Driving Forward

Being a company focused on culture, design-led thinking and relentless improvement, Bilue is always looking for ways to tighten the ship and be better. Not just growth in terms of personnel or physical space but in terms of friendships, teamwork, encouragement, exploration, learning, setting goals and achieving them. Yesterday everyone at Bilue woke slightly earlier than usual and boarded a bus headed out west for an excitement-fuelled day of go-karting.

We sat together as a team and asked ourselves a few really important questions – Why does Bilue exist? What have we achieved? What have we failed at? What do we want? And how do we get there. There were some crucial discussions throughout the morning that will no doubt help correct ourselves and steer us forward in the right direction.

In the coming months and with the new year a mere month ahead of us, we are all really looking forward to putting the creative thinking we accomplished yesterday into action. We want to force ourselves to do better in ways we didn’t know we could. We want to continue to be a place where everyone, not just me, is excited to work every single day.

There was also some go-karting that happened.

Fresh off the tail of a full stomach, everyone was split into two groups. Each group completed a 5-minute warm up, and then 2 heats of 8 laps each. Those who put the pedal to the metal and did well were selected to compete in the finals – if they weren’t already suffering from heat stroke in the 35 degree weather.

There were plenty of ridiculously hilarious crashes and spin outs, and much fun had by all. I couldn’t feel my hands at one point, and was seconds from collapsing.

From the dust of the final lap the victors emerged:

2015HallofFame

First
Cameron

Second
Sye

Third
Luke D

Tired and fighting our own internal battles with the heat, we boarded the bus again to head back to the office – only to see that our space had undergone a bit of an improvement. What was once a concrete jungle that we begrudgingly convinced ourselves and our clients was a balcony, is now an amazingly vibrant, unique and relaxing break from all the intensity of indoors.

Directions of the web

WebFuture

Don’t settle for what exists, care enough to push the envelope and design the best solution possible.

Technology and the web are incredibly exciting and yet still so new. Compared to other industries such as banking, mining or automotive it is still in its infancy, and people are doing amazing work to shape it and explore how far it can be stretched. Being so young allows us to try new approaches, make mistakes and discover new design processes and development practices that will help improve what we build.

Events such as Web Directions 2015 help the industry grow by bringing its leaders together to impart their wisdom. After two days, I felt like my head was ready to explode from excitement, learning and ridiculously excessive amounts of coffee. Web Directions challenged my existing development processes, reinforced my inner values and exposed me to a few excitingly new perspectives of thinking.

Integrate

Cap Watkins, VP of Design at Buzzfeed delivered the conference opening keynote, emphasising a need for developers and designers to work closer than ever before. He introduced us to processes at Buzzfeed whereby designers and developers sit down monthly to work through minor styling bug fixes that would otherwise be de-prioritised. Designers were encouraged to be involved, learn CSS and make contributions to a codebase instead of relying on developers to make these less important changes.

I find Cap’s attitude inspiring. In my own experience I’ve found that collaboration among teams directly leads to an increase in quality.

Developers should also be expanding the breadth of their knowledge. Courtney Hemphill addressed these ideas in her talk on animation algorithms. She encouraged exploring the ways tweaking easing functions adds entirely new dimensions to a design – beyond what a designer would typically achieve.

Addressing these visual animation problems through code and logic we can further integrate design thinking into our process. By integrating knowledge from other disciplines, as developers we become more than just ‘code monkeys’. Instead, we can create fun, exhilarating web experiences. Who doesn’t want to do that?

Experiment

This year’s code track was a flurry of everything that is cooler than whatever it is you’re currently doing. Programming can sometimes feel like you’re just writing the same lines of CSS over and over again – but the engineering speakers inspired developers to experiment with new methods, libraries and properties – each wielding their own success stories from real world projects.

With the uptake of the Angular and React frameworks as well as modules with ES6, there’s been a shift towards component-based development. Functionally, components have a local scope so that they don’t interfere with one another. This isn’t true for CSS. Mark Dalgleish and Glen Maddern introduced their solution – CSS Modules. This framework uses Webpack to create locally-scoped CSS classes that only apply to the component where they’re referenced. The result is cleaner, modular CSS files and reusable base classes both of which I will be keen to embrace.

Under-used features of CSS were also discussed by several in relation to enhancing web experiences. Tools such as vw, vh, calc(), rems and ems allow us to create better responsive websites. Utilising these properties will allow us to simplify our code and bring processing from Javascript into CSS. The result is fast-running websites which are more accessible and provide a better experience for the user.

Care

An underlying theme of many talks was about how creatives need to think more about the impact of what they’re building. To deeply explore the needs of user groups that are not normally considered. An example – Government. Tom Loosemore talked through rebuilding gov.uk to create a less frustrating online experience. He presented solutions to combine data from multiple sources, removing the need for users to re-enter information already stored away somewhere in a database. Reconceptualising user behaviour addressed key issues in new ways, an approach which extends beyond government.

Developers, on the other hand, simply don’t care enough about the products we’re building. The internet is obese, and we’re all too lazy to fix the problem. Maciej Ceglowski’s challenge is to build websites smaller than Russian literature (which is usually fairly small). Remove the oversized videos, uncompressed images, unnecessarily heavy ads – they’re all just bloat. We’re all guilty of ignoring the implications of page load times and need to be thinking more consciously. Give the user critical content first – then stop. Does my user care? No? Then why include it?

Go back to the basics, simplify size, simplify quantity and create a more usable web.

Be Better

Web Directions was a call-to-arms. The web is fresh, it’s pliable and we can still shape it. I’ve been playing with plenty of ideas I’ve learned, I intend to keep learning and experimenting with new technologies, new theories and improving my code in the process. Yes, there will always be more to do, but adopting an integrated approach to thinking, improving code and caring about what we build and who we build for will create an enjoyable, exciting internet for people to enjoy. I’m excited to see what direction the industry will take as it continues to grow.

For some more information and thoughts about the conference, read Amy Balsdon’s Takeaways from Web Directions 2015.

NSCamp 2015

You can only move fast and break things for so long. At some point you need to slow down, step away and gather a little bit of perspective. Last weekend the Bilue team helped organise and attended NSCamp up in Brooklyn, New South Wales. For the entire weekend we accompanied a group of talented developers, designers and creatives from as far as Perth and Melbourne to spend some time away from the regular routine of life and instead challenge ourselves with focus, growth and passion for the work we truly care about.

Part social getaway, part hack weekend, NSCamp created the perfect environment to nuture and encourage attendees to work on side projects, as well as meet and collaborate with like-minded creatives. There were small impromptu talks around the island on a range of different topics including ‘Designing iOS apps in Storyboards without Code’, ‘Pirate Metrics’, ‘Building apps with tvOS’ and even ‘Brewing Coffee’ by a professional Barista.

Internet was a scarce commodity, instead of Google and Stack Overflow attendees were encouraged to apply elbow grease, knuckle down deep into documentation and raise a hand to direct any questions at peers. Writing code was by far not a requirement of camp. A big focus for me throughout the weekend were three things – People, Reflection and Inspiration.

A great community of smart, talented and creative people attended camp which for me was a fantastic opportunity to discuss ideas and learn from people whom I rarely get to see face-to-face. We shared beers, ciders and whiskey over a campfire on the beach, strengthening friendships and forming new friendships all around. Designers helped developers add the sparkle their apps desperately needed, developers shrugged beside designers as they considered ways of making their ideas into reality and many creative thinkers discussed ways of improving their apps beyond just interface and code.

One of the most compelling aspects of camp was the lack of schedule and all around do-what-you-want attitude. There was nothing but time to think, and I loved it. I found myself an amazing spot hidden out on the rocks near the water, where I hid myself from the rest of camp a few times. It felt great to escape where no one could find me and just introspect about where I am, where I want to be, how I want to get there and where technology fits in with my broader life goals. Something that we as fast moving developers, designers and creative people rarely find time to stop, step away and do.

We look at code, at interfaces, at urgent problems every single day. It doesn’t take long for the pressure to build up and scar our creative side. We tend to fizzle out, feel un-inspired and corner ourselves.

At camp we had a rare chance to leave our outer shell at the wharf and to forget all expectations. There were plenty of challenges – the slackline challenge, the coffee machine, the blazingly hot showers, the lack of dry firewood and the scarcity of internet. All of these challenges enforced new and unexpected restrictions on us that forced us to open our minds, change our perspective and think of new ways to solve the problems we were faced with.

Through dedication many attendees were inspired to overcome the slackline, help build an amazing beach fire and embraced the lack of internet settling disagreements the old fashioned way – an alcohol infused argument and hefty bets on either side.

A highlight of the weekend had to be the absolutely amazing job that our own Duncan Campbell and Cameron Barrie did in preparing a feast of Ribs, Pulled pork and Lamb Shoulder rivalled by none other. It was also the fantastic coffee, the endless supply of beer and wine, the insanely great location and tear jerking game of Cards Against Humanity.

Thanks to all who were involved in making NSCamp 2015 possible, we look forward to an even better camp next year!

Takeaways from Web Directions 2015

Slack for iOS Upload-1

Imagine spending 2 days at Luna Park. Imagine the best views in Sydney. Imagine drinking from an endless supply of Sample Coffee’s finest cold drip. Imagine fearing for your life on the oldest roller coaster in Sydney. Imagine waves and waves of inspiration from the brightest minds in the game.

This is Web Directions 2015!

What you take away from these two days is what makes it all worth it, so I’ve compiled five points of interest from my experiences at wd15.

Annoy the people you admire

Cap Watkins from Buzzfeed gave the keynote speech. The biggest takeaway for me was his idea of collaboration and cross skilling. Whether you are a PM, engineer or designer doesn’t mean you silo yourself to that one niche. Team culture is valuable, supportive and helps everyone improve. As an eager to learn product designer, having a team full of people willing to share their expertise is a sure fire way to grow not only as an individual but also as a valued member of the team.

Prototype like it’s a prototype

Dan Burka from Google Ventures spoke about how a prototype has to be something you’re willing to throw away immediately. His argument is use it to gauge the chance of product success before building the real thing. In other words, when partaking in a 5 day design sprint don’t sweat the small stuff just do enough to make the software feel like software. Another great speaker, Martin Charlier also made a similar point on this subject that resonated with me –

“build the right product before you build the product right.”

Revisit old problems

One of my favourite talks was by Brynn Evans who is currently working on Project Fi. Her talk centred around how ordinary things could benefit from design process. She highlighted the importance of long standing issues and experiences that haven’t changed in years. She gave a great example of designing a new experience specifically targeted for our ageing population;

Hogeweyk Village in the Netherlands is a ‘Truman Show’ like place for patients with Dementia who are led to believe they are living an ordinary life however their carers are disguised as gardeners and shop assistants. Brynn had a whole bunch of suggestions to make our designs more meaningful (e.g. throw out assumptions, simplify things to make experiences better, expect your users to change and do the research) that I do hear regularly but still great to be reminded!

Slack for iOS Upload

We are the luckiest people alive

Tom Loosemore from gov.uk had me legitimately excited about government service delivery! He spoke about how ‘we’, the people in the room, have the power to reinvent the future and to create something that matters. There is a very obvious gap growing between the expectations people have of web services and the quality of services they are receiving from government. Tom proposed that Australia could be the first government to get this right, after all we have a Prime Minister who wants his party using Slack!

ID your inner critic

Spending most of my time at the design track I became inspired by the widely discussed subject of creativity. Denise Jacobs gave a great talk on our inner critic (which certainly rings true for me and I’m sure everyone reading this). She suggested we ID these destructive patterns and train our brains to adjust with discipline. Using powerful body language to restore confidence was an interesting one!

On the other side of the spectrum the guys from Atlasssian, Alastair Simpson and Nat Jones, who spoke about the importance of a physical space to produce creativity. Not only did they mention creating flexible and engaging environments but also inclusive areas that people are drawn to and feel welcome.

A huge thanks to all for a jam packed 2 days of awesome and inspiring big picture talks.

Configuring watchOS 2 Targets

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To save people some headaches in the future when they have to work on watchOS 2 projects, here’s exactly how you need to configure watch targets to avoid the dreaded LaunchServicesError error 0.

App Groups
You’ll need to create a new App Group so that your watch extension can communicate with the base app. You can name this group whatever you want, but the ID should be your base app’s bundle ID prefixed with .group. So for an app with the bundle ID of com.company.app the group ID should be group.com.company.app.

App IDs
This is the part that caused me the most headaches. The ID of an embedded bundle on iOS must be prefixed with the bundle ID of their parent bundle. What makes this confusing in watchOS 2 is the way the directory structure of the bundle has changed. In watchOS 1, both your watch app and watch extension bundles would be embedded directly into the main app bundle. However in watchOS 2, the watch extension is now embedded inside the watch app, which in turn is embedded in the main app bundle.
So following Apple’s rules around embedded bundles’ IDs, that means our watch app’s bundle ID should be prefixed with the main app’s bundle ID, and the watch extension’s bundle ID should be prefixed with the watch app’s bundle ID. What this looks like in practice is as follows:

  • Main App —
    com.company.app
  • Watch App —
    com.company.app.watchkitapp
  • Watch Extension —
    com.company.app.watchkitapp.watchkitextension

All of these app IDs must have the App Groups capability enabled, with the group configured to be the one we set up earlier.

Provisioning Profiles
These are pretty easy, just create provisioning profiles for each of the 3 app IDs we’ve created. To run your app on a real watch, you’ll need to include both the watch itself and the paired iPhone in all three of these provisioning profiles.

Xcode Targets
The watch extension and watch app should be built with the profiles and app IDs we set up for them. On top of that, there’s a whole bunch of things that can go wrong in your target configuration that’ll generate unhelpful errors. Here’s some things to check if that happens:

  • The version numbers and build numbers of the main app, watch app, and watch extension must all be identical.
  • In the watch extension’s Info.plist file, the value of NSExtensionNSExtensionAttributesWKAppBundleIdentifier must match the CFBundleIdentifier of the watch app.
  • In the watch app’s Info.plist the value of WKCompanionAppBundleIdentifier must match your main app’s CFBundleIdentifier.

A Minimum Viable Product without development

Bilue has a challenge, as we grow from a 3, 5, 15, 35+ member team. We need to communicate with more clients about even more projects. And as such, we need to share information and outcomes with each other more often but with less time. We are at the point where we need a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

Client Communication

So we did what every other company would do, we went and purchased a system. Except, it didn’t solve our problem, and we hated it. Why? It forced us to change the way we work and communicate. Logging into another system to update information was slower than talking, causing us grief and frustration, and ultimately we stopped using it. It didn’t match how we wanted to work.

So we talked about making a solution the suited us, after all we are a software development company.

And this brings us to the point of creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Sometimes, a product doesn’t have to be a fully formed idea or solution. Just enough to validate the idea.

The goal of an MVP is to test a hypothesis. What better way to test a hypothesis than use existing software and services? A step above a prototype, something usable that gets the job done.

MVP to test ideas

I set out to test the idea: Do we need another CRM system when we already have many online systems that we use? How could I design a CRM product/system with existing services and software?

My first version of our cut down CRM was a failure, I tried adapting Confluence and didn’t work. It was just another system that we had to log into to tell everyone something that was in our emails. It was cumbersome and slow. None of us had time to log in to do that.

In terms of an MVP, this is a great outcome. We learnt that we needed a fast system, that didn’t require ‘double’ entry and something we could update on the go.

Again, rather than looking for a new piece of software or working out ‘what to build’. I looked at what other software we already had, and what I could use that didn’t need development time to produce. What could I reuse or use in a different way, and this is where Slack comes in.

Slack as a CRM

We use Slack for a variety of things at Bilue. The obvious is sending animated gifs to each other in our channel called #weirdos. The entire company is in Slack every day, and we can quickly access it on the go through our mobiles.

Taking the learnings of using a tool that we already use a lot meant that Slack was an obvious choice. The other tool we use a lot is email and email holds most of the communication with our clients. So I set about combining the two, our tool for internal communication and our tool for client communication.

Slack is a great immediate communication tool for teams, but I wanted to use it as a “database” for Client communication. With a bit of planning and thinking, I was able to come up with a solution.

The first step was to create a standard naming format for new private groups in Slack. We settled on crm-company_code-project_code. This way we can separate them from all the other channels we have in Slack easily.

The second step was combining email. Slack allows email integrations where you can setup an email address for a channel or group. But the email address isn’t entirely friendly. And since I want this system to be easy to use, that includes forwarding emails into Slack simply. We needed a better email address.

Email to Slack

To get around this, I turned to our company email system and created new email groups. Each with the Slack group/channel name as the address and placed the Slack generated email address as a member of the group.

Now, anyone at Bilue working on a client account can forward or bcc an email to a Slack group/channel name via email, just by knowing the groups/channels name. And other members of that group can be notified of important developments and influences affecting the project.

With a bit of planning and creative thought to set up our current solution, it was faster and cheaper than using a developer to build a solution. We could test what did and didn’t work for us without purchasing a large piece of software. And most of all we learnt from our mistakes.

Tools like IFTTT, Zapier and Flowxo are great tools to help you connect multiple services together. Allowing you to ‘build’ systems to test and validate your ideas before going down the rabbit hole of development.

At the end of the day, my lean MVP is proving the hypothesis around how we use a CRM here at Bilue. And I did it all in a couple of hours.

More Integrations

It is still not a perfect system for us, but we are improving it by adding other integrations, such as Pipedrive to introduce sales leads for full end to end communication on projects.

But, most importantly, we are learning what works and what doesn’t while improving our internal communication. And as we move towards the future and continue to grow, we know what to look for in a CRM system if we ever need to purchase a solution.

Next time you have an idea, find the easiest way to prove the solution rather than going and building it first. You might find you would have built the wrong thing the first time around.

Speaking at DevWorld

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Yesterday, I gave a presentation at DevWorld Australia on the design and development process of Apple Watch apps with WatchKit, called ‘Intimate Interactions on Apple Watch’.

Last year I attended the conference as a student, and attendee. At the time I was desperately tearing my hair out trying to find my ‘groove’ as a developer. I attended a lot of really inspiring, interesting and informative talks from people that I’ve since become great friends with. At one point I sat down in a corner, pulled out my iPhone and opened my to-do list.

‘Write a talk for DevWorld 2015’

I gave myself the task of writing something for the next year, and it seemed so far fetched that there was no way I’d accomplish it, but I’d at least give it a try.

I put that to-do task out of my mind until earlier this year when I’d hit ‘Submit’ on an application to give a talk at DevWorld 2015. Despite all the added stress of trying to piece together something remotely legible and worthwhile for an audience, this was a great opportunity for me to work on a very specific tool in my development tool chain – my confidence.

There are a lot of people I know that would love nothing more than the opportunity to stand on a stage, be given a microphone and enough time to talk uninterrupted to an audience. I’m not typically an outrageously confident person in comparison with my peers. My lack of formal education in software development constantly irks me into what I consciously know is an unwarranted sense of imposter syndrome.

I decided not to let fear and confidence overrule my life and instead to over come it. Whether I failed or not didn’t quite matter, just that I pushed through the barrier and ended up a better developer on the other side.

So I spent a few weeks thinking about my talk, writing it, iterating it and working with a designer to make it look less like a colourblind developer had spilled a bucket of paint over some scribbled words.

Throughout this process I found myself learning quite a lot about myself as a developer, and the extent of what I actually do know about things that I didn’t think I actually knew. Which is really encouraging. Surprisingly, I found myself learning a lot even just simply by going through the motions of teaching others what I know and have learned.

Yesterday I ticked off my to-do list task, and accomplished another milestone. With my goals and milestones as a metric I’ve found that I am improving as a developer a lot faster now than I once was, and yet there is still a long way to go.

Yes the great people I work with are helping with that, but what has helped me the most is forcing myself into situations that make me scared, take me out of my comfort zone and force me to do something I usually wouldn’t. Like writing a talk about building software and then presenting it to a room full of developers most likely a lot smarter than I am.

It turned out really great, as you would expect from the really encouraging and positive community at DevWorld. Since my talk I’ve spoken to a lot of interesting developers building new and exciting things with WatchKit and I’ve been asked a few intriguing questions.

If you’re like me and constantly trying to push yourself and your development to the next level, I recommend finding a really great community that you can contribute to and converse with. Present a talk on something you’re passionate about, talk to people that are just as passionate and you’ll be surprised at the outcome.

A podcast a day

You sit back in the cold, sticky, plastic, blue train seat sniffle on the morning train into the office. Beside you is the last person you want to be seated next to. Sniffle Scrolling aimlessly through your Facebook news feed you can’t help but keep hearing it.

sniffle What is that? sniffle sniffle It hits you.

The frustrating, relentless and insufferable sniffle of a cold-ridden commuter from hell. You look around and notice all the carriage seats are full. You ain’t going no where. Aside from imagining yourself inflicting some form of mass violence upon everyone around you, like something out of Kill Bill or The Purge, what would you do?

I asked everyone at Bilue what they would do and they had this to say

“What a stupid question Phill, what rock are you living under? What else is there to do except whip out a pair of swanky headphones and block it all out with some podcasts!”

So these are the podcasts that we’ve been listening to lately –

Scott

Serial

From the same guys who bring you This American Life, bring an even better Story about a high school murder, the people involved, and the guy who got convicted. Is he innocent or guilty?

Stuff you should know

In life there’s things to keep in your memory banks and things to be discarded like last weeks Beef Stroganoff. Josh and Chuck bring you only the choicest cuts from the cow of knowledge.

Sye

99% Insvisible

I care about the stories behind how ‘things’ came to be. The trials & tribulations of the person behind the decisions, the environment under which those decisions came about.

 

Amy

This American Life

I have a weird interest in American culture. It fascinates me. They share stories on a particular theme with real people in real situations. I love it!

 

Criminal

‘Serial’ and ‘Criminal’ are also great if you have a sick obsession with crime cases like me!

 

Tom

StartUp

The first season of StartUp follows Alex Blumberg as he documents his own journey seeking funding for his podcast network. It’s especially interesting to hear all of the tense, emotional conversations that take place.

Exponent

I’m really interested in the business side of technology companies and in my opinion Ben Thompson and James Allworth give a great insight into the industry.

 

Annelise

Spark

If you’re anything like me you love hearing about media, technology and culture combined. Josh Topolsky talks to a slew of guests about what is and will be happening tomorrow.

 

Design Details

A good chat between designers or developers in the product design space. It doesn’t tell you what to do or how to design, it’s just a persons thoughts and experiences in the industry.

Jake

Shop Talk Show

The quirky sound board and the rapid fire shows make this a standout for me. A must subscribe if you are a passionate web developer.

 

TTL

A relatively new podcast hosted by Rebecca Murphey that focuses on finding out the many responsibilities of a front-end operations engineer.

 

Lisa

Around the Bloc

A group of soccer fans discussing their love of football/soccer, The Simpsons, South Park, music, all foods and everything in between.

 

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

Another must listen!

 

 

Billy

No Such Thing As A Fish

Some times I wish I have a bit of commute time so that I can consume my podcasts faster.

 

Nerdist Writer’s Panel

My podcast client says I’m subscribed to 58 channels. Geez.

 

Duncan

Reconcilable Differences

Oh, Reconcilable Differences.

 

 

Phill

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Tomorrow

If you’re anything like me you love hearing about media, technology and culture combined. Josh Topolsky talks to a slew of guests about what is and will be happening tomorrow.

 

My Brother, my brother and me

I’ve only just subscribed but already love it! Three brothers geeking out, laughing and pretending to give good advice.

 

Luke

Wilosophy

Some people don’t like him, he can get a little chatty but the chats with Todd Sampson and Pinky Beecroft are good.

 

WTF with Marc Maron

Definitely check out the Obama interview.

A little somethin’ on the side

If you’re anything like me your closet is littered with the slow painful decay of an endless pile of corpses that once resembled your latest and greatest venture into the unknown. Wielding your idea like a sword you marched into battle with a sense of fervour, nothing could stop you on your road to success. An innocent enlightened grin painted itself across your face as you made your first move `git init`.

On night one you spend hour after hour sipping furiously from a bowl of coffee, not a single clock to be seen. Momentarily you step outside of yourself and watch as an aura of code glistens across your beautifully excessive three screen canvas. A bedroom wall, once bare and hopeless, now corrupted with ideas, dreams and coloured post-it notes.

Commits fly. With each new line of code the click and clack of the cherry MX switches on your swanky new mechanical keyboard serve only to heighten your trance. Swinging around in your Herman Miller chair you chuckle to yourself silently almost as if to commend yourself for such ingenious levels of code reusability. One day in the distant future you’re going to love yourself for naming that class method the way you just did. A world of purely functional, purely stateless and purely bug free ninja-level perfection. You are the one true god.

Three months later you stare through the car window, music pumping through your ears. You remember. That project was going to change everything. Your ticket to the big leagues. A blank cheque. It was your chance to put your best practices into action and make the thing you always saw yourself making. The project you’ve always wanted and truly deserved to make.

You dedicated yourself to that project. That time was going to be different. You pulled out all the stops, spent hours thinking about the architecture, the business plan, the interface design and user experience design. You created a build pipeline that would’ve made all your friends’ jaws drop. Every mistake you’d ever made was covered and you had practically thought of everything.

But what happened? Where did you go wrong? Why did it never work out? Why does it never work out?

A new idea pops into your head.

This time it’s going to be different…

Why a 30 day free trial could kill your product

In the Digital Age – Big Time Conversion is the Key

Free trials have been around as long as there has been commerce. Customer acquisition is never cheap, but is there any real value in free product trials in the digital landscape? How many offers have you received for a 30 day free trial when a new product launches online or to subscribe to a new product with the first 30 days free?

In the offline world, this style of selling has been repeatedly successful, and likely will continue to be as long as the product is good or better still, great. A delicatessen, offering the latest exotic cheese from a local organic farm or perhaps from an exotic international location works. How could this not be attractive to customers and engage them in an experience that not only sees them as buyers but also likely advocates for their new found discovery. If the product is good or great, then the experience of tasting or using it could be the difference between Big Time Conversion and a customer response of “that’s nice but not to my taste”.

Remember that in the online world the same principles apply but are staged differently. The test drive of a new car for a week, free dessert at a new restaurant or coffee is free at a new café on opening day, all have a level of human interaction. Not the same with 30 day free trials where access to the product is provided online!

Even if you execute the trial perfectly, you might not get the conversions that you are looking for. Unless you are driving massive conversions, the free trial is probably hurting you. Making your product free cheapens its value. Free trials also attract freeloaders who will use your product as long as it is free but will opt out once payment is required. Users will pay for value but will accept free offers, so it is likely that you are leaving money on the table. Unless you are attracting huge numbers and converting, the net effect of your free trial will in most cases be disappointing.

If your marketing strategy is to release a minimally viable product with the intention of attracting a volume of users with a 30 day free trial, and then converting them into paying customers with new functionality and features – stop.

What is the alternative? Create a product that at its core is loveable. Loveable is the key to big time conversion. Yes release the product in a limited way to a targeted customer base. It may be free to a specific audience; at a particular event or within a definable demographic, but their experience of the product must be extraordinary, memorable and shareable within the target demographic. The customer becomes the seller.

If you want to succeed but need to get to market to prove your concept will work and has market appeal, then all of your efforts must go to ensuring that the product, even if minimal in functionality initially, is truly Lovable to interact with. Your target customers will love the product and accept that additional functionality is coming and as a result will pay the price for having that unforgettable experience of falling in love with something new.

If your product is not lovable, a 30 day free trial won’t fix the problem. Likely it will be the beginning of the end.

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