I started designing the Campayn pages back in June of 2011. I learned a lot along the way, and I wanted to summarize some of the most important things I discovered during the process. Keep in mind that this is our experience in building an online email newsletter tech business, and some of it may not apply to all businesses.
The longer it’s in your head, the greater the chance of failure… unless you’re Nikola Tesla. Tesla (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla) had this amazing ability to visualize his inventions so clearly, before they were even built, that he often had a hard time distinguishing these visions from reality.
Often one’s plans are like a domino chain of thoughts, and the longer they dwell in your head, the longer the domino chain gets… dangerous. You’re assuming the entire chain of 20 dominos will work, but in actuality if domino 3 fails, that makes the following 17 dominos irrelevant. We make a lot of assumptions about how our customers will react and how distribution will work, but they aren’t foolproof.
When I designed the UI for Campayn, it was a much more complex service; but before we started to code, we simplified a lot. I’m glad we did, because it took us about a year just to get to beta.
Key takeaway: Keep the initial version simple, and make it as good as you possibly can – then ship!
You don’t need an office
A recent work from home study shows that people are more productive, work longer and take fewer breaks and sick days when they work from home:
A company’s value is not in the physical building, but in the people who are building the company. Today we have companies with remotely distributed staff selling for hundreds of millions.
Hire people from anywhere in the world
When you work with a distributed staff, you don’t have to hire from the same city – or even the same time zone.
At Campayn, we have 2 layers of staff: Core team and extended team, each with different types of access. The core team is connected to chat and is involved in all our decisions. The core team is also responsible for managing the extended team. The extended team works on everything from our great illustrations to quality assurance.
When it comes to hiring, we take a totally different approach than most companies. We see no need for a lengthy interview process to determine who would be the best candidate; we assign same small task to three or four people, and pick the one who does the best job. We then continue to work with that person. At first this tactic might seem wasteful, but it’s not. Hiring the ‘right’ person pays off quickly. And we’ve found great team members from all around the world.
Once you do have your team in place, try not to use email to manage your projects, as it gets messy quickly. We use Basecamp and we’re pretty happy with it.
Edit your team quickly
In every case where I wasn’t sure about a team member, and I gave the situation more time, it never worked out. At the beginning, you’ll need to edit the team early and often.
Keeping your business healthy is far more important than worrying about parting ways with someone who’s not a good fit. It’s hard to do, but you’re not doing anyone any good by keeping them around, and they will likely find more rewarding work elsewhere. Edit quickly!
Stop the meetings
Of course we all need to communicate and be aligned on initiatives, and meetings are the usual way of doing that. It’s okay to meet once in a while, but we find that it’s really disruptive if it’s happening on a daily basis.
Use online chat to quickly make decisions, then move forward. It’s fast and not as disruptive. We use Campfire by 37signals.com, but there are quite a few options for business chat.
We live in a world of constant notifications and other things trying to get our attention. Emails are flowing in constantly, Skype calls and chats are dinging, meeting alerts are popping up, the phone is ringing, SMS text messages are appearing… It’s easy to go from one alert to the next, and before you know it notifications have stolen your day.
I do two simple things to help me focus.
I used to have 10 or 12 tabs open in my browser when I worked, and I found myself constantly going from one tab to the next. I now limit myself to having two tabs open, one for chat and the other dedicated to whatever I need to work on at that moment.
The other thing I’ve done is create to-do lists. They allow me to stay on track and stay focused on the important things, instead of the alerts that are vying for my attention.
It will take longer, and cost more
Finally, there are two big-picture lessons I learned over the course of building Campayn.com. However well you plan your business, you’ll probably find that it will take longer and cost more than you thought.
I read somewhere that at least 80% of software projects are not completed on time. I knew all this and tried to account for it by adding 3 months to our original 6 month schedule – and it still took longer! Be sure to give your project enough breathing room to meet your expectations, while avoiding costs associated with rushing things towards the end.
Money is to your business what oxygen is to you. If you run out, all those wonderful things you planned on doing are no longer possible. I can’t emphasize this enough: Once money runs out you either need to get investors, or your business must die (or at least go into a coma). Don’t waste your money on things just because other people in your industry do. Find creative inexpensive ways to solve problems.
Building an online tech business may have key differences from your own project, but some of our basic business principles may prove helpful.