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Ok… so now what?

October 13, 2010

At Microsoft, we had these things called “Commitments” that were tied in as part of our review process.  The intent was to establish discipline around focusing ones career objectives around common goals and a well thought-out long term career path.  There was a single problem with this; no one cared.  No, seriously no one cared.  The only time anyone thought about the items on their commitments was for the thirty minutes they spent writing them.  A year later, you’d look at your commitments (not remembering what you wrote) and laughing about how outdated they were, and how they were aligned to a universe that had almost entirely no likeness with the current reality.  There was initially supposed to be a element of transparency between management tiers, allowing those in the lower ranks to get a glimpse of insight into the commitments of their leads and upper managers.  However, each time I tried clicking on a manager in the ranks above me, I got an error saying they had no published commitments at this time.

So, with that said, I plan to blog about my commitments.

The difference is these commitments will be actionable and will be the subject of many future blog posts, as they will be revisited and revised over the coming months.  Hopefully, these will serve as a roadmap for the success of KitchenPC.

Get 1,000 Beta Users

There are two reasons for not making this “get as many users as I can.”  First, that goal wouldn’t be something I could be accountable for and measure success or failure against.  True, I don’t have a boss to “judge” my successes or failures, but I think a commitment has to be something you can deliver on and measure real-time progress against.  That way, one could see if they need to shift focus away from other things.  The other reason is that I actually like the number, and purposely don’t feel the need to go over this for the time being.  In other words, effort should be spent getting to this number but no further efforts need be spent going beyond this number.

The reason for this is having a small trial group of users is easy to work with and model statistics around.  These will be my original “early adopters” and be sufficient enough to collect meaningful data.  What features are popular?  Any big bugs that people just gripe non-stop about ? Did I totally screw up on the pantry idea?  How many people sign up and never come back?  How many recipes does the average user enter?  Blah blah blah.

I think attempting to “go viral” right after launch can lead to a colossal failure.  The number one rule of viral marketing is don’t do it unless you’re sure your product doesn’t suck!  If you’re wrong, then your product sucking will thus be the message transmitted virally.

Collect meaningful data on initial user behaviors

There’s a great video called Startup Metrics for Pirates that I encourage everyone to watch (it’s pretty short.)  It really does a good job focusing on what types of data you need to be able to extract from user behaviors to help define the success of your current strategy.  I plan on adopting some (if not all) of these strategies to help determine what I’m doing right and where I’m screwing up.  I’ve already started collecting some basic statistics on the site, but there’s a whole lot more that needs to be done.

I think the most important piece of data to collect will be what features are people using.  For example, from what I can tell so far the calendar feature is quite popular with my regular users.  This is awesome news because it means people actually want to meal plan!  In fact, this seems to be more popular than any other feature on the site.  The common use case, from what I can tell from my statistically insignificant set of users, is to dig up recipes and add them to your calendar.  The shopping list also seems to be quite popular.  On the other hand, people don’t seem to be using the pantry too much and I’ve still yet to see a single person add anything to their ingredient blacklist.  It’s these sorts of trends that allow me to know where to spend effort on, how to priority bugs, etc.

As originally predicted, pretty much no one is adding new recipes.  I’m sure this is the case with most every recipe site on the Internet, but I need to know if this is because people just don’t care or if people try to add recipes but the experience is so awful, they leave before they save anything.  This leads me to my next career objective.

Ask my top users what they think

I do have a mechanism in place to see who my regular users are, the ones that come back a few times a week at least.  What I’d love to do is simply send out an email to all of them asking them for feedback as my early adopters.  Maybe I can throw out some incentives as well to anyone who answers.  The first manifestation of this commitment (action item if you will, but I rarely pass up the opportunity to use the word “manifestation”) will probably come in the form of a survey.  It’ll probably be fairly well designed and targeted towards people I already know like the site and are regular users.  It will be geared around trying to figure out what I need to improve and let them voice their ideas.

I also am considering the idea of doing a more “pessimistic” survey that would be sent out to people who signed up and never came back, or logged in a few times and then left for good.  This survey would basically say, “Hey we noticed you created an account and checked out the site, but then never came back.  This means you had an initial expectation of what KitchenPC should be, however we did not meet that expectation.  We want to know why.”  In other words, if people found out about KitchenPC and said, “Hey this sounds worth checking out,” then it means I had the chance, at that time, to deliver a product they wanted and would use.  Or, in their mind existed a product they thought they used and KitchenPC was not that product.  Either way, they ended up deciding what I delivered was not valuable to them.  It’s also possible they just like checking out new sites regardless of what they are, but still the element of a lost opportunity still exists at whatever level.

The second  mani – err…  “action item” will be in the form of a collaborative effort that users can actively participate in.  This idea was one that I’ve had for a while, but was more solidified as a “Yes, I must do this” type of item after watching this video of one of the Dropbox founders outlining their path to success.  Dropbox implemented this idea in the form of a feature called “Votebox.”  The idea is that each user gets ten credits to “spend” on various feature ideas.  This allows them to vote on where they think my priorities should be aligned.  I want to go one step further and implement a system that allows people to come up with features and add as much detail as they wish, and allow other users to add ideas and “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” various aspects of the design.  I’m hoping some sort of platform already exists out there to build on, and I don’t have to implement such a thing completely from scratch.

I have tons of ideas already for the site, however trying to do everything would be impossible.  Plus, I might spend weeks on a feature and have it end up like the ingredient blacklist support which has thus far gone either undiscovered or just unused.  Suffice to say, I want customers to feel like they’re actively engaged in the future development of KitchenPC, and the product is designed around them.  This is another reason to keep my user base small for now, as *snicker* you don’t want too many cooks in the Kitchen[PC].

Iterate based on initial feedback, and then expand the user base

The thing that’s so tempting to do right now is open up Visual Studio, stay up late eating ice cream, and hack out completely badass new features.  I already have a bunch of these features already done, they’re just turned off for the beta because I don’t feel they’re ready.  However, until I really have a good grasp of the minimal viable product, I have to focus on really delivering a core set of super useful features that people will use on a daily or weekly basis.  I think right now, about 90% of my dev efforts need to be spent on solidifying existing features, fixing high priority bugs, and making modifications to how a feature works based on customer feedback and observations.

With that said, after I have 1,000 users and have “gotten to know them,” I think it will be time to iterate and launch the “next attempt” of KitchenPC.  This re-launch will be 100% aligned with what I’ve learned about my early adopters and really try to nail exactly what they’ve asked for.  At this point, I’m hoping these users will start telling their friends about the site and user growth may start to expand more exponentially.  At least that’s what I hope.  If that doesn’t happen, it’s basically more iterations until they does happen.  Or I die trying.

Find a business partner!

Though I haven’t really gone into great detail about the “team” behind KitchenPC, I think it’s been implied so far that I’m going at this alone.  The fact is, I actually did have a business partner at one point who was planning on taking over the business side of things while I worked on getting the initial prototype out the door.  It was having this partner that gave me the confidence to quit Microsoft and work on KitchenPC full time living off savings.  However, this partnership didn’t end up working out.  I won’t go into details about why, as I’m sure he has his side of the story and I have mine, however needless to say the compatibility didn’t exist between us and we realized we had to go our separate ways.

I think having a business partner or co-founder is pretty much a requirement these days.  You definitely need one if you want to get into any of those startup boot camps such as Y-Combinator or TechStars.  However, the fact is doing a startup is just too much work for one person.  I sort of buried this realization in the back of my mind as not to depress me while I was hard at work on the initial launch, looking at where I am today and how long the road will be ahead leads me to the realization that this is a journey I can’t make alone.  At least not for very much longer.

Now, where does one find a business partner?  I haven’t a clue!  I already checked eBay!  However, I think my top business priority on this very day is to find one, and find one that works with me.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what a good business partner would be.  Do I need to know him or her already, or is a stranger just as good?  Do they need to live here in Seattle?  Do they need to be able to work full time?  Will they work for equity alone?  Should they be a techie like me, or should I look for an experienced business person?

I think the best idea at this point is just to get out there and network.  Start going to events, talk to people, post ads on job boards, etc.  I’m also curious if the fact that I already have a product out on the market will be a good thing or bad thing.  It’s definitely a double-edged sword.  On one side, a potential business partner can look at the site.  They know what I can deliver on (since I did this whole thing myself) and where my skills are.  They know if they like the idea, if they like the site, and can see themselves becoming a part of it.  On the other hand, they might feel a partnership is more “fair” if two parties worked on it together from the ground up and had an equal split in the ownership.  I will go on the record now and say that demanding a majority share of the company isn’t a requirement for me, because I know that what I have now is just the tip of the ice burg compared to what still needs to happen.  However, someone who does want to get on board as an equal partner better be in a position to truly bring it :)

So how will I spend my days?

Well, lately I’ve been spending my days sleeping.  Most good coders are creatures of the night, as has become my preference while I’ve been in hard-core “coding mode” the last few months.  However, it’s vital I start shifting my sleep schedule back over soon.  What I’d like to do from here is spend weekends wearing the coder hat, fixing bugs, making site improvements, etc.  Then spend the weekdays prioritizing networking, going to entrepreneur groups, and meeting new people who I might be able to align with.  I’ll be making an appearance at CrowdPitch again this Thursday (No, I won’t be presenting – I wish!), so be sure to ping me if you’re interested in meeting up.  I’ll be sure to write my official write-up after (especially since the last write-up brought in a ton of new blog readers!)

Other than that, I encourage everyone to use the site, or at least help spread the word.  I think everyone knows at least one person who would use it, let’s get that person to signup and help generate some feedback on where the site should go.  That’s it for now!

 

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