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Key Lessons and Thoughts from Future of Web Apps 2011

By October 9, 2011Opinion


I hope some of you followed the Future of Web Apps conference and learned a lot. I’ve been here in London for it for the past two days, and have learned insane amounts. FoWA definitely isn’t on the same scale as conferences such as LeWeb or many in the United States, but it offers its own benefits over a lot of other tech conferences.

If you’re a developer or designer, then FoWA is probably the conference you want to be at. It offered a huge amount of technical information and opportunities that other conferences just don’t offer. Having two “streams” meant that you could choose whether you’d rather watch more business/marketing focussed talks or more technical talks – I’m sorry to those of you who would rather have read about technical talks, as I attended the business-focussed ones.

In this post I hope to summarise some of the key things I learned.


1. Making a viral product is more of a science than gambling.


The more informative talk of the whole event for me was given by Barbara Macdonald – a co-founder of Willet Inc. Barbara talked on how to create a viral product, and some of her lessons were invaluable.

Firstly, she talked about how if you want to build a viral product, you have to try and make it viral right from the core of the product. You can’t merely just tack on a tweet button and hope that it makes your product go viral. Instead, she says you need to focus on how your product turns around users – specifically, you need to focus on reducing the time and effort a user has to spend to inviting his/her friends. This is done by incentivizing users to share your product, and making it easy for them to do so.

With an engineer’s background, Barabara reduced virality of Internet products to a simple formula:

Viral Coefficient = X*Y


x = average number of invites sent

y = % of invites accepted

This means you can focus on trying to alter either of these aspects to make the product more viral. But remember, if either of those numbers is close to zero, you likely won’t get anywhere as it is a multiplication and the total number would come out also as close to zero.


2. Key tips on growing and reaching profitability.


This was a talk given by Pete Koomen, a co-founder of Optimizely. Pete used to be at Google but left to found a startup with a friend of his. They first started out trying to do a website providing basic education to young kids through the Internet, but failed at it after months of development. Next, they they thought up a lot of ideas. While Pete was talking to someone one time who was having trouble testing various aspects of his website with users, Pete said that he was working on a new idea that would help him solve this problem. He said it would cost a few hundred dollars per month. The guy he was talking to immediately paid him the money, despite the fact that Optimizely wasn’t built yet. But because they got paid for it straight away, they knew they were onto something.

This was just one of the tips that Pete provided during his talk, based on his experience with his two startups.

Another tip he gave is to make your pitch personal. He doesn’t mean personal as in just describing what your service does with relevance to people you’re pitching. He meant actually showing them how your product solves a pain of theres. In Optimizely’s case, users can immediately see how the service helps them simply by entering in their website address and being able to edit different aspects of the website. They don’t even need to sign up, and it just takes a few seconds. It’s so personal that if you’re pitching your service to someone, all you need to do is actually show them how it helps them.

The last thing that Pete shared which I found incredibly interesting is to “not skimp on the magic”. Pete described how when you first pick up an iPhone or an iPad and use it, it does feel magic. And it’s all the little details that help do this – including things like when you scroll upwards the page kind of bounces downwards. He said that while lean startups and launching with a minimum viable product is good, you should spend a little bit of time trying to do something “magic” when you first launch to make people feel an attachment with your service. Things like Google+’s circle animation is another example.


3. Value


The last of the key things that I learned at FoWA is very simple. It regards total value of an enterprise, and how you can determine it and try to increase it.

A speaker called Cennydd Bowles gave this advice. He gave the following equation:

Total Value = Business Value X Customer Value

This means the total value of a business/company is the value of the business (obviously),  but Cennydd said it is also a multiple of the value that you bring to your customers.

Think about that. Most businesses solely value their organisation based on its monetary value. But if you think about business in this way, the company is worthless unless it actually brings value to its users. Since the equation is a multiple, if customer value is equal to zero then the total value is also equal to zero.

Many businesses run out of room to grow their total value simply because their monetary value cannot increase once they reach a certain size. But one way to increase the total value of organisations like this is to increase the value that the organisation brings to customers.

Good advice, in my opinion.


Hope you’ve all been able to take away some of the key things I did! FoWA will put up all the talks on their website soon, and I recommend you watch them – especially these three talks that I’ve talked about in this post.