On Being Pushy

A couple weeks ago I gave a presentation to one of my networking groups, to help educate them on what Grouvia is all about.  The purpose of belonging to this group is to expand my salesforce, so it’s important that these people recognize an opportunity for me when it comes their way.  In order for them to do that, they need to understand what problems Grouvia solves.

I haven’t been getting much in the way of referrals from this group, so I really worked hard to come up with some compelling content to present, and at the end of the presentation I gave them a 10-minute homework assignment.  I provided explicit and easy instructions on how to sign up for Grouvia, create a group, and add two small pieces of content.

Guess how many people got all the way through my step-by-step 10-minute assignment?  Go ahead, guess.

TWO.  Pretty pathetic, right?  Out of 25 people, I think about five people actually bothered to give it a try.  Three gave up without ever asking me a single question.  One of the people who completed the task is my business partner.  The other person who did it is the secretary of the group.  So here’s my public thank you to Betsy and Tom for showing some spunk and commitment.

I have come to the conclusion that people will not do *anything* unless you push them.  And I mean really push hard.  I think in my case it’s because people are afraid of new things, web applications in particular.

Many of the people in my audience are not best friends with the http://www.  I would be willing to forgive those people.  But I’m talking about the ones who DO have Facebook accounts and Blackberries.  This should be easy for them.

Why do they resist?

Have they been fed so many bad complicated ugly web applications over the past 9 years that they expect everything new to be bad, complicated, and ugly?  There are many new Web 2.0 apps out there that are outstanding.  The problem is they are not ubiquitous.  The vast majority of web sites still suck.  But when the tides turn, and people start having confidence in the web again, Grouvia will be right there waiting.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ready or Not, Here I Come

I don’t think I can beat the list of last week’s accomplishments so I won’t even try (but being the type-A entrepreneur that I am, I know I will soon enough).

I worked all Labor Day weekend finishing up the requirements so I could deliver them to the development team, which I did on Monday night. The document is 188 pages long and I’m sure it will take them a couple of days to absorb it all. In the meantime we’re working hard to design mockups to illustrate some of Grouvia’s more complicated features.

We’re continuing to get signups on the Grouvia site, even though I paused the AdWords campaign over the Labor Day weekend. I’m not sure where they’re coming from, but the signups continue to trickle in, at a rate of 1 or 2 a day.

Getting the word out about Grouvia is proving to be a challenge. I Facebook and Twitter every day, I comment on other blogs, I go to networking groups, I keep up with the LinkedIn discussions, I blog twice a week, I do the Google AdWords thing, we got some good media coverage, but the signups are a slow trickle.

I know you’re out there, future Grouvia users! How do I reach you???

The urgent goal now is to get an early alpha release up and running ASAP, get people to start playing with it, then solicit feedback. I’m not sure I agree with my developers’ prioritized list of deliverables; I know they want to do it the way that is most efficient from a system design and coding perspective, but I have to look at the business side.

For example, to me it makes the most sense to approach it like this:

  1. Start with as many of the member features as possible (early alpha),
  2. Build the group site features (alpha),
  3. Add events and group management features (beta).

We can do the mobile device support, advertising, and Grouvia Admin CMS stuff right the end, right before the 1.0 launch. What do you think?

The test is: Can we get that first iteration out by the end of this month? I hope so, and I may need to negotiate with them to get what I want.

I can be very tenacious when I want something… just ask my Mother. But I do think this approach makes the most sense from a business perspective.

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Why do we think people know this stuff?

I’m overwhelmed right now trying to get the public site up and running so I can use my Google AdWords promotional credit by the end of the month. As a bootstrapper I can’t afford to miss out on $250 worth of free advertising can I ??? Hell, no!

Anyway, here’s my very brief post for this week…

I saw this incredible video the other day on the grokdotcom web site (love those guys).

http://www.grokdotcom.com/2009/08/07/im-not-an-idiot-but-i-play-one-on-online-and-so-should-you/

Watch it and be amazed. Then come back here and read the rest.

Did you watch it yet? Ok.

This was a real eye-opener for me. I thought I had a pretty good sense of what people generally do and don’t know about browsing the web, but this was just astonishing. I get that most people don’t pay attention to the details of HOW it works, just that it gets them what they need. Kind of like driving a car. I don’t particularly care HOW it works, but I do care that it gets me from Point A to Point B. But I know what a “dashboard” is and I know what a “steering wheel” is and I know what the “rearview mirrors” are. I mean, c’mon this is everyday stuff that everyone knows… right? Right?!?!

Essentially this just hammers home the fact that our strategy of keeping things very simple is ultra important. From the beginning we have been very careful to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible while still offering a feature-rich experience. We must be diligent to make sure nothing slips through the cracks here. It can be very tempting when developing software to let “feature creep” (aka “scope creep”) run amok.

Okay, sorry for the quickie, but I have to get back to the grind. BTW, I have received a few proposals from my RFP and they look encouraging. I look forward to sharing some results with you next week. Until then!

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