Online products, like businesses, rarely go by the plan. A product takes birth as an idea. As it evolves, it starts finding new users, maybe new business models. And then the plan has to evolve as well. Therefore, having the plan specified to the last cell in the spreadsheet right at the beginning rarely works.
What does work is the Minimum Viable Product approach. Once you have the idea, you bounce it off your tech team, which also understands business. Then, the team can come up with a prototype that mimics the MVP closely, minus the heavy-duty code and great interface.
Take this prototype to the various types of users you have in mind, as well as investors. And when you get good feedback on its utility from users, and money on the table from the investors, you’re truly in business.
That’s the story of the product developed for TheRecordXchange by Srijan.
TheRecordXchange team, in their earlier company, AVTranz, had deployed applications in Drupal. Drupal was used to enable workflows that spanned the team and a host of service providers, such as transcriptionists, editors, and proofreaders. While facing severe challenges with the performance of their Drupal applications, the team contacted Srijan to help in resolving the issues. The relationship that started in 2013 as a small contract has now grown into a long-term relationship in which Srijan plays the role of a business and tech thought partner.
In early 2014, TheRecordXchange team started considering the idea of building a platform based on the workflows already in place. The legal transcription industry would find such a workflow very useful. Small transcription companies and one-person shops would be able to leverage technology and realize efficiencies in their business. This was the thought driving the idea.
Rapid Prototyping Validates Product Idea
TheRecordXchange team shared their requirements for the product. Srijan spent some time understanding the requirements remotely and shared wireframes and photographs of whiteboard discussions. Discovery workshops were conducted remotely. “We put together our ideas on everything we wanted the product to do,” said Shourya Swarup, Director of Product, TheRecordXchange.
A click-through prototype was developed using HTML, CSS, and Angular. This prototype development took about 7 weeks to build, with a lean team of one person, and was ready by July 2014.
TheRecordXchange team took this prototype to potential users and VCs. The users included some enterprises considered to be the big players in the transcription market. The product was also shown to mid-sized players, as well as single-person shops. The users found it of great value. Investors also gave approval, and TheRecordXchange team received funding for the product. According to user feedback, users realized the prototype was ahead of its time in terms of existing market requirements. The target audience was people working from home or part-time, homemakers, and most users were not IT savvy. Hence, the product needed to be simple to use, with few adoption hurdles. Thus, a number of the envisioned product features were dropped, and a much leaner and minimal product was focused on.
With only a prototype developed using Srijan’s Rapid Prototyping approach, the product idea was validated, and TheRecordXchange team decided to proceed with developing the platform.
Getting to Beta
TheRecordXchange team and Srijan had in-depth discussions on the technology to be chosen for the product. Various technologies were considered, and discussions addressed what parts Srijan could undertake. “We had a great set of people from Srijan exploring the various technologies: Drupal, Apache, Ruby on Rails, hosting services, and so on. All the data about the technologies and services was compiled. Srijan came up with an architecture that we could have right now, and what we could grow into as the product evolved. We had a good team working on this, including some senior people from Srijan,” Swarup said.
While exploring the technology options, one of the major decision criteria was to choose speed over perfection. To make decisions in favor of speed, Srijan and TheRecordXchange chose Drupal out-of-the-box features. Srijan built all custom code by writing custom PHP libraries, keeping in mind future scalability.
The Beta version was released in November 2014, and the full version was released in January 2015.
When asked what the process was like, Swarup replied, “We (Srijan and us) would define the process flows and discuss what part of it could be in the MVP. We would then discuss the user stories and assess which ones would need wireframing. Basically, we were trying to wrap our heads around the idea and see what would work.”
TheRecordXchange (TRX) allows anyone to register and upload court recordings. Users can then have the recordings transcribed and proofread by vendors of their choice. The platform supports various roles, such as Project Owner, Transcriber, and Proofreader, and alerts the team assigned about the tasks completed. The platform is optimized to handle heavy media files being uploaded and downloaded and has been architected to handle heavy traffic.
The end users of the platform have found it to be a better experience than some of the reputed, commonly used collaboration platforms, such as Google Drive, in terms of upload and download speeds of heavy media files.
Time to Pivot
The platform has been available to users for a few months as of this writing and has a good number of registered users. As with all new products, the churn rate is high, but there is a sizeable segment of continuing users. The intent has been to test the market, according to Swarup. The subscription is free for now, giving unlimited storage to users as well.
However, the product team at TheRecordXchange has realized that the legal transcription market is very fragmented and the maximum influence on the transcription lifecycle is held by the various U.S. jurisdictions and courts. Thus, TRX must cater to them as well. Therefore, the product will need to have many enterprise-level features not currently included. Once these features are added, the product can move to being a subscription model.
Currently, the beta version of the Enterprise model for TRX’s first Jurisdiction is live. A process similar to prototyping was followed for this as well. A set of customized screens were developed specific to the Jurisdiction’s workflow. TRX presented it to the Jurisdiction, and received their feedback. Due to a robust requirements analysis process in the first round itself, TRX was very close to the actual requirements, and did not need another iteration of screens. TRX then received a contractual commitment from the Jurisdiction. After this, Srijan’s agile development process was followed.
Once this model succeeds, TRX aims to replicate it for other jurisdictions as well.
Benefits of Working with Srijan
“One of the biggest benefits has been the level of expertise we have been able to leverage. This team knows what it’s doing,” said Swarup.
“Our goals were aggressive, and Srijan’s development process kept pace with it. As a Product Owner, if I put down a requirement, I never hear that it can’t be done. I know it will be done. The stories get prioritized accordingly,” Swarup continued.
Swarup added, “The great thing is that you are not relying on a single person. Here’s a team that’s dedicated to your project. And if people leave also, I am not worried. We do believe that Srijan is trustworthy.
“As a Product Owner, I get full visibility into what’s going on with the development. I know how we are progressing; there’s transparency. For example, I will get to know if some stories are throwing up complexities. The team discusses it, and we take a call whether solving that complexity is worth our time or not.”
As Swarup noted, “The platform is live, and Srijan is providing support as well. It has been good so far, but it can be better.” Srijan is working towards that, given that continuous improvement is in the company DNA.
“If I had to rate Srijan on a scale of 10, I would rate them 15,” Swarup concluded.