Tuesday 17 September 2019

Startup diary: One of the great things about fundraising is that you get free business advice - investors are quite happy to call your baby ugly

Under construction: Building a bespoke website for an event is no small undertaking. Stock image
Under construction: Building a bespoke website for an event is no small undertaking. Stock image

Richard Rodger, Voxgig founder

HOW do you decide to build a new feature for your product?

Voxgig is a software-as-a-service startup, and we live or die on the basis of our features. Build ones that people find useful and they pay us.

Build features that nobody wants, and it doesn't end well.

So how do you decide what features to build, and how do you go about building them cost-effectively?

Let's take an in-depth look at one of our new features and follow its story from concept to go-live.

Many events and conferences need their own mini-website.

This is often just a one-page site with separate sections serving as "pages".

Event sites typically need sections for the venue and location, the speaker list, buying tickets, sponsors and so forth.

A number of our trial users over the last few months have been trying to find an easier way to build their conference websites.

Traditional solutions are to use a website builder service like Wix or Squarespace.

Or even just set up an event page on EventBrite or Bizzabo.

Some opt for a modified WordPress blog.

Others go all in and get a custom website built.

These are all good options.

But they suffer from the eternal complaint of all event organisers when it comes to technology - yet another thing they have to figure out and integrate (almost always manually) with everything else. Part of our mission in Voxgig is to solve this problem - to be a one-stop shop.

You can see how a custom event website builder is a good feature for us to build.

What's the catch?

This is not a simple piece of technology.

There's a reason that entire companies have this single capability as their entire product.

Most event software offerings don't provide this feature.

We had the classic dilemma of a much-needed obvious feature that would win over clients, but which was a big risk to build due to the complexity and corresponding time and effort.

As a result we held off building it until we could find a "two-for-one".

If you've worked with me in any capacity you'll hear me spout this trite little phrase at least once a week.

It's annoying, but vital.

Jeff Bezos has his 'It's Day One' (ie always think like an early stage startup). For a European startup, with our underdeveloped seed stage investment landscape, it's critical to figure out how to get stuff built without US-style funding.

That means you've got to find the "two-for-ones".

Everything you do should ideally serve two or more purposes and move two or more goals forward.

One of the great things about fundraising is that you get free business advice; investors are quite happy to call your baby ugly.

In our case, because we have focused on private trials, our previous website was not the best.

Earlier in the summer we launched a brand new website and marketing message and it has been very well received.

We could have treated the new website build as yet another task on the long list, but we spotted an opportunity to move our feature set forward.

Given that we wanted to build a website builder, and that clients were looking for this feature and knowing that we were planning to run our own conference in April next year and would need a separate website anyway, we decided to go ahead with the website builder feature.

This feature, which is now built and which we will use for our conference website, official launch today at our meet-up, allows non-technical people to build a professional looking event website.

In a classic example of "eating your own dog food" we road-tested and debugged the website builder by building our new website with it.

Yes, it took longer and was more painful.

But better for us to suffer the pain of early bugs rather than our customers.

We've discovered lots of user experience issues and lots of technical ones. We're a long way from finishing this feature and getting it to a truly polished level.

It's a specialist website builder, so while technically challenging, it is not as expensive to build as a generic website builder.

We do have another little angle, most of our customers are technology companies and so have technical staff on hand to help. This lets us release a more basic version earlier.

This feature would not have been possible on its own merits, at least not in the short term.

But because we could solve a separate problem (our own website needs) with this feature, and in so doing refine and improve its functionality to make it releasable, and because we had customers willing to use it and pay for it, we could take the risk on the development effort.

Always look for the "two for ones".

Metrics: this week we have 75 open issues, and 180 closed issues.

Richard Rodger is the founder of Voxgig. He is a former co-founder of Nearform, a technology consultancy firm based in Waterford.

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