What is SEO? – Podcast

This is our latest podcast. I made some changes according to the feedback I got from the previous post. The podcast is now in English and I covered SEO (was shocked that people liked the AdWords podcast). OK, hope you’ll like it:

Customer Feedback is Oxygen

The customer might not always be right, but the customer is always worth listening to.

 

Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, attributes the success of the photo sharing application to one simple factor: listening to customer feedback.

 

Before Instagram, there was Burbn, a “check-in service” application. It was a slightly different version of Foursquare, but with the ability to upload and share photos live from a location. While working on Burbn, Systrom was relentless about talking to users and drawing feedback in order to understand the value and “best use” scenario for their customer base. The extensive qualitative and quantitative feedback analysis conducted by the Burbn team lead them to discover a curious pattern: most users of the application seemed to use it in order to share photos, rather than “check in” and share their location.

 

Armed with this information, Systrom “left the building” in order to grab real commentary from actual users in order to understand how the application can better serve as a photo sharing service. After numerous customer interviews and analysis, Systrom came to a conclusion that would become the basis to Instagram’s success and hyper growth:

 

People wanted to share photos quickly from their smartphone, but photos taken on mobile simply didn’t look beautiful.

 

Hence, the infamous photo filters were born. Keep in mind, at that time (2009), smartphone cameras took poor quality photos that rarely looked good. The “filters” solved this problem, and allowed users to share beautiful photos instantly from their mobile.

 

Eventually, Burbn became Instagram, which recorded 25 thousand users in its first day of release.

 

In retrospect, what Systrom and his team discovered might seem obvious. However, only with an incessant approach to soliciting and analyzing customer feedback could the Instagram/ Burbn team have realized how widespread the problem was. Customer comments also put the Instagram team on the right track to building a feature set that tackled actual problems faced by their users.

 

Customer feedback is oxygen. It breathes life into a dying startup, and can help the startup ignite into a fire of hyper growth.

 

Slice of Advice

In order to build something that people want and use, you have to listen to those people. Don’t lock yourself in the office and assume you have an intuitive understanding of who your customers are and what they want. Leave the building, and listen carefully to comments from real users. It’s the only way you’ll build something worth anything to anyone.

StartupQ8 Podcasts, are they good or bad?

During last month I started a new podcast called StartupQ8, you can hear it in Soundcloud (either on your desktop, iphone or andriod device). You can find all of the podcasts here ().

I made the podcasts in Arabic and targeted to Kuwait so that it spread more in Kuwait and the GCC regions, especially since we had everything in English since we started 2 years ago.

I want to hear your opinion about these podcasts, are they good or bad? Should I do them in English or Arabic? Should I continue or stop?

I’m getting very little listeners, some podcasts had 2 listens only and I’m probably one of them!! Just saying, maybe I’m doing something wrong or maybe Soundcloud is the problem.

Below is the 2nd podcast (I made 7 podcasts in total so far):

Brace Yourself: Your Startup Idea Will Change

Be wary of emotional attachment; for a Startup, it can be a double edged sword.

 

PayPal went from nothing to a market cap of $1.5 billion in 4 years. The growth of PayPal was remarkable, and to this day, it is the talk of legends and myths in Silicon Valley. What most people miss about the PayPal story is the number of fundamental changes, or pivots, the company had to go through before finding product-market fit.

 

Here’s the Five Pivot journey PayPal went through to discover its “best use scenario”:

 

First it was an encryption platform for mobile phones. Then it became a “Cash on Mobile Phones” application. Then it became an email payments system. Then it became an email payments AND PalmPilot payment system. Then it reverted back to an email payment service with a focus on e-commerce, mainly for use on e-bay.

 

This entire journey took 15 months.

 

Once PayPal discovered its best use scenario, it focused all of its efforts on enhancing that service for users. In 2002, four years after a young team of entrepreneurs set out to build an encryption platform for mobiles, PayPal was sold to e-bay for $1.5 billion.

 

(Watch this video by Reid Hoffman, co-founder, as he describes PayPal’s blistering journey of pivots)

 

Pivoting is a science and an art. To pivot successfully, a startup must have supreme agility and blistering reactivity to customer feedback. The founding team must combine quantitative analysis with qualitative interpretation to fully understand what the market demands.

 

So why do most startups experience “pivot failure”?

 

The answer is that most founders treat a startup “like it’s their baby”. What that means is that founders get emotionally attached to the original idea, and convince themselves it’s a winner while ignoring all signals from the market. They are so emotionally invested in an unproven concept that they fail to recognize a need to change (or pivot). Emotional attachment creates blindness to reality and compromises objectivity.

 

There is no doubt that founders have to be inherently passionate about an idea, or they are doomed to fail. But that passion must be balanced with a flexibility to change according to customer feedback in order to reach the holy grail of product-market fit.

 

Slice of Advice

If you’re a founder, make sure that you and your team realize that your idea will most certainly require fundamental changes. Save your emotional capital to after your product has achieved product-market fit. At that point, you are free to pour your heart into it. Startup success requires agility, both in thinking and emotion.

Dropbox and the True Meaning of Competition

With extremely low barriers to entry, startups might feel they are entering a crowded space.

 

When Drew Houston pitched Dropbox to his friend, a successful entrepreneur, his idea met strong skepticism. His friend opened TechCrunch, navigated to threads dedicated to cloud-based storage systems, and showed Drew close to a hundred startups in that field, half of which were venture backed. It was 2007, and the hot trend of that time was Cloud Storage.

 

Put yourself in Drew’s shoes. You have a brilliant idea, but you find out that literally tens of companies already exist in that space, and it seems that there is very little room for competition. But Drew asked his friend a simple question (and one that he would repeat to all early doubters), “Do you use any of these systems?” The answer, 9 times out of 10, was “No”.

 

Drew believed that all the existing companies were “pretenders” who have failed to create a cloud storage system that provided everyday users a simple and straightforward tool to manage their files on the cloud. In other words: the current systems, although many, simply didn’t work. He was confident that the system he was about to build could infinitely improve on the current solutions. He was right. Today, Dropbox has over 200 million users, and is the number one cloud storage software in the world.

 

Google faced a similar proposition. When the company was founded, two giant search engines, Yahoo and Alta Vista, existed and controlled the market. But Page and Brin were aware that they had created a search engine that was exponentially better than the existing incumbents. We all know how that story unfolded.

 

The key takeaway here is that the size or quantity of competition can sometimes be highly irrelevant. The true relevance of a competitor is not market share, but rather how much room is available for improvement on their product or service. The less room, the stronger the competition.

 

Most people in Drew Houston’s shoes would have seen that TechCrunch page and would’ve been demoralized (or scared) by the number of competitors. But what was relevant to Dropbox is the quality of service provided by these companies, and how vastly they could improve on it. Dropbox recognized that although hundreds of companies existed, the best system among them still left a large void in user experience. They filled that void, and continue to fill it.

 

Slice of Advice

Analyze the competition in your own terms. Compare your idea or product to theirs, and clearly define where and how your product improves on theirs. If the improvement is vast or meaningful, than the size or quantity of competitors becomes relevant only to the space available for improvement and how effectively your product fills that space.

Someone Thought Google Was a Bad Idea

In the ever developing world of technology, a lack of vision can be fatal.

 

In January 1997, Larry Page was ready to sell Google (formerly BackRub) for $1.7 million. Yes million, with an “m”. Page was negotiating to sell his newly developed search engine to a company called “Excite”, an internet portal that hosted a collection of web services, including a search engine*. At that time, Excite was a publicly traded industry giant that was buying out competitors and partners left and right.

 

The deal, obviously, never took place. BackRub became Google, a company with a market cap of $375 billion. As for Excite, it went through a serious of mergers with “Ask Jeeves” and soon became part of the forgotten, dusty corners of internet history. So why did the deal fall through?

 

It wasn’t the price. In fact, Excite were able to negotiate Page down from $1.7m to $750,000, and Page agreed to it. But still, Excite’s then CEO, George Bell, turned down the opportunity.

 

Bell and his board turned down Google because they thought it was too effective of a search engine. That’s right: they didn’t want to buy Google because it worked too well and, more importantly, too fast.

 

What you have to keep in mind is that during the start of the internet revolution in the mid 90’s, banner advertisement was a powerful revenue driver. The key to a revenue-generating banner ad was to keep the user on the website for as long as possible, as to provide maximum exposure to the banner. Google’s main value proposition was that it did search “faster” and allowed users to “find what they wanted in seconds and leave”. It was a value proposition in which Bell could not see monetary turnover. He told Page that BackRub was a great search tool, but a bad business idea.

 

In retrospect, both Bell’s and Page’s lack of vision at that time is astonishing. Larry Page was about to sell a product to a competitor despite his belief that it was superior in every way (understatement). Bell didn’t take that opportunity because he failed to look beyond his current revenue model and create a new model that leverages better user experience.

 

For Excite, that decision driven by a lack of vision proved fatal. For Page, it was a lucky escape.

 

Slice of Advice

Have faith in your product, and be skeptical of what the incumbent “experts” might say. Often, these experts have learned to do something in a particular way, and fail to recognize the ingenuity and value of a new idea.

 [The most dangerous phrase in the language is, “We’ve always done it this way.”] –Grace Hopper

 

 

*Reference: http://www.businessinsider.com/larry-page-tried-to-sell-google-for-16-million–358-billion-less-than-its-worth-today-2014-4

Q&A with Omar Soudodi

Ahead of our Event, we sat with Omar Soudodi for a quick Q&A on the state of e-commerce in the region. If you’re interested in e-commerce or selling your goods and services, don’t miss this talk:

For those who are unaware, can you describe Payfort and its value proposition?
PayFort is a trusted online Payment Service Provider enabling businesses large and businesses, government agencies, SME’s, Startups and Institutions with innovative payment options for both banked & non-banked online shoppers. We work closely with our customers (merchants) by understanding their financial and revenue models, identify areas of risk exposure, and formulate strategies to maximize their online payment acceptance. We work under the notion that “People are Different” and we assist merchants in offering payment options that mirror their online shoppers behavior for both credit card and noncredit cardholders.
What are the main challenges facing businesses that want to transact electronically? What about customers?
The challenge is in two folds, Going Live as quickly as possible with a trusted online payment acceptance while minimizing requirements from financial institutions such as security deposits and big setup cost. The second fold is the availability of online payment financial instruments used by online shoppers since the Arab world is underbanked with only 18% of the total Arab Population owning a bank account. In the case of Kuwait it reaches 70% of adults so it doesn’t apply for the State of Kuwait.
Are there structural differences that make e-commerce more acceptable elsewhere?
1-Awareness of the end-user: safety & security is a concern in the ArabWorld since most users want to pay for the item upon delivery in the case of e-commerce transactions.
2-Supply: with more services/goods being sold online shoppers are buying more online since it mirrors the offline supply at competitive prices; around 66% of online shoppers look for value.
3-Demand, with annual growth of 40% for the region (highest in the world) coupled with Mobile Commerce penetration at 41% in the region compared to 23% worldwide, users are becoming more affluent online shoppers. Kuwait has the highest IOS penetration in the region and ranks one of the top 12 countries in the world in IOS usage which is a signal of the high affluence rate and higher disposable income for online shoppers.
See you tomorrow!

Q&A with Abbas Al-Mohri

Ahead of our event, we sat with Abbas Al-Mohri for a quick Q&A on patents and intellectual property. To learn more, please come to the StartupQ8 Event tomorrow (Monday June 9th, 6:15 PM):

We hear about numerous legal cases in Intellectual Property, what’s the importance?
Intellectual property is not only about protecting someone’s work, and fighting people who steal it. It’s about generating millions of dollars of revenues out of it. There is an estimated $180 billion of revenues annually just coming from patent licensing.
Patents are the hot topic in the region nowadays, what’s your take on it?
Patents, and intellectual property in general, are the core foundation of new enterprises willing to make a change, and improve people’s lives. The more entrepreneurs take the initiative of starting their business, the more intellectual property laws will come into play to protect their ideas and innovations.
Can software developers protect their valuable work?
Yes, indeed. There are two main ways for them to protect their work. In some cases, copyright laws can be enforced to protect their work. In others, utility patents come handy.
Would intellectual property concern graphic designers and artists?
As a matter of fact: Yes! Patents and other IP laws seem to be protecting engineers and innovators, but it’s not the reality. Virtually any person has intellectual work that he or she has done, and there are laws to protect those works.

See you Monday!

First StartupQ8 Podcast

So I decided to start a podcast instead of writing. I also decided to be in Arabic (actually in Kuwaiti, not even Arabic)!! So I apologize about that for non-Arabic speakers. Let me know what do you think?

https://soundcloud.com/startupq8/first-podcast

 

Announcing: StartupQ8 Event for June 2014

(UPDATE: The agenda has been changed. The event will start at 6:15 PM on Monday June 9).

We’ve been gone too long!

We’re excited to announce the return of the StartupQ8 Event on Monday June 9! We’ve had a forced absence for the past three months, but we wanted to have (at least) one more event before the Ramadan/summer lull.

The first segment will feature Omar Soudodi, the Managing Director of Payfort, who will share the latest e-commerce statistics in Kuwait and the region. Also this month, one of our most popular interview subjects is back, as Abbas Al-Mohri, founder of Next Payments is back to give the first of two talks about Patents and Intellectual Property. As always, Global Investment House has graciously agreed to host the talk.

See you guys Monday June 9 at 6:15 pm!

Schedule:

6:15 – 7:00 E-Commerce Trends in Kuwait & the region with Omar Soudodi
7:00 – 7:15 Mini-break
7:15 – 8:00 Basics of Patents & Intellectual Property with Abbas Al-Mohri
8:00 – 8:30 Networking

As always, the event will be in English and it is open to everyone. Register for FREE on our Meetup.com page for more details.

See you there!

The StartupQ8 Team

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