Use/Build Tools for Yourself

Saverio, Oct 15

One of the things that we've been focusing on lately has been building tools to better manage our products and services. It's amazing what a well designed tool can tell you about your business. When I say "tool", I'm referring to an application. Whether it be a web app, a desktop app or even a simple spreadsheet, creating a good "tool" that can help you leverage data that you've collected, or even help you collect data to analyze is a great thing to have.

For example, our F-MyLife application leverages multiple ad networks to fill it's inventory. It currently uses the AdWhirl SDK to do this and it worked great for a while; however, our buddies over at MobClix built a much better ad aggregation platform with far more networks and we've since moved most of our traffic to MobClix so they can manage it. Since the AppStore is a pain in the ass and getting an update out would have taken weeks, we were able to allocate all of our traffic to MobClix via AdWhirl and MobClix's new platform was able to handle everything from there. We ran our ads like this for over a month and then we started noticing a dropoff in our revenue. We scrambled to find out what the problem was, but since we were filtering through data from multiple networks, it was nearly impossible to put two and two together.

We decided that in order to analyze all of this data and really see connections between everything, we were going to need to build something. So Shaun spent a few nights working on a web application that pulled in all of our data from all of our networks so it could be analyzed and displayed in a readable format along with some charts. This was a huge life saver. After reviewing the reports that we built for ourselves, we noticed a huge problem with our click-through rates and began working with everyone to resolve them.

Had we not built this tool, we probably would of never known the real cause of the issue. In fact, had we built this tool a month ago, we would of identified the bug earlier and we could have fixed it.

You don't always need to "roll your own solution" though. There are tons of products and services out there designed to fix problems just like yours, you just need to research them and set them up. A similar scenario occurred with our servers. We run FML/TWI & ProTip on Amazon's EC2 infrastructure and we monitor everything with Pingdom. The other night, we had a 6 hour downtime between 2am EDT and 8am EDT. The problem was remedied by a simple lighttpd restart; however, during that time, we lost a lot of revenue. This wasn't the first time that this happened either! So, yesterday, we setup Scoutapp to keep an eye on our server load and monitor some other metrics (like MySQL). When we woke up, we were greeted with a bunch of alerts from Scoutapp telling us that we had 1 SQL query which was taking an awfully long time to run and bogging down the server. We logged in, identified the query, figured out why it was taking so long to run and remedied the problem by adding an index to one of our tables. Done!

If it weren't for Scoutapp, we would of had to manually log into each server, every morning and manually check the slow query logs. This is painstaking and given that we're a small company with hundreds of things in the works at any given time, we don't have the free time available to check logs. Scoutapp saw a problem, let us know about it, and we fixed it. A tool saved our ass yet again.

This happens over and over in the software development business. After you're done with the product, and it makes you a little bit of money, you NEED to build or setup tools that can help you manage your new business. If you don't, you'll spend all of your time managing your first product instead of working on your next.

Heartbeat was the first tool we built to manage our AppStore products. It's been a great asset to us and after having had over a year of experience on the AppStore, we're working on Heartbeat 3.0 which will incorporate all of the knowledge that we've gained through the past year.

It seems counter-productive when you're a small company, but that's when these little things help the most. You don't have the time to do it all, so it's important to automate as much of your business as possible. Services like Pingdom and Scoutapp have helped us maintain uptime on our servers. Others like Sifter and Tender have helped us keep track of bugs and deal with support issues from our customers.

There are a ton of other products and services out there that can help you run your business. If you can't find one to meet your specific needs, spend some time, and build your own. Trust me, you'll thank yourself in the long run.

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