Editor’s Note: In the new podcast Masters of Scale, LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman explores his philosophy on how to scale a business -- and at Entrepreneur.com, entrepreneurs are responding with their own ideas and experiences in our hub. This week, we’re discussing Hoffman’s theory: the only way to scale is to do things that don't scale.
Many entrepreneurs dream of creating the perfect product and then scaling that product to get billions of dollars in sales. In the first episode of Masters of Scale, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky tells the audience, “There's really two stages of a startup's product. The first is design a perfect experience and then you scale that experience.”
However, perfect, for me, is a process.
When I was designing ChattyPeople, my chatbot building platform, I realized this: No product survives meeting the customer. When you’re building a product, you may think you have the perfect product. The people around you may even tell you it’s perfect. But until you build it and release it, you won’t have real-life data about how customers actually use it.
In fact, customers may use it differently than you thought they would, or they may ask for features that you hadn’t anticipated. The experience of "perfect'' is built around having an entirely imperfect product.
The product you release is never the ultimate product. It’s the almost-perfect product that will make the most impact and hopefully lead to the perfect experience.
Moreover, if you are entering a space that is currently hot and prime for disruption, delaying too long while you "perfect" your product or experience will make you too late to ride the wave of popularity.
With all of that in mind, scaling your product once you get it as close to perfect as possible is of paramount importance. Scaling is easy to get wrong. Many startups fold in their first years because they try to scale too far, too fast.
Here are six tips from my experience with scaling ChattyPeople that will help you make the most out of your experience.
1. Customers will find many bugs.
You may think that your product is perfect, yet customers will find many things wrong with it that you never might have thought of as problems. Whether it's browser compatibility or a coding error, they will find mistakes that you probably did not think of. In addition, a lot of customers will not report bugs, so it might only be when you have an abundance of customers that the bugs begin to be reported.
2. Customers will need things you did not anticipate.
As customer use your product, it will become apparent that some basic use cases demand additional product features that are requirements, rather than nice-to-haves.
3. Be sure to monitor third-party integrations as you scale.
With ChattyPeople, we grew fast and suddenly needed to upgrade servers to cope with demand, Then, one day, our email stopped working because we needed to upgrade our email service to the next level. Be prepared to consistently manage and scale third-party integrations.
4. Track what your users are doing -- not what they say they are doing.
There are great services for tracking what your users are doing. I like mouseflow, which enables you to record what your users are doing on your site so you can optimize their progress and you can spot things that they are having difficulty with.
Users will only give you so much feedback, and many users will give you no feedback at all, as they will just stop using your service.
5. You also need to scale customer support.
The more customers you have, the more support items you will have. As you start to service lots of customers, just keeping track of the number of issues and managing that process takes more and more time and management.
It should also not be forgotten that the customers who are asking for support are the ones who are using the service. You have spent a lot of time and money to acquire users, and when offering a free trial, many just sign up and do nothing. The users who do engage are valuable and worth servicing well.
6. New product use cases will crop up that you will want to support.
As customers experience your product, you will see them using it in ways that you had not expected. This is an opportunity to think of ways to improve your software to help them do that use case in a better way than the original build.
As you improve use cases, you are ultimately perfecting your product to be the best that it can be.