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Today I sent out one of the hardest emails I've ever had to write. In short, Barkles is closing down on June 1st. Here is the email in full:
Today we bring you some unfortunate news and our last email.
We have decided to close down Barkles on the 1st of June.
To some, this may come as a shock, and for that we apologise.
For over 6 months Jay and I (Diesel) have been working behind the scenes on Barkles to build it to where it is. We have gone through many ups and downs and have learnt a huge amount about the way startups operate. In all honesty, there are a few main reasons that we would like to share with you as to why we are shutting up shop. Hopefully, others can learn from our mistakes.
1. What's The Problem?
One of the main rules about starting a new startup is locking down the problem you are solving. Without a strong problem, you will have less people needing/wanting your product which will result in low traction/return rate. In many cases, Barkles was a cool solution looking for a problem - a reason for people to use it if you will. Had we of nailed down our problem before building the solution we probably wouldn't have built Barkles in the first place.
Jay is very passionate about development. I am very passionate about design. Over time however we lost our joint passion for continually building Barkles when we started realising we had built a solution looking for a problem. We still enjoyed watching the debates come in and people using it on occasion - however for us to move forward and get that passion back it would require a big overhaul to the product, with the likely chance we would be pivoting far away from the product it is today. This pivot would have taken us 3-6 months to fully realise and even then we would not be any closer to working on a problem that people want solved.
3. Financially Viable
Building a freemium product is hard to do if you have low traction and have lost passion in the product itself. Often what results is the founders redirect focus onto paying work (hey, we've all got to live!) which pushes the freemium product into the background of their minds. For others in this situation we recommend financially securing a 'runway' (a bunch of cash you live off for a set amount of months) to give yourself that focus and dedication that is needed when building a long term freemium product.
It's Not All Doom And Gloom
This process of creating a startup, getting members on board and iterating the product has been the most incredible experience. Jay and I look at the closing of Barkles as a "succesful failure", a journey we have learnt a lot from. We have enjoyed over 1400 debates, met countless people who inspired us and now know what it's like to run a startup. We would like to thank our advisors, mentors and other entrepreneurs who have helped up learn and grow througout this journey.
Barkles.com will be closed on the 1st of June.
Jay and I will continue freelancing in the areas of development and design and see where the road takes us. We will still both be actively involved in the Melbourne/Perth startup scene.If you would like to contact Jay (I can attest to his great development skills) you can get in touch: Jay's email and you can contact me via my email.
Thank you for your involvement with Barkles,
Jay Whiting & Diesel Laws
OMG, Your startup idea is so awesome.
OK, it's shit.
Tip: It's not because of the idea.
It's because your idea needs execution.
Execution will unwrap your idea.
Execution will rip apart your idea.
Execution will prove your idea.
Your friends opinion of your idea means nothing.
Your mums opinion of your idea means nothing.
Your dogs opinion of your idea means nothing.
No, I will not sign and NDA to hear your idea.
There is no perfect idea.
Your idea is not unique.
But your execution may be.
Here's an idea: A drawing game amongst friends.
Pictionary did it.
Pictionary sold for $29 million after 16 years.
Draw Something did it.
Draw Something sold for $210 million after 5 weeks.
Same idea, different execution.
Stop Idearating. 'Iterating your idea'.
Go Lean Startup.
Just build something. Please, I beg you.
Then you can tell me about your startup.
OMG, your startup
idea is so awesome.
OMG, your startup is so awesome.
So right now, if you're wondering what to do next - take action. Work out your options quickly, choose the one that feels right (physically and mentally) and just get on with it. Even if you should fail you have one less piece of confusion in your life and a win on the board for starting something.
This post was inspired by my Facebook update (thanks Will for the extra nudge).
Every day I get to read about, talk to and watch entrepreneurs go through the motions of building their various startups. Over the couple of years I have been working in this field I have been able to learn just as much about success as failure. In most parts, failing is an extremely important result in our daily activities but is often avoided like the plague, so much so that people stop taking action towards certain tasks. The problem this creates is a never-ending loop of self-sacrifice, low results and lack of excitement.
Failure Is Very Important
With what I have witnessed, I believe that failure has been a very important outcome of the various startups I've seen operating. This is as simple as failing to deliver on time, failing to communicate, failing to focus on the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or even failing to actually build something of value to users. Everyone seems to handle these various failures in different ways but they all end up in the same place by learning from what went wrong.
The Roller Coaster Threshold
What's a harder lesson than failure? The roller coaster ride from failure to success, back to failure and so on. The constant up and downs of working on a startup are extremely challenging and can happen just as fast as the actual ride. In many cases, the fear of the 'Roller Coaster Threshold' is actually more debilitating than failure.
When I first started Barkles, it was built on top of WordPress. At the time, Rhys and I were running the show (I was designing the front end interface and he was working on the back-end development) and we had just heard about our acceptance into the Angel Cube shortlist (more details here), basically proving that the initial concept and networking we had done was paying off.
That moment of extreme excitement was shattered when Rhys made a decision to leave the company on that day after hearing the news. While I respected his decision and we parted amicably, it still hit me like a truck. I had gone from extreme excitement to complete freak out in a matter of minutes. However, I knew that this was a great thing. Barkles had succeeded (validation, albeit early stages) and failed (The only developer quits) in such a rapid time-frame right before the pitch.
Later that day I called Jay (who was only a contracted developer at the time) and told him the news. I openly asked if he wanted to keep going with Barkles and he quickly jumped at the chance to be further involved. Jay stepped forward and said that he would be able to take our demo app and turn it into a Rails app. This took me from a low point of failure back up to a level ground knowing that we could still move forward as initially planned.
That extreme roller coaster happened in the space of a few hours. Entrepreneurs will experience this at least once in a day in some form and more often than not, the success will match the failures.
This leads me back to the original message that started this post: Take action. Don't avoid making a decision because you fear an outcome. If you have a variety of options in front of you, take the risk and actually choose one path. Make the call from your gut and be prepared for high points of success and low points of failure.
Take action by following me on Twitter.
December 22, 2011 - Comments Off on Great Design Is Now The Currency
With the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter and Path taking big steps towards 'great' design we are starting to see the era of design come to light. It may seem biased from a designers point of view, but it only takes a moment for anyone to look at all the old/new services being represented with incredible user interfaces, solid user experience flow and gorgeous branding throughout. Great design is now the currency.
Many of us should be thankful to the behemoth that is Apple - who played the underdog for many years until finally finding its feet with the 'iRange'. Companies have since replicated the simplicity, elegance and beauty that is the Apple products as Apple moved to become the most valuable company worldwide. Their push into top position sparked the adoption of gorgeous design across the web and mobile alike. Of course, it's not just Apple that pushed the envelope. Many companies had already started shifting their focus towards a cleaner look, sexier user interfaces and a focus on seemingly irrelevant design details that even Steve Jobs would have appreciated.
There was a time recently where designers were an afterthought, an addon to an already existing product. Now designers are leading services with their unique vision, giving their products the edge needed in an over-saturated market. This big push into design has spurred on a flurry of activity in terms of new hires, incredible apps, designer co-founders and more. But what will the currency of design look like as the year rolls on?
Late 2011: Designers create new vision & push the boundaries in various areas of the tech landscape
As we've witnessed, Google+ has brought their UI/UX into line across multiple products (Youtube, Gmail, Reader, Google+) while Twitter pushed a completely new interface for its mobile market (to be later rolled into their core product). Many other companies have developed into new fields and led the way with new designs that have inspired many.
Early 2012: Customers/Sales define the leading designs - Companies start redeveloping to utilise the most popular design aspects
In a matter of months we are likely to see duplications of previous designs, layouts, buttons and other UI components at play. Naturally, this will alter the user experience and effect how websites and apps are used. Customers will request (design) features from other successful products and companies will adopt elements to suit.
Mid 2012: Many products become visually aligned - Interfaces are continually tweaked with small updates vs large redesigns or redefining concepts
Websites and apps will be at a stage where the functionality of their products will only slightly differ in the way of design. Animations, icons, flow and overall styling will have a familiar feel as customers jump between different platforms. In light of this, many companies will begin to alter their focus away from design, leaving only small tweaks in the spotlight.
Late 2012: Design hits a peak of awareness and alignment - Design begins to take a sidestep to the next focus area of the tech landscape
Design as a currency will funnel into a merge point. At this time, many companies will already be focused on the next big 'edge' for their products and stepping up to put that into motion. Design will not disappear - it will become an important element of a product but not nearly as powerful as the months prior.
Do you believe great design is now the currency? Share your opinion in the comments.
If you enjoyed this please follow me on Twitter.
For as long as I can remember I have questioned why things have been done a certain way and what other approach they could take. In its simplest form UX is just that - questioning why things are done a certain way and making them more fluid for the user.
What Is UX?
User experience as it stands is not just a great UI (User interface) or functionality. It's about the experience for the user as they click-through, try on, purchase, run between and more (Wikipedia - User experience (UX) is about how a person feels about using a product, system or service). It's how they connect. Unfortunately, it's very easy to ignore or overlook a great UX due to:
- Designer/Developer is too close to the product and can't see it from a new users point of view
- UX is hard to do correctly based on the many viewpoints
- There is no manual - it's often just what you feel by using the product
- User feedback is ignored
- The developers, designers and general team aren't using their own product
By taking into account the importance of a great UX early on, you can start baking core principles into your design, functionality and concepts. This will help build the foundation of your platform just in the same way Apple represents brilliant design simplicity. At the start of development the UX will be directed to how you feel using your own product.
A Live Example
I always find it important to give a working example to provide clarity to the visual readers. So I will dive into my recently launched startup Barkles and point out a few things I did early on that fed into functionality, marketing and the end result.
Barkles is a side by side platform for debates. The premise is simple - show side by side debating with commenting sections. Based on the simplicity, I wanted the design and functionality to stand out - to be harder to instantly replicate. In that, we also had to build the functionality to the same professional level.
As you can see above, the Barkles Dogfight interface is simple. Yet, there is enough functionality to get involved and share your opinion, view Dogtags (profiles) & throw Bones. The design gets out-of-the-way of the user and allows them to get involved in the discussion.
The experience with functionality replicates this. The Dogfight Starter that stretches the full width of the centered area follows the discussion. When you scroll down the page it comes with you - constantly keeping the debate in context. This in itself is a powerful UX addition as it keeps the user focused on the point of the debate further they go down the page.
The Quick Scan
The page width also helps out in creating a simpler and more enjoyable UX. We could have easily let the width spread the full side of the page so the responses had more room, but this would have required much more involved left-right scanning of the debates themselves. By keeping it center aligned and focusing on a smaller width it allows the user to follow the debate easily by scanning each side with minimal eye movement. Below is a wider mockup which is uncomfortable to read in comparison (click to view the larger image).
Simplicity With Colour
Other elements that enhance the user experience are the simple coloured lines next to the avatars. These lines reinforce the different sides of the debate. This simple, yet effective addition is noticeable when taken out:
As you can see, even with the Agree and Disagree buttons labeling each side the lack of coloured lines blurs the lines between the sides. It's only a subtle difference, but enough to 'feel' confusing or messy as the user scrolls down the page. The colours also break up the grey/blue themed page and add some character.
Try The Functionality
Now, while this article focuses mainly on design aspects, it's important to note the underlying functionality that supports the UI/UX. The quick loading and simple interface functions well, and great care has been taken to enhance the experience of adding an opinion. From text-shadow, input box drop down to hover box-shadow, everything has been put in place for a stronger (and easier) experience for the user.
While I could talk about the functionality for a while, it's better for you to get a hands on feel of how it works. View this Dogfight and get a feel for the experience we have crafted - http://barkl.es/tdSLU8.
I hope that these insights have given you a few ideas or at least an in-depth look at a Barkles Dogfight and the UX behind it. In future articles I will go into more detail about other pages of the Barkles platform.
If you have any questions just give me a shout me on Twitter.
August 10, 2011 - Comments Off on 10 Critical Steps To Naming Your App
So you've just come up with the greatest app idea and now you need a name. Do you take the old pen and paper route or do you look for what's available in the digital world? Let's walk-through the 10 critical steps to naming your app.
The Simple Idea:
Side by side discussion platform.
1. Know The Idea Inside Out
Take the time to get to know the idea in detail. Bounce off the people in your team, the path the business is travelling on and who you are planning on marketing to. This will help you formulate the brand in a much better light for the target audience.
The Detailed Idea:
A side by side discussion and debating platform similar to a commenting system. Marketing will be directed to corporate and general users. The team will be focusing on early iteration, organic growth and rapid feedback development.
2. Keywords Are King
Once you know the business idea inside and out formulate a list of keywords that simply describe the app. For this I use the notes on my iPhone, but it really could be any piece of software that allows typing. You could use a pen and paper, but it's not that easy to copy and paste from a physical notepad.
Discussion, Debate, Conversation, Agree, Disagree, Like & Dislike.
3. The Digital Brainstorm
Now that we have our descriptive keywords, work with them one by one in a tool like nxdom.com and browse the Thesaurus. I used nxdom to string together keywords with random beginnings or endings and often find something I like. While this tool is supposed to find available domains occasionally a claimed one surfaces - just make sure you check for available names with a domain service like Hostmonster.
"Dogfight" was found during research (similar to debate). This lead me down the path to a dog themed name.
4. Add On The Non-Descriptive
Having no luck with the descriptive keywords or wanting something non-descriptive? Add in some random words (or even just some letters) to get some interesting results. Try with ending letters such as 'ly', 'es', 'ing', 'on' and 'le'.
5. Check The Social
Once you've found an available domain name celebrate a little, then quickly move on to checking the social platforms to see how available it is. As long as you have the domain name, it won't matter too much if you slightly change it up for your social networks. Use a service like namechk.com to see which services have your name available.
(All other social services have been aligned with barklesapp)
6. Does It Fit?
Now just before you get too fixated on the app name, take a step back and work out if it's right for your idea. Pay attention to the readability, the memorability and also how easy it is to spell/say.
Back To The Detailed Idea:
A side by side discussion and debating platform = 9/10.
Readability and Memorability = 9/10.
Spelling & Saying = 8/10. [pronounced: Bark-ools]
7. Talk To Your Team
Take a moment to share the proposed name to the team. They will often give you unexpected feedback that can help your decision going forward (i.e. Companies that already have a similar name, words that rhyme and connotations that you weren't aware of).
8. Secure It
Secure the domain and all the social services you need in one swoop.
9. The Logo
While many may point out that a logo isn't part of naming your app, I beg to differ. 9 times out of 10 your clients will see your app name in logo form before anything else. If your logo is hard to read or confusing your well-chosen name will be lost.
10. Putting It All Together
These 10 steps are usually completed within a couple of hours to a few days depending on your team. Take the time to get a great name, domain and logo so your app has a stronger chance at surviving amongst the million and one other companies (even with just a coming soon page).
How Did You Name Your App?
Share your feedback in the comments below.
I like to think that I'm ready to tackle the big challenges of building a startup like funding, marketing, team building and more. But I'm not. I'm happy to fight in the trenches (and change the design every week), but when it comes to running across the battlefield, I'm shit scared.
Hey Diesel, get over it.
I've been reading recently about the entrepreneurs who build successful companies better after failures. In fact, my whole life I have been preparing for big challenges and have changed my mindset to accept failure as a positive form of growth. I actually enjoy the challenge of failure and get excited by change.
But even still, there's that niggling feeling pulling me back into the trenches, telling me to focus on defeating the enemy with long-range tactics.
Hey Diesel, get out of the house.
While I do feel that in many cases building the product is more important than talking about the product, I know now is the time to step up. Now is the time to take to the battlefield, meet other entrepreneurs, build connections with Angels and VC's, inspire others to join our team and get the Barkles name out there.
Hey Diesel, stop waiting for them to come to you.
I know. It's imperative I change my ways and jump into this head on. And it's not like I haven't been pushing for this day to come.
Hey Diesel, just do it.
You're right. I have been striving for this day ever since I knew I wanted to build a business. But-
Hey Diesel, no more excuses.
July 8, 2011 - Comments Off on How Barkles Was Featured On SlideShare In Under 8 Hours
A week ago, after reading this upfront and inspiring post by Dave McClure, I decided to radically change the Barkles pitch and share it on SlideShare. Just to give you an insight into my thought process; my successful aim was mass visibility, not funding. This post will help you when setting up your marketing/visibility campaigns.
In under 4 hours of posting to SlideShare
- Dave McClure (and others) retweeted it
- 585 views
- Featured in the Hot On Twitter section of SlideShare's homepage
In under 8 hours of posting to SlideShare
Currently (1 Week Later)
- 4,135 views
- Downloaded 30 times
- 50 signups to Barkles.com (from the presentation)
What I Did Right
Over the years of sharing my music and designs I have learned that it's often more effective to target a certain person or core group of people to get the message out. I refer to it as the Sniper Approach - Aimed directly at the person intended instead of the 'fire-anywhere' Machine Gun approach. In this case, Dave was the first person to retweet it via Twitter, starting the ball rolling.
Going deeper into the Sniper Approach allows you to direct it a specific person literally. I did this by including the words: This is for you Dave McClure (Thanks for the inspiration) on slide 10. It's hard to ignore something when your name is printed on it. Another great example is the YoZuck Tumblr by Youssef Sarhan which got the attention of Zuckerberg and many other startups, landing Youssef a job (in less that 2 months).
Clear Problem and Solution
Before you share anything to the world make sure you have a Problem and Solution. This needs to be explained with crystal clear vision in your presentation, mockup, product or email. As my inspiration was drawn from Dave's blog post called Your Solution is Not My PROBLEM I knew exactly what I had to do to get the message across.
I could have easily created a 'pretty' SlideShare and sent it through to Dave, but there is a good chance it would have gone unnoticed (or ignored) amongst the noise. This presentation works because it stands out, is something that takes you by surprise and is direct (no fluff). Would I do this every time I release a new product? Of course not (It wouldn't really be unique then!).
Although this presentation contains heavy language and strong opinions which can turn many people away, the core (One column debates are confusing and messy) and solution (Barkles allows clean and simple, side-by-side opinions) is a solid presentation with truthful points backed up by examples. If I replaced the heavy language with PG content it would still display the same problems and solution clearly.
What I Did Wrong
The clickable link to Barkles.com doesn't appear until slide 12 (click it and sign up!). Slide 9 displays the website address but the link is not actually clickable - a slight mistake. Although I could go back and reupload it the main rush has gone, so there would be little point.
On Barkles.com above the sign up box it used to read "Get in before everyone else!" instead of something simple like Sign up to get notified when we launch. I have no doubt this would have made a few people skip the signup altogether based on the confusing message. i.e. Some may have thought it was an actual signup form but confused when there was no password option and others may have wondered what was going to happen with their email address etc.
Using heavy language can be a hit or miss scenario. It can work well at the start, but can backfire later down the line. I still freak out when I see the front page of the presentation but once I watch it over again I am satisfied with the substance. Also, heavy language can impact your future market, how people use your service and possibly put off investors. *It was worth the risk.
What Else Did I Do Right/Wrong?
The Blue Sheep mingle with the rest, but also lead.
The Blue Sheep is easy to spot amongst the herd.
The Blue Sheep know when to step forward and back when sharing opinions.
We live in a society that is ever-changing and rapidly developing every day. With that amount of speed, it's easy to get caught up in the trends and marketing hype that inspires us to share information, causing us to modify our thoughts and opinions to cover the biggest field. So how do you know if you're being true? Focus on being the Blue Sheep.
The Blue Sheep Run And Graze
You will notice the Blue Sheep by how strong they run with their opinions. These opinions can shake up the flock, and cause tension amongst the ranks, but can often be the 'right thing' for the herd moving forward. With truthful opinions (e.g. Justin Bieber is actually incredible with what he has been able to accomplish - truth) the Blue Sheep can easily alienate themselves from the paddock - and that's a good thing.
An opinion should inspire a discussion and move the team further.
Blue Sheep also know when it's time to pull their heads in and graze with the other White Sheep in the paddock. They realise that it's important to have a balance between having a strong opinion and letting others speak. If the normally unspoken White Sheep step forward and start sharing their opinions - let them.
Discussions are multi-voiced. Shut up and listen.
The Blue Sheep Lead and Never Deceive
Sometimes the White Sheep will believe (or convince) themselves to be the Blue Sheep, offering leadership at a time of need. These confused Sheep are hard to spot at first, but over time when the grass stops growing, their blue dye fades. Pay attention to the Blue Sheep with 'physical' experience in the field vs 'graduates', as the field is where you will end up playing in. This goes for choosing advisors, investors, staff and even friends.
Shouting louder doesn't make you a better choice.
True Blue Sheep will usually be very open and honest about the grass that lay ahead. Optimism is in abundance, but don't mistake that for hyperbole. When the Blue Sheep is leading correctly, the White Sheep will follow with admiration and respect, knowing they can speak up at any time. If you are the Blue Sheep, lead your team well by focusing on strong, honest communication.
Learn from anyone, no matter which patch of grass they graze on.
In essence anyone can be the Blue Sheep, but not all will. Blue Sheep training comes from within and can be modified and reinvented every second of every day. It can take a lifetime to be seen as the Blue Sheep by others, but starting early will set you up stronger for the later years. Are you the Blue Sheep?