From Services to Product Development
by Stephen Foxworthy, Reactive / August 5, 2013
An agency perspective on Product Development
At Reactive, we have over 16 years of experience in designing, developing and maintaining websites and digital marketing for clients across a wide range of industries and around the world.
And over the years we’ve built a number of software frameworks, processes and approaches that allow us to maximize creativity and limit risk in delivering digital projects.
About five years ago, we decided that some of these frameworks were becoming mature products in their own right, and that we were investing time and effort developing and maintaining them, so we decided to create a separate product development division. Codagenic was born.
Codagenic is a software business, very different to the agency services provided by Reactive. We develop world-class ASP.Net software for professional developers and digital agencies.
In the process of transitioning from agency services to product development we’ve learned a few valuable lessons for any agency considering commercializing their own IP.
It’s really hard
The first lesson is: Don’t underestimate how much time and effort this change takes.
As an Agency you’re so used to jumping straight to solution mode, flying by the seat of your pants, saying “yes” with no idea how to solve the problem, but knowing your talented team will pull a rabbit out of a hat.
In product development, this approach doesn’t work. A new feature can take months to define, develop, test, document and deploy. You need to consider legacy sites, upgrade paths, and different customer skill levels.
Making the shift from saying “Yes! Now!” to “Maybe… Later” is a fundamental mindset shift that Agency people will take time to adapt to.
Product Development is a long game
Codagenic has grown over the years. We now produce two premium, licenced software products (Codagenic Ecommerce and Codagenic CMS), manage a Partner and a Developer Program and provide consulting services, training and support to our Partners and customers.
We’ve learned that product maturity is a slow process. Don’t expect to take an internal tool and be able to sell it at a premium unless it’s bug-free, well documented and well supported. This can take a long time before the product and supporting services are ready to release to the world.
We’ve used our own software in the agency, and it’s not always a painless experience. Even with our Product Developers sitting in the same room as our Agency teams, communication can be an issue. Imagine the difficulties managing feedback from a developer on the far side of the world, who doesn’t speak your language.
Product priorities can shift suddenly, so you need to be agile. Agile methodologies allow you to manage a backlog of product features and re-order tasks but these need to be carefully managed. A Product Development Manager is an absolutely necessary role to manage the process and keep everyone focused.
The Codagenic Mantra
It’s a bit geeky, but our mantra is: If it isn’t documented, it doesn’t exist.
What does that mean? If your software isn’t fully documented then developers won’t know how to use it. No matter how good you know it is, your customers will think your product is half-baked, and vote with their feet.
The temptation to bust out some new code, and solve some wicked problem will always be there. But busted out code is undocumented code, and can often be untested code. See our Mantra.
The customer is not always right.
As Steve Jobs famously quipped “Customers aren’t qualified to know what they need,” but they are certainly vocal in telling you what they want. It’s up to the Product Development Manager to balance specific feature requests with product backlog requirements. Solving every individual grievance a customer has with your product is a certain way to go off-piste, and miss the opportunities to delight the masses.
Get your commercial model right
The 5 Ps of marketing still apply, no matter what your social media guru tells you. If your product doesn’t work as it should, your pricing is off, or your promotion is poor, then your product will flounder.
Make sure you focus as much on the commercials as you do on product development. This means you probably need more people with product sales skills, not just client service skills. Which brings me to our last lesson:
Invest to win
Your product development efforts are going to be expensive. There is a reason why start-up companies seek angel investment!
To have enough resources to continually improve, manage, document, sell and support your software, you’re going to need to pay a small army of people – none of whom will be “billable” in the traditional agency sense.
But the upside is that product sales can scale much faster than a services business can, so with a bit of effort, a good product idea, the right promotion and a bit of luck you’ll see start to see profit and margin growth. Stick at it, and you may just have the next Facebook on your hands.
Codagenic eCommerce 3.0 is a fast, flexible, robust eCommerce platform for ASP.Net developers, agencies and retailers requiring an integrated eCommerce solution.
You can join our Developer Program by registering at: http://www.codagenic.com/developer-program.html