What is a startup?

Recently, I was talking about business with one of my co-workers. I enjoy chatting about innovation, strategy, products, and everything that has to do with commerce. In the middle of this conversation, I said something that prompted my co-worker to respond with something along the lines of "my brother worked at a startup that sold belts online...." Wait, what? A belt startup? I steered the conversation in that direction, and probed more into this belt startup. Had they reinvented the belt to be dramatically better than what we know today? Nope. Had they come up with a new manufacturing process that would revolutionize the belt market? Nada. Did they maybe come up with a business model that would allow them to dominate the market? Not at all. I guess they simply sell a wide variety of belts online, maybe they drop ship, maybe its fast-fashion.

What ensued was a friendly debate about the use of the word startup to define new companies. I argued this belt company is not a startup, my co-worker defended that it was.

The world is in an incredible cycle of innovation and entrepreneurship at the moment. I want to say that we are on a 10 year run, but on the macro scale its a lot longer, and a philosopher may say its a never ending run. Regardless of how you look at things, with more innovation comes more entrepreneurship, and over the past 10-20 years, more entrepreneurship has lead to more use of the term startup.

What is a startup, anyway? I mean, most of us could give an answer, but how specific would those answers be, and would we all agree?

Does it even matter? Absolutely not! I do, however, find it an interesting topic, and there are some very mild consequences to correct, or incorrect use of the term. Go into a bank for a loan, say you are a startup, and you'll get laughed out of the building. Walk into a venture capital firm and say you are a small business, and they'll laugh you out as well.

I believe that all startups begin as small businesses, but not all small businesses are startups. Let's explore!

When I first had this question, years before the debate about a belt company being a startup, the first thing I did was search for a definition that I could hang my beliefs on. You can find a whole lot of textbook definitions out there, some are meaningful and others just confuse the question even more. Then I came across the definition by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup (one of my favorite books on startups, entrepreneurship, and innovation):

A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

This definition, short and to the point, is spot on. There are two subtle things in this definition that stand out. First, the mention of something being new, not doing the same thing others do. Then, the requirement that the conditions be extremely uncertain.

When I have this conversation with others, I tend to use a very simple example as a test for this definition: a bagel shop. Their product, bagels, is not new. Been around for a few hundred years and consumers have clear expectations of what a bagel is. If you are starting a bagel shop, you likely aren't creating anything new. You also aren't entering a market of extreme uncertainty. The market demand is well known, or can be. You know how many people are in the area around the shop, what your competition is, and more. The knowledge is broad and relatively easy to obtain.

So, if I open a bagel shop, am I a startup founder? No way! I'd be a small business entrepreneur. Being a small business owner is a difficult task, one that most couldn't or wouldn't have the guts to do. I applaud these folks, and admire their work. They are an important to the economy, and good for the community. They aren't startup founders though.

I do think that Eric Ries is missing one thing in his definition. I believe that in addition to the product being new and the conditions being extremely uncertain, startups also have the potential for massive and hyper growth, with the economies of scale to turn an investment into outsized returns.

Now, lets take a look at a company that I would define as a startup, Tesla. At first glance, you may be thinking that a car company isn't new, and the market isn't uncertain. However, I disagree! When Tesla started, they were in fact creating something new, a mainstream electric car, and more specifically, an electric sports car targeted at wealthy buyers. The idea that a high price sports car could be electric was new and wild. The idea that an electric car could have broad appeal flew in the face of the ugly and underwhelming electric cars that had hit the market before. The plan to then create other models of electric cars for the mass market while remaining sexy, and at affordable prices, was down right crazy when Tesla started. The newness of the product is also connected to the conditions of extreme uncertainty. Tesla cars would have just a fraction of the range of a gas powered car, something customers may struggle with. There was no charging infrastructure, like there is a network of gas stations. Setting up automotive manufacturing is an expensive, upfront investment that may not pay off. In 2003 when Tesla was started, the economy was still coming out of the recession from the dot-com bubble bursting and 9/11 changing America forever. Gas prices were actually low in 2003, so Tesla couldn't count on that for help.

Tesla started by doing something completely new. They were doing so under the circumstances of extreme uncertainty. And they had the opportunity to create immense wealth through rapid growth. They currently do about $12 billion USD in annual revenue, with a market value of over $50 billion USD, making them about as valuable as the big three America automakers, in just 15 years compared with the 100+ years Tesla's competitors had to grow into that valuation.

The founders and early executives of Tesla were taking a risk that no small business owner can compare with. Their likelihood of failing was high, and being successful would require very specific skills, many that can't be taught. If they were successful, the reward would be at levels that most can't fathom.

The bagel shop owner and electric sports car company founder are both entrepreneurs, and should both be applauded. They don't, however, face the same job, the same risks, or the same reward. One can walk into a bank for a loan, the other can't. One can build a nice business that throws off cash to make them wealthy, the other can make tens of thousand of others wealthy and change an industry in the process.

Nothing would make me happier than if you, the reader, were thinking to yourself at this point that a bagel shop could be a startup, if they did things differently. I love to think that any and every industry is ripe for the type of disruption that Elon Musk brought to the automotive world with Tesla. Its not that online belt retailers and bagel shops can't be startups, its that they typically aren't startups.

So, let me know when someone revolutionizes the world through bagels or belts, and I'll update this post. That said, I'll never equate being a small business owner with being a startup founder.

More on Product Management (Part 2)

Recently, I published a post that outlined 9 principles that make for great product management (On Product Management; May 23rd, 2017). I enjoyed writing the post as it was helpful for me to get my beliefs in a single place, and I was lucky to attract a great audience. My readers had some valuable thoughts, insightful questions, and astute clarifications via LinkedIn comments, Slack discussion, and direct emails.

In this post, I want to address some of those points of discussion, clarify a few things from my original post, and explore a few more principles that make for great Product Managers.

If you haven't read my original post, take a moment to read it and come back to this one. Finally, thank you to everyone that contributed thoughts, counterpoints, questions, and praise...you've helped me become a better writer, and a better Product Manager!

More on the Product Manager's role with vision & strategy

I started my last post out by saying that the role of a Product Manager is to shepherd through a vision...the vision of a Founder, a CEO, or a Chief Product Officer. I went on to talk about the PM's role as a leader, rallying the team around a vision and strategy, and developing products that serve multiple stakeholders. A couple of my readers pointed out that my message might have contradicted itself, and could be taken as a statement that vision and strategy aren't the role of the Product Manager.

This topic gets at a phrase that is commonly thrown around around Product Management, that being a PM is like being the CEO of a Product. I like this statement because it alludes to the type of work that a PM does, and the level of leadership they must demonstrate. I dislike this statement because it implies that the PM is ultimately in charge, that they can do what they want and have no equal in the organization.

While I absolutely believe that Product Managers should influence and contribute to company vision and strategy, and they should set a vision and strategy for their area of responsibility, the truth is that most of us work as part of a larger organization. Most of us have a boss, have a leader we work with. Many of us work at the companies we do because we were attracted to the mission and vision that their leadership put in place. If the Product Manager is setting company vision and strategy, rather than the C-suite, there's a problem. Similarly, if a Product Manager isn't helping the C-suite refine, build on, and advance the vision, there's also a problem.

More on user stories and project management

In my first post on effective product management, I made what turned out to be a controversial statement. I said that effective Product Managers aren't JIRA jockeys. This raised a lot of eyebrows and had many readers asking "but if not the PM, who?"

I firmly believe that the greatest value a PM delivers is not in JIRA, Pivotal Tracker, or any other project management tool. Thats not to say that a Product Manager shouldn't spend any time in these tools. These tools provide value to the team, and Product Managers should be involved in the workflow that takes an idea and turns it into reality.

Great Product Managers avoid being JIRA jockeys by doing two things: they communicate effectively early in the product development process, and they share the responsibility of management and oversight with other leaders.

Effective, clear, and complete communication upfront avoids the need for a micro-manager in JIRA. I do this through a Product Requirements Doc framework that aims to give my teams enough information about the problem and desired outcome that they can create development tickets with much more involvement from me.

Product Managers aren't the only leaders on a team. If the PM is the 'CEO of the Product' then the Engineering Manager is the CTO. Strong Product Designers have been present on every great product team I've worked on, and they should be looked to for leadership and direction. Finally, at larger organizations, Technical Product Managers can work alongside Product Managers to provide direction, validation, and management of the development process.

I believe that the amount of time spent in JIRA or similar tools is a view into a company's culture and the effectiveness of a PM. Product Management does not equal Project Management.

Effective Product Management orgs report through the CEO

Something I didn't touch on in my earlier post was the placement of Product Management in the org chart. There are a two common reporting structures for Product Management: Through the CEO or through the CTO. While both can work, I believe the best results come from Product Management organizations that report through the CEO.

This preference of mine stems from the idea that Product Management is about more than engineering. Engineering groups are singularly focused on technology, whether its the technology that customers interact with directly, or the backend and foundations that the product is built on. Conversely, Product Management is cross-functional by nature, working across pricing, customer support, sales, marketing, and more.

While the Office of the CTO can effectively lead Product Management, reporting through the CEO is a better fit. Like Product Management, a CEO's role spans the entire organization, influencing all aspects of delivering a product. Reporting through the CEO avoids potential conflicts of interest, where tough decisions must be made and priorities identified, and more easily allowing for a solution that might not be an engineering one.

Product Management is about more than code

In my last post, I may have ignored a principle which I feel is so important. The product is more than your software. The product is the entire experience that a customer or user has with your company. From how they first learn about your product, to how they are sold to, how they are on-boarded, how they use the product, how they are supported, and even how they are 'off-boarded", so to speak. Its all your product to the customer, they don't put walls between your marketing and your code, or between sales and support.

Effective product managers influence and lead all aspects of the product. They think of things like user documentation as part of the product. They know that interacting with customer support is part of the value being delivered. Sometimes the best way to move a product forward, to move the needle on sales or net promoter score, is to fine tune the non-software aspects of your product. If a Product Manager doesn't take responsibility for a cohesive product experience, its likely no one will and each customer touchpoint will remain silo'd.

Nike doesn't just sell shoes, they sell an identity. Blue Apron doesn't just sell meal kits, they sell time-savings and the joy of cooking. Software companies don't just sell access to code, they sell solutions to problems.

Am I living in a Product Management dreamland?

So am I crazy, or is my view on effective Product Management realistic? Truth is, its both. I have outlined a bit of a dreamland, a perfect world, but not a world that I've experienced at any single company or role I've held. That said, every philosophy that I've outlined is one that I've experienced personally or seen at other organizations. All of these philosophies are reasonable individually, and together they are a rare but special reality.

Some of these principles are ones that we can do on our own, as individuals seeking to be better at our jobs. Some of these principles require the mandate and support of our organizations and our bosses. If you desire more of a strategic and leadership role in your work as a PM, ask yourself two things. First ask if you are doing the things you can do with autonomy to be a more effective and efficient PM. Then, ask yourself if you are working for a company that wants and values leadership in a Product Manager.

This is part 2 of a 2 part series on effective Product Management. If you haven't read part 1, head on over to On Product Management for principles exhibited by great Product Managers.

On Product Management (Part 1)

Update: Thanks to the huge response from readers, across LinkedIn, Twitter, Slack, and Email, I've written a follow up post to expand on the below thoughts and address reader feedback. You'll find a link to that post at the end of this one.

Recently, I've been asked a few times what my philosophy is on Product Management. I have to say, I've never thought about my philosophy on Product Management before being asked this question. Sure, I have thought about various issues and ideas related to Product Management, but I've never developed a holistic philosophy. As I thought about the question, I started to realize that I do have some solid beliefs, strong feelings, and best practices on this topic.

This blog post represents my personal philosophy on Product Management. It isn't perfect, it may change over time, and it isn't an exhaustive list. What you will get is a look into what I feel strongly about, how I work as a Product Manager, and what I believe leads to great products and thus, great businesses.

Product Managers are the shepherds of a vision

I believe that the fundamental job of a Product Manager is to turn a leader's vision into action. At a certain point, a Founder/CEO is no longer able to be day-to-day with product development. Product Managers exist to ensure that a Founder, a CEO, or a Chief Product Officer's vision is carried out. This is especially important as companies launch additional products or serve multiple use-cases.

Some may say that being a Product Manager is a "mini-CEO" or the "CEO of your product." I get the meaning of that statement, but it goes farther than I'm willing to go with a comparison. Instead, I like to think of myself as a shepherd. I'm overseeing an asset. Leading it to green pasture. Protecting it. Turning it into something more. Delivering.

When I worked at New Relic, the vision was that every Knowledge Worker would one day log into our products on a regular basis to inform their work. Our mission was to be the first, best place for companies to go to when seeking to understand their digital business.

We believed in that mission and worked towards that vision, but it wasn't exactly a roadmap to get there. Thats where Product Managers come in. They chart the course to that end goal, showing a team what they need to do in the short, medium, and long term in order to get to the destination.

Easier said than done, of course. Read on for more.

Product Managers work across a continuum

One thing I love about Product Management is the opportunity it gives me to work on so many different things. One day I am focused on Marketing, another day I am engaging with Customer Support, and most days I'm working directly with engineering. Similarly, Product Management offers the ability to be both strategic and tactical. One minute I'm setting a product vision for three years in the future, the next I'm working with a UX Designer to determine how to reduce friction for users of a single functionality in the product.

I've also found that some Product Managers gravitate towards certain areas of responsibility, while minimizing their efforts in others. This approach in itself isn't bad, but a good Product Manager understands where their time is best spent. I believe a good Product Manager knows when to let other's do what they do best. When to let Designers and Engineers work with freedom, and when to listen to company leadership for strategic direction. I stay out of the weeds and focus my efforts to the right of center on the continuum of tactical and strategic activities.

Product Managers are the voice of the customer

When most people think about Product Management, they probably think about serving customers. When I think about customers as they relate to Product Management, I like to to go a step further. I look at it as my job to represent the customer at every table I'm invited to. It doesn't stop with product features, its my job to ensure that Marketing delivers what the customer needs, that the support infrastructure offers the customer what the require, that the sales process meets customer expectations, and that pricing aligns with the value delivered.

Your product is more than just software. It's the entire experience a customer has with your organization. Don't just represent that customer with your roadmap, it's a Product Manager's job to represent them in every discussion that happens.

Product Management is a partner to Sales

Before I became a Product Manager for the first time, a friend asked me a trick question. He said "As a Product Manager, who do you think your customer is?" Easy question, I thought! The obvious answer is the end user.

My friend suggested I was wrong. He went on to make the case that Salespeople are the customer we serve as Product Managers. While I don't fully adopt this line of thinking (I struggle to think that anyone is more important than the end user), I have carried the spirit of this idea with me in my work.

The argument goes like this: If a Salesperson is excited about my product, educated on its benefits, equipped to sell it, and confident in what it will do for the customer, the Product will succeed. Ultimately, Product Managers are measured on their success of the Product. So, unless you work in an industry with self-serve products, you better have good relationship with the Sales organization.

Personally, I love working with the Sales. I find it to be a great way to get in front of customers, and an efficient way to collect feedback. I'm also a Salesperson at heart, and I love the feeling of winning someone's business!

Product Managers balance stakeholder needs

When I make product decisions, there are three key stakeholders I am thinking about. I'm constantly asking myself: what does my current customer base need from me, what does the industry/market of the future need from me, and what does my company/employer need from me? Rarely will I make a decision where one of these stakeholders is ignored, and never will I make a decision without considering all three of them.

Its obvious to say that the customer's needs are important, and its true. That said, be careful not to ignore customers you don't have yet, the customer of the future. When I meet an existing customer's needs, or the needs of a persona/market that I already serve, I'm likely optimizing for retention and incremental sales. When I think about the industry/market at large, I'm allowing myself to deliver what my existing users would never tell me they need. I'm opening up exponential opportunities, positioning my product to be an industry leader in the future. Finally, looking to my employer as a stakeholder isn't about ensuring I continue to get a paycheck. Rather, I'm looking at company strategy and ensuring that the decisions I make for my product, my user, my future market.

The best decision I can make is the one that serves my existing customer, positions my product to be a market leader in the future, and delivers towards the company strategy.

Product Managers are industry experts

As a Product Manager, I don't know everything and frequently my team is better than me at most things. The one thing I know I can do better than anyone is to be an expert in the industry my product serves. In fact, its my job to be an expert. No one within my organization should know more than me about the market I serve, the users I have, and the problems we solve. The beauty of this is that just about anyone can become an expert, with effort and time. The downside is that it will take time. No one becomes an expert overnight. We either bring it into the job from past experience, or we learn it on the job. Either way, a successful Product Manager is a respected authority on the industry.

Product Managers serve as Leaders & Coaches

Despite the title, often times Product Managers are not managers of people, they aren't the boss. Engineering doesn't report to them, nor does Marketing, Sales, or any other team involved in taking a product to market. Instead, Product Managers are leaders. They use influence to get things done. Effective Product Managers convince people to come along on a journey, working together to ensure success.

Additionally, my job as a Product Manager is also to be a coach. I'm sharing my industry expertise with others, removing obstacles so others can do their best work, and loudly praising the team's success.

Product Managers belong outside the office

There is a program called Pragmatic Marketing and its essentially Product Management school. If you take one of their courses, specifically the Foundations course, you'll likely hear the instructor make a lame but memorable joke. They'll tell you about something called NIHITO ("neh-he-toe"). Its an acronym that stands for Nothing Interesting Happens in the Office. As lame as the instructor will sound when they make that joke, the sentiment couldn't be more true.

Product Managers should spend a majority of their of time out of the building, or at least away from their desks. The more I am sitting at my desk, the less effective I am at my job. Rather, much of my time should be spent talking with customers and engaging with other teams within my organization. This is not to say that 100% of time spent away from your office is equal to 100% effectiveness, but how you split your time is an indicator of effectiveness. You also don't have to literally leave the building to achieve the figurative example...talking with customers in any way, even a simple phone call or studying user metrics qualifies.

If I had to boil it down, my perfect time-split would be this: 1/3 of my time talking with customers, 1/3 of my time working with other teams, and 1/3 of my time synthesizing what I've learned into a strategy, roadmap, and product requirements.

Product Managers are not JIRA Jockeys

You'll notice that in this entire blog post on Product Management, I haven't once mentioned JIRA Tickets or User Stories. There is no question that User Stories are an effective way to communicate product requirements and JIRA is a great tool for organizing and planning product development efforts, However, writing and moving around JIRA tickets is not the best use of a Product Managers time and expertise.

I believe a Product Manager's time is best spent being an industry expert, turning company vision into product strategy, developing a roadmap, making the user persona's and problems clear, removing obstacles so my teammates can do their best, work, and supporting them however else I can. Moving one JIRA ticket above another doesn't equal effectiveness. Ensuring others have everything they need to do great and the right work, that does result in being effective.

I've said a lot about Product Management, but in a way I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. This line of work is one of the most fun, rewarding, yet complicated and ambiguous around.

I'd love to hear your take. Did I get it right? Do you disagree with anything? Did I miss something? Join the conversation with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or wherever you found the link to this post.

For a follow up on this post and my response to comments and feedback, check out part 2: More on product management

Is Comcast intentionally ripping you off?

I am sure the first thought that goes through the mind of many when reading this headline is "of course Comcast is ripping me off!" Comcast is one of the most hated service providers in the U.S. They have some of the lowest customer satisfaction possible, their pricing tactics outrageous, service unreliable, and your relationship with them hard to cancel.

Now I believe I've figured out another way Comcast is ripping off their customers, and this one is blatant. I believe Comcast is selling you internet speeds that they know you won't achieve with the equipment they charge you to use.

See, twice now in the last two years, in two different Comcast markets, I've swapped out the standard Xfinity internet modem/router that Comcast rents to its customers, for my own equipment. Before each of these swaps, I was experiencing internet speeds much slower than Comcast advertised and that I paid for. After each of these swaps, I experienced the internet speeds that Comcast advertised and that I had paid for.

Internet speed using the Comcast Xfinity equipment rented to customers.

Internet speed using the Comcast Xfinity equipment rented to customers.

Last month, I decided to swap out the rented Comcast internet hardware for my own. Over the past 2 years at my girlfriend's apartment in San Francisco, I had been getting internet speeds of about 30mbps at best, with pretty poor coverage around the apartment. Instead of the Xfinity equipment that Comcast rents to us, I plugged in an old and inexpensive Motorola modem, and attached a Google Wifi router to that. Our internet speed went from 30Mbps at best, to just shy of 120Mbps, reliably. We pay for 120Mbps.

Internet speed after ditching the Comcast Xfinity equipment and using my own.

Internet speed after ditching the Comcast Xfinity equipment and using my own.

So why did it go from 30Mbps to 120Mbps? The only difference is that we stopped using the Comcast Xfinity equipment and used our own.

Same thing happened to me in Portland in early 2015. I paid for 120Mbps but experienced 40Mbps-60Mbps on the Xfinity equipment rented to me. Then I switched to a cheap Motorola modem, and a cheap Western Digital router, immediately increasing my internet speeds to a reliable 120Mbps.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the Xfinity modem/router doesn't support the Xfinity speeds we pay for. If this is the case, this has to be a known truth at Comcast. If both of my conclusions are true, then this is fraud pure and simple.

Sure, I am only one person with two experiences, so thats not enough to conclude wrongdoing, but the technical side of this would be pretty easy to test and document. Then the only question is if Comcast knew it was doing this. I bet the average lawyer could prove this in court with ease.

What do you say, do we have a nice class-action on our hands?

The data behind communication & collaboration apps at work

Recently, I blogged about some products and services that I wish existed, things I'd pay for if they were available to me. One of those ideas seemed to be rather popular and many of you have the same problem: Too many communication and collaboration tools at work, and its hard to find the information you are looking for.

I was intrigued by all the interest in this idea, so I decided to dig in a bit more. Shortly after publishing the original blog post, I started a survey. I listed nearly 40 business communication, collaboration, and file storage tools. I simply asked for people to check a box next to all of the tools they use at work, and in a second question, tell me the top problem them have with these tools.

The results were fascinating! As of this writing, I've had 58 responses. There is a whole lot of data to sift through and make sense of, which I'll be doing over the next few weeks. That said, I've gotten started and wanted to share what I have learned so far.

Before i jump into it, please note that I am not a professional pollster, nor am I a data scientists. The data I present is likely tainted in a variety of ways, and I am sure that the questions and answer options could have been better presented. One way the survey and data are tainted is that I advertised my survey through my networks on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and an industry Slack channel. Thats a whole lot of built in bias! So, you get what I am saying? Good.

The Apps

There are some clear winners and losers when it comes to the apps you use at work. For starters, 85% of respondents use a chat app, and 75% of those people use Slack. I knew that Slack was hugely popular, but I had no idea it was that pervasive among my network. I also figured that other apps like MS Communicator/Lync and Gtalk were lightly used, but I had no idea that Hipchat would be such a small player at just 8% of chat users.

Something else interesting, but not surprising, is the popularity of Google. Gmail, Drive, and Hangouts all have better than 50% usage across the survey's respondents. The only Google product that doesn't fair well is Google Talk (Gtalk), with just 17% usage. I suspect that 3-5 years ago, Gtalk would have come in at between 25%-50%, capturing most of Gmails users. However, a few years back, Gogle released Hangouts and began to merge some of their communication tools. A bigger impact on Gtalk was probably the growing popularity of Hipchat and then Slack, which offer much better functionality.

Also popular is video conferencing software, with 83% of you using some sort of tool in the category. Google Hangouts and Skype are the most popular, with every other option a distant 3rd. The least used type of software was in the Customer Service/Sales category (as defined by me), with only 33% of respondents using one of them (Salesforce, Zendesk, etc). Also unpopular is the collaboration category, with tools such as Quip, Jive, and Confluence (again, defined by me). Only 48% of you use a tool like this. A surprise, based on my quick view of the data in the above graphic, was project management tools (Asana, Trello, JIRA...my definition). I expected that nearly no one was using these tools, but it appears that as a group, they are popular, with 60% of you using one or the other. Of course, the category is dominated by JIRA (49% of PM tool users) and Github (54% of PM tool users), which are both more about software development than they are general project management, so my organization of the data and integrity of the survey are likely playing an outsized role here.

Digging into the stats

What I was really excited to learn about was the usage trends and patterns beyond the individual apps. Do people use a lot of different apps? Do they use more than 1 app to accomplish the same thing? I was not disappointed!

For starters, respondents on average use 6.7 different communication and collaboration tools at work. The media is 7, which means half (29) use 7 or more apps! In fact, the respondent with the most apps used in their work was someone with 14 different apps. You use these apps across 4-5 different categories (4.7 mean, 5 media).

With a median of 7 apps across 5 categories, its clear that no only are people using many apps, they are frequently using multiple apps to accomplish the same thing. A vast majority of you are using multiple apps in at least 1 type of communication/collaboration tool category. Just 26% of you are using only 1 app for 1 type of communication/collaboration, across all categories, leaving the other 76% of us double-dipping in at least 1 category.

The most common category where people use multiple apps to accomplish the same thing is in the video conferencing space. The average is 1.7 different apps, with many of you using 3 (17%) and commonly 2 (39%). While that means that the most common was just 1 (44%), this is misleading because the majority of you actually use more than 1 (56%).

Of the 7 different types of apps we looked at, 67% of you use at software from at least 5 categories. Not a huge surprise is the 9% of you that use at least 1 tool across all 7 categories, its just not that common to have to communicate and collaborate in EVERY way possible. After all, certain tools like JIRA and Salesforce are focused at specific functions within an organization (software development and sales, respectively).

What sucks about communication & collaboration software

You'll recall that my second question asked what was wrong with the tools available to you. A whopping 62% of respondents (36) said there was something they didn't like about the tools available to them. Based on the content in those responses, I categorized them into 6 different types of problems: Too many, Distracting/Noisy, Compatibility issues, Usage levels, Finding things, Application quality.

The most common complain? Too many, said 58% of the feedback comments. The second most common problem, which turns out to be very tied to the first, was how hard it is to find things (33%). Many of you, 31%, said that getting usage was a big issue, either on-boarding to these tools or getting the right people, using the right tool for the job. I didn't expect 19% of respondents to have compatibility issues....apps not talking/syncing with each other. That one never occurred to me. Five people said that low quality apps were an issue (14%) and 17% said that noise and distraction were a problem, a number I thought would be much higher.

Since my analysis is part qualitative in addition to quantitative, here are a sampling of a few interesting comments:

So many choices, what’s the right platform for the message at hand?
I have two sets that don’t work well together- Google tools vs. Microsoft. I have a Mac and the MS tools are uniformly terrible. Syncplicity is required, but is one of the worst drive applications I’ve ever seen.
Too many of them! Don’t know where to post information. Don’t know where to find information.
This information is shared in so many places. There isn’t one place where all the data lives.

Interesting stuff! I'll continue to dive deeper into the data and report back as I make new discoveries. If you'd like to discuss my findings or get access to the raw data, drop me a note by using the contact form on this site, or mention me on social media!