Some stuff I found out whilst building the Teen Events beta.
LESSON 1. You’ll validate the idea before the first line of code is written
Do you need a working prototype to validate your idea? No. Before the first line of Teen Events code had been written, the site was generating pre-registrations and Twitter followers. And lots of them. We reached out to a large number of relevant influencers with an outline of the concept and some very rough design work – and not only was the feedback fast, it was overwhelmingly positive. I knew immediately that more time and money was worth investing. You can validate an idea in the form of a sign-up page, text, design work, sketches, a prototype or a pitch. But do it before anything else. Do it today!
LESSON 2. Building meaningful relationships is incredibly labour intensive
Once our concept started getting positive feedback from influencers, I wanted to empower them to raise awareness of the site. So we created the Teen Events 50 – a set of Twitter accounts tasked with testing, promoting and experiencing Teen Events first. These people did an incredible amount of work for us – acting as a digital street team and helping to increase our pre-registrations. But the leg work to make this happen was significant. 12 mailers, 100s of emails and their replies, 1000s of tweets, all to build *meaningful* relationships. It takes lots of work to build meaningful relationships with the right people, but it’s worth it.
LESSON 3. Design and UX doesn’t matter
Actually it does. It really matters. But not necessarily in an MVP. If you clearly set user expectations to low, but your product still answers their need, then most beta users will forgive a multitude of design, UX and functional sins. But if the expectations set include improving rapidly (‘sorry it looks so shoddy, we’re working on it’) then you’re going to need to do it. Users don’t know what they don’t see. On Teen Events the account confirmation page is not even styled. The mailer (double) opt in rate on this page is 35%+ – it does its job well, and it didn’t take any more of my budget to create.
LESSON 4. There’s going to be late nights and lots of them
User event listing. Related content uploading. An invite system. All time-saving automated processes that I wanted built, but decided not to pay for. Instead these things happen through a manual interaction or process… by me. I call these late nights. For example, manually listing and communicating with 500 invitees (beta users) in the site’s admin area and over email, took a good 20 hours of work; but developing an automated invite system would’ve cost money. And that’s money I didn’t want (or have) to spend.
LESSON 5. Do it all crappily rather than some of it well
If your MVP has enough functionality to give a sense of the whole product experience, your idea’s essence, you’ve done your job. With limited development resource, I focused on having some aspect of event discovery, following and alerting [the complete Teen Events experience] rather than having one aspect built comprehensively. That’s not to say you should do lots of things shoddily, but you need to ensure that your MVP creates a good sense of the complete value proposition for the user – connect the dots and create the ohhhhh moments.
LESSON 6. Use good tools
Trello is great for listing user stories and bugs, SendGrid is great for sending emails on behalf of your app, Google Analytics takes seconds to install, Mailchimp has beautiful templates, Notable is great for snappy front end and design feedback. All of them are free.
LESSON 7. Make decisions quickly and just get the bloody thing out there
Time is your most limited resource. Value it (or the lack of it) over everything else. Make decisions quickly and remove yourself from productivity black holes by doing… something, anything. *Everything* is easier when your product exists. People ‘get it’ (or not) instantly, you get feedback and insights from analytics, and you separate yourself from everyone else with an idea but nothing to show for it. Launch when you’re still embarrassed and you won’t have launched too late.
And that’s when things get fun.
The Teen Events MVP was built by Howie