Pivoting a million dollar startup

The story of how Jonathan Norris and the team behind Taplytics pivoted to DevCycle

17 January 2024

For most founders, landing Fortune 500 customers like GrubHub, Warby Parker & RBC Royal Bank is the definition of success. Imagine then, telling these customers that you're pivoting from your successful product to focus on something new. But that's exactly what Jonathan did - deprecating Taplytics and launching DevCycle.

Why pivot a successful business?

Taplytics is a broad A/B testing platform for marketing teams. While DevCycle is a feature flagging tool built for developers. Taplytics actually has feature flagging, but DevCycle is much more focused and plans to compete directly with incumbents like LaunchDarkly by building a better developer experience (more on how later). But with Taplytics they built so many features and every customer was using them in a different way that it became hard for such a small team to maintain. Meanwhile, feature flagging is a much narrower problem where most customers will have similar use cases. In addition, Taplytics required lots of face-to-face time selling to executives, while DevCycle is more of a bottoms-up, self-serve sales process. Finally, we didn't cover it in the interview but feature flagging is a huge market. LaunchDarkly was valued at $3billion in 2021.

How did DevCycle make the pivot?

Have good relationships with your big customers - they were able to bring many of their customers on the journey with them.There was two-way trust, and they struck me as a very transparent team.

Ensure continuity for your customers - For feature flagging, they shared that DevCycle would be a direct (better) replacement. For Taplytics other features, they communicated clearly and shared alternatives (such as OneSignal) while also continuing to maintain the Taplytics platform for those customers who are still in-progress of migrating over. With this approach, Jonathan shared that they were able to bring almost all their key customers with them.

What does developer experience mean?

I have a healthy scepticism of founders claiming they will win with developer experience. In 60+ DevTools interviews, I don't think I've ever heard someone say developer experience wasn't crucial, but the reality is that very few companies create great developer experiences. So when Jonathan shared that he would beat the incumbents by building a better developer experience. I asked him what he really meant by developer experience.

It's not about building the flashiest and most marketable features. Your focus is on building a great core product that delights more than frustrates. As an example, they spent months on a custom testing system to ensure the consistency and quality of their server-side SDK. The team even jokes about having a landing page that just says, "DevCycle, well tested."

It's about continually iterating on the core features. Iterating on core features can be boring when compared to shipping new things. So they have a specific team focused on their core features

Open-source & standardise interfaces - DevCycle tries to make every piece of software that their clients install open source. With CNCF, they are leading a project called OpenFeature - a vendor-agnostic interface for feature flagging.

Overall, this was a very brave decision to make and only time will tell if it was the right call. However, I do believe that their commitment to quality and focus is credible given the tough decision they made.

P.S. I'm a lazy writer, so I condensed this write-up to just Jonathan, even though the conversation also included the equally great Andrew MacLean & Brad Van Vugt. You can hear them in the full episode at the top.

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