2/14/2014— Kelsey Breseman
Last Thursday, we sent out a difficult announcement. We had just discovered a bug mandating a re-run of our hardware. It was not just expensive, problematic, and disappointing to us, but was also likely to cause delays.
It’s hard to announce bad news. It’s much more fun when we get to announce exciting progress. (Tessel can post over https! Tessel can now run Express!) But it’s our responsibility to tell our backers if their product might be delayed, and it’s their right to know why.
So we pulled ourselves together and wrote about the issue as clearly as we could. Then, not without trepidation, we sent the email explanation out to our supporters.
We couldn’t have received a better response. There was nothing but supportive emails and tweets, solicitous encouragement from people who had given us money for a product we would not deliver on time.
Why did we receive such a positive response?
I think the answer to that question has to do with transparency: openness and honesty as a company.
Why keep an open company?
Openness in a company’s relations with its customers, supporters, and public, is humanizing. It’s simple: We want to treat you– the mass of people who interact with our information– like people. That includes respect and forthrightness, and an assumption that you will treat us like people too. That’s the goal of transparency: mutual understanding and respect through shared knowledge.
Undersharing and oversharing
Transparency is difficult to achieve, just from a logistical standpoint. If we don’t share anything about ourselves, you won’t know anything about us. This is non-obvious. We think about Tessel 24/7; it takes conscious effort to remember that other people don’t. It takes a lot more effort to encapsulate our thoughts and state of affairs into information bytes which we can pass on to you.
The other piece is trying to figure out what we should tell you. What information is important enough that you will want to hear about it? We don’t want to flood your inboxes with every small success or setback, but we also want you to feel like you’re in the loop.
Our strategies for transparency
People have responded well to our openness. We’ve had our backers tell us that they feel like a part of the team, which is an excellent compliment. Here’s what we’re doing:
We send update emails to backers every two weeks. These biweekly digests include technical progress, company news, and a list of recent blog posts. These go to people who have pre-ordered our products. If you’re waiting for your Tessel, you probably care about our progress towards getting it to you. Once in two weeks is low-key. It’s infrequent enough that you probably won’t get annoyed and unsubscribe, but frequent enough that you feel up-to-date.
Major news, we send infrequently to our major mailing list. There are around 14,000 people who have signed up on our website to get updates about Technical Machine. Most of those people haven’t bought Tessels, so we assume they’re less invested than our backers. We reserve this list for announcements such as new products, retailers carrying our products, etc.
If you want to stay informed on your own time, you can check out our status page. It shows how far along we are on our software and hardware. It’s not perfect, though. We try to keep it up to date, but don’t always remember. For the sake of simplicity, it doesn’t cover everything that needs to happen before we ship, such as the design and creation of a first run experience, or the minutiae of supply chain. But it is useful to have a page that always shows our approximate status.
The blog. I’ve talked about the value of the blog before. It’s a quick insight into single subjects we’ve been thinking about lately. It’s also a choose-your-own-adventure into your engagement with us: if you love it, you can put it on RSS. If you only want the need-to-know, you can pretend the blog doesn’t exist.
People email us all the time to ask for more details surrounding our products. We respond with the most up-to-date information we have, and often in more detail than you can find on our website. If there’s something we haven’t posted, it is likely because we haven’t thought of posting it. We don’t want to have secrets; we want to be an open company. By answering your emails fully and your tweets publicly, we try to keep ourselves accountable to this standard.
All the best,