On May 4th we launched our biggest update for our product on iPhone and Apple Watch. We planned the product launch as a marketing exercise, but its value has been much bigger than that: It has brought problems into the open that would have otherwise lingered below the surface.
Here are three things the product launch has taught us:
We make tough choices
In the fast paced start-up world, you are always tempted to do too much. Our investors have been telling us—and we have been telling ourselves—that we can’t do all at once. And so we’ve been focusing on priorities. We thought we were doing rather well, but the launch showed: We had room for improvement.
Take how we normally develop our product: We update our app almost every two weeks. And while we set priorities and deadlines for every update, it’s a rolling process. As we finalize one update, we’re already working on the next, and it means that we’re never forced to make tough choices.
A launch is different. You’ve got a big fat date on which you are going to present your product to the world, and you can’t take risks. From early on, you need to know what you will present, so you need a feature freeze. Our cut-off date was seven weeks before the launch. That’s when we had to make tough choices. But once we decided to leave some features behind, it made us focus on the problems that needed fixing. For example, we decided to add more insights to one app we integrate with. Looking into the existing data, we found that some of it looked odd. Digging deeper, we discovered that, for some (not all) users, we were not pulling in data from the previous two weeks. We managed to fix the problem prior to the launch, and we learned that problems become more apparent when you’re under pressure.
We manage our energy
Preparing for a launch can be a frantic time. But start up-life is always busy and if anything, the launch has helped us work less frantically. Again, you can’t take risks with a launch. You have to be realistic about the workload that the team can shoulder. We had a warning shot, when Andreas fell sick during two weeks in February, and the same happened to Kouris in January. It showed us that our bodies fight back if we work too much for too long. And it’s not just about getting sick. It sucks energy out of the team if people have more on their plate than they can oversee. So we’ve become more realistic in our planning: we ensure we spend more time understanding our own and each team member’s workload, assessing it and discussing it, and taking out anything that is waste—and there is lots of waste. For example, Kouris gave almost zero attention to accounting issues in the weeks leading up to the launch. Accounting is important, but we will not die if there is a month delay on it.
We give energy with information
This has probably been our most surprising lesson: realizing how important communication is for the energy in the team—and how difficult it is to give people the information they need.
We always knew communication was important. Having big fat date demands that all activities are synchronized. But exactly how much information do people need? Here we ran into a trap: we thought we could estimate that. But communication needs can be more than the facts you need to execute a job. It’s a personal thing: some people are happy with high-level information. Others need more detail: it motivates them to know what’s happening and what others are working on.
So how much information do we share? The answer we found is: as much as possible. Of course you can always go deeper, and there comes the point where the team has to run off with the information they have. But below the line, we find that sharing information is a good investment.
One tool is our Monday team call where we brief each other on progress in areas like product development, investor news or how sign-ups are growing. These calls are no-feedback calls, allowing us to share a lot of information in less than thirty to forty-five minutes. Click here to see the minutes of our call on April 20th.
We are still on a learning curve when it comes to team communication. But we’ve improved and it’s upped the energy in the team. And that is symbolic for our launch. The problems it threw at us have improved the way we work. It’s why we’re planning the next big launch for autumn this year. Onward!