First-time Tech Entrepreneur

First-time Tech Entrepreneur

Tuesday, 21 August 2012 16:42

This is still really hard: First-time Tech Entrepreneur Blog By Rebekah Campbell

This is still really hard

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.'

 

– The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr

 

A few weeks ago I wrote about my pain and frustration surrounding the launch of our platform. It's now been eight weeks and things haven't become any easier but I'm starting to learn how to manage the process with some kind of order.

 

I'm still waking up at 4am every single day with a million things flooding through my head. We user test the site at least once usually twice or three times per week in various ways, and we carefully monitor analytics showing how people use the site.

 

There are always a hundred things that need to be changed: new features that we think will improve engagement and retention, and then there's the half-built core product!

 

Our team work hard but there are only so many hours in the day. You see, my head is not a fun place at four in the morning. It's been very stressful. Too stressful. Yet, I'm starting to find order through chaos. This blog is about our new challenges and the techniques I'm developing that help me make steady progress.

 

Our development of Posse is based on the feedback loop theory championed by The Lean Startup and featured in many books on management theory.

 

Teams design, build and launch a minimum viable product to test how people interact with it, then design improvements. They build and launch a second version, test again, design improvements and so on. In theory this makes a lot of sense, but in practice it's hard and extremely frustrating.

 

Naturally, the team want to be proud of the product they're releasing, so too much time goes on designing for perfection. But it's impossible to predict how many times you'll need to build something before its good enough to move onto something else. No-one likes building the same thing over and over again and everyone gets disheartened when improvements don't work!

 

An example of this for us is the method of on-boarding new users. We originally designed the site so new users landed on their town first then Elvis (our guide dog) conducted them to their own street page where they could start adding places.

 

campbell-street-image_jpg

 

Above: A Street in Posse

 

Our objective was that, through being able to find favourite places of their friends and wider social connections, users would understand what Posse is about, and would add places to their own street. They'd be inclined to come back and use the service, sharing it with friends because they understood its purpose and had an emotional connection to their own street.

 

This, after all, represented their taste and knowledge of good places from around the world.

 

The site analytics from the first four weeks showed that 15% of users couldn't work out how to get to their street to add places, and if they did, another 15% didn't then go on to add a place. A huge percentage of users never discovered that they could use search, the key utility of the site, and our returning user numbers weren't great.

 

All this showed that people didn't understand the site's usefulness. So we designed improvements.

 

We added three informative splash screens between sign-up and the first page so users would understand what the site was about, and we switched around the user flow order so new users landed on their street first where they'd be prompted to add a favourite place.

 

These all seemed like good improvements – our designer Nathan and engineer Aaron spent a week designing and implementing the new process.

 

What happened? 15% of new users gave up during the first three splash screens and of the 85% who made it through, only 60% of them added a place!

 

We used www.usertesting.com to figure out what was going on and when we saw the videos of new users trying to work out the process it was obvious we'd made huge mistakes. And so we designed it again and a new process will launch this week. If that fails we'll keep designing again and again until we get the completion and retention numbers we expect.

 

This is what's going on with every aspect of the site and business. We're building sales and marketing processes as we're building the product, so we've got real customers to try things out with.

 

Imagine being our designer, Nathan, who laboured over the splash pages for days only to see users not understand it and it need complete redesign again and then again at the same time as you've got a million other things that need design.

 

Imagine being Aaron, our engineer, who spent a week implementing the new call outs to have to redo them the next week and then again the week after.

 

Or Clarissa, who runs marketing and has promotions lined up. They can't start until the on-boarding process is fixed.

 

Or me, the entrepreneur, who gets asked for user numbers and metrics from investors every day. It's hard going!

Here are a few things I've learnt so far:

 

1. Accept mistakes as part of the process

 

There is no point getting frustrated and losing sleep when things don't work. Building a new product is a process and we don't know how long it will take to get things right. But...

 

2. Encourage the team to work fast

 

This is tough because great people want to be proud of their work. In hindsight, I should have encouraged Nathan to prepare basic versions of the splash screens, rather than design beautiful pages that were discarded as soon as we saw the first users try to interact with them.

 

We have an awesome team of engineers who like to test everything thoroughly (as they should) but in our case it's more important to get the feedback loop spinning fast so we can learn and iterate than it is to produce perfect code with no bugs. Although we've got no idea how long it will take to get the product right, we do have a limited amount of money and time, so moving fast is imperative.

 

3. Focus on things that move the needle

 

Everyone wants to fix the things that annoy them the most. However, these may not be the items that make the biggest impact on users.

 

One of our engineers really wanted to be able to move things about on his street, which I agree would be fun. But is this the thing that's going to make the biggest difference to Posse succeeding or failing? I argued that it wasn't and we agreed to leave it until later.

 

With time pressure and limited resource it's vital that every team member is focused on the things that make the biggest impact to improving the product.

 

Right now, Alex is building an amazing social search engine (the core product); Aaron is fixing on-boarding; Mike is implementing automated emails to users that'll encourage them to come back to the site; Nik is making new store dialogue pages (our current ones don't work very well); Hamish is building the retailer's dashboard that eventually will earn us revenue; Glen is building the infrastructure that will enable people to add people's streets to their town who aren't their Facebook friends (key to engagement and growth); and Nathan is designing the next version of our street and towns, which will be personalised and animated.

 

campbell-aaron-onboarding

 

Above: Aaron fixing on-boarding.

 

Jen is outsourcing our store listing process so we can get new retailers interacting and designed stores on the site quickly; Clarissa is running the user tests and is responsible for signing up new users; and I'm working on our next round of fundraising to ensure we can stay alive.

 

I'm confident everyone is working to capacity and working on the right thing. But it's still difficult when we know there are so many other things we just can't get to yet.

 

4. Test and measure everything

 

I've mentioned before that I'm obsessed with talking to users, watching user tests and checking the analytics of our product.

 

This is something we didn't do well when we were a music site, and looking back knowing what I do now it was like we designed that product in the dark. Equally, if not more important than testing and measuring a product, is talking to users and asking them open ended questions about themselves, the product and how it fits into their lives.

 

I try to do two sessions per week with users and spend the first hour just asking general questions before we even look at the product. They won't tell you what they want, but an insight comes from every session that helps shape the future of the product.

 

5. Meditate

 

I find it easy to run on adrenaline, in fact I enjoy it. When we first launched this new platform in June, I went straight overseas, worked day and night, and then continued the regime when I came home. I got a lot done in this time, but after a while I noticed that I wasn't totally on my game.

 

Ideas weren't flowing like they normally did. I became impatient and frustrated easily when things didn't work as I hoped, and was always tired because I wasn't sleeping properly.

 

I learnt to meditate several years ago and I started practising again twice per day. I went back to yoga. At first, all the problems with our site streamed through my head like a freight train. Remarkably, it only took a few days to return to normal. Everyone has their own methods of stress relief, yoga and meditation are mine and they're always the first things to go when I feel under pressure.

 

These are my current methods. If anyone has any other suggestions, please write to me and let me know!

 

I've enjoyed the process of writing this week because it's helped me to focus on what I need to do to cope with the immense stress and pressure associated with building and launching this product.

 

I still find it all very hard and look forward to the day when I can re-read these blog posts and reminisce about how much I learned, and how it all worked out in the end!

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Rebekah Campbell is a music industry entrepreneur. She started out by organising a music festival to raise awareness of New Zealand’s youth suicide epidemic at the age of 19. In 2008, Rebekah came up with the idea for Posse.com whilst promoting a tour for Evermore. Rebekah raised over $3 million from investors Australia and Silicon Valley to kick-start the business. Posse.com launched in music in 2012 and in retail in 2012, with plans to expand to the United States later this year.


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