What I wish I knew seven weeks ago.
ArtCubeNation.com has launched after a few months of postponing. The wait was killing me. Now that the dust is settling on taking a thriving Google Group community (as much as it can thrive on such a bafflingly simple platform) and migrating 1000’s of users to the custom software we built through a company we hired, I have some observations, lessons and truths.
- Some hate change. Even if it’s prettier, faster, better and customized for their niche industry, learning something new is not on everyone’s list of favorites. Change is hard when you’re in a hurry.
- Some love something new. This may seem to contradict #1 and it does. However, when the new keeps what worked and rids itself of what is annoying (like needless chatter in in-boxes) the reward for learning something new pays off.
- See what you users see. Do not release a feature unless you can see and edit your users’ profile or settings — no matter how simple you think it may be. Your dev team will not get to them quick enough. Even if you have to wait another damn week, release when you can control the backend. Patience now. Results later.
- Don’t count on your friends to promote you. No one is going to be as excited about your launch or your product as you are. If you have nothing but freelancers for friends and you launch a site for freelancers, your friends are the last to join. I’m not sure if it’s for the same reason I like to eat in restaurants outside my neighborhood, but the closer it is, the more your buds know about you and your tribulations, the more they think may be it’s not for them.
5. Some don’t read. We had to migrate users from one platform to the other. The posts go to the users email and the interface. Artcubenation.com requires a password unlike our old platform. If they did not set up a password after the migration letter was sent to all, the system sends a special communication in every new post with a HEAD’S UP! note at the bottom and goes to a normal email when they have done so. The sentence has a link with a .gif of a dude getting knocked in the head with a soccer ball. You’d think that that poor dude would alert the users to read the HEAD’S UP! sentence. Nope. Endless customer service requests to make him go away. I erased, “Well, if you’d just fucking read a sentence with comprehension…” a million times and then cheerily apologized for the confusion. It’s our problem, not theirs, always.
6. If you build they might come, but not a fast or as slow as you want them to. I was not expecting a hockey puck graph for users, but, geez, I did think users would increase in adoption compared to the old ArtCube. Turns out, just about the same at this time. Our goal is to grow slowly and retain all that we keep. We also have not marketed at all — not that I’m not dying to. A few features with some razzle dazzle that are in the works need to be ready and then we market like crazy. (About two months from now.) We’re just not ready. It’s still a beta — but a big beta. More patience. I want new users, but I want new users when the features are complete. Let your users market for you and know when it’s time to pounce on the marketing plan.
7. Stay busy when you have wait. There’s always something to do and it might be working on you. How are you managing your stress? Expectations? Emotions? Staring at the computer and having the same fearful echoes in your head will not accomplish anything. Go outside. Have lunch with a mentor or better yet, someone in an unrelated field.
8. Admit you might have made a tactical error and change it. Every growth hacker is going to be really upset now and call me a fool. Background: I HATE entering a credit card for a trial. I feel like I’m getting tricked into buying it before I try it because they know I’m going to forget all about it and they are right. That’s why they do it. For the launched beta, we are allowing users to try to 30 days with no credit card. Three email reminders about the trial expiring and then a weekly “Here’s what you missed this week”. Mistake. Make them invest. A strong community is one where all have some skin in the game and make them look for the value. That’s the first edit on the to-do queue.
9. Build your business around what the market is, not what it should be. I really want all the industry to be as concerned with drowsy-driving in the film industry and freelance non-payment as we are. Only some care about the overall health of the freelance culture. Some (most?) just want work and get paid and not get their panties in a bunch. Some found startups to change the culture — and fail. Some change the culture by founding a startup that addresses the common denominator of needs of a micro-niche market. That’s ArtCubeNation.
10. Remember what you got right and know that today your app is the shittiest it’s ever going to be. When we did the huge migration and had to alert all users, it reminded a lot of members they had not used the service in a while. Just like shaking an apple tree at the end of harvest, a lot of apples fell from the tree. That’s okay. A lot of new seeds were planted, too. The orchard grows with time. We get people work, some their first freelance jobs. We save film, TV, theater and events time and money by allowing them to trade, offer and sell to their peers (and not pay for nasty dumpsters). We provide a way for panicky peers to ask those with a bit more experience for advice. We get involved in non-payment issues. Gender discrimination is a no-no. It’s not okay to “borrow” an animal for a shoot. (There are animal wranglers for that.)
I’m not 100% happy with artcubenation.com and hopefully, I never will be. Every day I have new ideas for doing it smarter, easier and cheaper (and so do our users). I work for our members. They inspire me and I want to make life easier for the freelancer stressing over paint colors, the perfect couch or replacing a PA with the flu at 7a.m. We make that happen, no matter what color our join button is.
Art is never finished, only abandoned.
— Leonardo da Vinci