As they say, you gotta eat your own dog food in order to gain respect in any market. According to Wikipedia The idea originated from television commercials for Alpo brand dog food; actor Lorne Greene would tout the benefits of the dog food, and then would say it’s so good that he feeds it to his own dogs. Since then the idea of course has been adopted by the technology community as a way to champion their own products both inside and outside the company.
Some products as you can imagine are difficult to use by their creators, such as a banking transaction solution developed by a group of programmers because, well they aren’t the bank but others such as content management, collaboration or business process tools are easily eaten by the companies that develop them because they are useful to almost any business.
RapidInfluence falls into this latter category, since we have developed strategic plan implementation software, which can in fact be used by any company. We were in an even more unique position because we were at the ultimate strategic point of starting a new company, so everything that we are doing was and is hyper-strategic.
Part 1- the strategic initiative and the plan elements:
Since we had no company to begin with we had it pretty easy when coming up with a strategic initiative, we called our first one “Launch Strategic Planning Product”. The work started when we had to come up with the plan elements, which ended up being the following:
- Market Research
- Define/Implement Operational Systems
- Develop/Implement Marketing Strategy
- Develop/Implement Sales Strategy
- Technology development
In a larger more established company you would probably find many of these as individual strategic initiatives but in our case they were all small segments of the first strategic initiative we had, which was get the strategic planning product and company up and running. In the coming months and years we will look at all of these items as points of improvement and new strategic plans.
While working on this firststrategic initiative we have essentially been able to create a master template of all of the things that are in fact involved in getting a startup going or a new product launched.
Some of the plan elements such as market research and technology development related specifically to building a good product and others such as the sales strategy and marketing plans were all about how would we represent and sell the product in the market. The nice thing about developing and then organizing the plan in an online product was that it gave a level of transparency to things and it made sure that we didn’t just focus on the one or two easier areas but that we really kept an eye on all the things that were required to launch the product and the company.
As many people would be familiar, sometimes strategic initiatives are derived and defined via a planning weekend or a series of in-office sessions, in our case it was many discussions some in person, some over the phone and even a few late night GTalk conversations. In the end though we were able to vett a number of key ideas and actions that were critical to getting the plan together and then entered into the system. As you will note from our Manifesto, for us it’s all about the action items so that was our real focus in the planning, getting to an action item.
One of the interesting things about our dogfood experience was that we were literally building the strategic planning product and then testing it on our own company in the ultimate real-time situation. There were several times during the process where we found that some of the product ideas that looked good on paper just made no sense when you actually had to do them in real-life:
- Initially we had cost and budget elements in nearly every business process – we thought that it would make sense to track the costs at every point but it turned out to be to unwieldly and so we created the idea of single cost or budget entries as their own process and you can either use them or not.
- Initially we had completion percentages for plan elements and action items thinking that it would be great to know exactly where everything was in the process!, wrong! – we quickly found out that having to determine whether things were half done, 70% done or 90% done drove us to distraction and we settled on a much simpler and useful set of measures; started, not started, behind, ahead and on schedule.
These were just two examples of things that would have made the product more complicated and not have added any real value to the system, so based on that we removed them from the system.
So, that is a bit on our dogfood experience to date. I think we have had a real advantage in using our product so early in our own business as it has really allowed us to feel the experience that our customers are having from the earliest point and to make changes to our own ideas and perceptions of the value we can provide.
In Eating Your Own Dogfood Part 2 I will cover in more detail some of the action items and things that we had to work through as we got the company started.