We’ve been planning to do an internal hackathon at Tackle for a while. The motivation was to get team members involved in all stages of product development, from ideation to release. We could carve out time for this only recently. Being a small team, we decided to work on one idea instead of multiple.
The Flight Path
The next step was to find “the idea.” But before that, we decided to set some criteria. We wanted to build something, that:
- Is related to our core product.
- Is fun to build and fun to use.
- Reflects our resilience during last year.
The team quickly started to lean towards the “Year In Review for Meetings” idea. It’s related to our core product, can be useful, and the timing could not be better. The only concern was it might not turn out to be fun, and building a boring analytics application was the last thing the team wanted to make during the hackathon.
The intent was to build a Minimum Bragworthy Product (MBP). An MBP is the minimum version of a product that’s enough to make users voluntarily talk about it with their friends and coworkers.
MBP is also the minimal effort needed to score a decent NPS. As we won’t have much time to iterate and improve NPS, our goal was to build something that is:
- Delightful and distinctive
- Useful and uplifting
The product needs to cross certain thresholds in all these categories to deliver some level of organic WoM and/or viral growth.
Some meeting stats would be both brag-worthy and valuable to many users. But to make the product delightful and distinctive, we’ll need to do something unique. We wanted the app to be interactive and game-like, plus reflect 2021 at some level. Billionaires going to space was a hyped highlight of 2021, so we decided to wrap the stats around Jeff Bezos’s New Shephard flight.
We also started to assemble ideas around charts and numbers that we could automatically generate from calendar data without additional input. We graded these ideas against the above three criteria and only selected those with high ranks for the app.
Preparing The Launchpad
Most hackathon projects don’t see the daylight (in our case, starlight!). We wanted our project in the hands of real users, though. Building something is fun but seeing users having fun with what you built is way more fun!
Product Hunt was an obvious choice as our launchpad, as PH allows to:
- Quickly promote to a large audience
- Get feedback from other makers
- Create relations with the PH community to leverage in our subsequent launches.
We went through as many articles as we could about the PH release, and figured there were just too many pieces of advice out there. We took whatever made sense for us and created our own checklist while being mindful to receive organic feedback.
The final result was a high-level daily timeline and an hourly timeline for the launch day.
The Rocket Engine
Now that we know where to launch from and what flight path to take, we wanted to leverage the launch to maximize visibility. To get the product in the hands of thousands of users, we needed a strong rocket engine and efficient fuel.
We started by designing a quick and dirty lightweight flywheel that:
i) Has funnel thinking at its core
- Each step would optimize to move the visitor/user to the next step
ii) Uses virality and In-app promotion to reinforce the loop.
- Make it easy for users to brag about their stats by sharing them with others.
Every step had a fixed goal state, and our task was to move users to the next desired state optimally.
- From the PH featured apps page, we wanted to intrigue the user. Get them curious enough about the app. We optimized the title, subtitle, and GIF logo to captivate user imagination so that they end up clicking.
- The goal of the PH post page was to entice the user enough to visit the app’s home page. We optimized the screenshots, the product description and added a catchy teaser video.
- In the next step, our job was to help users finish the signup process and provide the required calendar permission. We knew Privacy and Trust would be a big concern here, so we added a friendly little Data Privacy link right next to the Signup button. Also, we made sure the logo and design looked super polished.
- Inside the app, the mission is to get users to share their stats or get a positive review on Product Hunt. Our plan here was to: i) delight users and ii) provide both bragworthy and appalling stats. They will review us on PH if they love the experience. They’ll share if the stats are ego-boosting or disappointing!
- More PH reviews will help us stay at the top of the PH featured list, which will turn more eyeballs on our post and more signups.
- More shares mean more new users going through the app experience, resulting in more shares and PH upvotes.
Each step needs to optimally move the users to the next to make this engine work efficiently. A single broken or weak link can result in high system loss and turn the entire engine ineffective.
On the other hand, no engine can run perpetually (first law of Thermodynamics). And the throughput depends a lot on the efficiency and quantity of the rocket fuel (Second law of thermodynamics). In this case, to get the engine rolling from a cost start situation, we’ll need to gain organic momentum on PH quickly on the launch day.
We figured 13th December would be the ideal date to launch. PH apparently gets a ton of traffic on Mondays. We were in a time crunch, a “Year In Review” has a limited shelf life, and we wanted to maximize it. We tested our rocketship one final time and made some quick fixes to improve the performance. And it was the day of launch – at exactly 12:05 am PT, we went live on PH. We had everything planned by the minute and everyone in the team quickly went into action. That whole 24 hour was surreal – excitement, suspense, camaraderie, intense pain, and extreme joy! TBH I could probably write another blog post just about that day. But I would leave it for another time!
The first 4 hours went precisely according to the plan, we were top of the chart! But no plan survives contact with the enemy.
At first, we lost the top position; we were still in the top 3, though. We went to investigate if something was wrong with our engine or the app. Someone in the team noticed that we don’t have a Product Hunt badge on our app home page, and we should probably add one there. Our team quickly added a “Featured on PH” badge on the home page.
And around that time, we started to lose ranking. Negative reviews began to appear, and we went down to as far as #6. It was paralyzing at first, and it felt like we had no plan. The team quickly huddled on Slack. We figured we should still stick with the original plan, but we’d have to pace it up.
If we stayed at this low rank for longer, we would eventually fall off the race; the engine would fail miserably without any fuel. I started to DM people on WhatsApp and LinkedIn as fast as possible and manually emailed every new app user right after signing up, asking to check out our PH post. And it began to work, we gradually moved higher in the rank, and in a few hours, we were back in the Top 3.
So what went wrong all of a sudden? We think it was the “Data Privacy” link – it was not opening up the Privacy modal, although it still appeared clickable. We happened to break it while resolving a git conflict with the last hotfix.
We knew people are super sensitive about their email and calendar data (and rightfully so). An inoperative “Data Privacy” link would make the app look super shady and discourage potential users from going through Google’s two-step opt-in.
The engine had a few other inefficiencies and opportunities to improve, like:
- As people shared the PH post link on social, the thumbnail image did not represent the app well. Although it was fine inside PH with all other contexts, it could confuse a reader if they saw it on a social feed without the next.
- Similarly when users shared the app link or their personal stats page on social networks, the thumbnail and page summary did a pretty lousy job complementing the post/tweet.
- The video on the PH post page was a bit too long (40 seconds vs. our target of 25 seconds), so most visitors did not get to the end.
- We should have automatically emailed all signed-up users with the PH link, so they don’t forget to leave a review.
- Most importantly: we should have utilized the users’ real network – people they interacted with within their company. We knew who they had meetings with, it would have been fairly easy for us to prompt them to invite their work buddies and compare scores. It did not stop some users from sharing the links internally over Slack, MS teams, etc. though – more on this later.
It was a tad bit too late to fix everything. But our hustle over email, LinkedIn, and Twitter pushed the rocket back to the original trajectory once again.
To The Apogee and Back
In the end, we had an exceptionally successful launch for our little side project.
We ranked at #3 Product of The Day on Product Hunt that Monday. Product Hunt featured the app four times in their newsletter!
Thousands of users signed up. The app was shared hundreds of times on social networks. We continue to see internal virality at work – we have hundreds of companies with multiple app users, where team members organically shared positive reviews.
So now that it’s over, what’s next?
We will take all the learnings back to our core product – especially how exceptionally well “land and expand” worked for user acquisition in real life despite providing zero incentive from the app. We’re also analyzing the aggregated data and soon releasing a comprehensive report on meeting habits. We’ll also use the dataset to set baselines and calibrate different scores and grades we calculate (like meeting health grade, meeting fatigue score, and deep work score).
In the end, the PH launch allowed us to try a quick cycle of product development, from strategy to tactics and from idea to existence. As a team, we became stronger and became aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and more confident about our capabilities. I think the learning that we got out of this is invaluable, and it has already set the tone for the team for this coming year – that’s been a big win for us! But the biggest win has been the wholehearted positive feedback users sent our way, we are truly grateful!