Entrepreneurs like to fly by the seat of their pants, implementing ideas almost as quickly as they occur. However, successful companies know the critical importance of adding a sturdy layer of testing to the product development process. Pollenizer’s Mick Liubinskas explains.
The only way to be fantastic at creating products that customers love and keep on loving (which is a core tenet of marketing) is to have a culture of testing in your company.
When a product is young, it’s easy to have ideas about how to improve it. It’s easy. There is low-hanging fruit everywhere and everyone has an opinion — from your mother through to investors.
But which ideas do you pursue? That’s where leadership comes in, to prioritise and (dare I say it) focus.
However, having a priority for implementation is not even half the challenge. How do you know the idea made a difference? Did your mother or the investor now love it 100 times more? Does that matter? The only way you know is by testing.
The ability for a company to be able to implement something quickly is pointless without the ability to see if it made a difference. To begin with it is easier, since things may have been broken and now they work. But just because something wasn’t there before and now it is doesn’t mean the overall product is better. In fact, most the time more is a lot, lot, lot less.
Having a culture of testing starts with the mindset and the commitment.
You have to want it, because it’s not fun. It takes the inspiration down a peg or two and makes it work for its money. It means you spend more time looking at numbers, graphs and spreadsheets and less time working on what’s next.
A big failure of many young businesses is that they move onto ‘next’ before ‘just added’ is working. Be careful about the term ‘working’, too. Functioning doesn’t mean that it actually makes the product better and that people care about it. Take Dave McLure’s advice and try removing a feature and see if people kick up a stink (see the slideshare below).
This takes guts and that means strong leadership, which forms strong culture.
You also have to want it enough to make some changes. A culture of testing without the right tools is pointless. Everyone at least uses Google Analytics, but it’s not enough. You need to be able to quickly see if people are:
- talking about the change and loving it
- see if it’s changing other behaviour
- if more people are coming back
- more people are converting
- more paying
- paying more
- telling their friends more
Measure everything that is actually really important. Again, see the slideshare below for more on what to measure.
Testing (your) patience
One of the hardest things about testing is that it takes time, which can frustrate the 1,000km/h entrepreneur. The anal retentive team member needs to step in and pull on the hand brake. Testing takes time. You have to think about it, implement it, let it run live, analyse the results and then you learn whether it worked or not. If you’re agile and making changes every week or two, this is still three to four weeks.
The great news is that once you’re team is into testing, the tools are in place and you’ve done a couple of laps/iterations, you’ll start to get in the groove. You’ll start to talk like testers. It goes something like this:
Co-Founder A: “Hey, I think if we made the sign-up button bigger we’d get more sales.”
Co-Founder B: “Good idea. Let’s test it! Create three versions, AB test it and check conversions.”
Instead of how it used to go:
Co-Founder A: “Hey, I think we should make the sign-up button bigger.”
Co-Founder B: “Good idea. Team, stop what you’re doing and make the button bigger.” [A day goes by…] “Wow, that new button looks good. OK, what’s the next feature we should add?”
Absolutely no idea whether the idea was any good. Just lots of untested guesses. Importantly, a testing culture adds a little more discipline to ideas. When people know they will be tested, they really think ideas through instead of throwing them out there.
What to test
I’d like to write the definitive piece on what to test, but it’s been written. Dave McClure, the dude of startup dudes, has put this together and it’s worth studying. Don’t just flick through it. Print it out and make notes. Crosses and ticks for what you don’t and do measure.
How do you test?
If you’re doing some testing, I’d love to hear what you test, how you test it and how it changes the way you think / run your business. Add a comment below.
Mick Liubinskas is one of Australia’s leading web strategists, having served in head marketing roles at Kazaa, Zapr and Tangler. He now runs Pollenizer, the business incubator he co-founded with former-Kazaa colleague Phil Morle.