Small wins: printers and rubies and sales calls

Series: product dev June 02, 2016

A quick update on some small wins and things I’ve learned while building MoraleApp – a no-hassle, team mood tracker.

Printer friendly styles

Around 10 different customers that took my survey mentioned wanting to print out reports from the app to put up on the wall or bring to a team meeting. Totally reasonable and the app looked terrible when printed (due to a configuration issue that caused the main CSS file to not load when printing).

Styling an app to be printer-friendly is straight-forward, you just need media=print in the link (or use @media printer media queries). The hardest thing is just remembering to do it! A few notes/findings:

  • CSS box-shadows don’t work well, so I turned those off when printing
  • Make sure to remove any unnecessary color to save people ink (i.e. switch gray text to black)
  • Remove navbar/footers/extra application chrome that isn’t needed
  • The page that people wanted to print had several charts and I didn’t want the printer to do a page break in the middle of them. The page-break-inside CSS rule helps the browser know where to put page-breaks, but it’s not an exact science
  • Some browsers default to a setting that disables background images/colors (to save ink). This was a problem since each mood result for a team uses a background image (green, yellow, or red face). I might need to switch those icons to be actual img tags, but in the short term, there is a -webkit-print-color-adjust rule that can be set to exact to include images by default
  • Make sure to test printing in both portrait and landscape – the original responsive design!
  • Chrome allows you to fake out the media queries so you can iterate on the design of your print styles quickly; be sure to check the print preview in all the common browsers
  • Actually print out the reports to check font sizes/margins. It’s a bit tedious but the only way to know for sure!

Getting the app to a clean slate

As I mentioned before, I was dealing with a pile of tech debt from out-dated libraries. I was uncomfortable building many large features before upgrading. And I was worried about upgrading because the app had no tests! A bit of a catch-22 :(

So I leaned into the pain and did the following:

  • Setup a test suite (following must of the recommendations in the thoughtbot testing guide)
  • Wrote high-level, happy path tests with RSpec/Capybara – these are a bit slow, but I wanted full-stack tests that hit the database, router, and rendered real views. Isolated unit tests are great, but they wouldn’t help me figure out breaking issues as I upgraded library versions
  • Pared down the Gemfile – I tried to remove gems that I didn’t really need; less gems => less surface-area for breakage when I bump the Rails version. I removed csv_builder (was generating one CSV file…), bloggy (moved the blog to GitHub Pages and out of the main Rails codebase), xray-rails (a cool thing that I used for about 10 minutes several years ago), watu_table_build (why was I using a weird fork of a weird gem to build tables? who knows!) and a couple other miscellaneous dependencies
  • Upgraded Rails from 3.2 to 4.0 – luckily, Rails has nice migration guides so I wasn’t completely lost. I fixed the broken stuff until the tests were passing
  • Upgraded Ruby from 2.1 to 2.3 – this one should have been painless, but something got screwed up when I installed via ruby-build and rbenv and I ended up with a corrupted CSV module. I have no idea what happened or how, but re-installing ruby was the cure (after several hours of head-scratching)
  • Upgraded Rails from 4.0 to 4.1 – the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time…actually, just don’t eat elephants…
  • Upgraded Rails from 4.1 to 4.2 – more fixes per the migration guides and suddenly everything was green!

It took the better part of a week, but the terrible upgrade that I dreaded was over…and it wasn’t so bad.

Enterprise Sales Engineer

I reached out to a large user and asked about getting them onto an Enterprise plan. I haven’t built out the payment code yet, so I figured large customers that probably want an invoice might be good customers to start with.

A few emails later, I was on the phone with a procurement person and feeling like an impostor. But I kept my cool and, to my delight, the cost was peanuts to this large company and everything went great. Still waiting to finalize all the details, but I made a sale! For a huge plan!

I was dreading doing a sales call so I reframed the call as one afternoon of potential annoyance that would get me one month of runway ($$). Obviously not every call will end with a large sale, but this mentally appealed to me as I work toward a goal of generating enough revenue for this product so that it can “pay” one more person to work on it (instead of client work).

I was a bit down in my check-in meeting because I felt like I wasn’t getting much done the past month. But looking back, there were many small wins and sharing them helped me realize that.

I still struggle a bit with direction: there is so much I could be doing, but nothing urgent that is pulling me. Hopefully, getting the app cleaned up will make it easier to tackle larger efforts that have a clearer focus. Next on the list: building out paid plans and payment infrastructure.

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