Disappointment is never easy. You get your hopes up for something, only to have them crushed by the reality of life (no, that’s not me pictured above, though I did feel that way after the niners lost two weeks ago). It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional athlete, a professional marketer, or anything else — dealing with disappointment is tough. Having just witnessed my team’s bitter rival win the Super Bowl (something we couldn’t accomplish the previous year) certainly is disappointing. I’m happy for the city of Seattle, since this is their first title since the Sonics in 1979, but that doesn’t trump my overall bitterness with the situation.
Everyone is confronted with disappointment at some point in their life, so what’s the best way to deal with it? To me, it’s pretty simple — get back to work and learn from your mistakes. What mistakes were made that led to the undesirable result? How can you avoid mistakes like that in the future? What can you take away from the situation to improve your results in the future? We’ve all heard the old sports adage that “there is no off-season”. Super Bowl champions may tell you they’re going to Disneyland, but in reality the great ones go back to work and try to get better.
One of my favorite companies, Moz, had to deal with a big disappointment in 2013. They went through the difficult launch of a new product, Moz Analytics, which was a contributing factor in their $5.7M EBITDA loss during the year. No one at the company planned for this, nor were they very happy about it, but there’s no sense in them complaining. In fact, one of their key investors, Brad Feld, commended them for their efforts. All that’s left is to analyze what went wrong, learn from the mistakes made, and prevent them from ever happening again.
“Tough times build character”
“It’s not about how many times we get knocked down, but how many times we get back up”
There are a thousand clichés designed to make us feel better when we’re upset. All I can tell you is when you suffer a personal setback, don’t roll over and play dead. Dust yourself off and get back to work; it’s the only way to redeem yourself.
Generally speaking, a gross imbalance between supply and demand means something is very wrong. Either no one wants your product while you hold tons of inventory, or the product is flying off the shelves faster than you can produce it. But can an imbalance be a good thing? Under the right circumstances, I say yes.
Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California brews two beers which are considered by many to be among to best in the world. The first beer I’ll mention, available year-round, is called Pliny the Elder. The beer is named after a philosopher from the first century AD who is believed to have coined the botanical name for hops, humulus lupulus. This double IPA is one of the smoothest 8.0% beers on the market today, so why don’t more people know about it? The answer is simple: limited distribution. You can occasionally find a market with a bottle or a bar with a keg of PtE, but consumers are often limited to just one beer.
Their other, more popular beer is called Pliny the Younger, named after the Elder’s nephew who he adopted as his son. PtY is a triple IPA which tops out at around 10.25% ABV and it happens to be one of the most sought after beers in the world because it’s only available two weeks out of the year. A few select bars get a keg or two, but the main way to get your hands on some is to head up to the brewpub in Santa Rosa, where lines have been known to be around 8 hours long. RRBC claims they only sell PtY for two weeks because of the time, cost and space it consumes in the brewing process, but I know better. They have mastered the imbalance between supply and demand.
The brewery intentionally limits the distribution of Pliny the Elder to keep demand high. If you want a glass of Pliny the Younger (this beer isn’t bottled, so you can only get it on tap) you have two weeks in February to plan a vacation to Santa Rosa or get lucky with your local pub. Many might think that limiting distribution or production is a crazy move, but I think it’s brilliant. A product that is hard to find often develops a cult following. Those who are able to get their hands on it join a club which gives membership to a select few. Of course, this is no foregone conclusion. This strategy will fail if the product doesn’t meet the standards of the discerning customer. RRBC doesn’t have that problem. They sell a superior product in a limited fashion and have been able to reap the benefits — keeping costs low while selling out of nearing every unit produced. They’ve created the perfect imbalance between supply and demand.
After about a six month hiatus, the Brendon Ritz blog is back in action. Since then, I’ve gotten married, gone on a honeymoon to Maui (yes, we did stay at the Ritz), spec’d out an application, and actually built the application! It has been an extremely busy time, but I finally finished and posted my application spec, so I can once again use my free time to pass along the interesting things I’ve learned.
I know this isn’t a terribly interesting post, but I just wanted to let my readers know that there are better things to come. Take it to the bank…
Nothing is more critical in a business setting than time management. There are only so many hours in a day, and it’s important to make them count. This is easy (or easier, rather) to do when you have a defined set of tasks to accomplish, but what about when things are more ambiguous? Working within a deadline is great, but what if that’s not communicated? How do you prioritize?
The simple answer is to make the most recent task you were given top priority, but that’s not an effective way to make your decision! There are a few schools of thought on this issue, and since they all have merit, I’ll list them all:
- Create a list of your tasks, and organize it into three sections: high, medium and low priority. Within those sections, order the tasks by their importance and cross them off as you finish them.
- Order your task list by the potential impact on the company. Is anything mission-critical? Do that first. Ask yourself what has the greatest chance to positively affect revenue, and prioritize accordingly.
- Ask a superior! Talk to your boss and discuss the proper order of your task list. This is obviously the easiest route, but not everyone operates this way.
Things can compound when the pressure is on and the stakes are the highest. Make sure that you choose whichever method works best for you, and manage your time effectively — it’s one of the most important things you can do at work.
Being detailed is a helpful attribute when it comes to product design. Detailing each part of a screen will make your specification infinitely easier for your engineer to read. Mockups should always be as precise as possible to what you’d like built. As a colleague is fond of saying, every pixel should mean something; if it’s not working for you, get rid of it.
Let’s play a game. In the two screenshots below, try to find any differences (hint: there are three)…
- The Address 1 and Address 2 textboxes are each a pixel narrower than the other three fields in the column.
- The Address 1 and Address 2 labels are two pixels further to the right than the other labels on the screen.
- The state abbreviation is a pixel further up in its textbox than any of the other fields.
Did you catch them? If not, don’t worry – it doesn’t mean you’re not detail-oriented. In fact, you could have an above-average eye and still not see the differences. What separates a Product Design Legend, like the late Steve Jobs, from everyone else was his laser attention to detail. He knew that he might have to push back a few releases, but in the end, he would end up with a superior product.
Guys like him were never afraid to sweat the details.
When it comes to Product Design, it’s extremely difficult to build something in your head. Concepts are abstract and are easily confused when kept within the friendly confines of your mind. Even during a brainstorm, it is tough to channel every idea into a clear plan unless you have a house stenographer. That said, it’s important to be as visual as possible throughout the planning process.
Here are a few things I’ve found useful in designing a product from scratch:
- Whiteboarding: sketch out your ideas for everyone to see. List every idea you can think of. Wireframe screens and layouts and garner feedback from your team.
- Mockups: be as detailed as possible when creating a mockup. Photoshop is ideal, but in a pinch, MS Paint will do the job (it’s actually a very underrated tool for creative-type work). When you’re finished, you can add the mocks to your spec to show the developer what you’re thinking.
- Proof of Concept: start creating a few of the screens and show them to your group. Don’t do too much without getting feedback, or you may waste a bunch of time and effort on something that won’t work.
None of these has to be perfect, but rather as close as possible without straining yourself. It’s more about showing your team what you’re thinking so you can reach a consensus and deliver a clear, concise spec to your development team.
It’s a saying I’ve heard for many years now, and while I understand the logic, it recently presented itself to me in a management setting. One of my team members had spoken to me about a test she wanted to do. We had spoken previously about the logistics involved, and how it as a little unclear how we could accomplish it without breaking our application. When she approached me again about the test, I agreed that she should move forward, assuming it would take place in our test environment. It soon became clear that the test was carried out in production, when the boss came to me asking why the site was broken.
It was an easy fix, but came with an unknown amount of irrevocable damage. It is very easy to make assumptions about someone else’s task when you have a thousand tasks of your own going on, but when you’re managing people, this is a mistake. Take the time to check out what they’re doing and you’ll save everyone a lot of grief. You can’t expect what you don’t inspect.