4 Weeks In - What I've learned about Hammer, Forge and Anvil

It's been 4 weeks since I officially took over Hammer, Forge and Anvil, so I thought I'd write up some notes on the experience, things I've learned and encountered along the way.

The beauty of this acquisition was that there were already a fairly healthy bunch of users already using the platform, and some of them were also paying for the service. Before I set about writing a single line of code, I wanted to learn as much as possible as I could about how people were using the products, so I did a few things:

COMMUNICATING WITH CUSTOMERS

By setting up Hootsuite to manage the Social Accounts

Each of the products has its own twitter account - @getforge @hammerformac@anvilformac. Along with my own personal twitter account and the new Twitter account I created for Beach (since Beach replaced my old service company Double Digital), this is setting up to be a Social Media Management pain in butt.

We don't employ anyone to manage our own social media full time, so it means we typically do our own social media pretty poorly. With Forge, there's a number of ways to communicate with our customers, but with Hammer and Anvil, it's much more difficult as we don't know who they are.

So, Twitter is a very important channel, until I can establish Forge as the main platform for all of our customers to use with whichever Beach product they are using.

Using Hootsuite at least gives me a fighting chance to keep on top of @replies and mentions, support requests and product feedback.

It was particularly useful when Forge went down a few times, to relay important platform status information and therefore limit the customer support requests that would inevitably come in.

 

GETTING TO KNOW OUR CUSTOMERS

By installing Intercom into Forge

One of my favourite products, one I've used on all of my products since way back in 2012, is Intercom. The first thing I did on Forge was install it and start talking to customers directly. I made sure I was on hand to respond quickly and thoroughly to all users of the service, to really understand what they thought of Forge and what their concerns were. 

The main support requests I received related to Deployments getting stuck. Sometimes this happens and users would just see the endless spinner syndrome - not a great experience. Most of the time, it's due to something fairly innocuous in the uploaded archive, but also the deployment just fails sometimes and can easily be fixed with an intervention on the technical support side.

Forge is actually doing quite a bit of work behind the scenes whilst the site is deploying, and it's great that this is invisible to users most of the time, but when things do go wrong, it's also really important to provide enough information to be useful in understanding what's gone wrong and how it can be fixed. Watch out for some improvements coming in that area soon, including some slightly more elegant logging and console tools.

 

 

UNDERSTANDING OUR VALUE

By creating a survey on Typeform

I issued a very simple customer survey via one of my favourite products of the moment, Typeform. This gave me a very impactful way to understand the challenge ahead of me. I wasn't really sure how existing customers felt about our products right now and I felt I needed some insight to better approach the future.

The feedback from customers was very consistent. There was a genuine love of the products, the design and simplicity of how the products went about their business. It's shown me just how important it will be to keep this guiding principal as I start to evolve the products.

There was, understandably, an overall tone of frustration. People were on the cusp of giving up all hope that these products would still be alive in the days or weeks to come. So, I was met with some scepticism, but genuine optimism at someone new stepping up and taking these products over. People really loved Hammer, and I think, would really like to love it again. 

 

CHAMPIONING OUR CUSTOMERS

By creating a customer showcase

There are some super smart, incredibly creative people people using our products to do amazing things and that makes me so proud. I'm a big fan of championing customers, making them the stars of the show.

My first step was to reach out to those I'd identified and invite those who felt they related to the idea, to showcase their profiles on the Forge website. It was fascinating to understand how they use and love our products in their daily workflow, some relying on all three - Hammer, Forge and Anvil, whereas others really only relying on just one product. That's fine, but it's crucial in my eyes that everyone is celebrated for the great work they do and to inspire others.

 

The first 4 went up last week and I'm build out applications from many more customers, all of whom I'm incredibly envious of their talents.

I'll be publishing more in depth interviews and profiles on each of them very soon on the Forge blog, which will be the main resource for updates and news about each of our products.

 

WORKING ON THE ROADMAPS

By creating public roadmaps on Trello

I've always been a fan of bringing ideas out into the open and sharing in how those ideas evolve and get implemented into products. So, it was a no-brainer for me to firstly establish the principal of public roadmaps for these products. Trello is my go to choice, since I already use it daily for managing internal product development tasks.

The feedback I received from the Customer Survey and from directly talking to people through Intercom, all goes into these boards, starting with the one for Forge.

 

Users and Customers are free to add ideas, comment and vote on others which helps me to understand demand and prioritise our workflow. It always takes a bit of time for people to get into the habit of contributing directly here, but is an area I really hope will build out organically as we gather momentum.

In August I'll be releasing the Hammer roadmap for people to contribute and stay informed on the progress.

 

LEARNING ABOUT OUR BUSINESS

 Using StripeChart Mogul and App Figures

We use Stripe for processing payments on Forge. For Hammer, we rely on the Mac App Store.

Both of these services are very well served by some supporting services that provide a way of looking at the data to get a better understanding of the nature of your business, instead of purely looking at timeline transactional data, but looking in terms of your key metrics.

Until I figure out what our "2000 Users" killer metric is, I'm really interested in understanding how new customers find our products (funnel), which product they choose to buy (pricing model) and how long they stay for (churn).

I found that Chart Mogul is a great service for making the most of Stripe data, though I also quite like the native Stripe apps. Chart Mogul provides information in relation to churn rates, and when I get deeper into this, I'm sure will provide much more value still.

The App Store data via iTunes Connect is typically crappy, so I'm using AppFigures for tracking the performance of Hammer. Despite the obvious frustration since stagnating the development, people are still downloading the tool and still love it. So, I'm really hopeful that when I get into the next version development, we can re-establish the trust and passion for Hammer that it once showed such promise for.

Through this initial research, I made some quick decisions on evolving ourpricing model. I felt that the free version was too generous and creating too much of a comfortable zone for new users to exist in. Instead of the 5GB limit, I reduced it to 1GB. 

The $10 plan, I felt was also not driving enough value to prompt people to take that big step of putting their hands in their pockets to pay for the service, so I doubled the number of sites that can be created from 5 to 10.

I didn't think there was then enough of a significant difference in value from the basic plan to the paid plan, so I took a big step to remove the limit on sites entirely - you can create unlimited sites with custom domain for $50 per month.

A big feature of each of the paid plans is the Customer Support. It was never something that was really part of the feature set, but hopefully I've made a successful attempt to establish my intention to ensure that we really focus on supporting our customers, through all of the tools that we have available.

 

TACKLING THE CROOKS

Using Intercom and Rack::Attack to block the crims.

All of a sudden, Forge went down. Panic. Was it something I did? I'm still figuring my around the stack, did I botch up the CDN settings? Did I knock out an EC2 instance? Arrghhh.

Turns out, no.

As I was getting to learn about the Forge user base, I discovered that there were around 100 accounts registered on the platform with Nigerian locales. On deeper inspection, it turns out that many of these accounts were using Forge to create suspected phishing sites and Amazon weren't thrilled about it.

Once I figured this out, I went through and removed offending accounts, sites and established some rules for new user signups to prevent this type of thing happening again. 

One way is simply to monitor the new account registration activity, this is time consuming, but a very important exercise to understand how people are using Forge. Intercom is a great tool for this, particularly when I have it setup to fire notifications into a dedicated Slack channel.

I have a feeling this wont be the last we see of this issue, the virtues of a free account service, but we will monitor and do our best to prevent breaches of our terms of service.


So, that's an overview of some the main aspects of what we've been working on the past few weeks - I wont bore you with the drudgery of actually managing a transition of tech from one party to another.

I'm very excited that we're now starting to pick up the challenges of some of the Forge roadmap, from stabilising and updating the underlying technology, improving performance of existing critical features and starting some new shiny things too.