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Posts from the ‘Startup’ Category

Tell your users where to click

Every visitor to your website is looking for an excuse to leave.

Don’t like the layout? Click the back button. Is the content not relevant? Click the back button. That button doesn’t serve merely as a way to leave the site. Rather, it acts as a lifeline to get users back to familiar ground.

Why would any website give users a reason to leave? Because it wasn’t built from the perspective of the user.

Here’s a website submitted to Mini Sprout. Users can choose from 40 different links in this screenshot alone. But since the layout of the website does not seem to guide users anywhere, I felt compelled to click my back button.

Compare that example to a few others. Dropbox asks visitors to watch a video, or download their app. Details like their privacy policy and support section are hidden below the fold, but someone looking for them can easily find them.

Square follows a similar set of guidelines; ask users to watch a video or sign-up directly.

Transmit from Panic asks users to download the app, buy it directly or find answers to their questions.

Even eBay, a website that struggled with clutter for years, helps guide a user. Users can search, browse a category or visit their deals.

Determining whether or not visitors like your website doesn’t need to be as subjective as critiquing your layout. Instead, use a web analytics tool and watch the bounce rate of your homepage.

Bounce rate can serve as a proxy for how satisfied your users are with their experience. If nearly 100% of your visitors are bouncing, it’s time to make a change.

 

The photo of this post is copyright (c) 2005 by StevenErat and made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license. 

How a simple design decision made Pinterest a household name

In the two years since launching, Pinterest has grown incredibly quickly to become the third most visited social network in the US, only behind Facebook and Twitter.

One of Pinterest’s most recognizable features is its layout. Photos seem to spread out like they were individually placed on a light board. But the layout is not the secret to their success.

So, what did Pinterest do differently? They featured social interactions.

On every Pinterest page, social interactions — repins and comments — take up just as much space as the content itself. Profile photos cover the website, showing conversations are alive and ready for you to join. It’s easy for users to contribute to the discussion as well, because users can log in using their Facebook or Twitter accounts. The design decision to feature the social interactions makes Pinterest feel like a vibrant community in a single glace.

Other networks choose to hide these interactions from the end user. Tumblr has plenty of social interaction across their network, but it’s not showcased. Take a look at the screenshot below:

This particular post has 154 likes, comments or reblogs. That’s a lot of activity for one photo, but the social activity is concealed. Users need to click-through to the post itself to see how readers are responding.

A recent report from comScore shows user engagement rate exactly equal between Tumblr and Pinterest, which means Tumblr isn’t necessarily doing anything wrong. The two networks serve different purposes anyway. Instead, Pinterest’s example shows how social media can be used to their advantage.

Where does social media belong? Front and center, not buried and hidden.

It’s rare to come across a business website that forgets to remind us to “Like” or “Follow” them. On many websites, the opportunity for social media has been compressed into a button. Social widgets are tacked onto web pages almost as an after thought.

It takes a truly integrated approach, like Pinterest, to do social media well. And when websites facilitate conversations, users respond.

Advice for Entrepreneurs: Skip the Business Plan

Don’t write a business plan. Business plans are designed to force you to think through every obstacle and potential event. But, if you write a business plan, the only thing you’ll learn is you can convince yourself of anything.

We need to avoid the business plan.

They take too long

You will waste more time fussing with Excel’s chart formatting on a financial break-even analysis than answering real questions about your business. You will make wild predictions about revenue, which may not be grounded in any type of reality.

Take a look at any business plan, and you’ll see revenue predicted to grow exponentially. For most startups, revenue growth is not exponential or even consistent.

You’ll quickly realize business plans are fiction.

Your business will need to change the moment you launch

Within weeks of launching your business, you’ll will find yourself needing to change something about your business. It may be your overzealous revenue prediction, or something else. Either way, whatever you wrote in your business plan will need to adjust significantly.

Unplanned events cause every business to evaluate how they operate, produce or market. Every business will experience them. A 30-page business plan will not necessarily make you any more prepared for those situations.

Investors invest in people, not business plans

Business plans are not for investors. If you’re seeking support from a venture capitalist, you’re not going to spend a meeting reviewing your business plan. Instead, you will give a brief pitch, share your revenue and margins to date, and then answer their questions.

They wouldn’t believe your revenue estimates anyway.

What to do instead

There’s a clear distinction between writing a business plan and the process of business planning. A business plan is a Microsoft Word document with charts and pages of your ideas. Business planning, however, can happen anywhere. Open up TextEdit on your Mac, or grab the back of a bill, and jot down answers to these five questions:

  • What will you sell and for how much?
  • How will you attract your first customers?
  • How much will it cost to acquire each customer?
  • What will your expenses be?
  • How many customers do you need to be profitable?

If you narrow your business planning down to those few questions, you’ll be able to focus on launching, adjusting and becoming profitable — no executive summary needed.

Then, share your idea. Tell your friends about your idea. Sure, they could try to steal it, but trust me, they won’t be your most serious competition once you launch. You need support from friends, and you need their opinion about your business.

Are your prices too high? Are you pitching your product to the wrong audience? Have you underestimated your expenses? You may arrive at a few of these realizations after spending a lot of time writing a business plan, or your friends may be able to tell you upfront and directly.

It’s your choice.

 

The photo of this post is copyright (c) 2009 by Yahoo! and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.