3 Tips for SaaS Startups: Advisors, Math and Blind Spots

There are hundreds of SaaS startups advice blog posts. Many of them are based on a couple of experiences the respective founders made which are sometimes being presented as universal truth applicable to every startup. What frequently is missing is the context of the writer. So here’s my context: I’m an entrepreneur, I established a single successful (aka profitable) software boutique with my brother before we started to work on Usersnap (a B2B SaaS product), and we failed with another business idea. I’m older than the average startup founders and I did not drop out of university. I’m living in Austria, and I prefer the term “starting a business” instead of “running a startup”.

Disclosing this background, I’d like to share 3 observations I made in the last months.

Thoughts about finding Advisors

Limited life experiences + Over-generalization = Advice
Paul Buchheit, Founder of FriendFeed and creator of Gmail

I’m amazed how many people show the self-confidence to call themselves startup-advisors. At some point, I even got the impression that some failed startup entrepreneurs believe they’ll be able to advise other startups with a rationale that a set of experienced mistakes empowers them to guide fellow startups.

To me, that’s a misconceived plan B. Whereas I strongly believe that sharing failure with other entrepreneurs is very valuable I don’t think this is what advising is about. Continue Reading “3 Tips for SaaS Startups: Advisors, Math and Blind Spots”

6 bad habits in web development

At Usersnap, we have over 20 (summed up) years of experience in well organized web development. We figured that track record allows us to call out the good, bad and the ugly in the industry. Now, we don’t like to focus on the negative, but just this once we’ll sum up the bad, as the logical follow-up on our post on best practices in web development.

1. Mails with 20 bullet points

Mails with 20 bullet points, listing bugs, feature request and what not, are as much a commodity as a problem. Often they lead to accusations and “why didn’t you fix $XY, as I pointed out five weeks ago?”-s. In case your head of development is not able to drill these monologues down to workable tickets, chances are you forget things. Instead of muttering all kinds of things your mother didn’t teach you, try and educate your clients or managers how to use a bug tracker or project management tool.* That way you both save time sending countless lengthy emails, and they’ll have a better view of what you’re currently working on.

2. CC’ing the whole team

CC’ing all means: you have no idea who can solve this task. Which is bad in itself. If you start doing this, potentially no one will answer or feel responsible. Plus: reading all those mails will kill a lot of precious time for those who are not into it. Find out who is responsible and address that person only. Continue Reading “6 bad habits in web development”

The dos and don’ts in A/B testing

As someone making a living in the startup world, one can not have missed the rise of A/B tests, greatly boosted by Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup. But what is this A/B testing all about? And how do you make sure you get a data-driven approach to product development right for your website or web application?

What is A/B testing?

A/B testing requires to have two different versions of a page, one being your current version, and the other is the version you want to change the page to. Every A/B experiment starts with a little hypothesis. For instance: in order to drive more traffic towards our signup page we need a friendly green button, instead of the blue one we have currently. To research and justify your changes, you route half your visitors to the first page and half to the second. Next, you monitor how many of the visitors perform the desired action (like sign up for your service) on each page, and you calculate the conversion rate for the old and new page. The page with the highest conversion rate is probably the one you should use. Continue Reading “The dos and don’ts in A/B testing”

8 good habits in web development

side note: get yourself educated on the top 25 screen capture tools on the market today. never know when they can help 😉

At Usersnap, we have over 20 (summed up) years of experience in well organized web development. We figured that track record allows us to call out the good, the bad and the ugly in the industry. Let’s start with the positive stuff.

1. Use a bug tracker

The inbox of a Head of Development tends to fill up over the day with feature requests, bug reports and snippets of user feedback. Sometimes you’ll even receive emails with a whole bullet point list (if you’re lucky) of requirements, pain points and random ideas. While it’s great that people take the time to give – at times very extended – feedback, it’s not really useful as is.

Using a bug tracker / project management solution like Basecamp or Trac you can reorder tickets and nothing gets lost, as tasks are only closed when they are done. Set a milestone, add keywords (so your co-workers can find your ticket easily), add a priority level and make sure to cc the person in charge of ‘fixing it’. Even if that’s yours truly. In the description, try to provide a user story. And make sure your summary is descriptive, you can use humor for your commit messages if you really have to (i.e.: when it’s done), but you’ll want your ticket to be clear.

2. Take responsibility

Be precise and targeted. You should know who can do what and who is available for an additional task. When in real doubt about who’s responsible, you can do a CC. But make sure to remove all others from the CC, as soon as you found the right person to assign the ticket to. Continue Reading “8 good habits in web development”

6 tools to get started with responsive web design

Nowadays – when building a website – one is confronted with a number of different sizes and browsers that is daunting.* Plus, with mobile adoption skyrocketing, the diversity of mobile devices on the market doesn’t fail to grow exponentially. Thank god / the vivid web design community no custom coding is needed for each device or screen size with current responsive web design frameworks and testing tools.

also, maybe you need to get some more info on screen capture tools. we  got you covered here!

We’ve selected 6 tools and libraries to get you started with responsive web design:

Bootstrap

Built at Twitter by Mark Otto and Jacob Thornton, Bootstrap offers an easy configurable CSS front-end framework. Bootstrap was made to not only look and behave great in the latest desktop browsers (as well as IE7!), but also in tablet and smartphone browsers with a 12-column responsive grid, dozens of components, JavaScript plugins, typography, form controls, and has a web-based Customizer. Bootstrap comes in different shapes and forms, like Google BootstrapRetriever Bootstrap and the super fun (and equally ugly) Geo Bootstrap. Continue Reading “6 tools to get started with responsive web design”

An Intro to Responsive Web Design

Responsive Web Design (RWD) is a design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience. That means: easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling across a gradient of different devices. At Usersnap we think a great deal of Responsive Design, and letting screen capture tools lead the way. Simply re-size your browser window, or open this blog on your smartphone, and you’ll know what we’re talking about. Continue Reading “An Intro to Responsive Web Design”

Continuous Everything – From Coding to Feedback

Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment are strong concepts in modern software development and specifically useful and necessary for cloud applications. Delivering code continuously keeps the product development agile and allows for fast iterations. Specifically when it comes to SaaS products or services, the way to ship software has to follow the continuous track, delivering new “releases” several times a day. For example, at Quora every commit is submitted to the production system, unless this process is actively suppressed.

Ever decreasing software release cycles also require to rethink the way feedback from real users is gathered. Bimonthly user experience reviews with a selected set of customers are not suitable if new features of a product are published daily. Tools to suggest improvements and to report bugs need to be actively integrated in the product development process, addressing not only a selected group of testers but also includes real users.

This blog post is essentially an extended tutorial, explaining how to set up a 3C software production chain:- Continuous Integration, Continuous Deployment and Continuous Feedback.

We will use Microsoft Visual Studio and deploy directly to Windows Azure (Section 1). After that we connect Microsoft Team Foundation Server Online to our tool chain (Section 2) and subsequently connecting TFS with Windows Azure to establish Continuous Deployment directly from Visual Studio (Section 3). Finally we will add Usersnap to introduce Continuous Feedback to our setup (Section 4).

Since a standard “Hello-World” approach is always disappointing, we decided to create a tweet-wall which displays tweets containing the hashtag #usersnap. Lots of screenshots should provide a step-by-step tutorial to get you started with Visual Studio 2012, Team Foundation Service and Azure and finally Usersnap. There is no need to write code while walking through this tutorial.

Continue Reading “Continuous Everything – From Coding to Feedback”

5 steps to make bug-fixing fun again

Working with bug tracking software can be an extreme pain for the communication/marketing side of your startup. Oftentimes using one or more tools alongside is forced upon them and they don’t always have the notion how important browser- or OS specifics are. Believe me, I’ve been on both sides. If your communications team won’t happily help their programming co workers optimizing the side, how can you expect your users or customers to do so?

Let’s talk about how to make bug-fixing fun again!

Continue Reading “5 steps to make bug-fixing fun again”