tinker on

dreaming up a web that works.

Tag: getting started

Grafting a Team

by Santosh

Santosh Dawara.

I look forward to getting started up on a new project. Since I’ve done this several times over, some simple methods and tools come in handy to help serve as the glue. I like to think of this as a graft, where you’re starting afresh but with cognizance of what you’ve learned and with more refined methods.

Earlier this month Pune hosted an idea-to-prototype event. Right before the event I had put together a bundle of interesting ideas or directions to pursue and then picked one out based on several criteria. I was fairly certain about going for a marketplace or a creative community. In the week running up to the event I began putting together the basics for the idea. I’ve hit some early milestones quickly to my genuine surprise.

Starting up is best enjoyed as a team sport. At the event and earlier on the punestartups.org forums, I shared the direction I was going in as openly as possible in order to invite feedback and collaborators. The event was attended by several talented folks looking for a creative outlet. For instance, one of the participating teams were a bunch of friends who had flown in from different cities to get to work together over the weekend.

Through the forums and the event we now have a potential team and a direction to work towards. In order to get past the initial challenges, we’re using visual tools (User Story Mapping, Business Model Canvas) to collaboratively scope out our idea and the payback has been immediate. The initial concept has grown considerably even if it is only on paper and each of us are learning as to what gets our creative juices flowing.

The next milestones include putting together communication and prototypes before going out wider.

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The Pixel Art Canvas

by Santosh

Pixel Art. Some time ago I came across an article titled “The Sketchbook of Susan Kare”. As an artist at Apple, Susan’s contribution to the computing world includes the world’s first proportionally spaced digital font and the first icons for the Mac’s revolutionary GUI. The article carried pages from her sketchbook depicting her raw icon sketches. As I stared away at these sketches, I realized that an artefact of digital culture – pixel art owes itself to the simple idea of coloring in squares in a grid.

At the time, I needed to turn around an ‘official letterhead’ for company business. To help make the letterhead more geeky, I toyed briefly with the idea of a logo based on pixel art and therefore the idea of pixel art creation online.

I took an honest crack at researching and writing this application myself while on vacation at the start of the year. It seemed like a fun and achievable goal to work towards. A good amount of time was spent learning my way through some of the challenges. As I started to debug a grid that I had rendered in Raphael.js I found the going to be difficult and after the vacation ended, progress slowed down to a halt.

Making Progress. After a good six months of having placed it on ice, I dove back into the idea. This time around I decided to change my approach and find a collaborator who could help me breakthrough. I scoured through odesk, local and online forums before I finally met with Meher. Meher found the idea to be interesting and while I was still mulling how we’d work together – he’d already put his js-foo to work and created a demo. For me, his drive and entrepreneurial attitude sealed the deal and we’ve now begun work on a raw version of the canvas together.

What We’ve Got. If you find the idea interesting you could, head on over to the public Pixel Art Canvas repository on Github. The code is available to you under the MIT Licence to setup and play with. If you’d like to see what we’ve accomplished so far, we have a live prototype. I’ll be the first one to admit that not all the glitches are out, so tread carefully.

As common wisdom goes, we’ve started on this idea with an end in mind. We want to put it out there and appeal to the time wasters and observe how they respond to puzzles based on pixels, perhaps custom mugshots and of course, digital art itself.

Before I forget, alphabet logos created in pixel art aren’t very appealing because of the monospacing problem I mentioned earlier. The simplest way was to just use a proportionally spaced pixelated font such as this one. I guess I owe Susan Kare a sincere thank you!

A pixelized version of a jet fighter created with http://pixelart.tinkeron.com.

For more Pixel Art, follow the pinterest #pixel community-tag.

Getting Started: Slicing through Confusion, Activity Lists and the Printable CEO

by Santosh

I occasionally have the good fortune of meeting up with freshly minted, enthusiastic founders. My last such meeting was with two highly productive geeks who were getting started on their venture. I thought I would write about my meeting with them here so that what we covered could continue to be of help to others like them – especially those who have limited resources, and yet possess unlimited ability to create value.

Spotting Confusion. As we sat down to ear our rajma – chawal, our conversation focused on the many questions that they had. Of how they were looking for sustainable work and were not sure if they should accept any kind of work they get, or if they should qualify the work they do. Other points included getting a sales person on-board, aiming at a niche, margins and so on.

Together we realized that these were really empty strategies for the stage they were at. They’d only recently delivered their first project. They were still balancing their full-time jobs, lives and their venture.

Going by my own experience and the experience of others – too great an emphasis on strategy results in confusion and paralyses. True market strategy derives from on-the-ground experiences of both success and failure.

Activity Lists. Here’s what we thought they would focus on – create a simple list of a dozen activities that included both building & selling. This is not a task list. Since they were already good at building things, they’d just have to pay more attention to the selling bit. The activity list could direct them to regularly capture the value they were creating and actively search for new opportunities.

Since they wouldn’t necessarily have complete control on how much time they would have at their disposal – I thought it best to list activities that could take as little as 15mins as well as activities that would need a lot more time. By keeping the list short, they’d stay focused on the activities that they believed will make a meaningful difference.

The list shown in the screenshot is a mock one I put together rather quickly. At one point or another, all of us have had the experience of starting something new – so you will know that the essence of creating this list is to get you in the flow of things and to help you connect the right set of activities with the results that you value. For instance, if after networking locally and over Airtime – the entrepreneurs find that the leads on Airtime work out to be of much greater value – that a-ha moment is where they can choose to refocus their efforts. Over time, following and evolving the list would be crucial to allowing true strategy and differentiation to emerge.

The Printable CEO. As I got to thinking more about our conversation, I reached further into my past encounters with productivity ideas. The Printable CEO by David Seah is one I’d consider implementing.

The Printable CEO is a prioritized activity list that you can easily adapt for your own needs. As David explains, it is incredibly easy to distract your self from what really matters to moving forward. You could spend an entire week networking, and not know if it has made a difference to you.  To close this gap the Printable CEO allocates a simple point system to each activity. All life-sustaining activities give you 10 points, which is the highest. When you finish a week full of work – total up the points to get an idea of how you’ve done.

To wrap up, confusion is a healthy signal to focus more on activity and less on strategy. Activity lists and David’s Printable CEO are timeless and could help you accelerate your realization of your goals.

Also see,
The Two Lists You Should Look at Every Morning – LifeHacker.com.

How does a Product acquire a Minimum Viable Personality?

by Santosh

I’d say that a product has a minimum viable personality when it has just the right combination of features to deterministically resonate with your target customer. There are easier ways to know what Minimum Viable Personality is, such as by reading this blog post written by a Giant Robot Dinosaur, or by constantly looking out for product launches and then going A-ha when you find one. I can only guess which one of the above will lead you to the right answer.

A product with a MVP is very valuable as an effective market probe. Start with this burning question about your customer – how will your product change her life? Now reduce your product vision to a handful of steps that if the user were to finish – she then has done the bare minimum to experience reaching the end goal you designed it for. Right after that she can choose to go on and spread the word. Repeat this process and worry less about features such as registration.

With the inessential clutter gone, focus is clearly on getting users to follow a set of well defined steps. By measuring how many users finish, the product delivers a clear answer to the burning question.

The Staples.com speed reading test app is a convenient example of a product with MVP. Finish the test and then share it on a social channel to see how others respond. Now try answering the three primary questions taken from Fake Grimlock’s post on Minimum Viable Personality,

1. HOW THE TEST CHANGE CUSTOMER’S LIFE?

2. WHAT STAPLES STANDS FOR?

3. WHO OR WHAT STAPLES HATE?

To find another product with MVP, we go digging into web history. Here’s Yahoo’s home page in 1999 with a generic collection of links.

Yahoo.com in 1999 – A Rock?

In contrast, Google.com’s stark 1999 home page design and a single call-to-action was optimized to learn what do users want to search for.

Google.com 1999 – DEFINITELY NOT A ROCK. Geeks like me loved searching on Google over anywhere else.

You can see how the home page evolved to this version on the Wayback Machine  blog – Google.com 1997 to 2011. With every step, features that did not matter to the growing audience were dropped. Interaction with this simplistic search page made it possible for much bigger ideas such as the long tail of search to come in later.

To discover more about what minimum viable personality really is, don’t limit your imagination to products or applications. Even a simple email address or username can have a minimum viable personality enough to arouse curiosity in the minds of your audience. Consider Andy Johns’ twitter handle – ibringtraffic. Not surprisingly, Andy manages user growth at Quora!