The CoachAccountable Blog

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Why Version 3 Was Kept Secret

I released CoachAccountable Version 3 now nearly three weeks ago, pretty much out of the blue as far as anyone was concerned.  If you’ve been a user of the CoachAccountable coaching management system for months or years, you had no idea it was coming if you weren’t among the very select few that I told in advance.

Yet V3 was in the making since early 2016, well over a year and a half.  The more conventional thing to do for a software company is to talk up such a project, to drive hype, interest, and attention so that everyone can be all like “OMG it’s so good!” when it finally drops.

Why did I keep such a large project, one that would ostensibly demonstrate a positive sign that the platform was continuing to move forward, so thoroughly under wraps?

I offer insight into that question as sort of glimpse into the inner workings of the software enterprise that is CoachAccountable, or, you might say, a glimpse into how I roll.

Let me take you back to my first and only straight job that I had out of college.  I worked for a small eCommerce company that would eventually be gobbled up by Network Solutions.  It was shopping cart software, a software-as-a-service business before “SaaS” was an in-vogue acronym, that allowed our customers to run their own online store.

I started that summer in tech support.  Our company’s software was then on version 3, and for months the sales people, owners, tech support; pretty much everyone customer facing had been pointing to the forthcoming version 4 as the solution to all woes.  “You need to organize your store into sub- sub- categories?  Version 4 will do that!”  “That bug that’s making your life miserable?  Totally fixed in version 4!”

Don’t worry, version 4 is coming.

As you might imagine, trading heavily on the promise of a not-yet-completed piece of software created a certain external pressure to get version 4 done and launched already, FFS.

So it was launched.  After months of unmet anticipated launch dates broken promises it finally launched in the fall.  All customers were migrated over in scheduled waves over about a 3 week period, no option to opt out.

That’s when the pain started.  Problem was version 4 was a piece of shit.

I mean, rushing will do that, right?  But they felt compelled to launch among a rising tide of unmet expectations and upset, and understandably so.

For about 2 months it was all hands on deck, everyone working a few extra hours each night to put out fires and calm pissed off customers.  Support ticket queues, which had seldom got more than 10 open at a time, rocketed up into the hundreds, peaking I believe at something like 1200.

It seemed like everyone had something that was borked with their online store as a result of the migration, or some key feature they relied on in version 3 that was buggy in version 4 (or just plain not there, like the ability print an order invoice–yeesh, how’d that get missed?).

But at least folks had sub- sub- categories.

Anyway that was my experience of a new version launch as performed by a legit, buttoned up software company.  I’m a little older and wiser these 14 years hence, and now I run my own software company.

I look back at the experience then and think the whole affair was kinda bush league.  I mean, it wasn’t really, because the bumpiness seen in that particular launch is so darn common.  There’s this general tendency for us all to wince at the prospect of a new version [of software that we already rely on], because the launches thereof being kind of a shit show is practically to be expected.

Still, informed by what I consider the mistakes of the past, I resolved NOT ON MY WATCH.  When Rob gave me designs that pulled for essentially a complete overhaul of the UI, thus befitting of a new major version release, I figured the only acceptable way to do it would be to give CoachAccountable Version 3 the time it needed to be a great coaching tool from the first day of its release.

Specifically, this actually entailed quite a lot:

  • I would not hurry its development to meet external expectations.
  • I would not create any external expectations, i.e. I would not offer up the new as the not-yet-existing solution to current woes.
  • I would test the shit out of it1 to ensure I was proud to have it out there.
  • I would make it good enough to be compelling for current customers to want to switch.
  • No one would be forced to switch2.
  • Everyone could test drive and play around with the new coaching tool version without being stuck there.
  • It would be ready to use FULLY on Day 1.
  • Every feature that existed in the old would be present in the new.
  • I would NOT be buried under issues and bugs post-launch.

So?  I took my sweet time to build Version 3.

At times it was hard to labor in isolation for such a long stretch, with little external feedback to motivate the huge undertaking.  A few noticed that the clip of new releases had stalled out relative to the norm, prompting them to innocently ask “Hey, uh, you working on something you’ve not shared with us?”  It was a fun question to answer.

It’s been a long road but I’m incredibly pleased with the end result.

Three weeks hence I’m proud to report that I’ve NOT been buried under issues and bugs to deal with amid now thousands of users poking around in V3 (as compared to just Paolo and I being in there for so long).

Have the masses found bugs that he and I did not?  Yep, but nothing I haven’t been able to keep on top of.  Our open ticket queue remains well below 10 as the bug reports trickle in, the majority of which I’ve been able to fix within minutes, and the trickiest of which took about two hours (here’s looking at you, automatically responsively resizing embeddable login widget iframe!).

So THAT’S why the secret.  I wasn’t willing to, with current or prospective customers, trade on software that didn’t yet exist, because I didn’t want the stress of external expectations weighing on (and compromising) the process of creating it.

As a result it is my absolute pleasure to give to the coaching community a shiny, vastly improved online coaching platform, offered at the same price (cheaper, actually, given that White Labeling is free in V3), and without the downsides of either compromise (missing or buggy features) or force (having to give up what you already know and love).

Merry Christmas, Coaching industry.

Love,
John :)

Oh, and if you’re not already using our coach portal, get in on this already, will ya?

Notes:

  1. Sorry, I’m cussing a lot in this post, aren’t I?  I’m just really passionate about doing software development in the manner I consider to be right.
  2. At some point I’ll probably scuttle the old and so yes, everyone will have to move to the new, but there’s no hurry.

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