<Note: Edited for clarity>
I had this call today with a client. They agreed to let me post it. Names are removed, because you don’t need to know their names (or company).
R: You aren’t understanding me – anything that increases your adoption rate by 10% increases your adoption rate by 10%.
C1: I don’t want to move resources off of <new feature X> to make these changes.
R: If you don’t, then 10% of the people that might have joined your site will never even see <new feature x>! I don’t understand your love affair with this feature.
C2: Uh – <new feature x> is the CEO’s idea.
R: Well, is he there? Can he join the conference?
C1: I’ll see
C1: (a few minutes later) The CEO is here
R: Your guys are telling me that you are willing to take a pass on 10% adoption on your site to get <new feature x> launched. Is that true?
CEO: What? I would trade ANYTHING in the pipeline for 10% more adoption. What’s going on here?
C2: I told you we should have told him.
C1: I’m just following his schedule.
CEO: We’ll get back to you tomorrow, ok?
I talked 1:1 with the CEO an hour or so later, and he couldn’t understand why his (very bright) team made such an assumption that his "baby" had to be delivered first. "Because you put it in writing", I said. "You gave them a schedule – and a schedule has due dates. Deadlines."
You can’t run a business without schedules. But you can’t build a business with iron-clad deadlines either. Startups are like Silly Putty – they stretch, and shrink, and grow, and most importantly, they morph. Startups that morph quickly tend to be around a lot longer.
The problem here, and the CEO admitted to it, and allows me to retell it – is the CEO set expectations for his team that weren’t in the over-all best interests of his customers. Sure, he didn’t mean to – but when you get a schedule from the CEO that pretty much becomes your task list. And that’s fine – what the CEO neglected to do though was make sure his team knew what the over-reaching goals were – to build an audience – and that anything that interfered with that should be brought to his attention. He didn’t empower his employees to question him.
I’ve seen time and time again where sites rush to add features before they even work on streamlining the end user experience. Since there are alternatives for almost every online business right now, streamlining that customer experience is the key to adoption rates. AND retention.
It doesn’t matter how cool your feature is – if users can’t easily access it, then they won’t. They adopt the site with the least amount of restrictions. And if you aren’t that site, then that costs you customers.
Of course there was a lot more to the conversations, and I am not painting these guys out to be idiots – they are anything but. They did fail to understand as a company what the priorities were though. They were not all on the same page.