Avoid Perfection to Create Amazing Products: Development @ExpApp

Founded in 2012, ExpApp is a two-time winner at the Sports Business Awards for Best in Sports Technology ’14 and Best in Mobile Fan Experience ‘16.

Perfection in mobile tech and e-commerce is fleeting. Does anyone really want to claim that they built the perfect product today for a customer that will have new preferences tomorrow? You’re happy that Netflix didn’t just stop at perfecting direct mail DVD service, right?

The Netflix v. Blockbuster story has been told a thousand times, but it’s still the best cautionary tale of fleeting perfection and the ever-changing landscape of consumer technology and taste.

Benedict Evans is helping to accelerate how “software eats the world” at Andreessen Horowitz, a VC firm out in California. He highlights a few other examples of fleeting perfection: “Technology often produces its best results just when it’s ready to be replaced — it’s the best it’s ever been, but it’s also the best it could ever be.” (Benedict’s Blog).

There are a ton of other blog posts about “agile” and “lean” development and how it applies to the tech world, so I won’t repeat that here. Instead I’ll actually show you some small examples of how we use a lean development mindset to quickly iterate on our products in the live event space.

Avoid perfection and focus on progress

At Experience, we don’t strive for perfection because we’re never done and our industry never stops changing. In five years we’ve grown to 350+ live event properties and partner with the likes of Ticketmaster, Live Nation, MLB.com, the NFL, and FELD. Lean development allowed us to grow quickly and now it allows us to evolve with changing customer preferences and new mobile technology.

We build for two distinct customers sets: fans at live events (B2C) and live event venues (B2B). Therefore, fans will never see our products unless our B2B partners go all in with us on building a lean product. Over the years we’ve become increasingly efficient at connecting the dots between the organizational goals of our partners and products fans love to use. We’re also fortunate to have an incredible engineering team. Our developers take ownership, move quickly, and turn small sets of requirements into simple products.

Avoiding the temptation of perfection means valuing the benefits of progress over ego and opinion. Increased velocity comes from instituting more manual back-end features, accepting a substandard UX on edge cases, and delaying debates around UI/copy. The product shipped on day one won’t be a perfect product/market fit so let the end users dictate the next iteration.

Scope small and ship strategic bets

Experience Pass® Select, our biggest innovation for concerts and sports in 2016, allows fans to buy a package of season tickets and then redeem specific games and group sizes months, days, or hours before the event begins. Our goal was to drive higher attendance and increase fan happiness. Our process to bring this idea to life showcases the Experience lean development cycle in more detail:

Stage I: Vet the idea for product / market fit before building anything
Back in 2015, we began talking with professional teams about the new idea we dubbed, the “Ticket Bank” — all we had was a design prototype. We continued to hear that season ticket members demanded more flexibility to change their group size and pick specific games to attend. Teams agreed that our concept could create a new type of membership offering and help them sell more season tickets.

Unfortunately, we were too late to help with an in-progress season ticket sales cycle in late 2015. We didn’t begin any development, but confirmed that the product needed to be mobile to support the last-minute demands of users. Teams also needed our software to integrate with their primary ticketing systems so the box office could manage ticket demand appropriately.

We needed to take a step back and reframe the biggest value add that Pass Select delivered: fan choice

Stage II: Find early partners who also embrace progress over perfection
Three months later we reconnected with two teams who were ready to work with us to offer a new type of mobile-only, flexible season ticket program in 2016. Without any technology built to support the programs, our partners committed to selling fans a 10-, 20-, or 40-game mobile “Pass Select” plan to be redeemed for any group size throughout the season.

Our team contact, Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service, noted, “We continued to look for ways to give our fans as much control over their venue experience and how they choose to enjoy our games and the Experience platform allowed us to do just that.”

Stage III: Focus on solving the B2C user’s core problem before making a product “cool” (avoid bloat)
Early on, we wanted to fans to alter their ticket redemption if their plans changed (e.g., the babysitter cancels). To support changes or cancels, we would need a fan to “activate” their request and then delay the delivery of the tickets until a few hours before the game. Delayed delivery of tickets sounded “cooler,” but it vastly increased the scope of work.

Without knowing for sure whether instant delivery or delayed delivery would be better for fans, we decided to cut the delayed feature from our v1. We concluded it would be much easier to add delayed delivery as a second iteration rather than rip it out later if fans did not love it.

Stage IV: Scope and develop lean
After distilling Pass Select down to its true customer value we had scoped back a four-month endeavor into something we could build in four to eight weeks. We could safely commit to an opening night launch for our two teams.

We stripped away all features that didn’t impact a fan using our app to redeem one single game

Some conscious cuts included: 1) not sending post-redemption email receipts, 2) restricting the user to one redemption per game to simplify UI, and 3) delaying the build out of our internal reporting.

Internal work and receipts could be coded and shipped after the end-user had the product in their hands — and getting a new product in the hands of a user is the most important thing you can do for v1.

Stage V: Ship it
We remained focused on launching v1 to provide frequent engagement and support for the first two partners launching opening night, building “with” them, not “for” them. Pass Select would still be on ice without our partners’ willingness to iterate off of one basic idea.

By waiting until 2016 to begin development on Pass Select, we were able to pursue other product initiatives in 2015 and bring them to market sooner.

Learn and iterate for growth

Since 2012, we’ve developed our own APIs and SDKs for user-facing mobile commerce, ticketing, and other unique data solutions. We’ve done so with a repeatable and sustainable model for future growth:

  1. Scope Small: We started with a mobile-only product and launched that to customers before building anything else. Focusing on our core and avoiding distractions like a robust native app or transactional desktop site were key factors in our early success.
  2. Develop Lean: Developing lean allowed us to achieve quick wins and learn from fans upgrading into unsold seats, redeeming VIP experiences, and purchasing last-minute ticket offers to sold-out events.
  3. Iterate: We expect that the concept of fan membership with ultimate flexibility will continue to grow and permeate live sports and entertainment. We will let the fans decide where we take Pass Select next.

“We were excited to partner with Experience on continually finding innovative ways to evolve our business and bring new fans out,” noted our second partner contact, Vice President of Strategy & Innovation.

By the end 2016 over 50,000 fans had redeemed their mobile tickets with Pass Select across pro sports and live music, and this product still has a lot of room for growth. With double the number of entertainment properties on pace to use Pass Select in the Fall 2017, hundreds of thousands of more fan will take advantage of flexible season tickets and the product will look very different based on their feedback.

Blog originally published in collaboration with Joshua Thomas here