It’s a challenge that haunts just about every digital innovator these days: when you’re pushing your product out on multiple technology platforms like iOS that are changing on a quarterly or even weekly basis, how do you keep up? What code or platform can you use safely, without fearing that it will break with the next Android iteration, leaving your users and customers with a broken app — and a bad experience that can hurt trust in your brand?
We chatted with Sidebuy CEO and founder Mona Akhavi, speaking this month at Tech Vancouver on May 31, about these very issues. Sidebuy is a fairly new startup that matches bloggers to brands, helping them monetize their content. It’s a platform for which there seems to be a pretty large market need involving thousands of digital influencers – but putting it together required a lot of deep thought early on about the right mix of technology to build it.
“My methodology has always been to build just enough of a minimum viable product so you can learn from how people are using it in the market.”
“When you choose the type of programming or system architecture you’re building on, you’re using what developers are talking about at that time, because there is talent available for it,” Akhavi said. “But one thing many people don’t look at regarding product is how the product is going to evolve in terms of the roadmap. Is it going on to the web? On to a mobile device? A virtual reality headset? How will that evolve? It should affect the choice of technologies right now, which is how you’ll be able to iterate.”
Of course, for many companies, seeing more than a few quarters down the road is hard. There’s a tendency to rely on solutions that worked before — and that has consequences. “It’s not an easy thing to do for a lot of product managers, CTOs, and technical people who are biased and comfortable with a particular architecture or stack they’re used to using,” said Akhavi. “I see it happening constantly – a quarter after starting to build something, they just say they’re going to rebuild the product from scratch because it’s not scalable, or won’t connect to smart TVs or won’t connect with a mobile app. This creates a lot of sunk costs.”
Even the biggest projects for some of the most innovative organizations in the world can fall prey to this, so it pays to be adaptable. When Akhavi was part of the digital operations team with the CBC’s Olympic Sochi Project, building a mobile app streaming live results, providing games and a free portable experience, she started planning two years ahead. “Over 12 to 18 months, there were three different iOS operating systems, two different Android systems, three different screen sizes for LG, then the iPad and competitors came out — and I had to track all of that. Each evolution caused a different situation.”
The key to maintaining focus and quality was maintaining good relationships with the apps stores so they could get quick approval, and putting team members in a position to be able to see what was coming. “As part of this, we would send team members to go to conferences where the ‘rulers in the tech world’ would give a preview of what was coming, so we would know what was coming and plan for it. It’s an art and science to keep on top of it all.”
For startups looking to avoid these issues, it’s the Lean methodology to the rescue, again. “My methodology has always been to build just enough of a minimum viable product so you can learn from how people are using it in the market. Let people use it. In three months, there will be new mobile, new VR, or new iOS systems coming out – so don’t pre-build if you’re not sure what you have to iterate on.”