This is a guest post by Maciej Krupowies, co-founder of one of the newest teams to join Seedcamp, Gaming Live. Maciej shares his take-aways from the Seedcamp Academy Onboarding session on product led by Shawn Zvinis. Seedcamp first met Shawn in 2012 in the basement of Google Campus where he was testing out his prototype and building his startup, Tab. Shortly thereafter, Shawn and the Tab team joined the Seedcamp family with big ambitions and a loyal and loving customer base. But the nut just couldn’t quite be cracked, and several months and many learnings later, Tab shutdown. Parlaying his skills and learnings into a different startup tackling payments, Shawn now looks after product at Yoyo.
Good product is sometimes not enough to succeed; however, a good product is a core element of everything you do.
This is something we learned during Seedcamp’s onboarding week at Google Campus London. Shawn Zvinis led us through his experience at Tab and the beginnings of Yoyo: he shared with us his knowledge of building a startup and product management. Shawn has also been a part of Seedcamp not so long ago and it was inspiring to learn about a success story coming from one of the program’s previous participants.
Yoyo is a marketing platform for modern retailers powered by mobile payments which has recently acquired $5M in funding. We were all interested in learning more not only from someone who, obviously, did things right, but from someone who had to shut down his previous startup. We do not learn from experiences, we learn from reflecting on them.
There are a few key points we learned that I would like to point out.
1. Developing an MVP
The vision of Minimum Viable Product is changing and is very often set individually in accordance to the product and its market. Although the methodology is just few years old, its concepts, “MVP” and “pivoting”, have quickly taken root in the startup world and business schools or accelerators have already begun adapting their curricula to teach entrepreneurs how to optimize the risks, and adapt to dynamically changing environment based on things like user behavior and user engagement.
Developing an MVP means learning, improving and gathering the maximum amount of conclusions for the future strategy and value which solves real problems.
2. Make high-level product roadmap to avoid over-planning
Some companies never really pay much attention to it — our roadmap consisted of a huge bug list and new features that were continuously integrated based on our development schedule. The list was actually growing day by day and we simply over-planned the job. We wanted to put as many features in as short time as we could.
Our roadmap literally started to look like a Star Wars Universe. Thanks to the intense and useful workshops, and a few suggestions from Seedcamp Partners, we have decided to change the way we roll out our product as well as our core story and brand positioning. We immediately understood that over-planning means being over-ambitious, and being over-ambitious may often cause death of your project.
3. Start with the best customer experience even if it can’t be done.
We have adopted the thought that the potential success is not only based on delivering, but also making a promise, especially during the pre-launch stage. So instead of asking, “How can I get traction?,” one should focus on solving people’s problems or providing them with an awesome experience once they start using one’s product.
“Write user stories as if they were perishable food items” — that’s the sentence I remembered from the workshops with Shawn. When you launch, provide at least the same amount of features your competitor offer or provide your users with only one feature, but it has to be a killer.
We understood that the way we approach people and potential customers is as important as a good product. We stopped being “Live-streaming platform for games and eSports” and became “an arena for gamers, where we capture the pure passion of people who live out their dreams playing video games and showcasing the best content for the world of eSports”.
4. Build minimum-viable features to test the waters and then kill them
Implement features which will show early adopters the path you want to follow and test it. If you are not sure of implementing a feature, put it on the website even if you have to add a sentence saying “This feature is not available yet.” You can easily add tracking code to button or a section on your website and see if people engage with the information.
This way, you will save some of development resources which are very important at the early stage of your product life cycle. The sooner you launch your product, the sooner you start learning and getting traction — it’s better when mistakes dont cost too much.
5. Don’t plan too far ahead
In addition to the previous point — you do not know what to expect from the future and therefore should not plan more than you need for your pre-launch phase. It is better to validate a few things first and not to lose time on features which will become just a waste of time. You do not know what kind of bugs you will have to deal with or what will be the user-behavior; expectations are not always met. Your product strategy may need to adapt and change based on the market situation.
When you are testing your product, make sure that you check at which point users leave. They often drop out at certain levels: e.g. registration or providing credit card details. Rather than knowing that some users are no longer using your product, it is good to know why they don’t do it. If 90% of people leave during providing credit card details step, it means that they are not willing to use the product that way. Watch users’ behavior closely and improve the top of the funnel first.
“In a startup, you very often need to have a designer, developer, manager, marketer, analyst, recruiter, customer support agent and janitor. These are the tasks needed to deliver the best product and in most cases, in a startup, you are responsible for all these roles.” Shawn said that at the end of his presentation and I believe that we, entrepreneurs, are the ones who will understand his words best.
For more on product from Shawn, check out his post here.
Image courtesy of The Road Ahead by mkrigsman, on Flickr.