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Feature Upvote 2021 Year in Review

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I run Feature Upvote, a B2B SaaS product that offers feature request tracking via a simple online board, which can be made public or kept private.

Each January I reflect on how our product and company has evolved in the last year. Here’s a summary of what we did in 2021.

In 2021, Feature Upvote continued to grow slowly and steadily – as intended. Our company has a “low stress” policy, where we put our lives and health before growth. We do aim to grow, but in a sustainable way that is compatible with a balanced life.

Here’s what we achieved in 2021, while keeping true to our low stress policy.

  1. Iterative design improvements to boards
  2. Overhaul of dashboard design
  3. Marketing (or a lack thereof)
  4. Pricing changes
  5. The founder no longer does most of the coding
  6. Expert help with GDPR policies & practices
  7. Huge performance gains for boards
  8. Strengthened defences
  9. What’s up for 2022?

Iterative design improvements to boards

I’ve always been happy with the design and usability of Feature Upvote. For an app that, until 2021, had never had a professional designer involved, I think it looked decent and was pleasant to use.

However it felt like it was time to get a UX professional involved. It was time to tighten things up in a way that only a professional can. Partly this was from a sense of wanting to be as proud as I can of our product, and partly because our finances now allowed it.

It was important to me that we did this without disruption to our customers. Product managers at hundreds of companies rely on us to track and manage their product feedback. I didn’t want to cause unnecessary work for these product managers by arbitrarily changing things.

I wanted our product to fundamentally look the same, with the same components in the same places, while somehow looking better.

This is a tough design brief, but our designer pulled it off!

Our feedback boards now have better typography, consistent use of colour, and better use of white space. Boards fundamentally look as they did before, but have morphed from “probably the work of a team without a designer” to “ definitely the work of a designer”.

Overhaul of dashboard design

After getting the design of our feedback boards in place, the next design task was to overhaul our dashboards. (The dashboard, slightly misnamed, is where product managers configure and manage their feedback boards.)

Here I gave our designer much more freedom to redesign things. It had become necessary. Our dashboard layout worked well when Feature Upvote was new and had few features. But as we added more options, our dashboard navigation had become clumsy.

Our dashboard now has a consistent and modern design experience for our customer. It feels more logical. I think it will do us well for some time to come, even as we continue to add more functionality to Feature Upvote.

Marketing (or a lack thereof)

In 2021, our marketing efforts on Feature Upvote were minimal. We cruised on the work done in previous years. We missed several issues of our monthly newsletter. We didn’t add much new content.

The lack of marketing effort was due to two factors:

  1. Our content expert left the team temporarily in late 2020 and wasn’t able to return as we had expected. Our marketing had been mostly in producing good website content.
  2. Until September 2021, my infant daughter was at home all day and needed frequent care and attention. Working from home with an infant child in the house is tough.

And yet we had a good year of growth. We continued to sign up new customers from a range of industries, big and small.

It is somewhat surprising to me that we had a good year of growth despite the lack of marketing effort. But I suspect this won’t continue forever. Hence I’m already in the process of hiring a marketing expert to join our team and fix the marketing situation.

Pricing changes

We have tiered pricing, but you wouldn’t know this by looking at our pricing page.

At the beginning of 2021, we made our pricing page match our “keep things simple” philosophy. We hid the low (“bootstrapper”) and high (“premium”) pricing tiers. We now show one standard price.

This reflects our positioning as a product that is simple to set up and simple to use – both for you as our customer, and for the people who contribute to your board.

It didn’t seem right that we make everything simple, with sensible defaults everywhere, but then have a complicated pricing structure, where you have to spend time thinking about which pricing tier is right for you.

So we hid our “bootstrapper” pricing tier. It is still available on request, as long as you meet the criteria.

We also merged the “premium” tier with our “on request” enterprise plans.

We’ve experimented with pricing quite a bit in the last couple of years. I feel that our current pricing is close to optimal for us, and something we can keep for a long while.

The founder no longer does most of the coding

I’m a coder by profession, but also a coder by passion. Nothing in my work gives me as much pleasure as a few hours of coding. Until 2021 I jealously guarded the coding work and kept it mostly to myself.

However as a founder of a growing business, I have a lot of management responsibilities. Trying to balance my coding work with actually running the company meant that neither were getting enough time.

It was hard for me to accept that I should hire a developer and hand over most of my coding work, but it was time to do this.

Early in 2021 I found the right developer to join the team. It has gone really well. I now think it would have been sensible to get a developer on the team a year or two earlier.

With an additional team member to work solely on coding, we are able to tackle bigger feature requests that need one person to focus on them for an extended period.

And this is why in 2021 we were able to make some major improvements to our product.

The most important improvement was the “access list” feature. This limits access to your board to a pre-defined set of email addresses.

Hiring a developer has freed me up to deal with bigger issue stuff. Like our GDPR policies and practices, as I describe ahead.

Expert help with GDPR policies & practices

We like the EU’s GDPR and we do our best to follow the GDPR – to the letter, but also in the spirit that is intended.

In 2021, a lawyer who is a GDPR specialist reviewed our privacy-related policies and practices. She identified some areas where we needed to improve. So we did.

As the law related to GDPR continues to evolve, and new rulings are made, we do our best to ensure we do GDPR better than our competitors.

Huge performance gains for boards

In 2021, a popular computer game started using Feature Upvote to manage user feedback. Actually “popular” is an understatement. Their feedback board gets way more suggestions, comments, and votes than any other Feature Upvote board.

Having a high-usage customer gave us a chance to do some real-world performance measurements. We found that their feedback board’s home page was taking way too long to generate.

Generating the board home page used to be lightning fast for all boards. But each time we added a new feature, like tags, custom statuses, and SSO, the board home page became slightly slower. Add up a few years worth of tiny slowdowns, and you get performance way short of what we wanted it to be.

Fixing this was a fun challenge for our team. It came down to improving our database usage: in the way we store data in our database, and how we retrieve that data.

We identified several sections of code that were part of the problem. Then one-by-one, we fixed a performance problem, deployed the fix to our production servers, and re-measured.

The cumulative performance improvements we achieved are huge.

Now even the most heavily-used board takes less than a tenth of a second to generate, whereas they were often taking more than 1 second.

Strengthened defences

Any successful web application is under frequent attack from bad operators, looking for a way to maliciously use the web application.

And so, any company like ours needs to be ever vigilant for attacks from bad operators.

In 2021, we improved our defences against hacking attacks, spam, and other misuse of boards. We did this in several ways.

As discretion is important in this area, I won’t go into the details.

What’s up for 2022?

More of the same! We have a good team, running smoothly. We’ll continue our approach of making steady progress with a series of small changes, each hardly noticeable, but that add up to an ever-improving product. We’ll keep doing our best to keep things simple: simple for our customers, and simple for the people who contribute to your feedback boards.

Need a product ideas board? Give Feature Upvote a try!