June 28, 2012

It's 2012, Why Aren't You Using These Hacks In Your App?


When building an application, there are standard best practices that are crammed down our throats. We hear endless lessons about metrics, customer development, lean, etc. All of those are incredibly vital frameworks to guide you down what is commonly accepted as the "right path" in crafting your product.

What we'd like to do is give some specific "hacks" -- a mix of homegrown lessons, advice from other founders, or looking at other apps. I can tell you that each one of them has made a huge noticeable difference for us.

Live Chat. Just Do It.
Uh, you mean... I have to TALK to my users? Yes, the downside is that you'll be consistently interrupted throughout the course of the day (this can be mitigated by not having everyone be available at the same time). Sometimes it's a bug, sometimes you're being showered with "why don't you do X" all the time, and once in a while you get someone who just likes to send you strings of random text just to annoy you. But who is also on there? Potential users, active customers, investors (seriously, this has worked for us multiple times) -- and is generally a way of directly interacting with real people. We're fanboys of Olark, especially the ability to see what page your chat partner is looking at.

Capture and Message Failed Signups
You've worked your ass off to fill the top of the funnel, so you better ensure that your funnel is as water tight as possible. When a user expects the slightest bit of interest in signing up, capture their e-mail address. If they don't finish the signup process within a reasonable amount of time, message them! Save their contact information to a marketing list, dedicated just for people who haven't finished. For a while, you should even consider having the system e-mail your team as well, so you can reach out to them directly. Believe it or not, this has lead to some great conversations as well. You're going to have to roll your own, maybe using a Mailchimp to store all the failed signups.

Have an Alpha Testers Group, Let Them See New Features First
Initially the "testers" will be your team, other entrepreneurs you know well, and then, if you can convince them, your wife/boyfriend/dog. But as you get more users, start identifying real leaders, both in terms of active metrics, as well as customer development. We have ~70 users who we e-mail once a week about new features and changes, and in our application, we are able to limit access to new features to that group (and ourselves). We let them see the cutting edge, but they understand in turn, they are supposed to give us some type of feedback. Roll your own, maybe use Mailchimp as a definitive list.

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Have Your App Talk to You
It's very easy to have your system e-mail you at particular events, but face it, you're lazy and probably "just haven't set it up yet." Not only do we have our system e-mail us when pivotal events requiring action from us occurs, we also use it as a motivator. Brad Feld noted that you should do this whenever a salesperson closes a deal, but your app developers deserve it too! We use Hipchat, and have a lot of fun whenever a sales comes in. We use Hipchat for team communication (I'll dive deeper on a further blog post), but I should note here that they have a a very easy to use API.

Have a CRM for Users
You want to know everything about all your users at one point. You want to be able to segment and dive in to identify particular groups of users ("show me everyone who has signed up in the past week, been active in the past day, and has set up at least two email accounts"), and easily message them. You could build out the dashboards and reporting yourself, but it's much easier to push everything to an external service, then allow your full team access to this read-only system. We love using Intercom.io, and we bug Eoghan's team many times a day with new bugs and features.

Emailed Cancelled Users, Ask For Feedback
Note that here, I did not care about changing their minds, or use it as any kind of retention tool. But, asking users, right when they decide to give up, to respond to an e-mail that looks like it was from a human being, you can get back tough-to-read-but-necessary contacts. Yep, gotta roll your own here.

What are your "killer tips?"