How Patent355 leveraged realistic prototypes & behavioral science to unlock Yearly's next level of growth
Yearly provides a software platform and services that enable more than 2,000 marketing and fundraising leaders to design their own annual and impact reports. Founded in 2019 in Bethesda, Maryland.
"Patent355’s work had tangible ROI. Their work doubled our month-over-month growth and moved us up market. My only regret is not working with them sooner." – Jeff Rum, Co-Founder @ Yearly
Seeing promising signs of organic growth, but slowed down by buggy and clunky user experience.
Building a startup is a journey filled with ups and downs – during the COVID-19 pandemic co-founders Josh Kligman and Jeff Rum made the decision to open up the Yearly platform to be free for the community.
That brought Yearly a lot of attention and a lot of traffic, but also surfaced a new problem.
As more users signed up to build reports, the approach to product development used to build the first version of the product was causing friction for new signups.
"We would get a lot questions from customers who'd be like, 'Hey, I don't know how to do this' or, 'I don't know how to do that. Or, why is this here?' The platform was getting buggy and it was just clunkier because we kept adding things."
Those bugs weren’t just causing issues for customers but the Yearly team as well.
"We were spending a lot of our time on customer service and handholding and helping them actually use the tool when, if the tool were just much better, we could step away from that and actually spend our time on growing the business."
To add new features and make product improvements, Yearly had been working with freelance and agency development resources but the velocity of shipping was slow and these outsourced vendors needed a lot of direction and clear requirements to be able to write production ready code.
"We noticed as we were improving the tool, we were adding a lot of stuff, but we weren't taking a step back and thinking, how does this impact the entire platform? How does this impact the user experience of Yearly?"
Co-Founder Jeff Rum was at a tipping point. Invest more in their existing development resources to create more mockups before building features. Or embrace a different approach to building product at Yearly.
"We knew that user experience was going to be a really important part of this platform moving forward. We wanted to make sure that now three years later from when we started it, Yearly really was meeting the needs of the audience."
Faced with these challenges, Yearly needed a better way to identify opportunities and validate features without adding bloat to the product and bugs to the support queue. A solution that enabled them to move faster, with confidence.
“We hadn't really reevaluated from an audience centric perspective. Was Yearly still filling the need and if so, was the platform itself as it's built currently, helping our customers in the best way possible?”
Rapid prototypes built with real code and behavioral science.
Yearly discovered Nate Andorsky and the Patent355 team and immediately embraced their approach to continuous in-market resonance testing to drive key product decisions.
The Patent355 process of research, validation, and acceleration transformed Yearly’s previously lagging development cycle into an insight generating engine validating features with interactive customer experiences backed by real in-market data.
The process completely changed how we identify what to build and take features to market.
"We had considered bringing on a more junior developer who has a UX background, or a consultant that could help us with some user interviews and then try to work with our internal resources to cobble all that together. But ultimately, with Patent355 it was very helpful in having us think through like the value of following the full process they have."
By starting with an in-depth product assessment, the Patent355 team uncovered new insights about customers and was able to identify the highest impact, lowest-lift opportunities for the Yearly team who were already spread thin across multiple projects.
This initial research provided clarity around Yearly’s primary users, and provided direction for additional user research to validate the pains and needs of each person and create growth experiments that could be prototyped and tested quickly before over committing resources.
"Nate knew how to push us. He knew how to move things along. So aside from all the great work that he did, and his knowledge and experience, he also knew how to get from point A to point B to point C in working with a startup where it's founders are working a million hours a day."
By using user insights to clearly define the problem to solve and lifelike prototypes to explore possible solutions, the Yearly team was able to avoid relying on their gut and provide clearly defined requirements (and real code) to the development team.
The Patent355 team also provides Yearly with a system to integrate qualitative customer research as part of the company’s DNA going forward to mitigate the likelihood of building features customers never use and instead continue to create a “life like” experience leveraging for new features requests and validate these requests prior to building.
New customer insights uncovered and turned them into working prototypes in just 2 weeks.
Patent355 has been much more than a hired development vendor blindly shipping features to the Yearly team.
In fact, because the Patent355 process starts with identifying customer needs and quickly prototyping potential solutions, they were able to share real in-market data about what resonates and what doesn’t – greatly reducing the risk of investing expensive time and effort building the wrong thing.
"Unlike many consultants that I've worked with in my career, Nate really does feel like he has a seat at our leadership table. He really made us feel like he was part of the team and he cared a lot about the work at that level, and that meant a lot to us."
Thanks to Patent355 Yearly now has a repeatable process in place for customer-centered product development, Yearly is now able to confidently deliver the right features, faster.
And they aren’t only increasing shipping velocity by focusing on the right features.
Patent355 was able to actively remove work from the development cycle by providing prototypes built in real code with Tailwind and Vue.js instead of static design mockups in Sketch or Figma that needed to be translated to working code.
"…not just a pretty set of design file mockups, but actually coded, interactive prototypes that Vince [Yearly’s development lead] was then able to take and manipulate, to the point where it was a fully functioning feature in a matter of weeks."
With so many decisions validated before shipping new features, the Yearly team is freed up to spend more time growing the business instead of answering repetitive support tickets and fighting fires.
"Every month we were getting more customers than the month before, and we saw this trajectory. At the same time, we knew that our tool was mediocre. There's still a lot of work we need to do and I figured, what if we had a really superior platform that could like totally change the dynamic because instead of getting a new customer every day, what if we got five new customers every day that would, that would impact the business tremendously."
Jeff recommends Patent355 for startups looking to unlock new growth and de-risk their product development process with a customer centered approach, before jumping into more feature development.
"If you have a house that's on shaky ground, you can keep putting band-aids on here and there and trying to fix little things, but if the foundation isn't strong, you need to invest in fixing the root of the problem, rather than just kind of like patch."