I’ve spent my career building stuff for the web.
I’ve been a developer, a project manager, a “software architect”, a director of product, and an executive in charge of a 60+ person product development group.
During my time at Warner Music, we built north of 75 websites and eCommerce stores a year for some of the most talented and well known musicians on earth.
During my time at JetBlue, I had the privilege of building stuff for one the coolest airline startups ever. I built stuff for JetBlue.com. I worked on the original version of JetBlue’s loyalty program. I worked on one of the first airline “flight trackers” to ever use Google Maps. They still use a version of it today, and it’s still super cool.
Bottom line is, I love building digital products. It’s defined a large part of my life. My dad was a DEA agent. My mom was a teacher and school district administrator. I tell my 4 year old son that I build products for the web. He has no idea what that means, but he’ll figure it out someday.
With that said, there’s one thing that has always bothered me about my first 15 years of building stuff. We never truly validated the assumptions and hypotheses implicit in the things we were building and releasing.
Sure we had analytics and would check the numbers, but that always came after we had already (over)built and launched things.
Success was far too often just getting the product out the door on time and budget and not getting the right product out the door.
The cycle typically went something like this:
- Stakeholder(s) comes up with an idea inspired by a competitor, trend in the marketplace, new marketing initiative, something a vendor is selling them…
- They request that it be designed and built.
- We put it in the queue and (eventually) build it.
- Stakeholder “validates” that it meets their needs.
- Then we release it to 100% of their users.
- We try to measure it after it’s launched but struggle to confidently confirm whether it’s truly impacting the bottom line.
- We move on to the next thing in the queue.
Shocking perhaps, but painfully true. What is perhaps even more shocking is this is how the majority of new features and designs released on major sites for major brands across the world still get created.
Assuming you don’t work at a lean digital startup or one of the few large companies leveraging lean ideas, you are likely all too familiar with this cycle.
If you are like me, this cycle really bothers you, and you find yourself constantly wondering:
“Is this even a good idea? How do we know?”
“Are we building this because our customers want it or because this important person wants it?”
“Will our customers actually use it?”
“Are we only implementing it because it’s the new thing and everybody else is doing it?”
“With all the things we could be doing, how did this become the priority?”
It’s with these thoughts in mind that I partnered with Matty Wishnow and Sam Decker to found Clearhead.
The hypotheses on which we started the business:
- We can’t be the only ones in large organizations feeling inspired by the lean startups of the Bay Area and frustrated by our legacy product roadmapping and development processes.
- We can’t be alone in having invested in an arsenal of data tracking software only to find out that they alone don’t make you “data-driven”.
- Surely organizations want to be data-driven, so what’s stopping them? Like us, I bet it’s a lack of bandwidth, process and expertise to make an honest go of it.
- There has to be a better way to ensure more confidence in our product decisions and investments.
- I bet great product and analytical talent are frustrated too, and I bet they would love to work at a place that is trying to solve these problems.
With nearly 3 years under our belts, a growing group of some of the most talented (and nice) people I’ve had the privilege to work with, and a world class roster of amazing clients, it’s looking increasingly likely that our business hypotheses are valid.
We have a lot more work to do. So here’s to it.
Thank you for reading,
Ryan Garner is the co-founder of Clearhead. He oversees optimization programs for all of Clearhead’s amazing clients. When he’s not busy validating hypotheses or raising his two young sons, his favorite hobby, like so many in Austin, is talking about how awesome Austin is.