Pete and I caught up for a coffee last week - yes, this is indeed another post delayed by a week - at Jones Bay Wharf. The excuse this time is the same as the last - there has been too much work for me to blog... which makes me think that we must create a more efficient way of blogging.
Pete has been working on a fascinating new FinTech idea - which I cannot share on this blog. What a pity! I love bouncing ideas around with people. The unpredictable ricochetting of conversations sometimes create the best ideas.
Winter is my favourite time for generating new ideas.
We have been workshopping a few new ideas internally, and we think we have our next six months planned... so we will have to start executing!
Progress feels so slow in the days before releasing a new version of VIVA.
We have had some tech hiccups getting to this point... but we are edging closer every day. Every day feels like the eve before the release of a new version, but not yet! The user feedback from the last few months have guided us to focus on making improvements to VIVA - small tweaks for big wins.
They may not be enough though.
"So I guess you aren't doing an overhaul just yet," Adam wrote in an email to me last week.
If we reduce VIVA down to its core, there are only three components:
Our tech team has been split along those three paths, trying to divide and conquer. Since our team is lean (read: small), we have had to prioritise certain things above others, even though they are probably equally important.
There is a jigsaw puzzle of possibilities...
John and I caught up last week to talk other business. These meetings serve as a good distraction from VIVA, so that I can turn away for a little bit, gain some distance, and tackle problems afresh.
We are close to the new version now... and with the benefit of the distance, the progress feels too slow and the changes feel too insignificant. I feel like we are the tortoise in the race. I hope the fable comes true, and that maybe we will win the race in the end.
I should be focused on Python coding this afternoon. Nishant sent a skeleton template for our data cleaner and labeller this morning, and I just have to go through and repeat a few hundred lines of code to label events data. I really should be doing that... but instead, I feel compelled to write a blog post about releasing the next version of the VIVA app.
One thing I should do more is survey and listen to our customers. It is fundamental to product design to listen to your customers. What I have failed to do in the last two months is to monitor our app reviews on the Apple App Store. It took a phone call with Adam to bring this to my attention this morning. I haven't felt the sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach for a while, "Oh sh*t, I really f*cked up, and there is no rewind button for life." I felt it during the call with Adam.
Was I asleep at the wheel? How did I miss the one-star reviews on the App Store?
One user wrote, "It’s definitely a problem that needs solving but unfortunately the uninviting and unintuitive interface detracts from what the app could possibly offer. Hopefully it gets better soon as I don’t like that Facebook is the go-to place to find out about events."
Another user was more abrupt and wrote, "Worst navigation with the worst user interface ever. Don’t even bother downloading it."
Dave, our UX consultant, had pointed out the unintuitive interface in September last year, and we have been trying to figure out a way to fix the interface without losing the soul of the app. We could have changed VIVA into the standard list style apps that everyone uses or model ourselves completely after the Google Material.io philosophy, but we wanted to be a little different. Perhaps that is my ego speaking.
We are close to releasing a new version now, and here's a sneak peek of the redesigned screens.
Before Saturday night, the last time I went bowling was probably around two years ago.
I spend much of my time pondering the process for shaping our social lives - or, the customer journey, if you are familiar with marketing or startup jargon. How do we decide what to do on the weekend? Who told us about bowling? Where did we decide to go? So on, and so on. All the while trying to uncover some insights about this decision making process so that VIVA can better help solve the problem, whatever that problem is.
In the beginning, I thought the problem was...
... that we did not know what to do with our spare time. I felt that was the problem VIVA solved because I had about five hours of spare time a week where I did not know what to do, and so this must be a problem that everyone faced. After a while, I realised that I did not in fact have any spare time at all. The "spare time" was invariably filled with seeing friends, shopping, chores and little gremlins that appear last minute.
No, no. VIVA was not trying to help people fill their spare time. That is a silly endeavour because very few people have a problem filling spare time.
The real problem was...
... we do not always have a good answer to the question, "What should we do?" We would love to be social and do meaningful things, but we often end up doing something less. This came from two connected problems - we do not know the possibilities for what to do, and we do not have time to find and consider all those possibilities. So, we built VIVA to solve those problems.
Now, we have refined this again, so we edge a little closer to the real customer journey - it isn't that we do not have a good answer to the question, "what should we do?" Sometimes, we know exactly what we should do, but we want to find out more information about that thing, and this is what the next version of VIVA must solve.
This blog post is about equilibriums.
Sometimes, words go missing from my mind. Ideas try to hook into words to make themselves tangible, but fail to grip onto anything, and instead send the letters clashing around my mind like in a pinball machine. Those are good days. My mind feels alive, and I start to believe again perhaps I am not as stupid as some evidence might suggest.
The thoughts sometimes lead to actions... but only sometimes.
We took a day off yesterday. We spent the afternoon seeing New Breed by Sydney Dance Company, and the evening at Kat's birthday barbecue. It was probably one of the most relaxed days both of us have had in the past months.
A year ago, I started working on VIVA full time believing that I would visit one venue or one event every day, and then spending the rest of my time working on the business. On average, I think I have visited two venues or attended two events every week... which is on par to when I was a lawyer. Spending a lot of hours working seems to have become a habit. This led to an interesting (and very recent) observation:
We each have an innate and immutable level of sociability.
There is a body of psychology research about the effect of winning the lottery on human happiness. The research showed that the external stimuli pushed and pulled on our level of happiness in the short term, but with the passing of time, we return to something like an innate level of happiness.
I think sociability behaves in a similar framework where each of us has an innate level of desire for being social. We may change our behaviour in the short term, our longer term behaviours return to a natural equilibrium.
If this is right, then this is very interesting... one of the hypothesis we used when we built VIVA was that happiness is directly proportional to sociability. Our goal was to make the world a happier place, and so if we increased sociability, then we increased happiness. BUT, if sociability returns to an equilibrium the same way that happiness returns to an equilibrium, then it would be foolish to expect that VIVA can change the behaviour of users to increase the quantum of social interactions permanently.
So, how will VIVA improve user happiness?
I wrote to Sam earlier today, "Hey man! Let me know if you want a break and come to the boat trip tomorrow. The offer is open, if you feel like it, alright?"
If we can take VIVA to the level of knowing when someone can benefit from being social, then even though we may not be able to permanently increase their happiness, we can help give them a temporary and necessary uptick in their happiness... and maybe that is the best we can hope to do.
The Webhaus boys invited us to join them on their Christmas cruise next Monday, so I extended the invitation to Tom as well. I was hesitant to take the Monday afternoon off to celebrate Christmas, but it seemed that almost all of our business customers are either taking a holiday break or facing major Christmas ache, and so I feel like I can take some time off too.
Our business is on track for this quarter, despite the changed market landscape causing us to duck and dodge. I am trying to shift the VIVA-mobile into the next gear, but this car did not come with an instruction manual, so I keep - what's the phrase - missing the clutch? Grinding the clutch? The positive news are that the ride still runs, and it is looking like it will be smoother.
How to better capture our minds...
A tangential thought has been nagging at me for a few days.
A few days ago, I woke from a dream, a fully scripted eight episode series about someone solving a puzzle that spans 50 years and across wealthy American aristocrats, and promptly forgot all the character names, the nuances of the plot, dialogue, and almost everything that made the idea worthwhile, and it occurred to me that we need a better way to capture thoughts, experiences. I have been so obsessed with using VIVA to create experiences, I forgot an equally important part of the equation - capturing and remembering experiences.
I spent a few hours this afternoon sketching a product outline of what something would have to do - and it is much more than Facebook or Pinterest. I don't have the solution yet, not even close, but I know it isn't VR and AR... whatever the solution is, it is going to have to replace the notebook, and be much faster and effective. Maybe it is just a notebook, but I am still thinking through it.
There must be a better way... and I must figure out how.
Sometimes, trying to create the perfect user experience feels like a game of spot the statistical correlation - find what most people like most of the time and reduce that down to one design decision. Then, I wonder, is reducing the statistical correlation down to one single decision compromising on the experience of every user?
Is this designed for everybody, and therefore nobody?
The latest user experience question is about the default search range in VIVA - this is currently set to show a personalised list of all events inside a geographic radius of 5km and within a timeframe of one week.
We have had a lot of feedback from different people about VIVA's default search range. Some people say that it is too much, like Dan at Town & Country Bar suggested reducing the distance radius just 2km, and Lurnea suggested reducing the timeframe to just one day. Some people say that it is not enough (though, they are very much in the minority, but if more users had seen version 1.0 of VIVA, I am sure they would tell me that showing just the top 15 ranked events in a search range is not enough).
The app already gives users a way to tailor the search settings inside of the app, but it is one tap away from the home screen, and requires users to make a thoughtful decision... so it is too much effort. The default settings matter.
I don't have an answer yet, and I will probably need to spend the weekend conducting user surveys and sketching Venn diagrams.
"Are you going to put this up and tell people I was rude?"
"Yes. I am going to tell them that wasn't, like, even a work call."
Ricky and I have been friends since law school, though I cannot remember how we became friends. I suspect it was through our mutual friend, Harshan, who is on the other side of the world saving people at the ICC (or something similar).
We shared personal news a bit before we jumped briefly into business - PayPal, Braintree and all that.
PayPal had been ready for VIVA since July... but we are not yet. Our small little team at VIVA is awesome, but it feels like we are always juggling the last thing to land on our desk, rather than prioritising all the things on our desk. So, I am going to have to make sure we pick up our slack ahead of January.
After weeks of deliberation and redrafting, we finally sent our first quarterly newsletter to our venues and event organisers this morning!
I spent too much of my childhood immersed in video games, and so it is appropriate for me to declare: