Thursday, September 12, 2013

Zero To Product: How & Why I Discontinued My Product

This is the 7th (and final) part of a retrospective on vizipres: A product I began and worked on for a few months. 

Hit, Stand Or Double Down?

Over the course of the 6 previous articles I've written, I've described how I built a product from inception to release. In this last part, I'll talk about why I decided to discontinue my product ( vizipres ) and how I shut it down.

Too Long For An MVP?

My last article was about How I Built My MVP and I'll continue the story from there......

The entire process of taking my product from inception to MVP took about 2 months. I imagine a lot of Lean proponents would say that 2 months is waayyy too long. Realistically, it should have taken me about 2-3 weeks (from inception, through customer development to coding). What would have sped it up would have been if I:
  • Was working on it full time
  • Had chosen to use a technology which I was an expert in
  • Had more people (e.g. a co-founder) working with me
Everybody is different and for me, not working with a partner on the product was one of the biggest challenges. I'm very much into being part of a team which I can inspire and at the same time, inspire me. 

The Results Thus Far

So here I am with my MVP & promo sites launched. At this point vizipres had under 100 users and most of them had only used it a few times.  The ones which were using my MVP were more personal friends who thought it interesting and were sticking with it - probably to give me moral support.

My promo site experiments were confirming my hypotheses - that most people signing up and / or landing on the site were people looking for powerpoint alternatives and status reporting software. I didn't look at the types of vizis people were creating because I was concerned about privacy issues. Looking back, I should have gather more generic information about the the types of vizis they were creating, instead of just tracking application use ( engagement ). 

I think if I had done that, I would have gotten a better idea how I could (or if I should) narrow my situational segment even more. If I were to describe peoples reaction to the product, I would say they were curious and interested but not hooked. That is why most people would sign up, play with it for a little bit, try out the sharing of it....but after about a week they'd drop off.

Pivot or Quit?

So here I was - I was at the crossroad of deciding if I wanted to pivot to focus on what was bringing me the most traffic ( it seemed most people came to vizipres from status report software searches ) or do I quit......?

If you haven't figured it out, I decided to quit. Here are the main reasons:
  • My personal moral was low on the project.
  • If I wanted to continue with it, I really needed to bring on someone else to help me with it.
  • If I was going to need to bring other people on the project, I was going to have to eventually enter the role of HR - hiring and firing people. I didn't want that.
  • I missed just being focused on building and growing a product. Instead, now, I was building and (soon to be) growing a business.
  • I was recently married and wanted to have more stability in my life.
When it comes to building a business, I don't mind it...but growing a business....I don't enjoy doing. In the past I've had a photography and retouching business....but that was just me. Currently, I have a real estate business ( I own rental properties ), but I've hired two other people to run it for me. When I want to make a change, I just research a bit, talk with the other people involved and then make a decision. When you have good people working for you, decision making is much easier. 

So the bottom line here is that I found out I like building & growing products - not businesses.

Shutting Down vizipres

The first thing I had to do was to figure out a simple plan. Here's what I decided:
  1. Figure out how customers could export their information.
  2. Set a date when the service would be discontinued
  3. Notify customers, via email, that the service was shutting down, when it was shutting down and explain how to export information.
  4. Add UI elements to the application which would notify customers that the site was going offline.
  5. On the shut down date: put a placeholder page explaining that the service is discontinued.
  6. On the shut down date: wind down the service.
When it came to figuring out how they could export their information, I'm sorry to say that I couldn't figure out a good way to do this. Well...actually.... I didn't devote a lot of time figuring it out. The problem I had was that, in order to get the MVP out the door, I actually saved any uploaded images straight to the database as a data stream. I know, it's a big 'no no' but I wasn't concerned about scaling and security when I was building my MVP. It was meant to be short term anyway. In the end, I suggested they just copy and paste everything any text and save the images from the website. Some people thought I should have come up with a better way, and they're right, but in the end no one made much of fuss.

I chose to email all the customers by hand (with the help of email templates) using google's oauth info. It didn't take long and since it was for fewer than 100 people AND I wouldn't be doing it again, I chose not to figure out any way to automate it.

I then added a popup which would show upon login. After it showed once for the user, I decided to add a highlight to the menu bar which would say how many days were left until the site shut down.

When it came time to shut down the service, I put up the page and took the application offline. I also decided to delete all the information too. I didn't want to have to worry about any privacy concerns. I also didn't want to worry about keeping the BaaS alive - I was concerned about getting charged without me knowing. 

Then...that was it....

The Denouement

It's been quite a while since I shut down vizipres and I need to remind myself ( and others ) of my goals: I wanted to go through the entire process of building a product. As I mentioned in part 1, I've done most parts of building and growing a product already; however, I haven't done it all, start to finish, with one product.

I've definitely learned more about product and it was a great experience. I'l also learned more about what I don't like; specifically, that I don't like creating and growing businesses... I prefer to create and grow products.

So now I'm looking around for a company to join. As I'm writing this, I'm actually involved in another startup in the real estate area. I am going to work with these guys until I find a great place to work. The situation works out since the CEO is a friend of mine and loves being the salesman, HR, etc. guy. It's great, cause that means I can focus on being in charge of keeping everyone focused on the business / product / engineering front. 

Which is where I like to be.