Ship or take my money. How we use Beeminder to keep improving each day.

You ship software, or you don’t.

It’s live on production, or it isn’t.

One of the things I’ve come to love about building software is the stark black and white of it all. Sure, there is lots of gray in how you build something, but in the end, it’s live, and our customers are using it, or they aren’t.

This is what happens when we ship:


Our churn numbers continue to fall as we ship new features. This month may be under 8% for the first time (yes, it’s high, but not outrageously so for our industry, and I think we can get down to ~4% eventually).

Every day we try to make an improvement to our main app. Sometimes it’s just a small bug fix, or a optimization to make something load faster….but something. every. day.

We use a fellow Portland startup called Beeminder to keep track of our progress and take my money if we don’t ship.

Yep, they take my money when we don’t ship. It’s painful to get off track.

If we don’t ship a User Visible Improvement (UVI) every day…I lose money. I’m currently risking $30 if we get off track from our goal. We got off track a few weeks ago, and I lost $30…ouch! (You can set the dollar amount to go higher, or stay level. The next step up is $90!)

Here’s our current UVI graph:

beeminder uvis

Some people need carrots, I prefer a harsher approach.

Are we sacrificing growth?

I do wonder sometimes if all this focus on shipping comes at the expense of growth. I really think it’s a short-term vs. long-term view in some cases. Something about hitting 30 this year has caused me to focus much more on the long-term than how I was in my 20s.

Path 1: Product first
We continue to focus nearly all resources on product, the top of the funnel (traffic, trials) won’t grow as quickly. But churn will fall, and trials to paid subscriber rate will increase, assuming we build well (we’ve been hitting this on the head).

Path 2: Marketing first
We focus more resources on marketing (more content pieces, research, free tools, etc) we could drive more trials. But those trials may not convert as high or stick around as long as if we had focused on improving the product.

The argument of “marketing first” or “product first” seems silly though. It should depend on your teams’ strengths, and those strengths vs. your competitors. Moz started as a blog, did some agency work and then starting building software. So of course they were marketing first; that was their strength and that was their history. Get Satisfaction lost their way when they stopped focusing on product. Like most things in life, “product first” or “marketing first” just depends on variables.

Our software was originally an internal tool I wanted for my own sites…long before any sort of blog or even a public site. We have 7 “hackers” to 2 “hustlers” in our extended team…our strengths are clearly on the product side. And so that’s where we lean.

I don’t know if we will ever be truly great at marketing. But for us at SERPs, it makes sense to keep doing what’s been working for us and that’s shipping.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *