Another Milestone Moment

This week we had our 6th release of Grouvia Beta.  This release marked another major milestone for us – all the 1.0 features are implemented.

That’s not to say they are all implemented perfectly, or even completely.  We still have some missing pieces and a few hundred bugs.

But I’m just sayin’…

For the next two and a half weeks we have to focus very clearly on launching http://www.  This means we will…

  1. FIX BUGS.
  2. Work on the SEO strategy.
  3. Fix more bugs.
  4. Post as many free ads and links as possible.
  5. Test bug fixes.
  6. Improve the site’s marketing copy and landing pages.
  7. Fix more bugs.
  8. Convert the static  marketing pages to Drupal content.
  9. Fix… etc.
  10. Build demos and how-to articles.
  11. LAUNCH.

I’m torn between having one more bug fix release to beta before the production launch.  But honestly I just want this thing in production.

I mean, Facebook has tons of bugs, and people keep using it!

I’m really excited.  We’re turning a corner.  And getting to the next phase is always fun.

* * *

Do you enjoy reading these posts?  Subscribe to the RSS feed of The Making of Grouvia.

You can become a member of Grouvia and create your own group in 5 minutes or less.  Join the beta site at http://beta.grouvia.com.

Advertisements

Beta Success!

Last week we launched the new beta site for Grouvia.com.

It was a thrill and a relief. This is a major milestone for Grouvia and it was only a month late.

There are 170 bugs in the application right now.  And that’s down from about 400 a month ago, so it’s actually not as bad as it sounds.  Only 19 of them are considered “major” and that’s just my personal assessment of their severity.  The vast majority of them are typos, layout issues, alignment problems, and missing “nice to have” features.

So if you haven’t looked at grouvia lately (or at all), please go take a look.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I have made one huge sacrifice in the past month about which I am more than a little concerned.  I have completely let our marketing efforts go.  I have barely eked out these blog posts, and have done no posts to the Grouvia Groove blog.  I have stopped reading/commenting on other blogs, I have stopped reading/commenting on LinkedIn discussions, I have stopped all tweeting.  Basically the Grouvia marketing efforts are now in disaster mode.

I’m not sure if I have made the right choices, but I do feel that the quality of Grouvia was too important to let slip.  So I have spent the last month testing, documenting bugs, retesting fixes, and doing my own light coding of the user interface.  I think these efforts have paid off, because Grouvia looks a thousand times better than it did last month, but at what cost I am not sure.  I may not know for a while, if ever, what price Grouvia will pay for this.

I still have some cleanup work to do over the weekend, and then I can leave the developers alone for a while so they can implement the rest of the missing features.  They believe we can have the entire project wrapped up by the end of January.  I am cautiously optimistic but I’m not holding my breath.  There have been too many disappointments on this project so far to believe that sunny days will always shine on us.

But today it’s sunny, and I intend to enjoy it.

Development Issues Delay Launch

I hate to say it but we missed our first launch deadline and won’t be launching for a couple more weeks.

The issue has been development but – as much as I would like to – I can’t place 100% blame on the developers.

Grouvia has a lot of bugs and I refuse to launch a sub-part product. I know I only get one chance with my target audience and the level of quality I want just isn’t there yet.

Grouvia has a lot of bugs and the developers haven’t been able to fix them.  They’ll say it’s fixed, we retest… and it’s not fixed.  Worse, we retest these elusive bug fixes and we find more bugs.

Granted, the vast majority of the bugs are minor.  The major bugs have been fixed, or fixed to the point where the remaining issue is tolerable enough to be downgraded.

But there are still too many bugs for us to launch.

I’ve concluded that the best explanation for the development problems are communications issues compounded by language.  I do believe these developers have the experience and skills to do the work.  However, many things point to communication issues as the main reason we are having the problems we’re having…

  • Often the implementation of a particular feature does not meet the requirements.  Actually it’s not often, it’s usually.
  • Details are missed.  A feature will be implemented but the nuances and logic details aren’t there.  For example, the private events were implemented without any way to invite participants.  It was in the requirements, but they didn’t put it in.  Details are not just nice-to-have.
  • The developers make assumptions instead of asking questions.  If they don’t fully understand something, they will make their own decision about how something should work, instead of asking for clarification.
  • The technology is driving the features.  If the developer finds that the technology does not support the feature properly, he will change the feature to match the technology.  For example, the messaging feature was changed to match the abilities of the standard Drupal messaging module. This isn’t what we wanted.

I know that many developers work like this.  I have been in this field long enough to have seen this before, lots of times.  But I’ve always been in a corporate environment where I can call a 2-day-long meeting in a conference room somewhere with American-English speaking developers, analysts, testers, and team leaders and hash out the details.

I don’t have that luxury now.  These developers are halfway across the world and our meetings take place over an unreliable Skype connection at 7:00 in the morning.  We have a daily 2-hour window to work together, sometimes a little more if they agree to work late or if I can get up earlier.

But I’m also paying about a third (maybe less?) of what I would have paid for an American company to do the project.  You get what you pay for.  I knew that going in.

Delaying the Beta launch was disappointing but it was the right thing to do and I know we will have a better product because of the delay. I’ll keep you posted.

* * *

Do you enjoy reading these posts? Why not sign-up to receive Grouvia’s e-newsletter? You’ll get the latest news delivered to your inbox and you can participate in the Grouvia development process. It’s free. Sign up at www.grouvia.com.

Countdown to Public Exposure

Next Tuesday is the public beta launch of Grouvia 1.0, and the anxiety is building in a big way.

Development is behind, and I am pushing them really hard.  I made the decision to descope some of the features temporarily, because I really want to make this date.  What that means is that the “official” beta launch will still be November 17th, but we will follow it with a 2nd beta release a few weeks later to implement the final features.

I’m concerned about bugs.  They’re bad.  They’re everywhere.  They’re multiplying.  I hate bugs.  Where the hell is my flyswatter?

No seriously.  There are a LOT of bugs.  The new project manager (oh, did I mention that my development team got a new project manager this week?  sheesh, what bad timing.) has assured me that all the major bugs will be fixed by Friday.

Now that would be a miracle.

I’m also getting my hands into the code now.  I am a stickler for things that look nice and organized and line up properly and are symmetrical.  So every day after the developers leave for the day (mid-morning here on the East coast) I go into the code and start fixing things.  I fix images, line up form fields, and correct unbalanced drop shadows.  I test things and put in bug reports for stuff I can’t fix.  I correct typos and fix paragraph alignments and line spacing.  It’s tedious and it’s fun.

It helps my stress level.

On a more positive note, I have two groups who are literally waiting for Grouvia to come out so they can get their sites up.  One is a small local girl scout troop and the other is my weekly networking group.  Actually the latter is one I’m pushing to happen, and I’ll be giving the group a demo of it a few weeks after launch.

Still… I’m just sayin’.

* * *

Do you enjoy reading these posts? Why not sign-up to receive Grouvia’s e-newsletter? You’ll get the latest news delivered to your inbox and you can participate in the Grouvia development process. It’s free. Sign up at www.grouvia.com.

Same as Markus, Only Better

About a year ago I read an article about a man from Vancouver named Markus Frind.  Chances are you’ve heard of him.

His story struck a major chord with me that I will never forget.  Markus is one of the reasons I am doing what I am doing today.

To be fair, there are many entrepreneurs and marketing geniuses who have inspired me, but Markus’s story is unique in terms of what I got from it.

Markus Frind created a dating web site called plentyoffish.com.

Apparently he was a jobless slacker and decided to learn ASP to help get a job.  To learn ASP he needed a project to work on, so he created plentyoffish.com.  In three weeks.  All by himself.

He thought it was good so he published it, and as he tells it, the money pretty much started rolling in.  (I’m skipping over all sorts of details here, but keep in mind I read this a year ago and this is how I remember it.)

But the thing I remember most was something Markus said that gave me some insight into the way his arrogant mind works.  After the site had been up and running for a while, his customers started complaining about the site’s functionality.  They said it was ugly, the photos were distorted, and they wanted new features.

So, while Markus romped around with his girlfriend, raking in the dough and working only an hour a day, he completely ignored his users.

The most interesting point here is that he was doing it on purpose.  He had no intention of changing the site, fixing the distorted photos, or adding new features.

His reasoning?  The site was making him lots of money so why change it and possibly put that at risk.  In other words, his income was more important than his stupid users.

O.   M.   G.

I am almost embarrassed to say that I was inspired by his ability to jump into something new, build it by himself, publish it, market it, and manage its growth.  However, I utterly detest his complete disregard for quality at the expense of his customers.  It makes the hairs of my professional ethics stand up on end.

Yet here I am a year later, still thinking about Markus Frind.  Now I’m even talking about him.

The point of this post is that sometimes you get your inspiration from the most unlikely places.  Take it from wherever you can get it, and then take massive action and do what you think is right.

* * *

Do you enjoy reading these posts? Why not sign-up to receive Grouvia’s e-newsletter? You’ll get the latest news delivered to your inbox and you can participate in the Grouvia development process. It’s free. Sign up at www.grouvia.com.

Alpha Testing, One Week Later

The first Alpha release of Grouvia.com was launched one week ago today.

It’s not a huge surprise that out of all the people who said they would help test the site, only three actually logged in to the site. One person spent a good amount of time and sent us back some great results. The other two spent a minimal amount of time and sent us no feedback at all.

Disappointing yes, surprising no.

It’s early and there’s not a lot to see right now, so I’m not discouraged. We are doing our own internal testing and the developers are working hard to address the issues we bring up. We ultimately decided to rewrite the entire messaging module because the Drupal module had a queer, confusing interface and did not do everything we wanted it to do. So was modified to the point where it is no longer part of the core framework. Oh well.

My most important Aha moment this week for me was this: the decision to come out with a “pre-alpha” release was both a great idea and a terrible idea.

WHY IT WAS A GREAT IDEA
It was a great idea because it forced us to deal with some very difficult development issues early on instead of waiting until 3/4ths of the code was done. We learned from our mistakes, adjusted some things, and now we go forward with new understanding and purpose.

WHY IT WAS A TERRIBLE IDEA
It was a terrible idea from a publicity perspective because we spent a lot of time and effort pushing for signups, crafting and sending announcements, coming up with test scripts, and biting our nail on edge about what people would think. It was like throwing a party and having only two people show up. I’m not sure what I learned from this exercise… maybe a slightly better understanding of human nature and perhaps also a more realistic set of expectations. Every disappointment should be a lesson.

At any rate, at this point I think we have identified all of the issues that we’re going to and we need to move on to the next phase. It was a tough week with a lot of back and forth with the development team, and I’m ready to move on. Alpha 2 is scheduled for a 10/23 release and that will have all the group features. This is exciting because it means we can start forming real groups and having real members. It will be a giant leap forward.

Next week I’ll tell you about my new Filipino VAs.

* * *

Do you enjoy reading these posts? Why not sign-up to receive Grouvia’s e-newsletter? You’ll get the latest news delivered to your inbox and you can participate in the Grouvia development process. It’s free. Sign up at www.grouvia.com.

Grouvia Alpha 1 Is Here!

I’m so excited, today is the launch of the first release of Grouvia.com. My small team and I have been working on this site for seven months now, and I am thrilled that this day has come at last. This is the first step in what I’m certain will be a long and successful series of great releases for Grouvia.com.

The past several months have seen many long days, sleepless nights, and seven-day workweeks. The Internet changes at lightning speed and for an Internet application such as Grouvia to succeed we have to keep up the pace. Working on a tight budget has not hampered us, it has honed our efforts to almost razor sharp precision. Our focus is tight and our tactics are relentless.

The Social Media PR campaign is starting to show some great results, as Grouvia is seen more and more in the online universe. Thank you to Grouvia’s amazing PR man, Karl Schmieder at MessagingLab, who has also become my friend and marketing mentor.

The developers have done a nice job of implementing Grouvia’s preliminary set of features. And it’s no surprise because they have a very thorough and clear set of requirements to work with, thanks to the incredible talents of Regina Rubeo, an IT consultant and great friend who has tenaciously stuck with me through the ups and downs of the last six months. Regina, I could not have made it this far without you and I am oh so grateful for your help and strong shoulders.

Dad, Mom, Brenda, Karamjit, Deepak, Tajinder, Vishal, David, Vicki, Pie, Johnny, Patty, thank you all for the various roles you’ve played in making this day happen, whether that was offering time, understanding, support, friendship, great work, or helping to spread the word.

And while I’m at it I might as well thank David Meerman Scott, Norm Brodsky, Joel Spolsky, Timothy Ferriss, Guy Kawasaki, Robert Kiyosaki, Jacob Nielsen, Steve Krug, Michael Gerber, Dan Kennedy, and Markus Frind for sharing your knowledge and stories in the form of books, blogs, articles, and even personal assistance in some cases. The knowledge I have gained from these materials has been incredible.

And most important of all — I have to thank my loving husband Gus, who has supported me like a rock through it all. You’re the best, baby.

See you all next week!

[BTW, if you haven’t signed up to be on Grouvia’s mailing list, you should do that now :-).]