Launching Staff Squared: A Recipe for Launch Party Cake

14th May 2012

TECH

We had a blast launching Staff Squared – We’re already receiving feedback from our Closed Beta testers telling us how much they love the product and will pay for it when we go live.  As you can imagine, we’re chuffed!  In light of this we’re going to Public Beta much earlier than the June/July target we had previously set.  As I write this our coding monkeys are adding bells and whistles to Staff Squared, based on feedback.  We don’t want to wait a day longer than necessary to get Staff Squared out to the masses, so more businesses can benefit from it.

Even with all of these joy-joy feelings, there are certainly things we could have done better, with lessons to be learnt.  We wanted to share what we got wrong, and for two reasons;

  1. We hope other new product and service providers will use this knowledge to their advantage.
  2. As with Death and Taxes, there are two other constants in the world – people will always lie on their CV.  Cough *Yahoo* Cough. And all new businesses make mistakes as they grow.

I think it’s important we demonstrate that we’re watching and listening throughout this process.  So without further ado…

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

A launch is not a one-off, firework-inducing single event. It’s actually more like an endless pit of specific, detailed (and sometimes very difficult) steps, all of which link to construct a product, with Beta testers to test said product.  When we were knee deep working on Staff Squared features, armed with a seemingly infinite to-do list, it was tempting just to keep blindly ticking items off the list instead of stepping back to take a better look and plan properly.  Fortunately our head of Ops, Jenny, wasn’t having any of it! She made sure we took the time to perform a proper strategic analysis on the launch, which helped us to identify all of the possible snares and headaches.  This in turn created an action plan and as a result everybody knew what they had to do, and when it needed to be done by.  Without a strategic approach we were inviting chaos to the launch party.

Spam!

We used Campaign Monitor (the founder of which has been in touch to say they think Staff Squared fills a market need.  Woohoo!) to send our closed Beta e-mails.  I hoped that using Campaign Monitor would mean that, as if by magic, none of our e-mails would be mistaken for Spam. But of course this wasn’t the case.  This meant that 20 of our 70 testers didn’t receive the e-mail asking them to start testing – That’s over a quarter of opportunities for feedback gone. Missed.  Fortunately our remaining testers were on form and it didn’t slow down our Closed Beta process at all. But the thought of our e-mails rubbing shoulders with the likes of “performance enhancing” pharmaceutical deals and requests for bank details to help a troubled Prince made me feel very unclean. This will not do. In future we’ll be carrying out more stringent tests of our invite e-mail so the problem never occurs again.

We didn’t take advantage of social media

Just before Staff Squared was ready we contacted our 70 beta testers to give them a 2-weeks heads-up.  Because the app wasn’t ready we presumed there was nothing for our testers to do.  However this was an ideal opportunity to request that they ‘like’ our Staff Squared Facebook page or even tweet about us, since all the cool kids are doing it. OMG #MarketingFail lol.

Confusing flat-pack instructions

To ensure only our Closed Beta testers could access Staff Squared we tweaked the sign up process so that only e-mail addresses on our Closed Beta list could actually gain access to the app – everybody else received a polite “Sorry we’re not ready yet” message.  Unfortunately, we didn’t count on our beta testers using different e-mail addresses to access our application. This resulted in a few melted brains, confusion, frustrated testers and the tears and the calls to mummy.  Next time we’ll provide clearer instructions. With pictures.

Hosting was an afterthought

In the run up to our Closed Launch, it was apparent that our web servers were not up to the impending battle.  This led to some last minute headless chicken impersonations, and left the team nervous that six months of their hard work would be side swiped by an unexpected bout of downtime.  Hosting should have been a consideration during the design of Staff Squared, certainly not an afterthought in the days running up to the launch. After some last minute server wrangling, we’re now in a happy place and won’t take our eye off this fundamental part of our infrastructure again.

Recipe for Launch Party Cake

So to recap;

  • One bag of strategic analysis
  • A dash of Spam-free emails
  • 1 Tablespoon of Facebook Likes
  • 4 Ounces of Tweets
  • Clear, distilled, non-refined instructions

Mix the above in a big Hosting bowl and cook in your most skilled oven for a few months. Do not pressure-cook!

Assuming you haven’t fallen asleep from swigging all the cooking wine, you should have a nice, solid base perfect for the smooth Launch Glaze and chocolate sprinkles, ready for the taste test.

That’s it for now, over time we’ll share the detail of our processes.  For example; the strategic analysis assessment we undertook was integral to the success of the Closed Beta trial and is something we will now use on every new product launch.

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