It’s been a couple of months since we received seed funding from Haatch and now the dust has settled I thought it would be a good time start sharing some of my experiences so far.
I’ve already written about our how Marvel went from a side-project to our full-time job, and quite a few of you found it helpful so I’ll make this a regular post.
I don’t want to get all ‘Startup Yoda‘ on you, this is more a collection of thoughts so far that should hopefully give you a bit of insight into a startup from a first-time designer founder point of view.
I should have networked more whilst in freelance/full-time employment
I’ve always been terrible at networking. When I was freelancing I rarely took the time to meet new people in the industry.
If you frequently work from home like I did then putting some pants on and travelling 50min into town for a coffee can take a big (unpaid) chunk of time out of your day. Plus who wants to miss their daily dose of Diagnosis Murder?
But as the weeks pass, I’m kicking myself for not taking up the invites that came my way. Not only that, I wish I had reached out to designers, developers and startups who I have always admired throughout the years.
I can now see how the benefits of having a wide network would help with Marvel. There are lots of things we need now and in the future, everything from advice, talent and customers. Although I speak to a lot of people on social networks, nothing beats face-to-face meet ups.
If I could go back I would have made the effort to meet one new person every couple of weeks when I had the luxury of time. Although now I’m making up for it now (get in touch!)
There’s not much time for uninterrupted design
In the past month I haven’t really done that much design. It’s not uncommon for me to spend entire days talking to users, writing emails and testing.
I’ve never been the fastest designer either, I can sit at the computer for 10 hours but only really find my groove for 1-2 hours and produce designs .
Now that I have less time I can’t seem to be completely satisfied I’ve explored all possibilities when creating a new feature or screen. I often worry that we could be wasting time developing UX and features that might need to change because I’ve made a design error.
I need to figure out a way of either working faster (doubtful, been trying that for years!) or giving myself some breathing space each week to concentrate completely on design.
(awesome graph by Kevin Hale)
I’m glad I got involved in pitching whilst at agencies
If you work in an agency you’re probably well aware of the effort that goes into pitching for new business. I often tried to avoid it but now I’m realising that having that experience is really valuable at a startup.
I’m pitching Marvel almost every day, and not just in a ‘stand-in-front-of-a-projector’ kinda way. It can be to users, businesses, investors, potential hires and through marketing.
Presenting to clients and writing pitch decks was all great practice, but the thing they really drum into you in adland is being able to ‘tell a story’ which turns out is a really useful thing to know about when building your product.
I recently read a great post by Damian Madray called ‘The Future of Digital Products is in Storytelling‘. Here’s one of my favourite quotes:
“We shouldn’t limit the design of our product to just interface design or technology. We should design it to go beyond the digital landscape. This is going to matter because good design is no longer a differentiator — the secret is out. Products will need something else, something more and my bet is on storytelling.”
I completely agree. In the beginning I just thought of Marvel of a prototyping tool but it can be much more than that.
Hopefully I’ll have something to share with you in the next few weeks around this as I put the pieces together.
I need to adjust financially
Like most founders, we’ve all taken a hefty pay cut to stretch our seed funding as much as possible.
For me personally, the total works out around 60% less than what I was on each month whilst freelancing.
I need to adjust and fast. It’s a pretty expensive time of year, even if you exclude Christmas which I can control (“Merry Xmas Dad, hope you like socks!”), things like electricity and heating bills are way more expensive. Plus many things I renew yearly such as buildings and contents insurance, hosting etc are due in January.
I’ve been spending a bit of time working out where I can save money, things like moving my mobile to sim-only plan and changing broadband provider.
There needs to be a balance, I don’t want to burn money needlessly but at the same time spending hours each week trying to save myself an extra £15 a month probably isn’t the best use of my time.
What I should have done is cut everything I didn’t need when I knew we were about to get funding. Lesson learned.
Providing speedy support can turn angry users into advocates
How many crappy experiences do you have with brands and services each day? Just yesterday my train was delayed, the screen on the platform was broken and there were no announcements of the length of time it would take. Just plain crappy.
I never want contacting Marvel to be one of those crappy parts of our users day that’s why I’m determined that support gets a lot of focus.
There’s no real formula, I just treat users how I would want to be treated when contacting a service.
What I’ve noticed that speed of response can work wonders. I answer 70% of emails in under 1 hour, often just a few minutes according to Uservoice.
In many cases it has defused angry users and their replies often show appreciation for the time it took for me to write back.
Some have gone from having a pretty terrible and buggy experience into advocates for the product, immediately hitting Twitter to encourage followers to join Marvel.
Things go wrong all the time, we’re a few months old so it’s no surprise that we’re squashing bugs on a daily basis and sometimes stuff doesn’t work how it’s suppose to, but how we handle those problems is what will set us apart.
It’s one of the best parts of building Marvel, last week someone sent in a feature request and actually took the time to design the feature to show us how it would work, amazing!
If you get a chance, check out this great talk by Kevin Hale from Wufoo about customer support.
Deciding we had to take a big step back to take a step forward
Marvel went live around November, but just 4 weeks later we decided to completely rewrite the entire platform.
When we first built Marvel in our bedrooms all those months ago, it was hard to imagine thousands of people would be using it. Our MVP was just that, the minimum way of validating our idea and getting something out.
But within a few weeks we were processing several thousand images and it was clear that our it wouldn’t be able to sustain continued growth or allow us to build features easily.
Rebuilding was the last thing we wanted to do, we had just received funding and wanting to rampage through our roadmap, creating new features and better UX.
We discussed rebuilding further down the line, when we had more money and a bigger team.
If we rebuilt Marvel it would basically mean a freeze on new features and major bug fixes. But that’s what we did, effectively Marvel hasn’t had anything new added to it since November.
It was a tough decision, not only did it put us back by two months but we also couldn’t show users any progress. We had several emails from users saying they couldn’t use Marvel because it didn’t have several features they needed. “Thanks but no thanks”.
Plus we had set some aggressive targets with our investors who we didn’t want to let down. They’ve been awesome in giving us the time and freedom to build and design Marvel, but we need to prove that Marvel can turn into a profitable business.
Now we’ve completed the migration to our new shiny platform (great work Brendan!) we can finally add weekly releases.
It’s pretty amazing
We went full-time on the 5th November and it honestly doesn’t feel like I’ve worked a single day.
This is exactly the autonomy and creative endeavour I’ve wanted my entire career. It feels like waking up in the morning to go and work on your favourite hobby or something.
Maybe I’m still in the honeymoon period before the crushing pressure and sleepless nights set in, who knows.
But right now I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
That’s it for now, if you guys want to know anything in particular for the next post just let me know on Twitter or in the comments.