Friday, October 31, 2008

Feedback for a startup

Every web service needs some kind of feedback mechanism. When working on a startup, feedback is probably even more valuable than when the product is mature. Here are some thoughts regarding the feedback for Teamness and how we're trying to make it easy for our users to make themselves heard.

Image by Orange_Beard

Why is feedback important for a startup?

It keeps you on the right track. You'll focus on the things that users actually demand, beside the ones that you think are desired. This doesn't mean that the features you're thinking about are useless, but it may imply they're less important than you think. Then it comes to prioritizing in an efficient way.

It increases the motivation. When people start using your application, this will constitute a good incentive for you to keep up the work. Getting feedback from them is a way of knowing that they're actually using it.

Situations you didn't consider show up. The diversity of the users generates context you probably didn't think about before.

How do we get feedback for Teamness?

Right from the beginning, we asked ourselves how we can make it easy for the users to send us feedback. As I pointed out in a previous post about support, it's hard to obtain feedback in the beginning stage of a product, because most users just walk away if something doesn't work.

We cannot change this behavior. After all we are all users and act in the same way, but we can make sure there are a lot of options for people to contact us. Here is a list of current choices Teamness users have for that:

1. Direct feedback from any page in Teamness
The user must get in the situation of searching for how to contact us. The method to do it should be right there and this is why we added a link called "Send feedback" in the header of every page. The link sends the user to a page with a simple contact form. Since we added this feature, we received more messages this way than through email.

2. Email
This is how we used to get most of the feedback, before implementing the option above. The emails usually consist in bug reports or feature requests, but we also receive business proposals.

3. Blog
A blog is a good place to improvise in all directions regarding the project. Using a blog you may conduct polls, invite users to participate in discussions and so on. We started blogging here after we launched, but I think that if we would've started before, like these guys did, it would've helped collecting more feedback and in an earlier stage of the product.

4. Forum
We have set up a message forum as an environment for users to provide feedback. However, we observed that most of them prefer the private way of a direct message, like email or the contact form. In any case, a forum is good in the long run, because it's a way of allowing users to engage in conversations about your product amongst themselves.

Don't get carried away

Users want the products they’re using to fit their needs as a glove. However, this is very difficult to achieve, due to the diversity of the necessities out there. We're trying to balance the options we have and to refrain from plunging into implementing a feature that will make life easier for a user, unless it's obvious it will make life easier for many users.

One of the most common advices for small web startups from experienced entrepreneurs is to launch early. A strong reason for that is feedback accumulation for the reasons described in the beginning of this post. Of course, you cannot launch a product that does pretty much nothing and expect users to come and tell you what to do, but providing a single solution for a single problem may be a good start.

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