I make a few assumptions with this article; that you are already sold on the idea of The Lean Startup; that you believe in building The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as a way of bringing products (or major features) to the market, and maybe you have even read the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.
About the Author
Olutunde started his career as a Business/Technical Analyst for school software projects in 2009. He has now worked on 50+ projects; some used by as many as twenty-two banks in Nigeria. He has trained hundreds of developers in various Java technologies such as Java Fundamentals, Web services with REST and SOAP, JMS, JPA, Android apps development, Web design, Java security, and Cryptography.
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So, let’s start with a few questions:
- What role is your technical team (especially software engineers) playing in marketing?
- How many marketing and data gathering tools are built into your products from the start (not as an afterthought)?
- Do you have a dedicated (technically-inclined) product manager or marketer working with your technical team or are your technical team members trained to think like one?
The problem is, most developers and engineers usually have little to no interest in marketing, and unless expressly told, their focus will mainly be on the features of the project that they are being measured on.
One good way to quickly understand this is in the vocabulary used by software engineers as compared to other units of the company. To the technical team, a piece of software is a project to be completed, to everybody else, it is a product to put in front of customers.
As your marketing team is prepared with the list of XYZ things to do towards the product or feature launch (like the ones listed in this brilliant article, 20 Steps To Success — The Ultimate Product Launch Checklist by Paweł Łubiarz), below are the 10+ things your technical team also needs to build into the product before the launch date. The list applies to new product launch and major feature updates.
Before we go through the list, let’s set the basics right. The goal of your MVP shouldn’t be to make you money but for you to gather enormous data that will give you insights towards product direction and subsequently, profit. Now let’s go through the list:
1. Analytics (Google Analytics, Mixpanel.com, Hotjar.com)
Google Analytics alone allows us to have unbelievable product usage insights. Which country or region are the users coming from, which devices (mobile or desktop), which operating systems, at what time of the day are visiting the most, etc. Companies like Mixpanel.com, Hotjar.com take the work deeper by providing insight into what pages are users visiting the most, what buttons are they clicking, and where are the users dropping off of the product. Please integrate at least one analytics tool.
2. Quick Onboarding (Google and Facebook sign-in)
When you’re done building your fancy Login and Signup pages, don’t forget to integrate those little “Signup with Google” and “Signup with Facebook” buttons. There is a reason we keep seeing them on almost all websites and apps we use, they make onboarding extremely easy for customers. You need them.
3. Invite for Rewards
This is the most underrated product feature in the world (my opinion). My former colleague, Stephen, practically dragged me and the other guys to download the Uber app when they first launched in Nigeria. Why? Free-ride for every invite. Dropbox got me to do the same for a few extra Gigs of storage. The secret is to estimate the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and see if we can pay the early adopters this amount for every new user they bring in. The invitation link generation and the reward system have to be built in the product from the start, not as an afterthought.
4. Visible Logs and Crash Report
Who gets to know when something breaks, how, and when?
Yes, you have server logs for all exceptions and crashes but who checks logs except when something serious happened? For MVP, we need to have some form of automated log collation and accessibility system, and they must be checked daily for insights into what breaks and in which part of the app.
5. Share to social media
Testimonies of the power of social media in driving awareness or even sales are not hard to come by neither are they strange anymore. What is strange is why anyone will launch a product without integrating this tiny “Share on social media” feature. Sadly, many people don’t. The question is if I love your product or customer service or whatever, how do I tell my friends about it? If I don’t need your product but know someone that needs it, how do I quickly get them to check it out? If I’m feeling so generous, how to I help you spread the words?
6. Newsletter Subscription for Content Marketing
Marketing expert & author, Seth Godin introduced the concept of Permission Marketing as a non-traditional marketing technique that advertises goods and services when advance consent is given. When people drop their emails for newsletters, they’re simply given you permission to send them subtle marketing materials about your product later (not to be abused of course).
7. Automated & periodic availability check.
I recently worked with a team on a web application. As part of the launch checklist, we wrote a simple Bash script to periodically check the Linux service running the application for availability every 5minutes. The goal was for the script to restart the service if it ever goes down. A few days later, the application was down, but the service was “active” so the script didn’t make any attempt to restart it. We had to add an additional availability check that accesses the web app the way the users will.
For an MVP, your codes are brittle, anything can happen but the last thing you want is for the application to be down in front users just giving you a trial. They may never come back.
8. Live chat, Contact & Feedback forms and Help tips
Integrating Live chat features from platforms like Drift.com or Tawk.to is as easy as creating an account and dropping the code snippets on the desired pages of your application. The good part is, these platforms have free packages so you don’t have to pay anything until you grow big and need more features. With an MVP, every opportunity to get useful data or hear from the users is gold. The other part of this is helpful tips. These should be sprinkled all over the product as a quick guide for users to navigate and understand different features.
9. Free account for trial (No credit card required) with email notifications.
Users are more likely to signup for a new and untested product if there are no commitments involved. This is also a form of permission marketing as we can easily continue to send marketing emails about the awesome features of our paid version. Again, not to be abused. Please note, a free trial requesting credit card details is not a good idea for MVPs looking for customers and usage data.
10. Multi-OS, browser flavor, and mobile platform test.
Developers are not testers and as a matter of fact, many developers hate elaborate testing as it’s likely to expose all the flaws in the project. Left to them, they will do a minimal test, and as soon as it works, the project is complete. The worse part, many startups don’t have (or cannot afford) dedicated testers. But imagine the disappointment a user feels when your website “scatters” or looks ugly or wouldn’t load properly just because they’re on a particular mobile device. One way to solve this problem is to programmatically check the device or the OS and inform the users of a lack of support for their device and refer them to the kind of devices you currently support.
11. Focus Group (of Typical & Unexpected Users)
This is not the typical focus group study done by the marketing department with plenty of people. This can be done with 4 to 5 people who have never heard about the project before. This is geared towards the product’s usability and user experience. All we have to do is point out the app URL and watch the users try to figure out the product on their own without any help or been told what the product does. What buttons are they clicking, how are they navigating the pages, how are they scrolling, what part are they concentrating on, etc. These are the questions we need answers.
12. A Cool Website or a Dedicated Landing Page.
A shabby website won’t cut it. For a new product, users are usually skeptical and have high expectations. We need a good looking website to convey strength. And for companies with multiple products, it is very easy to just add this new product at the bottom of their main website and not give the product life of its own. As much as it’s a good idea to let the new product or feature get referenced from the main website, it is sometimes a good thing to give the product it’s own assets. This makes it easy to measure the results of the marketing efforts and the product’s growth away from other products.
13. Onboarding email automation (via MailChimp)
Even the most sophisticated users most time need some form of product tour and intimation messages to get acquited to all the features of an application. Onboarding messages are a series of messages the users get (mostly daily) for a period of time after signing up, that explain the features of the product and how to use them. These messages (again permission marketing) also give you room to remind the users of your product and they can easily hit the reply button to get in touch with the sales team should they need to. This is usually done via integration to email marketing companies like MailChimp as you don’t want to spend your developer time building one.
14. Success and Failure responses as “Advertising Copy”
Imagine we’re building a payment app that allows users to transfer money from one bank account to another. What message should we display to the users after a successful transfer? What if we display more than just the usual “Transfer successful” and include messages about other amazing features of the app and links to check them out.
And on a flip side, what happens if the transfer fails, say, we deducted money from one bank account but failed to deposit the money in destination account? What message should we show the user and who should be notified to work on rectifying the problem (See item no 4).
A good message for a failed transaction is to tell the users about our amazing customer services team and how they will fix the issue and get back to him or her within a certain period. We can also include links to some (related) FAQ about the identified error.
15. Affiliate Marketing Program for Social Media Influencers
This is as powerful as Invite for Reward discussed earlier, perhaps even more powerful.
This is a system whereby you generate some promo code for social media influencers and bloggers who blog or make videos on subjects related to your product. When their followers use these promo codes, the followers get a certain percentage off of their purchases or subscriptions and the influencer also gets (usually) the same percentage.
This has one more advantage, it gets your name out there as the influencer will have to promote your product to his or her entire subscribers and even those will not make an outright visit to your product page, would’ve got to hear about it.
16. Cookies and data privacy warnings.
Regulators everywhere are springing up policies on data protection and other stuff. It is important that your product comes out obeying every possible law e.g General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).
This is a rather long list. You stand a better chance of becoming the President of your country than get developers to build all these into your product. Whatever percentage you get, the goal is to make sure it’s purposefully built in from the start.
Remember, the idea behind building an MVP is to allow the team to launch the product as soon as possible and gather as much data with which the product can be improved for the next iteration.
This is my own practical application of the Lean Startup; we waste no chance to gather useful data and users’ attention.