I'm terrible about blogging when there's something I can't quite talk about yet. It's always that one thing I can't talk about that preoccupies my writing mind. There's been a lot of that this year it seems.
-About a month before Cc:Betty raised it's seed round, we had a biz dev deal with a major media and communications company. The deal entailed a special implementation of our product, to reside nicely inside a communications service, but branded as Cc:Betty. It wasn't going to be for our ideal target audience per se, but the placement was going to be worthwhile. About 12 hours before the product was going to launch and the press were going to cover the story, "big co" called me and asked to slow roll the launch, due to some inter-operational concerns on their end. So I called the press off, and thank God they didn't leak the details. To this day, they've respectfully held the story. In fact, it's been so long now, I'll bet the press have probably forgotten. (And no, I'm not going to reveal this company name). Here was a situation, whereby a tiny startup does a deal with a big incumbent, to attract capital and in the name of early and fast growth, but inevitably something goes sideways within the operations of big co, and the startup gets the short end of the stick. (I've actually experienced this before with the Match-Jangl deal back when, but Match were in constant flux so I could see that coming). This time, there was only positive momentum toward a good deal coming together. We had the right internal relationships and they all said the right things. But then we had to slow roll a few days, which became a few weeks, then months, etc.
The moral of this... Don't ever bank your company on a business development deal in the very early stages. Be YOURSELF first, and once you've done that well, only THEN think about what a partnership would look like. It's counter to a lot of things you'll hear, but trust me on this one.
That leads me to another thing I can't fully talk about....
-Last new year's eve, before we all went our separate ways for our party time, the Cc:Betty team launched our first friends and family alpha. Now, almost a year into the Cc:Betty development and validation stage, rather than nurturing the big co deal and others like it, we've done 96 releases on our core product and mapped almost all of that to user feedback/testing/customer development. (We've also built an iPhone app to mirror it which should launch early next year). We've watched the world of tech communications iterate upon itself, in real-time of course, and we've watched people go gaga over Wave, regardless of whether they know what is or whether they can figure it out (the Google halo effect), and we've watched the enterprise begin to adopt once-thought consumer technologies. Most importantly we've learned a whole ton about who our customers are, why they use the product, what interactions work/don't work, what else they want, and even what they'd pay for. This has led us to the ultimate A/B test.
People always talk about doing A/B tests on different home pages, or even user flows. But seldom is it on an entire product. Yes, we are going to A/B Cc:Betty in its entirety. Crazy? Maybe. One thing's for sure, we'll be a hell of a lot smarter about what the NEXT year is going to look like once we complete this test. This test starts with a very limited, private alpha of "B". Later this week we're going to point some friends and family to "B" to get some of their reactions. (If you're reading this, you're probably friends and family, so I'll be glad to give you a peek. You know how to reach me).
The moral of this, don't get hung up on your first thesis, because with or without you, it's going to change. Data always trumps ego.