Tag Archives: startups

How to Make Users Love Your Product


While designing a website is very much about the interface and how to “guide” your users to do what you’d like them to do or click on, a lot of it is actually creating an “experience”.

In this generation, we’ve moved from just having a usable and functional product, to a product that is not only user-friendly, but a product that connects with you – a product that you feel defines you, or you have feelings for.

Also, people don’t always do what you want them to do. Asking is not always enough to get people to do what you want them to do. How do you get them to complete their profile? or how do you get them to complete the sale on the order check-out page?

Below are a few tricks that can transform your website to an “Experience”:

1. Pictures of People: Put pictures of people on your website, and don’t just use any random looking stock images (that’ll actually make it worse). And studies show that not only pictures of people on your website convert better, but if those people in the pictures are looking towards the button or the Call-to-Action link/button you want them to click on, then that would convert even better. Read here: http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/2009/09/24/10-useful-usability-findings-and-guidelines/

Baby conversion before

Compare this with the image below:

Baby conversion after
Where the baby is looking gets a lot more eyeballs than the one that’s just making eye contact with you. Turns out that e-EyeContact is overrated.

2. Mascots: Companies like Mailchimp have done very well by using a mascot that makes it really easy to remember them by, and hard to forget. Mailchimp uses well, a monkey. Twitter uses a whale. Hootsuite uses an owl. The list goes on. See more here: http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/21-excellent-examples-of-animal-as-web-mascots/

Mailchimp Monkey StartitUp

3. Gamification/Sense of Completion/Collecting Things: Human beings love to complete, collecting, and be rewarded. When you think about the structure of your website, you can think about creating gamifying elements like giving users badges when they achieve something.

You can also implement elements like rankinglevels (e.g. New Member, Senior Member, Guru Member, etc.) , positions, etc.

Case Study: Linkedin had a lot of trouble in the beginning to make people fill out more than just their name in their profiles. Then, they decided to come out with a profile completion bar that makes them want to fill out more. Obviously, they were wildly successful. They were able to get most people to fill out more information about themselves.

Linkedin Progress bar

Case Study 2: Nike’s Nike+ app on iOS and Android is an app that helps you track your running habit and progress. To make things “fun”, they also gave you an avatar or a doll that you can customize to look like yourself. The cool thing is that if you didn’t exercise enough, your avatar (which represents you), would get fat and that would make you want to exercise again just to keep your virtual self in shape.

Nike+ Mini

The take-away here is that you want to create an environment that encourages your users to take the actions you want them to take, because simply asking is not enough. In fact, as a manager who’s managed tens of people, the best way is not to micro-manage or “instruct” them to do what you want them to do (you can’t anyways), but to hack people’s behavior by cultivating an amazing culture, putting in an efficient structure, delivering clear communication, and creating mutually beneficial incentives to make your staff happy, prioritized, and productive – without much of your intervention.

Case Study (Mind-blowing – I can’t find the video for this one, but I’ve photoshopped an image to demonstrate): I watched this video in Tokyo once about how a Japanese boss mind-controlled all of his employees with little square stickers.

So, the story was that the stuff in the office were not being organized and put back after use. So, the boss was quite a neat freak and wanted things in order.

He first simply asked the employees (nicely) to put things back. Didn’t work. He then put in a policy of reward and punishment. Didn’t work either. In the end, what he did was he stuck on every office tool or object a white sticker with a red arrow on it pointing to its counterpart, which would be stuck on the precise location where the item should be returned after use (like below). When the object is returned to its original location, the arrow would point perfectly to the arrow on the table or on whatever piece of furniture.

The employees all responded that in the beginning they didn’t mind it much, but as time passed, it actually frustrated them that the arrows weren’t lining up. Sooner or later it became a habit and everyone was playing the “arrow matching” game in the office.

Japanese Sticker Hack

4. Mystery/Surprises: Kinder’s Surprise (Chocolate Candy) makes you want to buy a chocolate because you don’t know what you’re going to get. Actually, many websites do this. Other than mysterious, you can also be unpredictable. People like surprises.

Case Study on Mystery: HowAboutWe is a dating website where you’d post a date idea and whoever is interested can contact you to join you on that date (so dating based on mutual interests). However, while you are free to create a profile and post your date ideas, you cannot read any of the messages sent to you if you don’t become a paid member. So, they make it a mystery about who could potentially be your other half. It’d drive a single person insane if he/she couldn’t find out what they’re missing out on. Naturally, Howaboutwe is doing great, because their mystery element is off the charts.

Howaboutwe Mystery

Case Study on Mystery: HotWheels tested out having a Mystery car toy against just showing what the car is. Obviously, the mystery car sold significantly better than when they had shown the car. Even kids couldn’t handle the suspense.

hotwheel study

Cast Study on Surprise: For those of you who played Diablo 3, you noticed that Diablo 3 was a lot less addtive than it’s predecessor. Most people probably didn’t notice why, but the reason was because Diablo 3 was dropping too many rare and unique items whereas Diablo 2 didn’t drop as many. In Diablo 3, it became easy to predict when you will get a very good item, and in Diablo 2, it was actually quite hard to plan the same acquisition. Therefore, in Diablo 2, you could go on for months or even years because 1. It was hard to get great items (if you got one you’re special), and 2. You feel like if you stopped now, the next kill will drop a rare item – so you keep chasing after that carrot. Read here to find out why Diablo 3 wasn’t addictive.

5. Availability/Ego (Social Status): This is quite a well-known tactic, but also one of the best. However, what this really is, is actually just another way to stroke one’s ego. Everybody wants to be first or one of the few owners. It defines who they are. Making your service or product limited in quantity makes it seem a lot more precious and rewarding.

In fact, an experiment studied 2 groups of people that paid different prices on a product and found that while both groups bought the same product, the group that paid for the higher price enjoyed a higher level of satisfaction. Therefore, price is also an important element that creates a sense of “ego” for your customers.

Case Study: Hermes bags are perhaps the most expensive bags in the world. One usually costs over USD$10,000, and that’s if you can get on the waitlist. So, the truth is that Hermes is not a bags’ company. They are a confidence feel-good I’m-the-shit product company. They create bags that make ordinary women into superwomen. A woman is only as precious as her bag. Right?..Right?

Hermes bag scarce
If I didn’t tell you there’s only 10 of these in the world, and you’d have to be a superstar to hold one of these, would you still want it so badly?

6. Be Human (and Humorous): As mentioned, a key thing to do for your website or product is to make it seem like a “human”. If you’ve seen the Bicentennial Man by Robin Williams, you will see that in the film while most robots are seen as robots because they have no humanly emotions, the robot played by Robin Williams was different (humanly) and had emotions. Apparently, being human is so hot. In the movie, he was not only able to make 1 woman, but 2 women fall deeply in love with him.

And, whatever made him so loveable in the movie was his humor. If you can make people smile, laugh, or cry, then they will come back. They will not only come back, but bring their friends.

Bicentennial Man

Case Study: Apple is a master of emotional design and marketing. For example, the way you know if your Macbook is awake is be seeing if it’s still breathing (the breathing light at the front of the laptop). The Macbook is also a beautiful looking creature that makes people feel closely connected to them, and not just a machine that connects to the internet and serves your documents.

The Macbook makes people feel so emotionally connected, to the point that Mac users are much more likely to overlook or forgive a system malfunction than when a PC user encounters a similar malfunction.

So with that example, you can see that there’s a lot of things that are not just about designing an usable product, but also creating something that has a human touch to it. The trick here is to remind users that they are interacting with a living and perhaps humanly product. Not just a machine spitting out music, words, or images.

Macbook Breathing Light

Case Study: Google on default has a lot of dorky/cute features that make it actually quite a “humanly” search engine. It has a lot of hidden features like being able to make the interface into Startrek Klingon language. They also spend a load of time to make us laugh by creating great April fools pranks.

This is my favorite: 8-bit Google Maps

YouTube Preview Image


How Rich People Convert Stress into Success


Before we begin, I’d just like to mention that it’s been proven that everyone on earth is capable of resolving stress. The result of that is a happier life and healthier body. You’ll lose weight in the process too.

Stress is a killer
Stress is a killer

So…my father is a very successful orthodontist and businessman. He runs a villa resort, an orthodontics clinic, invests in real estate, and he also finds time to collect paintings and art works. Obviously, he juggles quite a bit of things at once. One day when I was crazily stressed out and was having a shitty temper day, he found the perfect timing to explain to me why all these years, I’ve never seen him stressed. It’s true, I’ve actually never seen him stressed. He’s always on top of things, and he’s always been the shoulder for everyone around him.

So, he started telling me that the way he handles stress is by actually just…handling everything that he needs to do immediately! He told me a simple truth, and it’s that people start stressing out because they keep holding off stuff they are supposed to do. And when things you’re supposed to do slowly pile up, you start feeling the stress. Dad is different. When he thinks of something he needs to do, he does it right away. That way, he is doing everything possible to get things done, even if it’s not immediately done. No matter how big of a problem you are tackling, you can always break it down to tackle things one at a time.

When you feel stress, everything just starts to get a lot more annoying. It’s like a fractional multiplier in your life that makes everything shittier than it is. Stress also makes you gain weight, lose your hair, and get cancer (it’s the culprit of cancer). When you feel stressful, your body body becomes sick and starts to deteriorate. It’s true. Stress is the worst sickness.

So, why do people put things off? 
1. You are afraid that you cannot complete the task.
2. You are lazy and want to procrastinate. Procrastinators.
3. It’s something you don’t have the power to influence or change.

And, the truth is that all the reasons above are a result of FEAR. The first reason is pretty self explanatory. And for the 2nd reason, people usually hold things off because they are afraid of facing an immediate challenge, so they choose to procrastinate. The 3rd reason is that you are afraid to look deeper into the problem which you are trying to solve. If you are willing to look into the problem, then you will discover ways to break down the problem into smaller things you can tackle on one by one (Circle of influence vs. circle of concern). Deal with things you have power over right now, and leave the stuff you can only be concerned about till later.

Circle of Influence vs. Circle of Concern
From The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

So, since you keep procrastinating because of fear, if you can resolve fear, then that’s also the way to eliminate stress. And the key to resolving fear, *drum roll* is to intentionally face it and embrace it.

Do an exercise now. Think about something that you know you should do, but have been putting it off because of fear. It may be that you need to start charging your customers, you need to learn how to program, you need to email a famous person, or you want to ask the love of your life to marry you. Whatever it is, you’ve been putting it off because you are afraid to carry on with it.

Now that you have that list in mind, adjust your mentality to embrace it. Re-program yourself to embrace and actually really wanting to do it. Know that facing the things you fear in life will give you the most rewards in life. You desire that shit. Okay you get the idea. So facing your fears and intentionally going head-on and solving it first will make your life a stressful and fruitful one.

Fear your fears
Face your damn fears

Now you know the mechanisms of how stress creeps into your life. Take control of your fears, and you will live a happier and more prosperous life. (sounding very much like Confucius)

PS. Also, it’s been proven that if you change your mentality about stress, your body will become healthier, and you will lose some weight in the process too. You will just generally be a better person, physically and mentally.


12 Essential Startup Traits of Successful Startup Leaders


Sometimes the key to building a successful business is not about what you do, but who you are. It is who you are that drives you to do what you do. Today we’ll reveal 12 essential traits that powerful leaders share.

Jeff Bezos the awesome entrepreneur
The awesome entrepreneur

1. Be open minded – Entrepreneurs and smart people can be close-minded at times, because of ego. However, one needs to understand that succeeding at a startup has little to do with being smart, but a lot to do with being able to understand what customers need, and having a insatiable curiosity. Listen to people, and learn.

2. Don’t keep your startup a secret – Talk about your idea as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to share your idea with other people. Nobody will steal your idea. You are risking too much for not getting early feedback from people. Startups die because of not not getting enough feedback to learn and grow. You should always worry about getting More people to know about what you are doing. Not less. The details are what makes it work or not work.

3. Stop developing features when stuck – When stuck, many startups feel that it’s just because they lack features, so they mindlessly keep developing features. When stuck, ask customers and ask them what they think. It’s better to fine-tune your primary feature and have more people use it then trying to come up with “side” features to drive usage.

4. Investments has nothing to do with your success – Like the stock investor. A company many people invest in doesn’t mean it will succeed. The success of a startup has nothing to do with investments. In fact, 76% of the startups that were acquired in 2012 did not get any funding. In fact, when you get money from investors (not incubators), it’s very easy to fall into a pressure loop.

5. Your early hires will make or break you – If you do hire, the early hires are so important. This cannot be stressed more. If anyone on the team feels something wrong in the gut, then do not hire the candidate. Google hires this way. If anyone on the team feels something is wrong, they don’t go forward with the hire.

6. Decide everything on growth – If a feature or problem that requires building has nothing to do with growth, then put it on the backlog. When you put all the focus on growth, what you need to do suddenly becomes very clear.

7. A startup is a long journey – The untold stories of Angry Birds, Pinterest, and Twitter are that they all were operating close to 2 years before they became marginally relevant. It’s very very seldom that a startup comes out with a feature that suddenly delivers overnight success. If you have already validated your problem and solution, then stick with it. Conserve money, because this is a marathon, not a sprint. Do not pivot too early thinking the solution is wrong. It could be that you are not getting to the right customers, you don’t have friendly onboarding features, some tweaking is needed, or one of many reasons.

8. Be realistic – There are many success stories like one by Mint, or legends like Steve Jobs. We can all read their books, but the truth is that their experience has limited upsides to our abilities to perform in a startup. Success is based on luck, timing, the idea, the team, the connections you have, etc. So it takes time to get all of those together.

9. Communicate – Everything should be organized and communicated. If you have a co-founder, make sure everything is transparent with him/her. Make sure the responsibilities are established, and the amount of resoures from all parties are understood. Co-founders are like your spouses. Work the relationship like a marriage. You guys will argue, but always understand that everyone just want things to work out. So never hold grudge and let the other person know why you want to do or say something.

10. Be curious – What people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity. – Aaron Swartz. Entrepreneurs are stapled by their massive CQ (Curiosity Quotient) instead of IQ. When you are curious, you are powerful.

11. Never let it get to you – During your startup venture, many things will go wrong. You will just make too many mistakes, because every startup does this. You might send out a mass email with mistakes, hire the wrong people, have a huge bug in your product. The point here is that, you’re the only one making such a big deal of it. Learn what you did wrong, and move on.

12. Failing is not shameful – Failing is a part of being an entrepreneur. Most successful startups you have heard of have failed many times. The one you hear about is probably their like 4th or 5th project. Failing is great, because you can learn a lot of things about what you did wrong so that next time you will do better.


To Charge or Not to Charge & Your Pricing Strategy


This is probably the #1 dilemma startups encounter in their early stages. This is such an important strategy not only because you want to make money, but because charging adds perceived value to your product almost immediately. But on the side, in many situations, keeping your service free will help you acquire users a lot quicker. However, this first depends on what type of startup you are operating. In this article, we will help you determine whether or not you should charge, and how you should charge.

To Charge or Not to Charge
To Charge or Not to Charge

Type of startup
1. SaaS (software as a service)

If you are operating a SaaS, then we can assume that your startup can create immediate value for the customer. You don’t depend on users to help create your content, (Unlike social networks, dating websites, eCommerce marketplaces, etc.) you create your own content, and the customers can achieve what they want with your service no matter if you have 1 user, or 1 million users. And since the operation of your service doesn’t require user-created content, user growth is not your #1 priority when you are thinking about the value of your service. However, having a lot of users definitely do give you a snowball effect of referrals, which in turn gives you more users and thus revenue.

Example: Mailchimp – They are an awesome email newsletter service where you can upload the list of your users, create beautiful email templates, and immediate send out an email campaign to everyone on your list, and later be able to get details reports on open rates, click rates, demographics, who unsubscribed, etc.

Mailchimp - an example of a SaaS Service
Mailchimp – an example of a SaaS Service

– You don’t depend on users to create content in order to make your service usable.
– You provide value on day one.
– You can charge on day one.
– You can charge by subscription/month, and not by per transaction or advertisements.

– Need to create content yourself.
– Usually less users/traffic than community-based websites.
– Lower barrier to entry – service or content can be easily duplicated by competitors.

2. Community-Based Websites/App – Social Networks, Marketplaces, Forums, or any service where the value is user-created content

I doubt anyone would use Facebook if it didn’t have any users on it. I’m sure nobody could shop at eBay too if there weren’t millions of sellers and products on eBay. If you are operating a community-based website where the value and content of your website is created by users, then it’d make sense to keep it free and try to upsell your users on value-added services or products that they would be interested in. Or you can start charging them after you have reached critical mass to make your service more valuable. It’d be very hard to charge users to use community-based websites because if you make them pay in the beginning, then they would not be willing to join, and thus participate – which is the core of any community website.

Community-Based Websites
Community-based websites

However, this is not to say you should never charge for it. There are cases where dating websites kept it free in the beginning until they had a lot of singles in their database to make it attractive enough for people to use. They then started charging people for it because they already had enough users to keep the service going, and they made sure that their service helped people find dates.

Charging for dating services is very popular because it’s the best way to prevent users from spamming each other. By not making it free, dating websites filter out users who are just spamming for 1-night stands and keep the good ones that are committed to finding true love. So as you can see, you can also charge the users in your community if you have a good reason for it, and you have enough users to keep it going. In this case, charging users actually became a mandatory feature that made their platform possible, otherwise all the users would leave because they would be receiving inappropriate messages from spammers.

Therefore, charging is also a great way to filter out half-assed users and keep the ones that are serious about your service. In other words, the users that you lost after charging, could be ones who actually don’t need your service. Pricing is such a badass strategy!

– Once users start joining, the snowball effect is obvious, so you can somewhat lay back and let the ecosystem work and grow on its own.
– Generally you have a larger user base to monetize.
– Economy of scale creates a high barrier to entry and unfair advantage.

– Without users, the service is not usable
– Monetization choices relatively limited compared to SaaS – advertisements, virtual goods/money
– Cost of acquiring users is very high
– Some communities can be hard to manage.
– High server cost because there’s a lot more traffic.
– User loyalty is lower.

How to charge:
So, if you are operating a Saas, you can pretty much start charging with the 30-day free trial package. The users who don’t end up paying are just the curious ones who signed up to check it out, but probably really never had any use for it. So, don’t see it as you’re losing users, but as “filtering” out incompatible users. 

If you are a community-based website, there isn’t really a norm on how services should charge. There are many that have monetized on plans like 14-day or 30-day free trial with monthly subscription, no trial – charging on day one, by transactions, by advertisements, etc.

Pricing Strategy
Pricing Strategy with a “Decoy” Plan

Also, the price of your service will also affect how customers perceive value in your product. If you have a great service that competitors are charging for $99, but you are charging for $39, then customers might think you have an inferior product – even if your product is better. However, that’s not to say you need to match what your competitors are charging. The trick here is to study how your competitors are charging, and create different tiers of pricing plans where you highlight the plan you want to sell (like the one above, which even has a $199 decoy plan on the right – which is just to create comparative perception that the other plans are really cheap).

Charging and the price of your service not only adds perceived value, but it also makes customers more serious about your product since they paid for it and feel the need to make use of it. This leads them to use your product more often, which helps them realize the value that your product creates for them, thus becoming a long-term customer. This also creates enthusiasts that help you evangelize your product, which leads to more referrals and users. As you can see, pricing is actually an important product feature than just a pricing strategy.

See the links below to get more tips on how to structure your pricing strategy.

Our Pricing Strategy Tutorial:

Some pricing strategy articles I think are great:
KISSMetrics Pricing Strategy

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