How we cut our MVP in half to launch KIDLY
For the last 9 months, we at KIDLY have been designing and building a brand new online shop with the following tagline…
“The best stuff for baby, all in one place”
Last week we launched silently to our many early adopters who we call VIPs. To do this we had to cut our original MVP in HALF!
This has been a challenging process because our Chief James, has a hugely ambitious and wonderful vision for KIDLY — a vision that has his team just as excited about the future as he is.
If you consider that the ‘Original’ MVP (defined over 6 months ago) was already a small slice of the vision, this meant that what was a 50% reduction to our MVP to us, probably felt more like a 75% reduction for James.
To give you some context as to what this all means in real terms, I need to tell you about our ‘Original’ MVP.
Our ‘Original’ MVP
Besides our teaser site (just to get pre-launch sign ups), the Original MVP, defined around September 2015, consisted of designing and building a brand new responsive mobile-first bespoke e-commerce platform with the following feature set:
Browse: Homepage, category page, sub category page, brand page, brand directory and product pages. Basket page. Each product list page had filters and pagination.
Editorial: Article list page, article page, articles by tag whereby a tag related to a browse sections of the site and article pages would link to featured products i.e. editorial is weaved into product and vice versa.
Account: Managing your account, profile, child data, referral schemes, sign in, sign up, forgot password flows, returns flow etc.
Checkout: Guest and logged in user flows. Capture+ integration for typing addresses. More than one method for delivery. PayPal and standard card integration (using Stripe) and the other usual bits you find in checkout.
Credit mechanism: This included users getting credit for completing their profile, referring friends — then redeeming against their order automatically.
Parent test: Every single product was sent to a real parent for testing before being added to the site on every product page.
And much more: things such as Zendesk and Intercom integration. Launching our own brand of KIDLY products. Custom photography for every single product. To start with 1000 products across 18 categories etc.
Admin: All of the above was to be supported by a rich web application — this included the management of products, categories, brands, articles as well as integration with the warehouse and 2 courier companies.
The original deadline
Our original launch date for this was pencilled in for February 2016 and we began working on the MVP in September 2015 with a tiny team of just 6 people.
We didn’t manage to launch in Feb — we didn’t really get close to that. It’s worth noting that this was an internal soft target to aim for — not hitting it was never going to be the “end of the world” etc.
Regardless, I still want to discuss why I think we ‘failed’ because that’s where all of this gets interesting.
Why we ‘failed’?
I put failed in quotation marks because it wasn’t a critical failure as such. This is more of a “why we didn’t get as much done as we might have” type thing. Here’s why I think that was:
1. The Original MVP was too big in the first place
Self explanatory really. When something is too big, it’s just too big. The problem wasn’t that it was too big, it was that it took us a while to come to terms with that — something I will explain shortly.
2. We had a fixed deadline and a fixed scope.
You can have either a fixed deadline or a fixed scope but not both — we inadvertently set ourselves up for failure.
3. We zoomed in to details too early
What I mean by this is that every single piece of copy, every pixel and every micro interaction was scrutinised over and over. Ultimately it was near-death by a thousand cuts.
“Nobody cares about your product as much as you do”
Instead of designing overall flows, screens and states, we were spending up to several weeks zooming in on these micro details. We were shooting for perfect when there is no perfect.
Don’t get me wrong, these details are important, details that our customers appreciated in the end, but when everything is a priority, nothing is.
Also, when you have a huge array of features, a small team and are prone to zooming in like this, it results in failure. But fortunately failure often leads to success…
What happened next?
April was fast approaching and by this time we were getting itchy. We had cut a few minor items off the backlog but not enough to stop our t-shirt-sized estimate indicating a July launch date — something we wouldn’t accept.
You have to remember that we had thousands of VIPs, some of which vocalised their eagerness for us to launch, so they could spend their credit with us. It was difficult disappointing our VIPs — we even had to send them elsewhere to buy the products until our shop was ready.
We had to do something…
The best thing to happen to us
We could all feel some pain from many angles. We had been working on this for months and not seeing the fruits of our labour. We had our customers getting irritated because they wanted to buy stuff from us and of course we weren’t making any money. We also didn’t know if our product was any good as nobody had seen it (though we had a good idea it would be).
“We have to get this thing live in 4 weeks” — James
James called us into a meeting and basically said “We have to get this thing live in 4 weeks — I don’t care how we do it, it’s important for KIDLY, it’s important for our customers and it’s important for morale!”.
Having so much to do and so little time to do it, forced us into positive action—to prioritise.
We knew this meeting was coming so we had come prepared to provide suggestions to this problem.
When James said “Is everyone happy that we can do this in 4 weeks?” everyone stayed silent.
Then James turned to me and said “Adam?” — I will always wonder why he asked me :).
I said “the only way on earth that we can deliver this thing in 4 weeks is to launch behind closed doors i.e. behind a login”.
I didn’t think this would go down too well because of reasons already explained and also the fact that this would introduce friction for our users — the sort of friction that would normally have us striving so hard to eliminate from the experience.
But it did!
And then, the team kept firing even more suggestions at each other. We were all on-board, all excited — I mean we were excited anyway, but now we had this plan and this deadline just around the corner, and we thought we would either do it, or get close to doing it. Each reduction complimented each other.
We already “knew” that KIDLY was going to be great when we launched — this way it was just going to happen a whole lot quicker. We had now inadvertently set ourselves up for success.
But, why did we launch behind a login?
Our VIPs already had access to their account page. They could already login, complete their profile, and refer friends — it’s just they couldn’t shop yet.
Ensuring that users had to be logged in to view the shop had 3 huge benefits:
- It drastically reduced the complexity of the site as we only needed to cater for logged in states. This meant that we could remove guest checkout from the backlog. We didn’t have to worry about SEO and social sharing, and of course it reduced the amount of development.
- We could launch just to our VIPs which would also bring an aire of exclusivity to the experience — they are VIPs after all.
- Launching to VIPs only meant that we reduced the risk and enabled us to receive vital feedback before opening up to public.
What else did we suggest?
Here’s the other big things we suggested:
1. We halved the amount of products
Instead of launching with 1000 products we decided it would be okay to launch with less than half of that. This itself had two far reaching benefits:
First, we halved the effort required to produce and upload content.This includes copywriting, photography, uploading product information and of course testing each and every product. And of course ensuring that we had enough stock for each of those products.
Second, we could significantly reduce the complexity of the site. For example we no longer needed sub categories — there was going to be less than 40 products on each category page, so why offer people the ability to drill down? In a similar vein, we no longer needed filtering or pagination.
2. We removed brand pages
Brand pages are a nice-to-have feature but we still took the option to cut these out. In doing so we removed “super” brand, “simple” brand and brand directory pages. This also meant that our navigation was simplified — customers could only shop by category. Easy.
3. No PayPal
This was a big decision for us as we know how important PayPal is to increasing conversion in checkout. We already had to integrate Stripe and just didn’t have the capacity for this. It’s high up on the post launch backlog though.
We didn’t quite manage to launch in the 4 weeks we were given, but we got very close indeed.
In the end we launched in 5 weeks, and even that was down to a third party courier not being able to test returns labels in time for us to start shipping.
It must be said that James and the team achieved what felt impossible to achieve. It has been very enjoyable working with the team, especially in the last 4 weeks as I have witnessed the progression of this success.
What our customers said
We have had some wonderful feedback from our many VIPs. Here is just some of that feedback:
“Love the site, really easy to navigate and ordering was a doddle, my face normally sinks if PayPal isn’t involved but checkout was so quick.”
“So so pleased with the speed of delivery, honestly didn’t expect them to arrive so quickly. So far so good on the website, I love the layout, the clean lines, and ease of use.”
“Awesome imagery, love the list of products with the big photos and the Ideas section. And many products look gorgeous.”
What about the results?
We have had a good sales rates (can’t disclose numbers) and a phenomenally successful conversion from basket at 26%.
This is still early days and these stats are based on low numbers overall, but early signs are great. Especially considering that we haven’t even told all of our VIPs that we’re open yet — we staggered the announcement, again to reduce risk.
What did we learn?
Here are all the things we learnt from this experience:
1. Everyones idea of MVP is different
James’ idea of MVP and my idea of MVP are quite different. We have often disagreed on macro and micro aspects of the product but that’s to be expected not only because we are different people but because we are bound to see KIDLY from different perspectives.
James is running an entire company and bringing every piece of the puzzle together. He has to consider the overall vision at all times during every small and large decision.
Couple that with the aim to provide a level of service to rival Amazon and you start to understand reducing various parts of an MVP might be difficult at the best of times.
For me it was more about getting this thing live and in front of our customers as soon as possible because the real feedback on product design starts then. So I was more trigger happy to kill off features.
But ultimately, what is right for KIDLY is somewhere in between. There is no “right” or “wrong” MVP — you just have to get your team on the same page and as soon as possible.
2. “Good enough” is good enough
During the first few months at KIDLY James gave us Rework by Jason Fried, to read. In it there is a chapter explaining the concept of “Good Enough”.
If you can accept early on that perfect doesn’t exist, you can get the macro things done earlier. This in turn is good for momentum and morale because as a team you feel like your moving forwards at a positive rate. Without momentum you can lose motivation.
If you avoid details early on then you get to have a rough copy of your product holistically. This is beneficial because a product is normally experienced as a whole not in piecemeal.
If it feels wrong holistically you can rectify without destroying the detail. If it feels right you can go ahead and dive into the detail. Win Win.
3. Bite off half of what you think you can chew
Whatever it is you think you are capable of achieving, stop and remove 50% of it right there and then. Get rid of the other half until the first half is complete. Obviously “half” is a horizontal slice as opposed to a vertical slice.
4. Give your teams problems to solve, not solutions to adopt.
When it came to crunch time, James gave us a difficult problem and empowered us to make it work. There is nothing like challenge, accountability and trust to unite a team, in order to set yourself up for success. James showed great leadership which lead us to success quickly.
5. It’s either a fixed deadline or a fixed scope, not both!
There is nothing more to say here.
6. Pressure forces you to think creatively
Pressure can ignite an individual or a team to think differently, and accept the (what might have previously been deemed) unacceptable.
I never thought we could launch in 4 weeks and I didn’t think we would go for such a tiny version of our Original MVP. But we managed both of those things.
7. A lack of features can be a very good thing
If you go by just the feedback, sales and conversion so far, it would be easy to think that the product is great as it is — that’s because it is great as it is — even with half an MVP. It just goes to show that less is often better.
What’s next for KIDLY?
To be expected after launch, we have been fixing bugs and improving UX but now we’re starting the next big phase of KIDLY — opening up the shop to the public.
We will be taking everything we have learnt with us, continuing to make parents lives easier, by bringing you the best stuff for your baby all in one place.
To quote James again, this is just the beginning — watch this space.