3/2023 Aman Azad
In our experience growing Legaci, a lot of what running a Pre-PMF company is anchored on is iterating fast to find the winning product solution for our customers. In principle, tech companies have gotten behind the "Most fast, break things" approach, but I don't see enough discussion of how this actually translates into real-world strategies to building software.
I wanted to showcase our process at Legaci and how we move fast on product features within our founding team of 3:
We always start from the foundational problem we built our company on: as an artist, I feel like I don't own my audience and can't reliably monetize outside of tours and merch.
From there, we find several sources of problems and opportunities.
The decision to build out a paid membership feature came from two places: 1) Legaci artists said they wanted it and 2) every creator platform and increasingly social media sites have started introducing the feature set.
Given enough time, the bottleneck typically isn't in the idea phase, but it's important to understand where these next iterations come from.
Time is the most precious resource for a pre-PMF team, and so we owe it to ourselves to gain confidence on our spread of ideas to best understand what's going to move the needle the most.
There's a lot of established frameworks to accomplish this like ICE, but often we feel they're a bit too heavy on the process our team of 3.
The justification to dedicate ourselves to paid memberships came from a more gut reaction. A lot of finding product market fit is "you'll know it when you see it". As we're operating this business, we started to build a sixth sense for when something is working and we're headed the right direction. Don't shy away from this!
A gut reaction is almost a hack to tap into a meta-systematic view of your business, encapsulating all your customer interviews, analytics data, personal creativity, etc.
Got it, paid memberships is the move. How do we make this a reality for Legaci?
We start with what most would generally call a product requirements doc (PRD), then turn that into a technician spec detailing the blueprint for implementation.
Product requirements doc.
Let's start with the PRD. These usually take the following form:
We use this section to back our gut reactions with those relevant customer interviews, analytics data, or any other tangible evidence.
High level product solution.
Here we describe from a 10,000 ft view what the solution needs to be. In the case of paid memberships, this was as simple as "clone Patreon, but without the exclusive member posts".
Fine grained product changes.
This will take the form of a todo list for where updates need to be made in the app. If needed, this is where we'll add in designs and high level wireframes to mock out flows.
So for paid memberships we would have tasks like "ability to create a membership tier, and adjust the pricing", or "ability to join/cancel/resubscribe to an artists premium membership".
More clarity in the PRD process has an incredible effect in making development easier. Small example, but if a feature can be walked back and isn't critical to MVP, we can avoid adding a new table and all the work involved in that effort.
Tech spec document.
We break out our tech specs into three or four general sections:
For each product update, we'll go through each of these sections and enumerate what is required. I find it easier to rationalize what the new user experience needs to be first, then work my way backward deeper into the tech stack. But that may just be a personal preference given my background doing years of front end development!
Paid memberships was a huge feature requiring updates in all categories. We needed new views and UIs to allow artist to create their membership tiers, connect their bank accounts, handle payouts, among more. Users also needed to manage all their subscriptions, update their subscription settings, see they're premium members in the community, etc.
Once the front end changes were scoped out, I can begin to think about what new GraphQL queries and endpoints will be needed to support them.
This leads naturally to thinking about new columns and tables needed to store the new data requirements, tables to record artist membership tiers, user subscriptions, etc.
And to support the payments functionality, we leveraged Stripe's Connect platform. The tech spec allows us the flexibility to change our tech spec to fit the integration as needed.
After all the work above is done, writing the code ends up being the easiest part. Actually writing the code becomes a very simple task of going through the tech spec and ticking off checkboxes. This is where you can confidently say you built a massive feature "in a weekend" part in the headline comes in, all the requisite queries and mutations were implemented in roughly 3/4 days.
Since we've parsed out all the work ahead of time, it became much easier to spot clean divisions in tracks of work to split with my cofounder to get this out the door quickly.
We don't do TDD. For where we're at, the process is just not quite fast enough. Once the general implementation of functionality is done, then we layer on integration and maybe end to end tests to validate behavior of the code.
We move the code up to our staging environment, which we've been able to keep as close to 1:1 with production as possible. Here we now create a QA checklist using the PRD and perform manual QA. All of the team is involved in QA.
Once we feel good about the changes, and have QAd the functionality, we release our front end and back end apps and monitor for issues.
Our monitoring suite is very simple, we have a few tools to validate the health of our app in production, a quick run through:
Generally we follow this process for more intensive projects with a lot of moving pieces.
One of the many silver lining of working on your own startup is we can quickly adjust to forgoing certain steps if we feel they're not needed or will hamper us in delivering value to our artists.
Having some process to fall back helps immensely in making some sense between the sheer number of things you can be working on as a business owner.