Category Archives: Outsourcing

I am a Female Sole Founder with no Dev Experience… Yeah, it’s a Tough Road!

I am a sole founder (my startup is http://www.Swayable.com) and I don’t code. It’s not that I believe going completely solo is the way to do a startup (I have an Advisory board with some amazing, and experienced, folks). I just haven’t been around a lot of engineers in my career and haven’t found that great technical co-founder match…you know, that person you just click with, have a great working relationship, and decide to start a company together? Nope that’s not me. I have met amazing people: Marketers, PR, Project Managers, you name it…but no engineers!

I’ve been told to go to networking events, which I do, but I am not willing to give up equity, or settle on my vision with someone I met at an event for 2 days, or jump into bringing someone on board just because they can do the job, but not find out if they are a good fit. To me, finding someone I am willing to share equity with is a lot like finding a spouse – It has to be right, has to click and they have to really be a great compliment to my work style and passion.  I am not going to find that after meeting someone or chatting for 2 days.

I had 1 of 2 options, with Swayable – give up on the idea, or project manage it and outsource the work and hope that eventually I’ll meet the right people to help build a great team.  I went with option 2.

So here I am, outsourcing the bulk of my site, getting creative with crowdsourcing for the busy work and at the same time working my “day job” which is a co-owner of a marketing project management business. I am also a mom of twins and a wife.  Needless to say, it’s a bit challenging but having a startup as a “hobby” (I define hobbies as something that doesn’t pay the bills) truly is my passion, some people chill in front of the tv at night, and I am reviewing new builds, sending feedback testing and documenting future dev needs… crazy as it is. I love it!

The hardest part for me has been some of the ups and downs of development. I have a fabulous outsource company (www.beyondsoft.com) that truly is making my vision a reality. However, the challenges with outsourcing your development is that you have to first find a great team/company to work with, then you have to know how to write a good specification document and you have to know what you want to build up front as if you go out of scope it can often cost more, (typically you can get a little bit of flexibility, but if you start changing scope to much it costs money).

You also have to stay on top of this daily, providing feedback, testing everything to death, and being super detailed in how you provide the feedback as you are the PM on this, you have to be the one finding everything that needs to be fixed/updated. As a sole founder this is all you.

I also learned a very good lesson during some of this. Design is clearly not my forte. I hacked together a design with my rudimentary Photoshop skills.  I found that it was great for this beta version to get testing and feedback, but it was horrible at actually helping communicate visually what my site is about.  I finally brought on a great designer to help bring the site to life. That design revision will be live hopefully by end of December.  The design portion can help so much to make the difference between interesting/sticky and just plain boring.  I am excited to see this new design come to life.

I am also learning that everything takes WAY longer than you expect. I am used to working on projects that I control the outcome, or there is a set date, like an event. But with development and outsourcing, you have to tack on a bit of time.  If you are a dev and outsource you probably have a better idea of timelines for development, if your from a marketing/project management background wit no dev experience, your concept of how long things take is probably off like mine has been.

Swayable is not where I want it to be, yet, the next updates coming shortly will get it to a great place and with the iPhone application launching in a month or so, I’ll be getting closer to my initial vision. I just keep chugging along!

Most of all, I like the challenge of being a sole founder, but look forward to the day that I can hopefully have some great people on my team that can compliment my skillset, bring ideas and fresh perspectives and be strong where I am weak. I have faith that if I just keep building, testing, building that I will find the right team….

<SelfPromotion> Check out my startup –  http://www.swayable.com and give me feedback anytime.  Follow me on Twitter </SelfPromotion>

5 Lessons Learned: User Testing with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

My first foray into AMT was with using it to validate my startup idea for Swayable. I’ve also used it for 12 or so ways while building the site (that blog post coming soon).

I just launched our beta last Friday- October 22. Already moving in to V2 development now.  I hope to have those updates done by early to mid-December.  (Feel free of course to check out Swayable and send me feedback “Lindsey (@) Swayable.com”).

Being a bootstrapped startup, I can’t afford massive user testing through standards services that cost anywhere from $29 and up per tester. (Side note – I will use http://www.usertesting.com/ for some tests because I do want to hear verbatim feedback as users are going through the site.)  But for bulk testing to find issues to address I needed a different solution.

So I Used MTurk to do my testing!

 I have received GREAT results, and am fast adding updates to the site daily. I did the test with 120 Turkers and here are the lessons I learned as well as the survey/results I got

Lesson #1Test price points to see where the sweet spot is for your survey/feedback.

I received the absolute BEST results at the lowest price point.. (crazy odd if you ask me!)

  • $5.00 price point (hoping I’d get amazing detailed feedback) – Seemed to be picked up insanely fast, but feedback was moderate and I did have some spammer comments.
  • $3.00 price point – Great feedback, a lot more detailed in responses and no spammy comments.
  • .90 price point – I though “what the hell I’ll give it a go” at .90 and you know what, the absolute BEST feedback I got was at this price point, go figure!

Lesson #2 – Create a Survey Monkey for your Survey, vs. trying to do this in MTurk.

Survey Monkey is built for doing surveys, and has GREAT analytics. Why try to rebuild the wheel within Mturk? I posted a basic Mturk hit, with instructions to go to my survey monkey survey.

To view my exact survey on Survey Monkey go here, (um yeah – feel free to take the survey and send me feedback. J) http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/swayable

Here is what I asked in Mturk, super basic, but directed the user to my Survey monkey survey. (at this time, you can’t hardcode URL’s into Mturks self-serve system (I think there is some “amazon centric “ code, for hardcoding URL’s  in HIT’s that I am not aware of .  So I have users copy/paste the URL, if you do know what this special trick is, let me know. J)

 

Lesson #3 Sort and prioritize the results.

I made sure any bugs and errors were addressed first. And then took feedback that affected the current version of the product to make the site as is, as great as possible (vs. randomizing my dev team on feature updates before optimizing the current site/experience).

 Feedback beyond or suggestions beyond the current version are moved into my “V2” updates that are already in the works.

Updates addressed immediately – I found several bugs/users issues on the site doing the user testing:

  • Users were getting some errors within the Create Swayable process. I would not have found these errors on my own and was able to update them in nearly real time.
  • Design feedback (yes my design was hacked together by me.. I’m bootstrapped). I was able to update some text/design components based on great feedback from users on where they were confused or had questions while reviewing site content.
  • Dead links in my registration process.
  • Removed several registration components to make it quicker/easier
  • Clarified the “share swayable page”
  • Updated the getting started page to be more descriptive
  • Issues with number of sways not showing up accurately on the public swayable page
  • View count not showing up accurately on public swayable page
  • Removed some advertising components.
  • Updates text and some descriptions.

Updates added to V2 of the site – I also received a ton of suggestions for V2 features which I quickly added to my V2 spec document.  I would say ½ of my V2 features came from user testing feedback and the other ½ from elements that I wanted to update, but knew I need to get my MVP out, and quickly iterate to the next version.

Lesson #4 Test your survey with a small group first and keep tweaking it until you get the right level of response.

What I mean by this is that you have to be incredibly clear with your questions and make each question a “step” and very simple. Test out your survey with a small batch before going ‘big’ so you can make sure your questions are clear and your getting the kind of feedback response you were expecting.

Lesson# 5 –  Yes you CAN use MTurk outside of consumer facing products

What if your site isn’t a consumer product, can you still use MTurk for testing?

YES! Just break it down into separate surveys for specific testing. You won’t get “content” feedback from Mturk if your product/service is very targeted.  But you can get website/functionality feedback. Here are some ideas for sites that may not be consumer focused:

  • Test your registration process –  Make sure to let Mturk workers know that you are testing your registration process, and provide them an area in the HIT to leave there name or email so you can delete there account if they request. It’s against Mturk TOS to require registration without a way for them to delete it.
  • Get Design feedback – Test overall UI, site description etc.
  • Test site links – you can even have turkers test site links, and let you know if the link is taking them somewhere they don’t think it should take them.
  • Navigation – get feedback on your navigation flow, does it make sense. Etc.

Would love to know if any of you have had success using MTurk to user test your product?

And as always I have to insert – <SelfPromotion> Check out my site!http://www.swayable.com , Become a Fan on Facebook.  You can also follow me @harperlindsey on Twitter</SelfPromotion>

Cheers, Lindsey

ODesk – my not so great experience, how has yours been?

So after doing my small viability survey and taking my 50 page spec document. single spaced with everything I would want to see in this service listed out. I then weeded it down to about 13 pages, based on the survey (see my post on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk).

I decided I needed to get a product to launch as quickly as possible that has the basic functionality of my idea, but let’s users help dictate the next features I add vs. me making these kind of spendy assumptions (i.e. it will cost me money to add any features, so they are spendy).

I posted the project on ODesk and narrowed it down to about 5 companies after several weeks of bidding and back and forth emails.

I had the companies sign a developer NDA. and then had them review the spec document, interview over Skype and then send me their final project timeline, and bid.

I felt confident in the company I selected, they said they could complete the project by August 1st (this was mid June when I selected the company). They said they didn’t have any issues with the customization (drupal framework), they had passed all my interviews etc. and I was stoked! My site would be launched in 1.5 months.

….Fast forward to the end of July. They hadn’t even hit the first milestone. My project scope was insanely detailed, they even said they didn’t have many questions as it was all laid out in the spec document.

The problem was, the development of even some of the basic functions was beyond their skill set, or at least that’s what it appeared to be, when they were 1 month behind schedule on a first milestone.

Frankly, I have no patience for missed milestones with out logical reason and 1 month was way to much, it just wasn’t working well and I didn’t get that good instinctual feeling that they were the right team, so I let them go.

I paid them what I thought as a fair amount for work they had done, knowing that I would probably have to scrap it. I decided that ODesk would be great for simple, easy to setup sites, but for some custom work/coding I won’t be using the service again. In addition, the company I used actually asked me to give them a 5 star rating because it helps them get business… ? Are you kidding me?

I found another outsourcing company Beyondsoft and they are AMAZING! In the month of working on my website, I am truly impressed. They are working with me as a team, suggesting ideas and tweaks to my existing specs and helping to make the site even better. They “get it” and I am so relieved to have the right team on board. BTW if you want to contact Beyondsoft, reach out to Michael Aday –  mike.aday (at) beyondsoftconsulting.com.

Bottom line, tread carefully when outsourcing. Trust your instinct, if it’s not working, get out now and find the right team, even if it takes a bit of searching, it’s worth the wait.

<SelfPromotion> You can sign up at http://www.swayable.com to be notified when I launch, or “like” the Swayable Facebook page.  You can also follow me on Twitter </SelfPromotion>

How I Used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to Validate my Startup Idea

I am a big fan this whole “minimum viable product” philosophy. I’ve probably adapted it to my own interpretation, but basically I look at it as bootstrapping on crack, get your product out with the minimum feasible offering to start seeing traction. I am trying to be as resourceful as possible with this startup. Using existing technologies, free services, API’s etc. to help build the service and get launched as quickly as possible. 

The first place I started was when I had my ‘epiphany’ (that’s what I call the latest idea). I knew that I needed to find out if this was even a viable idea. Asking friends and family is great, but let’s face it, they already love you, they’re your friends/family.

So I decided my step was to get a survey up about the idea and find out what people think, (I think this qualifies as a first step in the MVP Philosophy).

So I did just that, with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk system. I spent $27.50 and surveyed 200 people. There is NO segmentation in this system so I got feedback from anyone, which is exactly what I wanted. (well I wanted feedback from people that have access to the internet since this is a web startup).

I wanted to see how many users from the “general” population that has access to the web would find this service useful. I also wanted to see how this broke down by Age/Gender as well as ways in which they could see using the service.

Here’s what I asked in my survey:

I gave a brief description of what the website/service offering would be then asked the users:

  1. Gender
  2. Age
  3. Would they use the service as described above
  4. Give me 3 examples of how they would use the service.
  5. General feedback or ideas on the service, why they would or would not use it.

The information I got back for my $27.50 was INVALUABLE. I found from that 1 survey, how to basically build my product for launch. What features I had to have based on how users would use the service. I also realized I could basically cut my current feature set in 1/2 because what I thought people would want, wasn’t even mentioned.

My Results:

  • I found out that 73% of the people surveyed would use my service (that validated the idea for me).
  • Then found that of the 27% that wouldn’t use the service, WHY they wouldn’t use the service, then I added those common “no” reasons into my MVP product for launch, in hopes that I could convert even more.
  • I also found out to my surprise that more men than women said they’d use the service. I fully expected it to be the other way around.

It’s pretty easy to create a survey using the Turk System. But I highly recommend doing some surveys or trying it out with small “batches” first so that you can figure out how to use the system before processing 200 questions.

Bottom line is, this was a great way to just throw out the idea, get validation and see what people had to say. This also helped fine tune my spec document for product build based on actual feedback on the product idea/concept.

<SelfPromotion> You can sign up at http://www.swayable.com to be notified when I launch, or “like” the Swayable Facebook page.  You can also follow me on Twitter </SelfPromotion>