Start being our own clients

We believe in eating our own dog food to help us determine the reliability and usability of the solutions that we offer to our clients. Learn why we’re taking this commitment a step forward and ask yourself if you’re able to do the same.

September 28, 2020
Reading time 5 – 7 minutes

If I were to sum up what we do day-in and day-out, I can say that we create tools for building sites and build a site to sell those tools. It’s not just a wordplay; it’s been our way-to-go since our inception, and we’ll continue to spend most of our time working on making our craft better both for our customers and us.

A great way to do that would be to use the same website building tools that we give to our clients and rely on them to build our website. It seems obvious, so why haven’t we done this until now?

In the last nine years, we built over 30 products and reached more than sixty thousand paying customers. Each one of our products comes as a package consisting of a WordPress theme with starter content to help people get a head start, a set of plugins for additional functionality, and a tool to customize the site according to their needs.

The particularity of each of our products was that it addresses specific niches like restaurants or creatives, and none of them appeal to a digital product store that is our website.

That changed about a year ago. We started to bring all the pieces together from all our products and design a modular system far more adaptable to different use cases. An outcome for this effort is reflected in our Rosa 2 product, a restaurant-specific theme often used to build sites for different industries.

Now that we have a powerful and flexible enough product, we’re ready to bring the system from Rosa 2 to our own site.

Read further to learn more about our commitment to using our own products and ask yourself if you’re able to do the same and what you could possibly gain from it.

The best of both worlds

All of our activity at Pixelgrade resides in two main areas that go in parallel:

  1. Designing and building the most suitable products for our customer’s needs.
  2. Building and extending the website as a system to present, market, sell and offer support for those products.

There are not too many things in common between those two areas, besides the same people that work on them and put the same amount of expertise on the table.

While the products that we build involve a great amount of research from our team to discover the struggles of our current and potential customers, the website is the other way around: we know what we need and we just have to create the necessary tools to make it work.

Now we want to close the circle and start using the products that we sell to our customers right where they have their first experience with us—on our own website.

A tightened feedback loop

Running two projects in parallel is a good strategy when the challenges are different enough, and you want to be able to separate one from the other and make them operate independently. For a while, this worked well for us, especially when our website was not our main channel of distribution, and we used 3rd party marketplaces to sell our products.

Now, we’re at a point where our products reached a safe level of versatility that they could accommodate the needs of our website. And, at the same time, there are great solutions that we developed only for the website that we want to share with our clients—and what better way than building them right into our products?

By closing this circle and building a two-way relationship between our site and our products, we ultimately step in the customer shoes for real.

Besides the regular feedback that we get from our clients via regular one-on-one video calls, support emails, and product reviews, we’re making a new commitment to be at the forefront of using those products, learn and improve them firsthand, and create a common ground to bring more value to our customers.

The first bite tastes excellent

We begin our journey right here on the Upstairs‘ blog homepage. It’s an area that we know inside-out, and a great opportunity to use the broad experience we have in building over ten blogging themes, ranging from simple tools for personal use to complex systems for online magazines.

To kick things off, we designed a tool that generates beautiful blog post layouts starting from a simple (and boring) three-column list of posts to creative and unique styles usually done by professional designers.

How does it work? You simply customize the posts layout by twisting and turning a set of parametric variables until you find the desired solution. It’s like an adventure game where you choose our own path to the treasure.

Playing with the parameters to generate different layout design

Adopting our products and using them daily means we could explore the system first hand, way beyond just testing it. We do that anyway before releasing new features, but when we actually use them in a real context, the mindset and the expectations change. This way, we become more aware and unbending about what works and what doesn’t.

What’s next?

Therefore, the overall intention of this plan is twofold: by using the same set of tools and components, we create the products that we offer to our customers and build the website. We started with the visual layer (as in the example above), but we plan to go up to the server infrastructure, security, and the performance optimization strategies that we have learned along the way.

By taking this route, we are even closer to those of you who spend their money on our work. We will have the chance to understand the reality from the tranches. We will feel on our skin when something breaks, moves slow, defeats the purpose, or, on the contrary, is flawless, highlights the result, and glues the entire experience.

Final thoughts

We live in an era where too many businesses are built to be sold with little regard for the people’s trust and energy invested in supporting those products or services. We believe that it’s important to go a step further than closing a deal and move to the next customer. We believe in accountability for the customer itself, not only for their money.

We know how much it matters for all of us to trust that the product and service provider that we choose will be around for a while, and by making this step, we want to strengthen our commitment that we’re here for the long run.

We are very excited about this step in our journey as a product company. It will be challenging, but we will be better for taking it. Like everything we’ve done so far, we know that open hearts and clear eyes can’t lose.

A question by Oana, marketer at Pixelgrade:
What's the cost of using the product you are selling?

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