It's easy to tell entrepreneurs they should release versions of their digital product quickly and then iterate based on user feedback.
But it can be brutally painful to actually follow this advice, especially if it means iterating a product that already has a large, opinionated fan base.
Case in point: Last November GateGuru re-launched its mobile app, and things did not go as smoothly as the founders would have liked.
This story is notable because GateGuru is second only to TripIt in popularity in the travel category for iPhone. That popularity translates to about 140,000 travelers using the product each month, on average.
Here's what went down with the app, in the words of CEO and co-founder Dan Gellert:
As soon as the update landed in the App Store, a minority of users (but a very vocal one), were upset that we now required a user to add a flight in order to search by airport amenities (we got tens of thousands of emails, tweets, facebook posts and app store reviews about this).
We pretty quickly added back that functionality.
Even with that functionality back, it became clear that the update, while visually very attractive, was causing confusion for a larger pool of users. The user interface and experience were not as simple as they needed to be and even casual interactions took upfront thought.
In light of user reaction, the GateGuru team went back to the drawing board and gave a thorough overhaul to the iPhone app, which it recently launched.
On April 26, Apple approved the latest version of GateGuru and made it available in its App store. (A refresh for the Android version is in the works.)
Gellert is proud of the company's latest update:
We've created a product that visually is incredibly strong, but even more important brings back the simplicity that people have always loved about GateGuru.
It also adds better support for people that are just looking for airport information while also bringing a stronger version of the JourneyCard / Day-of travel concept to the forefront of the product.
GateGuru is planning further improvements, including a true “virtual assistant” feature that should make traveling a bit more bearable.
Off to a promising start
The latest revamp seems to be off to a promising start. More than 72 hours have passed since the app's release, and there hasn't been an avalanche of negativity similar to what poured in during the first 72 hours of the previous update.
Looking ahead, GateGuru plans to add a "virtual assistant" feature to its app within by end of 2014, offering similar and possibly superior day-of-travel advice than what Google Now and other location-aware, predictive push-information apps will provide.
For example, GateGuru hopes that, once it has a hold of a user's itinerary, the app will send push notifications with relevant day-of-travel recommendations, such as advance word about the exact time a traveler needs to head to the airport to catch his or her flight.
GateGuru faces stiff competition from other apps, such as TripIt Pro, FlySmart, Flight+, Google Now and Grokr as well as OTA and metasearch apps from companies such as Kayak, Expedia, Priceline that appear to also want a piece of the predictive app, day-of-travel market.
As the GateGuru story shows, it can be effective to release a product quickly to hear user feedback.
For instance, the founders learned that users wanted to make flight and airport information more rapidly accessible with fewer screen taps.
Often, software developers will discover that their customers have different problems and pain points than anticipated. It can be more efficient to receive this feedback quickly than be led astray by outdated conventions or by attempting to polish tricks that are superficially impressive but not vital to users.
That said, it can take nerves of steel to have that conversation with users.