Without Meaningful User Experiences there is no Gamification Success

A couple of days ago I met with a couple of students interested on learning how to apply gamification techniques to a project they were developing. We talk about a lot of gamification stuff, and at some point, we started to discuss if it made sense to create a standard set of gamification rules for each possible business application. My point of view about standardizing gamification is clear: you can make a set of predefined game mechanics for each business, but for achieving success with gamification, you need to create meaningful user experiences, so businesses applying a bunch of predefined game mechanics wouldn’t be able to achieve their business goals.

And the reasoning for me is quite clear. Part of the success of gamification is that gamification pioneers have been able to offer their users and customers awesome user experiences by introducing game mechanics in their business processes. But if every company in a given sector is doing the exact same things and applying the exact game mechanics in the exact ways, nobody would be providing different user experiences that are able to make users engage your product, platform or company.

So gamification provides us tools to create new user experiences that helps us to modify user’s behaviors. We shouldn’t forget that it’s all about user experience. For instance, the initial FourSquare success was to use game mechanics in order to make geolocation sharing fun, so if every location service will user the same game mechanics, there would be no reason for users to prefer FourSquare to any other geolocation service. And the main failure for FourSquare is that they are not being able to generate meaningful user experiences for advanced users of their service, so as I wrote in a previous post, the problem is not that gamification is not helping them to engage advanced users, the problem is that they have only focused on giving new users a reason to share their location, and they should design game mechanics focused on the user experience of advanced users.

If you are thinking about how gamification can help your business, you should state what is your actual state and problems, and what are your desired goals, and then design game mechanics and a coherent game narrative in order to generate the user experiences that will encourage your users to behave as you need them to behave in order to achieve your business goals.

Gamisfaction raises €180.000


Gamisfaction is a startup founded by Luis Ignacio Diaz and José Vicente Sogorb, and that was born inside BrainSINS, when Luis Ignacio was working for us. I know Luis Ignacio since 2006, when I was his teacher at UEM (European University at Madrid), and he always was looking for creating new things. So, I saw Gamisfaction to grow as an idea and Luis and José Vicente to work hard to make it a reality.

I have been an advisor to Gamisfaction since their beginnings, and now I’m happy to announce that after their acceleration period at Wayra Barcelona, they have been able to raise €180.000 of seed capital. For this round, I have coinvested with Alberto Benbunan, founder and managing director at Dreams Factory, Akola Capital, Wayra, Enisa and several other business angels.

Why FourSquare’s Decision of Phasing Out Gamification is a Great Mistake

Several days ago I read an article on Gamification.co about FourSquare’s decision of phasing out gamification. In this article, Ivan Kuo said that he thought this decision was a mature design decision and not a mistake. But I can’t stop thinking that this is probably the greatest mistake FourSquare could make.


Let’s stat thinking from the user perspective. Why on earth would anyone check-in on places to share their location. There exist 3 main motives for users to check-in in places:

  • They are forced to do so by their employers in order to track their work away from the office
  • They get something (offer, coupons, etc.) when checking-in
  • You make a game from geolocation sharing

FourSquare is focused on end users, so most of its user base are not checking-in because they are forced to do so, so in order to make users to continue checking-in in FourSquare, they should continue to being a game, or rewarding users check-ins with offers and/or coupons (which they are actually offering for mayorships and other mechanics). If you remove gamification from the equation, you get only direct rewards (check-in in one place and get a discount), which maybe interesting for customers, but not so for business, because you get customers used to check-in in any place in order to pay less for what they want to buy.

I don’t think that FourSquare could be able to continue growing and engaging their user base and business base removing gamification. But I’m absolutely sure that actual FourSquare’s mechanics are too simple and focused on engaging first time users and not heavy or long term users. So, as in any good online game that heavily relies on gamification (such as World of Warcraft), what FourSquare should do is to analyze what their users expect from them and adjust and create new game mechanics that allow them to re-engage users that are tired of actual mechanics.

I was a FourSquare heavy user and now I hardly use FourSquare. For me, the problem is that when you become the mayor of your preferred places, and get several badges, there exist no mechanic in FourSquare that engages you. If I were Dennis Crowley, I would focus on helping users to discover new challenges in their platform. Instead of giving me badges after I have performed several actions, they should recommend me badges I could earn by completing a challenge, such as discover a new restaurant on my city because I haven’t gone to a new restaurant since 6 months ago. So, if we combine gamification with new discovery (and gamified) features, I’m sure that FourSquare would become something pretty interesting for newcomers to FourSquare but also for registered users that haven’t used FourSquare in months.

6 Reasons Why Feedly is the Best Alternative to Google Reader

I have been testing several alternatives to Google Reader in order to make a fast transition, after Google announced they will close Google Reader by July. There are tons of posts listing alternatives to Google Reader, but after testing several tools, I have decided to use Feedly as my new RSS aggregator, and I’m sharing my thoughts about why Feedly is the best alternative to Google Reader, just if I can help anyone to make a faster decision instead of trying several alternatives.

It is an RSS aggregator

In most listings containing Google Reader alternatives, almost half of alternatives are not pure RSS aggregators, but applications that add an additional layer that helps you choose the best contents (RSS + discovery). I already use Zite as a content discovery tool (and it rocks), but for an RSS aggregator, I don’t want this additional features of reordering or help me filter the content. I have all my feeds ordered and I was looking for some tool similar to Google Reader that helped me continue processing those feeds as I’m used to. So I was not looking for Zite, Flipboard, Pulse, or any Twitter tool. I was looking for a “typical” RSS aggregator on the web.

Easy (and fast) transition

One of the first tools I have tested is The Old Reader, who states that preserves the essence of Google Reader. This RSS aggregator seems nice but when importing my subscriptions, The Old Reader shows a queue of users waiting for their subscriptions to be imported. After a couple of days, I have almost 30K users ahead of me. I have dismissed The Old Reader as an option, not only for having to wait a lot of time for my subscriptions to be available, but because I can’t rely on a service that can’t scale up when several thousands of users want to try it.

With Feedly, the transition is easy and really fast. You connect with your Google account and in a few seconds you have your subscriptions imported and ready to be consumed.

Really nice interface

I loved Google Reader, but I have to admit that Google Reader’s interface was not their best asset. Feedly has a really nice (and up to date) interface, not only in their web version, but also in their apps for smartphones (I’ll write about it later). During the firsts minutes, you need to adapt to this new interface, but as you use Feedly, you get used to it and find nice features such as being able to share the content on Google Plus, Twitter or Buffer (and it seems they are integrating also other services such as Pinterest and Evernote), tag content or even save it for later.

It has version for both iOs and Android

I have also installed Feedly for iOs on my iPhone, and I find it a really well designed RSS aggregator for smartphones. It’s really easy to navigate through your feed categories, and also to list articles and read any post. They also offer an app for Android devices, and for Kindle Fire, so Feedly is probably the RSS aggregator compatible with most devices. I’m sure we can find a better iPhone/Android app, but for me it’s interesting to use the same application in several devices so I can continue using my workflow when reading blogs (check them by priorities, choose the best news, tweet some of them, mark some other for being read later, etc.) in any device I use, so I don’t have to check and recheck all the feeds when using different devices.

They are working on several nice integrations

As I said before, Feedly have stated they are working on some nice integrations with services like Evernote and Pinterest. I’d like to use those integrations. In fact I’m used to send interesting news from Zite to Evernote, so being able to do the same when checking my RSS feeds is a nice feature for me. But what I think about these integrations is that Feedly seems to be continuously working on improving their product, so gives me some confidence about not needing to change my RSS aggregator in a few months.

Most Google Reader users are joining feedly

In less than 48 hours, Feedly has picked up 500.000 users from Google Reader, so it seems that most Google Reader heavy users are moving to Feedly. For me, that’s also a sign of confidence. If most heavy users are chosing Feedly, it’s more likely we are making a good decision (or at least not bad). And it also shows that the service’s user base will grow (a lot) in the next months, and that’s a good indicator because Feedly’s valuation will grow up, and they will be able to get more funding or grow in revenues (I’m not sure if Feedly has a revenues source right now) so they will be able to develop new features, etc.

Glasses vs Watch: A Battle for the Future Internet

Google is working on it’s awesome Google Glasses, and Apple is supposed to be working on iWatch, a next generation watch that I suppose will be another kind of device that can be connected to the Internet. I’d love to try both devices, and I think are great ideas, but when we scratch the surface, we find a possible future war among Google and Apple, both looking for gaining control on the Internet (or at least the access to Internet).

But let’s start analyzing what is happening right now. Google and Apple are actually in the middel of the mobile war: Google supporting its more open Mobile Operating System (Android), and Apple supporting iOs, their own approach to Mobile Operating Systems. This is a battle about mobile supremacy, and the mobile ecosystem (apps), but also a battle related to Internet. In the last 3 years we’ve seen an important change of habits related to Internet access. Nowadays, we are used to access Internet through our smartphones or tablets, so dominate the mobile market means to dominate the device we will be using to access Internet in the next 5 years/10 years.

We adopt technology faster than ever, and mobile is a good example. 15 years ago, you were a freak if you had a mobile phone. 10 years ago, it was  cool to have a mobile phone. 5 years ago, everybody had a mobile phone. And nowadays what is weird is not to have a mobile phone, and almost everybody has an smartphone. And for the next generation of devices that will allow us to access to Internet, the adoption cycle will be even faster, so it’s logical that several companies such as Google or Apple are working on this next generation of devices.

So when we read about Google Glasses and iWatch, we should not focus on how cool they are as gadgets, we have to analyze how they will impact in our everyday life. In the last 15 years we have learn to manage our life through a mobile phone: we get in touch with the people we want, we schedule our meetings, send emails, organize our tasks, etc. And we have learn to carry our smartphones with us to every place we have to go. We tweet from our smartphones when attending an event, we use Google Maps in our mobiles as a GPS, and we read the news in our smartphone when going to the bathroom. So actually, the smartphone is the device ‘better connected’ to the humans right now.

But a smartphone is an (physically) independent device, and what Apple and Google are working on are devices better connected to the human beings. For the people that, like me, use glasses everyday, Google Glasses are a natural way to connect our reality to the virtual world. And for a lot of people, carrying a watch is so natural that if you are able to insert into a watch all the functionalities that are actually present on an smartphone, they will prefer to use that watch.

This year (probably), we will be able to buy the Google Glasses and/or the iWatch (I suppose we will see the iWatch in the market in 2014). The next 3/4 years,  those will be cool gadgets, but won’t get to the mainstream. And by 2018, we will see the real battle between glasses, watches and whatever new device that will try to overcome the smartphone supremacy.

As Apple Fan Boy, I’d love to try the iWatch, but I’m sure I will get in love with the Google Glasses (those are natural for me). What kind of device do you prefer to be your next access point to Internet and the virtual life?

Top 5 Myths of Starting a Business

Most entrepreneurs talk about how great is to start your own business, and that’s why so many people decides to start a business and then they find it is not what they thought starting a business should be. I’ve started 3 business and invested in another 7 startups, and I love to start new ventures, but the reality is that starting your own business is harder than the average people think it is.

Through the years, I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs, and I’d like to write what I think are the top 5 myths about starting a business:

A Good Idea Is The Key to Success

Wrong! Most entrepreneurs (including myself) are passionate people that when starting a business are devoted to their idea. But there exist thousands of good ideas, and what makes the difference is the execution of the project based on that idea. In fact, most successful business are not based on a great idea, but covers what a good company should cover: they solve a problem, in a way that really helps people, and their management team has executed a good plan to achieve their main goals. For instance, Facebook was not the first Social Network, and as an idea, it was not better than any previous social network. And Twitter wasn’t the first “Twitter”, Google wasn’t the first search engine for the web, the iPad wasn’t the first tablet (not to mention that the iPhone wasn’t the first tactile smartphone), etc.

So don’t you think that a good idea will make you rich, but also don’t be afraid to start a business (if you wan’t to start that business) if you have a mediocre idea or an idea that initially isn’t something very innovative. It’s better to focus on how to turn that idea into an usable product, and how to market that product in order to get the consumer’s attention.

And if you’re still considering that a good idea is key to success, you should watch to some of the strongest sectors nowadays: eCommerce. The idea behind an eCommerce is pretty simple and is not innovative at all: put a products catalog online and try to sell those products. You can innovate on how to show those products, in how to market your users, etc. But in the end, you will be starting a business very similar to thousands of other online business. And that’s not bad, in fact if there exist similar business already in the market, it means that you are covering an actual business, and you need to focus on executing the idea better than the competitors.

You Will Be Your Own Boss

This is one of the biggest fallacies of building a business. I’ve worked for big companies, in a University, in Institutes, for small companies… but I have never had so many bosses as when I have started my own business:

When you start your own company, your first “bosses” are your customers, as you need to cover their expectations and you need their money to run your business. You shouldn’t develop your product as you think it should be, but as your customers say it should be. A key to any company is to be user/customer centric, so if you don’t consider that your customers are, in some way, your bosses, you’d probably fail.

And your employees would also become your bosses, as you need an awesome team and if you have completed an awesome team, it’s hard to find a good replacement to anyone of your team. And you can continue adding ‘bosses’: your investors, core partners, key providers, etc. You will receive pressures from a lot of people, and probably you’ll miss to have a boss that let you focus on your tasks and main goals.

You Will Do What You Like Most

Really? As you may become ‘your own boss’, you will start managing people, and maybe management is not what you want to do. I’ve always been happy as a developer, and I really miss the time when I could spend several days coding awesome features or improving processes. But nowadays I have to manage teams, I have to talk to customers and potential customers and sometimes I have to give bad news, or even to fire people.

It’s not what I thought it was when I started my own company, but I don’t complain about it. In fact I’m really happy to learn to manage all these new thing I have to manage, I develop new skills, I love to try to understand what our customers want and need, and I’ve learn a lot about a lot of things, which makes me think that if I had to start my business again, I’d do a lot of things in a different ways, and also wouldn’t do a lot of things that I did in the past or wouldn’t worry about things that I can see now were not relevant in some moments. So I’m happy to be doing what I do now, but I also know that I’m not the average people, I’ve always been a ‘full-stack worker’ in whatever task I’ve done (development and marketing, mainly), and I like to learn new things and get in front of new challenges. And a lot of people prefer to stay in the comfort zone, and continue doing what they do best.

So if you start a business thinking that you’ll be doing what you like most, think about it, and question if it’s better for you to find a job where you can continue doing whatever you want to do, or if you are ready to start a business and become a CWO (Chief Whatever Officer), which means that in the beginnings you’ll be doing whatever is important to your company and you have no employee qualified to do, and when the company grows, you’ll be managing people and loosing to code awesome features or make beautiful designs for your app or whatever you love to do.

You Will Have Time For Yourself

The first time I heard a person that he hated his job because he worked so many hours and he wanted to start a company in order to have enough time for himself, I couldn’t avoid to laugh. I’m always looking to have more time for doing sports, and for relaxing a little bit, but the reality of an entrepreneur is that you are always looking ways to improve or to optimize critical processes for your company, so it’s harder for you to have time for yourself, compared to being an employee.

In fact, I think that if you start a business and you really start to have more time for yourself, something is wrong (or you had a really horrible job) because it’s hard for me to understand that if you’re more committed to your work, you can dedicate fewer hours to it.

You Will Become Rich

In fact if you calculate the odds, I think it’s even easier to become rich with the lottery than starting a business. Every week, a lot of people from around the globe win million dollars gambling, but only a few entrepreneurs per year makes several million dollars selling their companies.

In fact, to start your own business, you’ll need to invest your money. Probably, you won’t have a salary during the first months, and maybe you’ll convince your family to invest in your company. If your company fails (and that’s most probable), you’ll loose a lot of money (what you and your family invested), and you’ll be loosing the opportunity to earn more money in any other company. So when you start a company, it’s normal that you want to make money selling the company, but you also have to think if you want to be managing a company that won’t make you rich (but maybe can pay the bills).

eCommerce Means Real Business Models on the Internet

eCommerce is growing like hell in any developed Country and in almost any developing Contry. That’s good news for anyone in the eCommerce or related industries, but also for anyone trying to launch or make grow a internet business, because eCommerce means real transactions, and a real business model with a lot of branches (new and future business models).

Until nowadays, it was really hard for a lot of startups (content or services) to develop a robust and scalable business model, because you had two main options: charge your users for accessing your service or adopting an advertising based business model. As Internet users are used to access contents and services for free, it’s really hard to be able to charge them for accessing our contents or services, and that’s why a lot of startups have adopted a freemium model where you give access to a reduced or limited version of your service for free and then charge your pro users for an unlimited access. But when analyzing the statistics of freemium based startups, you notice that the freemium model doesn’t works for a lot of startups, so it may not work for your startup and will require you have a lot of money to support a fast growth of users that doesn’t make to increase your revenues. In certain domains, specially if we focus on mobile games, variations of the freemium model (in-app payments, digital goods, etc.) are working great for a lot of startups, but for most web based startups the freemium business model has demonstrated to be a real failure.

Advertisement is an unsustainable business model for the majority of internet companies. The reality behind this business model is that only a few big companies are making big money with this business model. You only have to talk to several publishers to notice that if you base your business model in advertisement, you’ll find yourself trapped with no way out.

In the “real world”, there exist plenty of business models, but every business model is based on the idea that in some point there exist a real economic transaction. eCommerce is bringing real transactions to the Internet, so now the online channel has the same strong basis that makes possible to develop successful business models. And you could say that internet business models in the end generated transactions in the real world, and that could be true (but not always), but the fact is that since eCommerce has started to shine, a lot of business models have emerged or have consolidated: ecommerce (direct transactions), subscription models, affiliation, group buying, etc. And in the last months, I’ve seen a lot of startups developing pretty interesting projects around eCommerce, but with new and interesting business models, that are based on the existence of eCommerce.

Nothing has changed, but everything have changed. eCommerce is bringing stability and sustainability to the Internet, and for the first time we can be sure that we have a strong foundation where to build our internet businesses.

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