I’ve been thinking about this question a lot for the last six months or so (which is how long it took to take my gut feeling that we needed to shut it down and actually shut it down).
While I can honestly say I have no regrets with the decisions we made or the efforts we put in (the positives of the experience and the work FAR outweigh any negatives)…I do have a handful of things I can look back on with clarity now and classify as legitimate ‘mistakes’.
The biggest of which, I think was reacting to what people were telling us in the early days instead of understanding/accepting what they really meant.
In our early pitch efforts, most found our idea and initial product interesting but were unsure where the market was going or who was going to 'win’…they encouraged us to keep in touch, to keep evolving, and perhaps focus more on design/UI/UX so the system was 'easier to use’.
We got enough of this common reaction that we fooled ourselves into believing that design really mattered in what we were doing.
If we just had a better design/UI/UX, people would understand the product better, they would use the product more, they would tell the world about our efforts.
But the truth was, our design/UI/UX…as horrible as it really was…wasn’t the real problem.
The problem was that our story was not strong enough.
We weren’t connecting with a problem people really understood or felt yet.
We actually knew this in our guts, but blindly refused to accept that people wouldn’t simply 'wake up’ to the problem once they saw/experienced our product.
And truth be told, many who actually did experience our product after our awesome (and expensive) redesign did 'wake up’ to the problem.
But having to educate people about a problem is a VERY expensive and slow way to have to grow a product/service because there is no natural curiosity for it.
There is no one out there looking for a 'solution’ to a problem that they don’t realize they actually have yet.
The frog simply doesn’t realize the water is starting to boil so he has no need to be rescued. He is not going to look for help, he is not going to shout or scream, and he certainly isn’t going to tell the other frogs in the pot about these crazy people offering a 'ride to safety’.
It actually gets worse though.
The reality is, we even struggled ourselves to clearly explain why our service changed the world today (we could easily explain why it changed the world at scale…but guess what, every service changes the world at scale).
From a technical view, we knew we had some amazing tech. and we were pulling off some amazing stuff for insanely cheap (cheap being relative of course – by the end we were indexing/processing close to 10 million links a day and making near-real-time recommendations for about 6,000 users all for about $700 a month!).
As users ourselves, we also knew that our service felt great and 'really worked’…but we constantly glossed over the fact that we felt that way primarily because we were SO AWARE that the problem existed.
We simply didn’t want to accept that it was going to take much longer than we could wait for the public to wake up to the real problem (though we are still 100% sure that the public will eventually wake up to it at some point).
So the lesson is this:
If you can’t get people to identify with the problem you solve, and how you fix it for them better than anyone else in about 140 characters…you have not hit on the proper problem/solution/story yet.
And until you do, nothing else matters.
Design, UI, UX, any number of awesome features or amazing technology all are basically wasted efforts (on the business level) if you aren’t hitting on, and solving, a real pain point people are already aware of, actually experiencing, and (at least indirectly) looking to have fixed.
Just think about the services you actually use every single day.
You understand their story pretty easily don’t you? Not only that, you can (and probably do) share it with people in about 140 characters or less don’t you?
How many of those do you tout because of the Design/UI/UX? (Actually I would guess, that if you’re being truthful, most you tout them “in spite of” these very things).
So from here on out it’s all about the story and the experience I’m going to provide people.
If I can’t explain that clear and simple, then it’s not ready to be thought of as a 'business’…yet.
Luckily, 99% of the stuff I build has nothing to do with trying to be a 'business’…yet. ;-)
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Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.
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