You have an idea for a new technology. But how can you turn it into reality? Social media expert Laura Roeder is the Founder of the newly launched social media software app, Edgar. Here, she shares reflections and advice from her first foray into software development. This post originally appeared on lkrsocialmedia.com.
Right now, I’m getting ready for the big public launch of my OWN piece of software – my very first one! – and it’s got me thinking about what the process of creating it was like.
And I’m not the only person thinking about that long, strange process, either! Edgar’s celebrating his big public launch next week, but he’s been available on a by-invitation-only basis for a few weeks now – and people have been hitting us up with a loooooot of questions about how this whole thing happened!
So I figured today was a good opportunity to answer your questions and talk a little more about the behind-the-scenes making of Edgar – where he came from, how we built him, and all kinds of details SO scandalous, you’d think you’re reading a gossip mag. (Okay, maybe not THAT scandalous.)
Let’s take a closer look at some of the questions I’ve been getting asked the most by our early adopters:
“When and why did you decide to make Edgar?”
It must seem a little weird that I’m releasing a piece of honest-to-goodness software right now instead of a course! The thing is, though, I didn’t start creating Edgar just because I wanted to release an app – I decided to make Edgar because I needed him.
Dr. Frankenstein created his monster just to prove that he could, you know? He didn’t need him so he’d have someone to talk to, or to get things down from tall shelves. He just wanted to make him, so he did.
That’s the same approach that I see a lot of people taking to software creation – their ambition to build an app or a plugin or whatever is bigger than their sense of that software’s purpose.
Well, just like things with Dr. Frankenstein and his creation, that sort of directionless ambition doesn’t usually turn out too great. If you approach software creation as your way of solving a problem, though, you might be onto something.
Waaaaaay back in January, I’d been working on Social Brilliant for a while. Now, one of the big lessons in Social Brilliant is that you shouldn’t use any given social media status update just one time, because not enough of your audience is going to see it – you should catalogue your updates instead, so you can repeat them after a while.
I used to do this manually, using a spreadsheet that ended up looking a little something like this:
Not the worst, but certainly not the best, either – not to mention that they still had to be manually uploaded to a scheduling tool like Buffer one-by-one on a rotating basis.
That’s where Chris came in. Chris – a super-talented ruby on rails developer who just so happens to be my husband – remarked that creating a program to do all of this work FOR people would be relatively easy.
And that blew my mind!
Because like I told you before, I’m NOT a programmer by any stretch of the imagination! Most people aren’t. And because of that, most of us don’t realize just how much programmers are capable of. If you have an idea, chances are, someone can make it happen.
So we decided to, and we got to work.
“How did you keep the rest of your business going while working on this?”
Truth is, it wasn’t always easy – it took a lot of compartmentalization and a WHOLE lot of patience!
Since we’ve been working on Edgar, we’ve ALSO taken on some other huge projects, like the new Social Brilliant and Hire Your First. We couldn’t just put all that other stuff on hold while we worked on this for six months!
That’s why I’m always preaching about the importance of prioritizing in your business and not allowing yourself to sit still for too long – you have to be willing and able to juggle a few big projects at once!
In this case, it meant dividing up the team. For the first few months of work on Edgar, he was entirely in the hands of development and design, so that we could get a skeletal working version up and running. Once we did – which took until early April – most of Team LKR hadn’t seen Edgar at all!
If we’d had everyone working on it from day one, there would’ve been WAY too many cooks in the kitchen – we might never have gotten out of the brainstorming stage! By dividing and conquering, though, we were able to spread our focus across multiple other projects without overthinking this one in its early stages.
“Did Edgar change a lot while you were building it?”
Hooooo boy, yes indeedy. In fact, I’d say we spent as much time REbuilding Edgar as we spent building him – because the things you THINK your software should do and the things it ACTUALLY should do can be pretty different.
This is why when you’re designing software, make sure you aren’t doing it in a vacuum. Ask targeted people for their feedback – their input can make a huge difference!
Case in point: we showed Edgar to Team LKR at our company retreat back in April – until this point, only about half of us had ever seen him in action. And it turned out that some of the features we’d had planned didn’t seem valuable to the rest of the team.
For example, because Edgar saves your social media updates in categories, we used to think that users should be able to assign weights to those categories, so some would get published more often than others. Check out this super early build and you’ll see what I mean:
When we showed it to the team, though, we realized that it wasn’t the best idea – because it confused the heck out of everyone! After some brainstorming, we realized it would be a lot MORE useful for users to build category-based schedules, so certain types of updates get published at certain times. We might never have reached that conclusion if it weren’t for getting the input of others, and now it’s one of Edgar’s biggest selling points!
(This is all sort of leading into the next question I’ve been getting a lot, so we’ll skip ahead here…)
“How did you know when Edgar was ‘done’ and ready?”
The thing about software like this – and I don’t wanna sound like a big cliche, but whatever – is that it’s never REALLY “done.” There are programs you’ve been using for years that still change all the time – what version of iTunes are you using right now? Like, V.1 Million? There’s always room to improve.
I get what you mean, though – how did we know when we should start letting Edgar out into the great wide world?
Easy: we used it ourselves. A lot. A LOT a lot.
Our social media manager made the switch from our old scheduling tool to Edgar a few months ago, and it’s been the most valuable learning experience possible. Customer research and your own intuition will only take you so far, because that’s all theoretical – to really know if your program is at its best, you have to use it yourself, and use it a lot.
It wasn’t until we started actually USING Edgar that we realized all of the things we wanted him to do, and to do differently. We’ve added and improved features, changed layouts, improved speed, and done plenty more, too. COULD we have released Edgar the way he was months ago? Sure we could have. But because we were clear that Edgar should be a paid product from day one, we wanted to make sure that our very first users would fall in love.
This timing issue is the core challenge in building any piece of software – it’s all too easy to let the timing drag on and on while you make things “perfect”. On the other hand, if you release a tool that’s subpar, your users aren’t going to stick around, much less spread the word about how great you are.
Of course, you DO have to share your creation with the world SOMEtime – but when?
“When did you decide to start sharing Edgar with people? Why not release it to everyone at once?”
Eventually, there comes a time when you’ve done everything you can on your own. Just like we had to share Edgar with the entire team to get their input, we had to start letting people OUTSIDE LKR start using him, too.
The thing is, though, you want to refine something as much as humanly possible before releasing it to the general public. It’s like how movie studios show upcoming films to focus groups, so they can identify what audiences like and don’t like – you need to get feedback from people outside your bubble.
Once we figured we’d learned as much about Edgar as we could from using him in-house, we extended a few invitations – maybe a dozen or so – to close friends and colleagues. After a few weeks of listening to and incorporating their feedback, we started going public – and that’s where things started to get reallllly real.
“How did you come up with the Edgar brand?”
Edgar’s our baby! (You may have noticed that he’s totally a “he,” not an “it.”) But he wasn’t born overnight.
Marketing software isn’t quite like marketing a course, like I’m used to. Edgar isn’t for everybody – so we had to work extra hard to figure out who he IS for, and what they look for in an app. (It helps that Edgar is something we created for ourselves, because we knew what we needed him to do and what made him so special from the start!)
We decided pretty early on to keep the app’s working name (because c’mon, “Edgar” is kinda cute, right?), but there were still all kinds of other things to think about: design, copywriting, target audiences, yada yada yada.
In a lot of ways, this is the fun part! It’s the part you might be tempted to start thinking about BEFORE you do all the heavy lifting of programming and testing and so on. But branding your software should come late in the game – not early. Remember, even I was surprised by how much Edgar changed shape over the course of a few months! If we’d come up with a brand identity first thing back in January, who knows if it would still ring true now that the software is fully developed.
And just like with all the other stuff, make sure you aren’t living in an echo chamber. No matter how much you know about “best practices” or hot trends or anything like that, there’s a looooot of subjectivity involved with things like branding. What you absolutely LOVE might be totally wrong for the brand you’re cultivating, or the audience you want to reach!
Once we figured out things like how Edgar looks and sounds, we had to start generating some interest. We started about two months ago by promoting this landing page teasing his arrival:
(And of course, we ran an extensive split test between this landing page and another version, to see which one piqued more interest.)
Having that up BEFORE we had a definitive launch date in mind allowed us to start marketing without having to sit on our thumbs while we finalized the software. Remember how I’m always saying that you have to do things before you feel 100% ready? I actually live by that, ya know!
Once we DID figure out our launch date, we decided to let the cat out of the bag with a full info page. (Making these pages is one of my favorite parts!) We opened up Edgar on a by-invitation-only basis, so that the people who were most interested could get their hands on him. Never underestimate your brand advocates – and always, ALWAYS reward them! By letting people use Edgar early, we got not only a ton of useful feedback, but also positive buzz out in the ol’ Twittersphere – and you don’t need me to tell you how valuable that can be.