Editor’s Note: Brenden Mulligan is an entrepreneur who created Onesheet, ArtistData, MorningPics, and PhotoPile. He’s an mentor for 500 Startups, Advise.me and several startups. You can find him on Twitter at @bmull and blogging at Starting Up.
There has been a reoccurring theme on my mind recently as I’ve advised startups on areas of focus. It revolves around the goal of reducing friction.
Reduced friction in a product leads to less user frustration, high conversion, and overall user happiness. I’d like to use a few examples to illustrate what I mean.
Taxis / Uber
Let’s start with Uber, the startup that lets you order a black car from your mobile phone in San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Chicago, and a growing list of cities. Because I know the team, I’ve been following this startup since they launched. I actually took an Uber car to celebrate selling my first startup during one of their first weeks in beta.
When I first heard about the service, I focused on the luxury aspect of traveling in a black town car with a private driver. Who wouldn’t? It’s in their tagline (“Everyone’s Private Driver”) and it sounds awesome. But after my first Uber experience, I found out that while nice, the luxury component is strangely unimportant compared to their much bigger function of reducing the friction of getting a ride somewhere.
Let me elaborate. Friction points are italicized.
Here is generally what you need to do to get a cab:
Here is the Uber experience:
Uber has reduced all the friction. What was a tedious process before is a seamless, pleasurable interaction. The most important thing Uber provides its users is that frictionless experience. The fact that it’s a black car means it’s generally an aesthetically nicer experience (and with SF Taxis, that can make a big difference), but that’s a small detail compared to the other benefits of using the service.
Zipcar / Getaround
A lot of people are familiar with Zipcar. It’s pretty simple. There are a bunch of Zipcar-owned cars around the city that members can rent on an hourly basis. All reservations are done through their website.
Getaround is a new startup taking on Zipcar by altering the model. Instead of Getaround purchasing a lot of inventory (cars), they built a marketplace for car-owners to list their own vehicles for other people to rent. I love the idea, and so do thousands of car owners looking to make money from their unused cars. The company won best startup at TechCrunch Disrupt in NYC and since then has been well funded. I have used the service frequently. I love what they’re doing and think they’re going to build a great company.
However, they face a serious challenge. Zipcar owns its inventory, so they have more control of the friction in the experience:
There isn’t really a lot of friction there. Now let’s look at that experience with Getaround:
Wow. That’s a lot more friction.
Again, I love Getaround, and their team is more aware of these issues than anyone. I’m 100% confident that as they go, they’ll iron this stuff out, just as Zipcar ironed out all the challenges they faced at the beginning. The friction issues Getaround faces are a result of the fact that Zipcar bought cars, while Getaround buys bandwidth. This initial disadvantage will make the company much more nimble and scalable long term.
I think the key to reducing friction quickly is to incentivizing the car owners to reduce the friction points. Give owners the option to guarantee their schedule, so cars can be booked immediately. Push them to install the CarKit, (the device that lets the renter locate and unlock the car from their smartphone). Then, when owners do these things, Getaround should give them a bigger percentage of the rental fee or prioritize those cars in search results. These owner will get more rentals and make more money. Over time, as users choose these cars, other owners will need to add these options to compete in the marketplace, and friction starts to disappear.
Airbnb / Kayak
A lot of times, finding an Airbnb accommodation is a bigger hassle than a booking hotel. But they’ve managed to build a $1 billion company, and continually works to make the process seamless and frictionless. And it’s getting better and better.
So what does all this mean?
Friction is important to consider when creating a product. If your users feel friction using or signing up for your service, you have a problem. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but you should do everything in your power to remove as much friction as possible. And you should pay attention to this constantly as your product and service grow.
When you examine your product, where are the friction points? Are you letting users sign up with Twitter/Facebook, or do they need to register separately? Are you opening popups to get their attention instead of letting them continue on the site? Are you requiring information you don’t need?
Excerpt image courtesy of Ian Hampton
Brenden Mulligan is a designed focused, product oriented entrepreneur. Mulligan currently is working on Cluster, the best way to relive shared experiences with your friends and family by create collaborative photo albums of your favorite moments. Mulligan also created Onesheet, the best place for entertainment professionals to display their work, TipList, a simple way for people to share travel tips with friends, and several Instagram-based projects including Webbygram, MorningPics and PhotoPile. He previously founded ArtistData, which was acquired by Sonicbids...
Zipcar is a membership-based car-sharing company that provides automobile rentals to its members, billable on an hourly or daily basis. Members are able to view vehicle availability and reserve a self-service car via the internet, iPhone app, or telephone, in increments as short as one hour and pay only for time they reserve. Zipcar vehicles report their positions to a control center using in-car technology. Zipcar was founded in 2000 by Cambridge, Massachusetts. On October 31, 2007 Zipcar merged...
Getaround provides a peer-to-peer carsharing marketplace that enables car owners to rent their cars - from Priuses to Teslas - to a community of trusted drivers by hour, day, or week using just their smartphones. Car owners invest huge amounts of time and money into an asset they barely use. The average car is idle 92% of the time, while potential drivers walk past block after block of underutilized cars. We are here to connect the dots… to help people...
Founded in August 2008 and based in San Francisco, California, Airbnb is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique spaces around the world – online or from a mobile phone. Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more that 26,000 cities and 192 countries. And with world-class customer service and a growing community...
KAYAK is a travel search engine. It indexes hundreds of global travel sites to help you find the right flight, hotel, rental car or cruise line. Once you’ve found the way you want to travel, KAYAK allows you to choose from which site you want to make your purchases. The company was formed in January 2004 by co-founders of leading online travel agencies, Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia. The company co-founders include Steve Hafner (CEO) a co-founder of Orbitz,...
Uber, a San Francisco based technology startup is innovating at the intersection of mobile technology, car transportation & logistics. The Uber experience captures the elite limo experiences and transforms it into an on demand service that fits an efficient and modern lifestyle.