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MojoMediaPros specializes in helping entrepreneurs conceptualize, visualize, validate and develop digital products.

Maximizing Web Presence to Attract Investors

Maximizing Web Presence to Attract Investors
Recently, I had the opportunity to present to a group of startup business founders and entrepreneurs at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. I was one of three presenters. The topic we were asked to speak on was the role of social media in grooming your company for investment. My piece was to address the role of SEO...
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The Power of a Prototype

The Power of a Prototype

In The Beginning...

Before tablets were commonplace there was the original iPad. Before there were smart phones in the hands of hundreds of millions of men, women and children around the globe, there was the iPhone. Remember the comments? "A glass phone? Are you kidding?"

Both the iPhone and iPad were game changers, quickly mimicked by their competition. But long before long before either of these products saw the light of day, there a was a vision. And that vision was given form through a vision-video.

In 1987, Apple released the Knowledge Navigator video. This video foreshadows a technological future that in many ways, we already take for granted as here or on its way. The demonstration of this technology unfolds in the mundane portrayal of professor, Michael Brafford, planning his day.  

To quote Bud Colligan, Apple’s Director of Higher Education Marketing, 1985 – 1988, "The video simulated an intelligent personal agent, video chat, linked databases and shared simulations, a digital network of university libraries, networked collaboration, and integrated multimedia and hypertext, in most case decades before they were commercially available."

Imagining A Future To Be Created

I suppose you could argue that long before this video, there was the Star Trek television series and before that, the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both great pieces of science fiction — forward thinking and innovative in their own right. The key difference in my mind, is the writers of these programs were not setting out to create the future they imagined. Apple was —and in many ways has.

If you haven't seen the Knowledge Navigator video, it's worth watching. Keep in mind, this was produced eight years before the advent of the World-Wide Web (www) and something like 10 years before Google came into existence.

The Knowledge Navigator was one of the earliest, if not the original linear prototype — a concept explained in, "Fake It 'Til You Make It". It is interesting to me that are elements to this video that still seem a bit futuristic. For example, the avatar is way more cognoscente and personable than Siri.  A bit more dapper, too. I'm not sure I can picture Siri sporting a bowtie. :-)

Steve Jobs, what a genius! Right?

You might be interested to learn that this the Knowledge Navigator video was developed during the period when Jobs was estranged from Apple; busy building NEXT Computing. According to Bud Colligan, who assembled the team that produced the video, the concept came from — wait for it:  John Sculley!

Yes, that John Sculley — with input form Apple fellow, Alan Kay. The video was apparently inspired by the last chapter book in Sculley’s book, "Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple" and produced for his keynote speech at the 1987 Educom conference.

The power of a prototype is that it brings form to ideas in a way that can be shared with others so they may grasp the vision and participate in the execution.

Powerhouse Talent — Then & Now

When I learned who else was involved, it was not surprising to me that the vision was so creative. Borrowing from Bud's article, besides Bud, Hugh Duberly and Doris Mitsch from Apple Creative Services wrote the script with input from writer Michael Markman and Mike Liebhold from Apple’s Advanced Technology Group. All brilliant folks. There were a lot of brilliant people at Apple back then. There are even more today, I suspect.

So why does Apple seem to be loosing its luster?

A great vision without leadership — strategy, passion and tactical execution — never succeeds; never excites. Let's be clear, it took the return of Steve Jobs, before Apple truly acted on the vision, portrayed in the Knowledge Navigator.

I'm reminded of the Walt Disney company after Walt died — for a decade or more everyone at the company kept asking, "What would Walt say?" Well for one thing, he wouldn't be asking those sort of questions. Eventually the next wave of leaders took the reigns and Disney is once again a juggernaut company — largely due to Steve Jobs and Pixar, come to think of it! LOL

It's a very similar situation. Easier said than done, but Apple needs to get out of Steve's shadow and do something unexpected and exciting.

Come on, Apple. Open the pod bay doors!


Steve Lomas is the founder of MojoMediaPros, specializing in helping entrepreneurs conceptualize, visualize, validate and develop digital products.

For more articles by Steve Lomas, visit Digital Bits at blog.stevelomas.me.

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Fake it ‘til you make it.

Fake it ‘til you make it.

 

An Approach To Prototyping That Sells

When it comes to web and mobile application development, it seems to me that many entrepreneurs and product teams are often too anxious to develop (coding implied) a proof of concept (POC) and much less interested in understanding the problem space or seeking user validation of a product’s viability.

Jumping into a coded solution prematurely is not only expensive, but far less flexible and for these reasons, less likely to be considered disposable.

Disposable is a key tenet of rapid prototyping. The other tenets are Fast, Efficient and Enough.

Prototyping Over Coding

From my experience, a combination of iterative prototyping (no coding implied) and user validation testing is the best — i.e., fast and efficient — way to design and vet a product’s viability.

As for enough, very few product concepts require actual coding to convey the idea. Those that do are typically technology driven solutions that depend on new and unproven tech. The phrase new and unproven tech, by its very nature implies a technical POC. For everything else, faking it is enough.

Faking it (i.e.,prototyping) ‘til you make it (i.e., coding) saves time and money, not to mention undue frustration for your developers.

Multiple Approaches to Prototyping

I have identified three kinds of prototypes, or rather three approaches to prototyping...

Approach No.1

This approach is widely accepted, and what I believe most readers were imagining as they read my opening remarks: low fidelity, disposable, rapid prototypes that might be described as a clickable wire-frame. To be sure, this type of prototype has its place. It is enough for quickly working out UX patterns and product workflows.

The remaining two prototyping methodologies represent a road less traveled and therefore I find them a bit more interesting.

Approach No.2

The second approach is similar to the first, also generating disposable, rapid prototypes, however the screens are high fidelity. If it is done right, the prototype could pass for a finished product, at least within a demo context.

This approach flies in the face of conventional wisdom which values low-fidelity black and white wire-frames over high fidelity, color screens because it is believed that the incompleteness of a wire-frame illustration indicates to viewers that the product is not finished, therefore freeing them up to engage the presentation in an intellectual fashion, rather than getting hung up on design elements, such as color and form. 

If that were true, we would not be hearing, "Is it going to be black and white?"

In fact, if you read my recent post, “Presentation Matters”, you already know that I believe the opposite to be true. There are situations when wire-frames are clearly not enough. Let me explain.

Experience suggests that most individuals are not looking to offer a design critique — if it looks professional, they pretty much take it in stride. On the other hand, practically everyone reacts to bad or inadequate design. They may not be able to articulate why it is bad, but believe me, they form an opinion — "mom and pop", "unprofessional", "dumb", whatever — in seconds!

This is not the reaction you want to risk from potential investors or partners.

My theory, is that by presenting a cohesive, professionally designed, high-fidelity user interface, the quality bar has been established and the user can relax and buy into the experience. This is not to say that the interface represents the finished design, but that it could be a finished design.

As it turns out, high-fidelity prototyping doesn’t necessarily require a lot more effort, and is the only approach which offers enough for certain audiences.

One way to make sure the high-fidelity approach doesn’t suck up an inordinate amount of time and resources is to follow the advice of Austin Kleon’s excellent book, “Steal Like An Artist” — find an existing application UI that you or the client likes and rip it off, whole cloth. Remember, this isn’t meant to be the finished interface, it is simply meant to establish a quality bar.

We get everyone to agree, upfront, that any discussion about styling, is strictly off limits at this stage. The only valid design questions are, “Does it look professional?", and "Can you imagine another company releasing a product that looks like this?” Since we have lifted the UI design from an existing product, the answer to both questions is always, “Yes”.

This is terribly freeing, allowing us to create, test and iterate high fidelity mock-ups quickly, knowing that the final styling conversations will had at some future date and time.

Approach No.3

Approach No.3, is a rollup of Approach No.2 . We call it a “Linear Prototype”.

The term, linear prototype, was coined years ago by my friend and mentor, Mark Dillon. Basically, we leverage the final high fidelity prototype described above to create a video demo — an extremely predictable and effective demo.

A good linear prototype should not be “salesy”, or too polished. Instead, it needs to be intimate; like a good friend letting you in on something new and cool. We try to keep these demos short, like 90 seconds, and the goal is to most definitely create the illusion of a finished product.

Why this approach? My answer to this draws on my background in filmmaking. It’s a concept that all filmmakers rely upon in order to engage their audiences: the willful suspension of disbelief.

It turns out this concept is not only helpful to the enjoyment of stories about galaxies far far away; but, it is also helpful to getting investors and strategic partners to capture the vision of your product.

I first discovered this approach to prototyping in the early 90’s. We were designing an interactive television (iTV) pilot for The Discovery Channel and we were depending on Philips, to provide a critical set-top box technology, which they had developed, but not released.

They turned us down three times!

As a last ditch effort, we decided to create a linear prototype demonstrating what the experience of watching Baseball might be like on the iTV system we were envisioning. Major League Baseball agreed to provide footage and a license for our prototype with the stipulation that we show them the finished demo for their approval, before sharing it with anyone else. Two weeks later we had created a very believable linear prototype —  all faked in video post.

When we shared it with Major League Baseball they loved it, asking us how soon could get their hands on it. We had to explain that it wasn’t real technology.

Then we sent the video off to Philips. They contacted us a few days later, saying, “Oh, that’s what you want to do. Now we get it. We’re in!”

This approach worked then, and it continues to work today.

So, here's the take away... Remember, there is more than one approach to prototyping a web app. Low fidelity wire-framing has its place. It is fast and efficient but it isn't always enough. If you are seeking buy-in from an investor or strategic partner, the high fidelity, linear prototype approach is MONEY!

Personal aside…

I had to smile when Apple recently launched the latest AppleTV supporting custom apps. The demo Apple chose to explain the power of their new product was a Major League Baseball app – nearly 25 years after our linear prototype. :-)


Special thanks, to Susan Culkin for her input on this post.

Steve Lomas is the founder of MojoMediaPros, specializing in helping entrepreneurs conceptualize, visualize, validate and develop digital products.

For more articles by Steve Lomas, visit Digital Bits at blog.stevelomas.me.

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Nurturing Freelance Ecosystems

Nurturing Freelance Ecosystems

Introduction

In this post I briefly share my experience and philosophy about supporting freelance communities and some practical advice for nurturing their ecosystems.

The Case For Freelance Symbiosis

I am no stranger to either freelancing or hiring freelancers. In fact, throughout my career, the companies I have founded and the projects I have managed have largely been staffed by freelance contractors. Recently, I calculated their number to be in excess of 1250 individuals. 

Freelance is not for everyone, but for those who can make it work, it offers tremendous freedom and financial reward. For employers, it offers flexible access to part-time expertise without the overhead associated with full-time employees.  The key to making this work is nurturing and maintaining a thriving freelance ecosystem — supply and demand.

I learned to embrace this model early in my career working as an independent film, television and video producer in Los Angeles. Nowhere is there a more robust community of freelancers than in Hollywood.

Like many independent production companies, my video production company was essentially me and one or two others during the development phases of a project. Once a project was green-lit, however, I would quickly staff the production by reaching out to my go-to team of freelance professionals. Depending on the size of the project, my teams ranged in size from under a dozen to many dozens of talented craftspeople.

Typically, I would call on the same core group of folks time and again — my go-to cameraman, lighting director, art director, audio technician, production assistant, music composer, etc. When someone was unavailable, they would refer me to their go-to back up person — someone else they knew, who did exactly what they did, presumably just as well, otherwise they would not feel comfortable recommending that individual. If that person was unavailable, they would refer their go-to back-up person and so on. Usually within one or two hops, you would find someone who you could be reasonably well assured would step in and do a great job. 

This is still how it works in Hollywood. Most crew members are freelance contractors. A team is assembled around a specific project, for a limited period of intense activity, often forming deep friendships as a result. When the project is over, there is a wrap party and you all part company, noting with whom you would like to work with again.

Risk Aversion Over Nepotism

Understanding this model explains what is often miscast as nepotism in Hollywood. Television and film production is a high-stakes business. There is a lot of financial pressure on producers and directors to deliver. So when you find someone who is both good at what they do and easy to work with — even under pressure — you are not too anxious to swap out that person for some unknown talent. Risk aversion and quality of life, first and foremost, are the reasons  why it is hard to break into the Hollywood trades.

Pay it Forward

As my career matured, I moved from film and television production to broadcast graphics, interactive multimedia, game development, and eventually web application development. In each case I have promoted the notion that a thriving freelance eco-system is good for that industry. 

Some industries have been slower to adopt this approach than others. The enterprise software industry, for example, still has a long way to go to come close to matching the Hollywood freelance ecosystem. This is especially true in secondary markets, where developing a freelance marketplace often seems like a chicken and egg conundrum.

With the right mind set, I think we can change that.

Advice to Freelancers

1. Stop Seeing Your Peers as a Competitive Threat

The best Hollywood freelancers are constantly on the lookout for talented people who can do their job. This may seem counterintuitive, but there are many good reasons to do so:

  • It is better to be part of the solution than to disappoint a client
  • What goes around comes around — by referring a peer, that peer may likely refer you, when the shoe is on the other foot
  • It’s nice to have a back-up bench when life’s unexpected emergencies come up, like illness or family matters

2. Master Professionalism

  • Be disciplined about maintaining your calendar
  • Return calls promptly
  • Always be punctual
  • Be knowledgeable (stay current; know your trade)
  • Never miss deadlines (instead, renegotiate, but do so early)
  • Keep a work journal (this will protect you from selective client amnesia)
  • Use a tool like Freshbooks to generate professional invoices
  • Always make your clients feel important; don’t talk needlessly about other projects or clients in their presence and NEVER use another project as an excuse for incomplete or unsatisfactory work

3. Network Intentionally

  • Seek out the best in your field
  • Ask questions and listen actively
  • Share opportunities and best practices whenever you can
  • Embrace my philosophy about peer referrals and share this philosophy when meeting others
  • Develop a referral network among your peers

Advice to Companies Hiring Freelancers

Having access to freelance consultants, available on a project basis, can be a tremendous asset to companies of any size across all industries. It is in your best interest to help foster a thriving local freelance community.

With that in mind, here are some fundamental tips for companies, to be supportive of freelancers.

1. Treat Freelancers with Professional Courtesy and Respect

  • Be open.
  • Be honest.
  • Communicate early and often.
  • Above all — do not treat contractors as second-class citizens.

2. Be Sensitive to the Realities of Freelancing

  • Realize that freelancers have a business to run outside of your project.
  • Be flexible. Freelancers may occasionally need to return phone calls, schedule meetings, etc., in support of their next project.
  • That said, this activity need not and should not impact your project; nor should it need to be handled as a clandestine operation.

3. Pay Freelancers Promptly

  • Nothing starves a thriving freelance pool like slow or no pay.

4. Make Freelancers Feel Part of the Team By Offering Perks

  • Trusted access to office space between projects or after hours
  • Invitations to company events
  • Thoughtful offerings of company swag, like tee-shirts, etc.

5. Share Your Freelance Pool with Friendly Competitors

  • If you can't keep your freelancers busy, keep an eye out for other opportunities. The goal is to keep your freelancers well-fed and available for your next project. Your freelancers will remember and appreciate any referrals you provide and so will your peers.
  • The philosophy of what goes around comes around works for companies, too!
  • Your competitors may even reciprocate; in kind, or otherwise.

 

Taking It To Heart

MojoMediaPros was founded around the Hollywood model of networking and developing lasting relationships with outstanding freelance talent to offer exceptional value to its clients. Whenever any of my favorite freelancers are booked-up and unavailable, I celebrate that fact with them and immediately ask them for a great referral. 

This process works. It has never let me down and only gets better as more companies and freelancers buy into it.


Steve Lomas is the founder of MojoMediaPros, specializing in helping entrepreneurs conceptualize, visualize, validate and develop digital products.

For more articles by Steve Lomas, visit Digital Bits at blog.stevelomas.me.

 

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Presentation Matters

Presentation Matters

Not So Obvious 

When I say, "Presentation matters", you might scoff, believing this to be so obvious, it doesn't bear mentioning. But, in fact, it does.

As design professionals we grow accustomed to developing ideas and reviewing work in progress. We “see” the comp or the rough idea in our mind’s eye for the finished work it will become. And at times we mistakenly project our comfort level onto others, assuming they can also see through the reality of work in progress to envision the finished product as we “see” it.

The truth is, no matter how carefully you position the work as “not finished”, “in-progress”, etc., people form opinions based on what you show them; not what you tell them it will be.

Presentation matters.

This is not to say that everything we share must be work complete or for that matter that good design and elaborate presentations will elevate bad ideas. Neither are true. I am suggesting, however, that we must consider the sophistication of the audience and that a hasty or ill-prepared presentation can absolutely hurt a good idea, obscure real talent and undermine credibility.

A Case In Point

One of the most vivid examples of this principle came about while I was leading a team designing a set-top box application. The lead developer had just completed some core functionality and was pretty excited to share it with the rest of the team. He called us all together for an ad hoc demo at his workstation. The application interface consisted of what we affectionately refer to as “programmer art”, a euphemism for stand-in graphics which rarely resemble “art”.

The demo went smoothly and it definitely represented technical progress, but it was clear to me the developer was disappointed with the understated response he received. After the team dispersed, I asked the developer if we could drop in the UI assets the graphics team had been designing. He shared that he thought it was a bit early, so but could easily do so if I insisted. I did.

The next morning, we all gathered around the developer's workstation once again and he walked us through the same demo from the day before, but this time with the ready-for-prime-time user interface assets.

After the demo the team was literally squealing with delight. “Awesome, dude! You rock!” High fives all around. When everyone got back to work, my lead developer seemed even more befuddled than he was the day before.

When I enquired, he said, “I don’t get it. This is the exact same demo I shared yesterday to a lukewarm response.” I smiled and said, “Actually, it’s not.”

Challenged by my comment, he raised his voice a bit, saying, "Yes, it is. All I changed were the graphics.”

To which I responded. "And, that’s why it was a different demo."

In other words, presentation matters.


Steve Lomas is the founder of MojoMediaPros, specializing in helping entrepreneurs conceptualize, visualize, validate and develop digital products.

For more articles by Steve Lomas, visit Digital Bits at blog.stevelomas.me.

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