Optimization by accident

Building a startup is tough. There is so much to do and never enough time to do it. As a result, we often have to compromise when making important decisions.

Take the color palette of our site for example. Deciding on the palette was a big decision that would ultimately impact all of our users.

How did we decide on the palette? Did we conduct a user survey, or research the various emotions different colors elicit? Nope. We didn’t have time. After asking a few friends their opinions, we made the executive decision to go with blue and grey. Why? Because we liked blue, and because grey seemed to go well with blue. And after all, Facebook is blue, and they’re successful, so it must be the best color.

This line of reasoning isn’t all that bad. Time is our most important resource, and we can’t afford to endlessly deliberate over every decision.

But this is a slippery slope. Far too often we’ve been guilty of simply copying what other startups do, and assuming (often incorrectly) that the startups we’re copying have inferred all their decisions, when in fact most of them (whether they’ll admit it or not) probably chose to go with blue, because, well… Facebook.

When we were designing the patient profiles on Watsi’s homepage, due to some miscommunication, Jesse truncated the promotion text instead of generating standalone promotion text. So instead of “John needs heart surgery” we had “John needs heart…”

I was a little annoyed. Standalone promotion text is surely better than truncated promotion text. Why? Because Kiva, Kickstarter, and virtually every crowdfunding platform on the internet use standalone promotion text. But we were pressed for time, so we decided to leave the truncated text and fix it later.

Last week we fixed the truncated text, and we A/B tested the change using Optimizely to see how much better the standalone text performed.

The results? The standalone text saw a 35% decrease in click-throughs.

We couldn’t believe it. Our ugly truncated text, which was the result of a miscommunication, actually performed significantly better than the standalone text used by virtually every other crowdfunding platform on the internet.

At the rate we’re growing, this small improvement will result in an increase in donations to the order of tens of thousands of dollars for patients in need. It’s certainly not trivial.

This was a valuable lesson for us. Moving forward, we’re not going to assume anything. And we’re not going to blindly copy other startups no matter how busy we get. Instead, we’re going to test everything.

Look for some exciting things from Watsi.org in the future, perhaps even a rainbow logo, because, well … why not?

Chase Adam

Chase Adam

Connecting people @ Watsi