Aug 262009

What if There’s No Reason to Eat the Dog Food?

What if There’s No Reason to Eat the Dog Food?

There’s an expression in software about producing a product and market testing it — “seeing if the dogs will eat the dog food.”  I’ve heard it mangled many times around the employees of a software company using the software their own company produces as “seeing if the dogs will eat their own dog food.”  This is always true in consumer software and service companies. 

Employees are often the best users, the power users, and the source of the best feedback to the organization about the product and competition.  We certainly saw this phenomenon in spades at MovieFone, where I used to work before starting Return Path.  There was no more of a power user to be found than Andrew, the CEO, and there was a frenzy every Thursday and Friday as employees called into 777-FILM to buy their own tickets for the upcoming weekend.

But what if there’s no reason to eat your own dog food?  What if your software company develops a specific business application that only one or two people inside your company even care about?  Our services are a great example.  One or two people in Marketing, maybe one or two people in Technology, are users.  When I think about some of the web applications we as a company use, the same must be true of their companies as well.

If this is the case with your company, how do you make sure you get that same level of raw feedback from passionate users inside the four walls of your office, and not just from user groups, which are ok but have some inherent problems in terms of their objectivity and representation. 

I’m not sure I have a good answer to this – it’s more of a question to my readers than a prescription.  I’ll happily reblog the best responses!

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  • http://www.returnpath.net Matt Henkel

    My girlfriend has actually been using Campaign Preview for years (much longer than we've been dating) and classifies it as a necessary tool in her development process; I'll occasionally use that relationship to pester her with customer experience questions. While this isn't a scalable solution it does provide some direct, honest, insight between a customer and an engineer.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Extend your four walls. Have every employee "befriend" an end customer and once a quarter get together with them and see how they are using your product. This is especially useful for the non-sales / account management folks.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fred_wilson917 fred_wilson917

    we go through a lot of supernatural acts to use each and every one of our portfolio company's products

    fortunately albert runs dailylit so he can use RP's products

    i trade stocks via etrade so i can use covestor, for example. i would't do that otherwise. i'm not a great stock market investor

    i buy google ads and spend about $300/month on them so i can use clickable

    i'm not sure you can expect your company to do that, but maybe you and your senior mgmt team can do some "unnatural acts"

  • Logan

    I know this comment has nothing to do with your post (which is lovely b-t-dubs) but I'm desperate to get my book published and no publishing company will pick me up (even with agency).

    I know a lot of CEO types go to Nautilus Press, but I don't think I have the money. Does anyone have any suggestions for a less expensive route to self publish?

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