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.

Share this on Twitter or Facebook

Archive

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

Ask a Freelancer

A podcast series where experienced freelancers answer questions about freelancing.

Listen to the Podcast

Talking Shop

An interview series where we talk to freelancers about important topics in the freelance world.

Read the Interviews

Running Costs

Take a close look at the costs that go into running a web app and why we use specific services.

View the Costs

How It’s Made

Follow along with the journal for insight into the overall experience of building an app.

Read the Journal