Fog Creek

Lessons Learned from Building Liberio – Interview with Cat Noone

In this interview with Cat Noone, Chief Design Officer at Liberio, we discuss the lessons learned from building Liberio. We cover how they set out to build an MVP that didn’t compromise on User Experience, the usefulness of their private beta and how to keep focussed even when running side projects. We finish with hearing about resources for non-designers interested in product design.

You can learn more about design, startups and tech on her blog.

Content and Timings

  • Introduction (0:00)
  • About Cat (0:24)
  • What is Liberio? (0:40)
  • Building a Quality MVP (1:44)
  • Running a Private Beta (3:16)
  • Having Side Projects (7:45)
  • Recommended Product Design Resources (8:38)

Transcript

Introduction

Derrick:
Today we have Cat Noone, Co-Founder and Chief Design Officer of Liberio. Mentor and creator of plenty of side-projects including DesignerRelationships, Coo and Typoguide. She speaks at conferences and writes about design, startups and tech on her blog at heyimcat.com.

Cat, thank you so much for joining us today. Why don’t you say a bit about yourself?

About Cat

Cat:
I’m a designer, I’m actually Chief Design Officer for Liberio. Yeah, I like to blog a lot about startups and design and tech and all that fun stuff.

What is Liberio?

Derrick:
So I kind of wanted to ask you a bit about Liberio. What is it? Where did the idea come from?

Cat:
So in a nutshell, Liberio is a platform for eBook creation and publishing. We originally started off with you being able to do it right from Google Drive, and then we expanded to OneDrive, DropBox and GitHub and of course, Google Drive.

The idea actually came from my partner, who is the CEO of Liberio. He actually grew up in a publishing family. His family ran a publishing house and so he had this first hand experience of this traditional perspective of publishing and as a result saw what was needed for self-publishers to actually start a career and have a successful career in self-publishing. And previous to that the process to actually create an eBook and actually publish it was extremely convoluted. So, we simplified it.

Building a quality MVP

Derrick:
You’ve blogged before about MVP quality, and the importance of not skipping over User Experience from the outset. How did you approach building Liberio with that in mind?

Cat:
Well, so I think the biggest thing is that User Experience isn’t something to be skipped over. It’s not like this one part of the entire process in the produce that you tackle, kind of like visuals. User Experience is the entire thing. It’s your visuals, it’s your copy, it’s everything. So for us, from the beginning we said that we wanted to create something that people can relate to, that feels personal, clear copy, super simple, easy to use for the average person. We didn’t want it to be something that only people in tech could understand. You know, or people that were tech-savvy like designers or engineers. We wanted students using our platform, and teachers, and the average Mom. Whoever, it doesn’t matter. So we went into it with that in mind. Making it as simple as possible, clear and concise copy, you know, nothing that is confusing. And of course the last bit is beautiful visuals, or as beautiful as possible. And nothing is perfect, it’s not close to being perfect and it probably never will be, but we’re working towards it.

Running a Private Beta

Derrick:
So you have a Private Beta, how useful was it and how did it influence your product?

Cat:
Super useful. It gave us so much more insight than we would have received than if we had just launched and thrown it out there. We took six months to look at what everyone on the platform was doing and made a point to reach out. Whether it was just emails from us as a whole, or personal emails that we sent out to just say ‘hey, what are you having trouble with? We will help you. What do you want? More importantly, what do you need? And that’s what we got out of the private beta, was what exactly was needed as a self-publishing author, and where do the troubles, the error and the frustrations typically lie when it comes to this entire process? So for us, it was beyond useful.

Derrick:
So up until then, how did you know when the product was ready for launch?

Cat:
I think once the platform really started growing. The numbers were increasing daily, and weekly and monthly. Feedback was increasing, the amount of eBooks being created and published. Every single thing we could measure was increasing, and the complaints of the entire process started turning in to feedback, positive feedback for what we were providing. And at that point we said ‘ok, lets get it out there, we have as much feedback as we think we’re going to have in a private beta, lets push it out, and of course even after we’re going to push it out we’re going to iterate on the product, so lets do it’ and we pulled the trigger.

Derrick:
What was that launch like for you?

Cat:
It was nerve-wracking and it was exciting. I think at that point for us we were just super-excited for everyone else to see it. You know, for me personally, sitting behind a screen and designing it and talking to everyone. It was like this big secret that everyone knew I was working on but didn’t have a chance to see it. And I knew that there were so many more self-publishers that would find it useful. Not only self-publishers but students and teachers, you know Liberio is big in the class room, so we really wanted to push that out. After that, after we did, yeah it was big, it was exciting, it’s doing pretty well, can’t complain. So I guess it was pretty successful. I mean it has changed a lot since, there’s a lot being worked on. We’ve received a ton of feedback after launching, that we didn’t receive in private beta, so I think it was the best decision.

Derrick:
How did you start getting that feedback from people after the launch?

Cat:
So I think when we were in private beta, we of course made a point to reach out to the people. But after launching to the public, a lot more people were willing to actually share that feedback. Of course bugs popped up, things broke, so we heard from people of course when things go wrong. But a lot of people actually reached out and said ‘hey, you know, I love this, this is one of my favourite things, I would also like to see this, I also need this, I also just want this.’ So we took the wants and the needs, we separated them and used them to prioritize and used that to validate what we already have on our road map. And we’ve been going from there since.

Derrick:
Was there anything else that, sort of, helped you keep focussed on the original problem that you were set to solve?

Cat:
Just the fact that we know that that’s something that we’re solving but there’s this funnel to self-publishing and we’re trying to solve the eBook creation and publishing, but we know that there’s more that comes with self-publishing. So now we’re trying to work on that, while continuing to work on trying to make the product as simple as possible. Always looking for ways to make it as easy as possible to create and make a beautiful eBook. There’s still these sub-sections to the platform that can be improved and that’s really what we’re focussing on.

Having Side Projects

Derrick:
You’ve got a number of side-projects going on, how do you find the time to work on these and how do you think they help you?

Cat:
So obviously working on Liberio takes up the majority of my time. And so the side projects happen, you know, late in the evenings or on the weekends when I have the spare time to actually sit down in front of a computer, or have the want to sit in front of a screen. But yeah, for me, they are not a priority but are something I do for fun and to better myself as a designer, as a product person. Learn, grow, so I mean for me it’s not something that I do every single day, I think for me that would totally burn me out because at that point is becomes a big project, not a side project.

Recommended Product Design Resources

Derrick:
What are some resources you can recommend for people that want to learn more about product design?

Cat:
I think for me, obviously I do a lot of reading, and I pay a lot of attention to Twitter. That’s where most of the content that I read comes from. And I’m really, really picky about who I follow. And I like following people who share insights and who can help me grow as a person and as a designer. So I think, yeah, really pay attention to who you follow, follow people who share some really insightful stuff, oh and read. Do you best to read, learn and above all, more so than reading, just do it. You have to do it, practice, throw something together and I think you’ll be golden from there.

Derrick:
Cat, thank you so much for joining us, taking the time out of your day, I really appreciate it.

Cat:
Thanks for having me.