My Boyfriend, My Startup: What I Learned From Breaking Up With My Startup:
Here are the five biggest things I learned before I called it quits with the startup I worked at:
1. Timing is (nearly) everything
I think the whole experience of working at the app was a massive bag of just figuring out when the time was right — and having the wrong ideas of when to launch. We experienced several life cycles — from launch to back to the drawing board to launch to back to the drawing board. This is all okay — looking at products like Instagram, AirBnb, Slack… every one of those things were something else in a previous lifespan.
As much as the relationship between me and the startup was one thing, the relationship between your startup and its users is another. In this case, I like to think of it in relationship terms with the app you’re making and the users being the elusive boyfriend (cue SATC’s Charlotte saying exasperatedly, “I’ve been dating since I was 15 where IS he?!”). Trying to match your product to the user is difficult — you both might be in difference phases of your life. They might not be ready to settle down with you and are only willing to download you for a night before they delete you off their phone. This is literally the experience I had.
But I swear — when your product is in the right phase with the right pool of people — magic!
2. The design of your product needs to match and exceed the current user’s expectations of their user experience.
This is sort of tied to the first point. Sometimes your product doesn’t look like they’ve been working out at Equinox (or, been worked on by a proper UX designer). That’s fine. But if your product looks like it’s been hacked together then there’s work to be done because every day the user becomes that much more savvy and expects that your typeface looks modern.
Our product wasn’t so good looking and it looked dated. Even though I wasn’t a part of this design team from the beginning, we dragged this design on for far too long, already burning a populous of potential users just by looking like how we did. I think from the beginning maybe we should have had an experienced UX designer on board and that would have helped at least to marry the ideas of the ideas team and the engineering team together in a sensible way. But I understand — sometimes these resources are just not available to you, so we worked with what we got.
3. Testing is key because your brain and your eyes no longer are trust worthy
I’ll consider this one of the biggest blessings of working at the startup that I did. One of the breakthroughs that we had (and this was something that floated us through for just long enough to learn a little bit more) was the idea that our own ideas, our eyes, our gut (yes, our GUT! The very thing I’ve trained myself to trust) were now suddenly untrustworthy when it came to what the user wants. Repeat after me: I WILL NOT “JUST KNOW” WHAT A USER WANTS. Actually, cue up some Christina Aguilera.
Instead what you need to believe is this: THE USER WILL DO THEIR BEST TO TELL ME WHAT THEY WANT. Does not mean they will be RIGHT (users change their mind more often than you think, they also don’t know exactly what they want or will be able to articulate it). You also have to think contextually.
4. Incentives are necessary
If a guy came up to you and was like “I live at home, I don’t have a job, and I’m not looking for commitment” you would likely run away (or maybe that’s your thing?). You need incentives to at least pique the interest of your users (and ANYONE you work with). Provide them. Put yourself in the shoes of your users — would you use your product for nothing? Really?
5. The team will carry you through
Just like your most trustworthy girlfriends who’ll pull you through a bad breakup, they’ll pick you up if everything fails (in every sense of the word). There are more fish/apps/Ubers out there in the world.