The rewards of embarrassment

If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late. — Reid Hoffman

We launched our product with our first customer at few weeks ago, with just one very simple feature.

The customer is a yoga studio. They get about 10 enquiries a day from prospective customers. The studio has a try-before-you-buy offer — in the form of a free trial class. You can book one of these trial classes, get a feel of the studio, evaluate the quality of their teaching, interact with the teachers and also talk with the other students there.

If you’ve taken the trouble of discovering the studio, giving them a call, asking them a few questions and you’re happy with the answers, the next logical step is to go for the trial class.

But you don’t end up in the trial class. Perhaps because you decide to pause on your yoga plans altogether or because you found an even better studio during your research.

Or perhaps because, you got caught up in some other “life” stuff and kept procrastinating the task of booking the trial class.

The simple feature we shipped, is meant to help reduce that last possibility. To nudge you to schedule the trial and to get you to visit the studio.

The idea was to make it super simple for the manager at the studio to send invitations for the trial class to potential customers and then to remember to follow up with them.

We’d invested significant time in creating a nice user experience, had tested that the feature worked well and had received excited responses while demonstrating the feature to the customer.

But did it work?

Not nearly as well as we’d hoped.

The studio receives about 15–20 enquiries a day. Our hypothesis was that the managers at the studio would send out an average of at least 10 trial invites per day using our product.

Only 2 were sent out on the first day after launch. We told ourselves: That’s just because its a new product and they’re still getting used to it.

Its been 2 weeks since launch — and as of yesterday, the number is still….2.

Is the embarrassment of this kind of failure worth it? Should we have spent time building more features, and delayed the launch?

Here’s the rest of the story: By day 3, it was clear that things were not going as expected. So we set up a meeting with the managers at the studio to find out more.

Here’s how we’d start the meetings: Some of the folks that we’ve spoken to told us that the product has a lot of problems. Have you had a similar experience? [NOTE: This was a lie, we hadn’t spoken to anyone else. Nobody wants to tell you that your baby is ugly. Make them comfortable that they’re not the ones who’re going to have to break the news to you.]

What we learned from those interviews was incredibly valuable. We discovered a whole new set of problems that they were facing on a daily basis.

And it became crystal clear that unless we fixed those problems first, there was no way that the adoption of our trial invite feature was ever going to go up.

Here’s the question: Was the embarrassment of shipping our first feature out within a few days of development worth it? I think so.

Fast forward 1.5 weeks. We’ve invested the last week and a half in developing a new set of features that weren’t on our roadmap at all. But we’re building these features with the knowledge and the confidence that these features will add significant value for the customer.

Remember that “time” — not money nor people, is the scarcest resource we have [Ash Maurya]

I believe that we’ve already saved at least a couple of weeks of wasted effort building features that would add little value for our customers. And that makes me feel smart.

Embarrassed and Smart. 😉

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