How Startups Should Break Things

Breaking things is important for startups. I don’t mean throwing things across the room, which I do from time to time. I mean handing a new app to somebody who has never tried it before, saying ‘try this’ with no instruction at all,  and seeing how they break it.

A client of mine is launching a new app for iPhone and we’re all having a good time playing around with the beta. I liked loading it up on my wife’s iPhone using Testflight and saying ‘try this’ and seeing if the interface was intuitive enough for her to navigate it. She did well, and so did the app. We saw how she wanted to press a button that brought her to a dead end, now fixed. We saw how we needed to add more sharing capability because that was what she wanted.

A colleague is launching a business directory site. I just listed Red Cup on it to see how the onboarding process was, what it was like as a user. I reported back; he was grateful. The onboarding process was a little slow. There was no auto-save and I had to hunt for the save button at the bottom of the page. It needed more ways to share and broadcast my participation in the app. If I could trumpet my new listing, others might want to list. Little things perhaps, but your user’s first-time experience is vital. A few goof-ups and their first time experience will become their last.

Too often we get too close to the things we’re working on. Seeing something with a beginner’s mind is of great value. The trick to that is to go out and find some beginners. They might flail around at first, but they will show you a lot about how your app or website works.

My youngest son, who is two, is already skilled at swiping pictures on an iPhone or iPad when he wants to see something new. He already knows that if he wants my attention, all he has to do is press the off button on my mac to power it down. As the screen goes dark, I can only turn to him and smile. As a digital native, he has already mastered two gestures: swipe and power off.

When you find your beta testers, treat them well. They have so much to teach you.

Quick add:  After I wrote this, I got a note from WordPress that one of my blogs had been suspended! Apparently, while testing something from If This Then That, I’d violated the WordPress Terms of Service. Haha!  So I really do break things. I fixed the problem and was reinstated.  That makes two organizations that have suspended me so far: WordPress and MailChimp.  Testing is fun.