Why We Sent 25,000 Messages to Users Before We Launched

Wade Foster
Wade Foster / Published July 15, 2012

Building a product from scratch that will support you, a co-founder and your collective families is hard. Really hard.

One of the most comprehensive guides I have seen for doing this is the Thoughtbot Playbook which covers building and growing a product from start to finish.

But after reading a playbook like that you can easily be overwhelmed. After all the playbook has 60+ steps and each step is quite easy to simply not do at all.

So the instinct is to pick and choose articles you see on HN and imitate the darling tech companies we know. Eventually ours brains are stuffed with things like:

  1. If our stack is as good as Instagram's we'll be able to handle scale.
  2. If we can build product as efficiently as UserVoice we can eliminate waste.
  3. If we can manage and encourage growth like Facebook we'll be unstoppable.

All good things. But if you're a two or three man startup with zero customers none of this matters.

So how do you get to a point where these things matter?

Do things that don't scale

This advice has been beaten like a dead horse, but I still see startups every day trying to over optimize their startup in the beginning for scenarios that may or may not ever exist.

[Sidenote: Are we really sure that the process we are trying to optimize can't scale? Zappos managed to scale personalized customer service which I never would have thought to be possible. So maybe some things that feel like they can't be scaled actually can?]

Instead do things that help you learn more about your market. Learn about your customers. Learn about how your business might actually work.

  1. Email your first 1000 customers
  2. Cold call businesses to find early adopters
  3. Know what is core to your business and what isn't

Why we sent 25,000 messages to users and what happened as a result.

At Zapier we had a guess based on building our own web apps and conversations with a few people who used multiple SaaS apps that integrations might be a pain point. Past that we didn't know much.

It would have been easy to build our version of the ultimate integrations machine. But from the very beginning we insisted customers be a part of the conversation.

So we added Olark to our site and we started chatting with users who somehow stumbled across our site. We had one conversation, then ten conversations, then a hundred conversations and we started realizing that our version of the ultimate integration machine isn't what was needed.

The conversations were so valuable that we ended up sending over 25,000 messages to users before we launched while trying to get feedback by iterating on problems and features, and taking conversations to Skype where we could hand build integrations for first time users.

Our vision of the ultimate integrations machine turned into a simple way for businesses to create an integration between 48+ web apps and automate their businesses.

We might have eventually figured it out ourselves, but thousands of conversations with users made it way easier.

So for us doing things that seem to not scale was the most efficient way to build our product. Maybe it will be for you too.

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