Putting Together the Core
John Borden | February 15, 2018
Let’s begin by pointing out that you may have noticed some of the blog posts have gone missing. Don’t worry, they’re still here, we just moved them to a special archive section of the site. You can find them right here.
That answers the question of where the old blog posts went, but it doesn’t answer the question of why we moved them there.
It’s a hard thing building a thing like Business Toybox. We’re not just referring to the technical challenges, but also the challenge of building a tool through the same lens that’s used to design a game. From this lens it’s much easier to get things wrong, much easier to stumble. From this lens all the code could be working just fine but the product still broken because of a failing in the designed experience.
And oh boy did we stumble.
Regardless, we kept moving forward, and you all seemed pretty interested nonetheless in this weird experiment where we attempted to mix the mundane world of business development and customer validation with the much more interesting subject of gaming. So we kept going. It wasn’t until recently that we decided to drop any cargo from our metaphorical ship so we go a little faster, and focus on what really matters.
The red-hot core that is Business Toybox.
We’re close enough to that moment of completion that we decided it was time to do some house-cleaning that was not directly related to the product itself. Namely, we’ve been improving our website by tiny little increments. One of those house-cleaning tasks was to move all the old blog posts, with all their awkward stumbles, to a different section of the site. This is the start of something new.
Journey to the Journal
So what exactly lies at the core of Business Toybox?
At first, the core was the Canvases, those boards that you see within your first few moments of working with Business Toybox. They’re pretty important. The very first version of Business Toybox was designed essentially as a digital equivalent of the Business Model Canvas. The difference was that it would be much more visual so that people wouldn’t see just another piece of paper coated thick with sticky notes that lose most of their meaning not long after you write something on them. Canvases would be something different.
This didn’t solve the core problem of people filling out one of these canvases and then never really returning to revise them. This is important, because your very first version of a business model for your idea is usually pretty wrong for a variety of reasons. Maybe you got your customer demographic wrong. Maybe getting things up and running costs more than you realize. Maybe people simply don’t care about that thing you think is super important. Whatever, doesn’t matter, point is Business Toybox needed more than just Canvases.
That’s where the idea for Sprints comes into the the product.
Sprints are influenced by the sprints that agile software teams already use to organize their work-rhythms around, and also by the design sprints Google Ventures uses to rapidly test prototypes. The idea was simple: give teams a place where they can focus on solving a defined problem, along with some tools which will help them solve it. For the latter, Sprints were designed so that the creation of a Sprint is designed to make you stop and think about the problem you were defining as well as how long you could be expected to solve it. Sprints were also designed so that there was a dedicated space to talk about the problem you were trying to solve. Later on, they would even come with the ability to create and share forms to collect feedback.
That still wasn’t enough.
So, we added the ability to Evaluate just how well your Sprints performed, as well as evaluate how they impacted your changing Canvas. You could change your Canvas at any time you wanted, but now there was a special space to say which parts of your Canvas were actually validated by evidence, as well as which parts were invalidated. The extra splash of color also allowed you to see at-a-glance just how much validation your business model actually had behind it as the tokens on your Canvas changed colors over time.
We were getting close, but there was still this one extra thing needed to bring together the core of the Business Toybox experience. That thing is your Journal
How the Journal Works
Originally the Journal was given a much more mundane name. It was called the Archive. The idea of an archive is a pretty standard idea in the world of online software. It’s a store of records. It’s also a limbo where data isn’t quite dead or deleted, but isn’t quite alive either. It’s the sort of place that prompts me to wonder if information can suffer the way ghosts do.
The point is, the Journal is not an archive.
An actual journal is kinda like an archive, but we never think of it as such. An archive is used for safe-keeping, a journal is used for reflection and to keep track of our thoughts on both our metaphorical as well as literal journeys. Sometimes we write things in our Journal and never look back at them. Sometimes we do. When we do look back, it’s often a useful exercise to reflect on what we learned and what we’re still figuring out.
The Business Toybox journal takes a few notes from this idea to build something slightly different. It works by keeping a record of all the old Sprints you’ve completed. The way we list Sprints here is a little different. Not only do we show you how long they lasted and when they “lived”, but also how long it took to go from finishing a Sprint to evaluating the results of it and closing it for good. That last part is pretty important, ideally as you get better at using Business Toybox you would shorten the time it takes to evaluate the results of a Sprint and it’s impact on your Business Model.
When you go in for a closer look, you see something that looks a lot like your Canvas, but not quite. It’s actually something we call a Snapshot. Behind the scenes we preserve your Canvas and the tokens on it when certain key events occur. Right now there’s only two: when a Sprint’s time is up and when you’re done evaluating a Canvas after a Sprint is over. This functions as a sort of before-and-after for the Sprints running on your Canvas.
Along with the Snapshots, we also preserve the data from your Sprint while it was running. Images, comments, data from your Forms, they’re all there.
All these three elements combined are what make up the core of the Business Toybox experience. Together, they create a loop.
Business Toybox is an experience you can repeat over and over again. You create a Canvas, create a Sprint to go along with that Canvas, evaluate the outcome of that Sprint once it’s over, then create another Sprint and repeat the process all over again. This idea of repeating something over and over again sounds almost depressing, but don’t worry, Business Toybox is designed to move you forward. Each completion of a Sprint brings with it a new collection of ideas, insight, and evidence that tell you something about your business model. These things might break a few assumptions you had about the model, but ultimately you’re improving it each time.
Honestly, a lot of polish. To get to building the Journal and the Snapshots inside it a few things had to be put on the back burner. Nothing terribly awful, but these things, or the lack of them, weaken the overall fun you have while using Business Toybox. In any other online software product out there, this wouldn’t matter that much, but we are trying to blur the lines between tool and game, so to us they matter.
Expect to see news shortly about the outcome of these fixes, along with the usual mix of screenshots. In the mean time, feel free to start enjoying Business Toybox right now.