Things at Amazemeet are certainly about to change as we embark on a new beginning. The next few weeks will see us launch a new brand, a new dashboard and a host of new features.
So let’s start by saying we love new beginnings. No we’re not pivoting to a haggis street food offer. We’re levelling up Amazemeet and in light of the new features we’re launching, including our AI meeting facilitator, we’re updating our brand and the entire look and feel of the platform.
Why I hear you say? We’ll since launch Amazemeet has amassed tens of thousands of users around the world, but that’s just a drop in the ocean. We’re laser focussed on changing meeting culture across the business world and to do this we need a tool that really makes better meetings a reality. Oh and we wanted a new logo 😉
What drives our brand?
The beating heart of Amazemeet is about helping people do things better. We know that all the time wasted in bad meetings could be put to much better use, whether that’s getting work done or spending more time with family. Money, profit time and mostly importantly well-being all take a hit in our bad meeting culture and sadly that’s a universal challenge virtually all businesses need to solve and we want to help.
Since the first meeting canvas concept was created by Amazemeet founder Mike Sutton the company has been on it’s mission to solve the problem with meetings. It’s one of the biggest problems businesses face but it’s often overlooked and even more often misunderstood. We love the new wrapper we’ve created for our product but it’s what’s really under the hood that will define us. A vastly improved dashboard and a host of connectivity options ensure your entire meeting can take place within the platform. This is hugely important as it ensure the meeting AI really comes into it’s own helping the meeting organiser start run and end the meeting process assisting along the way.
Share your thoughts with us on the new brand, tweet below and add your comments.
Over the coming weeks we’ll gradually be introducing the new features and switching users over to the new platform. You’ll instantly be able to start using the new features including the meeting facilitator.
We believe this will be the key driver to having better meetings. The facilitator is like having a PA, secretary and meeting note taker all in one. The facilitator is there to invite users, chase contribution, keep meetings on track and make sure tasks are followed up. It’s super useful and something we know our users will love to use.
We’ll also be going live with a whole host of new onboarding videos, live presentations and Q&A sessions to help you get the most from Amazemeet. Did we mention a new logo and colour scheme, purple rules!!
Wherever there’s a bad meeting Amazemeet will be there to fix it.
All that’s left to say
Well if it’s not obvious we’re super excited about version 3 of Amazemeet. But more than that we hope this is the next step for all of us to fix meeting culture.
It would be really easy for us to just throw around comments like #BetterMeetings, after all you’ll see it on all our social. But why? Firstly it perfectly encapsulates the mission at Amazemeet, we want to help people have better meetings. By doing that we know we’ll help them save time, money and improve their wellbeing but it’s more than that. Secondly is what we should all be aspiring too because meeting culture is frankly broken.
The crazy meeting juxtaposition
It’s universally accepted that most meetings lack focus, are unproductive and do little to motivate the participants. In fact it’s almost impossible to find any study that argues the opposite, however our business culture continues to increase the amount of meetings we have. If your unsure about how much of a problem this reallis then check out our post “The Hidden Cost of Crappy Meetings“. It seems more and more this is on the agenda, certainly if the amount of new blog posts is any indication. Hopefully our current predicament of lockdown induced limbo will bring the issue into sharper focus.
Should we stop meeting altogether?
Let’s get one thing straight, we do need to have meetings. It’s just that we have far to many and the ones we have tend to be pretty unproductive on the whole. #BetterMeetings isn’t about no meetings. In fact it’s squarely centred on a quality over quantity message. We’ve built Amazemeet to focus heavily on meeting efficiency, ensuring when we do meet it’s productive. Amazemeet focuses in on supporting what makes a meeting run well:
Ensuring the agenda is thought out and the people invited will contribute
Managing the meeting, time allocation and ensuring everyone gets a voice
Keeping track of follow-up and assigning tasks accordingly
What will #BetterMeetings mean?
To put this into context executives, when surveyed, think that roughly 70% of their meetings are unproductive, read a waste of time. They also suggest that they spend anywhere up to 50% of their time in meetings. So a bit of simple maths that roughly a third of the time they spend at work is a waste of time and unproductive and meetings are the main culprit.
Rather than write a nice list of things you could do with that time. Just ponder that for a minute. What would you do if you suddenly had a third of your working week back?
Are #BetterMeetings realistic?
We think so. That’s why we created Amazemeet and we’ve got 10,000 plus users who agree. But, to really change a culture something big has to happen. Much like the world is now coming to terms with flexible working and major corporations are starting to question the need for expensive office, that currently remain empty, we think a big change is on the horizon. Like most things is nearly always about the money. Smart organisations are starting to realise that this is a key area to boost productivity and stop wasting huge piles of cash. That’s the kind of motivation that really affects change.
The road to better meetings is simple, click below.
When I first started thinking about a best and worst of working from home post I thought about a roundup of what’s good and a name and shame. So i’ve written the exact opposite!
Let’s face it a guide on best and worst of working from home isn’t really an Amazemeet blog, we can do better than that so I thought I’d share my personal experience of working from home on Amazemeet during lockdown.
Ok so confession time. I work from home 4 days a week and have done for some time. Amazemeet are a distributed company with team members all over the world helping people have better meetings. so we are used to it. But this time has been very different. Like most humans we invariably don’t like to be forced to do things and I am certainly no exception. And of course we do have Amazemeet for meetings and communication, in fact we’ve used real meetings for our internal testing of v3 for sometime, more on that later.
Like most people working from home presents an opportunity for a much better work-life balance but to get that you need to be organised. A desk space, away from distractions, coffee, technology are all important factors as is keeping a schedule. It’s been amazing to spend more time with family, my daughters been off school, and connecting with so many people. As a team I think we’ve come much closer together and really aligned around our goals, not that we weren’t before. As you’ll have read previously though in our blog launching a new product in lockdown we haven’t had the luxury of sitting back and having some nice conversations with long lost friends. Although the odd one has taken place! The focus we’ve had though will be coming to life for everyone in the next few weeks as we launch v3.
Like a lot of people I’ve embarked on a few things I wouldn’t normally do. I now have a love of constructing cardboard structures and my daughter and I are seriously thinking about turning pro when it comes to lego builds. That’s been awesome.
Where to start. Virgin media’s intermittent internet has been a real pain, Vodafone haven’t been great either, minor inconveniences I know but especially painful when you’re trying to work. Above the practical side not having the freedoms we take for granted has been a real grind. It’s very true that you don’t miss something until it’s gone but I count my self lucky to be able to go where I want and do pretty much what I want and when. Lockdown took that all away and whilst I was 100% supportive it still pains that these things aren’t available.
I’ve also had to see many businesses and people I know really struggle. Myself and the team are lucky in that respect as we’ve found ourselves in a business and sector that somewhat thrived with the world working from the kitchen table. Others haven’t faired so well. Many friends in the entertainment sector have had businesses close and dreams evaporate over the last three months. That’s hard to watch, especially when you can’t do much to help.
What I’ll take from this.
I think number one is never to take anything for granted. Six months ago we all merrily went along in our world we felt so secure. Fast forward to now and a construct that once seemed solid fell apart with alarming speed. Companies supposedly making healthy profits went bust in weeks, panic buying, food shortages. It’s funny how it all fell apart, perhaps that fragility is telling us something? I’ve also learnt more about my colleagues, we all get each other better. That’s been a happy byproduct of the lines between work and personal life blurring. If I had one wish it would be for company to continue to be accommodating and embrace this even when things are back to normal.
Amazemeet v3 is nearly here, sign-up now for launch offers.
Launching a new product during lockdown wasn’t in our original plan, but hey sh*t happens.
As you probably expect launching a new product during lockdown wasn’t a milestone we figured at the end of last year. Funny how things can change, not just for us but for the whole world. Back in January the picture looked pretty different, we were well on our way to launching version three of Amazemeet, we’d rolled out some updates to v2 and were happy with the uptake and response so it was full steam ahead for better meetings.
Amazemeet v3 was so radically different we were effectively viewing it as a whole new product. Functionality in v3 was all about actually helping you to have a better meeting and centred on the virtual meeting assistant. If you’ve read any of our blogs about this you’ll know how important that is, more here. It was and is a true game changer for meetings and more importanly it’s something we need.
It would not be an exaggeration to say crappy meetings are one of the biggest challenges facing the corporate world right now. Literally billions of dollars are wasted on these meetings every year and it’s getting worse very quickly. So we had our product, a great value proposition, some awesome marketing lined up (even if I do say so myself) and the dev team were on it.
It would not be an exaggeration to say crappy meetings are one of the biggest challenges facing the corporate world right now.
Then coronavirus struck
Out of the blue things quickly started to get serious. Things were bad in China, Italy was starting on its terrible journey, Spain, Germany, the USA nobody seemed immune to this. We went from worried to not being allowed out of the house in the space of a few short weeks. Bigger things were happening than v3. Mike decided we could help so we put half the teams time onto Corotrac a simple app to track symptoms and cases. This went way beyond just the Amazemeet team, people from all over the world got involved in the project. People just wanted to help.
it also made us re-evaluate some of the features of Amazemeet. Now people were working from home video calling functionality took on a new dimension. We surmised that this wasn’t going to be a short-lived change so we added a bunch of features to Amazemeet to ensure connectivity was as good as the meeting management and we didn’t stop there. We condensed an entire feature roll-out into the 2 months that we had earmarked for testing and bug fixes before launch. We’ll still be doing that and a big thanks to you guys who’ve signed up to test.
What have we learnt
We knew we had a pretty successful product with over 13,000 users globally. I think the leasons we have really learnt boil down to two.
Firstly how fragile the world is. Coronavirus has upended the entire world, economies are nosediving the path back seems unclear. Businesses, who had enjoyed a sustained period of growth, were suddenly in trouble after 8 weeks of lockdown. Panic buying was rife, people were lost and worse still huge numbers of people were dying. This transcends business and I believe it has caused us all to revaluate what’s important, and that’s a good thing.
Secondly, despite how well you plan, things happen. Ok, this was a biggy, but it just goes to show that you can never be certain about the future. It’s how you react that’s important. I remember the first meeting we had as things started to look bad. Nobody panicked, we simple brainstormed outcomes and how we would deal with them.
Amazemeet will be better for it
Finding a silver lining is hard right now. What we do know is that Amazemeet will be better as a result of what we’ve gone through. Not because it will have one extra feature but because as a team we’ll be better. We’ve been through some tough tests over the last few months and come out of it. That’s invaluable and something that will live with us for a long while to come.
Amazemeet’s a great tool for running effective meetings lockdown or not
The new world of work has somewhat been thrust on us. Will it change our values and how we define successful working?
As we’ve been forced into a new world of work we’ve been reflecting on how our entire working ecosystem will change and the values that we cling to will be reshaped, oh and having some better meetings. Covid-19 struck the world hard and extremely fast. It pushed the vast majoirty of us into enforced home working, overnight companies became distributed businesses whether they wanted to or not.
It forced organisations to quickly re-evaluate their employer, employee relationships in the context of remote working, Did employees have the right technology, how would work fit in with homeschooling and childcare? Employers instantly had to be accommodating, the lines between business and personal have become blurred. But, most of us have made it work and not suffered too much as a result. In fact issues that once were the preserve of personal and family life are now a part of company life too. It feels like business has got emotional. Why? Because companies can’t function without people, businesses had a choice to make, either shut up shop, take some government money and hope to weather the storm or adapt.
It seems like those that have adapted have done it quickly and generally the experience has not been as unpalatable as the press makes out.
Can we go back?
I’m not sure we can. What seems abnormal now will quickly become the new normal. Companies may well be judged on how they dealt with employees during this unprecedented period. Will we see a new kind of business emerge that is happier to integrate around it’s employees lives rather than the other way round? It’s certainly true that the kind of perks we used to think were great no longer matter. I for one would much rather have a balanced working life and time with family than regular trips to a bar.
There’s also so the obvious cost saving that will come from lockdown and the anticipated economic downturn. Do we really need 5 floors of central London office space? Twitter has announced regardless the outcome of the next few months that staff can work from home permanently. I doubt this is a PR stunt, they probably realised quickly that it’s made little difference to their operating model so why not.
Where’s the future?
6 months ago distributed business were real outliers. That’s clearly changed, will we now see a wave of people looking for roles only with businesses who offer mainly work from home? I expect so. Once we can get out and do things again working from home is awesome. The technology is here, the infrastructure exists we just needed a push and we got kind of a big one.
Values that matter.
Productivity is linked to the amount of time spent in the office, said no study ever. Clearly it will be hard for people to argue that anymore, if they still were. I think values will be shaped around balance and understanding in this new world of work. Organisations that can positively blur the line between personal and professional, being mindful of each and giving equal importance to each. I think that’s the kind of place people will actually be happy working in and as we know happy, engaged employees are the root to success.
Tools to make it easier
If we we want to embrace this new world of work, and we should, we’re going to need the right tools to thrive. That’s why we’re levelling up Amazemeet with some amazing new features like the Ai meeting facilitator. It’s like having a PA, secretary and meeting coach rolled into one, designed to make your meeting efficient and effective whether you’re in a bedroom or the boardroom.
Amazemeet’s a great tool for running effective meetings in the new normal
Talking about the “new normal” seems odd right now as nothing is normal. What’s certain is that things are changing in the way we work.
So firstly what is the new normal. Well as a phrase it was coined post the financial crash of 2008. It basically implies that something abnormal has become normal. It’s kind of apt that it’s become the word on everyone’s lips right now just as it was in 2008/2009. Yes I’m old enough to remember that vividly.
Where distributed workforces are involved it perfectly describes right now as most companies hove a workforce spread across home offices, kitchen tables and bedrooms the world over. And guess what, for a lot of businesses it’s not really caused much damage or upheaval. In fact the bean counters are probably sat at home working out how much they can save on office rents!
For years the idea of distributed workforces has been something of a novelty. Pursued by the 5 hour work week converts and zanny start-ups looking to be different. But quietly behind the scenes some companies have been making it work, and work well. Take Automattic for example, they’re the commercial company behind wordpress and they’re worth $1 Billion plus at last valuation. They have 1,000 plus people working in 75 countries and are 100% distributed. They would have been considered an outlier 3 months ago, but now we’re talking new normal are they the blueprint for the future of work?
What’s interesting is how many companies that are finding the enforced change actually quite straightforward. This enforced lockdown, in the UK at least, has proved to be a great stress test of the vital infrastructure, internet and telecomms and it’s all worked. Virgin media notwithstanding. It’s no coincidence that the Microsoft teams ad has been playing on virtually every TV channel around the world at most times of the day. Why? Because some smart person has realised that things are going to change permanently and working remotely will be one.
It’s perhaps too early to say what will happen in three months, 6 months or longer but what is certain is that we’ve discovered, albeit through a rather terrible cause, that we can work this way. Technology has been our saviour, once again. Working remotely also has other benefits, no more 2 hours of commuting, more time with family and yeah sitting in front of a computer in your pants!
So where does Amazemeet come into this? Well it’s the perfect time for an AI base software that helps you have better meetings. One thing is for certain that distributed workforces need the tools to work efficiently and that’s where Amazemeet excels. It’s there every step of the way to help plan, execute and manage follow on for your meetings and it will do most of it for you. Nobody likes people not showing up, Amazemeet ensures attendees are at the meeting prepared and ready. Amazemeet manages the timings to ensure things don’t spiral and it makes sure everyone knows what their post meeting actions are. In short it’s your meeting facilitator, personal assistant and secretary all rolled into one.
Amazemeet’s a great tool for running effective meetings in the new normal
Pricing can be complicated in any startup. Amazemeet is no exception, though we think a few things we have learned in trying to devise plans and prices recently have helped us get a better attitude to one of the most important aspects of launching a SaaS business.
Pricing can also be exceptionally simple – you can make numbers up out of thin air with little or no thought for whether anyone will pay that price for your product (what I call ‘the blue pill’).
We chose to do a bit more (what I call ‘the red pill’). More research and more educated guesses to get data we could make decisions on. More importantly, we wanted a process to emerge out of setting and reviewing our pricing so that we could use it over and over again.
We’d like to share where we are and what we learnt trying to price our service.
Where we are now
We recently finalised our last round of pricing experiments and created a new pricing model combining the best bits of the various experiments and what best supports our current phase of our strategy (i.e conversion).
So how did we get here?
I’ve tried to distil the chaos of the last few weeks into 5 key learnings. If you are interested in the stuff that isn’t written – the emotional rollercoaster, the techie bits of experimentation etc, then please ping me here via comment or on twitter (@amazemeet) and I’ll be happy to share that.
1. De-stress pricing through iteration and experimentation
Pricing can be stressful. We found the biggest source of stress was to believe that whatever model we came up with had to work for everyone, forever!
If there is one enduring strength in our team it is that we are almost entirely pragmatic and agile in our thinking and in our execution. This has helped us develop a healthy attitude to risk. We use iteration and experimentation all the time for everything.
To take the stress out of pricing, we’ve accepted that:
We can change it anytime if it isn’t working
We will review it regularly to see if it needs to change
It doesn’t have to be good forever, just until the next change.
Amazemeet is a B2B service, we enable businesses of all sizes to have better meetings. This range presents complexity when we try and price to suit all businesses and keep us sustainable. The complexity comes primarily from the different price levels that specific types will support (large corporations might support higher levels, whilst small, modest companies support more modest pricing).
Complexity also comes from how those segments purchase stuff – large corporations often have restrictive purchasing policies that prevent the person with the problem from easily purchasing their chosen solution. Smaller, more independent business often don’t have that constraint.
Our pricing model had to support the price levels that would have credibility with the segments and navigate the purchasing restrictions purchasers in each segment to help them buy.
So for smaller sized companies and independents (like freelancers) we introduced a monthly plan and for the larger corporations where the effort of approving a $5 purchase is about the same as seeking approval for a $500 purchase – we introduced yearly plans to help them get the most out of that approval step.
3. Understand Your Goals for Pricing and Design to Achieve Them
We started out thinking pricing was simply about setting a price for your product and generating revenue – we were pretty mistaken. Sure it is about revenue – and so much more.
So we thought a bit more deeply about our goals – or what we wanted our pricing model to help us achieve and came up with:
help us to grow our user base (so pricing is not a barrier to usage)
help users become customers (so there is clear value to being a subscriber).
To achieve the first goal, we experimented with a freemium model – offering a free tier to let people try out the service (we believe we are the only ones with a meeting design model like Amazemeet on the market – it takes some getting used to!). This worked well – a little too well perhaps.
It would be silly to think it was just because we had a free plan that people joined. We are also lucky to have a naturally viral product.
We are seeing a stable growth in users and in organisers, but we were not seeing any growth in customers. When we spoke to users about the value they were getting from using the platform, they told us of improvements in clarity and follow ups. We’ve known that users found the platform useful (this has been fairly consistent feedback since the beta in June 2015) – what we struggled to determine was if it was also valuable!
Despite the success of the freemium model in helping us grow the user base, it created a secondary problem for us – which we encouraged by not differentiating plan features early enough. So we replaced it with a 7-day fully featured trial experiment and put all our existing non-subscribed users on the trial.
Whilst this has had little or no effect on the rate of sign ups, it does help to funnel serious users of our platform to a subscription plan. But it is early days yet – the first set are expiring this week and we are eagerly awaiting the result of that experiment.
Incidentally we still have a free tier – it is just not publicly advertised. It offers unlimited meeting attendance but no meeting organising. It is the plan people revert to when they take no paid subscription.
4. Be willing to lose users – but understand why
There are few things more flattering than people signing up to use something you built.
But there are the right type of users and the wrong type of users. The right type of users use your service regularly – or as regularly as you intended. The wrong type use it much less than you intended and generally don’t come back and rarely tell you why.
As we experiment with Amazemeet – we recognise that the more specialised we become in how we design for the segments we are focusing on – including our pricing – we will inevitably lose some users. This is why it is super-important to not do too many things at once – because you want to know why you might lose those users.
For example, when we experimented with hard limits on the now-deprecated free plan, we saw some usage drop off. We recognised that there would be some users who wouldn’t upgrade to a paid plan once their 5 meeting limit was reached. We could even tell who might react like this by their usage patterns – they were not regular users of the platform and this restriction just persuaded them to stop.
This may be counter-intuitive, but I would rather have 1000 committed users than 10 million ghosts – and if I do anything to make the numbers that I base my decisions on that much clearer aligned with reality – I might just make better decisions.
Users are not all equally valuable. Knowing what makes a user valuable to your business helps you value and invest in that relationship better. Be prepared to cut back investment on those user relationships that are not helping you to your goal.
5. Regularly review the drivers of your plans and pricing and adapt them
We aren’t done yet and we aren’t there yet. ‘There’ being stable and growing revenue, but we have had the most positive feedback so far on usefulness and on value.
The goals of our pricing can change, the behaviours we want to encourage can also change. We will be moving to other segments – either geographically or otherwise. We might pivot our features or the vision. Each one of these changes will bring new drivers to our pricing model and cause us to review.
In anticipation of this – we ask ourselves every month – “Is this pricing model still the most effective one for our goals and constraints’. If the answer is ‘Yes’, we move on. If not, we go deeper and explore what the next iteration and experiments ought to be.
There you have it – this is how we are doing pricing in Amazemeet. At least for now. What would be a great help right now would be your honest opinion and probing questions about this.
Is there something that just doesn’t make sense about this? – I’d love to hear it.
So we’ve officially decided to outline the entire journey of Amazemeet, hoping it will be helpful to others or just informative to our users. We believe that there is value in knowing what a team’s all about, not just the app, so we want to share our highs and lows with you, open our kimonos, and get to know one another better through this crazy startup process.
This week is a MAJOR MILESTONE for Amazemeet because it marks our very first round of private beta. It’s private for now and we’ve limited the number of testers, so we can extract the most value from our most eager users (and by users we mean friends, but we have to use this term because everybody else does).
Because the interest in testing the app has been amazing, we’ve decided to throw another couple of beta rounds for those who didn’t get the chance to play with the first iteration. So if you’re a hard-core early adopter who’s been praying for a new solution to boring meetings, download the canvas from the main site, and we’ll contact you when we have some spots left for early access.
Now, let’s see what the goals for this week are and what we’ve learned from last week. The closer we get to launch, the crazier this startup journey gets!
Violeta got a little color-crazy.
(Ignore the fact that Violeta is referring to herself in the third person.)
In my defense, Trello does not exactly provide label presets, so what do you do when you see six colors, which you can group with any kind of words to provide meaningful labels? Here’s what I did:
I’m not entirely sure if Mike (my technical co-founder) was happy with this turn of events, but he did give me a 7th color for milestones. Sometimes it pays to go along with “the crazy ones” because we see things as they could be. And if you ask me, that’s a pretty powerful tool in anyone’s startup toolbox.
Question: Are you using all of trello’s useful features?
Mike worked on the app all weekend.
He found himself in Krakow, Poland for the weekend and instead of going to see Wawel Hill,Auschwitz, the Wieliczka salt mine or even rack up a healthy bill at his client’s expense, he worked on the app. If that isn’t dedication to help people have amazing meetings, I don’t know what is!
But it wasn’t all work – he spent 2 hours in the spa, swimming and braising himself in the sauna!
It’s all really worth it though – because we are building something really beautiful that 130 really lucky people are going to see and use very soon!
The first BETA email campaign could have been better.
Feedback is so important, especially at the start when you’re fumbling your way through all the things you should be doing, could be doing, and could have done better, but you didn’t know at the time. In our case, our subscribers saved us from fumbling through all our net email campaigns by telling us what went wrong:
There was a “yes, I’d like to test the app” button on the bottom of the email, which unfortunately, some people didn’t even see. So when I got the excited “yes, I want to beta test”, I had to make sure they’d pressed it. When they said “no, I didn’t see it”, it was clear we messed up.
Also, I am so grateful for my co-founder’s sage advice to segment the subscribers and pace our campaigns in this way instead of bulk-sending to everyone. If it weren’t for him, we would have lost on potential beta testers because we didn’t position the button right (it could have been closer to the top) and because the text on the button was invisible.
That said, we’re happy that we got lost of clicks anyway. Thanks to everyone for being as excited about this app as we are. Seriously, we couldn’t do it without you.
Takeaways: Listen to your co-founder, segment your subscribers, heed all feedback, and always improve your efforts.
How metaphors can help you launch:
This is the part where I tell you how important your pre-launch strategy is.
I am personally taking Amazemeet’s pre-launch strategy very seriously because we’ll likely not get another chance. (I don’t want us to become one of those startups that pivot and re-launch constantly, which we’ll do if we have to.)
So I created an entirely new Trello board for it and together, we (Mike and I) came up with two metaphors (well, similes) for our pre-launch experience:
Launching is like a tsunami. Every wave builds up on the next until the final tidal wave strikes, and the after-waves bring additional sign-ups to make sure the buzz doesn’t die too quickly or at all.
Launching a startup is like launching a rocket into space. You need certain parts to get to certain altitude, after which you need to jettison or re-imagine them to get into your established trajectory.
Based on these visions, we can clearly see what needs to be done to launch successfully. After all, launching needs to be a unique experience for each startup, rather than everyone following the same old frameworks.
Question:What’s the metaphor for your startup launch vision?
What we learned this week:
As long as it helps, you can be a little crazy with your strategy.
Always do better than the last time and take feedback very seriously.
Don’t be afraid to be creative when it comes to strategy. Think metaphors.
Some tools are indispensable at the start, like Typeform for user feedback.
P.S. We hope you enjoyed this post and if you have any questions, ping us on twitter because Violeta lurks there and never leaves a mention unanswered.
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
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.
These are 5000 individuals who filled a short form, got an email, clicked the link contained in the email and downloaded the PDF, Word template or sample word document – even all three. I think this is the perfect time to share this jaw-dropping milestone and our beautiful journey.
My offering was a simple PDF that meeting organizers can download, print and work through to create a one page meeting plan and shared record that all meeting participants could collaborate on.
Throughout December, I tweeted and tried to create some awareness on LinkedIn about the presence of the the Canvas. My friends and professional network were great in spreading the word and downloading the Canvas – which gave a small morale and growth boost.
I had tried to build multiple startups – all by myself and self funded. I knew the pains of such a approach well. This time I was determined to get help earlier.
Enter The Social Media Maven
Violeta Nedkova is a force of nature – her enthusiasm and seemingly endless curiosity is infectious. I initially came across her blog from a retweet a couple of years ago and was really impressed with her style.
We had tried to launch something together early in 2014. So when I needed help with hustling on Amazemeet – Violeta was my first thought. I approached her initially with some freelance work and I’m glad that she agreed!
We got to work – creating content, exploring the market segments and tuning our strategy. We collaborated so well and with such ease that it wasn’t long before I was convinced that Violeta was the right person to become my co-founder. I asked, she said yes and the party was about to get funky!
Prepared for slow growth
By the middle of February , downloads of the Canvas had doubled but still only about 200 but growing. Our Twitter following had grown from zero to over 1200 followers – and not the dodgy kind either.
Overall though, interest was still pretty low. We used this time to put in place a delivery mechanism using Sendgrid and MailChimp to automate the registration and downloading of the Canvas. Coupled with Google Analytics, we had a great setup to get info-rich data about where the signups were coming from and when.
From March 2nd, the automation we had in place was going nuts.
Hundreds of people everyday were signing up.
Google was showing how many were signing up and getting the ‘Thank you ‘ page.
MailChimp was showing that similar numbers were getting the welcome email and clicking the download links.
Finally the download tracking on our WordPress site were confirming that similar numbers were actually downloading the Canvas.
Rocket #1: We got Product Hunted
Violeta: OMG!!! We got listed on Product Hunt
Me: Huh? Product Hunt – it’s not connected with our customer segment [LinkedIn]?
Violeta: Well it isn’t, but it is an awesome community of passionate people I’m in that shares cool products.
This is just one of many times that I’m grateful that Violeta is my co-founder. Her conviction that Product Hunt was a community we needed to be part of was absolutely spot on.
Violeta does what she does best – she engaged openly, sincerely and with curious wonder. The support and comradeship that the Product Hunt community showed us was spectacular.
Rocket #2: The Next Web Facebooked us
The traffic we noticed from the time the Product Hunt listing happened was phenomenal – we were experiencing about 20-30 sign ups a minute. People from everywhere were downloading the Canvas.
We believed Product Hunt alone was the reason for such traffic – until I took a look at the analytics we were getting from Google.
Sure, there was significant traffic from Product Hunt referrals but almost double that was from Facebook. Yes – FACEBOOK!!!
I was puzzled – Facebook wasn’t even in our customer segment and frankly we didn’t really want it to be. But the data was the data. We thought someone from Product Hunt had cross posted on to Facebook. But with over 4000 visits so far from Facebook – that was some cross post!
So we looked and there it was. The Next Web – one of the internet’s most influential technology publications had posted a simple post on their Facebook page. They hadn’t written about us – simply posted and the flood began.
It is still going on – in 2 weeks since all this started we have gone from 248 signups (from December 16th 2014) to 5000 today. And climbing.
A Real Platform for Engagement
So now we have 5000 sign ups. But what does this really mean?
It means we have a great platform to start to talk with the people who signed up and really understand what their experiences of organising, attending and surviving meetings are.
It means we can begin to learn how to be useful and valuable to our users. This is exciting beyond words and it has already started.
Product Hunt – We are deeply grateful to this amazing community for their openness and support. Please go check them out, you will discover and support many startups and meet some really amazing people.
The Next Web – we are still in awe at the power of a simple post by the influential press. We are so grateful that we somehow earned their blessing.
We think we have something that genuinely helps people, so over the coming days we will be releasing an online app to help the people who signed up to use the Canvas faster and more conveniently. We will also be sharing our journey of building this start up.