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