(Originally published at christianreber.com in September 2012)
This year has been the most exciting in my career as an entrepreneur, but also the most challenging. We launched our new product Wunderkit after actively working on it for roughly a year, and just months after launch we decided to end its development and focus only on Wunderlist. Why? To put it simply — our users. Wunderlist currently has almost three million active users who have favoured it over Wunderkit. That’s the short story, but there’s a lot more to it.
The beginning of 6Wunderkinder
As you will read in our official blog post about the future of 6Wunderkinder, we started the company with the mission to reinvent “project management”. We knew it would take us a long time to build that product, so we decided to start with a little appetizer to show everyone what we were capable of. That product was Wunderlist, which we launched officially in November 2010. With Wunderlist our strategy was to build an extremely simple and beautiful task manager for Mac & Windows — and it went off like a bomb. Right after we launched it, we decided to build some mobile apps for it, so we rolled it out to iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone. Here is a graph of all downloads (excluding updates) for Wunderlist on iPhone, iPad and Mac, compared with Wunderkit, from the last two years.
So why Wunderkit?
Before we even launched Wunderkit, many of my close friends advised me to focus on Wunderlist and forget about Wunderkit, but for me it was the clear path for our company. Wunderkit was what we were all about. It was a tough decision and a big step to go ahead and build Wunderkit.
Wunderlist was all about to-do’s — but what about Wunderkit? It was time for a new way of dealing with work, business and all kinds of projects. We knew that people have projects both in their working and private lives, but for both most are using different tools. So we started to build a tool that would fit both. A tool that would allow a band to keep their lyrics in Wunderkit and at the same time organize their gigs. Or allow Moms to organize their kids homework, while organizing stuff at home and work. We weren’t only focused on businesses, because we knew that if we convince consumers, they would bring it into their workplace. But that wasn’t our biggest challenge.
The balance between two products
For a young startup like us, our only goal has been to have one successful product. One! But we were working on two and that was incredibly tough. Every startup deals with the problem of not having enough resources, but we dealt with it twice. We never found the right balance between working on Wunderlist and Wunderkit. After several delays, we decided to only focus on Wunderkit which meant pausing development of Wunderlist. It took us a year of development and after some tough technical challenges we finally launched the beta version in February this year.
Wunderkit launched on iPhone and Web and included three core features — tasks, notes and a dashboard — to cover most of our users’ needs. The day we launched it, we were excited and happy with what we had achieved. We had launched two products on more than a dozen platforms, all within 1.5 years and with a pretty small team compared to a lot of other startups. After one day, Apple picked up Wunderkit and we were “App of the Week” in several countries. It felt similar to the launch of Wunderlist and we thought we nailed it, again.
While the launch of Wunderkit was again a success for us, after a month we saw clearly that there was something wrong with the product. We had good sign up rates, almost 400,000 users within the last six months. But when it came to retention, organic growth and quality we weren’t doing as well. During the rapid growth in the first days we also started to see scaling issues and had some really unnecessary bugs, caused mainly by the product’s complexity and the time pressure to release it.
The second album syndrome
You know those bands that release a great first no. 1 album and are then fighting to release a good second one? Then it is released, and it doesn’t live up to the hype? I think this is what happens to a lot of companies and also happened to us. Our goal was to release the perfect product and we certainly felt the pressure not only from others, but also ourselves. After figuring out that our product wasn’t ready for sustainable growth, we started to redesign it. We focused on the main interface and how we could make projects more fun, simpler and easier to manage. Here are some screenshots of the redesign.
Our problem wasn’t product design, it was decision making. We were lost in perpetual discussions about how features should work and what they should look like. Unfortunately we were never fully satisfied with the result. That was when we understood we had to make a decision, it’s either the one or the other. Either we focus on Wunderkit or Wunderlist — both would be too much of a challenge. In the end the decision was pretty obvious, but it was still hard to make.
With one decision, we’re back on track
We are 36 people, more than 20 engineers, 5 people on product design, several in marketing, support and other areas. If you make a decision about strategy, it affects our users and everyone in our team. It means redefining some roles, the product roadmap, reevaluating the business model and rethinking everything. To be fair, we have been incredibly lucky to already have a “Plan B” in place, it was amazing to see how fast we felt the new sense of clarity and how fast the transition actually went. Within two weeks everyone knew it was the right choice and we were back to work at full speed. Today, just a few months later, we are on the cusp of reaching our next milestone — releasing a new Wunderlist. We are calling the next version “Wunderlist 2” as it is not going to be just an update, but a very significant step forward incorporating the best of the Wunderkit functions but also many more cool features that our millions of users have asked for. While we’re getting ready for the beta, I’d like to share with you my goals for this release.
Wunderlist 2 — Polished and ready for massive growth
Wunderlist 1 was mostly based on a technology called Titanium. Titanium is a great cross-platform technology to build apps for mobile and desktop. We were one of the world’s first companies who released a full product with it and it was the best decision we could have made for Wunderlist. Now though, we’ve reached it’s limit. Recently we, along with our users have experienced several issues with the current version of Titanium that we simply can’t fix on our side. So we decided to rebuild Wunderlist for all major platforms (Web, iOS, Android Mac & Windows). Everyone who ever built an app for just one platform will know what a crazy amount of work it actually is. The product itself has also grown up, we’ve worked a lot on important things — like simplicity, usability and most importantly reliability. But we’ll show you more in a couple weeks!
The next thing we focused on with Wunderlist 2 is the ability to grow. First of all with users, but also with new helpful features. When we launched Wunderlist 1 our users were incredibly happy with our focus on delivering new features almost every month, and at the same time we conquered more and more platforms easily — mainly because the product was just that simple. Now we’ll do the same, this new release is all about getting to a stage where we can release new versions every four to eight weeks. Getting to that stage is really hard, but once we are there, it will establish the strong foundation for reaching out to Wunderlist’s first 10 million users, and many more.
My personal learnings as an entrepreneur
To come back to the beginning of this blog post, this shift has been incredibly challenging, not only for me, but also for our team and our users. As a founder it is one of the toughest situations you can imagine. Keeping the pace, driving motivation and holding the team together. When you don’t meet your own expectations and you know that you’re capable of reaching them, frustration sets in. I had some great advisors and friends that helped me realize the opportunities in that tough situation.
Wunderkit was not at all a waste of time. The experience of launching something successfully, and then something ‘less successful’ has been of huge value for me, and for us as a team. Without the experience of Wunderkit things at 6Wunderkinder would be different. In the end we were actually pretty lucky to have both products, because it made us realize what we should really focus on. We found the core of our company, the one thing we really believe in: Creating beautiful, emotional and easy-to-use products that serve the needs of many.
We love to do this! And I’m incredible proud of what we’ve achieved. And I know that we’re capable of building tons of successful products within the upcoming years.