Originally, we worked in silence. We toiled away behind the curtains and then one day, voila, we unleashed our new creation.
That was a disaster. Working in a vacuum prevented us from gathering important feedback. The release was messy and littered with bugs. Customers got mad, and many asked to revert back to the old version. Some even left us.
Then I discovered thought leaders like Eric Ries and the Lean Startup approach. I was inspired by the practice of continuous improvement. We switched tracks and released every tiny, incremental change. Upgrades happened behind the scenes without any fanfare.
Undercover releases don’t get any PR. You miss the chance for coverage on blogs, tech sites and even mainstream media.
Our work also went unnoticed by customers. People thought we weren’t updating the product, even though it was happening several times a week.
It was time for a hybrid approach. Now, we do big, splashy annual launches and ongoing improvements. Here’s why I believe it’s a great strategy.
Behind-the-scenes testing is essential
We’re always releasing upgrades, but we also test major projects on small user groups. They share candid feedback and point out irritating bugs.
We listen and try to improve. And if the new version is really broken, we’ve only angered a small portion of our customer base.
We never want to upset people, of course, but limiting our exposure is like riding a bike with the training wheels on. It’s much safer for everyone.
Launching is a team sport
The hybrid model works because we have smart people who can manage all the details. I try to work primarily on strategy, while our developers, designers, UX specialists and other experts focus on what they do best (and do far better than me).
Collaborative teamwork has helped us to make dramatic improvements in the last couple years.
Big releases require careful planning
At least two months before the release, we create a pre-launch, launch day and post-launch plan. Everyone maps out their tasks and responsibilities, then we work backward to make sure it all gets done.
Staring early ensures that no one’s tearing out their hair on the big day. I don’t want my employees pulling all-nighters or going crazy before the launch.
Our stress levels might rise as the deadline approaches, but no one reaches a full-scale panic.
Detailed, early planning also prevents you from forgetting something big — and you still have time to implement all those creative ideas that you come up with in the shower.
There’s time to polish your work
New products and versions have lots of bugs. They just do. You can’t avoid them, but you can target them more effectively.
Our development team gets a daily email of all the open bugs. We also keep a running scoreboard. The oldest tickets have to be solved first (that’s the rule), but the developers compete to see who can fix the most bugs each week.
We’ve tried to gamify our launch preparation and make sure we’re still having fun.
We still release ongoing updates, but the launch is a chance to shine — and the cliché about first impressions exists for a reason. You only have one chance to make it work.
Think about an Apple-caliber launch. They’ve set the bar high by unveiling new products that look beautiful and works seamlessly. They also anticipate our desires. We can all aim to reach that standard.
You can personalize the PR
Careful, long-term planning allows your marketing team to build targeted campaigns.
As we get ready to launch JotForm Cards, for example, they’re busy preparing personalized emails and outreach packages for tech reporters — and “personalized” is more than just switching out the name on the email.
The goal is to make real connections with people who regularly cover your corner of the industry.
Hybrid releases can help you to establish a success metric
We’ve talked a lot about gathering feedback and listening closely to customers, but how do you know if a new product version is successful?
What are you measuring? At JotForm, we’re looking for activation rates. If 100 people sign up, how many are using the software a month later?
We started showing JotForm Cards to a small group of new users back in September. At this point, about 200,000 people have seen it.
This limited release provides activation data for comparison against the current product. We can see which version promotes higher activation rates — and then we can dig into the why and how.
We’re always testing behind the curtain as we prepare for the big launch.
What difference will you make?
As you consider what and how to launch, I left out one important detail. I always ask myself, “what will have the biggest impact?”
And if I’m feeling really bold, “what could change the world?” I realize that web forms won’t end global hunger, but I am still earnest about this question.
Your work matters. Your time is precious — and you have the chance to equip people with something great.
Follow your instincts and make things better.
Here at JotForm, we’re excited to show you what we’ve changed: here is JotForm Cards.
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Aytekin Tank is the Founder and CEO of JotForm. A developer by trade but a storyteller by heart, he writes about his journey as an entrepreneur and shares advice for other startups. He loves to hear from JotForm users. You can reach Aytekin from AytekinTank@JotForm.com