Musings: Evernote’s Pricing Change – One step closer towards going public?

Evernote recently announced on the 28th of June that they were making changes to their pricing plans. Now, I’ve been a heavy user of Evernote over the past couple of years and it has made itself a staple in my daily activities.

The new pricing plans not only saw an increase in the price of some of their packages, it also saw new restrictions being put in place on their Free plan. The Free plan now limits access to only 2 devices.

Now, for the vast majority of Evernote users, 2 devices simply just isn’t enough. I for one have Evernote installed on:

  1. iPhone
  2. iPad
  3. Office Computer
  4. Home Computer

The simplicity of moving from one device to another to continue working or reviewing any notes I’ve made was the key reason I chose Evernote over other alternatives early on (OneNote wasn’t available then, Apple Notes didn’t have a native app on Windows).

This change severely limits the use of Evernote for me. And i’m not the only one that is upset by this. Check out #evernote on Twitter and you’ll see a whole flurry of negative responses to this change.

Suffice to say, Google searches for “Evernote Alternatives” went up as well.

Google Trends - Evernote Alternatives
Google Trends – Evernote Alternatives

I wonder, was this decision driven by Product Managers, or was this decision driven solely by an Executive looking to try and boost the revenues of the company in the short term?

I’m inclined to think that this was a decision that was sparked by an overzealous Executive that looked purely at the numbers. While I don’t agree with such a decision, I can certainly understand why an Executive may have made this decision. Evernote was one of the earliest unicorns back in 2012 with many speculating it would go public soon. Fast forward till today, they haven’t gone public and things don’t look so rosy anymore.

It was reported sometime in July 2015 that CEO Phil Libin was stepping down as CEO, citing a lack of passion to lead a company public. Since then, the entire business has been restructuring itself, laying off almost 20% of its workforce as well as shutting down offices.

I believe the intention to go public is still there and the decision to raise prices and limit devices intends to spur some short term growth in revenues. One step closer to an eventual listing. Looking forward to see how this pans out.

For now, I’m keeping a lookout for an free alternative. If you have any suggestions, let me know. Here’s a Product Hunt Collection of Evernote Alternatives to get you started.

 

#OneWeekPM – Product Spec – Messaging Styled Learning App

Product:
Messaging Styled Learning App

Author Name: 
Joshua Ooi

Team Members: 
TBC

Summary/Background: 
There is little differentiation between Learning Management System (LMS) providers. At the end of the day, it’s a storage space for learning content. The main problem we are facing is that employees don’t use the LMS on their own. Lots of companies talk about building a culture of self-learning in their employees, and providing them with the tools to self learn, but when an employee gets caught up in their day-to-day activities, most times, learning is not at the top of their mind. However, if employees stopped to think about it, if they learned and became more productive at their work, they would be able to finish up their work faster as they became more efficient.

This app is meant to be an interface to existing Learning Management Systems and provide companies a creative way to deliver learning to their employees. It is not meant to replace any Learning Management System that is currently out there.

The app will connect to an employees calendar and understand contextually where down times/travel times are, and with that knowledge, prompt the employee at the appropriate times to check out a short learning activity (i.e. 5 minute video, short quiz to refresh memory). The app will utilise a familiar messaging interface to minimise resistance to learning and using a new app.

With regular usage of short learning activities which pique the employee’s interest, the hope is for employees to fully utilise the Learning Management System more proactively.

Terminology:
NA

Goals:
The goal is to differentiate PageUp as a technology leader in the HR space through the innovative use of technology

Success Metrics:
Utilisation Rate of the Learning Management System 

  1. Increase in the total number of completed Learning Activities in the organisation
  2. Increase in the total number of active users on the Learning Management System

Target Audience:
Salespeople in the organisation. These people are always on the go and would benefit to use this app in between meetings that they are running to.

Young graduate employees that have just joined the organisation. They will be more technologically savvy and be motivated to complete learning activities as a means to develop themselves for future roles.

Requirements: 

#
User Need
User Story
Launch Phase
1
Salesperson needs to be kept updated of any new sales tactics/research in order to close sales more effectively
As a salesperson, I want to be able to be prompted when I’m travelling with a timely update so that I will be able to receive bite sized learning content which will allow me to close sales more effectively
MVP

Designs:
Please view designs at this link: https://invis.io/HM75VZPA2

Legal:
NA

Launch/Roll-Out Plan & Timeline:
Roll out the MVP to the salespeople in the organisation to allow testing to begin in 12 weeks and collect feedback

I built my first bot

As part of the Product Management course that I’ve been working on (which is taking much longer than expected to complete), I’ve been toying with an idea of an app for learning. This app was meant to address the issue of employees in organisations not utilising the learning resources provided by the company.

My hypothesis was simple. Most times, employees forget about those resources. Now, this was not meant to be another app for employees to access a Learning Library. I was toying with the idea of using a familiar interface, a chat interface in particular, to reduce resistance to using the app.

With an integration to the employee’s calendar, the app would be able to identify idle times in an employee’s calendar (i.e. travelling between meetings) and prompt the user with a personal message like “Let’s take a quick lesson about X while you’re on your way to the next meeting”, or something along those lines. The idea was that if the prompts came at the right time, it would encourage employees to open up the app, answer a question like “How much time do you have now?” and the app would then recommend a quick bite sized learning activity. It could be a short 5 minute video, or it could be text based snippets of summarised information. This way, learning could happen more often.

In order to hack up something quickly to see if it would work, I tried to build out a simple Bot of my own. If you’re on Telegram, you can check it out:

https://web.telegram.org/#/im?p=@GreenLeafBot

Using a bot to achieve the above is probably not the best way. When it comes to conversation, trying to predict how people respond, and giving contextually accurate answers, was a pain in the ass! The moment I started responding using natural language, it wasn’t able to recognise the query:

IMG_7102 IMG_7103

This got frustrating really quickly. I believe though that this was a personal limitation and not a limitation of what a bot can possibly do. I didn’t have the right technical skills to set up something more advanced, but there are services out there which allow your bot to respond more accurately to natural language. Here’s one such example: https://wit.ai/

I had to use a combination of services like Smooch (customer chat app), Github, and Heroku to push out a working bot. If you’re interested in toying with a bot, check the instructions out here: https://github.com/joshieisking/EstherBot

Credit goes to @esthercrawford for the instructions.

Day 3 – #OneWeekPM

Today’s lesson talks about how a Product Manager creates the Product Spec.

The Product Spec is meant to be a living document that is constantly updated and contains all the documentation around the product that you intend to build. The most critical parts of the Product Spec?

In my opinion, there are 2. The first would be the User Needs and User Stories.

Sample User Need: <User Type> needs a way to <Achieve a Goal>

Sample User Story: As a <User>, I want <Feature/Functionality> so that <Reason>

This is where you document all the different use cases for the persona that you’re building for. This allows you to think of all the main cases, as well as edge cases to ensure that what you’re building out fulfills all those needs.

The second most critical part is the ability to attach goals and their associated success metrics to the product/features that you’re trying to build out. Being able to articulate and measure the success or failure of your product is key to being a good Product Manager.

An area of the Product Spec is a section called Feature Development Timelines. According to Kevin, PMs don’t necessarily need to be able to estimate Feature Development Timelines on their own! I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that one. With no prior programming background, this would have been pretty difficult for me to estimate accurately. The way to overcome this setback is to have a great relationship with your engineers and have conversations with them to finalise the timelines. Get as much input from them as possible and try to establish the Sprint Velocity (The number of story points the team can complete in a sprint). Once the baseline Sprint Velocity is established, this will make your job of Sprint Planning much easier.

New terms:

Epics – Super long User Story. Typically broken down into shorter User Stories

Story Point – Measure of effort required to implement a user story

The assignment for today is to use the provided template to create a spec for my own product. This is going to be exciting!

Day 2 – #OneWeekPM

This was a pretty interesting lesson. The key takeaway for today was a better understanding of Agile Development Methodologies (always a key requirement in any PM Job Description). This was a new section that was added to the course. It was fun seeing Kevin, the designer of the course, iterate on his product and continuously improve on it.

Agile Development Methodologies

  1. Scrum
    • Teams run sprints (short blocks of time allocated to work on specific features)
    • Daily standup involved to communicate to team and identify blockers
    • Quite a bit of planning/meetings involved – Product Prioritization > Sprint Planning > Actual Sprint > Retrospectives
    • Allows you to forecast things like workload, product/feature completion
  2. Kanban
    • Less structure/more flexible than Scrum
    • Operates on a basic TODO list concept where there are 3 sections – To Do, In Progress, Done
    • More autonomy as developers choose which bits to work on themselves
    • Doesn’t make it easy to forecast completion of features/workload

Working in Cross Functional Teams:

Communicate, communicate, communicate. That was the main takeaway from this section. A product manager manages not through power, but through influencing and consensus therefore it is important to build trust with the various teams that are part of the product development process (i.e. Engineers, Designers, Sales & Marketing).

Another takeaway is the importance of being concise. No one has time to read novel-like emails, or listen to a long drawn out explanation. Enough said.

The main topic for Day 2 was User Personas. What were they for and how do you create them?

  1. Conduct user interviews – During these interviews, stay away from leading questions! PMs are there to listen and understand thoroughly the types of problems the user is facing and what alternatives have they tried. (Note: If a person says it’s a problem but hasn’t tried any alternative solutions, that problem really isn’t a big one)
  2. Creating User Personas and prioritising the ones that you want to build for – Common mistake is to listen to every piece of feedback and build all of them. Nothing good comes from trying to please everyone. Identify the top persona that you want to build for and focus on that. Delighting that one user persona will inadvertently result in other personas having their needs met as well.

As with the first day, there was an exercise. Conduct 3-5 User interviews and craft a user persona for the problem that you’re trying to solve. Can’t do this right now so will update when done.

Update 11/4/15:

Here’s a sample User Persona that I crafted based on a product that we we’re trying to build out at work:

User Persona Exercise – OneWeekPM

Day 1 – #OneWeekPM

I’ve been trying different things to try and equip myself with the necessary skills needed to be a successful product manager for the last couple of months. Recently, I stumbled upon a community of Product Managers that used Slack as a communications tool (think of those old school PHP forums of yonder but built on Slack). The community has multiple chat rooms talking about different topics relating to Product Management. The people who started it were clearly on to something because even with a fee of $25 to access the Slack community, it now boasts over 1400 participants.

Recently, they launched a course called OneWeekPM.

“The One Week PM course will arm you with everything you need to know from: learning the essential fundamentals of product management, creating your own PM project, and finally cracking the process of answering tough PM interview questions. ”

Most product management course that I’ve seen so far cost a whole lot more than $97. I thought I had nothing to lose and signed up. I’m going to try and document as much of the process for me here. It’s a 7 day course (hence the name) but I’m going to give myself at least 14 days to complete it.

Every day I’ll watch about 10-15 minutes of videos, and at the end of that, there will be a simple assignment to let us get our hands dirty.

Today starts off with a simple introduction to the basics of becoming a Product Manager. What does a PM do? What types of skills does a PM need?  How do we identify problems to solve?

For today’s assignment, we were tasked to identify 3-5 different problems that we could work on for the duration of the course. So here’s my list:

  1. The general public doesn’t really understand the implications of the business news and most people who invest, do so based on hunches, and tips, instead of understanding how businesses work (too big a problem to solve in a week?)
  2. When I was doing research for my thesis back in university, I had to read lots of academic papers. Those papers were long and difficult to read because of the way that they were written. Is there a way for us to visually present the data in a fun, easy to read way?
  3. I’ve signed up for free trials that require my credit card, and more often than not, I forget to cancel them and end up being billed even if I did not want to use the product. How can I keep tabs of all these subscriptions that I’ve signed up to easily?
  4. I never ever feel that I am up to date with all the things that I have to read. I have opened countless tabs, telling myself I would read them, I’ve used Pocket to store them, but all that has happened is that I accumulate a whole list of articles and never get round to reading them. How can I fix this?

Let’s see how I go with trying to solve these problems 🙂

Suggested Improvements to the HBX Learning Platform

HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) is a 120–150 hour certificate program on the fundamentals of business from Harvard Business School. CORe is comprised of three courses — Business Analytics, Economics for Managers, and Financial Accounting — developed by leading Harvard Business School faculty and delivered in an active learning environment based on the HBS signature case-based learning model.

That’s the official description of the course on the HBX website. If you asked me, my answer to what CORe is would be “the best damn online learning experience you can buy today”. For someone who has signed up for more than a gazillion different online courses this was the FIRST one that I completed end to end. It was a completely engaging experience for me and I would recommend this wholeheartedly to anyone with an interest to improve on their business knowledge.

Here’s an excerpt of a letter I wrote to the faculty with some suggestions for the platform:

My name is Joshua and I was part of the CORe July 2015 Cohort. I’ve been meaning to send these suggestions in for a while now but I never really made myself sit down and document this. I have a huge interest in product development and I documented these few suggestions to help improve the overall experience on the HBX Learning Platform.

Before I begin, I have to say that my overall experience within the program was great. I never felt the same level of engagement for any online course that I enrolled in to and CORe was the first one that I actually completed. I did however note a few areas for improvement in terms of platform usage.

My biggest gripe was the inability to highlight text effectively. While there was a highlighter feature within the platform, the way it was implemented was better suited for a touch screen device where we could use a finger or a stylus to highlight areas we liked. However, the CORe platform is primarily used on the desktop and highlighting with a mouse or a touchpad with a free form highlighter, was not such a good idea.

Suggestion 1 — Better click to Highlight

My suggestion is to implement a click to highlight feature where in the midst of taking a module, I find a few lines of text that I believe would help me with my understanding and memory, I would just click/select the text and the option to highlight the text would appear.

This was implemented perfectly on the Medium site (www.medium.com). I was trying to find a short video/gif to illustrate it without you even leaving this email but I couldn’t find one. If you want to better understand what I mean, click this link: https://medium.com/the-story/introducing-highlights-a4df69e8ed43#.f97ivh3c9 — The Medium team explained the reason behind the method to highlight text.

Suggestion 2 — Storing and presenting highlighted text in a Newsfeed

The second suggestion is to allow for the storing of the highlighted text in a kind of newsfeed. This is an illustration of how it was implemented in the Bible App:

IMG_5218.PNGBy showing me in a newsfeed manner the areas which I’ve highlighted, this could be used as a simple way for me to quickly jog my memory during idle time. i.e. On the train/bus, I could just whip open the newsfeed and scroll through the highlights that I’ve found interesting, and reinforce the learning by thinking about it during idle time.

Suggestion 3 — Feeding highlights into a Flashcard app like Quizlet

Another possible way to help with recall of course content without major development done on the HBX platform is to send the highlights into a flashcard app (i.e. Quizlet). This means HBX doesn’t need to immediately mobile optimise the HBX platform, and students can easily use Quizlet to study (This was something I noticed which was very commonly used within my cohort). Depending on privacy or IP issues, we could set the created cards to be private only to the user who highlighted it. Quizlet has an existing API which allows for the creation of cards through an external application (https://quizlet.com/api/2.0/docs). This would make it easier for the HBX development team to implement it. This also builds into the community element for studying. By sharing flashcards which students have created, we can measure engagement and the effectiveness in which a particular concept was explained. For example, we can identify which was the most highlighted sentence, paragraph and replicate the style of explanation to ensure the most number of students identify with it.

Suggestion 4 — Contextual Annotations/Comments

The next area of improvement was on the commenting function. My biggest issue was that comments were not contextual. When reading other people’s comments, sometimes, I would wonder, where were they referring to? Or where were they facing this problem? This makes it slightly more difficult for people to help their peers. If we want to encourage peer learning, let’s remove as much friction as possible, and hopefully, with that, we would see an improved level of engagement as users would be able to immediately understand the context of a question/problem, and be immediately able to address that.

Here’s an example of a good implementation of annotations/comments within a news site. Quartz has done this pretty well:

pasted.png

When you make a text selection, a + button pops up and if you click the +, you’ll be prompted with a right sidebar that asks you what would you like to annotate the text selection with. Here’s a short video that illustrates this without me writing a whole paragraph –https://youtu.be/GAtlnh34tbY

While implementing a feature like this with may seem like quite a bit of work, I believe the outcome would be an improvement in the current engagement with course content. There are other ways to possibly execute this. There is an available tool called Fundamine which allows you to implement these kinds of annotations on the site with just a small snippet of code. (http://www.fundamine.com/publishers.html?ref=producthunt) This could be done on a simple test site with a small group of users who are running a beta version of the HBX platform and feedback could be obtained from them to see if this is something worth implementing.

These suggestions may very well have been implemented in the newer versions of the HBX Learning Platform and if they are, I would love to know how it’s going!

Suggested Spotify Settings Change

I recently got myself a pair of spanking new headphones and a home theatre system. With my premium Spotify subscription, I am able to stream music at 320kbps and that makes for a pretty nice listening experience.
Here’s my problem. Streaming high quality music like that consumes quite a bit of data. On my limited cellular connection, I wouldn’t mind listening to music at a lower quality (data is both limited and EXPENSIVE), however, I don’t mind consuming more data when i’m on a limitless Wifi connection at home.

I’d love to see a simple setting like the one shown below implemented in the Spotify mobile app. That would be pretty useful to me:

Standard Settings Screen on iOS
Standard Settings Screen on iOS

What i’d like to see:

Tap on Selection
Tap on Selection

When I tap on Extreme, a gray box slides out from the right with options for me to pick either Cellular or WiFi.

Wifi selected for Extreme Quality
Wifi selected for Extreme Quality

I then proceed to tap Normal and select Cellular.

Cellular selected for Normal Quality
Cellular selected for Normal Quality

This is what it would look like after setting up.

Selection Complete
Selection Complete

Upon doing some research on the web, it seems that this is also a feature that has requested for in the Spotify forums since 2013! I’m not really sure why it’s taken them so long to implement a small change like this.

Update: On hindsight, after thinking about the suggestion, I realised it didn’t make any sense whatsoever to do it that way. The easiest way I could think of doing it would be like this:

Alternative Implementation

I chose the stars because I thought it would be most familiar to users. Everyone uses on-demand apps nowadays and the stars represent quality or satisfaction.

Increasing number of accepted offers on Carousell

I’ve been a huge fan of the Carousell app since it launched. For those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s an app that allows sellers to list an item for sale just by snapping a photo and buyers can purchase items by chatting with sellers via an in-built private chat messenger:

Example of Carousell

Since launching in 2012, the peer-to-peer marketplace has listed eight million new and second-hand products in categories like fashion, beauty, furniture, and baby items. Over two million items have been sold on the app – that’s eight transactions a minute. According to the press release, the average active Carousell user spends about 21 minutes a day browsing the app, which is comparable to Instagram.

Source: Yahoo Finance

Based on the above quote, some of their performance metrics include:

  1. Number of listings
  2. Time spent in app
  3. No. of accepted offers

The product people at Carousell have done a terrific job so far.

If you’ve ever listed something on Carousell before, you’re going to be receiving a ton of messages asking:

“Still available?”

“Can do $ X?”

“More pics?”

Responding with the same answer to 1, or even 5 is manageable. But when you get a flood of 20 different people asking you the same questions, it can get pretty tiring.

To address that, a new feature with preset responses was introduced to reduce the effort it takes for people to respond to messages (They launched this before even Google’s Inbox released the feature called Smart Reply!) I thought that was a pretty smart move. Make it easier for your users so they don’t feel burnt out from using the app.

Smart Responses Highlighted
Templated responses allow you to faster respond to the same questions easily

I’m pretty sure this feature increased the number (if not, the velocity) of transactions happening on the app because it’s still around.

I thought to myself, what else could possibly be done to increase any one of the above mentioned metrics?

Carousell users, from my experience, have a need to negotiate. And sometimes, you find bad apples in the bunch who make ridiculously low offers for your item making every other Carousell listing look like this:

Lowballer
Lowballer messages in every other listing. If you don’t believe me, just open the app and search “lowballer”

Reading that in every other listing just turns me off for some reason. I’m also not the only one who finds this entire experience unpleasant. Sellers have threads in local forums talking about it:

Thread from HWZ. 35 pages and counting
Thread from HWZ. 35 pages and counting
Sample comment from thread
Sample comment from thread

There’s even a Tumblr page called Carouhell that documents screenshots of ridiculous buyers/sellers on the app.

So, how can we put measures in place to ensure people don’t lowball as much?

Here’s something that I would like to test. This is what the current “Make Offer” screen looks like now:

IMG_6329
Current “Make Offer” screen

What if we added some options to the Make Offer screen to allow users to pre-select discounts from a list instead of using free text?

Make Offer Example
Alternate “Make Offer” screen with pre-set discount options

People are programmed to want a discount. With that in mind, let’s try controlling more tightly the types of offers a prospective buyer could make.

And just to be a little cheeky (let’s inject some personality into the app!), we’ll have some messages to deter lowballing.

Lowballer Alert
Lowballer messages. Do you think this will deter people from making unrealistic offers?

I’d love to run this as an experiment across a small group of users and see if:

  1. Number of accepted offers increased
  2. Number of listings containing the word “lowballer” decreases
  3. We can establish the average discount across products where these options are presented – This could be used for another recommended price feature that I’d be documenting soon.

Do you think this would make for a better buying and selling experience on the app?

Silence Notifications with 3D Touch

I hate the seemingly mindless notifications that some apps send to me. For example, just for the simple Qoo10 app (which happens to be one of my go-to shopping apps), I get bombarded with push notifications pretty frequently and it’s really annoying. How many different things can someone actually be interested in?! See example below:
Notification Overload

Now, you might just say, if it bothers you so much, turn it off. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

I have lots of apps on my phone and here’s what it looks like to turn off the notifications:

Scrolling through apps

 

That whole process took more than 10 seconds. Really unnecessary, if you asked me. And that’s because I knew where to look for it, and was just trying to record it under 15 seconds.
With the 3D touch feature built into the new iPhones, this whole scenario could be sorted in less than a couple of seconds.
Mock 3D Touch Menu

 

“The best quick actions anticipate and accelerate a user’s interaction with your app.” – iOS Developer Library
 
Here’s how it could possibly be implemented:
  1. Apple makes it a rule in the developer rulebook to include 2 additional options should they adopt 3D touch in their app
  2. Apple creates a blanket rule that’s been embedded into the 3D touch API
After giving it some thought, I don’t think this could possibly be implemented. Apple is already seen as too controlling of their ecosystem. By including more roadblocks to developers, it would only frustrate them and possibly cause them to move on to develop for other platforms. A rule like this would only prevent developers from reactivating inactive users through push notifications and I don’t think it would be well received.