Developing Half a Product

One of our major objectives this year is to take some big chances with LockerPulse.  We want to know if it’s a viable business, and if so, how viable.  Is it a profitable side project or is it something much much bigger?

While it’s been almost two years since it launched, we were unable to give it the attention we planned on during 2011 due to the yearlong chaos.  So we made it completely free and collected as much data as we could.

At the end of last year, we sat down and decided that we were going to throw some serious resources towards it in 2012 (having two new full-time employees helps with that).  While reviewing the data to summarize for my partners, I was awestruck at just how much useful data and how much useful customer feedback we had accrued.  We had managed to build a pretty successful website despite never really marketing it.  The data told this wonderful story of things that were working better than expected, things that were working about as well as we thought they were, and things that just flat out weren’t working.

When armed with such a valuable pile of data, combined with our love and passion for making it a great product, coming up with a plan was pretty simple.  The data didn’t “cost” anything other than the cost of running the site, but it was like we had paid for the most expensive market research available.

So, we decided that to build the LockerPulse that we’ve envisioned (and that our customers seem to have told us that they want), we’d have to blow most of it up and start from scratch, particularly the UI.

I realized that as a business owner or as a developer I’ve never before entered such a large project with so much good information available. It creates a sense of confidence in what you’re developing.  It eliminates a lot of the risk of the unknown when building something new.

We’re about half way done with the project.  One of the things we’ve constantly stressed throughout is a renewed commitment to the basics. People seem to love LockerPulse for what it is – a better way to get news for your favorite sports teams and players.  Heck, I love LockerPulse for that.   So there’s no sense in trying to add a bunch of fancy features.  What most people tell us they want is for the core functionality to just work better, and that’s what the focus is on.

When we launch and you see a feature list, I hope you think “that’s all they added!?!?”  And in actuality, when you see what we’ve cut, the net feature set will be about a push.  But then I hope you’ll play with it for five minutes and say “wow, everything works so much better, it’s much cleaner, smoother, faster, more accurate”.  We did an internal beta test with Greg, Charlie, and Reece, who previously hadn’t seen any part of the new site, and that was their exact reaction.

If you told me in late 2009 when we started working on LockerPulse that we’d still be working on the basics I would have laughed at you.  News aggregation?  How hard is that?  As it turns out, doing that one thing incredibly well is incredibly challenging.

Throughout this project I’ve found myself thinking about the Half, Not Half-Assed Chapter of the now-classic book Getting Real by the 37signals guys:

Stick to what’s truly essential. Good ideas can be tabled. Take whatever you think your product should be and cut it in half. Pare features down until you’re left with only the most essential ones. Then do it again.

It sounds so simple, but it’s so hard to execute.

10 comments on Developing Half a Product

  1. Darrin says:

    Funny thing reading this is I’m going through a similar process though not with a team. I had to learn how to code and now I’m loving adding all the features I need without needing a developer.

    I’ve actually seen LP start to creep up in Google searches. Have you done any SEO the last 2 years or is that organic?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Glad to hear you’re getting hands-on with the development Darrin! Ironically, we haven’t really done any SEO at all beyond getting the on-site stuff right at launch. It’s stuff like this that gives me hope that once we do a marketing push (and hopefully start getting some really good links) that we have a really high ceiling.

  2. Brad says:

    As Darrin said, I ran across LP in a search result recently too…so you must be doing something right in that area.

    I love the link you shared to Getting Real. I hadn’t seen it in awhile and it’s really fitting for the stage of my new site. There are some awesome one-line advice snippets in there. Now I have to weigh my time between reading all that wonderful nonsense and getting to launch!

    Taking to heart the following quotes from that book, maybe I shouldn’t worry about that difficulty feature I have been considering for my site:

    “If it doesn’t change your behavior, then it just doesn’t matter.”

    “You should only consider features if they’re willing to stand on the porch for three days waiting to be let in.”

    “Know who your app is really intended for and focus on pleasing them.”

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Haha I’ve been sucked in to re-reading Getting Real many many times. Even though it’s like 5 years old, the philosophy they preach is very timeless.

      That does bring up a valid point about your difficulty feature. Maybe you just launch as-is and see how the site is used before diving in and building a whole new feature? I mean, it’s meant for die-hard fans who want to memorize their team’s roster, so maybe they don’t need a simpler version. It’s possible that the friends/family you have doing your beta test aren’t necessarily an accurate representation of your target market. Worst case is that people complain it’s too hard (or you notice in your analytics that they give up before completing a quiz) and then you circle back and build it. There is something to be said for just launching with as simple of a product as possible and then going from there.

      And yes, I realize that this advice possibly conflicts with the email I sent you a few days ago. That’s pretty much par for the course for me – I flip-flop all the time when it comes to our features and what to launch with and what to hold off on. They’re very tough decisions. You don’t want to introduce complexity, but you don’t want to be lacking something that might be a key to success. Drives me insane sometimes!

      • Brad says:

        A flip-flopper? You should become a politician!

        I think the best idea for now should be to move toward launch as quickly as possible. It was something I was already debating, but I think it makes the most sense. You’re right; the people that said it was too difficult are probably outside my target of die-hard fans. It might be nice to include them, but if they’re already out of scope, I might not please them no matter what features are introduced.

        If I launch and find that the quizzes have huge abandonment numbers, I can always work on a solution that fixes it…but to fix it right now might be to solve for a problem that I don’t really have.

        Anyway, sorry to hijack your comments section and turn a post about your site into a discussion about my site 🙂 It’s probably relevant only in my own bubble of a world.

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