🎧 Spotify Stations: on top of hands-off music listening

Spotify released its Stations app not so long ago, in ßeta in the US. Here’s a complete review of this very interesting project, before it comes down on our devices!

Full app review of Spotify Stations

Spotify released its Stations app not so long ago, in ßeta in the US. Here’s a complete review of this very interesting project, before it comes down on our devices!

Let’s say it once before examining the whole thing: Stations is a smart, modern and audacious project. Here are the main take aways

  • #TheApp : « Stations » is an independent Spotify app. It focuses on a feature that already exists on Spotify: the stations. When you play a station, the music basically never stops, because a track starts just when the other stops.
    You can have several different stations, for each genre or artist that you like. And each station’s queue of tracks is composed by the app, following your preferences.
  • #UX – Spotify Stations only contains… stations. That’s all. No podcasts, no playlists, no events, no artists or song search. Only stations. As such, the user experience is incredibly powerful while being very simple. In terms of features, the app « only » replaces a classic set of FM stations, but here, these Stations are powered by Spotify’s famous recommendation algorithm. Very audacious bet and proof of confidence of the company in its number one appreciated asset.  
  • #UI – The interface smartly delivers this experience. Turning on the app for the first time is enough to access a station without a single click. Then, the user has barely 4 or 5 moves to make to enrich their stations. No more. And native interface components are modern and very intuitive.
  • #Algorithm – The algorithm training of a station relies on adding artists into it and on liking tracks while they’re played. Sure, it’s satisfying. But in the use it is probably not pushed at its maximum since the app doesn’t cover on its front the complete set of links between artists/tracks/albums/events/playlists/etc. that the original Spotify app contains. Especially, the playlist concept has been completely wiped.
  • #Positioning – There was a place to take on the easy music-listening. So with this app, all of us who need – always or sometimes – to just let it play while we do something else, we will be satisfied. More precisely, « who exactly does Stations target? » I don’t know, but I would be so curious to see the analytics few weeks after the public release and try to draw core personae out of it…
  • #Deepness – Details around a track have been blown away too. Click on a track that’s playing: nothing will happen. You will access no related album, nor artist page or related stations. Experience is really about a « hands-off » mode. Launch the app, it will play the music that you like, that’s all you need to know. Some of us, passionated listeners that are interested into the content that surrounds a track, might be a bit frustrated.

A personal opinion? I spent a few hours letting it play and enriching stations… It’s incredibly powerful and accurate – as expected. And content around stations, if some is meant to be produced/curated/featured, could be key to further success. Let’s dig into it and try to understand Spotify’s project in a wider stand. 

Are you a Spotify user?
(polls)

On-boarding

Next screenshots will be in english 😉 I couldn't retrieve these screens in english...

After first login – with classic credentials or Facebook connect-, you get to this nice three-screens slider. Short and quite usual.
Maybe you recognize the Circular font (Arial family) of Spotify?
There’s some new stuff: Spotify used to on-board their users with another atmosphere, especially with lifestyle pictures in background (see here). This new iconography and flat unified colors in the background might be a first shot for the ßeta version, but I like it this way. It’s rather punchy.
And it actually paves the way for the awe-inspiring simple UI of the rest of the app.

Wooops what happened to second slider's subtitle? Looks like they forgot to center it...

To finish the on-boarding, a little guidance is available in-app, if needed. And that’s it. You’re all set.

I find a bit old-school the « Back » and « Next » text links in bottom corners. Arrows would probably have been enough (see Instagram stories on-boarding).

Single-screen app

« So let’s start with the menu. Wait… Where is it? Where’s the menu? »
No menu my friend. Stations app only has one screen for the main layer. From here, you can only get down in the app, nothing to see on the sides! It’s already a huge gap of simplification compared to the classic Spotify app, that displays a four-pages bottom menu.

The main body of this .gif shows the top-down slide that switches playlists. A very intuitive choice of display and touch for this action. Hence, stations switching is supposed to be the major daily move made by users. Might be, yes. We’ll come back to this question later on.

When the user glances at the top bar, looking for the menu, they integrate that only one action will actually ever be available.

The top bar stages only one main action: « + Add station« . Very interesting choice. In fact, we better know top bars dedicated to title, search and even more frequently, to menu access. So when the user glances at it, they mentally replace the « Looking for other options » expectation with the « There’s only one option » reality.

Still on top bar, we find an easy-to-reach device controller, plus the settings. Again, I think it’s a lucid choice not to have merged them. My guess is that over the last years, smart home devices (Google Home, Alexa,…), connected speakers and wireless headphones/ear pods have proven their daily weight into music listening. Analytic review of this already-existing feature on classic Spotify must have guided this choice.

It’s already playing

Open Stations, it starts playing. Even on first on-boarding.
« But you had no pre-configured stations, had you ? ». In fact, Spotify groomed my favorite artists and my top songs and built a first batch of 4 Stations out of it. Remember 2018 wrapped content? This superbe retention campaign was ment to higher purpose than just engage their users in few clicks on January 2019…
In other words, if you already have a Spotify account with a bit of listening with it, you CAN NOT DISLIKE the first track that Stations plays. You’ve heard it, liked it, shared it, playlisted it so many times that it has to be a match with your expectations, had you any.

I must admit that I found it disappointing not to find any stations based on my dear Spotify Playlists. I mean, they’re juste like pre-built stations, aren’t they? « Maybe I’ll get them later… » I thought.

Enriching a station

Let’s come back on our UX journey.

Since we already have a few stations, it might be interesting to work on one of them.
You can enrich a station with two actions that will train the recommandation algorithm:

  1. Like or dislike the tracks that play
  2. Add artists to the « root » of the station (see .gif)

Artist search is pretty simple, starts with only 1 character, and artists pictures are helpful.

What’s interesting comes next: once you’ve added an artist, other ones related pop immediatelysmartly inserted in-between the one you’ve just added and the last artist you had added before.
Notice that within this discovery phase, it’s the first time that the user sees the recommandation algorithm in action. Everything before was just blind confidence into pre-built stations.
It’s like taking a breath with a behavior that we finally know, after all this newness.

A little down, to me, is this double « save » click that’s needed to complete the update of the station. I missed it once or twice.

Unless you try the app, you will have to trust me on this one: I think that 1 extra gesture is missing.
When I am listening to a station, it can happen that a song that I like pops up. But it actually would fit ANOTHER station – or several others. So I don’t wan’t to dislike the music, because I like it. But I don’t want to like either, because I don’t want the algorithm to integrate that it was a good choice to put this song into this specific station.
In that case, it might be useful to drag and drop the music played into the playlists that I aim.

Creating a station

Back to our « + Add station » button.
A click will take you to a two-tabs screen that will let you start your station with either « Artists », either « Genres & Moods » (see screenshots below).
For each genre/mood, you get sub-genres stations.

First thing about this artist recommendation: I really don’t like Damso‘s music. Nor Maitre Gims‘. I mean, that’s even possible that I disliked them in classic Spotify already.
So let’s cut this review right away, this app totally suc…
No wait. It’s actually interesting. Remember the point about playlist-based stations? Well they’re still missing here.
Why can’t I just turn on a station that’s based on a playlist that I’ve put so much effort into? If I could do so, I might not have to deal with artists that I don’t like.
It’s a real down to me here since I’ve spent literally hours on building them. Naming them. Picturing them. Spotify even had me creating folders, and subfolders of playlists…
Playlists are like babies to Spotify users. And now Stations wants us to forget about them? Tough.

Work, commute, drive = Stations

With an objective Product Management stand, I must say that this app is a remarkable shot towards all people used to listen to music when they work, commute, drive, ride, read, play,… it’s obvious that a big market hole was waiting for this to come. Well, actually Pandora was first on this field but I’m not sure they will last long against Stations. UX is still too complex, UI not as qualitative.

Soundcloud, Deezer, Apple Music… same thing. For sure, they all are great products. But not meant to deal a single feature.

  • Soundcloud doesn’t even suggest a default station that you would be keen to listen. And when you launch one, they prove being quite light on the recommendation part, since they invite you to modify the queue. So it becomes a self-made temporary playlist, not a station.
  • Deezer Flow and Apple Music have way more complex UIs than Stations with a lot of deepness and relations between objects. It’s great but it looses someone that just wants to launch a station right now, and then forget about the app while music continues.

Odds are great for previous generations too. We know that our parents were used to their set of 6 FM stations, but over the last decade, they might have neglected it – except in the car, for sure – because of other more powerful medias. If firsts releases’ data prove it, marketing & communication could hard-push on the 40-50 years old. They don’t have any relevant substitues to their FM stations yet.

Music is dead, long lives Music?

Now, in a more personal stand, I think I am too interested into the music that’s playing to be a core Stations’ user.

On Stations, click on an artist? Nothing happens. Click on a track? Still nothing. Looking for a song? You won’t find any. Want to check if this band released something lately? Trust the algorithm, it may bring it to you one day – or not.
So first, about internal objects’ linking: I am very frustrated to know that I will never get deeper (or sides) than the station level.

Second point, and more important to me, is about all the content that makes the music a living art.

Let’s talk a bit about what could have been added to Stations, so that profound music lovers become core users.

1. Easy integrations 📲

  • Spotify partnered with Genius and their lyrics database: Stations and Genius would be plugged. And stations would show the lyrics to those who want to sing or to learn what’s the music about.
  • Spotify launched Line-in in 2018, so that users can suggest edition on music metadata (release dates, genres,…): Stations and Line-in would be plugged too. And superpowers would be given to those who prove being educated/passionated/experienced users and contributors.

2. Share & collaborate 🤝

Again, easy stuff for Spotify, they already have every thing:

  • Sharing a playlist on classic Spotify is a very common action. Why not replicate it in Stations?
    Instead of URL link or emmebed, which exist today, sharing could be triggered from the app, and appear as push notif, or in-app notification on another device.
  • Exact same thing with multi-user collaboration on a playlist. Spotify already has it. On Stations, users would also collaborate with their friends and family on a common Station.

3. Beloved content

  • Spotify recently acquired Parcast and Gimlet Media, which are two huuuuge Podcast producers/broadcasters. They know how to deliver extraordinary content in a mic. What if they took the place of presenters? We would have so great stories about backstages, studios, events, talks about creativity or technique…
  • As « new generation FM presenters », these teams would also invite artists to perform live. For example, traditional Seattle KEXP 90.3 FM, and US NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts made there reputation out of it: they know how to push artists beyond their limits and create very emotional atmospheres (here are two examples 1, 2). Stations’ audio content would be sure also available in video format. To be broadcasted on website, social networks, personal channels…
  • Red Bull Academy (RBMA) has done a tremendous work on stimulating music industry. Without a single line of code. They curate lectures of artists, boost partnerships between labels, and broadcast high quality content. And they’re not even native of this industry. In a wider and very exciting version of Stations project, it would be so great to have Spotify fostering artists and communities around music.

All right I think that’s enough reviewing for today. I hope you liked it:)
It was a pleasure to me anyway.
Stay tuned for more or write me at tristan.bochu.pro@gmail.com if you feel like talking about this one or anything else 😉
By the way, here’s the song I had at Stations Opening:

Souls of Mischief – 93 ‘Til Infinity
What do you think? Rate this article from ❶ to ❺ 😉
(polls)

Brain + smartphone = 🤯

The presence of your phone impacts your brain capacity more than you think… But there’s a good side in it.

Have you ever questioned the impact of your smartphone over your brain capacity?
Have you ever questioned your dependence to it, and how you would get through your day if it was to disappear?

I bet you have. And it is no scoop if I tell you that, indeed, your smartphone has a huge impact on you. It is known Khaleesi

But no scoop either: humans are particularly good at burying their head in the sand when facts become inconvenient. I do. We all do. And I will probably continue a little longer! But this scientific experiment I read about this week[1] will, eventually force me to change the way I deal with my smartphone everyday. In the study, they call it “The Brain Drain”.

Would you prefer: a notification or a mosquito bite ?

We all have already met this situation: You are talking with someone, or deep-working on something, and while your focus is at its maximum, a smartphone notification pops up. It breaks the silence and draws your attention with a little LED. First thing, you are curious. What could it be? Friend? Event? Work?… Anyway you decide to ignore it.

« Not now » you think.

But when you go back to whatever you were doing, there is this kind of background task now running in the back of your head… You try not to lose attention from your focal task. But still, that notification itches. And as a mosquito bite, you know it is bad to scratch ; but it itches too much ! You know the drill…

What just happened is that while you were only doing task A, your Working Memory Capacity (WMC) — the cognitive system that selects and processes information relevant to your current task[2] — was all dedicated to task A.

When the notification prompted — task B — this WMC was not extended so that you can deal with it. It was divided. The WMC was filled with 2 tasks instead of 1.

And this simple scheme shows the basic statement of cognitive research: we have a limited amount of attentional resources, and occupying these attentional resources reduces the available cognitive capacity.

Other room, pocket, desk

Okay, so smartphones’ notifications are distracting. Still no big news, is it ?

Spicy stuff is coming…

A team of 5 scientists gathered around this questioning: During the life of our smartphones, we actually mostly don’t use it actively. It’s in our bag while we walk. In charge and muted while we sleep. Face down on the table of the bar when we tchat. Or even in the other room when we shower… What power could have our smartphone when it is unused? What is the impact of its mere presence by our side on our cognitive capacities? Is it harmful just because we can feel its presence?

To dig this concern, the team ran a first experiment on 520 students, aged 20 to 22.

These students were separated in 3 groups:

  • 1st group had to leave their smartphone outside the testing room — group « other room »
  • 2nd group had to keep their smartphone in their bag or in their pocket — group « pocket/bag »
  • 3rd group had to put their smartphone face down on their desk, in the testing room — group « desk »

They all had to turn their phone on silent (both ring and vibrate off).

All participants completed 2 tests to measure their cognitive capacity :

  • Operation Span[3]: letters and little math problems appear. You have to memorize the letters and solve the math problems at the same time. Perfect test to measure WMC.
  • Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices (see picture)[4]: looks like most of the IQ tests that you know. You have to fill in matrices with the most logical colored shape. Perfect test to measure Fluid Intelligence[5]. (Fluid Intelligence describes your ability to solve problems without specific knowledge, culture or skills)

You should take a look at 1 or 2 youtube videos about those tests, so that you can have an idea of their difficulty and trickiness, they’re funny.[3][4]

The results of this first experiment were without controversy : as smartphone salience increases, available cognitive capacity decreases. Okay let’s say it again, but with other words and maybe with the tone of Jack Hall, the climatologist alerting the president in the Day After Tomorrow: “Sir, the more humanity gets close to smartphones, the less cognitive capacity they have…”.

The “desk” group is immediately impacted by the phone presence, because they can see it, right in front of them.

The “pocket/bag” group is less impacted, but still: a part of their attentional resources is allocated to a potential phone call, or text message. Because they know that the smartphone is quite close to them.

The “other room” group is far less or not impacted at all because their smartphone is not within easy reach.

See detailed results here below:

I only regret that this 1st experiment doesn’t go deeper, with the comparison of a 4th group with participants that simply don’t own a smartphone… Do you think that the results of the “Other room” group would have been inferior as well ?

Scary…

But let’s deal with what we have and transpose this learning in one or two daily situations:

  • This evening you have decided to sit down in front of Openclassroom, in order to finish, once and for all, this “Learn how to dev your own website in HTML/CSS” chapter. Working Memory Capacity is at stake here. It enables you to process information that is relevant to your current task, remember ?
    According to this experiment, your capacity to perform in short-term memorizing the chapter would vary whether your smartphone is on the sofa, completely salient ; whether your smartphone is on the floor, charging — not so far ; or whether you left it in your bedroom.
  • Fluid intelligence enables you to solve a problem without any prior skills, culture or knowledge. You definitely would need it if you were to solve a puzzle with your niece or nephew. Well, let your smartphone on the living room table, and he/she might solve it faster than you !

What if we turned our devices OFF ?

… to be straight? It would not change anything.

This was exactly the point of experiment 2, over 275 participants.

They randomly asked to some of them to turn OFF their smartphone, instead of just letting it in silent mode. It didn’t change anything…

Meaning that just seeing your phone, or just knowing that it is close to you is enough to undermine your attentional resources and your available cognitive capacity EVEN if your phone is turned OFF. We seriously are addicts, fellows!

Wait, are we addicts?

Because the team of scientists also questioned this during experiment 2: participants had to answer a set of 13 exploratory questions about their smartphone dependence. First part were 6 questions were focused on a practical way like: “how much do you rely on your phone to go through your day ?”. Second part of questions was about the emotions: “Does your cell phone make you happy ?”.

As a whole, Smartphone Dependence is indeed strongly related to participants performance during the test. To sum it up, the more dependent you are, the less you will succeed in the test if you can see your phone on the desk. Even further, scientists were able to conclude that if you are strongly dependent to your smartphone, you will get better results than anyone once you are isolated from it in the other room.

Waw ! Would it mean that we could consider that aaaaaaaalll this time that we spend on our smartphone, is only a giant training of our brain, so that we can over-perform by letting it go one day?

To be accurate, the scientists separated the two parts of the questions asked at the end so that we could analyse whether it is more practical dependence or emotion reasons that has more impact on the results.

… and winner is practical dependence ! Indeed, no correlation could be drawn between emotional dependence and participants results. On the contrary, if you consider yourself as practically dependent to your device, you’d better stay away from it if you need all you attentional resources.

A box, to rule them all

What should we do to combat smartphone presence and cognitive capacity undermining ? For me, it will be nothing fancy or deeply tech: a simple wooded box, within my appartement entry, with an inscription “Leave your phone, keep your brain.

On the long run, you can also change your habits. The goal is to reduce the frequency of the stimuli, so that your smartphone appears less than a constantly ringing object.

A few ideas to follow:

  • Within apps, notification management is now a must. But for many, the granularity of the settings is not thin enough to configure them just as you wished. Product Managers should provision time and effort with their product team to integrate a proper notification management system into their mobile apps, so that their users neither churn nor turn addicts because of intense notifying.
  • Notification management is now widely integrated in both iOS 12 and Android Pie, alongside this whole “How much time did you spent on your apps?” features. For Apple and Google, next step could be to set safety standards at the entry of the App Store and Play Store. For example, with this kind of policy, a basic e-business app would have to set all its marketing notifications OFF by default — until the users spontaneously activate them.
  • With Android Enterprise, companies can set “work profiles” on their employees’ devices, so that work related stuff remains separated from the rest. A good way to stay away from work impediments and alerts during the weekend. But employees have limited access to this complex setups, and can’t do anything without full consent and technical support from their CTO. Transparent communication should be made about these options that are often very appreciated from employees. Instead of keeping in mind the old MDM system that blocks everything on the smartphone.
    And also note that Apple doesn’t allow this flexibility on a single device yet.

Resources :

[1] Study: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/691462

[2]Working Memory Capacity: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3721021/

[3]Ospan test: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp4z41Jax6g

[4]Raven’s Progressive Matrices: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JztTW_Yj1zQ

[5]Fluid intelligence: https://www.verywellmind.com/fluid-intelligence-vs-crystallized-intelligence-2795004

Appaloosa 2018 deliveries, and 2019 plans 🚀

As a new year has just begun, let us take a quick tour of Appaloosa’s product evolutions over 2018 and a few of our upcoming projects for 2019.

As a new year has just begun, let us take a quick tour of Appaloosa’s product evolutions over 2018 and a few of our upcoming projects for 2019.

Last year, product team juggled with a whole bunch of technical and functional topics.

New Backoffice Interface set as default

First of all, after a long teasing and testing period, we eventually set the new backoffice interface as default. It took a certain effort to rebuild a consistent and convenient UX/UI for every little features backported from the old to the new backoffice interface. Obviously, this was the opportunity to refactor backend code. You can now enjoy Appaloosa’s new UI as admin until the depths of the product. For techies, we chose ember.js as front end framework.

Speaking of change, please note that our old backoffice interface will terminated late Q1–2019. Should you not see your favorite feature in the new interface, please let us know at support@appaloosa-store.com.

iOS MAM online configuration

We have always pledged for a balanced Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. In practice, this is often enabled with a softer Mobile App Management (MAM) configuration on your employees’ devices — way lighter than traditional Mobile Device Management (MDM) setups. With Appaloosa’s admin interface, you can now easily set up and deploy our MAM Profile on iOS devices. Once you have your Apple certificates in hand, it can be completed in 4 clicks.

End-user activation

End-user adoption is key to any mobile app deployment project. Since last summer, administrators can select an option in their settings to automatically resend an invitation email to join their store, to all end-users that are still inactive after 30 days.

Actual click rate of this reactivation email is 17.8% : enabling project managers to generate incremental engagement on their mobile apps.

Revisited on-boarding

App test & deployment projects are complex projects. Our goal is to make it simpler. We introduced a new trial access and a onboarding service to ease your first contact with our platformWe made good use of the Hubspot/Appcues duo to better qualify your needs.

Specific authentication methods

Large organisations might need to connect Appaloosa to their standard user directory, with a specific Single Sign On (SSO) method. With this connection, creating or connecting a new user to one’s store remains a simple task. In 2018, we raised our expertise in the configuration of different SSO services such as SAML and OAuth2 for specific clients that needed to interface with Active Directory, or LDAP.

Technical support

We also had great time alongside our new clients on specific Proof Of Concept (POC) projects. Securing our code, quick impediments fixing and reactive technical support to customer success management team has been a key factor to sound collaboration.

In 2018, support team recruitment and organisation allowed us to reach an average time of ticket closing in 1h21m, with a first answer median time of 22m. Every day, two members of the technical team are attached to our Customer Success Manager, so that you benefit from quality answers in the blink of an eye.

Mobile install agent program — Beta

As you probably know, Android Enterprise and iOS releases are not always so easy to catch up. Especially when it comes to on-boarding new end-users. Settings and authorization pop-ups, in great numbers, are difficult to avoid. Late 2018, our mobile team worked on a more user friendly approach.

It consists of getting aboard from a new app, different from actual [webview x native store] combo. This “install agent” can be installed from public Apple App Store and Google Play. It aims to reduce end-user friction with on-boarding steps.

For more information about this beta program, please ask for access at feedback@appaloosa.com, we will be happy to setup a demo for you.

2019 : what are YOUR challenges ?

Freeing the working world through mobile users empowerment is quite a big deal.
And since we know that mobility in your organisation is an enormous and complex subject, it is our first concern to give it an attentive ear.

What are YOUR daily concerns ? What do YOU plan for next quarter ? Next semester ? How do YOU bet mobility will evolve during the coming years ?

As much as you probably do, at Appaloosa we work, lunch and sleep around those concerns. Let’s tackle them together.

To do so, let us introduce you to your Wall Of Wishes.

This wall is an aggregation of your short, middle and long term challenges.

By writing or commenting challenges on this wall, you help us understand how Appaloosa can help you. It is the place where we deeply talk about problems, so that we can deliver great solutions. Eventually, it aims to be our best source of inspiration for new features.

In a sense, we would be delighted to see a community get together on this wall and contribute to MAM industry improvements. In advance, thank you for your contribution.

Apprenticeship in a startup: 4️⃣ reasons to take the plunge

After one year spent into a startup as an apprentice, I would like to share my point of view about the « apprenticeship startup experience ».

This morning I read an astonishing article, again. One of those articles made in Silicon Valley: « Neuralink, Elon Musk’s project to enhance our brains ». Wow! What a title! An incredible project, carried by an incredible entrepreneur, to solve an incredible issue… 

And this is no bluff. Okay, the media and the atmosphere in tech world can lead us to this « futurologist hype ». They all write about transhumants, crypto-currencies, space conquest. But there’s a solid truth behind all that: there are true men and women in this world that think the future of humanity. Going as fast as the imagination of novelists. 

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "neuralink"
Elon Musk, pitching Neuralink

I’ve always been deeply admirative and passionate by these challenges to the unknown. This is an adventure. Really inspiring. Before I finish my studies, I had promised myself to become an insider of these companies that shape the world’s future. 

So when I was looking for an apprenticeship last year, it was this spirit of pioneering, ambitiousness and adventure that was attracting me. 

I followed three of my school friends into a startup carrying a strong and ambitious social project. In a word, the thing was called Skilvioo and its project was to put more meaning within the work-education system for men and women

Today, after more than one year spent into a startup as an apprentice, I would like to share, in this article, my point of view about this not-known-so-well « apprenticeship startup experience ».

Can someone tell me where we’re heading to?

#TheTarget?

Skilvioo was launched in 2012 and had a first mission of streamlining relations between work-education system operators. Big thing. 

After a very short time in the company I realized that with our innovating approach, we aimed at digitalizing processes of many different types of organizations: universities, business schools, engineering schools, Pôle Emploi, recruiting departments and companies,… I couldn’t count them all. And we had the same number of different types of professionals to talk to.

So in ou daily work, there were a lot of discussions about WHO EXACTLY were our first target. Hard to find a single unanime answer. 

#TheValueProposition?

Our app was kind of large and offered a set of many different features. So I focused on understanding ward exactly was each of these feature bringing to whom. Most of all I had this question in mind: what’s our most impacting value proposition? Would that be the skills matching? Or CV generator? Ha maybe our powerful search engine… hm… not sure.

#TheRevenueStream?

During the months that followed my arrival, I had many sales meetings with our customers and leads. And by crossing our notes within the team, we would realize that a client A would get a 5k€ proposal, whereas client B had already signed for 3k€ ; and what about client C to whom we already announced a budget of 8k€?

Sometimes it was annual recurring billing. Sometimes one shot. Sometimes monthly…

So what, even the revenu model was not set?

#TheChanels

« So I guess that we have preferred channel to communicate with our leads ? » Sponsored adds? Events? Emailing? Content strategy? What works the best since the beginning?… *complete silence in the meeting room* hm. So on that point again, no clear path to walk on.

Towards the definition of a startup

Alex Osterwalder’s business model canvas

When you are used to analyse businesses with the « Business Model Canvas » of Alex Osterwalder (below), this type of situation can become quite anxiety-provoking. The team realizes that very few things are 99% sure on the framework. All the rest were to be explored with more accuracy. 

Panic comes when you run into a wall of unknown parameters each time you try something.

Most of the time, the domain in which you’re adventuring is tied to other domains. Trigger a sales issue, end with a product deeper problem. Trigger a communication question, end with a cost and revenu headache.

Unsolved business model canvas of a startup

This is what’s called an unsolved market equation. 

And to me, this is what a startup is. Definition number one. 

A startup is a company that has not finished to solve its market equation.

You know you’re in a startup when daily routine is mined with uncertainty. When your business looks like a Mastermind game. When you dream about what could possibly 6 months from now with your colleagues during after works. It’s when your product team have their hand shaking before putting the last feature online. 

It’s deep uncertainty at pretty much every decision you take. Little or big.

« Would you tell that you’re experiencing what you were looking for ? » asked my apprenticeship tutor. 

« I did not expect such a mess, but I would definitely go for it again ! »

Without hesitation. 

4 learning levers for an apprentice in a startup

2. Empowerment

You say it, you own it. It’s the most powerful lever for learning. 

In a startup, it goes with the size of structure: an organization of 20 people navigating in the unknown has no choice but giving responsibility to all members. 

There are so many subjects to be explored. Deliverables to be produced. Identity points to be challenged. Content to be written. Features to be imagined. Data to be analyzed. There’s work for an entire army here!

And this must be done because company’s survival is at stake. 

For apprentices it means 4 things (in addition to hard work, for sure): 

  • Since nothing is really structured, the mere dashboard that you can produce is silver. The mere design of sales printed document that you can imagine is gold. The mere blog article that you can write is platine. And you can be sure that all these productions will not remain in a box, unused. Team will use it again and again, until better stuff is produced. So there truly is free space to create pretty much everything need by the company. 
  • As freshman in such a little structure, even if you’re « The trainee/apprentice », your added value is also into the company’s culture. First members of such small structures are key to define this culture. And this culture is key to the startup’s growing. 
  • Nobody is going to do the job for you. So it’s a good place to learn commitment, accountability and interpersonal communication skills. 
  • When you’re accountable for something, it makes it count double for your learnings. Failure and successes are much more powerful than if you had done the work for someone else’s accountability.
    About that, shortly: in a pedagogic stand, a skill is indeed remembered better by a person if he/she is in direct observation of the consequences of their actions – links to academic resources here and here.
    More: when you let them try new things, even if they make mistakes, it counts triple – here and there, academic resources.

2. Tempo

To reduce uncertainty over its market equation, a startup has to try a lot of things. Quickly.

On one hand, this can be pressurizing because exploration doesn’t always bring money. It brings knowledge that can lead to the money needed for the business. So dealing with short amount of time, team must keep a high pace of project management. 

On the other hand, it teaches the team not to lose focus on what’s essential for business. Without this focus, they start many things without always finishing them. I kept in mind a sentence of our CEO: « If you want to go forward: the Best is the enemy of the Good ». Meaning that spending hours on a topic to get it perfect is probably not a good idea when you have dozens of other tasks waiting in the queue.

3. Variety

Exploring many aspects of a startup’s business in a short time implies to get involved in very different domains. Communication, marketing, sales, development, product, Human Resources… Sure, everyone must hold their ground of accountability. But this one is very wide for each member of the team. 

The cliché of the « Swiss knife »intern/apprentice is true. And it’s a pity that people see it as a bad thing since Learning is the most important thing for a trainee. As such, you can easily have a good overview of the whole value stream that goes through the organisation. And as such, most important thing, a trainee better learns what they can and what they like to bring, to this value stream.

4. Agility

Finally, you can not talk about a startup without mentioning the Agile part. 

In a startup, agility seems like juggling with a business vision/mission in a hand, and the actual immediate needs of the addressed market in the other hand.

The vision comes to life with ideology, company’s culture, speeches, dreams and motivations. 

And needs comes to life with bug reports, feature demands, business negotiations, and planning. 

A very special skill set is required to address such a balanced combination of addressing both vision and needs: 

  • Knowing how to listen to the market. Eric Ries couldn’t say more « Life’s too short to build a product that nobody wants ».Market is often right.  
  • Knowing how to keep distance with market needs. Henry Ford couldn’t say more: « If I had asked people what they would need to enhance their travels, they would have answered « We need faster horses » ». How can you come up with the Car concept if you listen to your market too much ?
  • Knowing how to deliver high value to the market in short time. So that you can reduce quickly uncertainty over a topic. 

It’s been said so much that an extra time won’t hurt: our technological and economical world of 21st century is moving fast. And no organisation can deal with this pace on the long run if they don’t switch to agile project and product management. 

This is why I think learning these basics in a startup is a great opportunity for an apprentice. It’s a good time and energy investment for the future.

To sum it up

  1. Empowerment
  2. Tempo
  3. Variety
  4. Agility

So, ready to become an insider?

A lot of clichés about the startup experience are true. Uncertainty, intensity, risks, lack of solid framework/processes are totally part of the experience. I have been pushed behind my limits lots of times this year – not always comfy, nor pleasant. 

But the good part to be remembered lies into the intense learning of very useful skills. 

Hi to the bests: Der Don, Oscouille and Jaafouille – Zzzebarti!