Entrepreneurship

What Data Will You Discover?

May 23, 2017

We live in the era of data.

Companies do all they can to collect “Big Data”; information from or about the people who use their products. This information shows researchers how users interact with products, who they’re connected with, and much more. Big Data is interesting because it’s so easy to collect data nowadays that special algorithms are needed to parse it.

This is important if you’re creating a product because you need to learn as much about your users as possible. This might mean tracking their usage of your technology product, or giving them a survey to complete. No matter how you collect it, it is key that you gain first-hand data.

Your companies’ unique edge should result in proprietary information.

No matter what you do, you can collect data about your users. If you have a website or app, you can learn about what makes users click. If you use social media for marketing, you can learn what kinds of posts have the best result.

This is what we’re facing right now. We’re trying to determine which of our users are leaders who are positive and sporty. Because we have access to a lot of their Instagram profiles, we can look at those. But how do we learn what we need to know solely through Instagram? When we figure that out, the information will be highly valuable to us and to other companies in the same space. But why should everyone do it?

There are many reasons to collect data, least of all monetization.

Whether you’re learning about your product, your customers or both, there will be information for you to discover.

  1. Discover what type of person uses your product
  2. Learn what your users like about your product
  3. Find out what your users want to see in your product
  4. Collect customer segment information to sell (if legal)

First, determine what your average and best users are like. Then, determine how your product can solve their problems. Finally, regarding the last point: conventional wisdom is that if you don’t pay for a product, you are the product. The information Facebook learns about you could be worth almost $60 per year to advertisers. Facebook learns about you from your usage, and people pay them to share what they’ve learned. Therefore, data might be your ticket to building a product you can monetize.

Your users can provide so much valuable insight. What will you learn?

 


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Entrepreneurship

1 Simple Step to Get Involved in the Tech Sector

May 9, 2017

An old friend of mine called the other day because he wants to break into the tech sector. His stagnant work in the health care industry frustrates him, and he wants to flex his entrepreneurial muscles. He was asking for advice because his lack of formal computer science education was concerning to him.

During my time in the tech sector, I’ve often heard this hesitation from intelligent people like my friend. What many don’t realize is that the barrier of entry for learning to code is really low. The problem is that the barrier of entry to the tech sector seems high!

This high barrier of entry to the tech sector is artificially.

Watching Hollywood “nerds” hammering away at keyboards makes learning to build programs seems abstract and involved. But in reality, executing on an idea is something that anyone can do, given time. The field is more accessible than ever!

But here’s the secret; you don’t have to wait for anyone or anything. No one needs to give you the go-ahead, you already have it.

My friend wants to do medical work. It’s a field with tons of potential users – patients, nurses, doctors, you name it. It’s a huge customer segment, as most people will go through the healthcare system at some point! All he has to do is think of an idea and build it.

That’s it.

Building something and showing it to people is all you need to do to become involved in the tech sector.

It will be tough to build something novel, but the rewards of building a big tech company are obvious. Social impact, huge monetary gains, you name it. It’s there for the taking. All you need to do to get involved with the tech sector is build your product and get it into people’s hands.

The time is now!

 


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Entrepreneurship

Look Toward Your Vision, but Focus on the Steps Ahead

March 31, 2017

When your company is full of visionaries, it’s easy to forget to focus on the steps you need to take immediately.

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal“, or “BHAG”. A BHAG is a lofty goal that outsiders might consider impossible, but your company works toward and believes they can accomplish. Ours is to energize every child in the world! What’s yours?

A team that believes in their big vision is driven to work on the cause. However, there are important pitfalls to avoid when focussing your company on the big goal.

  1. Your BHAG will take years to accomplish, and it is common to become discouraged on the journey.
  2. Your BHAG is nice to focus on, but the steps on the path are just as important.

You must remember to focus on the end goal, and also focus on the steps ahead.

When you’re climbing a mountain, focus on the summit. But don’t forget to watch where you’re climbing, or you’ll slip.

A proper BHAG will take years to properly accomplish. As well, it will be met with scepticism and naysayers. If it won’t, then perhaps it isn’t that audacious a goal!

Bill Gates famously dreamed of a computer in every home in a time when that was considered laughable. Who’s laughing now?

Prepare yourself for questions from everywhere, including from your harshest critic – yourself.

But what are you going to do – give up? How long are you going to sit around doing nothing or questioning yourself, while a problem you want to solve gets worse and worse?

You are better than that. And I know that, because I truly believe that we are all better than that.

Think about your goal, but focus on the steps to get there.

What you build in the short term will be smaller than what you want to tackle. It’s just not going to have the impact or the features. That’s a harsh truth that you must become accustomed to.

But – you must not forget that every step of your journey is key – your company can’t do great things if it’s dead!

Every time you make a change, think – how does this step benefit you?

Have your users requested this new feature, or do you just think it’s a good idea? Do you need to scale up, or scale back? Will you be able to put food on the plate tomorrow?

Use your big, hairy, audacious goal to drive every small step

Your dreams are important – there’s no point making your company without them! Remember to always use that dream as fuel for each small step. Because, trust me – you’re going to be taking a lot of small steps.

 


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Teamwork

When Problems Become Jokes, They Don’t Get Solved

March 20, 2017

Team members joking about problems is a common trend across low-performing teams and organizations. Have you ever been on a team where bad behaviour gets glazed over, and problems become jokes?

“Uh oh, looks like Gaby is half an hour late to another meeting!”

“Jim forgot to record a client’s details again, classic!”

“Ha, why is Lana even a manager if no one ever listens to her?”

Does this sound familiar? Are you guilty of this?

Maybe it seems like it’s all in good fun because everyone in the organization is friends. Or maybe this office “comedian” thinks they’re influencing a shift in behaviour.

Unfortunately, neither is true.

The harm of laughing off an issue

When someone exhibits bad behaviour, they are at fault. When others don’t help them correct it, everyone is at fault. It might seem like a message is getting through when you jokingly prod into an issue, but it isn’t.

Think about it – if a bad behaviour is frequent enough that people joke about it to the person’s face, it’s a behaviour that people want changed but aren’t confronting. Does the person in question even know that the team wants them to change their behaviour if everyone is joking and laughing?

Jokes about things that people know are real problems will always have an underlying tension. Real feedback needs to be given, and change isn’t being made.

Give real feedback instead of letting problems become jokes

In general, feedback delivered in a constructive way will be appreciated. If you had something stuck in your teeth at a lunch, wouldn’t you rather someone point it out?

When behaviour needs to be changed, it’s time to evaluate if the person actually knows that their behaviour is a problem. Have they been told? Could you help solve the underlying issues?

One final note – is the behaviour one that can’t be changed? Perhaps a medical condition prevents performance from being exactly as you expect. If something can’t be helped, it should go without saying that you shouldn’t make jokes about it! The person probably knows that they have this problem, and highlighting it is nothing more than bullying by means of public shaming.

Remember – leaders raise the people around them, not just themselves. And you have the power to go forth and lead 🙂

 


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Entrepreneurship

Your Product Needs a Clear Market

February 23, 2017

WhatsApp, one of the most popular messaging apps on the market, recently released a feature that clones Snapchat’s Stories. This feature might be important for a number of reasons – but do their users actually want it?

Pressure to build what your market segment doesn’t want

It seems clear that WhatsApp is trying to cause direct harm to Snapchat with this release. Snapchat’s parent company, Snap, will soon publicly trade, and this moment could be make or break for the company. WhatsApp’s parent company, Facebook, might have pushed the feature to take the wind out of their sails. This raises the question – is harming Snapchat by bloating WhatsApp actually the best move?

WhatsApp’s biggest demographic is poorer countries, where the residents usually have less powerful phones. They use WhatsApp because it’s simple, fast, free, and lightweight. The addition of features that bloat the app will only make it harder for WhatsApp’s target market to use their app.

Define your market to define your product

WhatsApp seems like they’re having trouble understanding their market. They might have some metrics that prove that most of their users also use Snapchat stories, but I can’t imagine it’s possible for them to accurately make that claim.

Which features would their users use, and which are unnecessary? These are questions that product managers must always be asking. WhatsApp’s announcement came as a surprise because either few people knew about the change, or because the people who did know couldn’t reveal it. But that doesn’t mean that users weren’t consulted. Defining your market allows you to find the users you want to target, and to actually find out if they’d use your new features. For WhatsApp’s sake, I hope they did this kind of testing.

Even big companies build MVPs

Yik Yak’s recent foray into social networking is a great example of this. Hive comes from employees of the failed anonymous posting app, and is only available at one school. Their strategy is clear; they’re testing that users actually like their product before a wide release. That, and they’re building the buzz.

Even employees from $400 million dollar companies start slow. Define your market and test your product. Then, build something you’re sure that your market will love.

 


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Software

Why I Cancelled Evernote

February 3, 2017

Evernote is a note service that allows synchronization across devices. The concept is incredibly useful – edit the same note from many different places. After 2 years of using Evernote, however, I’ve cancelled my subscription.

There are a number of reasons that users were pushed away from Evernote, including a privacy policy SNAFU. The lessons learned from their lack of communication or proper wording are worthy of examination. My gripe arose when Evernote made a change to their subscription plans. Free users, once able to synchronize notes across unlimited devices, were limited to 2. In doing so, they made an important assumption: synchronizing notes across devices is what users will pay for. Free users received a downgrade, and asked to pay for what was taken away.

Finding a profitable model can mean losing users.

In building startups of my own, I’ve come across the problem Evernote undoubtedly faced. Users will use a free version, but how can you get them to pay? Tech companies have a lot of expenses: developers, servers, and more.

With that in mind, creating a payment model can be difficult. A freemium product needs to do two things, draw in and upgrade users. The free offer needs to be tantalizing, and the paid version needs to provide enough value to call for a paid upgrade. In my personal experience, their choice of what to charge for is not something I’m interested in. On top of that, their limitations to the free plan eliminated what I liked about the platform.

The meaning behind big decisions

What this shows is their trend away from customer-centric to a business focussed on revenue. Perhaps they were unsustainable, or perhaps they were pushed by a stakeholder. To be clear, this isn’t my gripe. What I’m saying is that while there are many things Evernote could have charged for, they are charging for something I would not pay for.

Evernote has the right to do this, and we have the right to switch services.

Evernote is well within its right to change its plans. There’s no faulting them for that. But that doesn’t mean us users have to like it! To be clear, I don’t feel entitled to Evernote’s services. However, if they expect me not to switch to a different platform, they should entice me to pay by adding value to the paid version, not taking value away from the free.

Many people are very passionate about the services they use – see the Cult of Mac, for instance. For now, I’ll be sticking with Microsoft OneDrive. The OSX app still has a bug or two, but it syncs across all my devices, has absolutely everything I need, and runs smoothly. Running smoothly is, incidentally, another thing Evernote is struggling with.

Love Evernote? Hate it? I’d love to hear your feedback!

 


Thanks for reading! Next week I’ll dig into a business topic – maybe user testing?
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Entertainment

5 Things that Make Cooperative Games Fun

January 26, 2017

Recently, my roommate and I played through one of my favourite cooperative games of all time, Little Big Planet. While playing, we were wondering – what makes it such a strong multiplayer game? While there are a number of fun gameplay elements, the game is more fun with others than alone.

We did some brainstorming and came up with 5 elements that make cooperative games fun.

The Controls are Easy to Learn, but Hard to Master

When you’re sitting around ready to play, you want to get right into the action. Maybe that’s why first-person shooters are so popular among groups! A unique elements might make a shooter stand out, but you know the core of what you’ll be doing; running and shooting. Little Big Planet is a great example of this. There are basically only three things you can do; run, jump, and hold on to things.

These games are all easy to learn. But, as the difficulty increases, you end up working as a team to help each other and get better together, making for a shared experience!

Teamwork is Necessary for the Big Rewards

While an emphasis on teamwork is nice, working together for progression’s sake doesn’t influence behaviour. There are stronger ways to approach this. For instance, a game might allow players to struggle through individually, but only really succeed if they work together.

Whether fighting enemies or solving puzzles, working with a friend is a rewarding experience that will allow you to share in success. Solving a puzzle alone can be fun, but who are you going to share with? A good cooperative game should egg players on to the big rewards by getting them to work together.

Encouragement is Small, yet Frequent

If you’re playing a game with a friend and she starts to get bored, you’ll want to stop as well. That’s why it’s beneficial to add frequent encouragement, instead of one large carrot at the end of a stick. Keeping the players focussed on small, numerous goals works just like real life. Staying motivated requires constant focus and small wins. You don’t start a project and only give your team compliments when you reach the end! Cooperative work environments require positive feedback all the time, and a cooperative game is no different.

For a game-based example, check out how often players get points in Little Big Planet 2!

Cooperative Games Don’t Need to Be Very Competitive

Competition is healthy, especially for children. So there’s no reason it should be kept out of cooperative games – as long as it doesn’t take over the focus! There’s no reason to rely on competition to drive behaviour. There is a powerful UX lesson here – people like to be seen as playing in a well-populated world, but don’t like to always be losing!

There are actually a lot of UI/UX lessons that can be taken from good games. But one thing about games that can’t always be applied to products is this last point:

Playing With Another Person is Fun!

While the days of playing outside may have changed, we’re still social creatures who like to play together! Sitting around with my roommate eating snacks was good, clean fun.

I hope you enjoyed this brainstorm of what makes cooperative games enjoyable. There are a ton of similarities between this list and good UI/UX in products, but that’s a topic for another post. 🙂

 


Thanks for reading! Next week I’ll dig into a service I loved but stopped using, so stay tuned.
As well, I’m thinking about illustrating posts myself, the way waitbutwhy does it. What do you think?
Finally, feel free to give me a shout on twitter!

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Connecting

3 Ways to Meet Techies in Toronto

January 18, 2017

I love to meet techies in Toronto. Finding people with similar hobbies who we like makes us feel connected – like part of a community. Many people in Toronto take part, but it can be hard to get started. That’s why I decided to write up a few of the things that worked for me. They are attending meetups, attending classes and… well, just asking! Without any further ado, here’s the list!

Attend a Meetup

There are tons of great events in Toronto where you can meet techies. Some, like HackerNest are broad in scope, and some like TorontoVR are very narrow! Meetup.com is a great site that lists tons of events where you can get together with people. There are meetups for languages, hardware, concepts… you name it! There are also a multitude of bar nights.

HackerNest in Toronto. Great place to meet techies in Toronto!

A HackerNest in Toronto. Image from the HackerNest website.

Pros:

  • Tons of people
  • Niche topics
  • Usually catered with pizza and drinks

Cons:

  • Can be loud and overwhelming
  • Can be hard to introduce or distinguish yourself

A few meetups I like are Coffee & Code, Dev West Toronto and Devhub.

Attend a Class

If you’re learning to code, this is perfect for you. Toronto is full of courses where you can learn all sorts of different skills! The city is slightly unique in that there are classes for people of all ability levels. There’s Ladies Learning Code, HackerYou, Lighthouse Labs and more!

Pros:

  • Broaden your horizons
  • Easy to meet people
  • You might meet a good mentor

Cons:

  • Can be costly
  • Might take a lot of time to complete a full course
  • A bootcamp isn’t a substitute for a computer science degree or learning programming in a job, no matter what they tell you.

Just Ask!

People are proud to hail from Toronto, and often mention it in things like their Twitter bios, linkedin profiles, and other social media. Reach out to people with similar interest and maybe you’ll form a group or make friend. You never know until you try!

Just remember – people might be wary that you’re looking for a job, or sucking up to them for some other reason. There’s no such thing as a free lunch! Or coffee, or beer, for that matter. Luckily, there’s an easy solution for this – be clear with your intentions. Let people know exactly why you want to connect and you can quickly assuage any worries they have and see if they’re on the same page.

Pros:

  • You can choose exactly who you want to connect with
  • You can meet in a spot that’s suitable for both of you

Cons:

  • Slow
  • Can be awkward. But practise makes perfect!

It’s Easy to Meet Techies in Toronto if you Try!

One day I’d like to write a city-agnostic guide, but I know that these great things are true about Toronto. We’re extremely lucky to be in a diverse city full of interesting people. I hope we can work together to create a connected, diverse tech community!

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Software

Why Don’t People Use Strong Passwords?

January 12, 2017

Chances are that you use lots of online services, each one asking you to create new passwords. If you’re like most people, you’re only going to have 1 or 2 that you remember. After all, there are a lot of different sites to log into! Why bother making a new one every time?

Unfortunately, it’s time for a bit of a reality check – passwords are the bottom line of security. No matter how secure a service is, an attacker can easily access your account if you use a bad password. This is critical to note for a number of reasons – for instance, an attacker with access to your email account can reset the passwords on services you use, locking you out. As a result, you could find yourself without access to your online banking, professional email and more.

In this post I’ll explain a common way accounts are hacked, what weak passwords look like, and what you can do.

Why this is Important

Simple software used to hack into people’s personal accounts, like their Facebook account, will launch brute-force attacks. A brute-force attack, in this context, is when an attacker systematically guesses your password until they get the right one. Many pieces of software exist to automatically check every possible combinations of letters, numbers and words until it figures your information out. The reason why so many services lock you out if you incorrectly enter your password a number of times is to prevent this type of attack! To emphasize the point, a lack of lock-out protection is how hackers were able to steal photos in the 2014 iCloud celebrity photo leaks. They scraped interviews with celebrities for key words and phrases like pet’s names and familiar streets, then used programs to guess their passwords.

Common Weak Passwords

Before guessing random combinations, good software will guess from a list of people’s most commonly-used passwords. Companies like SplashData determine that list by scraping information from some of the biggest data leaks, like the Ashley Madison Hack. Using this information, we can determine the most common passwords that people used, listed here:

  1. password
  2. 123456
  3. 12345678
  4. 1234
  5. qwerty (if you’re curious about this one, look at the first 6 keys on your keyboard)
  6. 12345
  7. dragon
  8. p*ssy (let’s assume this one is about cats…)
  9. baseball
  10. football

A full list can be seen here. If your password is on this list, please try to come up with a better one! If anyone wants to gain access to your accounts, it will likely be trivial for them. Similarly, see below for a list of the most common 4-digit PINs (for iPhones, etcetera).

Most Common Passwords

Source in image: Nick Berry of Data Genetics

Most modern phones only give you 10 guesses before starting to lock you out, but that’s enough to get into almost 25% of phones.

Solutions

Keeping yourself secure is actually a relatively simple process. First of all, see how secure your average password is with an online tool, like www.howsecureismypassword.net. Then, consider implementing some of the following pieces of advice:

  • Don’t re-use passwords. One great password is useless if someone knows it!
  • Consider activating two-factor authentication (2FA) wherever possible. 2FA will occasionally use an emailed code or text message to confirm you are who you say you are.
  • Try a password manager like 1Password. Password managers allow you to make complex passwords on the websites you use, while only having to remember one simple password yourself.
  • Don’t needlessly share your password!

Well, that primer was a little longer than I was expecting to write. I hope you found it a useful starting point for protecting yourself!

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Programming

Your First Programming Language

January 9, 2017

Recently, I responded to Business Insider’s shamelessly sponsored fluff piece on what your first programming language should be. Their recommended language is Python, because it’s simple and popular in the job market. While that’s true, it doesn’t mean that Python is what a new programmer should learn. I’ll explain why the advice is bad, how to actually pick a first programming language, and conclude with examples.

Why the advice is bad

First off – many people who get started with programming have no idea what to expect, and for good reason. We have a societal perception of programming as boring, but everything we see on the screen is so exciting! Sorry to burst the bubble, but realistically, your first program is going to be simple, text-based, and kind of boring.

That said, your first programs could be much more interesting, while still teaching you the basics. There are many simple languages that will allow you to do interesting things quickly – like designing websites or putting graphics on the screen. Processing, for instance, is a language for art and design that will have you making cool things quickly.

According to Business Insider, in Python “if you forget your parentheses or misplace a few semicolons, it shouldn’t trip you up as much as it might if you were coding in another one.” This is terrible advice for a new programmer. Bracket counting should be automatically handled, and your code isn’t going to work if you forget semicolons. On the first point, the web is full of free coding environments that provide bracket completion and matching tools. They’re called Integrated Development Environments, or IDEs. Furthermore, you’re going to find that missing brackets and semicolons will almost always break your code. Finally, and employer would never hire a programmer who couldn’t remember brackets and semicolons. Don’t be discouraged if you forget them for a while, but that’s a skill that needs to be enforced from the beginning.

What your first programming language should actually be

Let me be clear: Python is a great language, and if that’s going to be your first choice, more power to you. But, most humans are motivated by results – and with Python, you’ll be seeing exciting results slowly. That’s why you should take a step back and think: “What do I want to program?”

Here’s the secret – you’ll be motivated if you pick something to do, and then learn how to do it. I’ll provide a couple of quick examples, but you should do your own research as well!

I want to make a….

Website. Try Javascript!

Mathematical Model. Try MATLAB!

Game. Try the Unity game engine!

…I’m not sure!  No worries. There are lots of good ways to learn the basics – writing code, control flow, and more. While Python isn’t a bad choice, I’d recommend Processing. With Processing you’ll be writing simple code that will have cool, quick results. It should be a fun exercise for anyone trying to get into the field!

Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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