Tänk er kaptenen
på en galeas, en hukarejakt,
en skonare, en brigantin,
en fregatt, en korvett, en snau
med molnet av segelduk över sig:
gaffel- och bomsegel,
skothorn, fallhorn, halshor
När det blåser till storm
kan han väl inte bara peka
och ropa: Ta ner dom där!
Det skulle se ut.
Snickaren har en låda med fackord
och den som skall styra en stat
kan väl inte bara gasta i stormen:
Dom där sitter fel! Reva dom där!
Jag måste använda ord
när jag talar till er
Ni måste lära er ord.
You’ve got to think high to rise,
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize. Walter D Wintle
Feedly seizing the moment
The day Google announced that they were about to retire Google Reader, Feedly picked up 500,000 new users and their website jumped almost 10,000 points in the Alexa web-ranking. There is a business lesson here about building what matters the most first, evolving your service, being prepared and seizing the moment.
Feedly begun life in 2008 as a web based news aggregator. Overtime they fine tuned the browser experience, built plug-ins for common web browsers to make it easy to add content and eventually added a mobile newsreader. Throughout this time they did not have their own storage. They piggybacked on Google Reader and used it´s API to retrieve newsfeeds.
So far this is a textbook example of new product development in the era of distributed services and cloud storage:
- Focus on what you can do best - in this case the client user experience.
- Keep evolving and fine tuning the core experience.
- Meet the users where they are and adapt when user needs and behaviors change - web and then mobile.
- Use supporting services for everything that isn’t core.
The twist in the story happened on March 13, 2013 when Google announced that they were retiring Google Reader within 3 months and Feedly made a series of moves to take over the Google Reader user base.
The retirement of Google Reader could have meant disaster for Feedly. Afterall the key service that they were dependent on where being dismantled with 3 months notice. Other companies have gone under in the face of such dramatic changes. Feedly seems to have catapulted themselves into another level of success instead. Why is that? They key in my mind is anticipation, preparedness and communication.
Feedly assumed that Google Reader would be retired sooner or later and they had already started building a replacement service that could take its place. I don´t think they knew the timing of the change but they had a head start and they took full advantage of the fact that their clients were already built to use Google´s authentication.
Here is what the transition looked like from my vantage point as a Google Reader user:
- I read about Google´s announcement on a blog along with recommendations for alternative newsreaders. One of the links lead me to Feedly.
- The Feedly website had a clear landing page for Google Reader users looking for a new home. It was welcoming and instructions for trying out Feedly instead was extremely simple: Download the app on your mobile phone and log in using your existing Google Reader account. No need to create a new account, re-create my newsfeeds or export and import anything.
- As soon as I logged in, all my newsfeeds from Google Reader showed up categorized exactly as in Google Reader and I could start using it right away.
- Feedly pre-announced that they were building a new back-end service to replace Google Reader and that I would be automatically converted to it in time for Google Readers retirement. That inspired confidence.
- As time passed I learned to like my Feedly app. I could use it on the go while waiting for the bus or in all those other little moments when I had time to spare and nothing else to do.
- Finally, yesterday a simple message showed up when I opened the app telling me that I had been assimilated, i.e. converted to the Feedly cloud and all my newsfeed settings had been transfered. That was it. No need to change habits. No need to do anything special.
I´m sure the Feedly team were scrambling behind the scenes and had to work hard to accomodate all the new users that were coming to them, but I noticed almost nothing of that. The only visible thing from the outside was some user confusion about the transition. Even though they stated over and over again how the transition would work - many users did not seem to believe that it could be that easy. Comment fields were filled by confused users and other users trying to be helpful with various degrees of knowledge about the technology and how the switch would actually happen.
This story is very inspirational to me, but what I don’t know anything about is the culture and organization inside Feedly that allowed them to pull this off:
- How did they manage to focus on building a great client experience while still hedging their bets by building a new back-end service on the side?
- How did they manage to accelerate the development of the new service once the Google Reader announcement was made?
- How did they manage to keep their eye on the ball, scale to accomodate new users without letting go of their user experience goals?
- How did they manage to keep communicating throughout all of these changes?
- How did they deal with nay-sayers who said that there was no-way they could scale that fast, who said that silently converting all Google Reader users was impossible, who was against pre-announcing the release of the new back-end service?
The cultural and organizational foundation wasn´t put in place on March 13, it was probably there all along. As countless of examples in Jim Collins book Good to Great shows: sudden successes are not sudden to the people on the inside of great companies.
Antoine De Saint-Exupery