This is actually working!
In these blogs, I tend to focus on problems, because challenges and mistakes occupy most of my time.
If you've read my earlier blogs, you maybe sensed that the road so far has been hard and stressful.
Which is true. We built our website four times with three different models, and each time I learned a ton of stuff to apply to the next iteration.
In January this year, I called a staff meeting and stated I didn't think that what we were creating was 'awesome enough' to cut through.
We had to rethink the entire plan – again. I remember the looks of disbelief and exhaustion on their faces: I, the leader, admitting that a year's work wasn't good enough.
We had to start from scratch again. It was one scary conversation with the team – and an even harder one with the board and investors. But I knew I was right and, deep down, so did everyone else.
The challenge was to inspire everyone that we could do better.
This time we'd build something that worked, engaged, and our first few attempts had not been in vain. We had learned a lot; now we were in a position to make the right product.
For some strange reason, I'm wired to be tenacious. I can keep going indefinitely even when there's little sign of progress. But it's hard to keep a team motivated for long periods of time, if they don't feel they're getting anywhere.
Once we decided to make the change, we put our heads together, redesigned our strategy, and back in April started building the Posse you see now.
At first, it felt great to promote a product everyone believed in. After five months, everyone still thought we had a great idea and were on the right track, but stamina wears thin once you've been working long hours with no end in sight.
Then everything changed
Last week, everything changed. Things started to fall into place, and I wanted to write this post to describe what a glimpse of sunlight looks like after a long, dark winter.
At our Tuesday staff meetings, we all examine the site metrics from the week before. We've only been live for twelve weeks and, for the first six of these, our metrics had flattened out after launch.
We'd developed fast and last week, for the first time, we saw engagement and growth improvements from that work.
More people are joining every week, more stores are being listed every week, and users are returning to add more places, comment on their friends' stores and use our social search.
We run an advisor program of fifty Sydney marketing students who each visit monthly, in groups, to give us their feedback. The advisors are always positive but a couple of weeks ago I noticed a shift in the way they talked about the site.
Instead of saying what they hypothetically might find useful they came with real stories about how they're now using it.
One girl, Emma, had visited Canberra and wanted to find places to go out. She'd never been happy with generic review apps or sites and loved that she could use Posse to discover her friends’ favourite places.
Another advisor, Sarah, described how she'd spent 45 minutes making her street. At first I thought, 'I know our UX is bad, but 45 minutes?'
However, she said, no – it took her that long because she cared about what her street said about her. She wanted to make sure she only put the best places on it since all her friends would see it. Our hypothesis that sharing is all about status appears to be right and it's clear that our next step is to allow users to personalise their street design and colours.
Retailers are also finding the site useful, and are logging in to check their dashboard and recognise customers regularly. Two of the stores on my street have actually sent me thank-you messages and presents!
Every day we receive positive emails from grateful retailers who enjoy using the platform to monitor and encourage word-of mouth. Examples from last week included Chamers Cupcakery in SA, who sent a teapot as a gift to everyone who added them to their streets; Burwood Inn said "cheers" to their fans on Posse by sending them all a drink on the house; and Marie Gai Beauty Therapy sent a complimentary fake tan to their posse.
Sceptics become believers
Even some of the early sceptics are coming around. Last week, blogger Matt Beeche posted this article about how originally he didn't 'get' the site but now is finding it useful.
I read that just after seeing our numbers for the week. I stood up and yelled across the room, 'Hey guys. This is actually working!'
Baffled, everyone looked at me and said, 'Yeah, of course it's working'. I may have appeared shocked, but it was more realisation than shock. I always believed we'd make it, but this was the first indication that I wasn't completely delusional. We might get there!
I'm always looking for ways to lift the team's morale because high morale means high productivity. So, why was I surprised the team believed we'd get there all along?
Of course they did.
Why would they work so hard for so long if they didn't? All the same, I noticed an immediate shift in the team. Now that we're seeing real advances, everyone is more motivated than ever.
This week, I learned the power of progress as the #1 way to keep a team motivated and engaged. Our team has always been productive and positive but now we have thousands of users sharing our enthusiasm, with exponentially more signing up every week.
Now it's like everyone is thinking about the product day and night – coming into the office bursting with ideas and keen to implement them and get them to users as quickly as possible.
So, last week, for the first time, I knew I wasn't delusional. We have hard evidence this is actually working. I've heard other founders talk about these moments and dreamed about what it would feel like.
I still cringe every time I look at the site, because all I can see are improvements we're about to make that aren't done yet. When I tell friends about Posse, I encourage them to try it 'in a few weeks’ time' when I know it'll be better!
But for now – for this week – our product and our team felt really, really good. I wanted to share this with you because it's important to recognise and celebrate the good times as well as the challenging ones.
It's not all sleepless nights and palpitations.