world and so everyone should learn how to program. Finance guys think that they make the world go round as they deal with the flow of money. HR guys think that they ought to get more importance as people are the most important asset of an organization in this information age. The list can go on and on. However, in my view, sales is the only true horizontal job function, that everyone needs to learn.

Considering the amount of selling all of us have to do, it is a pity how less effort is put into building sales skills in our education system. I am not suggesting that everyone should be turned into a salesman, but considering the importance of sales in our everyday lives, it is an important [life] skill to learn and work upon. I am also not suggesting that we try to build sales skills like the ones of a stereotypical pushy car salesman. I have noticed that the best salesmen are good at human psychology, and I propose that is what we try to learn.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Does Invite-Only Registration Make Sense For Your Product?

5:03 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , , No comments
Lots of tech startups are popping up nowadays launching new products; most of them seem to opt for invite-only registration process. I couldn't help but think if these guys have really thought it through or are they just copying others blindly. While in some cases it does make sense for a product to have invite-only registrations, I do not think that all products need to follow this approach. Before you decide whether such a closed registration process makes sense for your product, you need to analyze its pros and cons. 

  • I think having invite-only registration works best when you do not really have a working product. It helps you in getting the users even before your [minimal viable] product is ready to be launched and used 
  • We all know that first few releases are full of bugs and problems. Invite-only registrations ensure that only a small number of users get affected with these problems. This helps keep the bad publicity in check
  • Another good reason for an invite-only registration is when your architecture or systems are not robust enough to bear the load of more users. And till the time your application isn't ready, you would prefer to collect the email ids of users instead of turning them away
  • Such registrations can create a shortage of supply and in doing so can help in generating buzz around the product. Having said that I have seen this work better for more famous products. For almost all startups that I know personally, that have implemented this strategy, it did not really help much if at all

  • The biggest problem that I see with invite-only registrations is that they stop users from reaching out to your product. The fact is that users opened your website or app to see what it does or what it will do. Now instead of showing the product if you ask them for their email id so that you can reach out to them in a few weeks or months, they are going to get disappointed. In addition to that most of the users are not going to want to just share their email id with a stranger just so you could spam them later. They need to see something to share their contact. Quid pro quo. Though I do not have the data to prove this, I think for most products with invite-only registrations actually lead to fewer registrations than if the product had open registration. Sure, the user might get disappointed seeing the early versions of the product. But that is going to happen anyway when all they see is a message asking them to share their email id and come back later. At least in the case of open registrations users will share their email id readily in order to see what the product is all about
  • Look, there are millions of web and mobile apps out there. It is already hard to make someone reach out to your product. Why do you wanna make it even harder by adding invite-only registrations? If you think that if you opt for open registration process users will start rushing in and crash your application, then first of all wake up buddy, you are not that popular, and second of all that is a problem you really want to have. If I have to choose between less users with no applications crashes and more users with application crashes, I will happily go for the latter. Users are generally more forgiving than we think. They understand that new applications have problems. 

The general trend nowadays is to have invite-only registrations for web products. While it does make sense for some new product launches, I believe it actually hurts most of them, making users turn away. I think product managers/entrepreneurs need to think through and make sure that invite-only registrations make sense for their product, instead of following a trend blindly that can cost you your product. Probably, instead of going for one now they should go for it later in the product growth phase or may be never.