Last week on Twitter I read that Union Square Ventures was leading a round of funding for a company called Scroll. I’d never heard of Scroll (it hasn’t officially launched), but after reading USV’s announcement I can’t stop thinking about them. Scroll will sell ad-free, subscription-based access to some of the biggest News Publishers in the U.S. (USA Today, The Verge, Vox, and more) for $4.99 a month.
What excites me about Scroll is that it’s NOT an App or Aggregator, but a ‘Facilitator.’ When you subscribe to Scroll you go to the participating publisher sites and read without the ads. Scroll believes its would-be customers are already using ad-blockers, and by sharing subscription revenue they are introducing a new monetization opportunity.
I love this model. For consumers, it harnesses the power of the open web and how they actually use it. So no walled gardens (and the associated misinformation and filter-bubbles) and a transaction model that actually values their time and privacy. For publishers, it eases the tension in allowing an aggregator to distribute your content. As I’ve written previously, the aggregator and the publisher often share the same business model and monetize users in the same way – through their attention. But this is where Scrolls turns that upside down. They aren’t trying to keep customers on their platform (there isn’t one!), they’re incentivizing customers to use the publisher’s platform. And then actually paying the publisher for that usage.
So much of what makes a successful product comes down to timing. Given the state of the internet, the timing seems perfect for Scroll. Can’t wait until launch.
I focus my writing on Consumer Products as those are the products I most often use. I’ve posted about platforms like the App Store –here andhere, but it’s all been in the spirit about getting software to consumers.
But one of the best Products I’ve used over the last few months has been something I actually use for work! It’s calledAmplitude and it’s a Product Analytics tool for Digital Products and Services. In my career as a Product Manager I’ve used lots of analytics software, but I never would have considered any a product I like to use, let alone something I would write about. So what makes Amplitude different?
Amplitude refers to itself as ‘Product Analytics for the Digital Era.’ Note how they don’t say ‘Digital Analytics’ or ‘Web/Mobile Analytics.’ From initial pitch to post-implementation, Amplitude was extremely clear on what their product is and who it’s for.
A Product for Product Managers
When they were pitching my company, they reached out to the product team and not to the analytics team. I’d never seen this before and it made sense when I had my initial call with them. They told me their software was designed to help Product Managers make quick, informed product decisions. Anecdotes about Product Managers having to wait a week for their analytics or data science teams to run analyses and complex queries really spoke to a pain point for me. Anyone in the organization could use Amplitude, but they knew whose problems they needed to solve in order get in the door.
Doing one thing really well
Amplitude acknowledged early on that they would not solve all of our organization’s analytics needs. In fact, they even told us that other clients use products other than Amplitude to report on key metrics. But what they promised was that they’d help track the metrics that are the leading indicators of Product Health. These are the metrics that Product Managers can influence through prioritization of their team’s work. And moving these metrics will ultimately influence lagging indicators of organization health, such as revenue.
This was quite refreshing as a customer. So often you see potential vendors promise to solve your every need, but this is never the case nor do you expect this to be case. And as a Product Manager myself I can appreciate a product team focused on a single user-persona and solving their most pressing needs.
Consumer-facing products have upped the ante on user experience to the point where it impacts all product categories and Amplitude has definitely taken note! The experience of putting together a Weekly Retention Chart for New Users is very intuitive and easy with Amplitude. I’d go as far as to call it FUN!
Here’s how it works…
First, you pick ‘New User’ for First Event, then ‘Play Song’ for Returning Event and we get this pretty looking retention chart (from a sample Amplitude Project). And this particular one flattens out – a Product Manager’s dream!!!
But we don’t just want a pretty chart – you want something that helps you do your job better. As you can see, you can add definitions to your events and categorize them so everyone is on the same page. We’ve all been in situations where we misinterpret an event name and run an analysis that ends up being completely wrong.
Trust me, most Analytics companies don’t make charts that look this good or that are as easy to understand. Amplitude understands how user-experience differentiates its Product from others.
Giving Your Users a Super-Power
A framework I like to use to evaluate a product’s usefulness it to think about the ‘Super-Powers’ it gives its customers. So it’s asking yourself ‘What is that amazing thing my Product enables a customer to do?‘ Data is definitely something that Amplitude provides, but what it really excels at is providing Product Managers a framework for using that data. Two of the most useful frameworks I’ve gotten from Amplitude are Retention and North Star Metric.
As Product Managers we like to look at how many customers we have (DAUs, MAUs) and how many actions they perform (Audio/Video Stream, Social Posts), but these alone don’t tell us if we’ve created an enduring product. Amplitude – through theirproduct,collateral andtraining – constantly pushes that retention iscriticalfor true product growth. Does your Product provide value to the customer such that they repeatedly come back to and engage with it? If this is the case, you have found Product/Market Fit! DAU and MAU growth will prove illusory if you just have new users that never come back to experience the core Product value. Viewing our Products through the lens of Retention make you think hard about whether your product has true value and if the features you’re adding are actually valuable.
North Star Metric
What are you and your team building towards? Is it the right thing and how do you know when you’ve reached your goal? Amplitude’sNorth Star Metric is a great framework for setting priorities and keeping your team headed in the right direction. A great North Star Metric consists of 2 parts:
1) A Statement of Your Product Vision and
2) A Metric that Serves as a Key Measure of Your Product Strategy
As an example, Amplitude’s Product Vision is to ‘Help companies build better products‘ and their North Star Metric is the # of Weekly Users for whom Amplitude has answered at least one question.
A North Star Metric should also align to customer value – so avoid things like DAUs and instead focusing on the actions that drive value. Defining a good North Star Metric will then align your team and company on the right things. And as Product Manager you can use it to force prioritization on all the requests you get from Management and Stakeholders. You have the ‘Super-Power’ of being able to articulate your Product’s North Star and this will bring credibility to you and your team.
Creating Better Product Managers
Amplitude’s vision is to ‘Help Companies Build Better Products’ and in doing so they are also creating better Product Managers. Observing how they’ve acquired, engaged and retained customers themselves, Amplitude has given us a great example of how a Product-led Company operates.
MealPal is a lunch and dinner subscription service where you receive a set number of meals for pickup over a 30-day period. Depending on your plan you can eat for as little as $6 per meal in New York City, which is quite a feat. I’m now on my second cycle and I’m not planning to leave anytime soon!
Annoying -> Fun
MealPal’s strength is turning something annoying (lunch, yes, extremely first-world problem) into something, well, fun! We’ve all been there – ‘time for lunch…but what should i eat today?! had Mexican last night don’t want it today…that place is too far..only have 30 minutes!’ With MealPal you get an email at 5pm every day telling you that the Kitchen is open for lunch the next day. You then pick what you want when you want it and you’re all set! So now you’ve solved lunch ahead of time and you have something to look forward to. The pick-up is the other annoyance in the lunch process, but MealPal even makes this delightful. Your order is ready when you arrive – no lines, no paying for anything – just show them your order number and you’re done!
Building Anticipation with Online x Offline
I really love the ~18 hours to payoff as it’s unique among digital experiences. We’re accustomed to instant gratification with social networks and news services, but the payoff only requires us to tap an icon on our home screens. There is an inherent anticipation build-up with Food Delivery services, but if it comes on time I’m simply satisfied and if it’s late I’m extremely hangry and nobody wins. MealPal promises me a trip out of the office at a specific time with little effort to accomplish my task of getting lunch – that is something I can look forward to with every meal from them.
After Lunch Experience
Another great thing about MealPal is that there’s still more to experience after lunch. The next time I open the App after picking up my Meal I’m immediately prompted for feedback and I love this. It shows me that MealPal cares about my experience and wants to make the product better. The survey is short and to the point and I always complete it.
MealPal has done a great job with the Meal-eater experience, but they have another customer in the Restaurants that supply these meals. I was curious as to what the value proposition (other than exposure and foot-traffic) was to these Restaurants and found this from a great piece by GeekWire:
“MealPal is able to offer lower prices because it gives restaurants large orders for individual dishes in advance. It’s similar to a catering model, which Biggins said is typically the most profitable order for restaurants. MealPal lets many restaurants make more money per meal versus serving individual customers, she said.”
I have no idea what the logistics of working with MealPal are on the supplier end, but this economic arrangement seems very favorable. As good as the Meal-eater experience is, the supply of Restaurants is really the limiting factor to how popular it can become.
Making MealPal even better
While I love the service, there’s always room for improvement. Given how much I’ve used the service and the amount of feedback I’ve provided, MealPal should use those inputs to improve the experience for me. Sarah Tavel of Benchmark Capital calls this Accruing Benefits, which is basically saying “The more I use this product the better it gets.” For example, I’ve noticed that when I go to select my next Meal the options have looked pretty static from week to week, even with consistent usage. This could be because they haven’t added many new restaurants, but my prior activity can used here to give me an illusion of endless choice and keep me subscribed. A couple ideas for this:
Suggestions – MealPal knows my taste profile, the places I’ve eaten and the places I haven’t tried yet; this would be a perfect opportunity for a suggestion
Popularity – They also know what’s popular among their customers so this would be a great option for a filter
3rd-Party Data – I use other apps and services to find restaurant recommendations and having this layer on top of MealPal would help with discovery. I’d love to see a Foursquare integration (my go-to for reviews/ratings) so I could vet the places I’ve never been to before and maybe see my favorites/history from that service offered as suggestions in MealPal.
To MealPal’s credit I have noticed the addition of filtering by Portion Size, which is something they ask customers to answer in surveys. I find this feature very useful.
Look and Feel
There are also a few things MealPal could do to improve the navigation of the app. I’m not feeling the hamburger menu and it’s position on the not-so top right still gets buried for me – even as an active user. I’d love to see the items in the hamburger as tabs on the bottom of the screen. If i want to see account settings I have to 1) tap the hamburger 2) tap ‘My Account and then 3) tap hamburger 4) tap ‘Browse Meals’ just to get back to where I was. It’s not hard, but could be so much easier with tabs 🙂
And visually, I really dislike the ‘tabs’ used to distinguish between Lunch and Dinner on the home screen. They look like browser tabs and to me that just looks wrong on a Mobile App. A segmented control with the ability to swipe between the two sections would look a lot better.
I made a quick wireframe of how the structure of the app would look with these changes:
Try it for yourself
These minor shortcoming aside, I’m super-excited to see what’s next for MealPal and am very bullish on the service. And if you’re so inclined, sign up for yourself using my invite code: mealpal.com/samgirotra 🙂
How do you use tech on the weekend? A good weekend for me is one where time seems to move more slowly. But given constantly updating feeds and news notifications using any tech on the weekend feels chaotic. I try to follow the philosophy that no tech is the best tech, but it’s not practical to stay away completely.
So I end up changing how I use tech on the weekend compared to how I use it on weekdays – both in terms of which apps and services I use and how often I use them. And I find that my weekends are better because of this.
Twitter: it represents most of my social media consumption and I find that cutting it out on the weekend lets me focus on the weekend. Twitter is hilarious, informative and educational, but looking at it makes my brain feel as if it’s in perpetual Fast-Forward. I don’t mind this during the week since I’m already in overdrive for work, but looking out my window on a Sunday puts me in a better mood than looking at Twitter does.
Instagram: it’s my number two social media app and it doesn’t put my mind in overdrive quite like Twitter does. But, for me at least, it can swallow up a lot of time before I even realize. Scrolling through photos of my friends, favorite artists and athletes is a lot of fun, but before I know it 45 minutes have passed and I’m not even sure whose photos I’m viewing anymore. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Getting lost in something and not feeling the need to be constantly productive is very liberating. But I let it get excessive to the point where it’s not even fun so I just cut it out on the weekends.
If I can’t avoid tech, there are some apps that are better for my weekend mindset and help me maintain peak-chill.
Apple News: I wrote about it at length – Apple News is a go-to when I’m hankering for news and gratification that an infinite scroll brings…without all the noise.
Pocket: I also wrote about Pocket and it’s perfect for the weekend when I have some time to catch up on long reads I’ve saved. I’m in rapid information-processing mode on weekdays, but on the weekend I have time to dig into things and Pocket lets me do this with articles.
Off the Grid
Sometimes you just have to put your phone in the other room and go it alone. I find old-fashioned newspapers perfect for the weekends where I have free time and want some light entertainment.
NYT/WSJ Weekend Edition: At $5-$6 per paper, this may seem like a lot to spend, but have you seen how big these editions are? There’s gotta be at least 3 hours of entertainment in these papers and I never regret my purchase.
So how do you use tech on the weekend? Does your app usage change from the weekday to the weekend?
I’ve been using Apple News for the past few weeks and have come to the conclusion that it can combat fake-news, make you smarter and buoy the News Publishing Industry all at once! Okay, thats’s definitely a hot take, but let me dig in 🙂
Breadth and Trust
It’s an aggregator so one can find many news sources all in one spot – I have tremendous respect for outlets like WSJ, NYT, WaPo (and have their respective apps installed), but an aggregator is more time efficient. I see headlines from the likes of Politico, Fox News and The New Yorker, so I feel I’m getting a representative collection of viewpoints out there(no matter how much you agree or disagree ;-). There seems to be some sort of ‘approval’ process to become a Publisher and I’m going to assume you won’t see any articles from Heart of Texas and Being Patriotic, two Facebook groups that posted heavily about the 2016 election and were ultimately found to be created by our Russian friends.
Media, but not Social
The fact that there’s no social component to Apple News gives me most hope about fighting fake news and false information. So even if some questionable ‘publications’ do make it onto the App, there’s no chance that your crazy Uncle would amplify the articles by sharing. I probably get most of my news from Twitter and I love the timeliness that comes with so many individuals contributing to the platform, but it gets exhausting and overwhelming(Kanye, anyone?). Apple News updates only when there are new articles — there are no hot takes or ugly Twitter fights; it’s actually quite refreshing!