Melissa moved to Mr Tipply's about a week ago. We hadn't caught up in person in about a year. I have been wondering - where did that last year go?
When Mel and I last caught up, she was working for Harlequin Inn at Pyrmont and VIVA was just about to launch. We had no users and no event organisers... in hindsight, we barely had a product.
The team used to joke about how it took more than 30 seconds to download and rank all of the events. Now, about 5 seconds flat... and with a much improved interface. I say "joke", but it was more like a coping mechanism - and thankfully the combined tech genius of Syed and Hassan fixed that.
Over the course of the last year, I have come to learn a lot about consumer behaviour and product management. Almost invisibly, I think I am nearing competence... nearly. And with the process also comes exhaustion ~ the feeling that because all progress is imperceivable, there is no progress at all. It is thanks to Melissa and people like her that I can reflect on how far we have come... and how far we may go still.
So I remind myself ~ keep going. Push. Push. Push. We are doing it so people can find things they love to do. We are doing this to make the world a happier place.
Ian and I went to the final day of the jam-packed AWS conference in Sydney today. It was an astonishing turn out. I had not seen so many engineers and technicians all together like this in a room before. It was awe-inspiring to think that everyone here was creating something.
Somehow, I have also become wrapped in this world of creation. I am simultaneously fearful and excited... how will I ever keep up with everything that is happening? How will VIVA ever do well going up against so many other things?
It felt a little bit like that old saying, to run is to stand still.
So we run, and we keep on running.
We ended the Easter long weekend with a shareholders' meeting in our new offices at Jones Bay Wharf, and so working on VIVA received less attention that it needed this weekend. Adam is probably going to be disappointed at my lack of work... and I am too.
Sam messaged last week volunteering to help, but I am somewhat disorganised at the moment, so I have not called on his time as I know I should. This will also disappoint Adam, probably.
There were also QA tasks to be done, and I have not attended to those either...
But... new office! Yay!
All through the Easter long weekend, I was stressing about exactly how to pitch the "pivot" of VIVA. A part of me wonders if this is going a little too niche... but if Peter Lord and Nic Wright are right - and they probably are - then going niche is actually the best thing that we can do with VIVA.
There is a startup mantra, "do one thing, and do it really well". So this pivot is about doing that one thing really well. What worries me is whether we can do this well enough...
We are a little behind on releasing the next version...
Syed and Hassan have been working hard on the next version of the app for iOS and Android, and they are getting closer every week. We are a little behind schedule, but the result will hopefully be worthwhile.
The long weekend and the near-total shutdown of the business world has given me the rare opportunity to take a small break to enjoy lunch with the fam.
"I don't get it," Pete said over coffee last week.
"What do you mean?"
"Who is going to miss VIVA if it disappeared tomorrow? No one, that's who. You need to create a product that people will miss, and will pay you to bring it back."
It wasn't the first time I heard this product design philosophy. I read it in a book once upon a time, and Nic Wright had told me exactly the same thing on more than one occasion.
"Right now, you are talking to nobody."
"Because I'm talking to everybody."
"Exactly, and so nobody is getting your message."
Peter Lord is one of Matt Vickers's friends. Several years ago, he created Money Brilliant, which was then purchased by AMP. Pete is now creating another startup called The Green Room.
We spoke a while about VIVA's strengths and weaknesses. Internally, I thought about all the difficulties we have had trying to solve different consumer use cases with one uniform design solution, trying to market one solution to all consumers, and trying to pitch the nebulous and ambitious idea of VIVA to investors. It was going to be much easier if we focused on a narrow application.
"I love the design of the app, you have put a lot of love into it, but you are talking to a hundred people with it, and maybe five people love it. You should try to talk to ten people, and have eight people love it."
It made a lot of sense... but I wondered how best to tackle this pivot. Is it to focus on P.A.L.S.? Performances, arts, and live shows?
My gut says yes.
Progress feels so slow in the days before releasing a new version of VIVA.
We have had some tech hiccups getting to this point... but we are edging closer every day. Every day feels like the eve before the release of a new version, but not yet! The user feedback from the last few months have guided us to focus on making improvements to VIVA - small tweaks for big wins.
They may not be enough though.
"So I guess you aren't doing an overhaul just yet," Adam wrote in an email to me last week.
If we reduce VIVA down to its core, there are only three components:
Our tech team has been split along those three paths, trying to divide and conquer. Since our team is lean (read: small), we have had to prioritise certain things above others, even though they are probably equally important.
There is a jigsaw puzzle of possibilities...
John and I caught up last week to talk other business. These meetings serve as a good distraction from VIVA, so that I can turn away for a little bit, gain some distance, and tackle problems afresh.
We are close to the new version now... and with the benefit of the distance, the progress feels too slow and the changes feel too insignificant. I feel like we are the tortoise in the race. I hope the fable comes true, and that maybe we will win the race in the end.
I should be focused on Python coding this afternoon. Nishant sent a skeleton template for our data cleaner and labeller this morning, and I just have to go through and repeat a few hundred lines of code to label events data. I really should be doing that... but instead, I feel compelled to write a blog post about releasing the next version of the VIVA app.
One thing I should do more is survey and listen to our customers. It is fundamental to product design to listen to your customers. What I have failed to do in the last two months is to monitor our app reviews on the Apple App Store. It took a phone call with Adam to bring this to my attention this morning. I haven't felt the sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach for a while, "Oh sh*t, I really f*cked up, and there is no rewind button for life." I felt it during the call with Adam.
Was I asleep at the wheel? How did I miss the one-star reviews on the App Store?
One user wrote, "It’s definitely a problem that needs solving but unfortunately the uninviting and unintuitive interface detracts from what the app could possibly offer. Hopefully it gets better soon as I don’t like that Facebook is the go-to place to find out about events."
Another user was more abrupt and wrote, "Worst navigation with the worst user interface ever. Don’t even bother downloading it."
Dave, our UX consultant, had pointed out the unintuitive interface in September last year, and we have been trying to figure out a way to fix the interface without losing the soul of the app. We could have changed VIVA into the standard list style apps that everyone uses or model ourselves completely after the Google Material.io philosophy, but we wanted to be a little different. Perhaps that is my ego speaking.
We are close to releasing a new version now, and here's a sneak peek of the redesigned screens.
Kristy from the the Ducere MBA team shared a 2015 article with me last night - Hugh Malkin's piece on why no one has solved event discovery. It is a really good piece, and nails everything I learnt working in the same space as Hugh.
Hugh wrote his piece as a response and an extension to Mark Hendrickson's piece from 2012 on the uphill battle of social event sharing. The analysis and research that support those articles are incredible. I wish I can write something to extend on the work of those two, but I don't feel I have learnt quite enough or distilled the knowledge in a manner that can be shared very easily.
These days, I am often asking myself:
What is the right solution to the problem of event discovery?
I think the solution has to answer three questions in just the right blend:
Is VIVA the right blend? I don't know yet. I feel like we are still constantly testing and iterating. That is, after all, what product design is all about!
I think it is inevitable when someone spends a lot of time thinking about a problem, that problem starts to connect to other problems, and those problems start to connect to even more problems, and so on, until there is a giant spider web of interconnected issues. Flick one string here, and a node five degrees away starts to vibrate in a way that wasn't foreseen.
And so it is that I have come to think a lot about transportation, and the importance of people moving from one place to the next, how that can be improved and whether it is necessary at all.
This started when I found an event I really liked on VIVA...
... and I found myself thinking, "Geez that's far away."
What a shame that distance and inconvenience should stop someone from doing something they want!
Of course, there is the argument that if someone really wanted to do something, they will prioritise and find a way to do it... and if they happen to choose something else, then they never really wanted to do that something in the first place. I think that is a flawed argument, because two choices in the abstract, ignoring real-world factors like convenience, can only happen in a vacuum. So it is unrealistic to say that "all things being equal"... well, they are not. The only way to create a truly equal world us to lower all these hurdles that stand in the way of maximising enjoyment.
I don't have the answer though.
I don't know of anyway to equalise time and distance... yet! Maybe I will invent something after VIVA takes off globally.
Hahaha. I just realised something. While I am solving people's transportation problem, I should get myself a name badge for "Elon".