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Why we started from scratch (one year after launch)

5 min read



I’ve been thinking a lot about wrecking balls lately, and no, not because of Miley Cyrus.

I’ve been thinking about wrecking balls because this year my company went through our own demolition. We took the momentum from a year of hard work and used the force of our collective strengths to deconstruct what we originally built and start all over again.

Sounds a little dramatic but it was the best decision we’ve ever made. Here’s why.

Anything worth building once is worth building again

When we first built 15Five — an employee-feedback platform that takes 15 minutes to write and 5 minutes to read — we dove in with the concept and figured out the other details as we went. We rapidly built our back-end technology and designed a UI to quickly get the idea out to the world to see how people would respond.

It wasn’t perfect, but it worked. At that point in time, that’s all that mattered.

A year passed and we were blown away by the response of our passionate customers. Our seed of an idea was taking root. We now had tons of ideas, sourced both internally and from our customers, for how to further build the product. Of course we could have just worked with what we had, making as many tweaks as we needed to get the job done but a wealth of feature of requests and directions for evolving were starting to pile up.

Our ambitions for our product, one year later, were greater than what could be achieved with a few minor adjustments. So we asked ourselves this: “If we could start over today, knowing that our good idea was for sure going to work, and knowing everything we know now, how would we design 15Five?”

We built it once before and we were about to do it again.

Start with your foundation

Starting with a clean slate meant we could rebuild the product with a much more modern language and framework using technology that could be iterative without being arduous. This would allow us to develop more rapidly, be more enjoyable for our developers, and help attract and nurture the best talent long into the future. In this case, it made absolute sense to start from scratch.

This example might not apply to your business but it is important to think about, not only the stability, but the agility of your company’s foundation and infrastructure. These days, things move lightning fast and if you can’t keep up, it might be time to examine the fundamental systems, processes,values and goals currently driving your business. Will a few small changes help you improve your pace and steer you towards sustainable growth? Or does it make sense to scrap the existing elements and go at it with a fresh perspective?

Whether it is your technology or your business model, consider what is worth keeping and what can be rebuilt for exponentially beneficial results and the attainment of your highest potential.

Polish and shine

Beyond the back-end overhaul, we approached 15Five 2.0 with a new passion for UI and UX. With proof of concept under our belts, we wanted to heavily invest in a beautiful user interface, carefully crafting each and every experience.

When you build something quickly, the little details can fall to the bottom of the priority list. At times, it makes sense to choose function over form. But in our second attempt, one would not be compromised for the other — we would pay attention to every single pixel. The new 15Five would also include features that helped managers and employees relate and communicate in new, more transparent ways, things that our customers would repeatedly echo. Our rejuvenated goal was to delight and attract customers by delivering a service they could truly love and recommend.

This was not just about a fresh coat of paint or a branding experiment, this was about a design that elevates each and every visit.

Challenge is just another word for opportunity

When we started playing around with the idea of improving what we had built and actualizing feedback we had received, the thought remained in the hypothetical realm for a while. But as we chewed on the thought of starting all over again, we started seeing the potential challenges as possibilities and as a team, we got really excited

We know your company faces challenges everyday, without tossing in a self-imposed, complicated project. You tell yourself you’re OK with the status quo and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. These wise words apply in most cases but not all and not always.

After going through this relaunch, my perspective on the status quo has changed. We are constantly evaluating priorities through a lens of clearly defined goals. Starting from scratch meant going off autopilot. From marketing to product, we’re looking for the highest leverage places to put our energy and our efforts.We don’t always wait for things to break before we look for a way to make things better, faster, stronger, smarter.

We ask for big ideas and aren’t afraid to implement them. Starting from scratch reinforced fearlessness into our culture and we’ve learned that a lot of great things can happen when you aren’t afraid to try.

David Hassell is a serial entrepreneur and founder and CEO of 15Five, a SaaS company that enables organizations to streamline communication and feedback. Follow him on Twitter @dhassell.