Last week I shared our story so far and the unbelievable growth in subscribers and downloads of the PDF canvas. Here is more on our startup journey for the week of 16th/March/2015.
We’ve be working on making a usable and beautiful app
We’ve had the basic working app for a couple of weeks – by working I mean it does the basic editing functionality you would expect…in the gulag.
The printable Canvas was designed to be simple and deliberately monochromatic. In print, a lot of colour would be counter productive.
But in the desktop and mobile world the greater interaction and dynamic content could really rock with the right use of colour.
So where are we at with the app? Well we think we can open it to private beta in the next 10 days – around the 30th of March – with a beautiful experience and some essential basic features like:
- Creating new canvases
- Auto-saving a canvas as you edit
- Downloading a canvas as a PDF
- Managing your canvases
- Sharing by email
- Basic calendaring
Although we have not built a native mobile app, we have taken great care to make the experience pretty sweet on tablet (think iPad) screen sizes.
Invites to the private beta will be going out this week. Ping us if you would like to join it.
We’ve also been working on growth
With just the two of us, we need to work extra smart to pick the right experiments to conduct. Early on we had really focused on LinkedIn – after all it is the world’s largest professional network. Perhaps it was timing or what we did, unfortunately our Return on Hacks (RoH) was pretty poor on LinkedIn. Even contacts on my network were quite unresponsive to friendly ‘please check out my cool canvas’ emails.
However the data we are getting from the TNW and follow on exposure is telling us we should explore “getting press” a bit more deeply. In addition, we’re applying the Bullseye Framework from the best-selling Traction book, which everyone has been recommending. It’s powerfully simple and straightforward, I’m sure we’ll benefit a lot from it.
So that’s what we are doing for the next couple of weeks – doing research and experiments into getting more press exposure, and narrowing down our marketing strategy. Wish us luck!
We hired a designer
Using basic Rails scaffolding and jQuery, I got the main app site up and running – but it was pretty nasty looking. Well, not so much nasty as much as just plain and uninspired.
My trouble is I know good and beautiful design, I just can’t do it. So off I went to my most trusted of freelancer sites – oDesk.
I love oDesk because it has such a huge population of really good people. It offers a platform for digital nomads and other talented people to make a decent living wherever they live in the world. You can find pretty much any kind of digital professional on oDesk for almost any price range.
All of the previous people I have worked with from oDesk have gone on to become really good friends too and I’m confident the designer I found will also become a great friend and collaborator.
Ana Flasker is a wonderful designer I found on oDesk. She loves photography, travel and has such a wonderful eye for simple beautiful things. At our first Skype call she was really thoughtful and asked great questions. And OMG – she turns stuff around PDQ!
She is freelancing right now and if you are looking for an amazing designer with mad skills – please check her out at anaflasker.com.
We exploded Trello
Violeta did an amazing job holding the fort last week whilst I was working with clients and keynoting a conference and it must have unlocked a hidden chamber of ideas because our Trello board is bursting with ideas for growth hacks, people we have to follow up with, candidates for a blog series featuring our users and a whole host of other things.
As a result we had to reorganize our Trello board into its own organization and created a few other boards to help us stay organized on the bits that matter.
We tried to hire a developer
So last week I was focused on trying to hire a designer – not just for the app – but to help us incorporate some design thinking into other things we create. I’m confident that Ana can do that with us.
I also tried to hire a Rails developer. So, onto oDesk again, I found a guy in Poland. This suited me because for the next few weeks I will be visiting Krakow in Poland pretty regularly on other business. I thought it would be a great opportunity to improve collaboration with the developer.
When it comes to hiring developers, I’m pretty easy. I offer a paid mini-contract of no more than 3 hours. For the first hour, I pair program with the candidate on a few stories of a small app of my choosing. This is to experience firsthand their collaboration skills, how they approach a problem and their general craftsmanship. Are they messy? Do they create more tech debt than is healthy , are they naturally efficient – that sort of thing. Then they spent 90 minutes on their own working on as many of the other stories in the sample app as they can. We then meet again for the last 30 minutes, they demo what they have and talk me through the design of what they built.
Based on this paid trial, I decide whether I want to do more work with the candidate.
Unfortunately as I got to the point of explaining this evaluation approach to the candidate, he asked ‘you mean pair program with me?’ and when I responded ‘Yes’, he suddenly went offline on Skype and I haven’t seen him since.
I think I dodged a bullet on that one. However, the search continues.
5 things we learned this week
- The world loves openness – we are getting so much love in the various communities we are in by just being open. Sharing what we are trying to do and being astounded at the willingness of people to help.
- You can spread yourself too thin – between client work, keynoting, travel and family, there was very little of Mike left to spend on our startup.
- We need to invest in translation into Mandarin – thanks to some lovely coverage in Manager Today, we got a few thousand downloads from Taiwan and Mainland China. We want all our subscribers to be super-comfortable with the language on the Canvas – so we need to invest in translating both the Canvas, the app and the site. Volunteers welcome!
- Conducting small experiments is the way to go – we’ve been focusing on two channels too heavily while we should have explored more growth channels in parallel. But it’s never too late to start now.
- Keep your friends close – Violeta has been telling me that her heavy participation in communities and social networks has helped her with a few things, like for example, looking for easy solutions or finding the right people to ask for particular things. She’s super grateful for them and I am for her. It all works.
Until next week, keep on keeping on.