Why we said goodbye to Opendesk Express

The UK-only trial of our express service is coming to an end as we focus on exciting new developments. One year on we can say we’ve learned from the experience, and wanted to share the reasons for retiring Opendesk Express.

When we buy things that are shiny and new we are always drawn to them. They always seem so much more enticing to the slightly shabby thing you hid in a cupboard, so we can always persuade ourselves that we need it even if we don’t.

The same can be said of product development; it’s always much more enticing to move onto the next new shiny feature development card waiting patiently in Trello with your face on it, rather than revisit the outstanding issue of the feature you shipped last month. But an essential part of product management and product growth is knowing when to revisit those features and make the hard decision of calling time on something for the good and success of your product.

As we all know, if we let too many features creep into our product it becomes diluted and quite frankly confusing for our customers. We don’t end up solving the initial customer need we identified, and if this happens we have failed. In order to succeed and deliver a great product it should solve the user’s need in the simplest way possible (with great UX of course) while delivering value to every party involved.

At Opendesk, we’re a young and energetic startup with a super passionate and creative team who are always full of great ideas as to what’s next and what we as a business want to be. One of those ideas that was brought to the table last year was Opendesk Express. Express was scoped on what was identified as a clear customer need - great workspace furniture delivered at a fraction of the industry standard time. We hoped that by offering a curated product collection initially in London, with three of our trusted makers, we could prove a two weeks delivery timeframe via an instant online checkout (compared to the industry standard of 8-12 weeks).

An essential part of product management, is knowing when to call time on something, for the good of the product.

Kirsty, Product Manager at Opendesk

So we ran a keyword campaign for the first week and watched while we had a nice influx of new customers hitting the site and learning about Opendesk and browsing our collection. Interestingly we didn’t get a single Express order, but what we did get was a large increase in quote requests (our traditional model) so we weren’t too concerned.

Due to classic startup struggles of keeping the bank balance in check, we only ran the keyword campaign for one week then turned it off while we went into conservation mode i.e. prepping for a new funding round. But we left Express running to see what happened, plus it was something new and shiny we could talk about and we were proud of that.

A month after it launched we got our first order and we all smiled. Throughout March and April we had a steady amount of orders through the Express channel and concurrently our Quote Requests also maintained their levels, which was great to see. So if nothing else Express had delivered us 4 new versions of products that people wanted and through some nice press coverage helped grow our audience base which had resulted in good growth metrics - just in a different channel.

Then we fell down that hole again of the next new thing and moved onto new challenges (Opendesk has many due to its awesome operating model and mission). Express still existed: for those in the UK it was their default option of how to “checkout” when people landed on a furniture page, but it wasn’t pushing people’s buttons and although we had a few orders here and there it never reached the heights we thought it would. As far as we were concerned it wasn’t doing us any harm so we moved onto other things. At the end of last year whilst doing a lot of work around overall business strategy and vision, we finally took the time to review it, look at what we had learned and ask ourselves these clear questions:

  1. Does this feature add to the core value proposition, and does it deepen our product/market fit?
  2. Does it fit within the rest of our product’s context?
  3. Does the feature have conceptual debt?
  4. Are the usage numbers good enough to justify the feature’s existence? Does it require more development cost to support than it makes?
  5. Does this feature present a liability to other, better features? Does it present a liability to the tech stack?

Unsurprisingly it didn’t answer well on any of the above points and no one in the business could really give a reason as to why we should keep it. Furthermore, every time we got an express order it almost became a burden to serve as it was handled differently to our other requests. We knew something had to give.

I take responsibility over everyone in saying we should have come to this conclusion sooner, and certainly as a small business with lots of stakeholders we are definitely learning how to make these decisions quicker and more efficiently as we move forward.
Luckily, by keeping express running we didn’t do any real damage - as far as we know we didn’t lose customer because of it, it didn’t cost us any extra to keep it running and it didn’t stop us pushing other features. But what it did do was probably add another layer of complexity for our customers and potentially dilute our value offer a little.
In short, we should have responded and reviewed this sooner. The good news is that as a result we’ve become much better at: defining clear specs around why we are doing things, assigning target metrics, reviewing results after shipping, and agreeing as a team to not only focus on the new, but constantly review and iterate on the existing and make tough calls where needed.

Changes are often implemented to make improvements whether that be the customer experience, the product offering or the way in which we operate, which in turn allows the business to improve the value it delivers to the customer. We have been great in making changes by adding something new that we believe adds value, but have been really fearful at realising when something needs killing to increase value.

If we really want to make the Opendesk proposition a reality we have to be focussed on achieving that goal. We never want to be a traditional e-commerce furniture business so we are going to leave that to the companies who are already doing that best. We are going to focus on what we believe in and disrupting the market to do things a little differently - the Opendesk way. That means to bring production back to your neighbourhood and bolster local making, connect customers to independent manufacturing workshops around the world, and thereby build the world’s most equitable and distributed supply chain.

We are going to focus on what we believe in and disrupting the market to do things a little differently - the Opendesk way!

When we shipped Express we knew it was at the far end of where we wanted our customer and product experience to go. The ideal is somewhere in between, whereby you are still requesting quotes but we have built up such a strong network of makers and data that that quote experience could almost be instant, as opposed to what it was when we first launched the marketplace with a waiting time of around five days. We have been working really hard to start to make that a reality through the Marketplace quoting experience and know that most of our makers can also deliver on smaller jobs within our idealised 14 working days - or ever quicker! So with that view we realised that Express is no longer really a value adding offer as the things it offered have now become the norm. So with that in mind, alongside the deep review we did around metrics, performance, tech debt etc. we have decided the time has come to close it.

So, so long Express it’s been a pleasure.