Story

Everything in Increments

Mar 02, 2015

If you’ve built anything of scale before, you know that it’s best to build in increments. Even if you haven’t built anything, but rather attempted to accomplish an overwhelming task, you know how important it is to break larger problems into smaller, more manageable ones. This has been on the top of my mind lately because it’s how I’ve had to build Cushion, and every other app—releasing in small increments, but focused on the longterm goal.

Specifically, incremental building has played an essential role in how I release Cushion to more people. I’ve been especially slow and steady with this, simply because I’m in no rush. I like to react while I’m still able to breathe—it allows me to respond conscientiously rather than hastily plugging leaks. I’ve been a part of a few proper launches in the past and I want to avoid the panic and scramble of opening the flood gates all at once. Here’s how I’ve been able to do that.

After spending a couple months building out the basic concept of Cushion, with the ability to add projects and see something in return, I decided it was time to put other people behind the wheel. Since I’m in a co-working space with a dozen other freelancers, I have the convenience of walking up to one of them, setting them up with an account, and seeing what happens. These were my “Alpha” users.

As you can imagine, they immediately found all the painfully obvious issues with Cushion. When you work alone on something for an extended period of time, it’s easy to miss the problems that everyone else will hit on day one. Watching other people use Cushion for the first time was a test of my patience—sitting there, not interfering, just watching. We’d then discuss the problems, the possible solutions, and I’d return later that day with a new version to try out. This worked incredibly well.

After a couple more months, I felt ready to move to the next step. Instead of a dozen Americans on the east coast using the app, I wanted at least a hundred people from other timezones, with other currencies and date formats. This is when you realize your app needs to be more accommodating.

I needed to open the app up to others, but I knew from my own experience as a beta user that a lot of people just want to try the new thing. 5 minutes in, they can say they tried the new thing and the database becomes a graveyard of dormant accounts. I wanted users to be invested in the app and feel motivated to thoroughly use it and provide feedback. If every user paid upfront for the beta, they would be more inclined to keep with it. If it didn’t stick with them, Cushion still benefited from their financial support.

The paid beta served as an amazing resource in a variety of ways. Financially, it allowed me to only need enough client work to book 3 days a week. Every other day, I was able to focus 100% on Cushion—this was huge.

As anticipated, the beta users it attracted have been incredibly involved and active—over half of them use Cushion on a regular basis. Because of this, I consistently receive great feedback that I can act on.

And with paid users, the requested features aren’t the typical pie-in-the-sky kind I would get from free users—they are reasonable and inline with the direction Cushion is moving in. The roadmap has been shaped into a clear path by the people actually using the app. I’m not just thinking up features and hoping potential customers might like them—real customers are telling me exactly what they want and I work with them to find the best approach to take.

Now that the first beta memberships are starting to expire, I’m looking to take the next step. Thinking in increments, I found this to be a great opportunity to offer subscriptions to both expiring beta users and new users. Expiring beta users need a way to continue using Cushion regardless, so it needs to be implemented. With minimal additional effort, this can also serve a secondary purpose of subscribing new users, which will eventually be needed once Cushion is public.

The idea all along has been for beta users to carry a special status among users. Since they took a leap of faith to support such early development, I plan to reward them beyond the beta with exclusive benefits. This distinction between beta users and subscribers allows me to offer monthly and yearly subscriptions to new users alongside the beta, with these subscriptions simply offering early access.

As of this weekend, the monthly and yearly subscriptions are in place and ready for new users. Several weeks from now, once I’ve ironed out the subscription process, I’ll be able to take the next step and offer trial periods. Since there’s nothing holding anyone back from signing up at that point, I’ll still use an invite system to keep the traffic to a level I can manage. And from there, if I’m ready to open the flood gates, I will.

As always, if you’re interested in trying out Cushion, this time as a beta user or a monthly subscriber, request an invite and I’ll send one your way.

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Archive

  1. Funding Cushion
    Story
  2. Hiring a Team of Freelancers
    Story
  3. Taking a Real Break From Work
    Story
  4. Slack as a Notification Center
    Dev
  5. Document Your Features
    Story
  6. 300
    Story
  7. Vacations
    Design
  8. Offering Discounts
    Design
  9. Waves of Traffic
    Story
  10. Less Blogging, More Journaling
    Story
  11. Retention Through Useful Features
    Design
  12. The Onboarding Checklist
    Design
  13. Spreading the Word
    Story
  14. From Beta to Launch - The Subdomain
    Dev
  15. From Beta to Launch - Sign up
    Design
  16. From Beta to Launch - Messaging
    Design
  17. Launch
    Story
  18. Authenticating with 3rd Party Services
    Dev
  19. Intro to Integrations
    Design
  20. Inspiration vs Imitation
    Story
  21. The Emotional Rollercoaster
    Story
  22. Designing Project Blocks
    Design
  23. Everything in Increments
    Story
  24. Deleting Your Account
    Design
  25. Designing the Subscription Page
    Design
  26. Rewriting the Timeline
    Dev
  27. Restructuring the Individual Project Page
    Design
  28. Project Blocks
    Story
  29. Redesigning the Homepage
    Design
  30. Multiple Timelines
    Design
  31. Archiving and Estimate Differences
    Design
  32. Multiple Financial Goals
    Design
  33. Zooming in on the Timeline
    Design
  34. Currency
    Dev
  35. Preferences, Accounts, and a Typeface Change
    Design
  36. Sending Out the First Email
    Story
  37. Currency Inputs, Notifications, and Invoice Nets
    Design
  38. Dots and Lines
    Design
  39. Calculating in the Database and Revealing Tendencies
    Dev
  40. Improved Form UX
    Design
  41. Cushion is Online
    Story
  42. Schedule Timeline Patterns
    Design
  43. A Slimmer Schedule Timeline
    Design
  44. The Schedule Timeline
    Design
  45. Plugging in Real Data for the First Time
    Design
  46. Transitions and Project Lists
    Design
  47. Death to Modals
    Design
  48. The Individual Project Page
    Design
  49. Estimated Incomes and Talks with Other Freelancers
    Story
  50. Statuses to Lists and the Paid Beta
    Story
  51. The Timeline
    Story
  52. Invoice Terminology
    Dev
  53. Modal Forms
    Dev
  54. Wiring the Backend to the Frontend
    Dev
  55. Balancing Design and Dev
    Story
  56. Timecop, Monocle, and Vagrant
    Dev
  57. Going with Ruby and Sinatra
    Dev
  58. Ditching local-first and trying out Node.js
    Dev
  59. Switching to AngularJS
    Dev
  60. Building the Table with Vue.js
    Dev
  61. Clients, Projects, and Invoices
    Dev
  62. Introduction
    Story

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