Chris Waters

CEO at Inn Style, an accommodation startup full of the usual mistakes, headaches and promising uptakes.

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I suspect 80% of programmers are still working on problems where their development velocity is a much bigger problem than how many hits their server can take before falling over.

Amen to that.

I now have enough experience to say with plenty of certainty that building a good software product is bloody hard.

And the latest blips coming from Cupertino’s finest would seem to add weight to my rather simple hypothesis.

The holy grail – if you’re in a programmy, producty kind of role, and therefore responsible for mashing classes and methods into some kind of workable thing – is reaching a good development velocity. One where production deployments are frequent, features are shipped regularly, and the codebase becomes more readable and robust.

The real trick is to ensure you’re doing all three well.

On their own, each one can fool you into thinking you’re making progress.

You can...

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Lessons in simplicity from some very smart people

I did a talk recently here about simplicity. This post is a loose representation of that.

One day they’ll pass a law that makes it a legal requirement for oven hobs to have burners that are configured in exactly the same grid as the controls. Until that day, we must hunt and kill such unnecessary complexity.

“Complicated seems clever to stupid people.”

Dave Trott

I prefer this quote to oft-used “Keep It Simple, Stupid” because the person striving for simplicity is absolved of their stupidity.

Anyway. When I was double checking the attribution of the above quote to Dave Trott, I noticed this written in the comments.

“Instructing people to make something simple is as helpful as instructing people to make something famous.”

Good point, well made.

So if we can’t aim for simplicity, what should we do?

This is a good thought:

“Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good...

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To be a vulture

There’s nothing particularly likeable about vultures.

But what would you do if you discovered a competitor had told its customers they would soon be shutting down?

There’s a slap-up-meal about to happen – are you sticking around for the feast?

Today we discovered that Q Book had told accommodation owners that the service would be closing in a matter of days.

So we searched Twitter for irate customers and found some. We set up a Google Adwords campaign on their brand name. We got some signups.

But then other competitors started getting involved in those same Twitter conversations.

The lions had joined the hyenas and vultures.

The feast was in full swing.

Unlike communication tools or sharing apps, online booking systems are a zero sum game. You don’t use two. One person’s gain is another person’s loss.

That makes acquisition harder, because you have to force the switch.


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The Job of a Pizza

When I first started discovering the Jobs to be Done way of thinking, it blew my tiny mind.

The depths to which you could dive into this process were immediately obvious, and the surface was simple enough to make you leap.

For those of you who haven’t the foggiest what I’m going on about, Jobs to be Done is way of defining what your customers want from a product – or to use the terminology: what jobs a product is hired to do.

You’re only a Google away from loads of information, so I won’t give you the lowdown here, but I should at least credit its creator, Clayton Christensen.

I probably first heard about JTBD from following Basecamp’s Ryan Singer on Twitter, and downloaded a podcast that featured his smart thinking.

Something that really resonated was when he railed against personas.

Personas (you may call them profiles, or something different) are pretend customers you concoct...

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Flogging Big Macs: What startups can learn from advertising

Bob Hoffman is The Ad Contrarian.

Years ago, I managed to get my hands on one of his first books, The Ad Contrarian. It is 63 pages of solid gold advice from someone who clearly revels in being the skeptical but smart old bugger in the corner.

Page 51 features this gem of a sentence:

It’s easier to convince you to eat a Big Mac than to convince you eating a Big Mac is a good thing to do.

The point is this: it is usually a lot easier to change behaviours than it is attitudes.

Startups should heed this advice.

Often our products start with a grand plan. There’s no shame in this: we should want to revolutionise an industry or destroy the status quo.

My startup is no different. We still refer to Inn Style as The Reservation Revolution on our homepage.

But we don’t necessarily need to sell it this way.

Some of our customers will love our opinionated methods and philosophies.


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Why you should pitch

I’ve had the pleasure and the pressure of pitching our startup to potential investors. Irrespective of financial implications, here’s why I think it’s a good idea:

1. You have to be insanely clear on your offer

What does your product do, why do your customers love it, and what makes it better than your competition?

That seems like the most obvious question in the world to ask a startup, but how powerful and concise is your answer?

The last time I answered this question, we’d been building Inn Style for nearly three years. I should’ve been able to recite the answer without flinching.

But the after reading how one of my co-founders answered the question, we ended up changing our homepage the very next day. Why? Because his take on our offer provided some remarkable clarity. And his way of expressing the offer made me go “wow – that is what we’ve built”.

2. You have to stand by the...

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I am the hunter of invisible game

What the dickens makes your customers tick?

You can think about the jobs they hire your product to do.

You can track how your best customers find you.

You can measure customer acquisition and retention in a simple and meaningful way.

You can see what your customers are doing and interact with them instantly and with context.

The frameworks and tools are all there.

But a great rifle does not make a great hunter.

Hunters need intuition.

Maps and binoculars and books and camouflage will help.

As will years and years of experience.

But it doesn’t guarantee success.

As product managers and designers, our job is predicting the motivations and influencing the reactions of people we’ll never meet.

This is an absurd task.

And so in absurdity we must rely on intuition to build a blissfully simple product that feels revolutionary to all those users who haven’t yet signed up.

Why does...

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The Sweet & Sour Startup

It was supposed to be so easy.

Just find a market ripe for disruption, build a product that makes people’s lives easier, and knock on the digital doors of everyone who might use it.

The simplicity of the startup dream is what makes it so bloody intoxicating.

And in that dream, everyone who tries your product has the same where-has-this-thing-been-all-my-life reaction.

They can’t believe its ingenuity. They use it every single day. In fact, they like it so much, they add it as a shortcut in their browser. And nobody adds anything as a shortcut anymore.

They tell their peers, who tell their peers. Twitter’s going mental for your idea. Sign-ups are going through the roof. You need the Intercom Premium Plan. This shit is B A N A N A S.

Monthly recurring revenue looks like a chart from the good bit in a Disney movie, where the dogs are making money paw over fist and the cats just stare...

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