Next Chapter: I’ve joined Betterment!

Over the last two and a half years I have had the pleasure of running product at OpenFin, and today I am excited to officially announce that I have joined the product team at Betterment.

OpenFin has been an amazing experience and one that has had a profound impact on my life, both professionally and personally. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to join the team in the early days and have a major impact in shaping the company and product. Today, OpenFin has one of the best brands in the financial industry, an amazing product, a fantastic team, and even more exciting developments in the pipeline.

As I look forward to the next chapter in my career, I am thrilled about this new opportunity and the challenges that lie ahead. Betterment is an amazing company that is building something very special. They have a passionate user base, a great brand in the market and have a huge impact in people’s lives by making investing, a complicated and overwhelming process for most, simple and straightforward.

I am excited to get started and if you want to learn more about Betterment there is a great article and interview with our CEO, Jon Stein. 

User acquisition and the importance of clear calls to action

User acquisition and marketing are critical for the success of a product, and even more so at the beginning stage of the product lifecycle. Part of driving that success is having very clear calls to action, especially around asking users to sign up, watch something or try your product.

Here are some items to take into consideration when designing and incorporating calls to action. The most common form of generating a acquisition funnel is the landing page which most of the below applies to:

Color: Use bright, contrasting colors on buttons or text to make the call to action stand our against your standard color palette

Position: Primary calls to action (try, sign up, watch, etc) should be toward the top of the page and above the fold to grab a user’s attention

Repetition: Repeating the call to action again below the fold can help increase conversion significantly

Consistency: All calls to action should have the same color and design so there is visual consistency to help users recognize actions they can take (button, text, styling, etc)

Copy: Use words or phrases representative of the action you want users to take. Do you want them to “Watch x” “Try x” “Sign up.” Try avoid using plain calls such as “Click Here,” “Click Me,” etc.

Based on the above, some examples of products that do a great job with calls to action are:

  • MailChimp
  • Dropbox
  • Twitter
  • Dribbble
  • Gumroad
  • Salesloft
  • Mailbox
  • IFTTT

If you have any other recommendations drop them in the comments below.

Customer service is part of your product

Customer service and support is often a function that is overlooked from a product management perspective. There are debates as to whether it falls under sales, account management, product, community or marketing.

It’s my opinion that customer service and support should fall heavily under product. If it is not influenced by the product team then it needs to be heavily ingrained throughout all areas of the company and in every employee. Some of the most successful companies make customer service a huge part of their product experience. Great examples of this are Zappos, Uber, Mailbox, Airbnb and Soundcloud.

What do I mean by making it part of the product experience?  I mean that customer service should be a central feature that integrates with your product. Users should quickly and easily be able to find out how to contact you with questions or if they need support. Also, making it a visible component of your product gives users and customers a feeling of comfort. This comfort level is critical for products that use, store or integrate with a users personal information.

One other thing that you should do is have an informal, internal “SLA” (service level agreement) whereby you implement a process where you get back to any customer service request within minutes. Most users and customers are not used to great customer service and you can blow users away by getting back to them within minutes of the point of contact. Even if you don’t have an answer for them right away you should at least acknowledge you or your team are on top of it.

One great tool that I am a big fan of is Olark. It allows you to install a real-time chat widget on your site giving you the ability to chat with customers, answer their questions and put it in offline mode where users can still contact you via email. Other great tools for managing service are Twitter (obviously), UserVoice and Zendesk.

If you have any suggestions on other great customer service examples or tools drop them in the comments.

Designing web applications to create an app experience

Designing simple, elegant web applications is core to ensuring a consistent and clean user experience. I have spent a lot of time the last few weeks analyzing what helps provide an “app” aesthetic on the web, especially one that ensures the application feels more like a real app and not just a website. The reason this is important is because on the web there is no real definition of native or app–unlike mobile platforms such as iOS or Android.

Some key considerations to take into account are:

  • Logo & branding: Try to avoid full logos in the top left of the layout as this is something very native to traditional websites. If there is a need to incorporate branding you should use an icon or variation of the logo anchored into the nav bar.
  • Navigation bar: The header of the application should be anchored with a nicely designed (gradient, texture) bar that includes the branding and core navigation elements. The best way to represent the navigation elements is using buttons or icons, but try to avoid using icons that represent mobile motifs.
  • Footer bar: Having a nicely designed bar in the footer that is consistent with the nav bar really helps anchor the entire UI. It can make the application feel less like a web page that just ends after the main body.
  • Buttons: All buttons should have depth and strong interactions on click and mouseover. You should also use tooltips when necessary to give the user more information.
  • Font: Text should have shadows and depth, especially on navigation elements and buttons. I would also consider using custom fonts that you can get from Typekit or Google Web Fonts rather than standard Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, etc.
  • UI separation: Use strong ridgelines that have depth for separating buttons, elements, rows and assets. Spotify does a great job with this on their buttons and table headers on their grids.
  • Compact size: Design apps so that they are as small and as tight as possible, unless there is a real need for the window size to be large.
  • UI Interactivity: Making the UI customizable and interactive is really important. Adding things like animations, mouseover effects or being able to drag/drop UI elements is important.
  • Grids: All grids should have fixed headers when you scroll down, fixed column widths so the columns dont shift when data comes in and should be interactive when you mousover or click in a cell (such as changing the color of a row on mousover).
  • Flat Design: Flat design is also becoming a very big trend and one that I am following very closely. It can make very simple applications feel elegant and fluid. There is a really great article here that you should read if you want to learn more.

Below are some applications that do a great job incorporating the above elements are:

  1. Wunderlist
  2. HipChat
  3. Twitter
  4. Tweetdeck
  5. Spotify
  6. Asana
  7. Yammer
  8. Inbox2

Useful tool for product managers: Chrome dev tools

As a follow-up to my post on Dribble I wanted to share a quick and easy tool that product managers should be using on a daily basis. Part of a product manager’s role is to constantly be tweaking and improving existing products. If you have a product that runs in a browser (website or app) a tool you should use to make UI, layout and fast tweaks is the Chrome Developer Tools.

If you know the basics of CSS it can be s a really powerful tool for a few reasons:

Speed: If the basic layout and product design are in place already, it’s a much faster way to tweak colors, gradients and layout.

Real-time: The changes you make are reflected in real-time. There’s no need to develop a wireframe, have developers agree to the spec and then have your designer turn it around.

Code changes:  Once the changes are made and approved you can then share the CSS code directly with your development team which makes the entire process much faster.

This is not ideal in every product scenario, but can be a really useful method to iterate quickly on an existing product. You can read more here on Google’s Developer Site.

The FinTech Hackathon: Building a Community

The FinTech HackathonFinTech Hackathon, an event I help put together with a great group of organizers, took place this past weekend at AlleyNYC. We had over 200 attendees as well as representatives from over 20 firms from across the industry–it was a great success and produced some really innovative products and ideas. It was also great to see the winning team walk away with $10,000 from Novus Partners!

Building a community around an industry is challenging, and doing so for the financial industry is not an easy task. I have watched the fintech community grow and come to its own over the last year, and we organized this event as a way to bring this community together. There is a lot of innovation happening across the industry and our goal with the Hackathon was to further promote innovation and expose the community to the technologies and platforms that are part of the growing fintech ecosystem.

I was pleasantly surprised by the amazing turnout we had. There were over 200 developers and designers who built 35 working MVP’s in just under 24 hours. We also had an amazing group of 16 technology partners who provided their API’s and platforms for attendees to build on top of. The demo day was a huge hit with over 100 additional people who came out to watch the teams demo their hacks.

FinTech Hackathon

The talent at the event was incredible. We had developers and designers from some of the major financial institutions, hedge funds and trading firms as well as aspiring entrepreneurs who were all trying to solve real problems. There were products built to enhance risk management, analytics, trading, payments, visualization and big data. It was inspiring to see what was built in just 24 hours and the energy and dedication throughout the Hackathon was amazing.

FinTech Hackathon

I really can’t wait for the next event and wanted to quickly recognize our winners:

First Place and $10,000 winner: Real ID - An innovative way for banks to identify the real identity of customers

Second Place: TidBits – Bitcoin futures exchange, price hedging and merchant tools

Third Place: Zap – Mobile payments without a physical card reader using computer vision for face and card detection

FinTech Hackathon

Our Technology Partners also selected teams for the best use of their technologies and handed out some awesome prizes:

10gen: Mosuq

Caplin: FinGraph

CardFlight: Mobile Sales Platform

Dwolla: Little Victories

Estimize: Social Earnings

OANDA: GlobalFX

OpenGamma: Arcadius Reconciliation

OpenShift: Social Point

StockTwits: FinTrack

Zipmark: Tidbits

I also want to thank our sponsors, technology partners and judges because without them we could not have put the event together:

Sponsors: Novus Partners, OpenShift, Blackstone, Betterment, Moven, WilmerHale and the FinTech Innovation Lab.

Technology Partners: 10gen, Bloomberg, Caplin, Dwolla, Estimize, OANDA, OpenGamma, OpenFin, StockTwits, Tradable, Xignite, Zipmark, Disqus, Kaazing, Cardflight, SlashDB and the Treasury Department.

Judges: Sallie Krawcheck, Matt Harris, Matt Turck, Erica Frontiero, Kim Trautman, Bijan Treister, Celina Morjeon.

FinTech Hackathon

We cannot wait for the next event so make sure to sign up at www.fintechhack.com to stay updated!

Quick hack: How to avoid spam filters with your emails to clients and prospects

I wanted to share a quick hack that can be useful for those of you who have to cold email a lot of potential customers, especially those at large institutions with firewalls, spam filters and third party email clients. For security reasons emails that often contain hyperlinked text are blocked by spam filters at larger institutions.

To ensure that your emails will get through, make sure that when you include links that you do not hyperlink text. The most effective way to ensure that your emails get through is to include the links as plain text with a direct reference to the full url. For example, instead of writing “Click here to read our update,” you should write “To read our update please visit: http://www.yoururl.com/update”;

Most email clients will automatically recognize these links for the user so you won’t need to worry that they wont be able to hit the link that you send over.

FinTech Startup Weekend

154650_10100633420407327_1411620101_nThis past weekend I put together the first ever FinTech Startup Weekend which was a huge success! We had an amazing group of sponsors, API partners, mentors, judges and most of all, attendees. When we kicked off on Friday night we had 120 attendees that pitched over 50 different FinTech related ideas, and by the end of the evening we had narrowed them down to 13 amazing teams that spent the rest of the weekend building their MVPs.

I organized this event to bring together the FinTech community, and I am grateful for the great response we received with over 200 people attending our demo day yesterday. The talent at this event was incredible and the teams built real FinTech products that were beautifully designed and executed. I want to quickly recognize our winners and some other teams that really stood out:

1st place: John Dough - A new crowdfunding platform that makes private fundraising easier.

2nd place: Link Stream – Knowledge management and collaboration tool for the investment community.

3rd place: PriceLance – Payments focused startup where people can buy and sell services for a fixed-price.

OANDA API Winner: TraderEDU - A web community that provides educational resources for a wide range of traders.

Other impressive teams and products: CharTwits, Second Guess, VentureStat.

I also want to thank everyone who helped make the event possible:

Our Sponsors: E*TRADE, Andera, Box and the FinTech Innovation Lab.

API Partners: OANDA, Bloomberg, Estimize, OpenFin, StockTwits, Dwolla, Microsoft, Caplin, Tradable, and Benzinga.

Mentors: Mark Chou, Rajesh Jayaraman, James Weiss, Eugene Hawkin, Todd Zino, Jarrod Rumley, Nick Ditmore, Brian Shields, Matthew Gillen, Veeral Shah and Todd Kulkin.

Judges: Maria Gotsch, Mazy Dar, Matt Turck, Omar Qari and Phil Pearlman.

Co-Organizers:  Conrad Wadowski, Michael Giles and Jon Zanoff.

Volunteers: Frank Denbow, Eric Ho, Suraj Jain, Brad Hoover, James Lopez and Jeremy Lermitte.

Space: Alley NYC and Nsi Obotetukudo.

We are really looking forward to the next FinTech hackathon which is already in the planning stages!

Enterprise Tech Sales: The Who

Selling in enterprise is tough. We all know that. It’s a very long and slow process, however, it can be significantly accelerated if you take the right approach. They key is to finding the correct people to sell to. In my experience, it is generally a mix of technology and product executives.

What is key here though, is to understand whether tech is driving product, or product is driving tech. You can say it’s a mix of both, however, each firm is different depending on the economy, budget season, politics, etc so it is really important to understand this dynamic. If technology is driving product, you need to appeal to the technologists in the room:

Tech Demo: Having a great demo of your product that showcases the underlying technology is critical. You need to be able to showcase what your technology can do, and how it does it.

Code Walk-through: Having clean, well documented code that you can walk-through and explain clearly.

Stress Testing & Integration: Being able to provide statistics on the ability for your product to handle scale and heavy loads is very important. Being able to demo this is even better. You also need to make them feel at ease when it comes to integration or hosting the product in their own environments.

If product is driving technology, you need to appeal to the product and strategy executives with:

Product Demo: Same as the above, but aside from the technology the product demo needs to appeal to the product executives’ interests and core product strategy. You’re demo needs to speak to them and clearly show where you can add value to their existing products or day-to-day operations.

Design & User Experience: Design and UX is becoming a very important part of the enterprise. Today’s end users require great design and user experience that is on par with consumer technology. This should be one of your main areas of focus when pitching to product teams.

Metrics & Performance: Like the demo, you need to be able to show the product executives how you can add value and increase their bottom line. If they are going to be investing in your product, it has to have a positive ROI for them. Clearly showing them this path before they even need to think about it is a great approach.

 

Startup Hiring: Startup’s Key Considerations

Outside of having a strong founding team and finding product market fit, hiring the right people at the right time is crucial in helping scale both from an operational and product perspective. I have spent the last few months recruiting for a product role at OpenFin and have learned a quite a lot through the process. Note that I have previously blogged about getting a job at a startup, but here are some more points to add from both sides of the table.

Here are some of the key considerations when looking to hire new blood from a startup’s POV:

VC Approach: The best way to think about your hiring strategy is to think about how VC’s approach  investing in startups. With any new hire you are taking a risk and investing in them with the hope that they will come in and add value to your product and thereby positively impact your valuation.

Timing: It is very difficult to get the timing right at an early state startup. Growth stage is different and its obvious you need to hire to scale. Hiring at an early stage is not as clear–it’s very easy (and makes sense financially) to keep pushing on with the current team and just take on more responsibility. This may not be the best approach if there is talent out there that can help your company and product–it’s also difficult finding the right balance so you don’t drive your team into the ground. The best approach is to determine if you can scale without any additional headcount. If you believe you can then go ahead, but if there is any doubt it may be best to explore the talent out there. If you get it right you can end up scaling a lot faster than you could with the current team.

Always be looking: The management team should always keep an eye open for talent, even when you aren’t actively hiring. We are always recruiting and have met same amazing people along the way, some of whom we who we will hire as we grow. It is very easy to get caught up in product, testing, customer dev, etc and ignore the talent search. Doing this also helps build relationships and a talent pipeline that you can turn to or open up to other startups that are looking for good people.

Nature of the role: Although it may be difficult to do, you need to clearly define the role in the short and long-term and make sure the current team is aware of this new role. Defining the role will send a positive message to the team, provide comfort and security in what they are currently doing and you will come across as organized and serious to both your team and potential candidates.

Network and Involvement:  As I have written before, the best way to find a candidate and for a candidate to find you is through a warm introduction and relationship. Most agree that this is the best approach and candidates who are vouched for by those you trust will almost always get more consideration over others. One thing we like to look at is also how involved he or she is in the startup community. Do they attend meetups? Do they have a blog or online presence? Do they show a deep interest in the industry? Have they built a strong reputation in the community?

What are some other key considerations?