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Lessons learned dogfooding Circula

Dogfooding - or eating your own dog food - refers to the process of using your own product within the organization.

It helps organizations stay in touch with the current state of their product and serves as a powerful tool for product feedback. We launched Circula end of last year and have been dogfooding since then, and would like to share with you today what we‘ve learned from doing it.

Our internal setup, and first learning.

While most of the Circula team is located in our office in Berlin Mitte, the finance and accounting functions are centrally managed in the Munich offices of Finparx, our startup incubator. While onboarding them, we faced the first challenges:

  • Managing multiple company accounts - as finance and accounting is centrally handled for multiple ventures by the same team - came up as a new requirement.
  • We had not yet worked with the accounting system the finance team was using, Diamant.
  • The team had an existing process in place and we first had to understand how Circula would fit into.

Eventually these issues were resolved, but what they taught us was that we had to systematically engage with our customers to understand their internal setup.

Learning: implement a discovery process as early as possible to learn the specificities of the setup of your prospects and customers

Use, learn, fix. Repeat.

Once everyone got setup, the most exciting part came: using the product!

Since our product is an expense management solution, there are no restrictions as to who should use the product internally. Anyone in the team can create an expense - so long as it is work related - and the occasions to use the product have been diverse over time. Since we started dogfooding we‘ve been using Circula for business travel, office purchases, company events (TGIFs, BBQs, other events in the office), SaaS subscriptions… the list goes on and with each case always came additional learnings.

For example:

  • Out of the initial scope, allowing users to delete submitted expenses came as an internal request several times. We just happened to submit expenses with mistakes or too early and it became obvious building this feature would make sense not only to us, but to our users.
  • Similarly, some of us got annoyed with the fact that they could not easily review the information on the receipt or invoice directly in the app once they had snapped it. So we went for it and added a button allowing you to view your receipt (picture or uploaded PDF) throughout the submission process.

The quality of the feedback we got through this internal channel was higher than with customers in user interviews for the following reasons:

  • Employees take the time to express their request as clearly as possible, even going up to suggesting how the feature should look like to the Product team.
  • With your employees, it is easier to talk transparently about the motives behind the request. With customers this is sometimes more difficult.
  • You can show multiple versions of your prototype to your employees.

Learning: dogfooding not only means you‘re constantly doing QA - you are allowing yourself to discover adjacent use cases and new feature ideas with feedback of generally higher quality

Spicing it up: bug hunt and more

You are not fully tapping into the potential of dogfooding until everyone is onboard. In order to achieve this, you might want to add a few incentives so that your entire team actively participates.

Our tactic here has been to set up occasional bug hunts and feature release testing challenges. The principle is dead simple: whoever finds more bugs or comes up with the most valuable piece of feedback will be rewarded at the end of the day. These not only allowed to increase our rate of people dogfooding and providing feedback, they also set a small challenge within the team.

Learning: Do not expect your team to dogfood your product by itself. Implement incentives to ensure that as many team members as possible participate in the process.

Dogfooding at Circula has been a fruitful initiative from the start that we will carry on and further develop in the future. We hope these tips will help other companies properly implement and benefit from this practice

Lessons learned dogfooding Circula
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