Communicate like a Pro

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HowAbout has both a consumer and a professional version. Both communicate with each other but from a completely different perspective. Plenty of advantages of the consumer version have already been highlighted in previous articles. Now it is time to give you a heads up on the professional version.

First of all you don’t need the average consumer to be using HowAbout to make good use of the app. It is a great tool to use intra-company since it will reduce your IT staff and release pressure on your mail server. That means HowAbout is going to save you money. There is no argument against that. So without taking use of any of the marketing potential that HowAbout offers, companies already reduce their costs for IT and communication. Not a bad start.

The most powerful element in HowAbout is how we use groups. Groups are an active tool. You drag them around, create new ones almost every day and delete the ones you no longer need. They are a dynamic ingredient in HowAbout. People who work in your company can be listed in groups according to their functions, the projects they are working on or any other way you like. People can be in several groups at the time so you can also group them in function of a certain type of messages. People at other locations can also be in any group as well as people on mobile. There are no restrictions and you can even work with several company setups at the time using the group-in-group function. Just don’t make it too complicated so you don’t lose the overview. 

But it is the UI that makes it so easy to handle all these groups and communication between everybody. Very simple and user-friendly without ever losing your overview of your communications. Smart details make group communication seamless avoiding public beside the point comments from co-readers. 

All messages to a person are saved in a block which means you will have a communication block per person. Easy to look up any previous messages. All intra-company communication happens in a private circle. Only the central operator can add external HowAbout accounts to the circle. That means your communications are quite safe. That doesn’t mean you can not use howAbout to communicate with the rest of the world. You just can not mix your professional messaging with private. HowAbout also has chat and you can send files or photo’s of course.

HowAbout also offers event based messaging and photo-sharing. When you set up an event for a group of people you will be able to send messages to the group with one click. Invitees answer directly to you only. If replies are worth sharing the organiser can share it with the group. This to avoid other invitees from being bothered by often irrelevant remarks from other participants in an event.

“This feature can be life-saving and time saving”

Once an event is set up participants can activate event-based photo-sharing. Photo’s taken in this mode are shared immediately with all participants. This feature can be life-saving and time saving. And fun as well of course. Events are found in event-history which is linked to your Howabout calendar.

Talking about calendars, HowAbout also has a feature for meeting set-up. You virtually compare calendars with multiple people and pick out the moment best suitable for all to have a meeting. After all selections are in, the organiser picks and confirms the best option upon which all participants get the final invitation. After confirming the event is created in their calendars. 

Filters can be created to make it easy for you to go through your calendar. They are really easy to create or switch on or off. The calendar warns when you try to plan an event where something else was planned already.

So far very briefly the communication part of HowAbout. It’s marketing functions are a subject for a later article.

Do you know your product?

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When you design your product you have a vision on what it is and how you will get it on the market. As development proceeds you need to make minor changes or sometimes bigger corrections but your vision generally stays the same. 

However when you meet with investors you often have to review your vision. Your approach may have too little perspectives on monetisation or you are not really solving a problem. Either way it calls for redesigning the concept and the vision or simply discarding it. But if you are lucky it is just your pitch that is simply not giving a clear enough picture. Then you seemingly have nothing that would convince an investor to risk his money on but maybe you are just not making a clear picture.

Because of this it is crucial to get feedback from professionals before you throw yourself to the lions. You may think you understand your product better than anyone else, but as the creator you may no longer grasp the simple approach of the listener. When I presented my last version of my pitch to an investor a few weeks back he listened carefully for more than two hours. It was a friendly and patient man with a lot of venture capital experience as it turned out. But his background was simple engineering as he called it. 

“Vision is not about how you launch your product. It is about how the market is going to prove you right.”

After going through the whole process he gave me a few lines of advise. Advise that I read before on websites and heard in speeches but I guess I was stuck in my own point of view and never understood what it really meant. The bottom line was “make it simple to understand”, no matter how complex your product is. And finally realising that lead me to a new pitch where the path for launching my product became abundantly clear. No it is not the path i had planned but more important it leaves the door open for the user to prove the point that I have been trying to make in each of my previous pitches but which I didn’t need to make. Vision is not about how you launch your product. It is about how the market is going to prove you right.

But before we get to that hurdle there is still user testing which will surely teach us a lot. Being able to face criticism in the first place…

Note : The investor I talked to did like the product. Upon request I wrote him a much better pitch which he currently uses to introduce my product to other potential investors in his country.

Social Media : The Glue of Contemporary Society?

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We are all connected. Facebook looks like the glue the world needed to connect us all. Alternatives like Twitter and Linked-in and Instagram connect people in a similar way. But social media also have an ugly downside.

Facebook has taught us to like and unfriend. It has taught us to be rude or unscrupulous towards both strangers and acquaintances. It has taught us to express our political opinions and to unfriend people because of these opinions. It has even pushed teenagers to suicide. It also has helped us to retrace old friends and stay in touch over long distances, to buy or sell second hand items, to view lots of cool videos we would never have seen otherwise. To hear the latest about people you know but rarely see or to help capture a criminal. Facebook is both a threat and a blessing.

But ask yourself : How many people on facebook do you talk to and how does that compare to your total number of facebook friends. How many of your friends posts do you actually pay attention to? How many have you hidden?

Although Facebook changes its algorithm regularly you get to see about 35 percent of your friends post. In some cases that is a good thing because you don’t really want to know every meal of the day some people still post. And those who are lonely do tend trying to gain attention by posting a lot of irrelevant things. Yet surely sometimes you want to read more from valuable friends.

But that is not really what this article is about. What we are after is more protection from the negative feelings and harassment. So I want to look in into the question if there is a way to reduce the threat of social media. To create a social medium that is more protective but that still keeps you in touch with the world. It may lose a few features but if people feel a lot safer that may well be worth the while.

How do you create such a social app?

I believe the primary condition is to make it an opt-in system where you automatically select who views what every time you share something. A system where it is easy to block people but where it is unlikely that you would given the nature of the app. The people that would end up in your friend list would be those in your phonebook. That means people you actually meet up with physically or that you value enough for a personal conversation. People who respect you. 

Opt-in means that you would select who you share your post with. Best way to do this would be to have groups where you can add or remove people or create new groups to your liking and just select a group to share something with. Mostly the group you shared an activity with and some people whom you want to share it with. But you are in charge. Is that technically feasible? No doubt. It is just a matter of combining functions that reduces selection processes so that the user is not bothered too much with picking who sees what and still has a feeling of control.

Another obvious question would be ‘is this commercially viable?’. Well think about it. What will drive you most to buy an item : a friend or an add? That means there is room for advertising for what a people like on their timeline so that their friends can see what they are following. I guess that answers the question mostly. Find out what they like and get their friends to see it.

Online Sales

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Ecommerce News Europe recently published an article that states that Ebay and Amazon together account for 66% of all online sales in Germany. A staggering amount although it did not surprise me since I was recently looking into Ebay’s marketshare in Europe by country and Amazon’s success in Europe is well known.

But what should we conclude from this? One might think that these giants simply have acquired a huge market share through efficient marketing but honestly that is not how I look at it. I am more inclined to think that the demand for online purchasing is there but local businesses are not involved enough in this potentially much bigger market.

The main reason for their lack of initiative is that setting up an online store is a considerable investment and it takes at least a year to achieve reasonable sales. To launch an online store brick and mortar stores need to adapt their storage facilities to small order picking and packaging. The web store may require an additional investment depending on what a company sells. Then there is the cost of marketing to draw buyers.  Obviously more staff should be hired for all this and maintaining the webstore is a big job which requires an experienced manager. In Europe hiring people is quite expensive due to high taxes. Bottom line it comes as no surprise that online sales are dominated by a few big players since it really comes down to starting up a whole new department of a business.

But does that mean there is no easy and low cost way for a business to build up a marketshare online? Given the fact that 90% of all online purchases are impulse buy there sure must be. I’m thinking of an ‘easy to reach – quick to buy’ kinda system that does not offer a wide range but just the spearpoints of a range. It should be a mobile app with one product per page and a buy button and it should be easily accessible. Obviously the software should be managed externally so sellers would only need to have an account and post products but the site should be personalised to the seller.

Such a system would reduce the overall investment dramatically and make the step to achieving online sales a lot smaller for any size company without much hassle. Creating such an app may not be too hard but getting consumers to use it is quite another matter if it is not supported. How many apps on your mobile do you use at least a few times a week? Because that would be a condition to keep it alive. So companies should promote this access point to the customers and a joint marketing effort would be necessary to get such a thing going.

We have seen plenty of social media efforts but I find them mostly chaotic and more focussed on advertising than on direct sales. Communication between the user and the company also tends to be slow and very limited. And if any of those social media products would have hit a big buyers market we surely would already have heard of it by now.

So until such a product finally hits the market I foresee little change in the current state of e-commerce.

 

source
https://ecommercenews.eu/amazon-and-ebay-account-for-66-of-german-ecommerce/

Timing is of the Essence

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Since its conception I have been struggling to find a way to present HowAbout to investors. Or actually to everyone. For as long as I was facing this problem I didn’t go actively looking for investors but used my own money. I read that investors only give you one chance and if you are not ready, you fail and it’s gone. Therefor there was no point in trying.

One would imagine that this would have put me under strain but the truth is I never doubted that I would find investors for HowAbout. I even felt I could permit myself to put down my pen and the whole project for a year and focus on priorities in my personal life. I was stuck anyway because the product at itself is way too extensive to explain in the usual five or ten minutes that you get for your pitch. I can only refer to a previous article posted here where I rebelled against ‘contemporary pitching’.

But one thing I always have believed in is ‘time’ or better ‘timing’. Complicated as it may be to explain, I do know very well that every product has its time. There comes a day where you no longer need to do too much explaining, a day where the market calls for a your product. I can situate this with a real life example. I used to be in the Fantasy games industry and a friend of mine had created a collectible card game. We went to a few game companies but it was new and complicated and nobody wanted to stick out their neck and produce it. And since in those days there was no Kickstarter we didn’t pursue the product. But six or seven year later a few guys in Seattle came up with a collectible card game called Magic : The Gathering. The gaming world had evolved and at the moment it was released there was real need for something new. It was the right time for a collectible card game and a few years later they were all millionaires.

I strongly believe now is the time for HowAbout to take it’s next step. It is the time for investors to step in and get his thing going and make money. There are many reasons. In a previous article I wrote about privacy. That was september 2016. Look how important it is now and how Facebook is struggling to keep its customers happy with their app. They desperately try to create false security but as long as their system is opt-out it will never be private. And so HowAbout is an opt-in system. It is based on privacy yet it still offers great opportunities for companies to do marketing and get sales. HowAbout is a completely valid alternative and a much better concept for the consumer.

But there is much more. Ebay is struggling to obtain growth because their business model stands in their way and they have no idea how to address emerging markets where their concept is just a rock in a pond. Google has overstretched itself and nobody sees it or has found a way to take advantage of this.  Real improvement in professional software like Outlook is nowhere to be seen. Other professional software companies don’t bother to make a mobile version of their application. It is as if half of the world’s software development is standing still due to lack of real innovative ideas. HowAbout has an answer to each of these.

Because of all this we obviously have thrown around our release schedule. We are now aiming at two big releases next year iso five spread over five years. When the market is ready you have to be ready as well.

About Incubators

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There is no doubt incubators are great. Especially for young people with little experience and an idea but just as much for businessmen who newly venture into entrepreneurship. And then there are all these other people who do have experience, and embrace the help to refresh all this knowledge, get deeper into it and learn to apply it to streamline the workflow for developing their product. Aside for those who think they don’t need to join an incubator for whatever reason, there are those people who are experienced entrepreneurs but don’t have the patience to wait for being selected by an incubation program. Usually they take the time to dig into the treasures of internet, where much of what you learn in incubators can be found. Knowing how to apply this knowledge to your product is then key.

Joining an incubator has one big problem : you need to have the time and resources available to join a six month program somewhere and show all your secrets to a group of highly skilled professionals. Taking the step to apply for such a program usually implies one can meet these conditions.

Being actually accepted for an incubator program however is another matter. In seed phase it is quite difficult since often your concept is not deemed market suitable in their view and even if it is, there is such a thing as trend in technology, which will reduce your chances of being picked out if your project is not ‘trendy’ enough.

Another possible big hurdle is the requirement of being a team. If you’re lucky enough to find the right people with the right state of mind , that’s a great plus. However this is not evident and if you don’t meet this requirement some incubators won’t even look at your idea.

Last but not least making your product being understood is yet another hurdle. In many cases this is an easy one, but sometimes it is not, and when this is the case, your product is easily considered not viable, too complex, or you yourself are considered not to have the right qualities to create a successful product. They just won’t accept that some things are not easy to explain without a product demo which you may not have yet. Not everybody has the talent to make smart videos.

When I look back and see the evolution HowAbout has gone through since its conception, I believe joining an incubator would not have saved me more than five or six months in the whole process. Aside from it being impossible to have joined due to turbulent times in my personal life, it took a while before there was money to get to programming and no matter what,  that is the key to any product. Sure, some incubators provide you with some money, but then again they get participation in your start-up. You get a lot of help, but you are forced into a working schedule for six months, which can be a good thing, however sometimes products need time to ripen throughout the development process. Stress is often not a good ingredient in a creative process. Ask any creative person.

Nowadays we got a few invitations from incubators to apply, but many no longer offer financial support, which is the most important element in the stage where HowAbout is now. Wasting six months to a feel good hotshot booster is not exactly what we are looking for. Mentors are not what we are looking for either if it is only advice they are offering.  Money and people who actually open doors for us are on top of our wish list.

Conclusion : Just for the experience, I would join an incubator if the time was right. Who knows I still will after HowAbout is launched. But when life pushes you around one can only go with the flow and keep working. Don’t ever think you can not create a good product without joining an incubator. Anyone can.

Personal Life and Your Start-up

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Combining personal life and your start-up is not always easy. And it doesn’t need to be bad things that mess up your working schedule. Selling property,  moving,  buying new property,  setting up the new property,  marriage preparation, a new born baby, these are ‘good’ things that will take a significant bite out of your  precious time and may temporary reduce your involvement with your start-up to ‘the highly necessary’. Combine any four of this with the usual december holidays and you achieve a build-up of work-to-do that takes months to catch up with.

Without going deeper into which four,  it is what I went through,  but that’s not all. When a partner in your start-up changes his mind about his financial involvement due to personal reasons in the middle of this mess,  there is not only ground for personal conflict but also a drawback in the further development of the product. That is where we stand.

Fortunately there is so much work to catch up with that this gap allows to get back on track and prepare for the search for investors. With a working prototype,  a strategic plan, a business plan, a financial plan and a timeline there is a great starting point to find them.

But that’s not all. It is a good time to take a good look at your product again and see if it meets the standards you set for a successful launch. Interestingly enough in HowAbout,  I found everything was smooth,  except for the main feature of the launch version. I knew it was the one thing I hadn’t streamlined yet,  so I knew the day would come I would face this but I didn’t quite have an idea on how to realise instant photo-sharing. Until a few weeks ago. It will take some extra months of development but they will be worth the wait. And then we will launch,  finally,  with a very strong product.