Last night we had a conversation with our co-founder’s brother, Steven. He works as a user interface / interaction developer in Southern California. I wanted to get his feedback on what we hoped to accomplish with our new system. I explained that our current reminder platform just isn’t working.
“Nobody likes reminders,” was a phrase that kept cropping up in our conversation. Well yes, reminders are a form of nagging and it can be upsetting when your memory lets you down. But does everyone dislike being reminded? That’s not true, in fact one of the best use cases for Siri is the “remind me to buy milk” scenario. Siri is incredibly quick. Less than 5 seconds to schedule a reminder. Cronote takes at least 20 seconds to open the app, choose a recipient, write a message, set a delivery time, and click schedule. The few times that Siri gets it wrong are worth the overall speed gain.
We know what we’d have to change to make Cronote successful - add voice integration, use the sender’s phone number, make text message reminders free. All of these are possible within limits, but the reality is – do we like reminders? Eh.
The Lean Startup philosophy of customer development is undermined if the founders aren’t interested in the product. You have to want to use your own solution. See Drew Houston’s (CEO/founder of Dropbox) application to Y-Combinator. It’s clear that he wanted Dropbox to exist for the world, for his family, and for himself. Excitement about your product fuels its development and helps you wade through the tedium towards product perfection. After all, if you’re not using your product, what do you care if it’s 15 seconds slower than it could be?
That deal of introspection came out a bit last night. What do I want Cronote to be? A reminder platform? No, that’s not it. How did we come up with Cronote? It’s a true story that my co-founder wanted an easier way to remind me to do things. I jumped on board because it was feasible and made sense – it should be easier to schedule a reminder for someone else. But did I actually want those reminders? Probably not. Would I use the app to schedule reminders for others? Hardly at all. Then why did I invest so much time in developing a web app and iPhone app? It was because I believed in a use case for Cronote that went beyond reminders.
I’m excited about the future. It’s the same excitement that drives people to Engadget, Gizmodo, and TechCrunch. I want to know what’s happening tomorrow, today. I believed that Cronote could provide insight into the future through its “reminder database” – with user permission, of course. Imagine if 1,000,000 people were reminding their spouse to “buy an iPad” next week and 500,000 were looking to “buy a Nexus 7.” The data would provide predictive insight into the relative success of the iPad vs. the Nexus 7. I was interested in making a predictive dataset through community contribution.
It was this vision that fueled the development of Cronote. Yet, the final product did not provide a compelling service to drive user adoption. We rarely use Cronote, so how could we expect others to adopt it? The lackluster growth of the Cronote website and the Cronote Reminders iPhone app forced us to look elsewhere for ways to build our future dataset. We went through a series of changes and ideas (Remind button, anyone?) that suffered from the same misconception - that you can make a product for others that you don’t use yourself.
It’s time for us to change our mindset. Forget about reminders. How do we get people to share their future in a way that we want to too? This is what we discussed with Steven. He asked some hard questions about our own habits and those of our intended audience. Selecting the young adult audience (we’re in this group), ages 18-35, what problem did Cronote solve? Here’s the gist of our conversation:
“We’ve been going with the new slogan, Share the Future,“ I told Steven, “it’ll let people post what they will be doing.”
“That’s rather vague. Can’t they already do that on Facebook and Twitter?” Steven responded.
“Well, yes, but this will let them add a specific time in the future to their post. That way people can integrate the event with their own timeline.”
Steven wasn’t convinced. ”Do people actually want to do that?” He contended. “What’s an example of something I would want to share on Cronote, but not on Facebook or Twitter?”
“Well, how about a business trip to San Francisco next week? That’s certainly going to be on your calendar, but not necessarily something you would share on Facebook or Twitter.”
“So I would make a post about my trip today and hope someone comments about it?” Steven said.
His tone implied a question – why would someone care to comment on my future trip? I responded hesitantly, “Yeah, and then maybe someone you know will also be in SF and ask you to hang out once you get there.” It wasn’t a strong response.
“What if nobody comments on it? A business trip doesn’t sound too interesting to post in the first place.” He said (paraphrased).
“It doesn’t have to be interesting, it just has to be in the future. It gives your friends time to comment on it as it gets closer to the date.” I said.
“So your system let’s me share future things that are not interesting in the hope of a coincidental common interest?” He said questioningly (again paraphrased).
“Well yes, I guess. Another example is the post, ‘I have to go get groceries tonight.’ You wouldn’t put that on Facebook or Twitter. But if one of your friends need groceries too you can organize a trip together.”
Our conversation went into some depth, but we hovered around this mission statement:
Cronote let’s you share what you’re going to do (whether it’s interesting or not). The incentive is that your friends might want to join you (e.g. ‘I’m going shopping tonight.’), encourage you (e.g. ‘I want to lose 5 lbs by next month.’), or ask you about it (e.g. ‘I’m retiring next year.’).
Not a very compelling charter, but would our target audience use Cronote if it fulfilled this mission? I can tell you I’m 10X more likely to post I’m going to get groceries tonight rather than scheduling a reminder to get groceries tonight. I’d never do the latter, I might do the former. Quantifying might remains our next challenge and I would greatly appreciate your feedback. Would you post what you’re going to do (whether it’s interesting or not)?