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Why We Changed Our Name to Boom Factor

We recently changed our name from Montparnas to Boom Factor. As with any name change, it wasn’t just about the name; it was about capturing a new vision for our company. Having seen numerous clients struggle with building viable, innovative products, we saw an opportunity to combine our experience building startups and leading innovation teams to help solve this problem.

The problem is that established companies often spend too much time and money building products that either fail once in the market or simply fall short of being a breakthrough innovation. There are many factors driving this problem, and many agree that a critical missing element is a leaner approach to the development process. It is a key reason why startups are able to disrupt more established companies with smaller budgets and teams. So, what is the lean startup process? It’s best summed up by Steve Blank:

The Lean Startup is a process for turning ideas into commercial ventures. Its premise is that startups begin with a series of untested hypotheses. They succeed by getting out of the building, testing those hypotheses and learning by iterating and refining minimal viable products in front of potential customers.

– Steve Blank

A startup’s ability to disrupt is why bigger companies end up acquiring these startups or even investing in early stage ventures. However, larger companies will always need to be able to build products on their own that can break through. Considering our clients’ innovation problems and the experience we had building and growing products in startups using the lean methodology, it was clear what we needed to do. We needed to offer our services as a lean startup that could build viable, breakthrough products in market spaces indicated by our clients.

Before I explain what we do, let me summarize the issues we saw that we are addressing.

Innovation Mistakes Companies Make

Not Talking Face-to-Face With Customers

A key misstep companies make is simply not talking to enough customers face-to-face. This is often overlooked at the most critical point in the process: at the very beginning, before massive investments are made. This step is necessary to validate that the problem exists and that it is worth solving.

Getting out and talking to people is a simple step that reveals the nuances in the customers’ lives, how frustrating they perceive a problem to be, what workarounds they use, and whether that extra effort warrants buying into whatever solution the company puts forward.

1. Starting with the Solution

Another common issue in the innovation process is that companies fall in love with a solution before validating that it solves a problem their customers actually have. In the absence of objectivity and proper validation, the company dives straight into a multi-year development cycle to build out the “perfect” product, while product owners are taxed with contriving a customer problem to justify the product. On rare occasions, the solution can stumble upon a problem, but often it is all wasted effort that could have been avoided.

2. Building Unnecessary Features

After identifying the problem and deciding on the solution, the next big hurdle is getting the product out and in the hands of customers. Again, this is where a company and product owners can be their own worst enemy. Instead of focusing on the features critical to proving out the solution, they often prioritize excessive features and try to build to scale before they know whether the core features solve a real problem.

3. Building for Perfection

Quality is important, but perfection has always been the enemy of speed. I’ve seen “MVP” projects span past three years for something that could be created in 3 months. Meanwhile, competitors steal market share with what are considered sub-par products. What tends to occur in the end is that the product is rushed out the door since it has taken so long to launch, and is then released as a poor quality, over-engineered and stale product that stands little chance of success.

4. Designing by Committee

In many companies, there is no clear single product owner, and even when there is, that person’s decisions can often be overridden. Product designs and features are created and recreated to suit the opinions of many internal stakeholders, and the larger the group, the harder it is to reach consensus, the longer the review cycles and the more shifts that are taken. Many cycles are wasted and sometimes work thrown out when trying to cater to all these varying viewpoints. It frustrates the team, elongates timelines and can leave everyone feeling dizzy.

5. Ignoring that Failure is Part of the Process

At its core, innovation is risky and success is never guaranteed. The failing to acknowledge this is best broken down by process and structure, and culture.

Process and Structure: Innovation needs to be done in baby steps to stay nimble and iterate with new information all along the way. Many of the aforementioned issues are a manifestation that the company has not structured itself or its processes in a way that supports innovation.

Culture: We’ve heard many times that the most innovative companies celebrate failure. This is a key missing element in many companies that try to innovate. How many times have we seen a company aim to create something innovative, and then slowly pull back risky features until they are left with an ordinary product that matches the competitive landscape? If incentives and culture do not reward risk-taking, even when they are not successful, innovation will continue to be out of reach for that company.

 

All of these problems may seem insurmountable as they require fundamental changes to how a business operates and thinks, but what if viable innovative products could be produced with an outside partner — one that already employs the Lean Startup approach? This is what we at Boom Factor offer: a startup for hire.

How We Address The Innovation Problem

We address the above problems for our clients by creating our own startup teams geared toward building a viable product based on the challenge provided to them. These teams apply the lean startup methodology: using rapid iteration cycles and experimentation to develop, test and grow a given solution. In the end, we deliver a product that has not only achieved product-market fit, but also shown traction and scalable growth.

Getting Out of the Building

Rather than jumping into solutions, our startup teams first dive into understanding the details of the underlying challenge and the customers better than you or any of your competitors. We do so by getting out of the building and talking to as many people as we can in real-life situations rather than in a lab or focus group room. In this process, we seek to validate a given problem before considering any potential direction.

Develop the Product Vision

Once the team has talked to and observed dozens of people, they formulate several product ideas. They then select the one that most clearly addresses the problem, seeking additional input from potential customers, if needed. Once a direction is set, the next step is to quickly get a minimum viable product in front of real customers.

Test the Solution As Early as Possible!

Our teams truly seek the fastest way to validate a given solution: if the team can test the solution with a paper prototype or manual process, they will! If not, they focus on one to three main features to build a strong MVP and get it in the market in a matter of weeks or months, not years. At this stage, rapid iteration then becomes the focus.

Iterate to Product-Market Fit

Our teams launch early because the product development process really starts once a product is in customers’ hands. It’s only once real people start using the product in their everyday lives that we can identify what is resonating and where gaps exist. The startup team obsessively listens to customers’ feedback and questions and constantly monitor behavior patterns and measure key metrics to help guide the next iteration. They continually improve, and change course as needed.

Our clients are kept involved in the process along the way, seeing how the product evolves and sharing in the insights; however the design and product direction is owned by the startup team who stays close to the product and customers all along the way. Only once we see steady, sustainable adoption and engagement, do we gear up for handing over the reins.

Grow and Hand Off

Once product-market fit is reached, we help build out the growth strategies and lay a solid foundation from which our clients can take the business forward. The startup team works closely with the client across disciplines to transfer any gaps in knowledge and learnings from each of the iterations of the product. They review key metrics and explain critical decisions that helped steer the offering. Finally, they work with the client to identify key opportunities for growth and features to explore for future iterations.

 

So Why the Name “Boom Factor”

We needed a name that captured what a startup can bring, and for us it was Boom Factor.

Boom Factor alludes to our ability to move quickly and the way we can accelerate a business. It captures the fact that we go beyond just designing or building things, and instead deliver the ultimate resounding artifact: a product with proven traction.

We hope that you like it and will join us on this journey. We love to hear from our readers so do tell us what you think in the comments or by dropping us a line: hello@goboomfactor.com.

Growth Hack Your Site in 3 Steps

Do you want to hack your site’s growth, but don’t know where to start? Well, this article is for you! Growth hacking can be very complex, but it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t matter if your site is an app, a marketing site, or an ecommerce site. In this article, I will show you how to improve your registrations or any other conversion metric in three steps with leading tools in the growth hacking tool belt: Google Analytics, CrazyEgg, and Optimizely. Let’s get started!

Step 1: Tracking your goals with Google Analytics

The first thing that you need to do is identify your main goal and figure out how you are going to measure it. Let’s say that your goal is to improve the conversion rate of user registrations. Most sites will have both a registration page and a “thank you” or confirmation page after they have submitted their registration. The simplest way to track this is to use Google Analytics to track how many times users land on the registration confirmation page. To do this, you first have to set up a goal in Google Analytics. (Follow the instructions for setting up a destination goal in Google Analytics https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1032415?hl=en.)

Setting up goals in Google Analytics

Setting up goals in Google Analytics

Now that you have set up your goal, Google Analytics will start tracking what percentage of all visitors end up on the registration conversion page. Let’s say that you have 1,000 users that came to your site. Out of that 1,000 users 20 clicked on the “Register” button and landed on the registration page. Of those 20 that landed on the registration page, 10 actually completed the registration and landed on the registration confirmation page when they submitted their information. That means that the conversion rate on the registration goal was 1% (10 out of 1,000).

You could also set up a second goal to track how many people get to the registration page in the first place. If you were tracking the second goal, the conversion rate of all the people that came to your site and got to the registration confirmation page would be 2% (20 out of 1,000). If you wanted to increase the overall conversion rate for registrations, you could both increase the number of people that get to the registration page (goal 2) and make the actual registration form easier (goal 1). It is often best to break a long process into small parts and optimize them one-by-one.

Let’s say that we first want to optimize how many people get to the registration page. In other words, we will optimize the conversion rate of people navigating to the registration page. We can take a look at the conversion rate for goal 2, which is how many people, out of all those that visit our site, get to the registration form. (You may not have statistics right away, so you have to let the analytics to run for a period of time.) Imagine that you let your analytics run for a week on goal 2 and you find that the conversion rate is 2% as in the example above. That’s your base rate–the number you want to beat.

The next step after you get your baseline is to get a better idea of how folks actually use your site, so you can come up with some intelligent experiments to try. One of the best ways to do this is to use a click tracking tool like CrazyEgg.

Getting intuition with CrazyEgg

Even after over a decade of designing interactive products and conducting user testing, I am still continually surprised by how little I can anticipate. Users are incredibly complex and have needs, tastes, and whims that are very difficult to anticipate. Not only that, people tell you one thing and do another (not an earth-shattering revelation). That’s why nothing beats actually seeing what people will do on your site when completely left to their devices. Click tracking software like CrazyEgg is brilliant for this. You can see exactly where your users are clicking or, more importantly, not clicking.

CrazyEgg Heat Map

Courtesy of CrazyEgg

Let’s say that you studied your analytics and you found that the main way that users get to your registration page is from the home page. Therefore, you will want to know how your users are interacting with the home page. In particular you will want to see how many people are clicking on the registration buttons and links. That means that you’ll have to set up a “snapshot” in CrazyEgg for your home page. If the majority of your traffic comes from desktop, you’ll want to capture the snapshot as users with a desktop would see it. If most of your traffic is from mobile, you’ll want to start with the mobile view first. Usually, you can start to see patterns after only a 100 or 200 user clicks. (Follow these instructions on setting up a snapshot in CrazyEgg http://help.crazyegg.com/articles/68-adding-a-snapshot.)

After running the CrazyEgg snapshot for a couple of days, you might find that most people are clicking on the big banner image in the center of your home page, but not on the registration button at the top of the page. With this information in mind, you can think of ways that you can get more people to click on the registration button. You posit that you could make the registration button more prominent by making it orange and a little bigger. You also think that you might get more people to click on the button and go to the registration page if that button is moved from the very top to the center of the page, perhaps over the big banner image that everyone seems to be clicking.

Running experiments with Optimizely

You come up with a few other ideas about how to get more of your visitors to click the registration button and are excited to try your ideas, but how will you know which of these experiments is actually going to increase the proportion of visitors that navigate to the registration page? You could track the weekly change in registration traffic or even the conversion rate for your goal, but you know that the amount and composition of traffic varies wildly from week to week. Given that, how can you be sure you’re not making deleterious changes to your home page? One of the simplest ways to test your hypotheses is A/B testing, wherein you try two versions of one page that are exactly the same except for one thing. One of the leading platforms that allows you to do A/B testing is Optimizely (https://www.optimizely.com/).

The benefit of using Optimizely is that it has a very user-friendly interface and does not require your to actually make different versions of a page yourself. Instead, Optimizely makes changes to your page’s HTML on the fly, allowing someone with even limited HTML knowledge to test variations to a page. There are other great A/B testing tools out there, and you could even do A/B testing with Google Analytics, but they are not as user-friendly and powerful as Optimizely. (Follow these instructions on setting up an experiment in Optimizely https://help.optimizely.com/Get_Started/Get_started_on_web_optimization.)

 

Optimizely Screenshot of Experiment Results

Optimizely Screenshot of Experiment Results

Once you get Optimizely set up on your site, you can create and run experiments. You can add and hide elements such as buttons and images, change colors, text size, copy, and so on. Let’s say you want to see if making the button visually stand out more is going to lead to a greater proportion of visitors clicking on the registration button on the home page. To test this, you would create an experiment for the homepage where you would create a version with a big orange button. After running the test for some time, Optimizely can tell you whether the current small, blue button or the new big orange button leads to a higher conversion rate. It turns out that you were right, and the bigger brighter button is much better at getting people to click on it. You now move onto your next experiment. Perhaps you’ll try moving the registration button to the center of the page now.

Growth hacking is easy as 1-2-3

Congratulations, you are now a growth hacker! But this is just the tip of the iceberg of what you can do. Even thinking of just the registration process, you could optimize other pages leading to the registration page. You could try a number of ways to optimize the registration page itself. You could try different messaging and marketing. Not only that, user registrations are just one part of overall user growth. You can also experiment with ways to optimize your product, marketing, and operations to improve user retention and engagement. The possibilities are truly endless, and there are a plethora of tools that help you evaluate your experiments and track metrics.

Do you have any good examples of growth hacking that you’ve done?

 

What Goes Up, Must Come Down: Keeping Sane on the Startup Rollercoaster

One of the most important things that I’ve learned in the three years that I’ve been working on our startup, AtmaGo, is that it really is a rollercoaster ride. I’ve heard this many times before from experienced entrepreneurs, but nothing can really prepare you for the reality. At the beginning, your startup’s trajectory will be chaotic. The key thing is understanding the ebbs and flows of your startup and making wise decisions in an ever-changing landscape rather than making bad, emotional decisions.

 

Euphoric Space Shot

I’ll start with the less deleterious mistake that most new entrepreneurs make. You just launched your app, and you’ve had pretty anemic adoption for a few months. You have a few dozen users, and you’re starting to think that this entrepreneurship thing was a huge mistake. “Why didn’t I stay at Google?” you ask yourself. Suddenly, you get a few hundred user registrations in a couple of days. All of the sudden you feel like Mark Zuckerberg! You are the new startup hero. You’re gonna be bigger than Facebook! You have some seed money in the bank, and you’re convinced that you’re going to close a huge series A by demonstrating this great traction. You, your co-founders and your two engineers throw yourself a congratulatory party. Hit up the club, drop a couple K. You’ve made it.

The next day you’re posting a job requisite for a “rockstart engineer for a super hot startup.” Then you get back to actually doing your job and look at your metrics. Shit!! Your user registrations are back to a trickle. You scramble to figure out what happened. Your magical growth just evaporated. You feel like the biggest idiot on this side of the Mississippi. Did I really just blow nearly $2K at a club last night? What happened? Why did we get this huge spike in registrations? And, more importantly, where did it go? Upon some basic investigation, you find that you app was mentioned in a pretty popular tech blog, but now that the post is buried, you are too.

This is an exaggeration (I’ve never come close to blowing $2K at a club), but this story will resonate with a lot of new entrepreneurs. You get some great news such as your metrics spiking, a mention in a super-popular blog, a promise of funding, and you make decisions based on this new high. The problem is that with an early-stage startup, this high will almost always evaporate pretty quickly. Rather than going on a spending or hiring spree right during this whirlwind of euphoria, give it a bit of time. Wait for things to settle back down. If they don’t, amazing! You’re one of the lucky few. But things will probably stabilize back down at a new equilibrium, which will likely be higher than the old one, but not by as much as you hoped.

Startup Tip: When amazing things happen, celebrate them, but then quickly chill out! Remind yourself that it’s a long and chaotic journey, and there will be many more ups as well as downs.

 

Pits of Despair

So two months ago you had that amazing spike in user registrations (or your favorite metric), and since then basically crickets. You are feeling a combination of panic and depression. You’re back to questioning if this startup thing was the biggest mistake that you’ve made in your life. You’re stressing about all the people you’re disappointing. You’re thinking about dropping this entire product direction and making a huge pivot to a market space that you’re not that familiar with. Or worse, you’re planning your exit strategy.

You start second-guessing yourself. We can’t possibly have product-market fit, but what was that spike in registrations two months ago? Maybe we really do have product-market fit? If we pivot, we’ll be starting at square one. We might be worse than we are now. Maybe we have no idea what we’re doing and should fold up shot? Going back to Google might not be such a bad idea. But I have this urge to build something on my own, with my co-founders. Maybe my team is the problem? Maybe I’m the problem, and I should quit?

You should quit. Quit freaking out. What goes up, must come down. The reason why I think this is the more dangerous state is that those decisions seem to have bigger ramifications than a spending spree. Unless your startup is one of those exceedingly rare unicorns, you will have those troughs of despair. Don’t make huge decisions when you are in those dark places because you will almost certainly make a bad decision based on a temporary state.

If you do need to make critical decisions, try your best to imaging what the average state is likely to be. Perhaps before the spike you were getting a dozen new registrations a day, then you got a few hundred in a couple days, now you’re back to a dozen. If you keep working on your product, outreach, and marketing, you’ll likely grow it it a few dozen per day. Assume that’s your average trend for the next few months, and make a decision on that information rather than on your negative emotions. On the other hand, if another couple months go by, and you haven’t made much progress, it really might be time to make a bold move.

Startup Tip: Weather the storm before making bold moves. If the storm does not abate, you should consider a bigger change.

 

My Rollercoaster

For my part, I’ve been on this rollercoaster for almost three years with AtmaGo. I initially over-reacted when things were really good or really bad. But after a few blast-offs and after passing through some valleys of darkness, I know now that neither state is permanent and try to plan for the average case. It’s a very long journey, and you have to try to husband your resources as well as mental and emotional energy. Hope this post helps you keep things in perspective and make better decisions!

What are some euphoric  experiences or moments of despair that you’ve endured and what did you learn from them?

 

Yes, Big Corporations Can Innovate Too

I used to think, like many, that large corporations cannot innovate. I thought that they are too large, too boring, and too riddled with politics and institutional inefficiency to move quickly and to innovate. Having consulted for a slew of large clients over the past decade, I realized that while these generalizations are often true, there are ways that large firms CAN, in fact, innovate. In this article, I present common problems that stifle innovation within a large company as well as how to overcome those obstacles.

What Is Innovation

This seems like an rhetorical questions, but it is not meant to be. Many people working at large organizations honestly forget what innovation is. Innovation is finding a problem that people have and providing a solution, which is superior to all available alternatives, to that problem. Sometimes, companies build products to address problems that are not pressing or are not in-line with the company’s core. Other times, companies provide inferior solutions and are shocked to find that customers shun them. Doing innovation right involves both finding a pressing problem and addressing it with an outstanding solution.

Common Problems Stifling Innovation

Over the past decade I have led product strategy, user experience design, and research for a variety of clients from brand nascent startups to huge financial institutions with hundreds of thousands of employees and billions in revenue. I started to notice some patterns after a while.

Executives of large corporations often say they want innovation but don’t really mean it. Without their honest buy-in, innovation will not succeed. Executives that are not truly committed to innovation can torpedo projects in many ways such as pulling funding or under-resourcing initiatives. Other times executives do not embrace the risk that is inherent in innovation. A team might find the right problem and provide a novel solution only to be sidelined by a tentative decision maker, who claims it is too new/risky/experimental. Entrepreneurs make their money on seismic shifts, while corporate executives are used to steady, incremental improvements–not innovation. Entrepreneurs will win when it comes to delivering innovation. Therefore, without true commitment to risk, a large corporation cannot innovate, only improve a little bit at a time.

A related problem is “innovation” driven by corporate politics and not by users. For example, a large bank might develop an application that allows their customers choose between a few hundred financial instruments because an executive has set a goal to create and sell a couple dozen new banking products. What’s great for that executive’s career is misery for the customer. Listening to the customer might reveal the fewer, clearer choices is really what most people need.

Another common mistake that I have seen is companies relying too much on marketing research. It almost seems that larger companies assume that given enough MBAs doing enough marketing analysis, they will find the perfect market, the perfect pain point, and the perfect solution. If that were the case, there would be no need for entrepreneurs in the world and startups like Google would not be able to compete with incumbents like Microsoft. In fact, it is impossible for find a perfect product-market fit from behind the desk. There is a reason why the lean startup approach has generated so many great products. Any innovator, no matter if a large company or a scrappy startup, must talk to their customers, try solutions, and refine their products until they find that magic recipe for an outstanding solution. Don’t get me wrong, you need market research and MBAs to chart a general direction. However, the little magical details, that make one product like Facebook trump another similar product like MySpace, are hashed out in the field not in Excel. This is at odds with the risk aversion inherent to larger firms, which precludes them from iterating in public view among other things.

There also exists a mentality among large corporations that if people are not buying a product, it is because the company has not spent enough on marketing. By extension, the way to sell more is to spend more on advertising. That is a fine strategy for eroding the bottom line. Why would you commit to a product that requires large marketing expenditure for a modest revenue? Fortunately, startups do not have this problem because they rarely have cushy marketing budgets. Startups focus instead on creating an outstanding product for a pressing need. Startups sometimes do such an outstanding job that they don’t have to spend a penny on advertising because their customers do all the advertising for them. The goal for any innovator should be to create such a compelling product that customers can’t stop raving about it. Even if you fall short of this goal, at least you won’t be jamming products down people’s throats and wasting your valuable resources.

Finally, I have witnessed a number of companies planning to use the same ‘ol team, working in the same ‘ol ways, in the same ‘ol corporate structure to develop ground-breaking innovations. Need I say more? However, I think we can agree that risk-loving, entrepreneurial types are less likely to work in a large corporation. Instead, established organizations tend to attract and retain workers that are a little bit more risk averse and less likely to challenge the status quo. Those are not the kinds of qualities that best serve an innovator. Moreover, I think we can agree that big institutions also tend to have a lot of protocol and complex business systems. For example, many of the big institutional clients require vastly complex documentation that needs to make its way through an equally complex approval and revision process. On the other hand, startups lack any of that. People that work in startups accept ambiguity and, instead, rely on their faculties to fill in the blanks and keep things move along swiftly. Therefore, it seems obvious that in order for innovation to have the highest likelihood of success in a large corporation you have to seed it with a team that is intrepid, resourceful, and free of institutional baggage. Sometimes that means bringing in a team from outside of the organization (which also has its headaches). Other times, it means separating a team from the mainstream corporate culture, seeding it with the right people, and providing backing and incentives that will compel them to take risks.

What’s Next?

As I hope you can tell from the above, most of the common hurdles to innovation in a corporate environment can be overcome. In fact, the only challenge that I think is difficult to address is buy-in from the executives. The reality is that innovators are amassing at your gate. You can only hold them off for so long before one will slip by and slay Goliath. Not only that, assuming you are not a monopolist, your competitors are likely eyeing innovation projects at this very moment. Therefore, the only way to stay ahead and stay alive is to innovate yourself.