Before writing this, hats off to all the startups, entrepreneurs, engineers, problem solvers and undertakers who have failed and succeeded, big or small. It takes perseverance to be able to start and insistently continue a journey until the end. For KintoHub, it’s been a journey where we have followed gut feelings, data and now advisors and community feedback to realize our next chapter in a fresh new decade.
KintoHub has always aimed to be developer-friendly and will continue to do so. But due to the evolution that where we came from, we didn’t exactly ever go back to the drawing board when we decided to switch from a developer marketplace to a cloud platform. Our team, who wears many hats, has been living with “baggage” of the past. Be it technical debt or product know-how, this presents a simple opportunity that most teams don’t exercise. What would we do differently if we started our original vision as “day 0”, but with the knowledge of today?
At KintoHub, we weren’t building a cloud platform in our originally story. We were building a marketplace where developers can combine and deploy reusable “KintoBlocks” across one or many projects or environments. An example of this would be the Authentication service.
- Forgot Password
- Verify Email
These actions are probably the most common logic you’d run across on web apps, mobile apps and more. You may write some custom logic that may work with Oauth, Firebase or something from scratch on your own and this logic should be easily portable to other apps and projects you may drum up in the future. That’s where KintoBlocks came into play where you can package your code into reusable blocks and combine them into an environment and control them with environment variables. Today, this concept still sits at the center of our cloud platform, yet it’s not a use case that any of our users use!
In the past few months, we’ve had an influx of users using KintoHub and realized that the learning curve for the KintoBlock concept is a hurdle for new users. Users who were determined to figure it out do enjoy the concept, but no one has actually reused blocks across multiple projects yet. This got us really thinking about UX and who we are as a business…
A New Beginning
The end goal: How do you provoke the feeling that you just experienced the easiest, yet most powerful way to get code into any cloud. When removing the concept of building blocks and combining them in an environment, we decided to look at it as deploying git repositories straight into an environment. This means right when you create your account, revolve everything around the idea of evolving your personal cloud environment(s) to serve internal teams and your customers.
After speaking to many advisors that have built massively large products like Airbnb, League of Legends and Whatsapp, you’ll find a common fact that is mentioned. Focus. The best advice I received recently was:
You need to focus on one fact about what you’re doing so that if anyone was to give you 30 seconds of their time, they could walk away to share that vision that you have. Even if they don’t become a customer or use your app, they may tell someone about how your product can solve their problem.
That means that whatever you convey as a first impression on your website, there should be a simple single fact that just “makes sense” and you’re trying to be the best at it. It doesn’t matter how you are better compared to “competitor x”. It’s as simple as, KintoHub is building the most intuitive way for developers to manage their entire app in the cloud.
Notice, we could have said. “…manage and scale their entire app in the cloud.” Or “…most intuitive, but powerful way….” Adding in these adjectives are important to the vision, yet it truly raises more questions than giving people a single answer to what you are trying to do. More importantly, this phrase should be driving the vision, priorities, and decisions made in your product. Of course, the Kinto team hopes one day the next startup will scale to be as big as Airbnb without leaving KintoHub, but that is not what we are selling today! That’s what we sell next year, or the year after once it actually happens.
This is why our entire app, moving forward, is focused on building a powerful cloud environment and revolving the entire user journey around the environment itself. The user starts in the environment and ends in the environment for every action or workflow on our platform. The moment you add a second focal point (like KintoBlocks), you add complexity and learning curve to how does the 1st focal point of your product revolve around the 2nd?
This leads to the second biggest lesson in conversations with product gurus.
Make it so dead simple, that your team is literally laughing at how ridiculously easy or “dumbed down” it is that it hurts to code it.
The fact is, teams need to force themselves to wear the “new user” hat with absolutely zero knowledge about everything you are interacting with on a day-2-day basis. If you are using something for 30 hours per week, you are going to forget about the experience of day 0 and its really, really hard to go back there. So doing the exercise to make things literally laughable in how in the user’s face some elements or features are presented on your product, that will massively help your team’s new user experiences.
Kinto’s Nuances That Need Love
Configuring a service ain’t easy with and without KintoHub. Environment variables may be critical for the app and providing the wrong port means your service isn’t even alive for anyone to access it!
We want to ensure from the first interaction that the complexities of building a cloud app and debugging issues are seamless. An example of the worse situation a user can face on KintoHub today is when a deployment fails, they want to know why so they may quickly reconfigure and deploy again. Another issue is ensuring that when a deployment fails, it needs to be clear on what is “live” and what has “failed”. Nothing beats thinking you accidentally brought down your app!
After highlighting our core issues and removing our baggage with a clean drawing board, speaking to many engaged users, it’s exciting to look at this piece of paper as one option to potentially many on exploring where KintoHub may go. It’s been a great lesson to always step outside of the box and figure out what are the driving factors of your decision for anything you do, inside and outside of startup/biz life. Be it as funny as having a bias that heavily affects you or your teams’ decision making or your entire team is stuck with a fundamental fact which is actually really a thesis, lifting these barriers will only excite and drive anything closer to success.
Preventing baggage and black holes
Why is it important to go out with the team weekly, monthly, etc? When working together weeks on end, sometimes massive hours during crunch, it’s easy to forget and not have any fun. Especially in an environment where everyone may have found their passion and work doesn’t feel like work and passion turns into obsession. The same thing could happen in building a product.
It is uber important to have reviews that force all stakeholders and contributors to look at the product with a different light. Every employee at Deliveroo has the chance to deliver an item to their customer to experience the full lifecycle of the backend of their product. This exercise is so important because it forces every colleague in the company to actually understand the true workings of the money-making business machine that is being built.
Speaking to customers helps, but doing exercises that even if it concludes no immediate changes to your product yet forces your team to take off their daily way of thinking and look at it from a different angle could make or break a product and even the business itself!
Sprint reviews to keep up to date on what has been happening is key, be it weekly or monthly. “What if” whiteboard experiments of trying to redo something from scratch without having a single problem or goal in mind to just see what comes up? And my favorite, how many features can we kill exercise? What is the MVP of the MVP? Forcing events for your team to continue to challenge yourself to be the best and making that the process itself is how KintoHub will continue to aim for rapid improvements and innovation.
Building software, apps, products, and businesses have evolved massively over the years. There are books, degrees and many traditional ways to solve problems which work very well. Someone once asked why I ask really basic questions that could be googled when I do research and pick people’s brains? It’s because the people I ask questions to are living in the trenches of their work today, not in a blog or post written in the last 1–2–3–5–10 years. Our world is rapidly evolving and I’m a firm believer in up-to-date first-hand information.
As your team or next business idea comes to life, never stop going back to the drawing board. It may feel like a waste of time when building the most immediate data-driven answer should be 1000% of the focus for everyone in the company versus performing retrospective-like exercises. These exercises are there to prevent teams from carrying heavy invisible baggage and getting too close to a black hole and realizing it’s too late to climb out!