If you’ve ever overpaid for a technology product that failed to deliver on its promise, this article is for you. Sadly, we see it on a nearly weekly basis.
Clients come to us exhausted and frustrated. They’ve spent tens of thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of dollars on technology projects that failed to deliver on the core problem they were built to solve. The result is clunky, over-engineered, bloated software that no one wants or needs.
The wasted money is just one aspect of it. There’s also the impact on the market; releasing software that doesn’t resonate with users hurts your brand. Producing low quality software even hurts team morale; key players get disillusioned, bring down other employees, and eventually leave the company.
It’s a massive problem.
How do we know?
Because we’re usually brought in to rescue the project.
We once worked with a client that spent tens of thousands of dollars for what was supposed to be a mobile marketplace application. Instead, the offshore development firm she hired delivered a website!
To say that she was angry is an understatement.
There are countless stories like that — companies spend tens of thousands of dollars on software that just doesn’t work.
But it gets worse.
We once worked with a client that spent 7-figures on a tech project, only for the vendor to come back and ask for more money and a timeline extension. The client felt like they had been punched in the gut. They had spent over a million dollars and had nothing to show for it. It was an absolute nightmare. Sadly, a preventable one.
As we dug deeper, we instantly found out what the problem was — as well as the solution.
A lack of focus on the end-user.
Instead of building a viable product and getting it in the hands of the end-user, they focused on creating a complex app bolstered by hundreds and hundreds of billable hours. It’s a common scenario — especially when working with software development shops.
We believe this “features for dollars” exchange is the root cause of most failed software projects. Software shops sell you an overly-complex project, laden with features that you aren’t even sure your users want, charging you for every hour along the way.
If you’ve ever been burned by a software project that failed to deliver on its promise, you know exactly what we mean.
That’s why we started our company, R&Y Labs.
My partner Calvin and I were both CTOs of successful tech startups. In that time, we focused on building lean products with a fanatical focus on the end-user. The result was software that users loved and used.
If our startup life taught us one thing, it’s that technology without product-market fit is a very expensive mistake to recover from. We learned that the solution was to build just enough features to get a usable product out into the market — and let our users tell us what they want to see in future releases.
Not to sound dramatic, but the results are almost magical.
As a result, we’re fanatically focused on rapidly building “market-ready” software and putting it in the hands of the user as quickly as possible, and building in new features based on user feedback.
In an era of growth hacking, many companies forget one simple truth; the best strategy for building a viral product is to listen to the market and build something that people absolutely love. Growth hacking is critical to gaining critical mass and wide user adoption, but the foundation of any marketing strategy is a solid product that solves a pressing need in the market. That’s we’ve seen the meteoric growth of lean, agile, and feedback-driven product development.
You need customers to love the product — the best way to do that is to solicit their feedback and rapidly iterate features. Companies that understand this key point win.
Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia decided to rent out air mattresses in their San Francisco apartment to local conference attendees back in 2007. Since hotels were all booked, demand for their novel idea grew quickly. They decided to call it “Air Bed and Breakfast”. They soon realized that their business model wasn’t sustainable because it relied on conferences and conference attendees. They listened to the market and pivoted their concept to help travelers find cheap accommodation and an authentic local experience. And the rest is history…
Whether it’s a novel concept like AirBnB or a “better mousetrap” like Google created back 20+ years ago, the most important thing for them to validate was whether people would actually use the product. Building a process that ruthlessly focuses on solving a customer need is the difference between products that users love, and ones that fall flat on their face. Bells and whistles came later — solving a core problem and validating demand in the market come first.
As former startup CTOs, we’re big believers in building out a “minimum viable product” with just enough features to put the product into users’ hands.
The objective is to build a product that solves a core problem so well that it attracts early adopters that actively use the product and provide feedback.
That last part is vital — users that provide feedback. If you build a product to solve a problem for your users, it stands to reason that you’ll continue to build features that users request.
We’ve found this collaborative methodology leads to amazing software that users love. When users are vested in the development process, they evangelize it, leading to viral growth.
We’ve crafted a process that helps our clients do the same; figure out the absolute minimum feature set required to take it to market. We’ve relied on our combined decades of experience to build products fast.
Over time, we noticed that not many people do that. They’re obsessed with bloated software, bogged down by its own weight. They take the requirements, build, launch, only for it to be a dud. In the process they find out that users only liked two features — the rest were a waste of time and money.
To us, feedback is data. We want the software development process to be data-driven and that’s how we ensure that we’re making the right decisions. Agile software development is meant to allow you to change based on changing needs — the way you do that is via data, or in this case, user feedback.
In our work with enterprises, we help deliver maximum value out of a product in the shortest time frame possible so that they can get user feedback.
A key part of our process is the discovery sprint where we create a high-level prototype — that’s how we collect data from users early on. Once the user validates that the prototype is on target, we’ll build out a core product with the most key features. We won’t take six months to build something only for it to fall flat on its face. We treat the prototype as data early on, an idea we got from Jake Knapp and his book Sprint.
The goal with our clients is to maximize the value of software with minimal features. In other words, we’d rather have a client spend $10k on a very well-defined product, release it to users, and then pivot and iterate based on feedback than charge $500k and deliver something that no one likes.
We hate seeing companies commit time and resources to projects that miss the mark. The end result is a lackluster product that fails to generate traction.
We love building products that our clients and their users love. We’re passionate about helping them find product-market fit and achieve that by making sure that we’re efficient and how we build out the process.
We’ve seen that this approach gives the product the best chance of success. The result is a product that maximizes the value to the market.
Rather than creating a detailed list of features and building that, it’s far better to create a pared-down version of the product and iterate based on user feedback. There’s nothing more powerful than feedback from real users.
From that perspective, we don’t want to spend months and months building software that never gets to market. Worse yet, releasing something that users hate.
Tech projects are notorious for going off track.
Whether it’s a new entrant that beats you to market, a change in regulation, a change in organizational priorities, or severe budget cuts, tech projects are vulnerable. The complexity of these projects makes them prone to being derailed, especially if the wrong team is working on them.
The way to solve that is to maximize the impact of the product by creating a minimal amount of features. Focusing on a product with minimal features that deliver maximum value immunizes you from those risks.
We’ve developed our own discovery process that quickly leads to a prototype that the customer can see and feel. This feeds into our agile development process which is defined by creating detailed user stories and tight feedback loops with end-users.
When a client asks us to build a new feature into a product, we politely ask “Is that really going to solve the problem that your prospective user has? If the answer to that is ‘no’, let’s not waste the time and money on it during this phase, but rather scope it to later in the product life-cycle”
Negotiations like this are healthy and take place often throughout the product lifecycle. Rather than us billing the client for every feature, we keep ourselves and our clients accountable for delivering a great product with a narrow scope so they can take it to market and get customer feedback.
As CTOs of tech startups, we’re fanatically focused on product-market fit. Our process is geared toward helping our clients do just that.
The result looks something like this:
MVP → Traction → Go To Market
We don’t see ourselves as a software agency, but rather as a leadership-minded technical partner and powerhouse that builds you a product that gets traction.
When clients follow our process, they end up with a usable product that they can launch to their users as fast as humanly possible.
We then build out a product roadmap based on feedback from users and other stakeholders. This includes feature requests, bug fixes, etc.
Our process is built around transparency and making the most efficient use of everyone’s time. We want you to spend the least amount of money necessary with us to be able to get your product to where it needs to get to. The less money you spend on us in the initial phases of the project, the more capital you’ll have to market it.
That’s where the magic happens.