The current market uncertainty for startups is likely leading many companies – even those who were pursuing aggressive growth and product expansions- to reconsider their plans. All companies inevitably face challenges as they work to innovate, grow their businesses, and develop and distribute products. When you’re a young company or the investment climate is tight, these challenges are simply heightened, with fewer resources available to pursue these goals. The real task is learning how to achieve more with less.
Smart leaders should always be thinking this way, even in good times. It’s never a bad idea to make decisions that reduce error and create opportunities. Reframed through this lens, perhaps now is a good time to test conventional thinking. How can a company make the most from the resources they have? How can you make good technology and product choices that don’t sacrifice user experience when you don’t have an unlimited budget?
I and the other creators of the mobile app for Hamilton: The Musical asked ourselves these questions back in 2017. The answers, discovered through the process of this unique project, taught us three lessons useful for leaders who are realizing they need to rethink some of their strategies as they navigate today’s business climate – or any startup climate for that matter.
These lessons are detailed below. But first, some background.
Not Throwing Away Our Shot
The Hamilton show was a blockbuster; as the producers began to plan their national tour, they wanted an app to expand engagement with their audience. HamFans are a passionate group, and the show is a masterpiece — so the app had to be something special and worthy of the brand.
At the time, the market conditions were very different than they are now, and few things were hotter than Hamilton. But they we not your typical technology company with a dedicated in-house engineering team nor was a massive investment in technology something common on Broadway. To complicate matters, there was an extremely tight deadline for launch. So, we were going to need to make compromises to deliver on time and on budget.
Additionally, while many new apps launch on a single mobile platform first (typically iOS) to reduce the initial investment, it was important to the Hamilton team that everyone had access to the same experience at launch — no matter the mobile device or operating system.
Of course, the Hamilton app also was shooting to launch with a robust set of features, which is a very tall order when pursuing iOS and Android apps simultaneously. Developers typically need to build a separate set of features for each platform, doubling the time and budget investment needed.
So, to summarize — the Hamilton team had an appetite to build something special that created a lot of value for its fanbase in the context of a tight deadline, a long list of features, and the need to create an equal experience on both iOS and Android.
Thankfully, we found our game-changing solution: Flutter, a Google-created, open source framework that enables development of apps for multiple platforms from a single code base. Also thankfully, the Hamilton team was open to using Flutter despite it being a very new technology at the time. Flutter app development has exploded since then. Google reported that more than 500,000 apps now use Flutter compared to 50,000 just two years ago.
Working with Flutter, we were able to deliver all the requested features, on schedule, on budget, for all platforms, launching the Hamilton app within three months. The project became an early proof point of what was possible with Flutter. This success led us to reflect on how this scenario pushed our thinking beyond the established norms and ultimately helped trigger a new ecosystem of app development.
Three lessons struck us as most important – and they’re even more resonant today as tech leaders face an uncertain market and difficult choices.
1) Don’t compromise your vision.
Tight deadlines and resource constraints should not alter your fundamental vision. Rather, a leader’s vision should be based on the value and the experience their company offers to its customers and community. When they commissioned their app, Hamilton’s producers didn’t lower their standards. They stuck to their vision. They were right to do so. Everyone, especially their app’s users, benefited.
2) When you’re in a tough environment, push yourself to think outside of the box.
It is always daunting when facing the challenge of delivering a product and hitting your goals against aggressive timelines and budgets. Instead of immediately thinking about what needs to hit the cutting room floor – what if those constraints could instead fuel innovation? Pausing to reassess the path forward and being open to exploring potential new solutions can be extremely powerful. Have you tapped the full intellectual capital of your team? Are there new tools that can be leveraged? What else haven’t you considered yet?
In this instance, the Hamilton team didn’t allow the traditional iOS vs. Android paradigm to bog them down in binary platform-specific thinking. Their open minds inspired our collective team to explore new solutions to problems that most people embraced as the status quo.
3) When you find a tool that can change the paradigm, be willing to take a leap of faith.
The app launched in 2017, when Flutter was still in its infancy. The Hamilton team’s vision and creative thinking, however, inspired us to look for a tool that would satisfy their needs on time and within budget. We concluded it was worth the calculated risk to commit to Flutter because it was our “one shot” to meet all of their goals. Had we not been willing to take the leap of faith, we wouldn’t have had that chance to knock it out of the park for our client.
Taking the leap also impacts others beyond your company. The Hamilton app was the first commercial app built outside of Google using Flutter. It legitimized Flutter as a production-ready solution for countless teams and developers. Ever since, Flutter has grown rapidly and is now the most popular multi-platform framework for app development.
No matter what the business cycle brings tomorrow, it’s always a good climate to stick to your values, explore new and creative options, and take a risk. No matter what obstacles come at you, don’t throw away your shot.