We’re building Crew in public

The path to a good product is never pretty.

There are many things that are unclear when you set out to make an idea become something real. No clear place to start. No clear answers. Oftentimes, you just have a list of problems and a collection of half-baked ideas for solving them.

Over the next few months, we’ll be tackling one of our biggest product challenges to date so we thought it might be useful to share all the raw, gory details as we go along.

The tradeoffs. The conflicting perspectives. The feelings and emotions.

This is what building a product is like and we’ll put it all here.

We hope there might be a few things you can take away that could be useful for you as you build your product.

Introduction: The current state of Crew

A year and a half ago, we built the first version of Crew as a Mailchimp newsletter and Wufoo form.

Our goal was to make it easier to connect people who want good design and development work with professionals who know how to deliver it.

It was a primitive setup but good enough to prove there was a need for the problem we wanted to solve.

Since then, over 13,000 projects have been submitted on Crew, designers and developers have made over $1.5 million, and over $2 million of work has been booked through our site. We’ve reached and surpassed every mark for what we wanted to do in our first year since closing a $2 million investment last year.

Now building an early skeleton of a product is one thing, creating a system that scales is another.

Crew works. But it’s still young.

While we’re happy about our progress so far, there’s much more to do, especially when it comes to our product.

In a recent investor update, we wrote how the next few months we’ll be focusing on “building a product people love.”

Building a strong product has always been a priority for us but at this stage, it’s not just about building an incrementally better product. It’s about creating a product experience that hits on an emotional level.

Why product experience is important

Twitter co-founder and Medium founder Ev Williams recently wrote how design is more important now in the technology industry than it used to be.

As technology evolves, core infrastructure becomes a commodity and how you differentiate your product moves from delivering features that are good enough to get the job done to delivering an experience while getting the job done.

To illustrate this perspective, here’s a graphic from a Harvard Business Review article written by two product experience consultants, Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore:

Over 16 million websites are added a day.

Over 1,000 mobile apps are submitted a week.

As more and more software gets built, design is becoming increasingly important for your product to stand out. The right features mixed with your product’s design must create an experience. That’s what will differentiate you.

Thus far, our external marketing projects have been a core contributor to our growth. But external marketing cannot be the only driver of growth. Our product must also propel growth to substantially impact our business long-term.

And if substantial growth is going to come from a product, the product must be much better than any alternative option.

In his book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, author Nir Eyal, writes,

“Many innovations fail because consumers irrationally overvalue the old while companies irrationally overvalue the new.” So when you release a new product for consumers, you have to be at least nine times better than the previous alternatives in order to have a chance to get users switching from the old product they were using to your product.”

For your product to get the attention of your customers, it can’t just be a little better than the current alternatives.

It must be substantially better.

An order of magnitude better.

Attention is the reward of simplicity

In his book on building habit-forming products, Nir also shared a perspective on how to think about building products people want to use. It’s called the Fogg Behavioral Model and was created by Stanford computer scientist, B. J. Fogg:

The Fogg Behavior Model illustrates that the best path to get more people using your product is to make your product easier to use.

If you make your product simpler, you increase the probability of your customers crossing the “Activation Threshold” and performing the behavior.

Nir notes,

“Influencing behaviour by reducing the effort required to perform an action is more effective than increasing someone’s desire to do it. Make your product so simple that users already know how to use it, and you’ve got a winner.”

In our case, we need to make Crew simpler. Simpler to start a project. Simpler to work on it through Crew. Simplicity can have a substantial impact on growth.

The path to building a better Crew

There are many things we’ve noted that need to be improved in our product.

We’ve set a rough target date of Jan. 31, 2015 to raise the bar substantially for every aspect of Crew. This date isn’t just a launch date and doesn’t mean we’ll stop there. It’s a date we’re aiming for to find answers for the most pressing problems for our customers and within our product.

We don’t know how many designs we’ll go through or product meetings we’ll need to get there but we’ll document it all here.

If you follow our ‘Building in public’ collection, you’ll get updated as we go.

Originally published at backstage.pickcrew.com.


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