Starting up? Two good how-tos: UX for Lean Startups & Managing Startups – #business #bookreview

You are eager, maybe too eager, to throw yourself and your meager funding full-force into starting a business, creating a product–yes, another app!–and getting it out to the marketplace. After all, the world wants and needs it now, you keep telling yourself.

But wait, are you basing your gamble on gut instincts, the good wishes of family and friends, and the money smoldering in your pocket? Or have you actually done some planning, research, and testing? What if you could figure out, before you go broke, that the app you have dreamed up and developed actually sucks, but something similar to it, with a better user interface, might do well in the marketplace? And what if you don’t know as much about startups as you think you do?

Here are two books you should consider before rolling the dice on a startup: UX for Lean Startups and Managing Startups.

If you’ve already tossed the dies, you may want to look at the books, too. They contain rich gatherings of well-tested ideas and hard-won advice from many who have started up before you.

Even if you are now well beyond calling your business a startup,  it’s not too late to learn new techniques and ideas that can help you stay afloat and prosper.  You can pick up some useful tips and insights from both of these books.

UX for Lean Startups
Faster, Smarter User Experience Research and Design
Laura Klein
(O’Reilly – hardback, Kindle)

“Lean UX is more than a buzzword,” says engineer and designer Laura Klein in her new book. “In some ways, it’s a fundamental change in the way we design products.”

A key aspect of UX, user experience, is learning how to start out with a “minimum viable product,” or MVP. “[I]nstead of taking months and months building a huge product with dozens of features and all sorts of bells and whistles,” she explains, “maybe it would be a better idea to launch something smaller and start learning earlier.”

In short, you give your customer something useful that they can work with, and you respond to their feedback by making the product work better for them and “adding features that people will use.”

UX for Lean Startups is a smooth blending of how-to steps for creating the best user experience for your new product–while staying within the lines of a tight-budget startup. The author injects some humor and personal experiences to help keep the discussions lively. And you don’t have to read the text from cover to cover. You can find good ideas while jumping around from topic to topic as your needs and curiosity arise.

The 204-page book makes “a lot of references to web-based products and software, but the UX design techniques…will work equally well for building most things that have a user interface,” Laura Klein promises. “Hardware, software, doorknobs…if you sell it and people interact with it, then you can use Lean UX to better understand your customers and to create a better product faster and with less waste.”

***

Managing Startups
Best Blog Posts
Edited by Tom Eisenmann
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

 Okay, information on how to manage startups is everywhere. Mentally, at least, you can drown in it while trying to sort out the business you have just started or are planning to launch soon.

But you can learn plenty from this gathering of more than 70 well-written blog posts by successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Each year since 2009, Tom Eisenmann, a Harvard professor of business administration, has, on his blog, published an annual compilation of “the year’s best posts by other authors about the management of technology startups.”

In his annual roundup and in this book, he says, he steers clear of “news about product launches and funding rounds; likewise, I don’t include posts that analyze trends in technologies or markets (e.g., big data, cloud computing, SoLoMo services). Instead, my focus has been on the management tasks that entrepreneurs must undertake when they search for a viable business model and then scale a startup.”

He pays close attention to lean startup management practices and various organizational issues such as dealing with cofounder tensions, structuring a startup team, working with a board of directors, and “coping with the psychological pressures that inevitably confront entrepreneurs.” He also tracks “developments in capital markets that are relevant to the management of tech startups; for example, the ebbs and flows of valuation bubbles and the proliferation of incubators and seed-stage funds.”

Some of the well-focused and meaty topics in Managing Startups range from “Very Basic Startup Marketing” to “Five Outsourcing Mistakes That Will Kill Your Startup” to “How to Hire a Hacker” and “Why Do VCs Have Ownership Targets? And Why 20%?”

Eisenmann makes his best-blog-posts-of-the-year selections the old-fashioned way. “I don’t use an algorithm that tracks traffic or social media mentions,” he writes. “Rather, I regularly read a few dozen blogs–mostly written by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists–and I follow links to other posts that look interesting. My criterion for flagging a post for future reference is simple: did I learn something that seems worth passing on to my students or to current entrepreneurs ? When I publish my compilation, I ask readers to suggest other posts that I’ve omitted, and I always get some great additions.”

Some of the other topics in his new book include branding, company culture, the role of product managers, knowing when to bail out, and building “relationships with potential acquirers. You never know when you may need them,” he notes.

No matter what size startup you are contemplating or are already running, you can find articles on topics that may be on your front burner now or looming larger and larger in the background.

Si Dunn

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WordPress: The Missing Manual – Covers what you need to know & can profit from – #bookreview

WordPress: The Missing Manual
Matthew MacDonald
(O’Reilly, paperbackKindle)

It’s easy to set up and launch a basic WordPress blog. But once you do, it’s also very easy to just keep blogging and ignore the many other options and features that WordPress offers. (I’m guilty of that, which is why I’m happy to see this book.)

If you want to know more about how to use WordPress or how to improve the appearance of an existing blog, WordPress: The Missing Manual definitely should be in your hands.  Matthew MacDonald’s new book is well-written, heavily illustrated, and packed with good how-to steps and tips.

Many small businesses and numerous large companies also use WordPress to provide some or all of their web presence. MacDonald’s 545-page how-guide has essential information for these users, too.

The book is organized into five parts:

  • Part One: Starting Out with WordPress – Covers key decisions you should make before starting to use WordPress.
  • Part Two: Building a WordPress Blog – The blogging-on-WordPress basics are presented here. But: “Even if you’re planning something more exotic than JAWB (Just Another WordPress Blog, don’t skip this section,” the author urges. “The key skills you’ll learn here also underpin custom sites, like the kind you’ll learn to build in Part Four of the book.”
  • Part Three: Supercharging Your Blog – Explains how to use plug-ins to add new features to your self-hosted blog site. Shows “how to put video, music, and photo galleries on any WordPress site. Covers “how to collaborate with a whole group of authors…and how to attract boatloads of web visitors….”
  • Part Four: From Blog to Website – Shows how to “take your WordPress skills beyond the blog and learn to craft a custom website” with WordPress at its heart.
  • Part Five: Appendices – Appendix A “explains how to take a website you created on a free WordPress.com hosting service and move it to another web host to get more features.” Appendix B, meanwhile, gathers up the “useful web links” scattered throughout the book and puts them into one place organized by chapter. A link also is provided where this collection of links can be downloaded.

How popular is WordPress? It is, according to MacDonald, “ridiculously popular…stunningly popular…responsible for roughly one-sixth of the world’s websites….And one out of every five new sites runs on WordPress….”

If you choose to go the WordPress route, be sure you have WordPress: The Missing Manual with you.

Si Dunn