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 founder James, has a hugely ambitious and wonderful vision for KIDLY.
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.
Let's put this into context.
Our ‘Original’ MVP
Besides the teaser site (to get pre-launch sign ups), the original MVP defined in September 2015, consisted of designing and building a brand new responsive mobile-first bespoke e-commerce site with these features:
- 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 was pencilled in for February 2016 and we began working on the MVP in September 2015 with a team of 6 people.
We didn’t manage to launch in February or even get close. It’s worth noting that this was an internal soft target to aim for — not hitting it wasn't going to matter too much.
But let's discuss why we didn't meet the target, because that's where 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
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'll 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
Every single piece of copy, pixel and micro interaction was scrutinised over and over. 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 spent up to several weeks zooming in to make things perfect when perfect doesn't exist.
These details are important to users in the end, but when everything is a priority, nothing is.
Four weeks to go live
April was approaching fast. While we cut a few minor items off the backlog it wasn't enough to stop our t-shirt-sized estimate indicating a July launch date which wasn't good enough.
This was because we had thousands of VIPs already signed up and eager to buy from us so they could use the credit they had earned through early sign up and referrals.
There were times where we sent our customers elsewhere to buy products until we were ready.
And while we were still motivated we wanted to launch. We weren't making any money and franjly we wanted to get some feedback beyond low-fidelity prototypes.
“We have to get this thing live in 4 weeks” — James
James called a meeting and 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.”
This pressure constrained us in a good way. It forced us to prioritise. Ahead of the meeting we prepared a few ideas that might mean we can make it happen.
James said “Is everyone happy that we can do this in 4 weeks?”. We were silent. Then he asked me (which I wonder about ha). I said the only way we'd deliver something in 4 weeks would be to launch a private beta behind a login for our VIPs.
This went down well and then we kept firing more suggestions at each other. Every reduction and simplification complimented each other. We were ready to start.
Why launch behind a login?
Our VIPs already had access to their account page. They could already login, complete their profile, and refer friends. Ensuring 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.
- Launching to VIPs meant we reduced the risk and enabled us to receive vital feedback before opening up to the public.
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 500.
This halved the effort required to produce and upload content. This included copywriting, photography, uploading product information and testing every product. And of course ensuring that we had enough stock for each of those products when they went on sale.
It also meant we could reduce the complexity of the site. For example we no longer needed sub categories, filtering or pagination as there was going to be less than 40 products in each category.
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 a simplified navigation where customers could only shop by category. Easy.
3. No PayPal
This was a difficult 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 did it in 5 weeks
In the end we launched in 5 weeks but that was down to a third party courier not being able to test return labels in time to start shipping. We achieved what felt impossible. We were product to deliver what we did in such a short space of time.
What our customers said
We have had some wonderful feedback from our VIPs:
“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.”
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 different. We 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 is difficult.
For me it was more about getting an MVP in front of users as soon as possible because the real feedback on product design starts then. So I was happier to kill off features.
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 quickly.
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 quickly. 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 you think you are capable of achieving, stop and remove 50% of it. Get rid of the other half until the first half is complete.
4. Give your teams problems to solve, not solutions to adopt.
When it came to it, James gave us a difficult problem to solve and empowered us to make it work. There is nothing like challenge, accountability and trust to unite a team and 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!
That's all on that.
6. Pressure forces you to think creatively
Pressure can ignite a team to think differently, and accept the (what might have previously been deemed) unacceptable. I didn't think we'd launch in 4 weeks and I didn't think we could cut down the MVP but we did.
7. A lack of features is a very good thing
If you go by the feedback, sales and conversion, 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've been fixing bugs and improving UX but now we’re starting the next big phase of Kidly — going 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.
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