A Quick Guide to the Different Types of Business Process Automation

A Quick Guide to the Different Types of Business Process Automation

With 63% of businesses saying that automation helped them through the pandemic, companies of all sizes are starting to realize the effect that BPA has on productivity.

Before seeking opportunities to automate processes within your company, you need to understand how BPA works. For example, what are the different types of business process automation?

Keep reading to learn more about how your business processes can benefit from automation.

Types of Business Process Automation

If you’ve been thinking, what is business process automation? Also referred to as BPA, this technology is used to complete repetitive and manual tasks.

You can automate processes like sending out emails. Or you can use other, more complicated business process automation software for workflow programs.

Business process automation aims to increase the speed of tasks, accuracy, and reliability. Therefore, companies need to use these tools if they want their business to be modernized for the digital age.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

RPA is commonly used for automating simple tasks that don’t involve multistep decisioning. You can use RPA for basic data collecting and reporting statistics. If you’re just beginning with business process automation, this is a great place to start, and it can be used for small, simple tasks in a company.

Intelligent Automation

The next step up from RPA, intelligent automation, is used for more complicated tasks that are not routine or carried out daily. That means it can be used to gather structured and unstructured data. This is the best business process automation choice if you’re looking for automated help with more complex aspects of your business.

Workflow Automation

For businesses, workflow automation software is excellent for optimizing productivity and streamlining internal processes. A workflow structure allows automation to replicate and complete human tasks faster and more efficiently. So, it can help businesses meet their goals and achieve more sales.

Why You Need Business Process Automation

Another reason to use business process automation is that it saves you money, and you can access complex data quickly. This helps you move forward with market insights and provide better service to your customers. And it takes the pressure off your employees so they can focus on other work tasks that don’t take up as much repetitive time.

Join the Automated Future of Business

When you use business process automation, you can cut costs while being more efficient, so your team can dedicate their time to more strategic endeavors. You can use either RPA, Intelligent Automation, or Workflow Automation. The choice will depend on the goals for your company, and we’re here to help with whatever you decide.

Get in contact to find out about our business process automation services.

What is Business Process Automation?

What is Business Process Automation?

Did you know some experts estimate 47 percent of jobs in the US could be automated within 20 years? While there is some debate about that, it’s an interesting statistic.

Business process automation is a great way to take your company to the next level and prepare it for the future.

First, what is it? Let’s explore more about business process automation and how it can help you.

BPA Explained

BPA can help your organization save time and money. In short, business process automation utilizes software to reduce human effort. The goal is for companies to identify repeatable, multi-step business functions that can be replaced by technology.

BPA solutions tend to be custom-built, because every organization is unique with its own way of operating and conducting business. A custom-built BPA solution is tailored to the specific needs of a company and integrates with existing IT systems.

Traditionally, business process automation is utilized by taking an already existing manual task and automating it. This approach is effective for controlling costs, increasing efficiencies, and limiting errors.

Modern business process automation takes things a step further as more and more companies are thinking about digital transformation and preparing for the future.

Modern BPA explores not only how processes are being executed and maintained, but how they could be improved upon and innovated. All areas of a business are now open to BPA review and consideration including completely new business opportunities and products.

What Tasks Can You Automate?

If you have any manual, administrative, paper-based, or spreadsheet-based processes, you have an opportunity to explore automation.

If you have a business workflow that crosses several departments and touches multiple IT systems, you might have an ever greater need for modern BPA.

What tasks can you really automate? There are more than you might think.

  • Database entry and record-keeping
  • Order entry, invoicing and fulfillment
  • Data analysis and reporting
  • Scheduling and project management
  • Communications and business operations
  • Employee satisfaction, learning, and development
  • Financial services
  • Human resource tasks

What Types of Automation Are There?

Task Automation

Task automation minimizes manual tasks. This can include things like sending emails or social media updates.

Workflow Automation

Workflow automation helps automate certain workflows. In some, it can be a combination of automation and human effort. However, there are workflows that can be fully automated.

Robotic Process Automation

Do you have processes that remain the same and require no decision-making? This can be something like moving a set of data from one system to another. This type of automation is described as robotic process automation.

Modern Business Process Automation

BPA software often tackles more complex goals and might include combinations of task, workflow, and RPA automation, as well as connecting to other systems’ APIs.

What are the benefits of business process automation?

Speed

Business process automation uses software, applications, and APIs to exponentially speed up complex processes.

Monitoring and reporting

BPA allows users to have transparent data and insights into their workflows which can be configured into dashboard charts and graphs.

Save money

Reducing manual errors that can be costly while speeding up redundant business tasks saves a company’s time and money.

More time

With many tasks being handled by BPA, teams can focus more time on strategy, innovation, creativity, and relationship-building.

Adapt to Changing Business Needs with Business Process Automation Software

Contact HSTK today and talk to one of our consultants about automation strategy.

Technical Debt: What Is Tech Debt and How Can You Solve for It?

Technical Debt: What Is Tech Debt and How Can You Solve for It?

CIOs are reporting that 10 to 20% of the budget they have for technology, which is set aside for new products, goes to taking care of technical debt. Further, a troubling conclusion of the data suggests CIOs believe their technical debt is about 20 to 40% of the entire technology estate value, prior to depreciation.

This may beg a few questions for you. What is technical debt? Also, how do you solve tech debt?

For solutions to this worrisome topic, keep reading.

What is Technical Debt?

You may also hear the term code debt. When a development team takes initiative to rush the delivery of a project, or a part of its functionality, which will later need refactoring, this describes technical debt. It prioritizes speed to deliver a project versus putting an emphasis on perfect code.

The technical debt definition means that there is an associated cost for the added rework. It is an analogy to monetary debt. Should a company not repay its tech debt, it can mean accumulating “interest,” which makes implementing changes more challenging.

It’s important to understand 2 things regarding code debt:

  1. Every piece of software that is actively being built and improved upon will have some amount of technical debt. While that’s the case, it’s critical to not let the debt pile up which creates more risk for the technology functioning properly.
  2. Technical debt can be an intentional strategy to launch a product or to implement a new feature quickly. If it’s an intentional decision to release as soon as possible, developers may take shortcuts in creating code that will later need to be refactored. As long as there is a plan for managing and maintaining the debt in the future, this can be an effective strategy.

How to Solve Tech Debt

The best way to fight it is to prevent tech debt from happening in the first place. Technical debt could increase daily, so implementing proper measures to avoid it is best to start right now. Proven and successful methods are as follows:

1. Refactoring for Code and Architecture

This is the most direct solution. If you organize a refactoring week, you can resolve and/or prevent code debt. You can do this for every X sprint.

This is an opportunity for the development team to evaluate the architecture, resolve open bugs, and prep for product features that are coming soon. You can ask the team to take the time to consider how a new feature could affect the codebase architecture.

Plus, offering a refactoring week is a way to give developers space to breathe. When they have time to think about code before implementing it, it gives them a chance to consider things from all angles and prevent tech debt.

2. Initiate Technical Debt Talks on a Regular Cadence

If you want to hear your engineers share their expertise, this is a fantastic way to do it. You do not need to isolate these meetings to just the engineers. It is a good practice to include stakeholders, too.

If the engineers are facing dilemmas, it is important to understand what they are and if they can be resolved. The meetings should focus on not only what is going well, but also what is not going well. It should be a safe space to share feedback and not place blame so that everyone can focus their time and energy on improvement.

Engineers could share their accomplishments and explain changes. Open communication regularly helps to prevent technical debt.

3. Track It

For boosting the health of your codebase and simplifying what it takes to solve technical problems for your engineers, track it. This includes adding the complete context when there is a codebase issue, creating documentation for what needs to be done, and adding it to the backlog. Technical debt should be something that your team continually works to resolve.

Manage Your Codebase

If you have technical debt, we understand the challenges you face. We can help you manage it throughout the development lifecycle.

If you have a vision, we can partner with you to make it a reality, and without the burden of accumulating technical debt. Contact us now.

What is a Product Development Team?

What is a Product Development Team?

Product development teams are small, interdisciplinary teams that seamlessly work together in order to craft and deploy complex projects with technical proficiency. The way that a product development team is structured can make, or break, the success of the end product.

At Haystack, we consider product development teams to be pods or groupings made up of individual, hands-on practitioners that are skilled in a specific area of expertise. While each individual performs their necessary skill set at the highest level, they rely on each other to collectively launch custom software solutions.

A product development team typically includes at least 1 individual from each of 4 different functions — Product Strategy, Product Management, Design, and Engineering. At HSTK, our product development teams typically range from 5-7 team members, because we include more than 1 developer on each project.

The best product development teams work autonomously at the project level. This means that they operate as a collaborative, agile unit throughout the course of the project. The product team is responsible for delivering the end product, so they regularly share insights and make decisions collectively to steer the product towards success.

In this way, the best product development teams are not assembly lines that move from strategy to design to development to delivery. In a thriving and effective product team, every function is interwoven and supporting each other. Developers collaborate with strategists at project kickoff. Designers craft experiences with regular input from developers. Product managers are always in the mix to pose questions, highlight opportunities, and devise creative solutions.

What are the key roles and responsibilities of an effective product development team?

Product Strategy

A product strategist is responsible for understanding the ‘Why’ before considering the ‘What’ and ‘How’. A strategic technical consultant is involved in product planning and understands the product’s overall vision. They’re effective at MVP definition, feature selection and prioritization, and overall team alignment.

Product Management

A product management team member tracks the product road map and acts as a guide throughout the course of development. They keep the business goals and users’ needs in mind as strategic decisions are being made. They’re responsible for regular and frequent communication, sprint planning, roadmap documentation, and planning releases.

Product Design

Product designers do more than make things look good on screen. They’re strategically weighing design direction based on user needs and technical requirements to devise simple, intuitive experiences. Product designers have a solid grasp of frontend development to be able to deliver rapid prototypes and design systems.

Product Development

Software or application developers should be involved at the beginning of every project to help with technology selection, product planning, mapping integrations, and documentation. Beyond writing code and understanding modern libraries, frameworks, and methodologies, their technical expertise is required at every step of a project.

Need a dedicated Product Development Team to launch your idea?

We’re Haystack, and our team becomes your team as we collaboratively work together to launch a successful product. Contact us now.

What is a Clickable Prototype?

What is a Clickable Prototype?

The value of user experience design goes way beyond making things look good. A clickable prototype is a UX solution that can be useful for many purposes:

  • A clickable prototype can help product owners to sell their idea to company leadership or investors.
  • A clickable prototype will help to capture the correct amount of screens and workflow steps necessary in an application.
  • A clickable prototype can be invaluable to developers who will be building the back end of a product.
  • A clickable prototype can be a critical stage in usability testing to identify design issues before development even begins.

Hi-Fi vs Lo-Fi Prototypes

A clickable prototype is a visual experience that emulates the full functionality of a finished app. These can be created with several different tools, including Figma (recently purchased by Adobe).

A user engaging with a clickable prototype will be able to click on a part of a screen to get to the next page or next interaction of a user flow. In this sense, you can get a really good feel for the visual style of an app as well as the user experience.

It’s important to note that clickable prototypes only represent the front end of an application. All functionality won’t be available, because no data and back end code exists at this point.

A clickable prototype is also referred to as a high-fidelity prototype because it represents both the interaction design and visual design.

Wireframes are a typical pre-cursor to hi-fi prototypes in the product development lifecycle. Wireframes might also be referred to as lo-fi prototypes. Wireframes are an even faster way to document and represent user flows without interactivity and visual styling.

Why Should You Use Clickable Prototypes?

While clickable prototypes may be more costly than their lo-fidelity counterparts, they are still relatively quick and inexpensive while providing immense value to the overall product development lifecycle. As mentioned above, one of the most important reasons for creating a clickable prototype is that the team can learn a lot about the user experience and technical requirements before moving into the development stage.

When Should You Use Clickable Prototypes?

Usability Testing

It’s never too early to identify potential real users of your application. Once you get to the clickable prototype stage, you can ask them to validate the functionality and flows of your user experience design. Catching any errors and improving the experience at this stage can help you avoid the cost of rework that grows exponentially in later stages of development.

Buy-In

Whether you’re developing your product idea internally as part of a larger organization or you’re an entrepreneur launching a new digital product idea, you need to regularly present and gather feedback on the viability of your project. A great presentation deck might be the first step in presenting your idea, but a clickable prototype will really help to sell your stakeholders as they get a visual representation of the features and functionality of the app.

Depending on the prototyping tool used, you can even include advanced visuals, like transitions, animations, and micro-interactions. These can help further understanding of the app functionality while exciting stakeholders or investors.

To learn more about clickable prototypes — including where and when to use them — and if they might be useful for your product concept, give us a call.

35% of Startups Fail for this reason… how can you avoid it?

35% of Startups Fail due to No Market Need

CB Insights’ latest report revealed that the #2 reason startups fail is due to “No Market Need”. Prior reports had this as the #1 reason, but it was displaced from the top spot by cash & funding issues. No surprise there if you’ve been reading the news.  So, what can you do to avoid this failure trap? We’ll explore this in detail here, but first consider this quote we love:

The world doesn’t need more products. What it does need is better solutions to existing problems. So rather than asking yourself, ‘what product can I sell?’ instead ask, ‘what problem can I solve?’ @grettavanriel

Debilitating fear of failure is what holds so many entrepreneurs back from even starting, and that’s a damn shame!  You don’t need to be first, as we’ll illustrate in an example below, and you don’t need to wait to have it perfect in order to have confidence in your idea. So read on, and don’t fear taking that first step.

How do you determine Market Need?

Channel your mad scientist!

Using a proven scientific method can help to inject some much-needed objectivity into your process. Founders love their own ideas, solving complex problems no one really cares about, solving problems they personally experience (which leads to confirmation bias), chasing a competitor’s success, and so on. No one is immune, and some succeed despite it, but your best bet is to follow as objective a process as possible.

For the sake of this blog post, we’ll share an (oversimplified) history of Intuit’s humble beginnines since it’s an excellent example of determining market need in a scientific way.

Observe

Scott Cook got the idea from witnessing his wife complaining about the time it took to pay the family bills and struggling to balance the checkbook.

Ask Questions

Cook wondered if other people felt the same way.

Develop a Hypothesis

Cook’s hypothesis was that many experienced the same frustration and didn’t like the current solution.

Run Experiments

He grabbed a few phone books (it was the 80’s after all) and called people at random asking them if they used the then-leading financial software.

Analyze Results

65% had tried it but only 4% actually using it.

Decide

Cook’s research revealed that people liked the idea and what it offered, after all 65% had tried it.  But those same people didn’t like the experience they were currently getting, which is why only 4% were actually using it.  He figured that if he addressed the needs (the “jobs to be done” by a better solution) he had a shot at getting market share. Tom Proulx, a student programmer at Stanford, wrote the first Quicken program in his dorm room and the two launched Intuit in a basement with 7 employees.  Today Intuit is worth $120 billion, and Quicken is a household name in personal finances.

 

Modern-Day Approach to Determining Market Need

While the example above is excellent in illustrating basic scientific methodology, there are far more information and resources available to us today than in the 80’s, and FAR more competition and options as well.  We can’t just pick up a phone book and call people.  So what can you do instead?

  1. Observe & Ask Questions  You can and should still do LOTS and LOTS of interviews with your target customers. Focus on the problem you’re solving, not the product you will sell, and the “jobs to be done” by the solution. Everyone is a bit harder to get to these days, but its the single most beneficial step you can take to determine market need and must not be skipped. So, hustle… then hustle some more. There’s no magic number to how many of these you need to do, but it’s likely more than you want to, so stick with it!  Consider the following places:
    • LinkedIn & Facebook Groups
    • Meetups
    • Reddit
    • Google Surveys
    • Networking events
    • Ask your connections for referrals
  2. Market Research & Analysis  There is more data available now than ever; use what exists. We do plan to cover this in-depth in a future article, sign up for HSTK Insights to get notified if you’re interested.
  3. Develop a Product-Market Fix Hypothesis  Consider you’re most riskiest assumption that could threaten your success… For [product] to succeed, it is necessary that ____________.
  4. Run Experiments against your Riskiest Assumption(s)  Here are 6 types of prototypes to consider; we cover these in depth in our Prototype Examples article
    • Paper – hey, it’s free
    • Powerpoint – yes, really
    • Wireframes – a very basic, bare-bones visual of the flow
    • Landing Page (a favorite!) – run ads to the site to validate interest, perhaps offer some signups or pre-orders
    • UX/UI Shell – a semi-functional visual representation of what your solution will do once it’s developed
    • MVP (Minimum Viable Product) – a bare bones solution
  5. Analyze Results  What is the experience folks have with your solution? Would they recommend it to others? How would they feel if it were taken away? All of this points to FIT and NEED.
  6. Scale Up  If you’re onto something – GO FOR IT. Scale up your solution.

 

 

Image Source: https://www.cbinsights.com/research/startup-failure-reasons-top/

Behind the Scenes as a Software Consultant at HSTK

Q&A with our newest Software Consultant, Alex Hoopes

Alex candidly shares his experience and a sneak peek behind the scenes into what its really like to be a Consultant at HSTK (Haystack).

“it was immediately apparent that everyone was genuinely interested in me as a person”

Can you tell us a little about your background?

“I graduated in 2018 with a degree in Computer Science. My first job out of college was with a huge company working as an Automation Engineer working on internal-facing applications to help drive efficiency within the organization on a large team. After that I transitioned over to a large marketing firm working full stack on both front end and back end. I had to work within a specific tech stack due to a legacy product that the company had no interest in upgrading or evolving, so I didn’t feel like I was growing as a developer. All of which led me to Haystack.

Outside of work I like taking my dog out, hiking around Phoenix, and games of all sorts; board, video, you name it and I like it. I’m also a movie buff and recently married.”

What were your first 90 days like?

“Actually, one of the coolest things happened before I even started. My wedding date was approaching around the same time as my proposed start date, and Haystack was happy to push back my start date. Most companies would have needed me to start right away with no thought to my life outside of work.

On day 1 my laptop arrived at 9am, smooth.  Then I had one-on-ones with everyone on the team and it was immediately apparent that everyone was genuinely interested in me as a person. For the next few days I worked to set up my development environment the way I like it. The entire onboarding process was smooth and fast, and I jumped right into projects. At past companies the onboarding involved a lot of “thumb-twiddling” waiting for work, but not here!  My first project kicked off immediately working on the back end of a mobile app for a healthcare startup.  The whole team was quick to respond to any questions I had and lend a hand. Never once did I feel like asking questions was annoying anyone, people genuinely wanted to help me succeed.  As the lead Software Consultant on the healthcare mobile app my first 90 days was all about meeting with clients and other partners and working on the project. Never once was I told “this is the tech stack you will use”, I had the freedom to choose what worked best for the project and gained deep experience much faster than I would have at a larger company.”

Tell us about you typical day?

“I wake up at 7am, take my dog to the dog park and have breakfast. Every morning we have stand-up with the whole team (we span 3 US time zones) for a half hour. Every day there are 1 to 2 short  30 minute or less meetings, but other than that I’m left to focus on development.  I stop around noon for lunch and to walk the dog at leisure. We have the freedom to work a flexible schedule as we need, so some days I’ll take a longer walk or run an errand. After lunch break I get back to the project until I come to a logical stopping point.  We aren’t expected to work outside of business hours, but sometimes I’m grooving and I’ll work later.  On Tuesdays I work with the team at a local co-working space. This is optional but everyone does it anyway; I love seeing the team in person and getting away from the house for a day each week. We do a happy hour after work as a team.”

What do you want prospective developers to know about Haystack?

“Professionally, as a smaller company you’re forced to grow and take on more than you would at a larger corporate environment. You’re encouraged to experiment and learn. I have bi-weekly one-on-one’s with my manager to discuss my short and long term career goals, they’re very committed to helping me grow. As a Software Consultant there is more emphasis on client-facing communication. I love that it cuts out the middleman – you get to hear directly from the customers about the problems you’re solving and their ideas. A lot gets lost in translation in traditional client communication structures, and the whole development process is a lot more collaborative and outcomes-driven versus just being assigned specific tasks from an invisible pipeline. I love being able to work with the context shared directly from the client, and I think it creates better outcomes for everyone.

Personally, being here is tremendously confidence-building thanks to the team that props you up and supports you day in and day out. And unlimited PTO meant I’m able to take my honeymoon sooner because I’m not waiting to “bank” my hours in advance and wait, which my wife and I really appreciate! And the flexible schedule allowed me to support a family member in need. Everyone on the team gets along really well, and we have fun at work but definitely get the job done. I’m really happy here and looking forward to continuing to grow within the company.”

Interested in working for HSTK (Haystack) or know someone who might be?  We’re hiring!

6 Prototype Examples for your Application

6 examples of Prototypes for your Application

 

How do you turn Optimism into Confidence without breaking the bank? 

When it comes to developing digital products like a mobile app or web application your option is to spend a lot of time and money to build it and hope you got it right or create a cost effective prototype to prove you got it right before scaling.  But “cost effective” is certainly a relative term and what is cost effective for one company or startup or entrepreneur may be completely out of the realm of affordability for another.  So we explore 6 examples of prototypes examples for your application or digital product idea ranging from free to hundreds of thousands of dollars, the pros and cons of each, who they are best for, and most importantly their impact.

 

 

Subjective Cost/Impact Scale

prototype examples

Paper Prototype

Cost: $0 Free

Who you are: A visual thinker, creative and artsy but not technologically inclined.  No budget yet as you’re in the the very early ideation stage.

What it is:  A paper mockup of your idea. Perhaps built of sticky notes, drawn on a whiteboard or a large poster board covered in hand-drawn screens showing interactions and flows. Maybe a slider like the one in the picture.

What its good for: Very early visualization, getting your ideas down on paper when the creativity strikes and without the distraction of a computer screen, outlining your vision for a creative or tech person to take to the next level.  Also good perhaps if you’re hoping to get feedback or small investments from friends or family as they would be forgiving enough to overlook the primitive medium.

Pros: Free and easy!  In fact, your kids could even help you out. No technical skill required.

Cons: Requires some creative sense. You could spill your coffee on it and lose your entire concept.

 

Paper prototyping with cutouts

Photo courtesy of Justinmind

Powerpoint

Cost: $ Free to $; it’s probably already loaded on your computer. $160 for a license if you don’t already have it loaded.

Who you are:  A business person dabbling in the creative side to help get your point across as cost-effectively as possible.

What it is: A Windows-based basic presentation program that comes on Windows computers and can be downloaded for Mac.

What it’s good for:  Presenting your idea on a large screen for an audience or a webinar, and meeting with other business people.

Pros: Probably free or at minimum very low cost. It is a surprisingly useful “design” tool for non-designers; easy to use drag and drop, animations, and pre-built shapes. Pretty easy to figure out and will do a good job of walking someone through your concept and functionality. Powerpoint even has some interactive features available.

Cons: Time consuming. Animations and getting things to line up page by page is time consuming. It’s not considered “tech savvy”, so some audience members may find it a little old school.

Check out this impressive video of how someone built an Interactive Powerpoint Prototype

Wireframes

Cost: $ Free or very inexpensive for the basic programs.  Figma is a great free basic option for up to 3 projects, or check out Justinmind if you want something interactive.

Who you are:  Technically intermediate, a process person, analytical. You aren’t much interested in showcasing your idea’s beauty at the moment; right now you care more about the functionality.  You don’t want to draw by hand and you’re comfortable downloading and figuring out how to use a fairly simple new software. You want to convey your idea as clearly and concisely as possible without frills.

What it is:  A visual and simple representation of your app idea using basic shapes to indicate text, images, buttons, etc. that can be easily rearranged.  In the design and development world “wireframes” can and does mean much more, and we do them for the vast majority of our development projects anyway when you are ready to start building, but this article which assumes you’re at the beginning of your journey and not already contracted with designers or developers so it really is just a more advanced way of “sketching” our your idea using a program instead of actually sketching.

What its good for:  Wireframes are useful for helping programmers and designers think about the structure of the app you’re building. Can help get more detailed estimates from development partners. Designers will appreciate that you’re giving them the structure but allowing them the creative freedom to make it beautiful.

Pros:  Inexpensive. Good for a technical audience when seeking feedback and input.

Cons:  While wireframes are essential to most application projects, it’s really more of a behind the scenes look and for some it could come off as a bit boring.  If you’re showing to developers, great. But if you’re hoping to use it to pitch to potential investors or get real user feedback, it might not generate a lot of excitement since it’s lacking the visual aspect.

Wireframes example

wireframe prototype

Landing Page

Cost: Varies wildly. $-$$ for a basic 1-3 page professionally designed.  Additional cost for domain registration, hosting, ads to drive traffic to your site, video production, etc.  This guide is pretty solid and doesn’t get too deep into the weeds.

Who you are:  Either a technically-savvy, creative person with experience and/or plenty of time on your hands to lean into doing it yourself, or you’ve got some money to spend to build it.  You are likely a creative, marketing, or sales-type. You have some confidence in your idea and you’re ready to throw some funds behind it to prove interest, quantitatively, before you jump all on.

What it is: A marketing site used to gauge interest in your idea and possibly even capture leads and email addresses for future customers. A place to demo your app if you have anything to show.

What is good for:  If done right it can give you great quantitative data-driven feedback around the interest, engagement, and marketability of your idea. Showing proven interest with data to back it up is phenomenal for pitching to seed investors. Capturing emails of people interested in learning more or being notified when a product is launched is a great way to hit the ground running and build a base of early adopters.

Pros: Relatively affordable. Can be especially useful if coupled with some early designs and videos that demo your idea (though having those adds a lot of cost).  There are plenty of web designers out there ready to help within a short timeframe, and plenty of DIY tools as well if you’re keen to get your hands dirty.  Always good to get your domain name locked down early in the process.

Cons: Steep learning curve and you do have to pay to get traffic to your site. It will likely end up costing more than you think once you add everything up.  If you don’t have much in the way of designs to show yet it isn’t going to get you very far.  May show interest but won’t show you a customer’s willingness to pay.

Totally awesome how-to example: Buffer

UX/UI “Shell” (High Fidelity Clickable Prototype)

Cost: $$$

Who you are:  Very sure of your idea and willing to spend up front in order to seek funding via crowdsourcing and other informal avenues. You have confidence, but not *quite* enough to go all-in.  Perhaps you’re a business founder and have yet to find a technical partner.

What it is:  An interactive but not fully functional version of your app. Think of it like an Old West movie set. It looks good, the saloon doors open and close, you can walk down the street and sit on the stoop, tie up your horse even. But when you walk through the door you’re in the desert.

What is good for:  Demos, gauging interest, early feedback, and pitching to investors. If building the MVP (see below) it’s a necessary step in the process.

Pros: It’s beautiful, it’s interactive, and visual so no imagination is required on behalf of the user.  It’s impressive and great for showing investors and gaining buy-in. Provides crucial information about the user experience.

Cons: Could be expensive relative to it’s impact unless you’ve at least consulted with backend developers early on in the process. Without effective developer/designer collaboration you could end up with a “tip of the iceberg” problem where the “pretty” 20% front end causes 80% of the feasibility issues or complications on the back end.  Or you could perhaps underestimate how much backend development needs to actually be done to have a functional application. Might be over-featured compared to the MVP app you can actually afford to build, which could turn off some folks who were expecting to see more based on a front-end only version that overpromised on features and functionality.

Functional MVP (Front end & Back end development)

Cost: $$$$

Who you are: Either a technical founder or Founder who has partnered with a strong full stack development team who gets it. You are fully invested in your idea and it’s success and ready to make the leap. You are confident in your solution and just need to test adoption before in order to secure funding or start generating sales so you can self-fund scaling up and out.

What it is:  An MVP stands for “Minimum Viable Product”, a method of development that defines the bare minimum set of functionalities (features, behaviors) that solve a specific problem.  A scrappy but fully-functioning version of your big idea. This first version lacks bells and whistles and focuses solely on the features that offer value to the users.

What is good for: Validating your idea in the marketplace, analyzing user behavior and engagement with the app, helping prove product-market fit, possibly for pitching to more sophisticated investors, and gathering necessary feedback before scaling.

Pros:  Most impactful type of prototype. It is fully functioning, albeit likely without all of the features you want. If it is a mobile app it’ll be available to download in app stores. Since you didn’t build in all of the features right away you’re able to quickly pivot your idea to better match the needs of the users, thereby increasing your chances of success and not going broke in the process.

Cons: Won’t have all of the features you desire, but if you partner with the right team it will have the features you need to test and prove fit. Most expensive type of prototype.

Example here of a Mobile App MVP we recently launched in the app stores!

 

The Takeaway

There are many ways to accomplish your goals, this guide covers just six of them.  Depending where you are in the process, a logical progression of turning your app or software idea into a reality may look like Powerpoint to mock up something simple to let others play around with it and get some early user feedback, then a landing page to prove there is some marketable interest, and building a fully functioning MVP to help prove product-market fit and get maximum learnings prior to scaling.  We can help no matter where you are in the journey.  Our consultants-not-coders and product development muscle help you to level up your idea with experienced, US-based technical partnership.  Contact us for a Free Consultation if you’d like to discuss your idea, no matter where you are in the process.  We love what we do and we love helping entrepreneurs and companies with big goals bring their vision to reality.   Oh, and subscribe to keep getting Insights like this delivered right to your inbox.  Best of luck to you!

 

Too “Fast” to fail? Guess not.

There’s been plenty of coverage about this month’s most “buzzy” startup failure, that of the once darling one-click checkout startup, Fast.  Most coverage focuses on the marketing hijinks and scandals surrounding the founder, Domm Holland, but lack meaty coverage on the subject of why a seemingly great idea failed to prove out it’s tech fast enough generate the most important thing – cash.

We have no interest in joining the scandal circus. But as software development partners to many tech startups and entrepreneurs, we believe failure is an exceptionally valuable learning tool, even if the learnings are based on speculative post-mortems of someone else’s tech startup failure, as we are about to do here.

The Tech

At it’s most basic, Fast is just an automated form filler, a sort of “Identity API” that combines identity and checkout into one “frictionless” and (we had to say it) Fast transaction.  The tech uses cookies, IP addresses and other information to track users on a device, and their email to track them across devices.

The Value Proposition

No retailer registration, punching in credit card details, or remembering usernames and passwords = great for consumers. Just one tiny click between you and that impulse buy = great for sellers.  Open source, well documented API = great for developers.  Large market with opportunity for improvement and consolidation?  Check.  Amazon’s pioneering one-click checkout patent had expired 5 years ago and no one leader had emerged yet? Check.  It all looked great, attracting investment and huge valuations.

So what the heck happened?!

What we know based on media reports is that Fast was reported to have only produced $600,000 revenue in 2021 despite more than a half-billion dollar valuation, and by some estimates was going through up to $10 million a month cash (aka “burn”). And it added 400 people to its headcount.  In short, according to the founder, Holland, their burn and hiring scaled exponentially faster than their revenues scaled, and they couldn’t get it in control and raise new capital fast enough to keep the doors open. In his words,

“…[people] are wanting this kinda salacious story. The reality is was [sic] far more boring. Our burn was just far too high at the end.” – Domm Holland

So, wait… it was just cash burn that killed Fast so fast?   Well, yes and no. 

A lot goes into “burn”, but we help startups developer software products – not finance – so we won’t get into how much to burn and when.  But there are some important factors to point out that may have contributed to or exacerbated the problem. Lets deep dive some of the issues and corresponding strategy concerns with each.

  1. They failed to onboard many big-name customers despite moving aggressively into the Enterprise space. In fact, they onboarded just one before closing their doors.
  2. Did they really save shoppers time when shoppers were already integrated with the auto-fill functions of Google Chrome and Apple browsers?
  3. Fast’s button would never be welcome inside behemoth payment ecosystems such as Amazon and PayPal owner eBay.
  4. Companies like PayPal, Apple, Bolt and Shopify offer similar services. Holland argued Fast can do it “more quickly and seamlessly than others”, but failed to prove it.
  5. Former Fast engineers told NPR that integrating the tool on merchant sites was challenging, and some sellers reported that it did not always function as promised.
  6. They thought their competition was PayPal, and therefore likely ignored what ended up being their actual competition, Bolt.
  7. Bolt said that about 10 million shoppers had signed up for its services as of November 2021, and PayPal, by comparison, said that it had 426 million active accounts.  Fast never shared shopper numbers, only saying “thousands of merchants” had signed on.  Merchants we now know to be small. So it is probably safe to assume far that less than 10 million shoppers ever actually signed up for Fast.

What can we learn from this? 

“There’s a lot of stuff that you’ve got to build. For enterprise it’s not just about having an enterprise-grade product, eCommerce is very fragmented – right. Lots of different platforms, lots of different integrations. A lot of stuff that you gotta build before you can actually onboard enterprise. Bolt had just been building all of those integrations for a lot longer. They had been chipping away at the sort of medium-sized business. (Fast had onboarded a lot of small partners, and a few large ones but had largely ignored the middle market) …enough to kind of give them this foundation now that they can go and raise [capital] from.”  – from VC20 interview with Domm Holland

Lesson #1: Don’t Underestimate your Competition
Whether it was due to hubris or simply failing to do proper research, Fast focused on beating PayPal when, in fact, it was Bolt they should have been watching. And indeed they may have ignored alternative solutions, like auto-fill functions within browsers.

Lesson #2: Validate your Technical Assumptions prior to Scaling
Had Fast conducted technical due diligence and fully understood the complexities involved in onboarding Enterprise customers, perhaps
they would have made different hires on the tech team, made sure their tech was proven before going after the Enterprise space, or simply slowed down. It is reported they were having issues with even the smaller client custom integrations, so jumping from small clients to Enterprise without proven tech or a critical mass of users may have left them desperate to hire and contributed to the cash burn.

Lesson #3: Your Value Proposition must be Solid before Scaling
Your unique value proposition should deliver on the intersection of:
1) What your do really well
2) What customers really want/need
3) What your competition does NOT do well
Unfortunately for Fast, they really didn’t do what they promised well enough (yet), the depth of pain/customer need was debatable, and they competed in a space that their competition DID do well. This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t have tried, but proving your value prior to scaling could have saved the company. See our software development process to learn more about developing an MVP prior to scaling.

Fast Checkout Failure Infographic

Sources & Further Reading:

 

Custom Web Application Development vs. Off-the-Shelf

Custom Web Application Development vs. Off-the-Shelf

Web Applications are an exceptionally broad category. At their core, however, they are simply this: an app that’s accessible from any browser, on any device.  

They don’t require downloads, like a mobile app or desktop app, so they take up very little space.  They can connect to complex backend architecture and other software programs seamlessly when built correctly. They won’t work offline and the UX will vary slightly depending on browser and device type, but they get the job done. That said, you may be faced with budget constraints and considering whether you can buy an off-the-shelf solution. Let’s dive in here to help you work through the conundrum of “Buy vs. Build”.

Buy vs. Build

The primary question you should be asking yourself is this:

Does the purpose of the application DIFFERENTIATE YOU and SET YOU APART?

If you answered NO, look at off-the-shelf solutions. There are TONS. Need a CRM? Salesforce. Need accounting? QuickBooks Online. Need an eCommerce solution?  Magento. The list goes on.  We can help you integrate and implement off-the-shelf applications via custom API development using scalable and secure architecture practices. Heck, we’ll tell you if we think that what you’re asking for can be best served by an existing solution.

However, if you answered YES, then you’ll need a strategic partner to help build your “uniquely you” web application. We will likely still end up integrating your custom web app with existing SaaS application solutions, such as billing, eCommerce, and logistics.

Developing a Web Application

Web application projects follow our core process, starting with Strategy and Discovery with Product Managers and our client-facing Developers at the table, choosing from technologies best suited for your needs with UX, security, and scalability prioritized every step of the way.  Critical aspects we consider for web apps are:

  • Mobile-Friendly Interface
  • Push Notifications
  • Security
  • Admin Panel/CMS
  • Reporting & Analytics
  • Live Chat (if appropriate for your business)

See also: Web Application Case Studies

About Us

HSTK (Haystack) is a custom web application development company with hubs in Indiana and Arizona. With product management muscle built into every project we ensure your goals are aligned with the outcomes. Our client-facing developers make it easy to communicate and interpret your visions so you build it right, the first time.  We’re a friendly and collaborative crew, so feel free to reach out anytime for a no-pressure conversation about your project idea.

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