For this chapter, we spoke with Drew Burton from DropMic, a valued partner on our sound monitoring device and application.
Gunner Technology: Drew, you have a history of successful launches. Tell us about how you’ve been able to do that.
Drew Burton: Well, the key word there is launch. Launch. Launch. Launch. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a finish line, to reach it, and then to start marketing your product.
GT: That’s a great point and we’ve seen so many ideas fail because they got bogged down in development hell.
DB: And so have I. “If we only had this. If we only had that.” Over and over and over again. At some point you just need to bang the table and say let’s launch this damn thing.
GT: Isn’t there a danger that you’ll launch too soon? That your product won’t be good enough?
DB: But that’s always going to be a danger. Building stuff is dangerous. It’s a risk. Whether something is launched with ten features or a thousand, you have no idea if it’s gonna take off. But you miss a hundred percent of the shots you don’t take. So it’s better to launch something that might not be perfect, get that priceless feedback from early users, maybe even build it into something great. Better that than to keep it on the shelf, collecting dust, waiting for that day when it’s finally ready, which too many times, in reality, means “never”.
An idea is never ready for launch. An idea is always ready for launch. That’s the reality of the situation. Unfortunately, that means you have to make one of the most difficult things in life: a decision.
No, not Most Valuable Player. What we’re talking about here is Minimum Viable Product. What is MVP? It’s an app that is done enough that you can get quality feedback from early users.
The hardest part about getting to an MVP is admitting that you don’t truly know what your MVP is. But there are steps that can be taken to get there.
First off, especially if you’re on the development side of things, you’ve got to urge restraint with the primary stakeholders. We’ve seen way too many projects descend into development hell where a project is only “One key feature!” away from launch.
But there’s always one more feature to add. That’s the nature of the beast. The talent lies in determining which features you have to add.
And that involves weighing pros and cons. Pro might be a slicker user experience. Con might be it takes designers away from the icon project they’re working on. There’s always going to be a trade-off with features vs time and resources.
What you have to do is figure out what would be nice to have and what must be done. And err on the side of something being nice to have. When almost nothing must be done, you really refine your idea into its core concept. That means quicker development cycles. That means sooner to launch. And that genuinely means a better product during the initial launch.
Speaking of the initial launch, it’s important to have some set processes in place.
First off, you’re going to want to have a locked down deployment process. It has to be drop dead simple to push up changes (and more importantly bug fixes). The early stage of your idea is going to be an incredibly dynamic one. You’ll constantly be refining things based on user feedback.
Additionally, you’re going to want robust analytics set up before launch, both quantitative and qualitative. On the quantitative side, you need to be tracking usage. You also need to be monitoring application health and specially catching application errors so that you can fix any bugs that arise immediately.
On the qualitative side of feedback, you should have some sort of survey set up for you product. It could be as simple as email-based feedback or you could incorporate tools into the site to get more direct feedback. Whichever route you choose, however, you have to make sure to gather enough qualitative feedback to ensure that your app is being well-received. And if it’s not, that’s incredibly helpful feedback too! Basically, in the early stages, the more information the better.
And to get those early users, you’re going to need a marketing strategy. After the initial Alpha, Closed Beta, and Open Beta periods, when you’re opening your app up to the widest possible audience, what you need is a sound marketing strategy.
Whether you keep marketing in-house or outsource it to an expert or an expert firm, you have to have the pitch for your idea nailed down. People need to understand it on a gut level. That’s how you get users to actually use your app.
And the more users the better, obviously. What you’re really hunting for in the early days of your idea after launch is feedback. The more users you have, the more feedback you get (both quantitative and qualitative as we talked about). And feedback is gold. You can figure out where your product needs to go based on how people use it. But without that feedback, who knows?
And once you get that feedback, you have to be prepared to act on it. That’s where budget comes into play, specifically ongoing budget for adding new features.
Whatever dev shop you work with should fix bugs for free. (It’s their fault that something doesn’t work so they should be the ones to fix it – that’s our philosophy at Gunner Technology.) But you have to have a budget for changing and updating the application.
As your idea receives wider exposure, you’re going to get tons of information from both general usage and from targeted feedback mechanisms like surveys. Via this data, it’ll become readily clear what your users want. And as The O’Jays once said, “give the people what they want.”
It might sound silly in this era of visionaries and big ideas, but the goal is to give people something that they love and want to use. And that comes from user feedback.
So when you get quality feedback about the state (and future) of the application, have enough capital in reserve to be able to implement changes as needed. Too many companies launch something and assume that’s the end game. That’s really only step one. Steps 2 through infinity are iterating repeatedly based on valuable feedback. Ignore that at your peril.