Our launch experience, part 1: beta

Wow, what a crazy few weeks it has been!  For those of you just tuning in, we just launched 80legs.  Since launching, we’ve been swamped with emails, press, tweets, and much more, but I thought I’d recap our experience, from beta to launch, including our experience at DEMO.

We announced our private beta at the Launch Pad event during the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, back in April.  We had been working on 80legs since early 2008.  Around February, I decided we’d exhibit at the Web 2.0 Expo to get some early exposure.  When I signed the booth contract, we weren’t thinking of making 80legs available in April.  But then I came across the Launch Pad event that they had.  Applying was pretty straightforward – all I had to do was fill out a form.  But the form asked for what kind of demo I could show right now, so that the judges could get a sense for what we did.  At that point, you could run a crawl through 80legs, but there was no pretty interface to it.  It was just command-line Java.  So in the form I said something like “Nothing to show now, but trust me – it will be really cool in April!!” and submitted it.

I was pretty sure nothing would come of it.  Surely they had several applications for products that looked shiny and sexy and would never accept anything as obtuse as a “distributed computing service designed for crawling and processing web content”… that wasn’t even ready to show yet.  Then a few weeks later, I get an email welcoming us into Launch Pad.  Ohhh-k :)  I stood up from my desk (this is mid-February, I think) and said:

Guys, I’ve got news.  We’re launching our beta in April.

We are?

Yes.  At the Web 2.0 Expo.   In front of hundreds of people.  On stage.

We don’t have an interface.  Or any way for people to setup an account.  And we’re still making the crawling reliable.

Yeah.  I guess we have a month to do that!

So during March, we scrambled putting together the first version of the web portal, getting the crawling to an acceptable state, and a bunch of other stuff.  It was nose-to-the-ground, grind-away work, but at Launch Pad, we had something to show and it looked good (well, for a beta).  The Launch Pad garnered us some press as well.

We got about 300 sign-ups for the private beta – not bad for a technical product.  We decided on letting them into 80legs in periodic batches.  On retrospect, we could have handled this better.  The first couple of batches let in responded well and offered substantive feedback.  But later batches, which may have had to wait a few months, had forgotten about us.  The excitement had worn off.  It would have been better to let them all in at once, or to at least have sent them reminders.

During our beta period, we spent a ton of time on collecting feedback from users, quickly implementing suggestions we felt were important, and scaling up our crawling ability.  Every 2-3 weeks we worked on a major new feature, such as crawler improvements, 80Apps, the API and several others.  At the same time, we were implementing a ton of minor features to make the system more robust and usable.

Our beta was going well and was getting to the point where we were starting to think about going live.  But we wanted to make a splash with our live launch.  We needed something that would get the momentum going again.  Something big…

Stay tuned for part 2: DEMO ..!

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