“Each Monday we would come up with a hypothesis to test, code like crazy throughout the week and test over the weekend.” – Mike Krieger, Co-founder of Instagram (paraphrased)
Like many startups out there, I’m a big fan of the lean startup. Despite the fact that it’s become a bit of a buzzword, there’s a lot of value in it, especially for first time entrepreneurs. But I’ve always found that there’s a complete lack of actionable guidance on how to apply it to mobile.
With Apple’s review process taking 1-2 weeks at a time with the possibility of rejection, you can’t rely on live apps to test your MVP. You can distribute ad hoc, but that’s a very time consuming process and you can only have 100 devices associated with an account. To get around it, I’ll often hand my phone to friends and family to see how they use it, but again, that’s not ideal. Pretty much all options out there suck.
In an effort to figure it out, I attended a “Design and the Mobile Startup” panel at SXSW last week. Seeing as the key speakers were the Alex Rainert, head of product for Foursquare, Alexa Andrzejewski, CEO of Foodspotting, and Mike Krieger, Co-founder of Instagram, I was hoping to glean some knowledge from those that have figured it out. The talk started off with basic stuff like intros, product vision, scaling up, etc., but the real gold came when they started discussing how the apps evolved from their earliest forms.
As Ron Goldin, the founder & creative director of AKKO and the moderator of the panel, brought up screenshots of each of the three apps throughout their life, an interesting discussion started about the early iterations and how they tested. I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, but this was essentially the lean startup being applied to mobile before lean was a buzzword. Each panelist had a very similar approach, but Mike said it best (paraphrasing):
“Each Monday we would come up with a hypothesis to test, code like crazy throughout the week and test over the weekend.”
When Apple’s review process came up, it was revealed that both Foursquare & Instagram (and maybe Foodspotting?) used html apps to test their designs & features. Once they verified the design on the html version, they would build native apps when they were ready to go live. Admittedly, it’s not a perfect solution since you have to go build the native apps at the end of it, but it solves all the distribution and rapid iteration problems associated with mobile. Something doesn’t work? Push out a new version mid-week. Want to split test a feature? Go right ahead.
It’s so obvious that I felt a little stupid when I heard it, but I’d never read/thought about it before so odds are others probably haven’t as well. With “mobile or web first” being a hot debate right now, it’s time mobile gets a bit more attention in the lean startup as well.
Distilled down to the most lightweight form, here’s a few tips for applying lean startup to mobile as per Instagram, Foursquare and Foodspotting:
- Hypothesize on Monday, build all week and test on the weekend. Consumers use apps most heavily on the weekend, so it’s a perfect time to run a few experiments.
- Use html apps to test your hypotheses and switch to native at the end. Quicker iteration, split testing and changing on the fly all make it a no brainer.
- Pay attention to what features your users use and how/when. Foodspotting noticed a huge split between users who are a) out and about looking for a tasty dish now and b) planning their meals ahead of time and want to find the perfect place to eat. As a result, they essentially split their app into two “modes” to improve the UX for each.