This week’s guest post is written by our friend, Andrew Ward, Managing Director at ScorchSoft and MODL
Don’t be lured into the trap of trying to launch a complete product when bringing a new web or mobile app to market. This statement may seem counter-intuitive, but let me explain.
My name is Andrew Ward, and I run two Birmingham-based technology businesses. One is a web and mobile app development company called Scorchsoft, and the other is a professional model booking platform called MODL App.
We launched hundreds of projects over the last seven years, so have strong ideas about what works, and what doesn’t.
Whether you are an established business or a new startup, you often begin with a vision of what you are trying to achieve. You will have a selection of goals, and a list of features that are critical to achieving those goals.
Quite often the targets you select, and the elements that deliver them are created based on the gut feel of you or your team. It’s a great start, but you mustn’t forget that at this stage your assumptions are completely untested.
We follow a philosophy very similar to that recommended by Eric Ries in his bestselling book The Lean Startup. That is, start thinking about the simplest possible output that you can create to test your most fundamental early assumptions.
For example, imagine you are launching a new fashion brand. It’s tempting to get everything ready as soon as possible and to launch a completed business.
You can imagine creating a logo; agreeing distribution contracts with manufacturers; having a fully features e-commerce platform in place, and having a shop or distribution deal with a major retail chain; etc.
Though this picture sounds like a perfect execution, it has significant flaws.
What if customers don’t like the branding, if your website needs improvement, or if there is no demand for unique features you have built into your product?
You risk wasting months and tens of thousands of pounds to reach a point of failure. The result is that you fail slowly, and have exhausted the resources at your disposal that could allow you to change direction. Every decision that you have made based on an untested assumption can compound, to create a problem that is now very hard to fix.
The same scenario applies when building a website or app, if you launch a product that contains your entire shopping list of features right away, then some of that work may be wasted.
So, what is the right way? What are the primary assumptions that you have made to arrive at your current plan?
Write them down, and order them related to importance.
Pick the top one, and ask yourself:
What is the cheapest, or the most efficient way that we can test this in advance of building the whole product?
For example, a common assumption with most apps is that people will buy into a particular concept enough to sign up.
This assumption is easily testable. To answer this question, we often recommend creating visual mock-ups of what the app will look like when it has been finished and building a website that sells the product as if it already exists.
Put a contact form that looks like a signup form onto that site, advertise the site to generate some traffic, and see if people sign up.
If they do, then great, if they don’t then, you can begin the detective work now to identify why. This way you can mould your assumptions and change your product based on real market feedback.
You may be worried about damaging your reputation by promoting a product that does not yet exist.
I’d argue that the reputation damage of releasing mass-market advertising campaign to a product that is flawed, is much higher than the risk of annoying a handful of early users because the product is incomplete.
Just make sure you have your terms and conditions in place, let them know you are still in Alpha/Beta phase, that you will let them know when you are ready, and provide a way for them to remove their contact details from your system should they not want further updates.
Best-selling author Tim Ferris is also well known for his obsession with assumption testing. After writing his book, he needed to pick a title.
Tim created a simple landing page and a series of text adverts on Google, naming the book different things in each ad. After a couple of weeks, he saw that the title “The 4-hour Workweek” had the highest click through rates, so he opted to go with that.
Once you are ready to build your website or app, we build on this theme to try and identify how launch version should look, i.e. given the list of things that you want, what is the leanest possible first release that we can make.
We do this because we want to be able to release something as soon as possible so that you can see how users react. Then you can decide whether continue to build the other features you had on your list, or work on improving the ones already implemented.
If you are looking to build a new website, or launch an app, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch and see how we can help.