Bringing an Idea Into a Tangible Tech Product

So you just came up with the next big app idea to hit the market since Uber…and lucky for you, you’re friends with a software developer who is actually going to spend their precious free time to help you build it. Fantastic.

Note: This is a rare occurrence and although not widely known, most developers also have great ideas they are working on and will more than likely not want to build yours. So if you need to hire someone, try here, or here.

Perhaps this is the first time you’ve actually worked with a developer and are unaware of the fact that you can’t just tell them, “hey, build me an app that let’s people order dinner from an amateur chef’s home kitchen” without actually spelling out the various requirements you want to see in the application. So if this is the case, sorry it’s not that easy, but we’ll get there…

What you do need to do is be able to provide your developer with a prioritized feature “to-do” list, or what we call in Agile, a Product Backlog. The goal here of the product backlog is to break the big-picture vision of your app down into manageable increments that can be executed by a developer.

Think about if your boss just asked you to put on a global conference for all employees in your company. This is a huge task, but with some thought can be broken down into smaller, more actionable items like: Hire a keynote speaker, Cater lunch, Set the conference agenda, etc.


User Stories

The way to organize each “to-do” list item in your product backlog is in the form of a User Story. User stories are simplified requirements that are used to capture a description of a software feature from an end-user’s perspective.

For user stories stories we use this basic format in Agile:
As a <type of user>
I want <some goal>
So that <some reason>

Here’s a real life example of a user story I’d expect to see from Facebook (circa 2006):

As a logged in user
I want to post a photo to my profile
So that my friends can view it and see what I am up to

The <type of user> in this case is a user of Facebook that has successfully logged into the application. When writing your user stories, it is important to accurately define the user type, or “personas” as they are commonly referred to, so the developer knows who should have access to this feature.

The <some goal> of this feature is to allow users to post a photo to their profile. Here we are describing the action the user is doing in the application.

The <some reason> in this story is that your friends can view it and see what you are up to. This is often the value proposition of the feature. Tip: If you are having trouble with this part of the user story, there is a chance that this feature is not as important as you once thought and may want to consider not including it and/or de-prioritizing it.

Massive user stories, like the example I gave of setting up a global conference, are considered ‘Epics’. Epics are not ready to be executed and require further refinement into smaller user stories over time. It’s ok to include these in your backlog as a placeholder, but understand that developers will not be executing them as the requirements are not yet defined.

An example of an Epic user story for Facebook (prior to launching an app) would be:

As an iPhone user
I want to view Facebook in a native iOS app
So that I can stay informed on the go


Acceptance Criteria

So you have your user story written out, but as Charles Eames (creator of the Eames chair) famously said, “The details are not the details. They make the design”. If presented with just the user story about posting a photo (and no additional context) you will be flooded with follow up questions by your developer…

So where in the app can the friend view the photo (news feed, profile, etc.)?
Can the user add a text caption? If so, how does the caption appear?
What happens when a user clicks the photo? Does it enlarge?
Can friends comment on the photo?You get the point.

In order to provide more clarity, we like to enrich our user stories with what is referred to as Acceptance Criteria.

Acceptance Criteria are the conditions that a software product must satisfy to be accepted by a user.

I personally like to use the GIVEN/WHEN/THEN format as it provides a scenario for the developer to easily understand (and later test). Here’s an example of some of the acceptance criteria I’d expect to see for the Facebook story we used above:

GIVEN a logged in user is on their profile page
WHEN the user clicks the photo icon
THEN the user is prompted to upload a photo

GIVEN a user is prompted to upload a photo
WHEN the user selects the photo from their files AND selects the Post button
THEN the photo will appear AND allow the user to add a caption

GIVEN a logged in user is friends with the user that posted a photo
WHEN the user is on their news feed
THEN the photo will appear and display the caption (if added)

GIVEN a user views a photo in their news feed
WHEN the user clicks on the photo
THEN the photo will enlarge to the original size

As you can see, this begins to clarify how the feature will be implemented and what behavior you expect to see once it is. Be sure to get into the details here as it is how you want others to ultimately use your product.



It’s expected at the end of the user story exercise that you’ll have a laundry list of features in your product backlog. While this is great, and means you’re full of ideas, your developer can’t build them all at once and will look to you to prioritize each feature to be built. This simply means putting the most important feature on the top, and working your way down to the least important. I really enjoy this phase as it makes me think through the real value of each.

If you are building an MVP, minimum viable product, you may just choose the 20 or so “must-have” features to bring to market, then roll out the others over time in various versions.


Handing over the backlog

You did it. You’ve created your list of the must-have user stories to bring your app to market, each with detailed acceptance criteria explaining how you want to see them implemented.

I personally like to organize my backlog in a Google Sheet and share it with my developers. They of course will have plenty of questions throughout the development process and using a collaborate tool like Sheets helps keep the backlog as a living document.

You can also use a more sophisticated paid tool like Jira or Rally, which will help you further organize and manage the development of your feature list.

If you want a free and more DIY solution to track the development process, you can also use Trello (which has a free app too).


Prototyping (Bonus Points)

If you’re the creative type who wants to control more of the look and feel of your product, I suggest going the extra mile and building a simple prototype (or mockup) to accompany your product backlog. This will give the developer support in the visual representation you desire and not force them to interpret your written user stories alone.

A few tools I like to use:

  1. InVision — this is for the more detailed approach and allows you to really build out the visual representation and workflow of the product.
  2. Balsamiq — this is a more low-fi option, but is useful when it comes to placement of features within the product.

So What’s Next?
Now that your app development is in motion, it’s time to for you to think about the future and build out your product roadmap (how you expect your app to evolve over time).


Turning Your Web Browser Into A Motivation Tool!

Being stuck behind a computer for the better part of the day my mind tends to effortlessly navigate from one thought to the next, guiding me to tackle many different tasks at a time, and in turn forcing me to open up a new browser tab about once every few minutes.

Most of the time I don’t even realize how much I’m “multi-tasking” until the text that normally appears on the browser tab is no longer even displayed, thus causing an extremely hard time to navigate between each — something I refer to as “Tab Roulette” (pictured above).


Why so many browser tabs? Science explains.

As someone interested in the human condition as a whole, as well as my own self-growth, I started looking for an answer to this multi-tasking behavior. Many, many browser tabs opened later, research showed that we as humans are biologically programmed to be rewarded each time we complete tasks (no matter how simple they really are).

What is actually happening there is that each time we complete a task, our brain gets a “hit” of dopamine (the pleasure chemical). We love dopamine, which makes it addictive to get rewarded for even the most menial tasks.
Checking email → Dopamine
Booking dinner reservations → Dopamine
Responding to a chat message → Dopamine


But I have bigger goals.

Understanding the science of why I’d multi-task, it was obvious that throughout my day I’d get so caught up in the wormhole of completing tasks that I’d often forget to step back and think of the big picture. This was frustrating to me because I had much bigger goals than these small tasks, but they often seemed to slip my mind — something like a “motivation blackout”.

Maybe even worse than not being reminded of these goals was the fact that I’d feel drained (a side-effect of multi-tasking) by the end of the day and lack the motivation to work towards them. As someone looking to be a high performer at work and on my own projects, I needed to find a way to keep my motivation level high even when I’m stuck in the task wormhole that often comes with the 9–5.


Don’t argue with Science, hack it.

Knowing that my body was likely not to change in the near term, I instead decided to hack the process and inject a subtle hint of motivation into my day to day. What I’d often find myself doing when I lacked motivation was searching for inspiring quotes by known leaders, something that is apparently common practice. The problem was, doing this required me to be proactive and realize that I was running low on motivation, something that I often overlooked.

So by putting some of my (basic) coding skills to work, I built an incredibly simple Google Chrome Extension that delivers a motivational quote each time I open a new tab and appropriately called it New Tab Motivation.


New Tab Motivation

So now, whenever I’m attempting to complete various tasks, I’m delivered a low-touch jolt of motivation in my browser. This boost didn’t require me to download an app, pull out my phone and check Instagram for a motivational post, or even search for inspiring quotes to get me through the day, but instead was right there seamlessly into my daily routine.

In developing technology products over the years, one of the major themes I’ve realized is that creating an entirely new behavior for people is incredibly hard to do. Instead, building something that is already part of a routine (i.e. opening browser tabs) is the best way to engage and create a useful tool that people will actually use daily.

**Check out New Tab Motivation (free) for Chrome**


10 Quotes to Motivate You Today

We love quotes, if that wasn’t already obvious ;), because they are such simple and quick ways to help improve our mindset. Below are 10 quotes handpicked to help motivate you today, enjoy!

1. “Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right’. Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.” – Napoleon Hill


2. “An enterprising person is one who sees opportunity in all areas of life.” – Jim Rohn

3. “First say to yourself what you would be, then do what you have to do.” – Epictetus

4. “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

5. “You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.” – Tony Robbins

6. “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

7. “Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.” – Abraham Lincoln

8. “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha

9. “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, It is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” – Seneca

10. “A great attitude does much more than turn on the lights in our worlds; it seems to magically connect us to all sorts of serendipitous opportunities that were somehow absent before we changed.” – Earl Nightingale

Decrease Stress and Anxiety Now With 10 Simple Tips

Anxiety is another way of saying excessive worry about future events. Worrying is literally one of the worst things you can do to yourself because it doesn’t help anything and only makes you feel worse. Those anxious thoughts are not only causing stress on your mind, but also causes a stress response throughout your entire body – not good!

Below are 10 quick and easy ways to stop anxious thoughts right now:

1. Take deep breaths 

Yes, this is super simple, and that’s the point! Stop thinking, just take a few very deep breaths and focus on your breathing for a minute or two. This focus on your breath allows your mind to focus on something other than your anxious thoughts, even if for just a couple minutes, can be greatly beneficial and make you feel less stressed going forward. Try it anywhere!

2. Take a walk

This is a great one for work, when you have been sitting all day and need to stretch your legs anyway. Walking just ten minutes gets the blood flowing and releases feel good hormones and decreases stress hormones. Get up and go for a walk now or take a walk at lunch time rather than just sitting at your desk.

3. Take a workout class

Go to a workout class at your gym or watch a video on YouTube or DVD. This way your mind is actively engaged in the workout rather than whatever you are stressed about. I don’t advise running or some other type of steady-state cardio because sometimes this causes you to think too much – I know that’s true for myself! Being told what to do in a class makes you focus on the workout and not on your thoughts. Working out also increases the feel good hormones and suppresses stress hormones, increasing focus and mental clarity.

4. Meditate 

This goes along with deep breathing, but if you find yourself unable to focus on your breath, try a guided meditation which tells you what to do! Anytime of day works great for this, but most individuals will find the morning or right before bed to be the best time. Again, this does not have to be long, taking just 5 minutes to meditate really helps to reduce stress. Try MeditateBot found in Facebook Messenger which sends you a daily reminder to meditate.

5. Watch mindless television 

When you don’t want to think, mindless TV (aka all reality shows) can be great. Instead of thinking about your own stressors, watch someone else’s! Not only will it get your mind off your own anxious thoughts, but might also make you think of your stress as not such a big deal compared to some of the stressful situations we see in the silly TV shows.

6. Avoid the news

Of course it’s great to be informed about the world, however, the news can be extremely depressing more often than not. You are not helping anyone, including yourself, following every news story out there, all it does is cause more stress and worry that may not even directly affect you.

7. Avoid caffeine

Coffee has many awesome health benefits, however, stress relief is definitely not one of them. Avoid caffeine if you are super stressed, because when your brain is already bouncing off the walls with thoughts, caffeine is just adding fuel to that fire. Caffeine is highly stimulatory which is great for certain situations, but not for when you are stressed out.

8. Avoid sugar

When you are stressed, the last thing you need is a roller coaster blood sugar level. When you eat sugar, it raises your blood sugar which gives you a short bout of energy, but then your blood sugar quickly shoots back down even lower than with what you started with. When you get super low blood sugar, that’s when the dreaded hypoglycemia kicks in which physically causes a stress response in your body. That stress response presents itself as restlessness, jitteriness, MORE anxiousness, sweating, feelings of anger and hunger. So what do you do to calm this stress response fast? You eat sugar, and yes you will feel immediately better, however, the cycle above continues. Instead of sugary foods, reach for protein and healthy fats that keep your blood sugar nice and stable to prevent the dip in blood sugar.

9. Make a list

Physically use a pen and paper and write down things you need to do rather than making a mental list. The act of putting your thoughts onto paper helps to get those thoughts out of your brain and helps you to stop thinking over and over of all the things you need to do. If you are keeping your list of things to do in your head, this means you are going to have to constantly remind yourself of each and every one of them.

10. Take Action

Ok great, you made your list, now take action! Procrastination is one of the greatest causes for stress and anxiety, the longer you wait to do something means the longer you have to think about the thing you don’t want to do. If you are dreading making a call, or dreading a  presentation and keep putting it off, the best and only way to relieve that stress is to get it done. Tackle your to-do list now and feeling amazing after.

Try one or more of the above today! Your mind will thank you, we promise.