Handling the Business Side
Understanding the basics of the business of software
Have you ever wondered why you’re working on a certain ticket? Why the product is moving in a particular direction? How your work is translated into things that sell and make profits?
Being a Software Developer Intern at Hootsuite for the Amplify team has given me ample resources, opportunities, and freedom to explore these questions and much more while allowing me to drive customer value through my work. Amplify is a social advocacy tool that allows users to increase the reach of their social content organically. I joined when we were growing the team from a single developer to 4 developers and an intern (me!), and that allowed me to take on the role of epic champion for some features.
Since this is my first internship, it put me in a really interesting position —
a.k.a. I had no idea what to expect. From ticket grooming to following agile practices, I only had a vague idea about them as a new developer but it was not that hard to catch up with developers around me.
On the other hand, when I heard people using terms like KPIs, ARR, NPS and GTM strategies, I was completely lost. I had never worked on a project that was big enough to be concerned with those terms. I would look up the meaning of the terms out of curiosity and then forget about it when I lost the context.
I figured it was time I finally understood the workflow of how the code I write drives customer success and revenue. Understanding how and why the product works were really tempting to me so I jotted down a series of questions for myself that could help me appreciate the product better.
Our Product, Development, and Marketing Managers were the bridge between the development and business world and were in the perfect position to answer my questions and despite everyone’s busy schedule, they found the time to enlighten me with their knowledge. I learned that no two products are the same and answering these questions for general scenarios would be a nightmare. I adhered to these lessons and condensed them into what you read next:
How does an idea become something tangible? Who is involved in the process of evaluating the value of an idea? How was Amplify created as a business idea?
Customers, data analytics, competitors, tech improvements are some of the sources of ideas that are then triaged in 4 stages of iterative planning that involves Product, Design, Development and Product Marketing. The idea and its scope are refined constantly in all the stages. These teams saw a market opportunity and evaluated the idea of Amplify against build/buy/partner strategies. Once the Product-Market Fit was found, investments and development followed.
Are developers consulted when the idea is being evaluated? If so, what developer roles (development manager, senior developers, etc) are involved?
Developers are a part of the iterative planning process where they contribute proportionally to the defined requirements of the task. The first idea pass is done with the development management, then senior developers, and then finally with the development team with in-sprint scoping tasks.
Once the idea is turned to software and delivered, how is customer feedback evaluated?
At Hootsuite, UX (User Experience) teams and customer marketing teams conduct customer interviews and collect customer NPS (Net Promoter Score). The Support teams address customer feedback and can typically get a pulse on the product with the volume and type of tickets raised. We also instrument our features in Mixpanel so we can track usage/adoption and identify good people to talk to in interviews.
What influences the business to request features/changes in the product?
- Changes in market/industry trends
- Changes in customers’ needs/use cases
- Competitive comparisons
- Tech changes (e.g. API changes, access changes)
How are customer suggestions received and evaluated and who is included in that process?
- Suggestions can be sourced on an ad-hoc basis (e.g. if there are customer events or if there’s a new product beta) or on a programmatic basis (ongoing NPS evaluation and scheduled interviews). Participants in that process may vary as well, but the key stakeholders with influence would be product & product marketing.
Are developers included in the feature ideation process?
This usually depends on the organization structure and size and Amplify does/has done brainstorming sessions with developers in the past, but currently development is more involved in the discussion of how to implement, as opposed to what to implement.
A peculiar example of a developer idea making it to a release in Amplify was the Native Share feature for mobile. This idea was birthed during an internal hackathon. It got a lot of traction once a prototype was made and a few weeks later, I started working on an official release. It’s currently out in production giving us valuable metrics on usage trends.
How/Where does the design team fit in the initial process?
They are usually involved in the initial stages of the iterative planning process to evaluate design decisions and work on the UX/UI of the product.
How do our competitors influence our decisions (directly/indirectly)?
Their influence is holistic because most, if not all companies want to stay competitive, and the competition is not limited to feature-level comparisons. It also influences what customer segment to focus on, which industry to focus on, the use cases to build for, and which product type to focus on.
What kind of foresight is required from/for the business side when planning out a release?
Some of the things that business needs to evaluate are customer target relevance, monetization strategy that takes into account ROI (Return on Investment), retention, acquisition of new customers and deals, etc.. Marketing campaign fits need to be analyzed to see if the product can be marketed holistically.
What are some hurdles in the process for the business/development side?
For developers, finding the sweet spot between providing the highest and most competitive customer value and ensuring we’re setting ourselves up for technical success at the same time. This can come from optimizing the features, faster loading times, etc.
For the business side, a huge amount of demand from the customers and stakeholders, limited resources, and the tech-debt within Amplify can be challenging to work around, so it’s a very delicate balancing act.
What stage of the product marketing management takes the longest time?
Customer validation to assess and determine product-market fit
Is business feedback ever collected from the developers? Why or why not?
That depends on the team/company size. Specialist roles usually handle the business feedback part, although, sometimes, technical managers can speak for the development team when it concerns business matters. When the team/company is small, everyone contributes.
How are timelines for features/changes decided? Is there a priority scale for them?
Marketing resources play a major role. If the business can’t support GTM (Go-To-Market) at the same time the product goes into production, they will suggest moving it accordingly so that they can provide sufficient marketing activities around it.
GTM strategies aren’t meant to be tactical — marketing needs to craft relevant product and solutions narratives. Instead of announcing individual product features every time they’re ready for GA (General Availability), product marketing and marketing may decide to package several features into one narrative and GTM that way.
They also take into account the type of customers that urgently need these features/changes and typically product marketing and product should align on the priority of the launch beforehand. These points are really key for multi-year contracts that contribute to the ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue).
Who is involved in the process of making sure the business stays afloat?
It’s a team effort. Everyone from the executive level where strategy is determined to the employees delivering on their own KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) is essential to the sustainability of the business.
Would Amplify qualify as a generic product that has followed most of the common business guidelines from ideation to execution?
Starting as a Labs team (an internal startup focused on ideation and rapid development of new product ideas) and integrating into the rest of the business as Product Market Fit was found, has really put Amplify into an interesting spot in terms of the team’s self-sufficiency, the formality of business and PDT (Product Development Technology) practices, and the way that it fits into the rest of the suite. It has mostly been a chaotic SMB (Small-Medium Business) with very little resourcing living in a bigger organization, and are just now getting the resources/support to follow more common practices.
There are a lot of typical and atypical things about the business of Amplify but now I can claim to understand some things about it. When I ventured out to understand the business of software, I realized there are endless things to learn and understand so I wrote this to demystify some things about the process. Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing.
About the Author
Gaurav is a software developer co-op on the Amplify Team at Hootsuite. A third-year student at the University of British Columbia who loves exploring things like tech, music, books, and a lot more. Connect with him on LinkedIn.