Thursday, 27 July 2017

Getting email up and running for side projects

Photo by Songeunyoung on Unsplash
Rectifying my previous mistake - not building community by using email engagement - has proved to be a learning experience! Since our investment is minimal (and we have no real users yet!) the tools that we use all come with some constraint/trade-off. This next bit explain this is going to be slightly technical ...

With Heroku it has surfaced as putting in CNAME records in the root of the domain. With register.ly this then stops us adding any other root records, for example mail servers. Cloudfare has a service that will flatten CNAME records for you into A records so everything plays fits together. So a switch of nameservers and 48 hours later we had email in place.

The services that we have chosen for email are Zoho and MailerLite. Zoho has a Office365/GSuite vibe going on and includes a mail list server. This setup not only works for newsletters but also the transactional emails. So we get account welcome, platform updates, and follow up emails as well. As someone who has been creating workflow systems for nearly two decades I am impressed by their automation setup. The main problem has been restricting myself to a very simple MVP. Too tempting to build a baroque workflow straight away! So this gives us the tools to get a connection to users and the app, with community building. I hadn't considered email lists, but have now added that to the roadmap.

As this project is taking shape we are using more of the skills from our professional lives. For example, a lot of the code to integrate these services now lives in a GitLab kanban board. We are creating issues for specific bugs instead of general cards in Trello then pushing code changes to git. Not sure why this is. Could be the launch approaching has caused it to kick in? Or it's getting to grips with DNS has reawaken what it's like to work in an early stage company.

As we are getting ready to launch we have also added a system status page. UptimeRobot has a great system for doing this. It evens includes the obligatory Slack integration for alerting. This didn't use much technical skill, add a DNS record and it worked. It was funny how excited setting this up made me!

I did originally write a whole post on the onboarding process. This fell a little flat as it was missing a lesson or stand out experience. The aim is to have more to share on that next time.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Building awareness of Bashfully

So to validate an idea you need to have people be aware of you. The first step in Introducing bashfully was a Twitter account. This provided someway of people finding out about project, promoting the survey, and getting to the landing page.

Publishing the survey was one of the first pieces that I had available to promote. It was also vital in starting to get some evidence for the problem that we were trying to solve and the audience.

The landing page was a very important piece in getting started. When this was created it gave us a way of sharing progress, to explain the concept in more detail. This then meant that when we directed people to the survey from the landing page we could get better feedback.

Another key feature on the landing page was a sharing button on registration, this gave people who were interested a way of generating some word of mouth interest. Around the same time a friend asked me a question about her website and I noticed some interesting meta tags. This took me on a journey learning about Twitter cards and the Facebook Open Graph template

So, after a bit of experimentation I came up with this for our landing page

<meta name="twitter:card" content="summary" /> 
<meta name="twitter:site" content="@bashfullyapp" /> 
<meta property="og:url" content="http://bashful.ly" /> 
<meta property="og:title" content="Do you want a better online resume?" /> 
<meta property="og:description" content="Tell the world about your achievements through storytelling on Bashful.ly!" /> 
<meta property="og:image" content="https://bashful.ly/images/hamster-background.jpg" />

Which when you copy a bashfully link to Twitter gives you this ...



As the functionality develops we will be exploring this further! I wasn't expecting to learn this kind of thing when we started this side project, but it certainly has given me an extra insight to social media for my day job.

Once the registration process, landing page and survey were all up and running I started sharing. First with HBX networking groups as they are part of the target demographic. Then on twitter, first just from the bashfully account, later from my personal twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

Another important factor was starting to write blog posts and share on personal social media to boost awareness. The blog that really got interest going was one about the technical infrastructure. This lead to a lot of interest from friends and acquaintances. I'm guessing because of their background and the subject matter made it seem more "real". The lesson here is to write a piece that will resonate with an audience, then promote it to them.

As I was doing this and collecting together research I realised a big mistake. I hadn't thought about emails sharing useful information to people who had registered. This would have served two aims, the first the reason people were interested in the product in the first place - information and guidance about creating profiles and selling their skills. The second, more selfish reason, was to create engagement. Make sure that they remembered us when we were ready for the public beta.

It's a bit late to do that now as we are making such good progress! But it will come in soon after we launch. One benefit of doing it this way is that we will have a working site people can use and more concrete news that we can share.

Coming next are the lessons learned in building the onboarding process...


Monday, 3 July 2017

Chromebook on the go after 3 months

Bit of an update on cloud working and the tools that I'd picked out to investigate over the past three months: Draw.io is a great alternative to Visio, although working in a Microsoft dev and productivity stack I'd still stick with Visio. It's missing some extra collaboration features that would give it the edge. Which brings me onto Mockflow. This is a great wire-framing tool. The collaborative element allowed for some "paired designing". Each with our own laptop to look things up while the other added elements that we'd agreed to.

Pixlr editor is a good replacement for what I need in an image editing tool. Haven't missed the desktop aspect. Similar experience with Caret, although I haven't needed a text editor that much. Office online is a bit frustrating as it loses what should be a key feature - consistency. All I want to do is put some bullet points in!! But it suffers from the same issues that ALL WYSIWY HTML tools I have ever used suffer from. It gets confused between where the formatting applies.

As a laptop I have no complaints with the Chromebook, it makes the hardware a commodity item. One that I don't have to worry about. The ability to mount Dropbox and OneDrive as file stores also negates vendor lock in. I can have multiple back ups and work where it is appropriate. iOS even comes with a Google Drive widget so I can email my mock-up files on the go!

Where it gets interesting is with Codeanywhere and Cloud9. I prefer Cloud9 as being a bit more user friendly and a tad more RAM in the free pricing tier. It took no time at all to get a virtual machine running Linux and install R and create a PDF containing a graph.

This does open up all kinds of possibilities. For hobbyists, you can try out a new stack without much knowledge about the setup or ops. Then if you don't like it get rid of and you don't have clutter on your system. Then have a clash of libraries the next time that you want to try something. It also provides the ability to get some experience while using similar technology to enterprise systems .

For startups you get access to enterprise style infrastructure, if not scale. One of the most surprising things for me as I've looked at a couple of side projects is just how easy it is. I'm sure that for $9/month you could host an email marketing system for an SME. It'd (optimistically ;) only take a few weeks of full time work to get it up and running.

For enterprises that last sentence may seem worrying. How can competitor analysis keep track of specialist companies? Especially if they can pop up within a month and steal your business? Well, by doing the same thing. Get your pioneers to experiment. No need to wait for ops to be available. No need to worry about too much in fact. Do the experiment. Learn the lessons. Then either bring the experience in house or do some knowledge transfer. Or migrate to your usual infrastructure and tech stack.

The other aspect is that with scale in customers, you also have an advantage in problem knowledge. One way to keep customers is to double down on understanding their problems. Then solve them. Also keep revisiting this, to keep actual problems at the forefront.


* my optimistic and purely hypothetical SME marketing tool:
  1. Get the sending side sorted with basic metrics recorded (this would be heavily manual driven process by the startup)
  2. Get some reporting based on metrics for performance of first send to users (first time you give access to system)
  3. Get some basic content management for next send
  4. Get billing in place ready for first invoice
  5. Then refine each aspect of above each time you sell it

Of course this is dependent on experience with the technology, free time, and understanding customer you could get each stage above down to about a week. It's also not going to be competing with Pure360 after a month, but it will do a job for someone.

Getting email up and running for side projects

Photo by Songeunyoung on Unsplash Rectifying my previous mistake - not building community by using email engagement - has proved to...

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