Why changing your product as a startup is a good thing
written by Valentina Sokolova
Startups are a wonderfully chaotic thing - there are many moving parts and lots of uncertainties. What makes the existence of a startup successful is a viable product or service that offers value to people. In the end, that’s the one thing that matters.
At Swipes, we create work tools for individuals and teams. This is what we love and care about. Great design, simple functionality, well-defined mindset - against chaos, stress, and friction.
We built a good product
Our first product - Swipes Personal - was for individuals. It was a hit. We have over 1 million users today. The team built one of the top task managers on the market, winning Evernote’s Best Startup Award, Webby Award, featured #1 app on the Mac App Store worldwide.
The product solved a common problem - I feel overwhelmed by all the things I need to do, I don’t have an overview of my tasks or know where to start. It offered a simple solution, an easy-to-adopt mindset - write things down, focus only on one thing at a time, snooze everything else for later. After the success of Swipes Personal, our ambition grew. We wanted to solve a new bigger problem, one that we were facing ourselves - the logistics of coordinating a remote team. You guessed it - this is where things got tricky. There are a lot more moving parts here. The system we wanted to build, needed to be able to answer all those same old questions - like “Who will be doing this task?”, “Are my priorities the same as the team’s priorities?”, “Whereis that file I need?”, “Didn’twe write this down somewhere - in one of the hundred apps we use, or maybe on a piece of paper?”, “Who has access to that document?” - well, the usual chaos and office drama. We wanted to solve all these problems, so we can help people stop working to get to the real work and save them the nightmare of coordinating with everyone else.
Daring to start from scratch again
So we started testing idea after idea. We knew we needed a hell of a lot of information before we could solve this one. This forced us to become very comfortable with iterating. We interviewed people, offered them possible approaches and listened to why they would or wouldn’t work for them. Every time we came up with a solution, we found a situation when this solution was no good. This wasn’t always pleasant. It often felt like we’re not moving at all. But we knew we needed all the feedback we could get, all the use cases we could find. To do that, we needed to ask questions repeatedly, to gain a better understanding and ask better questions next time.
Meanwhile, we released our first team product - Swipes for Slack - an extension for Slack that brought in tasks and to-do’s together with your team communication. It was a great way to gather even more feedback and insight into what people need. Having an actual product to get feedback on and iterate with was very valuable. The result that finally came of this was that we boiled the problem down to its essence. We learned having your communication and tasks in the same place wasn’t enough. It helped with one of the problems teams face - planning together - but the chaos around collaboration was still too big. Teams still misplaced files, got lost in conversations and lacked an overview of the team goals. So - we now had a more solid understanding of what needed solving. And more importantly, we understood the value of iteration and started appreciating it.
Being (too) innovative can be a bad thing
From the beginning, we challenged the status quo at every turn. We questioned almost every statement about teamwork we came across -
- are chats the best way to communicate (or do topic-based discussions work better)
- are due dates the best way to plan (or is separating your tasks for ‘now’ and ‘later’ more natural)
- is calling them tasks too intimidating (or is is more intuitive to call them steps) -to mention a few. We wanted to make sure that our solutions made sense. We didn’t want to fall into the trap of taking things at face value and base our solution on the false assumption that people like something when they simply tolerate it because there’s no better alternative.
This too takes a lot of iteration. To know if a solution is good, you need to try a bunch of other bad solutions. And our customers can confirm this - we are not afraid to try new methods. We’ve questioned the most trivial things. And we've looked for answers in unusual places.
Swipes for Slack helped us understand what the problem was - so taking what we learned, we aimed to solve that problem by building Swipes Workspace. It combined projects, tasks, files, and chats. But the way it went about them was not necessarily what you’d expect from this kind of app - we approached everything with a grain of salt - even the basic notion of tasks. This product was a period of a lot of bold statements and questioning common things, because how else are you supposed to know anything with certainty? However, as good as challenging the status quo can be, it’s also very difficult. These “innovative” work concepts we came up with confused even us, not to mention our users. Obviously, we went too far. But something good came of this too - now we have facts we can trust. We’ve built a knowledge system, if I can call it that - a bunch of things we know for sure are true. For example:
- Tasks don’t scare people. Having a chaos of tasks and not knowing where to start from scares people.
- Deadlines are a driving force.
- While having topic-based communication is very neat and organized - the effort to maintain it that way is often too big and you stop doing it. Slack’s approach is still the best way to go (trust us, we’ve built over 5 different alternatives :D).
- A work tool like that needs to deliver direct value to user #1. Getting adopted by a team will follow from that first great experience of that one person.
These were just hypothesis. With all the tests we’ve done, now they are knowledge. This gives us some breathing room. And it serves as a baseline for future questions. If something doesn’t fit at all with our facts - then there’s no basis for us to spend our time on it.
Same mission. Different ship.
Now the time has come for another major change. But our reasons and our goal - to bring clarity and peace of mind to people’s way of working - hasn’t changed.
Testing, learning from users and not settling down has made us good at what we do - building tools. It has made us better understand the design & human challenges we’re dealing with. It’s a tough process - it can be very stressful and tiring. But it also brings us closer to creating something meaningful and useful, just as any tool should be.
So our product development approach is clear - Build your product around an idea you believe in, test concepts, even some that are out there and drastically different, dare to be a loser 1,2,3,4,5… times and keep tweaking until you get to it. When you’re there, you’ll know it. When we’re there, we’ll know it.