The beginnings of Flash

The beginnings of Flash. Why validation is important before you start building.

I like to think life at ucreate can be split into two periods, pre-Flash and post-Flash. The first period was all about building things right; think a solid and robust code base. The second period has focused a lot more on building the right things; think validation and UX.

It’s natural for a good company to mature in this way but the process for how it happens varies from company to company. This article will give a little more insight into how ucreate went through this process and pivoted to the programmes it has today.

Pre-Flash

First of all, I want to start off by saying life at ucreate has never been dark and gloomy. Even in the pre-Flash era there was still a tonne of good work coming out of the company. Backed by a strong founding team with a mission to build products that people love to use, there has always been that incentive to go the extra mile.

Now, back to life pre-Flash.

It is easy to think that a domain expert knows everything. They’ve been immersed in their industry for a number of years, have numerous success stories to tell, as well as boasting an extensive network. You can easily fall into the trap of thinking if anyone knows their target market, it’s this person. When you’re building software it seems like the perfect scenario.

You’ve stumbled across the goose that lays the golden eggs.

In this situation, you listen carefully to what the expert has to say and build to their exact specifications, after all why wouldn’t you. You then focus on what you’re good at, building high quality solutions that will stand the test of time. With little interaction with users you lock yourself away until the product is ready for launch, be that a soft launch with an MVP or full launch with all the bells and whistles. Thankfully, ucreate has always been a company to release as soon as possible; it helps with learning.

Before the big launch day arrives you go through the motions of software development. You run your sprints by the book, adopt the latest technologies/frameworks/practices and simulate all possible scenarios to ensure your code is nothing short of a Picasso. You and your founder have a masterpiece and it’s time to celebrate. It’s fist bumps all around as everyone prepares for the big day.

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Then it happens. The product launches but it’s a hardly the success you envisaged. Adoption is lower than anticipated, retention rates are scary and worse still, people are voicing their anger on social media! So what exactly went wrong?

You gather around a whiteboard and brainstorm all possible causes of failure. The market wasn’t ready, Kevin from marketing let us down, or a personal favourite, we launched on a bloody Sunday! Given it’s a crisis, any excuse goes. You finally calm yourselves down and get back to it. You had someone who knew their market inside out but the product wasn’t well received. Silence. Then it hits you. They (and you) don’t know everything about the target market. You’ve just stumbled across the primary cause of failure for 42% of ventures. You spent so little time speaking to users that in the end you completely overlooked their needs.

You’ve built a perfect piece of software that nobody wants.

That insight is short lived however, you let your biases win. It’s an anomaly, a bit of bad luck that meant the stars didn’t align. People aren’t ready for your product and that has nothing to do with what you’ve created. However, when it happens for the second or third time you start to think that maybe something isn’t quite right here. It’s time for a full retrospective of your processes and that’s when it hits home. You build things right, you’re just not building the right things. It’s time for change.

Thankfully, ucreate has always demonstrated an ability to pivot quickly. While initial launches were not as successful as they could have been they were not disasters either. The company cares a great deal about the businesses it works with so it wasn’t too long before the processes changed and the company was on the right track.

Post-Flash

I’d like to say it was a lightbulb moment but the truth is ucreate was learning and adjusting its processes all the time. Little tweaks here and there meant that the company was constantly correcting itself and moving in the right direction. That said, packaging those learnings into a single product has really accelerated the company and the businesses it works with.

To start with, market and user research now happens upfront. There is no more waiting until a product has been built. The opportunity as a whole is assessed and that means delving into the wider market context as well as having conversations with actual people. You need to confirm the size of the opportunity and that means taking stock of the current and future states of the market. It’s important to do this as you can account for any anticipated changes in your product and business strategies. It also allows you to confirm or reject any assumptions that you hold. As we’ve learnt pre-Flash, even a domain expert doesn’t know everything.

An important artefact to generate throughout the initial research period is a persona. This is a manifestation of your target market based on the insights you’ve derived. A combination of primary and secondary research such as reports, surveys and interviews will help you to construct one. It’s extremely important to create as every time you discuss the product you should return to your persona and ask yourself do they really need this. If they don’t, stop the conversation there. If you continue it you’ll end up building that pesky product that nobody wants, don’t fall into old habits.

You’re now confident that the market needs your product and you’ve nailed your persona. You’re in a pretty sweet spot but far from finished. When designing the product you need to return to your target user early and often. Low fidelity wireframes are a great way to do this. They help you and the user focus on the action to complete rather than individual preferences for styling. You quickly grasp if your product is intuitive to use or whether you need to make some tweaks.

As you get more confident with your product you can then turn your wireframes into fully fledged designs. Apart from bringing your concept to life, they also help you to tell a story to other stakeholders. You’ll often need to pitch your vision to investors and an interactive prototype is a great way to supplement your data and research. Mockups are also a great way to capture expressions of interest through a landing page as they help show what the future holds and give people something tangible to attach themselves to.

You now have data backed designs. So when it comes to development you’re not just building something, you’re building the right thing. You’ve got an intuitive product that solves a problem. As you’ve engaged with people upfront you’ve also built up a community. A group of individuals who are eagerly awaiting your product and will happily be advocates for it when the time is right. No more launches with catastrophic failures. Your community should be an important part of your go-to-market strategy so don’t forget it.

I’m pleased to say that this process has saved our businesses a lot of time and money. Rather than jumping straight in, which is very tempting, we put the brakes on and analyse the options available. Initially it seems like we’re slowing down the rate at which we launch but I promise the rework associated with poor product planning is much slower. It might also turn out that the original vision or strategy changes but the focus on building products that people love to use remains. It’s often been the case that the assumptions for the core flows within the product have been completely flawed. If we allowed ourselves to start building straight away we would be doing ourselves and our founders a misjustice.

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As with all great businesses ucreate understands the need for constant change and improvement. Because of this, I strongly believe that a third period is already starting to manifest. What this will turn out to be is still a little uncertain but what I do know is that it is going to be another very exciting period. A period which allows ucreate to take its businesses another step further.

You can find out more about our approach here.

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