Belly is a technology company, but our values extend well outside of tech. One core value in every department is hustle. “Hustle” means we get shit done, improvise, hack, push. It means you’re doing much more than showing up to run your part of the business, it means you’re helping build it. We optimized early for this throughout our company history, and I attribute most of our current success and growth to this brute force approach. But as a young company where resources are limited, you always optimize for one thing at the cost of something else, so we’ve ended up with a lot of manual processes and inefficiencies which tech could solve with better tooling and automation. At our current size, these gaps could capture the full attention of the tech team and that doesn’t leave much bandwidth to focus on the individual wishes of our thousands of paying customers or the growing demands of our own internal product roadmaps.
When the tech team was small we had tunnel vision on our customer-facing product and correcting internal inefficiencies took a back seat. This focus allowed the team to enter a hive mind state and we had limitless passion, creativity and ownership. The whole team had headphones on, was in the zone, moving fast and having fun.
Our constraints have changed over time. The tech team is much larger now, other departments need to be supported and our many and varied products need constant iteration and maintenance.
It no longer makes sense to only focus on the new, but that doesn’t mean we want to lose focus altogether and give up on all the productivity and cultural benefits. We pick somewhere between 3 and 5 key initiatives and drive them forward simultaneously. These initiatives are fully owned within tech and each one has someone’s name next to it. An initiative should materially improve the business, they are often complicated and run for several months bringing together many dependencies. Lots of milestones along the way give us a chance to deploy a series of minimum viable changes, these keep us honest with feature scope and prioritization. I stress the importance of deadlines too. They are a critical tool to streamline planning and communication, not a way to squeeze juice out of the team, so hitting deadlines is a constant exercise in accurate estimation.
Here are current initiatives we’re rallied around.
We’re a great data input company, we collecting about 3GB a day of clean denormalized data that describes our merchants, our members and our platform. We know how everyone interacts with our products, the data wholly encapsulates what’s working and what’s not. We want this data to drive business decisions, build better products, provide a more personalized experience for our members and communicate the value of Belly to all of our merchants, but we’re not there yet. Over the next few months we are making a concerted effort to unlock the value of this data by making it relevant and finding effective ways for merchants to consume it and by creating a more complete multivariate testing framework for incrementally improving our opinionated version 1 products.
We focused first on building a great member-facing product because that is what drives ROI for our customers (our merchants). This left a gap – instead of great tools for our customers to manage their own accounts we hired a passionate team of Account Managers. Today we have over 7000 installations of Belly so as you might imagine, no team knows the meaning of hustle more than the AM’s. For the rest of 2013 we’re committed to empowering our merchants through self-service tools and better automated notices. This should result in increased flexibility and greater merchant satisfaction. This work will also enable every AM to be more focused, more tactical and provide fantastic service to the merchants who need it. This tooling will allow merchants to manage features, customize their program, receive timely reports and notices and control aspects of their accounts such as billing. These tools will work for every merchant on our network, from the smallest food truck to the largest retailer.
It’s a noisy medium and most technologists will agree that under the hood email is a horribly complicated and antiquated technology. However, it’s the only common connection that we have to every one of our millions of members and all of our customers, so we’re making a concerted effort to become awesome at it. We want to tease it out of our platform codebase and build a dedicated service, we want the emails we send to be interesting and useful and we want to give members and merchants control of what they receive and we want to be certain that important emails make it into inboxes and people read them.
This doesn’t sum up everything we’re working on right now. About 40% of our work is refactoring, fixing, supporting, exploring and maintaining. But if communicated well (communication is where I’m spending my time right now), a couple of high level initiatives should help describe the current prioritization of the business and dictate the general focus of the team. They provide the vision to rally around and they give context to individual contributions.
Any form of project management doesn’t come naturally for a lot of great engineers, because it’s a hard skill to learn in its own right. But keeping the responsibility within tech gives our team the ownership it needs to solve problems and build awesome products, and that’s exactly what we need.