Don’t get me wrong: the software version itself wasn’t the source of my anxiety. It is what it represented. If you’ve read a book about growing a startup, you know that what we did is considered a cardinal sin.
The longer it takes to release software, the longer customers won’t use your software and won’t be able to provide feedback. That invaluable feedback can save you both time and money in wasted development efforts building something no one asked for.
To our credit, we reached out to several groups to test our software during this time, so we weren’t completely without feedback. That is not to say that there were no valuable lessons to be learned.
Lesson 1: The principles behind the Lean Startup are useful, but not in all situations
Books like the Lean Startup are great if you’re starting from scratch. Our situation was a little different because we are a B2B company that already had an existing customer base. Our customers had already paid for a product that met a certain standard, so introducing new, complex features was not easy. We had to find different ways to simplify a feature, enough to demonstrate what it was capable of, but still ensure that it fit in with the rest of the platform and remained as bug-free as possible.
For example, our Analytics Workflow feature is designed to help both business and data analysts complete various analytics tasks. There are a large number of tasks to take into account, but to get it up and running we focused on one or two tasks that would best showcase its functionality. We then spent a fair amount of development effort ensuring it worked seamlessly with other commonly used features of the platform.
Lesson 2: There will be bugs, so good customer management is essential
Bugs are inevitable. You can test and test and test some more, but there will come a point where you have to rip off the band-aid. For a company like ours, it became a matter of customer management to ensure that the introduction of new features went smoothly, and to meet customer expectations when they did not.
We sent emails, wrote FAQs, recorded how-to videos, and scheduled as many meetings as possible (without being annoying) to ensure our software release would be successful. Of course, things didn’t go exactly to plan, but any issues we faced were mitigated by the relationships our team built with our customers.
Lesson 3: Don’t be afraid to get your software into as many hands as possible
Feedback from users actively using your software is significantly more valuable than independent users testing your software. Don’t convince yourself they are the same. Independent testers are more likely to like the idea or concept of a feature and less critical of whether the feature will actually be useful for them to use on a daily basis. While active customers are much more comfortable telling you if something isn’t working.