The Fetch Blog

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Coffee talk: Ellen Chisa, product person and adventurer — August 29, 2015

Coffee talk: Ellen Chisa, product person and adventurer

Ellen Chisa is never bored. Currently helping build a covert Boston-based startup after dropping out of Harvard Business School, she’s on a constant mission to learn more, expand her overlaps and live a life full of rich experiences. Here, she shares what she loves about working on product and how she connects the dots on her journey to date.

How did you get to where you are today?

People joke that my resume is funny because you can make it look very conventional or really wacky, depending on what you highlight.

I grew up in Michigan. I moved to Boston the first time to go to tiny, then-unaccredited Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. I took a year off to try to have a startup with five friends that didn’t work out. After graduation, I ended up in Seattle to work at Microsoft as a PM, then in NYC to work at Kickstarter. Along the way I also worked with the Awesome Foundation and the World Economic Forum Global Shapers. Last year, I moved back to Boston to start at Harvard Business School. I’m relieved to report that it’s a lot easier to move “back” somewhere than it is to move somewhere the first time.

The final step is that I just dropped out to be the first employee at Blade Travel.

From startups and business school to teaching and living life in different cities, you’ve truly expanded your overlaps. Which experience has pushed you the furthest outside of your comfort zone?

Definitely HBS. It was a huge shock. Somehow I knew it was going to be hard going in (I even wrote it down publicly!) and yet I was still surprised by how exhausted I was all the time.

I’m an introvert, but people often don’t realize because I do spend a lot of time with people. I’ve adapted rules to help me cope — I do most things 1:1, I do background research so I’ll feel comfortable, and I have go-to topics. HBS wasn’t conducive to those things – it was small talk on the fly with extreme extroverts.

Ellen Chisa

I’m glad I did it, but wow, that was hard.

Has your incredible variety of personal and professional experiences been spontaneous or carefully calculated? When you look back on the path you’ve taken so far, can you ‘connect the dots’?

I can connect them in reverse, but they definitely didn’t line up so nicely at the time. It’s fun to craft the story of how your career came to be.

For instance, not a ton of people know this, my manager at Microsoft threatened to fire me. It looks super logical that I combined my Microsoft skills & Awesome Foundation interest and found myself at Kickstarter. It also makes a nice story. The truth is, at the time it was much more fraught.

On the whole everything I do is about working with great people and learning new things so that I can make cool stuff.

Kickstarter offers an amazing discovery experience, which you helped create. What advice can you offer for building tools that people will find useful and love?

Talk to people!

It’s not about a quick survey or a “would you..?” it’s about deeper ethnography. When you first start making something, sit down with 10 people and talk to each of them for an hour. Learn all the weird things about how they think about your space. You’ll be amazed at the variation you get. After about 10 people, most of the things you hear overlap. It’s a great way to map a space quickly.

You can also do it casually. Since I’m working on travel, when I meet up with friends I ask about recent and upcoming trips. It’s fun to hear what they’re doing, and it’s covert product research! Win-win.

You left Kickstarter to attend Harvard Business School, which you recently left to work on a new startup project, Blade. Is there a difference in the way you approach your work now, as opposed to before your time at HBS?

Definitely. I see things through another lens. It used to be that I could see “does this fit with what I know of the user?” and “is this technically feasible?” when I was thinking about a Product. I now have a third angle, which is “could this viably make money? how much?”

It’s neat because I didn’t used to have any intuition for that. If I wanted to think about it, I had to explicitly plan. Now I have a better idea off the bat, and I can ask better questions to make sure I’m right.

It’s new, and I’m still surprised when those thoughts pop up. Every time it happens I’m like “who is saying that?” and then I realize it’s me.

Blade is a travel company. What interests you about the space and what you’re working on now?

Ellen Chisa, BladeOne piece of it is that I’ve always loved to travel. My family traveled growing up, and that’s definitely continued. It’s personally important to me. To give you an idea of how much I travel – I’ve been on 10 trips so far this year, ranging from three weeks in Indonesia and Cambodia to a day in NYC. It’s fun to work on something that’s such a big part of my life.

The other half is that I try to work on things that I think make the world better. I loved helping people build projects at Kickstarter because it was all about helping creators realize their vision. With travel, it’s about helping people have new experiences, get outside of their comfort zones, and build empathy. I want to live in a world with more of that. 🙂

What qualities and experience/s make someone a great product manager?

In terms of qualities, thoughtfulness! I’m always looking for why people made the choices they did – and how reflective they are about them.

There should have been a “why” in every decision, and there should also be a “this is how I’ll do the same thing next time” that incorporates learning.

For experiences, I think it’s just about making things over and over. Try a bunch of stuff, see what sticks. Don’t make only one type of thing – try woodworking, knitting, painting – any type of making will help you be better.

What do you enjoy most about working on product?

Everything. I love doing Product. I love getting to make things that will help make peoples’ lives better.

A big factor for why Product instead of Design or Engineering or Strategy is that I like getting to see the entire process of building from start to end. PM is one of the few roles that has a substantial part every step of the way.

Where can we find you in Boston?

On the Red Line somewhere between Davis and Fort Point. I actually prefer to be at home or in my office — I get a lot more work done if I’m in a consistent location. If I’m meeting people, I enjoy Drink for cocktails (and the grilled cheese!) or Crema for coffee.

Last, how do you like your coffee?

It varies. Sometimes different types of milk, never with sugar. Right now, I drink a lot of Grady’s cold brew (diluted with water, no milk) with my breakfast.

Hooking users in three steps: an intro to habit testing — March 11, 2014

Hooking users in three steps: an intro to habit testing


The truly great consumer technology companies of the past 25 years have all had one thing in common: they created habits. Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: A Guide to Building Habit Forming Products and NirAndFar, explains.

This is what separates world-changing businesses from the rest. Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter are used daily by a high proportion of their users and their products are so compelling that many of us struggle to imagine life before they existed.

But creating habits is easier said than done. Though I’ve written extensively about behavior engineering and the importance of habits to the future of the web, few resources give entrepreneurs the tools they need to design and measure user habits. It’s not that these techniques don’t exist — in fact, they’re quite familiar to people in all the companies named above. However, to the new entrepreneur, they largely remain a mystery.

I’ve learned these methods from some of the best in the business and put together an amalgamation of them that I call “Habit Testing.” It can be used by consumer web companies to build products that users not only love, but are hooked to.

Habit testing

Habit Testing fits hand-in-glove with the build, measure, learn methodology espoused by the lean startup movement and offers a new way to make data actionable. Habit Testing helps clarify three things: 1) who your devotees are; 2) what part of your product is habit forming, if any; and 3) why those aspects of your product are habit forming.

A prerequisite to Habit Testing is having some kind of product up and running. Of course, before launching even a minimal viable product, it’s a good idea to take a stab at your business model hypotheses and how your product will create user desire.

Once you have a site or app live, you can begin collecting data. Habit Testing does not necessitate collecting data about everything — just the right things — so setting up the appropriate analytics is critical. In order for Habit Testing to be successful, you need to date stamp the path users take while using your site.

Step 1 – Identify

Now that you have the requisite site and stats, you need to answer the first question of Habit Testing: “Who are the habitual users?” First, define what it means to be a devoted user. Ask yourself how often a user “should” use the site. That is to say, assuming that some day all the bugs are worked out and the product is perfectly “lickable,” how often would you expect a habitual user to be on the site?

Be realistic and honest. If your company builds a mobile social networking app like Foursquare or Instagram, you’d expect habitual users to be on the app several times per day. However, if you’re building a movie recommendation site, a la Flixster, you wouldn’t expect users to be on the site more than once or twice a week. Don’t come up with an overly aggressive prediction that only accounts for uber-addicts; you’re just looking for a realistic guess to calibrate how often users will interact with your site.

A good short-cut might be to take an average of how often you and the people in your office use your own product. Of course, more is better. Twitter was born within Odeo, the company Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey originally founded, because the engineers couldn’t stop playing with it.

One thing to note: the more frequently your product is used, the more likely it is to form a user habit. That’s not to say that web products that are used rarely can’t be good business, they just aren’t habit forming and thus have different characteristics. Viable, though non-habit forming businesses tend to be more transactional and require constant outreach to customers to stay top-of-mind.

For example, think of the travel industry’s relentless war to convince us to use one site over another. Expedia, Travelocity, and the rest, are used too infrequently by their average customers to form a habit, so they constantly compete for attention. These are viable, even profitable companies, but since they are non-habit forming products they are open to greater competitive threat. Products used daily naturally create barriers to entry in their markets.

Who’s got the habit?

Now that you know how often a user “should” be using the site, it’s time to crunch through the numbers and identify how many of your users actually meet that bar. This is where hiring a stats wiz can prove exceedingly helpful. Instead of pulling your engineers away from their crucial jobs building the product or even worse, getting your business people to do it, consider hiring a grad student fluent in statistics to help you quantify how many of your users are hooked. The best practice here is to get create a cohort analysis to provide a baseline by which to measure future product iterations.

Step 2 – Codify

Hopefully, you’ll have at least a few users who interact frequently enough for you to call them devotees. But how many devotees is enough? My rule of thumb is 5%. Though your rate of active users will need to be much higher to sustain your business, 5% is a good benchmark to being Habit Testing.

However, if at least 5% of your users don’t find your product valuable enough to use as much as you predicted they should, you have a problem. It may be time to go back to the drawing board and rework your vision. But assuming you’ve exceeded that bar and you’ve identified your habitual users, the next step is to codify the steps they took using your product so you can understand what hooked them.

Each user interacts with your product in a slightly different way. Even if you have a standard user flow, how users engage with your site creates a unique data fingerprint which can be analyzed to find patterns. Sift through the data to determine if there are similar behaviors that emerge. What you’ll hopefully discover is a “Habit Path”, a series of similar behaviors shared by your most loyal users.

For example, in its early days, Twitter discovered that once new users followed enough other members, they hit a tipping point which dramatically increased the odds they would keep using the site. Every company has a different set of actions that devoted users take; the goal of finding the Habit Path is to determine which of those steps were critical for creating devoted users.

Get in their heads

Now that you know the Habit Path, the next step is to create hypotheses about what it was along that path that tipped users from passers-bye to devotees. Granted, this step can look a little like assuming causation from correlation; but in the murky fog of launching a new product, it’s often the best thing we’ve got.

This phase is also a good time to talk to users in person to learn more about why and how they use the product. Habit Testing is meant to illuminate what is unique about these “earlyvangelists” and find insights that can be generalized to the rest of your users.

Step 3 – Modify

With new hypotheses in mind, it’s time to get back inside the build, measure, learn loop and take new users down the same Habit Path the devotees took. For example, leveraging their Habit Path, Twitter’s onboarding process now guides new users to start following others immediately.

Habit Testing is a continual process companies can implement with every new feature and product iteration. Tracking users by cohort and comparing their activity to habitual users should guide how products evolve, improve, and foster habit formation.

Too often tech entrepreneurs find themselves alone with their vision because they fail to realize the importance of creating user habits. And unfortunately, when it comes to consumer web and the ever-increasing distractions we all face daily, if the product doesn’t create a habit, it may as well not exist. By using Habit Testing to determine what is most valuable and habit-forming about a product, entrepreneurs can better serve their users and increase the odds of creating world-changing companies.

About our contributor // Nir Eyal is the author of Hooked: A Guide to Building Habit Forming Products and blogs at

The Habit Summit brings together experts and luminaries to share their insights on habit-forming product and services. Happening in the Bay Area on March 25 2014 at Stanford, use this link for $50 off:

Image credit: AKTA

Welcome The Fetch New York — June 4, 2013

Welcome The Fetch New York

IMG_1865We’re pleased to share that we launched in New York today.

Check out our first issue: and follow the city accounts on Twitter // Facebook

Some background on The Fetch in case you’re new here: 🙂

The Fetch focuses on solving professional event discovery. Its beta is a weekly email digest that curates what’s on across 10 cities. It started as a side project out of Melbourne, Australia in 2011 by Kate Kendall, a frequent community organizer who couldn’t find one place to check out what was on. Sick of having 20 different browser tabs open to various event registration sites and subscribing to newsletters for each event, she pulled everything together in a lean minimum viable product using email.

Now, a network of global curators [who are amazing!] filters links (sourced direct, via APIs and user-submissions) to deliver high-quality relevant events, articles and cool jobs to subscribers. These email digests have become much loved with readers often writing-in saying they have unsubscribed from everything but The Fetch. The Fetch’s open rates agree and are reimagining industry standards with an average of 46% across-city and 53% click-through on content. The Fetch joins a growing number of companies using an email-first strategy like AngelList, Thrillist and TimeHop. “I chose email as our medium as I think it’s a great way to validate ideas quickly and simply while having a direct relationship with someone,” says Kate.

“I think active search of event aggregate sites is dead. When overwhelmed professionals want to discover what they should do during the week – a trusted recommendation via editorial voice in the age of excess is more important than ever.”

Unlike other city event guides, The Fetch flips the positioning over and covers stuff for your work life – not lifestyle. It’ll let you know about a free public lecture, business conference, creative writing group or tech meetup rather than the latest coffee/food jaunt, music venue and retail place worth visiting. Think of it as career geekiness. An equal mix of city newcomers and long-term residents are using the service, and everyone from the CEOs of leading tech companies to freelancers, agencies, media folk and students are signing up.

The Fetch has been making revenue since it launched via ‘self-serve’ sponsored content and text-based advertising. Most of the customers (who tend to be recruiters, event managers and tech providers) are repeat bookers, featuring their events, jobs and services each week. Organizers are selling out their events via The Fetch so are proactive in submitting events directly, which helps with the comprehensiveness of curation.

Kate says it’s great to see the demand for reaching The Fetch’s community, and struggles to get back to customers quick enough. She plans to trial pro-accounts and a subscription model in the future after further product development.

For now, the site has been bootstrapped to date with the team about to follow up some investment offers to help scale. The next stage of growth will be around mobile and responding to the 30 or so curators around the world waiting to unlock The Fetch in their city.

Chris McCann the cofounder of StartupDigest (and champion of The Email Mafia) joins as an advisor.

THEFETCH Inc was founded in 2013.

Event Review: KPI – Become a Key Person of Influence — February 10, 2013

Event Review: KPI – Become a Key Person of Influence

What: KPI event or an introduction to an entrepreneur growth accelerator designed to assist small businesses through a growth phase.
Over Heard: “There has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. There are opportunities for everyone.”

Captivated audience
Captivated audience

Last Saturday, the KPI event kicked off 2013 with over 670 people attending the conference at NAIDA in spite of the rain… this big number shows how much people, are they owners of small businesses or entrepreneurs, are eager to learn more about how to make a difference in their industry or even to the world.

The KPI Accelerator programme presents itself like a recipe to follow in order to achieve success in your industry. The motto being to love what you do, to stay authentic and to be ready to spare no expense to make it real… sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

Let’s start the journey with Glen Carlson and Daniel Priestley, our hosts for the day. Glen has an impressive list of professional achievements and describes himself as a startup enthusiast and a fun hunter. Daniel is known for coining the phrase ‘Global Small Business’ and believes that an Entrepreneur Revolution is unfolding. He is  also the best-selling author of the book Key Person of Influence.

We are no longer in the Industrial Age; we are in the Ideas Economy and everything has changed.

Being a key person of influence means having a voice within the industry. Influence comes from being a visible, remarkable, credible and valuable person in the inner-circle of the industry you love. Back in the days, what made you a person of influence was the family you were born, the school you went to and a touch of luck. Today, we’re facing a critical change: we came from the Industrial Age to the Ideas Economy and with the development of technology and smart devices everyone has a factory in his pocket. The last five years have seen a huge shift and with no geographic barriers, more and more people are working for themselves and today, your soft skills are what makes the difference.

Let’s be back to the recipe or five-step methods to set you and your business apart:

KPI event 5 steps

1. You need a Perfect Pitch: it’s all about answering the “What do you do?” question. You may have a great product, service or idea but if you can’t communicate its values in a remarkable way, you’ll always struggle. Words have power: they can convey what you stand for or against. “Being able to describe what makes you or your product unique is key to your success. This is called the unique value proposition”, explained Ian Elliot.  Defining your niche can also help you to stand out from the crowd: it’s better to be famous in a small area than being all things to all people. Crafting your brand essence will ensure your business grow as an authentic expression of who you are: the brand essence is the core spirit behind your business. When you’re working on your elevator pitch, don’t forget the customer. Understand him: who is he? what does he want? need? expect? What are his rational, emotional and corporate needs? A satisfied customer is a worthless asset.

Consistency in little things and continuity across all your messages: they are things that matter.

2. You need to Publish your ideas: in the Ideas Economy, publishing positions you as an authority. Andrew Griffiths is Australia’s #1 small business author with 11 books sold in over 50 countries. As he said : “Before I wrote my first book, I was an idiot. After I published it, I was a genius”. Following the success of his first publication, Andrew decided to leverage the power of his book and wrote a second one, then a third… up to eleventh! This gave him a huge competitive advantage in his industry as being an author gives credibility. Andrew explained why publishing makes a difference:

  • It shows that you have information that is valuable to others
  • It sets you apart from other people in your chosen field
  • It also demonstrates that you have the discipline to complete a major project that requires structure and creativity
  • It also shows that you have convictions and are brave enough to back yourself

If you are unsure of your capacity of writing a book, you can start with your own blog, a website, some white papers or even Twitter. Publishing in your industry shows that you are a person to be consulted, engaged, listened to and sought for advice. But unlike Andrew whose business is writing books, you don’t have to write 11 books to get noticed.

There has never been a better time to publish with the new publishing landscape.

3. You need to Productise your values: time is money and as an entrepeneur, making the most of your time and making money is crucial. But regularly people get it wrong by sticking to the OOPS model: Only One Product/Service that makes them dependent in terms of brand, time and capital.To make money, you have to create value. Product and service don’t make money. The product eco-system can change that: for example, Steve Jobs decided to heavily promote the iPod which turned out to be a huge success. This was also the first key entrance for customers into Apple’s world. People were then ready to buy Mac computers. Defining the asset of your product is another way to increase your value: What is your asset? Is it said in your positioning? Can you develop your product or the scale of your product? Multiple products sold through multiple channels mean multiplying your value.

Income follows assets. Defining the assets of your product is what will allow you to earn money.

4. You need to raise your Profile: being good at what you do is no longer enough. You need to stand out and using social media is one of the best tactics to achieve it. In a world where everything can be Googled, you have to do your best to ensure the results that show up are positive and convincing enough to win the deal. Kylie Bartlett shared be sure that your pitch and message are replicated across all your social media; content is the new currency: write, publish, share and syndicate all your content across the web; don’t do social media without a strategy to transform leads into sales; pay attention to your digital footprint, be sure that there is coherence; enjoy social media as it allows you  to meet interesting people that could bring you new opportunities.

When your customers Google you, they want to see a video, updates, dowloads, community and dynamic information.

5. You need great Partnerships: Partnership creates wholesale value. The IRL (Illusion of Limited Resource) prevents you from doing what you want: you think you don’t have enough time or money or people. But there is an amazing network of partners out there ready to give you what you need. As Daniel Priestley said, “There is no such thing as a self-made millionaire”. The beauty of the partnership is that you don’t need to have all things, you partner with those who have what’s missing. Ideas are great but worthless in themselves; implementation is everything. Cathy Burke, the CEO of The Hunger Project in Australia came to explain how she mastered the art of mobilising key resources like time, money and knowledge via strategic joint ventures and partnerships. When she approaches CEOs, rather than saying that the aim of The Hunger Project is to put an end to the worldwide hunger, she explains that it seeks to empower people to resolve their hunger problem. And that changes everything. To explain the essence of the partnership, Cathy shared an african proverb:

If you want to go quick, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

The KPI event was a great introduction to the 5-step method developed by Daniel Priestley to become the new Steve Jobs or new Larry and Sergey of your industry. Let’s conclude with few words: opportunity is nowhere = now here.

Kpi event

About our ambassador // Delphine Vuagnoux is a community ambassador for Sydney. She is passionate about innovation and social change. She does her best working at All Together Now and Medianet. You can find her on Twitter here: @delphinevuagnou.

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