Lean Startup, or the need for a tech-agnostic mindset

  • Thomas Botton

As a digital agency it is unusual to use ready to use software to build a website (also known as No-code platform development). Even if our heart lies in custom development in this case it was important to focus on a fast and cheap MVP.

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SaaS architecture used within a digital agency

With Shari, the founder of The A-Coach we used the Lean Startup methodology to find out the needs of the market. Aiming for knowing whether the product is viable or not, a true MVP was needed. Once we validated the business model with paying customers, we started by building a website with Squarespace and Acuity. We tested another booking platform before which didn’t fit. And even if Acuity is now part of Squarespace, the system still has its limitations for a full-fledged B2B2C platform with custom companies’ login for instance.

Then it’s time to scale up, and rebuild from the ground up

Using existing platforms and services is cheaper, but there is a lot to tinker with, to make something nice, easy and useful for both the users of the customers and the business. There have been challenges for The A-Coach as well. Naturally, customers of digital agencies aren’t expected to be super tech-savvy geeks. This platform was a real MVP, it was usable and could “make money”, but was not friendly to admin and wouldn’t scale. Therefore, once we were too limited to scale the business, and only then, we decided to build a custom coded platform from scratch which is what you now see behind the current The A-Coach page. Django and Python have been used to build the platform and this is how we did it:

  • Data ownership - you want to own the data of your website
    • Having control over the data is crucial for digital businesses. In the MVP the control of data was at Squarespace/Acuity - now the control is back at The A-Coach.
    • For this, we used Acuity API and webhooks to ensure coaches would continue using their synced calendars and Zoom as smoothly as with the SaaS, while persisting all the data in our backend.
  • Reporting - you want to take actions out of clear dashboards
    • The new system allows more custom design on both the website and also the reporting/dashboarding tool needed by the CEO Shari.
  • Security is key, as it’s about coaching
    • During the MVP the security was minimal on purpose. Due to the mindset of our client Shari, who understood that it wasn’t threatening the business in the first stages. Quick and dirty sometimes help a lot. Of course when building the customized platform we added all companies as separate entities into the backend to maximize the platform security.

    Conclusion

    The key why building an MVP at first and doing a custom platform afterwards works is the mindset. Or as we say: “Mindset is key to success, not tech”. The client understood from the beginning that we have to compromise on parts but never threaten the business idea. Yes the MVP wasn’t ideal but with this cheap SaaS route, we found out what was needed. And we could build a platform to the needs of our client, from scratch and proven that it all worked out.


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