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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 CA 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 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 product 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 freely 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 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 :)

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.

Version 3

This has been in the works for a long time.

It was January of last year (2016) that I invited Lee and Rob, my business partners from back in the Version 1 days (circa 2008-2009), for a meeting to discuss giving CoachAccountable an aesthetic facelift.

You see Rob was the one behind the pretty pixels of the original CA, and it was those pretty pixels that I have extended, remixed, and repurposed throughout all of Version 2’s tenure.  Though the passage of 8 years rendered that look ostensibly stale and dated, there was no one else I’d rather work with to give CA a cleaner, more modern look, and no one I trusted more to design away the sins of my years of cobbling (and over indulgence in CSS gradients :).

“I’d like to basically give it a fresh coat of paint.  A new set of icons, some updated styling rules to pretty up those areas wherein my own programmer design instincts could be improved upon, and whatever tidying up to better unify the visually inconsistent bits.” I said during our two hour pow wow.  “Could be fun to call this ‘Version 3’, I’ve been evolving Version 2 for over three years now so you could say we’re due.”

Team LeeRob did me way more than I bargained for.

Rather design than a paint job, they went deep into researching modern app designs to re-imagine what CoachAccountable could look like if newly designed today.  The mock-ups they presented me took me quite by surprise.

I confess it was not love at first sight.  I mean it sort of was, because yes, they were gorgeous.  But my overarching sentiment was a mix between “But it looks so different from the current version that I and my customers have come to know and love!” and “Oh fuck, this is going to be a lot of work.”1.

It was all a sort of mental inertia from a successful 3+ years run of the old aesthetic.  Happily, my attitude towards the overhaul softened considerably once I’d built a bunch of it and experienced CoachAccountable in this new, slick style.  After a little while, once V3 became my new baseline for how CoachAccountable “should” look, the old seemed crusty, and even kinda ugly.

At times it was hard to have that crusty version out there as THE forward facing presentation of CoachAccountable, with no one knowing I was working on this new work of art that I kept hidden away.

Which brings us to today, when after a LOT of work I am so happy to finally reveal CoachAccountable Version 3.

So what’s new?

Well, practically everything.  It’s a bit cliche to say with a software release like this, but truly, the entire system has been given an aesthetic overhaul.  I didn’t mess with the core system functionality one bit, I mean that’s really working, and so I would do so at my own peril, but everything got re-imagined and remixed towards the dual purposes of “make it beautiful” and “make it a joy to use”.

Consider the coach dashboard, that vital jumping off point.  From Version 2:

And here’s what it looks like in Version 3:

Pretty different, right?  And yet super consistent with V2 in terms of functionality.  Longtime users of CoachAccountable should find themselves quickly feeling right at home within Version 3.  Version 3 is fully on feature parity with Version 2, yet there are a couple of key differences worth pointing out in this broad overview.

White Labeling is now Free

One of the most constant gripes about Version 2 is that the right to white label it costs $50/month.  I had my reasons for this, but the main one, to serve as sort of price segmenting that helped me to bootstrap this whole endeavor, no longer holds as necessary.

Business is good, so I’m happy to, as a gift to my customers, give up that sizable chunk of revenue and open up the nicety that is having the system branded as your very own to everyone else.  (Fun fact: this allowed me to skip a bunch of work of bringing forth the branded/not branded dichotomy into the Version 3 code–benevolent laziness for the win!)

Besides being free, White Labeling is improved in several ways.  For example your system-generated email templates are more customizable than before:

Desktop and Mobile are now One

CA Mobile was the alternate, minified version of Version 2 that was cooked up to responsively accommodate smaller devices.  It got the job done, but it was a pared down experience focused on the day to day work of coaching interactions.

By contrast Version 3 is completely responsive.  It just works on any size screen, meaning every device is able to elegantly access the complete system.  The only exception is drag and drop operations on a touch only device.  Since dragging on a touch screen is essentially relegated to scrolling purposes, the drag-and-drop course builder, for example, isn’t fully functional on a smartphone.

Please, no one try to build a course from their smartphone. ;)

Otherwise it’s just all there.  You can get a live taste for how this works by firing CA up on your desktop, and just drag the corner of your browser around to resize the window any which way and watch the system rearrange itself on the fly.  It just works.

Behind the scenes, I’m excited because when I build a new feature, there will be no need to do it twice to cover both mobile and desktop–there’s just one code base to rule them all, meaning I can advance the platform more quickly.

Folder Organization

Popular demand for some time has been calling for a way to organize files into folders.  Done and done, and this holds for templates and courses as well.

Create folder hierarchies as deep as you like, drag and drop both items and folders to move ’em around.  It should feel pretty natural to everyone used to working with file systems on modern computers2.

In-app help, for coaches AND clients

The UI of Version 3 is no longer cluttered with inline instructions like were common in V2.  Instead I’ve put that sort of thing into an in-app help system that is woven throughout the system.  On nearly every page and pop up window you’ll find a light bulb icon, which, when clicked, will jump you right to the relevant article.

For example, take the screenshot just above of the Worksheet Templates page.  When we click the light bulb icon in the top right there, this help article slides right into view, like so:

What’s cool is that from whatever article is loaded we can surf around to other related articles, or do a search of the whole knowledge base.  We can resize this help sidebar to take up as much or as little space as is ideal, making it possible to have the guide present while we’re doing our thing within the app.

Also cool?  This very help system is present for your clients, too.  Their side of the house contains its own separate collection of help articles, paired down and tailored to just those things that they would need to know and get answers to.  This should make it easier for them to on-board themselves and feel comfortable in this new system you’ve invited them to.


Again, this overhaul that I’m calling Version 3 was much more encompassing than I’d bargained for when I first discussed a design update with Lee & Rob.  Big hat tip to those two for pushing me to make CoachAccountable the best possible version of itself (they’re amazing designers and creative consultants, they’re busy but hire them if you can).  It runs faster, works better, and is prettier throughout.

It is the perfect foundation for moving forward with what’s next for CoachAccountable, and after all the heads down work done is secret to get this out the door I am excited to finally once again extend the platform with new functionality.

Should be fun!

Notes:

  1. Sorry for the cussing, just want to give an accurate portrayal for the record!
  2. A.K.A everyone.  Or at least everyone who’s likely to end up ever using CoachAccountable.

Delightful Collaboration VIII – Setting Location and Description for Appointments

Here is a great example of where CoachAccountable gets better through me being exposed to a style of doing things other than my own.

The calendar feed of appointments is a lovely thing, allowing both coaches and clients to have appointments [set within CoachAccountable] appear right within their usual calendars (like Google Calendars, iCal, and Outlook).

Beyond the what and when, calendar software aficionados know that it’s handy to have location and descriptive information about a calendar event be right there as well.

For my sake when it comes to coaching appointments there’s nothing to it: “where” is invariably on the phone, and there are no access or dial-in details to speak of, or really anything else–I call them and that’s that.

Liz HeimanBut last Thursday I had a great call with Liz Heiman of Percio Strategies.  We went over a bevy of great questions of how to setup and do this or that within CA, and Liz made a great case for how useful it would be to have location and description information about an appointment appear right along side appointments within people’s calendars: vital for coordination of meeting locations and a great boon to timely attendance to have dial in information right there for attendees. » Continue reading “Delightful Collaboration VIII – Setting Location and Description for Appointments”

Unit-Based Courses for Self-Paced Programs

Courses are great.  They allow you to create a coaching program as a progression of items that are to delivered over a days, weeks or month, where the items include videos, readings, worksheets, action items, and more.  They are super flexible, allowing you to set in motion a slow drip of materials to as many clients as you like with just a few clicks, precisely according to the schedule you define–you can have the system send an intro message on Day 1 at 8am, an audio lesson on Day 2 at 9am and a review worksheet 20 minutes later, and so on.

You can even make it so that completing one item triggers the release of the next, such as completing Day 9’s Worksheet triggers a “well done” message, or watching Day 2’s audio lesson triggers the assignment of a follow up Action.   You can make a rich, interactive experience for your program participants as they go through the timeline of your course.

But what if your Course is better suited as a time-independent delivery?  You might have a bunch of material wherein completing one section naturally invites flowing into the next.  There might be no reason to not let someone who’s cruising through the materials and assignments simply move through more quickly.  Similarly, when someone takes a two week vacation it might well be much better to not let assignments and messages pile up while they are away.

» Continue reading “Unit-Based Courses for Self-Paced Programs”

Delightful Collaboration VII – Course Whiteboards

Sometimes a would-be user of CoachAccountable just knows what they’re looking for.

This past Wednesday I got an email from Jason of Merchant Capital Partners, a company which offers loans and training programs to help entrepreneurs build sustainably profitable businesses.  He and his colleague Robert that got right to the point:

Hello,

We are evaluating your platform for use with our customers… would it be possible to hop on a call and talk through some of our questions and what a possible partnership would look like?  We’re looking to make a decision quickly so the sooner the better.

Please reply with some times that you are available.

The following day we spent nearly 2 hours on the phone and connected via screen share, them showing the ins-and-outs of the program they’re aiming to deliver at scale, and me taking it in and in turn advising how to best deliver it via CA.

» Continue reading “Delightful Collaboration VII – Course Whiteboards”

Introducing CA Mobile

  • Yay!!!!! :-) THANK YOU! :-)
  • My clients have been asking for this for years. It looks great, you’re a champ! :)
  • Lovin it so far!
  • LOVE IT! CONGRATULATIONS! I can’t wait to dig deeper but it looks great!

Thus were the communications sent to me from the community of CA users within the first 6 minutes of my announcement that CA Mobile was ready to go.

Indeed this one’s been wanted for a while.  CoachAccountable has worked from day 1 on smartphones so I deliberately let a mobile version slide as a priority.  Having a second, complimentary version entails substantial overhead to maintaining and evolving the system, and so it was net quite useful to not have that while I grew CA in other ways, ways that made more fundamental expansions to what CA was capable of.

(That, and dragging my feet on this front has meant a much improved “least common denominator” of device that I needed to support over what it would have been a year or two ago, making the released product both nicer and easier to build & maintain.)

But I’ll grant that pinching and zooming about is clunky, especially when all you want to do is mark an Action complete or report on a Metric.  And since we coaches traffic heavily in the realm of getting folks to do that which they weren’t about to do of their own accord, ANYTHING that reduces barriers to acting on our coaching is bound to be a win.

Thus CA Mobile’s time has come.  Let’s take a look!

When you log in as coach you’ll first see a listing of your clients along with a summary of what’s new:

CAMobile Client Listing

(The “Appointments Outlook” button takes you to a succinct listing of all of your upcoming appointments in the system, as well as any pending requests for you to accept or decline.)

Tapping on a client takes you to their respective client page, wherein you see a detailed listing of what’s new and recent, broken into sections:

CAMobile Client Listing

Tap on any section to be brought to greater detail of that section.  See for example Actions:

Mobile Actions

Most items in a listing (for example the listing of Actions seen above) can be swiped to reveal controls: swiping right reveals buttons for common commands that can be done (like unmarking an Action done, or deleting it).  Swiping left reveals a button by which to view comments on a given item (for those items that support it, like Actions, Worksheets, etc.).

CA Mobile comments

Here’s what Metrics look like:

CA Mobile comments

Since hovering doesn’t apply on mobile, you tap a given data point to see the details and any comment.  Tap again to hid it.  If the graph is looking to squished on your upright device, rotating it 90 degrees will have it expand to fill the additional horizontal space.

For this initial release, CA Mobile allows your clients to do pretty much everything they’re allowed to do, and for you as coach to do pretty much everything you can do with client, like making action plans, scheduling appointments and assigning worksheets.  (Heck, though I don’t recommend it, you can even create new form-based worksheets from within CA Mobile!)

CA Mobile Worksheet Editor

(Let’s be clear: this is a squashed mess here, so I say edit complex worksheets on your smartphone at your own peril!  Tip: to edit a form input in a worksheet, do a double tap on it, and if that doesn’t work, a touch hold for one second will.)

Here’s the My Account page, which allows you and your clients to update personal info, including your head shot (no excuses now for your clients to not upload their own, given doing so can be as simple as taking a selfie on their smartphone camera):

CAMobile My Account

And finally the logout screen, which in addition to letting you log out gives you the option to switch to any other accounts you may have linked within CA (assuming there are any), and a button to jump you back to the desktop version of CA for whatever reason (nice if you need to do anything that’s not yet supported by CA Mobile).

CAMobile Client Listing

I’ll grant grouping all of these things together is a fairly loose take on what the phrase “log out” means, but really this is all the stuff of jumping out of one context and into another.

Getting in to CA Mobile

Accessing CA Mobile is as simple as logging in from the regular login screen a smaller device.  When CA detects you logging in from a device that would probably prefer to show CA Mobile, it’ll redirect you accordingly.  (This works the same for your clients.)

It’ll also remember the preference for a given device so that if, say, you or your client click a link into CA from your email you’ll go to the right place, desktop or mobile.  What if CA puts you in the desktop version and you’d rather be in mobile?  You’ll find at the very bottom when logged in a little link to “Go mobile friendly” in all cases, and a bigger one towards the top right when viewing CA on a smaller screen.

And if you’re in CA Mobile and want to jump back to the desktop mode?  Again, that’s always as simple as bringing up the “Log Out” screen and tapping the “Go to the desktop version” button there.

White Labeling and CA Mobile

One of the fun things about CA Mobile is that it can be made to be very “appy”, in that as a White Label branding user you can set an app icon.

App icons are the spiffy little square images that becomes the icon when you do the whole “add to home screen” thing for a given website on your mobile device. Since your clients will probably enjoy to have a home screen shortcut to CA Mobile on their smartphones, it’ll be quite slick indeed to have your branded app be what shows up.

You can set this up by going to your white label branding settings page within CA and finding the new “Custom App Icon” section within.

CA has a nice default icon for a home page app on a smartphone, but it’s kinda fun to have it be your own.  Compare the default versus a custom:

CAMobile App Icons

Your custom app logo will probably be more intentionally designed, and the name of your app doesn’t even HAVE to be a witty pun on “CoachAccountable”.

Another perk of White Labeling in this new mobile-friendly era for CA is that the standard login page (which has been remixed to be look and work great on screens of any size) will brand itself according to the white label settings of the account last logged into, meaning that login page can serve nicely as the one your clients regularly visit (you might want to change your Login URL setting to “https://www.coachaccountable.com/login” to take advantage!).

To wit, after being logged into an account with Couch Reclinable, this is what the login screen looks like:

CAMobile Branded Login

Looking Ahead

So far CA Mobile is a hit with users who’ve tried it.

Groups, Billing, Courses, and Team Dashboard are yet to come, but what’s in place already should be the 90% solution for the regular interactions with CA done by you and your clients.

I’d like to wrap up by sharing the words of one Michael Leahy.  I give his words on this matter a certain special credence, for he has been one of the staunchest demanders of there being a mobile-friendly CA for now nearly two years (so much so that when my wife and I made a bet of whether or not I would have CA Mobile done by 4th quarter 2015, we set his approval as the threshold of sufficient completion).

One hour and 20 minutes into CA Mobile’s release Michael wrote:

John, so far, all I can say is AWESOME!!! I’m really loving’ this!

So I haven’t really spent a lot of time on it yet, and only on my iPhone. Can’t wait to try it out on my iPad. I may never access CA on my laptop again (except for the obvious stuff where I’m doing a lot of document creation or course creation).

You’ve far exceeded my expectations! I can’t wait until I see what you come up with re- Groups, Courses, and Team Dashboard.  Again, let me just say in closing that you’ve really blown me out of the water with this new CA Mobile. Exceptional job!!!

With that I’m given hope that CA Mobile was worth the wait.

I’m looking forward to rounding out CA Mobile with the missing parts, and I thank everyone both for their patience with the process as well as their excitement for the result.

Here’s to giving our clients an exceptional experience of being coached by us.

Happy Birthday, CA: CoachAccountable’s Now 3!

Lordy me, has another year gone by already?

Fresh from the Photoshop I mean bakery.

Fresh from the Photoshop I mean bakery.

Indeed!  It’s now been a full 3 years since the public release of CoachAccountable2.0, and what a delightful year.

» Continue reading “Happy Birthday, CA: CoachAccountable’s Now 3!”

CoachAccountable turns 2 today!

Birthday cake

I’ll level with you here: I totally just Photoshopped last year’s cake to add second a candle.

Today CoachAccountable marks its second birthday.

With the release of the Client Manual, Groups, remixed Billing, Happenings Reports, appointment worksheets, Engagement Reports, Team Edition, Action Projects, client records exporting, embedded videos, and a whole host of other improvements it’s been a good year.

To celebrate, I have a big announcement:

Effective today, CoachAccountable Courses and CoachAccountable Groups add-ons are FREE.

» Continue reading “CoachAccountable turns 2 today!”

One of the Biggest Updates No One Will Notice

That was oddly satisfying.

I just released a major update to the CoachAccountable code base and database structure, and if I’ve done it correctly no one will notice any change whatsoever.

What’s the big deal?  I’ve spent the last week overhauling the mechanics of user accounts, news items, and customizable widget items including note areas and task lists.

(Especially the widget items, which were a kludge of bloated code to cover left-column widgets for the coach’s dashboard, the client centers, and the client view pages.  My only excuse is that this code harkened back to nearly five years ago in the early days of CA 1.0’s development, and this is largely the reason why widgets are some of the most useless and least interesting parts of the system.  This too shall pass.)

All of this under-the-hood work was in the interest of making a more robust and generally powerful platform upon which to build Team Edition.  As mentioned in a little update note a week ago, my fall emphasis on Team had given way to more immediately relevant work of marketing and outreach.  But it feels good to be back on the case of building Team.

Remixing user accounts was to enable a single user account to have multiple roles within CoachAccountable (e.g. admin of a Team, coach to his clients, and client of some other coach).  Remixing news items was to enable Team Admins to get new alerts just as coaches do now (and who knows, down the road coaches who would like to send news alerts to their clients may get their wish).  And remixing widgets was to enable Team Admins to enjoy flexible configuration of tools to be easily added in a variety of contexts, as well as to pave the way for more interesting ones.

All in all a good week, and Team Edition continues to progress.  Soon I’ll be setting my beta testers up with Team accounts of their own, bringing CoachAccountable a giant and very real step closer to supporting multiple-coach coaching organizations.

Happy Birthday, CoachAccountable!

You wouldn't believe how hard it was to find a ribbon of the exact shade, #6C9C31.

You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to find a ribbon of the exact shade of CA green, #6C9C31.

Goodness they grow up so fast when they’re young, don’t they?

Just yesterday CoachAccountable turned 1: it was one year ago that I released it from my laptop in Peru to deliberately very little fanfare.

In those days very few people who tried it really got the concept, because there wasn’t much by way of illustrating the why and the wins of using the system.  Now with explainer videos, an illustrated manual, a heap of blog posts, and a richer, more encompassing set of features people are much more able to understand the value of using CoachAccountable and put it into their practice (the change in my conversion rates make this most obvious!).

» Continue reading “Happy Birthday, CoachAccountable!”