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The Value Equation of Productivity Applications


My passion has always been in building productivity apps for consumers and small businesses. The productivity space is a tough one though with thousands of applications but very few breakout success stories. While many apps promise significant improvements in productivity, they often still fail to gain any meaningful traction.

At the same time certain applications do succeed and I’ve tried to discern what sets these applications apart from the numerous failures. I’ve concluded that for productivity applications, success comes down to the following value equation: the productivity gain from using the app must exceed the cost of the constraints imposed by it.

How I use Mint, Personal Capital, and Wealthfront to Manage my Finances

I’m a big believer in Marc Andreessen’s view that software is eating the world and more and more of our daily lives will be improved by technology running brilliant software. One sector in which we are already seeing this shift is personal finance.

In just the last few years I’ve moved much of my financial management to next generation software solutions that greatly simplify my life. I wanted to share how Mint, Personal Capital, and Wealthfront have each become important parts of my financial management strategy.

Tactics in Increasing Signal to Noise Ratio

One of the most disruptive trends in the Internet era has been turning a culture of scarcity on its head and transforming it to one of ubiquitous access. No longer is the news, music, videos, and games we consume controlled by powerful oligopolies who artificially constrain supply in order to increase the value of their offerings. Instead, the new found democratization of media and information has been a win for all consumers, giving them the ability to consume their content wherever, whenever, and however they wish. While this transformation isn't complete, it is well on it's way across almost all major content verticals.

Yet with this new world has come new challenges. Specifically, finding the information most relevant to you right now has become a real struggle with the explosion of availability of content. When you look across the web today at the most successful properties, they can often be looked at as productivity tools helping us to increase the signal-to-noise ratio to make sense of our new information overload challenges. These services help us to filter and discover the content that is most relevant to us right now.

Given that this is still an emerging space, there are a variety of tactics that are being used across these services to increase the signal to noise ratio. I thought I'd take a moment to discuss ten trending tactics that these services are leveraging so that you can bring them to your own applications. I expect to see us refine our best practices across each of these tactics as well as see new ones emerge as we continue to understand how to handle this explosion of content that empowers the Internet today.

The Future Is Here: Passive Monitoring

Rosie, The Jetsons

I remember as a kid being very excited about the future. One concept that was extremely enticing was the coming age of robots. I was assured that they were only around the corner by my favorite cartoon at the time, The Jetsons, and their robot Rosie. I knew in the future I would want my very own robot to take care of the laundry, vacuum the house, and cook all my meals.

Fast forward to today and unfortunately the closest thing we have to commercialized personal robots is the iRobot Roomba that can vacuum your carpets. That's sadly about it.

Yet the underlying beauty of having a personal robot, something that was always taking care of things for you while you were busy with the rest of your life, has found it's way into many interesting software solutions.

Incorporating Virtual Currencies in Non-Gaming Sites

2008 saw an explosion in virtual currencies and their associated virtual goods all across the internet. With Facebook social game Mob Wars suspected of making a million dollars a month and Zynga rumored to have made $50 million in revenue in 2008 off of its social and iPhone games, companies are seeing real revenue from this burgeoning monetization model. Even other indie social game developers like Mobsters and Lil Green Patch who also monetize virtual currencies have seen huge success with 13M users on MySpace and 5.9M monthly active users on Facebook, respectively. To top it off, over $580 million was invested in virtual goods related startups in 2008.

Make Something People Will Buy

Y Combinator is famous for its well known motto "Make Something People Want." This very simple statement serves as a guiding principle for a startup, helping to focus it on this core goal early on: to ensure that its product provides compelling value to its target audience. It also de-emphasizes many secondary issues that, while important, are not likely to be an early cause of failure for a startup. I'm a big fan of the motto and use it myself as a quick filter for all the startup ideas I evaluate.

Yet the economic recession that we are in the middle of poses new challenges. While it hit in the financial and real estate sectors first, it is undeniable that it will have a lasting effect on all sectors of our global economy.