Improving the Pocket app

This is the first of a series of posts where I’ll be looking at potential improvements to products.

Pocket is one of my favorite apps and I was recently asked what I’d improve about it. The Pocket team has done a lot of great work outside of the app, including:

  • An ease of adding content into your items list for future consumption: you can save items to Pocket via email, a bookmarklet, and hundreds of apps
  • The ability to use the app on many devices, including smartphones, tablets, computers, and even some e-readers (they’ve integrated with Kobo)

I point this attention to outside the app because the consumption experience and sharing capabilities inside the app are pretty good. There are always opportunities for tweaks and optimizations, but some higher impact changes can potentially be made in the areas of discovery and sharing when users are outside the app. I think the Pocket team knows this, as they recently began sending a weekly email to users with a few suggestions of popular items that you may be interested in.

Example of Pocket app's discovery emails

This email is aimed at increasing engagement via discovery of new content, potentially resulting in more items being added to Pocket. So now Pocket has made advancements with discovery outside the app, but what’s still missing for me is a nudge to share content more than I currently do.

I rarely share content via Pocket with others. I use the app for a few minutes at a time (such as when I’m on the subway), so my focus is on reading what I have time for and then moving onto something off my device (such as getting off the train). Sharing doesn’t need to only take place inside the app — I’d explore a way to get users to share items when they’re not using the app.

The goal here is to increase virality through users sharing items. More items shared = more potential new users of Pocket. I’d experiment here with a periodic email sent to users that nudges them to share items that they’ve already consumed. This is different from the ‘discovery’ focused email described above, as here the user is already familiar with the content (it’d be a few items they’ve consumed within the past week) and can make a quick decision to share it.

Wireframe of potential sharing email for Pocket app

  • If the user is on mobile and the Pocket app is installed on the device, tapping on a sharing icon would open the app and put the user into the app’s existing sharing mechanism to complete the share based on the selection they made in the email (e.g., tapping to share via Facebook)
  • If the user is on mobile and the Pocket app is not installed on the device, tapping on a sharing icon would open the web app in the device’s browser with the user auto-logged in and they could complete the share
  • If the user is on desktop, clicking on a sharing icon would open the web app with the user auto-logged in and they could complete the share

The best number of items to include in the email could be A/B tested, but for the sake of this post let’s go with 4. Here’s how they’d be selected:

  • If the user consumed 5 or more items during the past week that they didn’t already share, include the 4 that were most popular based on what other Pocket users have also consumed
  • If the user consumed between 1 and 4 items during the past week that they didn’t already share, include all of those items
  • If the user consumed 0 items during the past week, send the same ‘discovery’ email that Pocket currently sends (with no built-in sharing element)

In some cases a user will have only consumed articles and no videos, or vice versa, but here we’ll assume it’s both.

Depending on which metrics are most important to Pocket, the results of this new ‘sharing’ email (the goal being to increase user acquisition via some of the people who receive a shared item) could trump the results of the existing ‘discovery’ email (the goal being to increase engagement from the primary user).

One option is to combine the ‘discovery’ and ‘sharing’ emails to introduce a couple of new items to the user along with a couple of already-consumed items that they may want to share. This could be tested.

Example of potential discovery and sharing combination email for Pocket app

The following would be tracked from the emails to measure success:

  • Email open rate
  • Click-through rate on items within the email
  • Shares that originated from the email
  • New users that resulted from a share from the email

Success would primarily be determined by new users that resulted from the shares. A secondary benefit would be increased engagement by existing users who either share items or receive shared items.

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Are you getting enough negative feedback?

It’s been widely accepted that a product should not be built in a bubble where feedback isn’t being collected from target users along the way. What’s not always focused on enough, however, is the pursuit of negative feedback, which is incredibly valuable when trying to address the needs of a market.

People naturally say pleasantries about how they liked your party, whether your baby is cute, or how they share the same hobby as you — all to be polite. It’s human nature to not want to say something negative to another person. The thing is, it’s crucial to hear negative feedback when you’re developing a product because it acts as fuel for improvements.

Examples of negative feedback from a user:

  1. “I can’t do X, so this is of no use to me.”
  2. “It’s an interesting premise, but I’m not seeing much of a reason to use it because I can already do X another way.”
  3. “Based on your website, I was expecting to be able to do X but then found that I couldn’t after I signed up.”

These are opportunities to ask questions to a user to learn more about what they’d specifically need to see in your product in order to use it, how they’d use it if it had a missing piece, what would compel them to keep using it, and (if applicable) what they’d pay for. This information will not only give you a clue as to what’s missing in your product, but you’ll also get a crisper understanding of the benefits that your product can offer (and then you can relay that into sales/marketing).

In some cases, a user could use the product to do X but just didn’t see how to, so you’d point them in the right direction and decide whether to add guidance within the product and/or FAQ materials to help ensure that other users don’t have the same confusion. Lack of guidance can lead to a poor experience just as missing functionality can.

A few ways to collect feedback:

  1. In emails to users (ask some users who submit a support request; include something about feedback in automated user emails)
  2. Run surveys (such as via a Google form)
  3. Schedule in-person meetings

When you ask someone for feedback, tell them that you appreciate their time and that any comments they provide will help to improve the product so that they can get more out of it. Say something specific about how negative feedback is welcome and that it’s often what ends up being most helpful (once they know this, they’ll be more open to give it).

A great way to get feedback is by watching people use the product in person. You can see first-hand where they get stuck, figure out what they were trying to do, and ask questions on the spot to better understand their goals. You don’t need to do this with a hundred users — set it up with five and you’ll learn quite a bit.

One of the best opportunities to get unfiltered negative feedback is when someone wants to remove their account or becomes inactive. Yipit offered $10 to people who stopped using their product because they saw significant value in getting them on the phone to hear why they didn’t like it. You can get some feedback by having a questionnaire be presented to a user when they remove their account (or unsubscribe from a mailing list), but providing an extra incentive to someone for offering their time — whether they’re an active or inactive user — is even better.

If you’re not getting negative feedback a few times a week, you’re either not talking to enough people, don’t have enough feedback channels set up, or people are being too polite and not telling you how they really feel. Break this trend so that you can learn more about what people really think, and then put that information to use.

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Tips for Entrepreneurs: Getting out of jury duty

If you’re working on an early stage startup, tell the court that you have a business that’s not making money, that’s not paying you, that requires you to work 12-16 hours per day in order to have a chance to some day make money, and that working 8 hours less per day during jury duty would hurt those chances. After hearing this (and after looking at you funny and wondering why in the world you would do that), they will likely excuse you.

(Note: When summoned for jury duty, you have the opportunity to get excused by the court if you have a solid reason for why spending time on a trial would be detrimental to you.)

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The work-life balance

At this time of year, I can’t help but think back to when I had “a regular job” (as some members of my family like to remind me of), and how I would look forward to the holiday season when others around me would be slowing down a bit as they approached days off, and therefore I could also slow down a bit. (And come to think of it, this was also the case every week leading up to the weekend…)

With so much needing to be done for an early stage startup, however, going even a day without doing work, let alone a whole weekend, can result in falling behind. This creates a challenge when trying to make time for those who are most important in your life, as well as giving yourself some down time, so that you can maintain a positive balance for the long haul. I have been guilty of falling short in this area (apologies to just-about-every-person-i-know for this), but I am trying my darndest to get it right.

How I’ve been able to make progressimage of a balance
What I’ve been doing recently is scheduling work time every day, so that when it’s not work time, it’s personal time. If you work best in the daytime, schedule time off at night. If you work best at night, have off in the morning. If you’re an all day type of person, schedule a couple of breaks throughout. And for the times when you’re in a flow and want to continue past a scheduled stoppage, make up for it by adjusting the next day’s schedule.

Without something like this, it can be difficult to create a clear enough separation between work and personal time, and you risk not giving yourself enough of an opportunity to wind down and to avoid burning out.

Weekends are different
For the average weekend, I try to fit in a coupe hours per day to catch up on small tasks that have been lingering around, as well as emails that I’ve fallen behind on — and the rest goes to personal time. This way, I can try to make up for times during the week when I may have neglected family, friends, a significant other, etc., while still remaining in touch with the workload.

Do I have it all figured out? Absolutely not. But startup life isn’t perfect, and what we learn today can be applied tomorrow. Plus, it sure beats having “a regular job.”

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