Our client is a startup with a unique offering for students that relies on a complex series of interactions including assignments and video-conference meetings. The vision was to have all of this happen online, creating an innovative solution to a very old problem. The early attempts were a struggle as multiple experienced development teams weren’t able to complete a working version over an 18-month period. Instead the concept had to be proven by manually emailing spreadsheets and documents to complete assignments, and personally arranging phone calls between participants. Customers loved the results – but it needed to be automated so it could scale beyond the initial users.
When we came in we saw that current state of the incomplete development gave us a starting point to help save time, but there were major areas that needed to be recreated. The development process had gone off track because it quickly became difficult to make changes and handle the complexity of the needs. Some parts worked, but every step toward the desired results would cause more new bugs and the system never fully worked.
When we were approached in January we evaluated what needed to be changed and how the system could be fixed to do that. In some areas we recommended new ways of doing things to create a better customer experience and a simpler system. In others we discovered planned tasks that weren’t really needed. Simplifying a few non-essential areas cut the planned development time and cost for the initial version by 50-60%.
We started the new development in March. The first version of the system launched in May and allowed a group of customers to go through the full 2-month program from end to end with an automated system that included special features such as built-in videoconferencing and webcam recordings. Their feedback was overwhelmingly positive and led to new ideas for improvement. A second round of development in July and August led to major improvements in key areas and the first version of a new, much more attractive look from a designer we created.
The second group of customers started the program in September. Once again their feedback highlighted the many benefits of the system and a few areas that could be improved. With a third round of development in November and December we put in place those ideas as well as few internal ideas that hadn’t been a priority before. We also applied a more thorough design update and created a fully automated e-commerce system, with personalized pricing, that would allow customers to pay in a self-serve interface. The end result was a highly polished system that handled all the customer and management needs.
This system launched to the first group of paying customers in January. As expected the feedback was positive and customers were very enthusiastic about the value they got from participating in the program through the online platform we had built. Following these results our client started another group of paying customers in June. At the same time the company was accepted into the Techstars accelerator – one of only 10 companies out of 300+ that applied – based on their proven results. They are now working on new ideas that build on the initial market to multiply their growth rate, and getting regular media recognition along the way.
This progression highlights a very important insight for today’s online businesses. Trying to do everything at once can easily put your business in a dangerous position where you are rapidly falling behind your market. If you focus instead on the core of your idea, show that it works at a minimal cost, and then create incremental improvements from there you will be able to move much faster. This allows you to build momentum and capture the market before your competitors realize what’s happening.
And just as importantly you will avoid months or years of wasted efforts as your early customers will tell you what you don’t need to waste your time on. In this project there were several major ideas we chose to wait for because they weren’t essential to the early versions. When we looked at how customers actually used the system we discovered that those ideas were not needed at all and avoided spending time on them. There is no development work more expensive than spending months implementing something that your business doesn’t need!
Where can your business go with a focused process that quickly creates momentum and growth? Let’s talk to day and find out!