Slingboards Lab

Achieve a sense of fulfillment

Minimum Lovable and Marketable Product

In this post, I explain why the first version of DayTickler must not only be lovable but also a marketable product.

Following my last post some readers were surprised that we will take almost nine months to produce a minimum viable product (MVP). According to Wikipedia, a minimum viable product (MVP) is the product with the highest return on investment versus risk. Usually, a MVP only has those basic features that allow the product to be deployed, and no more. The product is typically deployed to a subset of customers (early adopters) that are supposed to be more forgiving, more likely to give feedback, and able to confirm a product vision from an early prototype. As stated by Eric Ries in his colloquial book The Lean Startup, "The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort."

heart and dollarAt this stage in our product development, we seek to validate whether customers will agree to subscribe to the premium version of DayTickler. As we aim to market to consumer in an already mature market (there are already over a hundred to-do app), we can hardly launch a product that would be perceived as incomplete. We need to polish the software to the point of making it lovable, and this requires time. Furthermore, it must have all the necessary features to make it marketable. In our case, this requires building not only the core of the product but also the main feature that will convince customers to subscribe and pay for the premium version. This means that the product cannot be a prototype and this takes work. Especially that while building the product, at the same time, we continue to do consulting. Here's why the construction of the MVP is so demanding and requires more than 9 months.

Minimum Lovable Product

In this post, I am providing a progress status on the development of DayTickler.

For more than seven months, with my business partner Erik Renaud, we are currently building the first version of DayTickler, a mobile app to plan your "Today Schedule". It's going well. By the end of August, we will have a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) ready for launch in the app store. The process may seem long but we must ensure that our first version will be a minimum lovable product.

As noted on twitter by Jussi Pasanen, building a MVP is much more complex than programming a few scattered features. This is a wise mix of a functional, reliable, usable and emotional design.minimum-lovable-product

What's in a Name

The power of a name and its value has long been immortalized in prose, poetry, and religious ceremony. Everyone recognizes the things around them by name. Naming a product is important.  This post explains why the name of our software is DayTickler.

A name is a word or combination of words by which an entity is designated and distinguished from other. You can hardly promote a product and expect it to bring huge benefits if its name bears no relevance to the target market. Contrary to Shakespeare's belief that That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, the answer to the question "What's in a name?" does not apply here. A name can make a large difference in the perception of what a product should be and how it should function.

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that in recent months we have repositioned our startup Slingboards Lab and that we are currently designing a personal task planner for mobile phones. We are currently building a first version of the software. We plan to market it as a freemium application through the apps store of Apple, Android and Microsoft.

The importance of choosing the right name for software is not to be taken lightly. Not only the name of your software is an important part of its "business card" on the web and in the apps store, but the name will enable customers to remember your product. This is about making your name talk-able. An easy name will make it easier for current users to refer your name to others. It is very well known that advertising is not a trustworthy marketing tactic as much as word-of-mouth. The name is probably the first thing prospective customers will find out about your application. It is a good way to differentiate yourself from your competition.

We chose the name DayTickler. Not only it is talk-able and the domain name was available, but it clearly explains what differentiates our application of the hundred Todo apps that already exist on the market. First, it was important to have the word "Day" because our product is a daily planner. Second, we choose the word "Tickler" because it is a device that serves as a reminder and is arranged to bring matters to timely attention. But that is not all, a tickler is also a device that make someone laugh by lightly touching a very sensitive part of the body. Our product is different from competitors in that it allows to easily team up with your family and friends to achieve your todos. We can imagine that the action of chatting and collaborating online with your close ones looks a bit like the pleasure of being "virtually" tickle.

Freemium apps for our business model

Making money with a mobile application is not an easy thing. Gartner is forecasting that, by 2017, 94.5 percent of mobile downloads will be for free apps. They even predict that through 2018, less than 0.01 percent of consumer mobile apps will be considered a financial success by their developers.

Yes, they forecast that only one (1) out of 10,000 developers will make enough money to survive and stay in business. We want to be part of the survivors. This is why, last summer, even before starting the development of our mobile app, we have clearly defined a compelling business model.

Our business model is the fundamental way that we plan to make money from our application. Since we do not have thousands of loyal customers, an established brand or something very special and desirable, we believe that the model of paid apps is not sustainable for our environment. In addition, in 2013, only about 10 percent of mobile applications in the Apple app store have been paid, and this percentage has been declining for years. For these reasons (rational justification), and especially because we liked the idea of offering free software (emotional justification), we opted instead for the model of freemium apps.

Free + Premium = Freemium

Freemium is a business model in which you give a core product away for free to a large group of users and sell premium features to a smaller fraction of this user base.

Freemium-300x206The goal is to offer a fantastic product with limitations. The basic feature will be satisfying to the point that customers can remain on the product for free. However, because we will offer outstanding user experience, we believe that with time they will be hungry for more - seeking out the paid product to enhance their experience and broaden their engagement with our services.

A common misconception is to believe that all business models that involve the use of free products are freemium models. There are three other business models centered on a free product, which are commonly used; direct cross-subsidy, ad-supported and gift economy. Chris Anderson’s wrote a great post about the four kinds of free.

If you are planning to build and launch a mobile application for the consumer market, attracting users and keep them "hooked" is what you should be concerned with. Business success will depend on raving fans, customers who will buy the premium version of your software.  In 2014, mobile apps with freemium models account for 98% of the revenue in the Google app store and 95 % in the Apple app store. With such facts, and because we will be competing with free anyway, it seems that only a freemium business model can emerge with success.

Getting a sense of fulfillment

I just finished Windows 8.1 UX Design Jump Start online training on the Microsoft Virtual Academy. One of the major learning from this training is to focus on the "less is more" approach. This approach was adopted by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as a precept for minimalist design.

In the "less is more" approach, it is essential to establish the "Great at" statement.  This involves defining in one sentence what truly differentiates your software from the competition. Your product should focus on the scenarios and features that deliver on that greatness. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Hooked-How-to-Build-Habit-Forming-Products-220x222For several years, I thought that limiting scenarios and features to support the "Great at" statement was the main justification for creating this statement. A book that I read last spring has totally changed my understanding of what is a "Great at" statement. This book is Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

This book provides a fascinating process for creating products and technologies based on human psychology, persuasion, habits, needs, etc. It describes the techniques you can use to keep the users of your software coming back to it frequently. This book covers the psychological side of business, but does so for the modern tech entrepreneur and business owner, not for the modern psychologist.

When building a habit-forming product, start with the source of emotion then build the product around one habit that fulfill this emotion. Hooked is not only about making things into a habit, but it’s also about where to make things seamless, where to give a variable reward, and how to pull people back to your product through action triggers. I've never read a book that covers all of these subjects so well.

Cognitive psychologists define habits as, “automatic behaviors triggered by situational cues.” In this book, you will learn that building a habit consists of four parts: the trigger (make the user realize they must take action), the action (should be easy to achieve), a variable reward (keeps them coming back), and investment (leading people to engage and create value, which keeps them coming back).

After reading this book, I changed my approach to defining the "Great at" statement. Now, I start with the source of the emotion (eg, pain, joy, fear, etc.) - then I build the product around it (and not the other way around). I write the "Great at" statement from the point of view of the users, what they feel, and how the product will fill the emotional need they have.

In a previous post, I explained that the concrete measures and tasks presented in this book had greatly helped us during our last pivot. At the end of the pivoting process, after deciding to build a personal task planner, we developed the following "Great at" statement:

  • Our product is great at getting a sense of fulfillment.

Our goal is to reproduce the positive emotion that makes you happy when you get an achievement. Our personal task planner provides a sense of fulfillment when a user acknowledges, commits and achieves a task. The scenarios and features must support this emotion. This is the narrative frame of our product.

In closing, I highly recommend reading Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. It’s a fascinating book, well-written read, and honestly – if you have a startup it’s a requirement on your reading list.

Customer Pivot

In this post, I explain in more detail the realignment (pivot) of our startup. How did we learn that we should build software for empowering people to reach achievement?

In my last blog entry, I explained that through many business-hypothesis-driven experimentations, we discovered over the last twelve months that co-creation is not an intrinsic need for teammates. Creativity is mainly an individual journey.

pivotAs lean entrepreneur, this was the signal that we had to pivot our business model. As defined by Eric Ries in his book Lean Startup, a pivot is a “structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth”. Startups are supposed to pivot 2,5 times average in their live time.

We first decided to apply a customer segment pivot by offering our product to individuals instead of teams. Secondly, we started exploring how we could simplify work decomposition while allowing to easily track tasks assignments using sticky notes.

What was interesting in our approach, now that we target individuals, is that my business partner Erik and me, we were the first customers that we wanted to satisfy. Being the designer and the customer, the pace of experiments was greatly accelerated. Rapidly, by repositioning the product to better meet our personal needs we also applied a customer need pivot .

A reading that helped a lot to our experiments is the book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. This is book that every entrepreneur should read. In a future blog entry, I will cover in more detail why reading this book was central to our decision to pivoting.

The final result is the following. We repositioned the product to meet five new requirements:

  1. Collect and gather future work in a backlog.
  2. Decompose future work in subtasks
  3. Assign or share future works
  4. Schedule and confirm “daily” commitments
  5. Celebrate the achievements of the day


So far, these five requirements  correspond to what we foresee. The journey is far from over. Stay tuned.

Slingboards Lab - Twelve months later, where are we?

Nearly a year ago, I introduced on this blog my new business project. Heavily influenced by our experiences with kanban and task boards, with my business partner Erik Renaud, we founded Slingboards Lab, a software publisher aimed at marketing these collaboration boards to business teams. Through the provision of slingboards, our startup brings sticky notes to smartphones, tablets and the web for empowering teams to better collaborate.

Being familiar with Lean Startup, a method for developing businesses and products first proposed in 2011 by Eric Ries, it was obvious that we wanted to apply this approach. A lean startup invest its time into iteratively building products to meet the needs of early customers in order to reduce the market risks and sidestep the need for large amounts of initial project funding and expensive product launches and failures. Startups begin their journey not by making money but by learning how to build a sustainable business. This learning can be validated by running experiments to test each element of the entrepreneur‘s vision.

In the last twelve months, we have done a wide range of business-hypothesis-driven experimentations. Here is what we have learned about the target customer:

  • Programming platform: Our customer is not the programmers who build the collaboration boards. Programmers want to stick with their existing programing platform.
  • Teammate: Our customer is not the teammates who use the collaboration boards. Peoples hardly describe themselves as teammate. Nobody gets a promotion or a salary increase because they are "teammate". Teammate is not an appealing identity.
The more we tried to better define our target customer, the more we realized that our mission targeted a very fuzzy customer - teams. In addition, we were approaching teams on the theme of collaboration. Unfortunately, improving collaboration is not an attractive need for teammates. What we have learned is that collaboration is not a leitmotiv. People want things done, and in order to get things done, they focus on individual contribution, avoiding collaboration with shared accountability. This learning took us back to square one. Our mission did not hold water. We were wrong when we thought there was a need to improve collaboration among teammates with a visual tool.

direction-choices-arrows For several months we thought about this dilemma. We challenged our original mission. Again, we have done another range of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation. This time focusing around collaboration. By collaboration, we mean the one that’s intended to create “something” in support of a shared vision. It is goal-oriented, is not an individual effort and has a defined team that is responsible for delivering that “something”.

Here is what we have learned about collaboration:

  • Collaboration among teammates boils down to the assignment and delegation of tasks.
    • Tasks get done by a single teammate. Co-creation by several teammates is not part of work habits.
    • If a single teammate gets accountable to complete a task, it usually gets done. A common practice is to always assign a task to a single teammate at a time.
    • To ensure tasks are done by a single teammate, tasks are splatted in smaller entities.
  • Collaboration is almost synonymous with work decomposition and individual contribution.
    • Organizing and splitting tasks in small entities is an intellectual challenge. It is difficult to break-down large tasks by splitting it recursively into smaller ones until all of the remaining tasks are trivial. A common practice is have only one teammate taking ownership for this duty.
    • Splitting tasks is difficult because the knowledge necessary to do the job is acquired progressively, often shortly before task need to be completed. In many teams, upfront planning is challenging and almost impossible.

This learning teach us that teammates co-produce unit of value as individual contributor but hardly co-create or co-design as a team. Contrary to our hypothesis, it seems that co-creation is not an intrinsic need. Organizing work and splitting tasks takes all the space. This is where there is a need, a real opportunity. In addition, it should be noted that this opportunity is not a team requirement but rather an individual requirement express loudly by the teammate responsible for work decomposition and assignment.

What should we conclude from all this? Obviously, we should redefine our entrepreneur mission and align with what we have learned. Can we? Should we? Is it possible to offer a task board that will speak to individuals (not a team) and will simplify work decomposition while allowing to easily track tasks assignments? This is a stimulating challenge. It is time to make new product-hypothesis-driven experimentations. Stay tuned.

Building software to ensure cooperating teammates

In this post, I explain how a presentation from Simon Sinek has inspired us, my partner and I, to rethink why we create Slingboard. Discover what motivates us to start this new endeavor?

I recently discovered a very interesting presentation on TED by Simon Sinek, the author of the book "Start with why" published in 2009. I know I am late to the party.  This video has been published in 2010 and been viewed 11,742,371 times.

Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question "Why?" His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers.

Simon’s message is profound to say the least! I felt compelled to go back to the drawing board - not just in the work situation, but also in my private life! We need to know why we act as we are, what is our inspiration and motivation, even if it's just for everyday things, or significant milestones in your life, such as why you marry someone, or why you start a company.

With my business partner, Eric Renaud, we seek to answer the question "Why Slingboard." What motivates us as a company founder to start this new endeavor?

Here is the result of our thinking:

“Slingboard build software to ensure cooperating teammates”

This vision is the foundation we want to share with the people associated with Slingboard – customers, employees, investors, cooperation partners, etc. We understand that customers buy a product in the first place, but we want more. We want them to understand why we designed the product, in the hope that they will feel inspired by our vision.

Changing things around

It has been over ten years that I have a personal website at "mariocardinal.com". For several years, I have managed the content of this website using  the obsolete product CityDesk created by Joel Spolsky. Until recently the site was still promoting my consulting services. It was a simple website with few pages and no more.

Times are changing and there is something new. I finished a cycle with the forthcoming publication of my book "Executable Specifications with Scrum". I gradually leaves consulting and moves on to other challenges. After several years with success as an agile coach specializing in architecture, I return to my first love, the entrepreneurship.  I am the co-founder of Slingboards Lab, a young start-up that helps build collaboration boards for tablets and mobile phones.

Today, I turn my website into a blog to tell this adventure. On this blog, with humility and transparency, I will describe my journey as an entrepreneur. I will tell the story of Slingboards Lab, the company that I recently founded with Erik Renaud

Obviously, besides Slingboards Lab, I remain fascinated by software development with agile practices. You will find posts strongly influenced by this topic. Especially, since I discovered many similarities between starting a business using "lean startup" and “iterative requirements' discovery”. I will be back soon on this topic.

Thank you to accompany me. The journey looks bright.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ― Ernest Hemingway

“There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way” ― Bouddha