Small businesses and entrepreneurs are relying on rapidly configurable applications to provide critical services and products to their customers and users. Amelia Friedman, 26, and Param Jaggi, 24, started Hatch Apps three years ago to meet the needs of small businesses and entrepreneurs. Hatch Apps is a platform that enables these customers to build applications without knowing how to code. The D.C.-based startup completed the Y Combinator Fellowship program in the summer of 2016 and has raised a total of $2.2 million from a group of angel investors, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab.
Frederick Daso: When it comes to startups, you’re expected to rapidly dominate your target market. You’re working 24/7 to bring your product to market and securing sales leads. Are there times where you need to slow down to ensure you have the right product, you’ve found the right market and you have a repeatable, scalable process to acquire and retain customers?
Amelia Friedman: Where do I start? We have experienced moments where we’ve realized that we need to rebuild, refactor or rethink before moving forward. It’s hard because you have to understand that you need to take a step back to take two steps forward. Recently, we built a product that allows businesses to develop and deploy their software. Our product was initially template-based, which means that every time we launched a template, we were launching three different codebases. Having to maintain three codebases for each new template we created a heavy burden for our engineering team. For non-technical folks, the problem was the more codebases we had, the less time we had to service or maintain each one of them if something went wrong.
Daso: I see, that must have been difficult to deal with all of those codebases at once.
Friedman: Right. A few months ago, we decided we were going to take a step back and rebuild our product from the ground up so that we could build a more prominent company on top of it. We used different coding languages that had the versatility we needed for rebuilding our product. After you’ve written hundreds of thousands of lines of code, it’s tough to say, ‘We’re going to start from scratch and do it the right way.’ You have all these customers in the old version, which factors into your decision-making. We’re going to make this investment right now to reach our larger goal. I am confident that we are going to be looking back on this and saying this was one of the best things we could have done for our company.
Daso: Fantastic. When you realized that the way you were developing and deploying your code wasn’t optimal, what were some of the main factors in deciding to start over?
Friedman: Both customer and practicality concerns drove us to start from scratch. From a customer perspective, what we are doing allows for a lot more flexibility and configurability. Before, our product was template-driven, so you would go on and pick a template. You can make modifications within the template, but you wouldn’t be able to make substantive changes. The way we are reconfiguring things now is that you, as a customer, are entirely in control of your tech. From our perspective, it allows us to be better at our jobs and make more things maintainable.
Daso: After making this decision, how have your customers responded?
Friedman: They responded pretty well. We are now able to reach more types of customers than we were able to before.
Daso: Should founders continuously ask themselves whether they should rebuild their product?
Friedman: Absolutely. There’s always a balance when you are building a startup. There’s the need for speed to grow fast and get that hockey stick growth. Moreover, there’s the need to avoid hitting a plateau in your growth. That’s when you realize that the customer you are chasing is only a tiny customer segment. You start investing in new marketing and sales channels to reach another customer segment to increase your growth.
If you’re trying to build a small company and keep things as is, then that’s possible. If you’re trying to create a larger company, you must allow yourself to make these incremental or transformational changes to your startup. Those are the kind of changes that keep you moving quickly and building something genuinely innovative.
That’s the core of entrepreneurship. Innovating, making creative decisions and responding to customer feedback is all critical, even if it’s not easy.
Daso: How do you encourage another founder that’s in your position to think counter-intuitively their business to improve it?
Friedman: There are two things. One: What is your vision? List out the assumptions you are making. Start testing those assumptions and seeing whether they are valid. That’s where the innovation happens. One of our hypotheses was that a vast majority of the apps would fall into a few core templates that we could provide. We realized that wasn’t the case and that we needed to build something more configurable. The second thing is always talking to your customers. If you’re talking to your customers and they are providing critical feedback, they might not give you the direct answer you need to improve the product, but they can give you clues to what the answer might be. It’s a matter of listening, responding and ensuring that the dialogue between you and your customer never goes stale.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.
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This post was first published on Forbes.