CEO update: Always be building

6 min read Amberlie Denny

Andrew Mayfield waxes lyrical about the goings on at Optimal Workshop — makers of a suite of user research tools for your team to start making even better and faster design decisions for your users.

Less tedium, more awesome

Optimal Workshop was founded to make everyday life online easier and more delightful. Of course, that’s the positive way to express it. The real motivation at the time was more along the lines of making life online less tedious, wasteful, and infuriating.

I’ve attempted to dream up ways of measuring the impact we’ve had on overall ’easiness’, but haven’t quite cracked it yet. Our tools are being used by thousands of researchers in more than 100 countries and in over 70 languages so far. The number of people who are using better websites, apps, and products as a result is, well, a lot. We’re so proud to be a part of all the amazing work our caring customers are doing.

Mi casa es su casa

This is a big year for us. We’ve recently moved into a new office that’s more than four times the size of our old church space. We now have space to breathe. For that matter we have room to flap our elbows, walls to pin research on, alternate spaces to work, and a lot of exciting new options for lunch.

In fact, we even have a big room that we’ve set up for hot desks and you’re hereby cordially invited to use it! If you find yourself in Wellington, New Zealand and you use Optimal Workshop, we’d love to host you at our place. We’ll give you a desk, a wifi connection, and take you out for lunch or coffee. All we ask in exchange is that you make time to have a chat about the work you do. If you’re interested in taking us up on this please get in touch.

The Optimal Workshop Headquarters

Build it. Now build it again, properly this time

Toward the end of 2015 we completed a three-year effort to entirely rebuild our software. For the first several years we used a couple of popular development frameworks you’ll have seen before: spaghetti al dente and duct tape.

Think about that for a minute. For three long years we’ve been building things we, and you, already had — but better. Over this time you would have noticed a string of small improvements, but nothing major as most of our work was under the hood. A three-year long feature freeze. We expected it would take 12 to 18 months. It might have if we were starting a fresh company with no customers. However, we already had thousands of busy researchers onboard, and we don’t like dumping massive technical change on people all at once. It’s just not polite.

We worked out how to release bit by bit — new code gobbling the old, one byte at a time. This had many upsides, but it also took a long time to do, and things looked a little odd from time to time. We now understand technical debt in a way we couldn’t before.

The sweetest suite thing

We’re 59% into 2016. So far it has been both exciting and terrifying because the road ahead is no longer laid out so clearly. Rebuilding was easy in that sense. Laborious and at times complex, but easy. Feature parity, but stable, secure, testable, more efficient, and better looking. That was the brief. These days we work to loftier goals like improving experiences everywhere through facilitating better design research. We take needless friction out of life online. We help researchers to put things where they belong so we, the people, can find them with a twinkle in our eye and a bounce in our step.

There’s no one clear way to achieve these things and we’ve all got opinions on the matter. We’re probably all correct (for some measure of correctness) too.

Optimal Workshop researchers hard at work

Far from floundering in our freedom, we’re having a fantastic time. We have three years’ worth of collected feedback about what people want us to do next. So far this year we’ve started rolling out big features like support for teams (historically we’ve been a tool for lone rangers), participant screening, questionnaire-only surveys, Chalkmark’s correct areas and task scoring, OptimalSort’s card ranking, Reframer’s tagging improvements, per-task questions, response filtering, and myriad optimizations, enhancements, clarifications, simplifications, and extensions across the suite.

The road ahead: more and less

We have many exciting things to come as we continue to build out our evergreen suite of user research tools. Upcoming announcements this year will include more oft-requested new features, redesigned workflows, a new tool, new ways of analyzing data in Reframer, team collaboration mechanisms, perhaps built-in A/B testing for Treejack, and more. But also less. Less hassles. Less time spent doing drudge work. Less time switching tools. Less time between wondering and knowing.

Love for the people inside and out

We’re now nine years old and, honestly, I still feel like we’re just getting started. We’ve doubled our team size over the past 18 months; we’re a tight team of 28 superstars spread across the world with people at HQ in New Zealand, and currently based in California, Canada, Ireland, and Guatemala. Now I’m not one to aggrandize my sensationalism. That word, ‘superstar’, came from several team members themselves when talking about coworkers. We have a truly fantastic team of people who really care about what they do.

The Optimal Workshop superstars

Enough of my digression from a tangent: we’ll be double-digits old next year. Eee, gad. We’ve seen steady bootstrappin’ growth: from zero in 2007, through to now, with a gradually steepening incline on the revenue and customer acquisition charts year on year. Not much of a rollercoaster come to think of it, but still quite a thrill. One of the things I’m most excited about is that we now have our own dedicated user research team practicing what we preach and preaching what we practice. They’re researching researchers on a daily basis and it’s been thoroughly inspiring to see it happen.

Anyway that’s it for my mid-year rant. Optimal Workshop loves what you do, and we want our suite of tools to be a friendly and cohesive home for your research. We want to be the place where you and your team find signals in the noise, make sense of your mess, and muster the determination to create meaningful experiences for those in your care. We love working with you all.

Keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks for more exciting changes to the suite.

As always, we’re listening. We’d love to hear from you.