The story behind a product, part I

All products that we have come to know and love have a history behind them which is largely unknown to anyone but the teams that were directly involved in building them. This is a shame, as there is so much we could have learned from the hits and misses that make up the path to a successful product. In that light, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to document what goes on in building my own product Coursify.

I have been heavily influenced in this by Loic le Meur, previous CEO of the late Seesmic and of the Le Web conference. His personal and open communication about all aspects of building Seesmic through his blog and his "Seesmic du Jour" video series, where he would publish one video a day about his business, was really inspiring both for the product side of it, but also for the way it helped build a culture and a community around his company. I am a fan of Mr. Le Meur to this date, and though I do not plan to edit videos I hope to put into practice a lot of his open communication style regarding how he builds his products.

So, to start with, let me explain how we got to be where we are today with Coursify. As with most interesting things in life, Coursify started as a sequence of chance events. First, I had an idea to sell an online course but could not find a platform that was easy to use, did not require installation or maintenance and could be made a part of my existing online presence. This occurred to me when trying to sell my own course, and even though I didn't do anything about it immediately the idea lingered at the back of my mind. Then, some time later, I referred a friend to a job as a designer. This friend was Alexandre Fracazo, who I had worked previously while building Artia. This opportunity got us talking again, and Fracazo also had this urge to build something of his own. After some talking, we got together with Patrick Espake, who had also been in the Artia team with us as a software engineer, and our team was born.

Since we have already worked together, making the team work together even though we are nowhere near each other wasn't really that difficult. One good lesson learned is that startups will help other startups. I reached out to two excellent tools, Flowdock and Blossom, and both of them gave us free 6-month trials so we could get started. Both of them said "we were once a couple of guys working out of our spare time so we can relate", or something to that effect. Thanks guys! So now we use Blossom as a place to track our user stories and action items, and Flowdock as our communication tool. They are both great tools, so be sure to check them out.

Even though we have a clear idea of the needs we are trying to serve, the product's concept as a whole is only now starting to mature. I believe my participation in Femgineer's Lean Product Development course (more on that in another post) will really help with that, since sharing ideas and learning from such a great team of teachers and fellow students will surely bring in tons of feedback and new ideas. I must also mention some great conversations with my colleague Rhonda Allen - talking to her gives me such a burst of positive energy that is extremely revigorating, so thanks Rhonda!

So currently that's where we stand - we have a team, an idea, and lots and lots of willpower to make things happen. Over the next weeks I want to write more about our vision, and how we are turning that into a product that we think can make a real impact. Stay tuned and don't forget to sign up for Coursify!