Hello Pretty Phase 2 — moving beyond the MVP

The MVP

We launched Version One of Hello Pretty 3 years ago almost to the day. We’d been burned on our previous startup by focusing too much on tech and not enough on marketing. By the time we’d finished building the web app, we’d run out of money to put anything into marketing. This time would be different, we knew the eCommerce market would be about to pick up in a big way in South Africa and we wanted to be first to market far more than we cared about being embarrassed by a clunky, featureless website.

The Hello Pretty MVP consisted of only two features:

  1. The ability to add products.
  2. The ability to buy products.

We didn’t even have proper order notifications in place so any order we got was processed by us completely manually. While we’ve come a long way since then, until yesterday Hello Pretty was only incrementally better than it’s initial MVP. In fact, with the feature set on the site one could argue it still was an MVP.

Our strategy since Day 1 has been to focus on making sales on the site and deliberately nothing else. We didn’t want shoppers to be distracted by “share this” or “like that” links littered around the page. The side effect of our minimalism was that with a tiny team and no funding, we were able to focus almost entirely on growth.

While our site has always worked relatively well on phones and tablets, it’s always been focussed on desktops. Our conversion rate is roughly 2% on desktops and 0.2% on phones so we continued to maintain the same overall, desktop-focused strategy for the past three years. Minimize our investment in our tech, maximize investment in our support and marketing with the primary focus on sales.

Beyond the MVP

On February 26th, Google announced that they would begin penalizing websites that don’t pass their mobile friendly tests. Our website failed on 100% of pages tested by the Google bot. No surprise since components of our site that appeared on every page were completely mobile unfriendly.

We could have, of course, spent a few days cleaning things up to make Google happy. But over the course of the last three years our mobile traffic has grown from less than 3% to just over 50% today. No signs of this growth slowing either.

It was originally our opinion that a seller on the Hello Pretty marketplace would trade any feature on the site for just one more sale if they could. And that’s how we approached our technical MVP strategy. If the feature or change wouldn’t have a more-or-less direct impact on sales (or reduction to our workload), we’d table it for “Phase 2”.

We’re now faced with a conflict. Mobile is clearly the most relevant market to move into, but our mobile sales are not only tiny compared to desktop, I don’t foresee targeting mobile browsers on a site like ours having a direct impact on sales. People don’t want to buy products from their phone: they want to browse and share from their phone. I religiously use Kayak, AirBnB, and Amazon from my phone, I frequently make purchases from all three companies, but never from my phone. I always come back to my laptop for a bit more research before actually hitting “buy”.

Most shoppers still fit into this category, the phone is a great device for “window shopping”, so to speak, but we all know (consciously or unconsciously) that 9 out of 10 times having to buy something from the phone is going to be a major headache. Even on the most optimized checkout processes.

Next Steps

In the time since we launched 3 years ago the way people have used the web has evolved radically. It was time for us to evolve our own company just as radically, based both on what we’ve learned in that time, and the changes in how people are using their phones.

We’ve now proven our model and have been comfortably breaking even for the past few months. We’re shifting our strategy from focusing on sales growth to improving the experience for the casual user, and specifically targeting mobile devices, sharing, and the browsing experience.

No one builds a startup because they want to build something that’s minimally viable. Startups want to innovate and to solve interesting problems. In the past few months we’ve finally been able to build on the initial foundation and put things into place that will allow us to start doing actual, innovative work, much of which should be invisible to the end user, but hopefully very obvious in the bank accounts of the 1 300+ small businesses currently running on Hello Pretty.