The feedback cycle was something that we’ve struggled with in previous organizations and for this round we made it a top priority to engage with potential customers as early as we possibly could. We’re happy to report that we were able to do this within the first 2 weeks of starting vspr.ai. You really can’t start this process too early – startups live and die by how early and how often they get feedback.
Brain tricks and gamification can help turn goals into problems to be understood and solved. In these early stages we decided we needed feedback at least weekly and came up with a process to create a continuous feedback cycle. We adopted the DEFCON warning system. In the modern world the imminence of nuclear war is no joking matter (never promised we’d stay out of politics), but we feel the sense of urgency in getting feedback is very real when heads down building a new product. It’s entirely too easy to fall into the echo-chamber of self-reinforced “great” ideas. We could easily spend weeks burning through our limited capital reserves building features that no one will pay for.
To keep us focused on this pitfall we decided to post a DEFCON countdown on the whiteboard in our office. True to the DEFCON inspiration this countdown starts at 5 and every day during our morning scrum if we haven’t spoken to a potential user in the last day we decrement the DEFCON number. We chose this aggressive pace because we believe it’s possible to get weekly feedback in these early stages and it’s also necessary. We’ve picked a juicy problem to solve but the ideal solution is going to take many iterations. The only way to know if you’re on the right path is to continuously engage with people by getting out of the office or enticing users to come to you (we recommend cooking breakfast or having craft cocktails at arm’s reach).
Implementing systems like this, as simple and silly as it might be, enforces what gets measured gets done. We can spend all day saying we want to do things differently than we have in the past, but how will we prevent ourselves from falling back into comfortable routines? How easy will it be to explain away a few weeks spent perfecting an idea that no one really wants? This forces us to track and measure how often we’re getting feedback, which presents the feedback issue to our brains as a puzzle that needs to be solved every week.
This has manifested itself in a number of ways and caused us to do a few things that I don’t think we would have otherwise. In order to prevent the last minute scramble to call someone and get poor quality feedback (cheating the system), we combed through our contacts to build a list of people we thought would provide good feedback and would dedicate the time. Never hurts to ask, right? We divided this list a few different ways – prioritizing people local to us here in Denver so we could meet in person, people that would be potential end users, and people that have experienced the problem we’re trying to solve personally. We narrowed our list down to 20 people and divided this list into “waves”. This “Waves of Feedback” process will hopefully help us prevent the destruction of our world going past Defcon 1. We reached out to the “First Wave” of 5 people and scheduled them over a 2 week period. Our idea is that there will be at least a month between reaching back out to the same wave for follow up feedback. This keeps us from calling in too many favors and wasting time without showing significant progress and new ideas for feedback. It also gives us time to implement feedback from the other waves before coming back around to the same person. Our hope is that by the time we roll back around we’ll wow them with progress and continue the snowball effect. We’ll report back and see how well this process is holding up.
On that note – we need to expand our feedback circle! If you or someone you know is working in product management or a role that intersects with product roadmaps and strategic initiatives in an organization, we’d love to talk to you. If you happen to be in the Denver area we’ll even cook you breakfast. Shoot us a note at email@example.com
Cobb & DG