Archive for the 'Observations' Category

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We’re Launching Plantola in Ontario First (and why startups should stay close to home)

Before someone corrects me, Plantola is actually available to anyone with an iPhone and a Canadian iTunes Account.  That said, the app has some built in features, like the list of independent nurseries and garden centers, that is currently limited to Ontario only.

The fact that it is the middle of March, and Spring has yet to arrive in most of the province makes this decision even more perplexing given that we are a gardening-related app …. or is it?

Validate First

We are big believers in the Lean approach to product development.  Before we invest too much time and energy building out the platform, we want to know if we are on the right track.  Have we found product market fit?  Limiting the geographic scope of the product is one way to cut down on the number of features required in the first iteration of the product, which reduces complexity and development time.

Conserve Valuable Resources

We have bootstrapped development of Plantola partially out of necessity and partially out of a desire to experience the process of bringing a product to market. Doing things yourself can be cheaper financially, but it is not without cost.  It takes more time to do things you are not familiar with, and you end up making more mistakes.  That said, when you have more time than you do money, Bootstrapping product development is the logical choice. Staying close to home (both founders live in Southwestern Ontario) has saved time and money.  Customer development is just one example. Because we are focused on the “Local” market, meeting with a user our potential customer is the cost of a tank of gas rather than a plane ticket.

Make Smaller Mistakes

The total addressable market for Plantola is much larger in the United States than Ontario, or Canada for that matter.  Why not go where the fish are?  In a word … Risk. The product, while functional, is still very much an MVP.  There will no doubt be several bumps along the road, especially since this is the first mobile app we have developed.  Far better to learn those lessons in a small pond that is less competitive, and more forgiving than the open ocean.  You have more chance to recover from your mistakes.  Culturally, Canadians and Americans are more similar than they are different.  We speak the same language, eat the same food and watch the same television shows. Lessons learned in Canada often translate well across the border in the United States.

Home Town Advantage

We grew up in Ontario.  Our social support network is here. We have also made valuable connections with several local technology and business incubators like ThreeFortyNineCommunitech and Innovation Guelph. Being part of the culture makes it easier to establish connections with people that share a similar background.  This includes users, customers, investors, advisers and the media.

First stop Ontario, next stop ……….. stay tuned!


Download the Plantola iPhone app

Want to build a better product? Listen to your customers!

Anyone familiar with the teachings of Steve Blank and Eric Ries will know the importance given to “Getting out of the building” and talking to your target market, the people you expect to purchase, use and fall in love with the thing you are building.  Ideally, you do this very early in the development process, soon after conceptualizing what it is you want to do.  The goal being to quickly validate the importance of the particular problem you want to solve, and whether or not your solution connects with the market.  Much better to learn those lessons early, than to have spent countless amounts of time, energy and resources building something no one actually wants.

I wish I could say we took this advice to heart.  We certainly tried, but thinking back on how this project has progressed, and the many hurdles we have overcome, both technical and managerial, there are many things we could have done better, including getting input from more users, earlier in the development process.

Thankfully, now that we have a functional MVP, getting feedback from our target market – gardeners & plant lovers, has become much easier.  Unfortunately, now that the MVP has been built, much of the feedback will not be utilized until the first major update of the app, something we plan to do after it launches this Spring.  Whether or not we get to release that update will depend in large part on how the app is received by the market.  We definitely could have increased our chances of success by “Getting out of the building” early and often.

These are the tactics we used to validate our idea before having an MVP

  • Built a user survey in Google docs and advertised on Reddit in relevant subreddits
  • Built a landing page with a lead capture form and drove some paid Google traffic toward it to see how many people were interested in the idea.
  • Attended garden industry events and talked to potential users – gardeners with smart phones
  • Connected with gardening industry professionals through Linkedin Groups
  • Reached out to prominent bloggers in the gardening space to get their input

Now that we have an MVP of the App built, and it can be distributed remotely using Testflightapp (part of iTunes Connect), these are some of the tactics we are using to connect with users for our private Beta.

  • Putting ads in Kijiji (yeah, and they are free)
  • Putting up flyers in places tech savvy plant lovers are known to frequent
  • Social Media – Tweeting, Blogging, Listening

Right now the focus is connecting with passionate “gardeners” and plant lovers that are interested in trying out the app and providing feedback, the focus will soon change to getting users once the app is released.  Got ideas for tactics we should try to accomplish either of these goals? Would love to hear about them in the comments.


Download the Plantola iPhone app