Crashlytics wasn’t Jeff’s first time at bat. Out of Stanford he started Increo – a document collaboration and sharing product. This idea started from the simple need for online document collaboration tools and evolved into an incredibly robust online document display technology that was acquired by Box.net.
After leaving Box.net Jeff started Crashlytics in order to manage the massive and poorly structured crash reporting data generated by mobile apps when they crash. He built on his professional experience as a developer to create a polished developer tool that all mobile devs need, but which nobody had the time to dedicate to fully solving.
What really struck me was the degree of care and production that went into everything this company did. From their website (shown below compared to the FB iOS SDK landing page) to the slides Jeff showed us – every visible element of the technology demonstrated a true artisanal care:
Surprisingly, Crashlytics was built completely counter to the MVP methodologies. Jeff candidly stated that they did very little testing. The team relied on their personal experience as developers and personal taste to product a high quality product. The stated purpose was to avoid design by committee – which often can lead to mediocre products (that nobody hates, but also that nobody loves).
Jeff was also kind enough to capture 5 tactical tips that every startup hopeful show keep in mind:
Incorporate feedback before seeking funding
- Investors are a great source of information. Use them to learn and make your product better BEFORE asking them for money. Ideally, by the time you hit them up for an investment they already love you.
- Engineers thing that if you build it users will come. This magic doesn’t happen – there are just too many products in a super crowded technology market place. Make sure you hire the people you need to make distribution happen. For most startups today the go to market or customer needs issues are the key uncertainty – not the product.
Time Your Fundraising
- There are two types of investors – Vision Investors and Momentum Investors. The former invests in a market/problem and a team. Their hope is your good is big and you are smart enough to get there. The latter invest in numbers – # users, growth, run-rate etc. Pitching a prototype wins you neither of these investors. Vision Investors just need a team and a deck. So just pitch that. Momentum investors need users and traction. Which leads me to:
Investors don’t dots they fund curves:
- A curve is defined by three points. Investors want to see your inflection at three different points while evaluating an opportunity. I mapped this to the timing question. Personally, my goal is to now have a meeting at the vision stage, prototype stage, and traction stage. However, Jeff also mentioned that you can do this with less (Pitch to a vision investor with a mockup, customer requests, and prototype). The caveat here is that Jeff is a proven entity – if you’re a first time founder you’ll probably need more.
- Take investors out of the office. Make your pitch in a casual environment (coffee-shop etc.). And make it a real human interaction (where they are inclined to say yes)– not a pitch (where they are inclined to say no).
Maximize First Time Experience
- This was a huge and really unique part of Crashlytics. They essentially worked quietly for a long time on a great product and then released it. There was no big public beta or hopes that they’d fix issues in V2. They made a big bet, polished every element to the nth degree and launched. This resulted in a HUGE splash and customer WOW experience that drove the majority of their positive PR (and acquisition).
This visit to Crashlytics was easily one of the most surprising experiences I’ve had in Boston. I was expecting a classic developer-driven lab that rolled out simple no-frills developer tools (Android I’m looking at you!).
Instead, we found the Apple Computers approach to SDKs (no surprise Jeff worked there). Simple, slick, and beautiful tools to give the cubicle warriors the same great experience in the office that they’ve gotten used to in their personal consumer lives.