Mar 30, 2015

Perceived effort and it's impact on Activation

I'm sure every product startup founder must have asked themselves and their teams these 3 important questions -
  1. How to get my product in front of my users/customers? => Acquisition
  2. How to get them to try it out? => Activation
  3. How to ensure they come back to it repeatedly? => Retention
For the last few months, I have been investing time in understanding the second question pertaining to "Activation".

Activation corresponds to different goals for different types of markets and products. For social products like Facebook or Twitter, it could mean adding X number of friends or followers. For SaaS products focused on certain business needs, it could mean completing a certain workflow. For e-commerce products, it could mean making the first purchase.

The key insight from all these goals is that the intended person understands the "value" your product brings in and the "perceived benefit" he can get as a result of using your product.

Demonstrating value can be tackled in multiple steps:
  1. Getting the right target audience in front of your product (basic necessity but extremely important)
  2. Making sure the 3Cs (Clear, crisp and compelling) of effective messaging are followed in your landing page
  3. Signup flow is simple and free of any friction
  4. Onboarding is smooth and helps the user to experience ONE small win in a short investment of time (Time-to-Value)
Each of the steps deserve an essay of its own, which I shall park for later blogposts. While I was reading up and researching more on these steps, I also learnt a very important lesson pertaining to user motivation.
"perceived benefit has to be greater than perceived effort"
I came across a couple of equations from Sean Ellis and Matt Wensing that illustrate the same point from the view of friction/pain of adoption.
Conversion rate = Desire - Friction
will_convert == pain_of_adoption < existing_pain_without_solution
 A real life incident that happened recently helped me understand the nuances of perceived effort. My main apartment door has a two-way lock. The inner lock started to get stuck and wasn't working well.

We were making use of the second lock which was on the top corner of the door. Though it was a little uncomfortable, we got used to this alternative. The outer lock didn't have any issues and so we didn't face any problem while stepping out. 

We didn't take the time to fix the lock. It required finding a carpenter, buying a new lock, getting the carpenter to fix it and replacing our existing keys with new ones in our respective key chains. Phew….that sounds like a lot of work.

It all changed when we were planning to go out of town for a week. We usually give the key to our househelp lady to water the plants whenever we are going out for a long break. Many questions cropped up. What if the outer lock snaps and she is not able to lock the door? {Could have happened to us too!). What if she uses the inner lock, got stuck and not able to come out?

The task with a higher perceived effort suddenly turned into an important and urgent one. We got the lock fixed and it didn't take much time. We ordered the lock online, called a carpenter to come home on Saturday morning and got it fixed.

There are a few key take-aways related to human motivation that we can understand from this incident:
  1. We find work-arounds to a problem even though they are not the best solution.
  2. We stick to those work-arounds as long as we can manage and it serves the purpose.
  3. A slight shift in context can bring a big change in our motivation to solve a problem.
  4. Perceived effort in solving a problem may not be the same as the actual effort required but "perceived effort" decides our motivation and thereby, our behavior.
  5. If we need to delegate the work to someone, we are not confident whether the temporary work-arounds we have put in place for ourselves will work for them.
Bottomline - If you are working on improving the activation rates of your product/app, taking time to understand the following questions will help you in improving the activation rates:
  1. What are the present work-arounds being used by your target audience to address their problem/need?
  2. Are they satisfied with their work-arounds?
  3. What trigger points / change in context would make these work-arounds vulnerable that they would start looking for a better solution?
  4. How can you communicate better in your landing page and signup flow that will eventually reduce the "perceived effort" of your target audience?
What other pointers will be helpful related to reducing the "perceived effort"? Please do share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mar 17, 2015

Garden to plate - Spinach corn pasta

Hubby dear is extremely fond of gardening in our little terrace garden space. Over the years, we have tried different flowering plants, croton varieties etc. But I get the maximum joy from the fresh veggies and greens that I can pluck and use for cooking. We don't use any pesticides or chemical fertilizers. So getting organic and fresh produce right from our little garden is a humbling and grateful experience. Battling the pests and ants is a huge challenge. Our plants are surviving, thanks to hubby's constant nurturing and attention.

There were times when we had continuous harvest of beans and tomatoes that we ended up not buying them from vegetable shop for a couple of months. We also tried few other veggies - the long bottlegourd from a tender creeper plant, loads of violet brinjals, green chillies, fresh sprigs of mint and bunches of Italian basil (that got transformed into pesto). In the last couple of months, our garden has blessed us with fresh herbs (parsley, celery, basil) and greens (spinach, fenugreek).  I'm also eagerly awaiting to harvest beetroot (hoping the ants don't take a bite this time!).

Spinach / Palak finds a place in my weekly veggie shopping bag. Sometimes, the bunch I buy looks good in the shop but as soon as I bring it home, it gives a wilted look. I would immediately rustle up a palak paneer the same evening or the next day.

As I was admiring the size of the spinach leaves last evening in my garden, I wanted to try something different this time. Hubby had been asking for pasta and I wanted to incorporate more veggies. A quick google search landed me to this recipe of spinach corn pasta. I modified it a little bit and the end result was a yummy, healthy dinner. We plucked the spinach leaves just before making the pasta. Oh boy! the look and feel of the fresh leaves was just amazing :-)

1 cup of macaroni pasta
1/2 onion finely chopped
4-5 garlic cloves finely chopped
1/2 carrot finely chopped
handful of sweet corn
8-9 big spinach leaves cleaned and finely chopped (add more if you like it)
1/2 tsp black pepper powder
dry herbs - oregano, thyme
1 tsp of wheat flour
2 cups of milk
2 tsp Olive oil

Steam carrots and corn in a pressure cooker for 5 minutes.

Boil fresh milk and cool it.
Mix wheat flour with 1 cup of milk nicely without any lumps.

Boil a pot of water. Add 1.5 tsp of salt.
Once it starts to boil nicely, add pasta and give it a quick mix. Let it cook for the time mentioned in your pack.

Meanwhile, heat a pan. Add 2 tsp of olive oil.
Lightly saute garlic and onion till it turns translucent.
Add chopped spinach and sauté it for a min.
Add steamed carrot and corn.
Reduce the flame to low and add milk mixed with wheat flour.
Add 1 more cup of milk. Stir continuously till you see a shiny texture and it starts to thicken.
Add pepper powder, 1/2 tsp salt, dried herbs.
Mix well.

By this time, your pasta would have got cooked. Add the pasta to the mixture and mix together. Switch off the stove.
Serve with grated cheese on top.

I usually don't add oil while cooking the pasta nor do I rinse with cold water. I plan the cooking time in such a way that as soon as the pasta gets cooked, it is ready to be dunked into the sauce. I read about this tip from Madhu Menon long time back and it works well for me.

Pasta lovers, give it a try and let me know how you like it! :-)

Mar 16, 2015

Weekend in Yercaud

Except for Yercaud, I had visited all hill stations in Tamilnadu and Kerala earlier. Thanks to Holi weekend, we quickly planned for a trip to Yercaud. It is around 230 kms from Bangalore that took us a little over 4 hours. The drive was pleasant and smooth. We took a breakfast break at A2B in Krishnagiri and drove straight towards Salem. The directions from Salem were very clear and navigating the 20 hairpin bends were exciting. One could feel the gradual shift in temperature as we climbed up the hills. I was pleasantly surprised to experience a cool weather at Yercaud, given that around the same time in Ooty it was extremely hot last year.

We checked-in to our room in Hotel Shevaroys. We had booked a rose room which was clean, hygienic and comfortable. After resting for some time, we headed out to lunch at their multi-cuisine restaurant. Opted for a sumptuous South Indian thali which thankfully, my 3 year old also liked it. We came back to our room and slept like logs for 3 hours. It's been a long time since all three of us (hubby, daughter D and myself) took an afternoon nap together.

In the evening, we took a walk around the hotel which has a sprawling campus. D was more excited about the play area (the maintenance could have been better though). She was also excited to spot some birds - ducks, turkey and cock in the cages.

Thanks to the heavy lunch, we weren't feeling hungry and grabbed some chai from a nearby restaurant. We took a walk and realized the little town is almost completely shut by 7 PM. So we returned, had dinner, watched TV (more enjoyable to watch TV on rare occasions) and slept.

The next morning, we freshened up and had a good breakfast at the hotel. The buffet had a sumptuous spread, offering both continental and Indian options. We spent some time walking inside their catering college campus. The customer service manager showed us around their bakery and commercial ovens they use.

We then headed out to roam around Yercaud. Most of the sight-seeing places are within 4-5 kms distance, so we were able to cover most of them. We went to Rajarajeswari temple, Sevarayon temple, Lady's seat, Gent's seat and Iynthinai park. Thanks to the pleasant weather, it was a nice drive. We had a quick lunch at Hotel Saravana Bhavan near the lake. The dosas are decent here. We went to Anna Park where D was having a ball, playing on the slides and swings. It started to drizzle a bit but she was in no mood to leave the park. After more than an hour, we went to the boat house and took a pedal boat ride. It costs 90 bucks for a 2 seater. D didn't enjoy much as she was insisting that she wants to get into the water and play. No amount of explaining or coaxing would make her stop crying. Challenges of traveling with a toddler, you see! :-)

We came back to our room, ordered some snacks and relaxed for some time. The hotel guys had arranged for a campfire late in the evening. We sat there for some time while D was happily dancing with no inhibitions. Clear night sky, lots of stars and a cool breeze made the evening even more beautiful.

The next morning, after breakfast we checked out around 12 PM and headed to "Deer Park". D was more attracted towards the play area than the deers. After spending an hour there, we headed towards Salem and had lunch. The sun was its peak on the way back, announcing that summer is already here. We took a tea break at A2B and then reached home around 6 PM.

It was a good relaxing break after a long time. And I'm glad that D also had lots of fun. One of the many reasons why I love Bangalore is the proximity to these weekend getaways. Hoping to cover few more of them this year.

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