Today we launch a product. In a lot of ways, it's no different from the dozens of products we've launched for clients to date. They all start with a small but powerful idea that, with the right amount of love, could create an order of magnitude difference in the lives of many.

Our idea is called Rocketr. It’s for teams that like to keep notebooks for their own small, but powerful ideas.

As is always the case, we agonized over every pixel, every interaction, every decision. Rocketr was cared for relentlessly and we’re excited to have hit a milestone. We also traveled this distance in a total of 99 days – from the first lines of code to present day. The rest of this post tells of some of the highlights from those 99 days.

Each Unique Decision

The biggest difference in building our own product was the understanding that we were the absolute final say on each unique decision. The only approval we required, was at all times, at the table. While we’re often trusted with product strategy and design outcomes – we felt the responsibility of owning the highest level of decisions – the vision.

The Importance of Sharing the Vision

We’ve always believed in design being a difference-maker in a world where time is of greater value than money. That hasn’t changed. What we learned with Rocketr – was that technology is the enabler and product strategy, the driver.

Our convictions about Rocketr migrated from one mind to a team-wide understanding that what we wanted (and thought the world might benefit from) was a  fastersimpler, and more enjoyable way to share thoughts and ideas within teams. Email was killing them prematurely. We wanted a place where ideas could escape judgment for a while.

‘Minimum’ Truly is a Skill

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s even possible to achieve “Minimum Viable Product” without having a team that challenges that definition (unless you’re Steve Jobs). Speaking as myself for a moment – I thought going into this endeavour, that I was a minimalist. Heck, I lived out of a backpack for half of 2010. I can tell you now, with confidence, that it is possible to create value with less.

In the end, Rocketr was born with just 10-15% of what was initially imagined as being its true “minimum”. Pass as many judgments as you like about the people who coined that initial minimum – committing to launch a product by a certain date creates the conditions for creativity and critical thinking in a way that can’t be fabricated artificially.

Tactically Speaking

Tactically speaking, a lot happened in 99 days. We got over-excited during the first 30 days which ended up taking us too far down a particular path before we realized we didn’t have enough validation to justify the ground we were covering.

As the weeks rolled by, we also got significantly better at writing hypotheses and testing against them. It’s now so completely ingrained in our process that we’re actually prioritizing beta invitations to Rocketr based on who expresses interest in a usability test.

New & Improved vs. Trusted & True

We learned a great deal about how design can embrace an agile mindset when you’re striving for an MVP. Whether working in-view, or validating hypotheses with nothing more than a UI model, the design community should take a long hard look at where it can improve without compromising the creative process. We’re now actively investing in this discovery and expect to communicate additional findings as they come.

On the flip side, we also saw where agile design breaks down. In the first days of 2011, we made the gut-wrenching call to keep the lessons, but throw away the UI models we’d been iterating on, in favour of re-thinking design from the ground up. We would not have hit this milestone without embracing both agile and waterfall at different stages of development.

Random Quirks

  • We spent $9,917.56 to get to this point.
  • Jen led the way to 759 git commits over 99 days.
  • Verne did 4 separate takes of the scroll model.
  • Satish and I had 3 heated debates about a feature being “MVP”.
  • We did 7 iterations – 2 over 30 days, 5 over 7 days. We like 7 better.
  • The Rocketr iPhone application gets submitted for review next week.
  • We built “social” into the fabric, but decided not to “turn it on” (yet).
  • Our first data mart has 1 fact table and 3 dimensions… that’s it.
  • Our advisory board (youguysrock.) has been invaluable.
  • The logo was the last thing designed… by the new guy… on his 1st day.
  • The logo was inspired by Charlene’s famous “fire mitten” version.
  • The frontend code is courtesy Gavin’s desire to keep it “light n’ shit”.
  • LeanCoffeeTO is the best support group I’ve ever been a part of.
  • We made it with a business model (inspired by open source).

Final Admonitions

While it isn’t perfect – it’s here. We’re proud of it and we expect the learning to continue. We’d like to say “time will tell” if Rocketr has the legs to carry itself, but knowing what we know now – effort, judgment, constraints and teamwork will all be equal contributors where time is concerned.

If this is your first time hearing the Rocketr story, the story goes:

  1. How To Find A Technical Co-Founder
  2. Structuring Experiments
  3. Pitch Sooner, Pivot Faster
  4. Finding The “Minimum in MVP”
  5. UI As A Self-Moderating Mechanism
  6. What Does A Business Co-Founder Do?

And thanks to the good folks at AppSumo for listening to our story as part of the Lean Startup Challenge.

Keep it lean.

  • While I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet, everything else I know about the Rocketr story reeks of awesome. Congrats on getting this out and big thanks for the learning that I’ve gotten from everything that you’ve documented.

  • What a strange and exciting ride it has been.

    Glad it’s ready to launch, can’t wait to get my hands on the iPhone app so I can do what I’ve wanted to do with Rocketr since day 1: brainstorm on the road.

    Can’t wait to see the rest!

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  • Really cool! A very inspiring and informative post as well. Already requested a code and looking forward to trying this out.

  • Thanks for the support gents. The patience as well. Looking forward to getting your feedback!

  • Zach Aysan

    Finally had a chance to read through this in its entirety Andrew. Major congratulations dude. I know how hard you’ve been working.

  • Great presentation at Sprouter last night!

  • Thanks Chad!

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