This talk was given by Russell Smith, CTO, Rainforest QA at SaaS Connect 2019 in San Francisco, Mar 26-27, 2019.

Rainforest QA was founded in 2012 in order to address a number of quality challenges, says Russell Smith, the company’s co-founder. Over the last seven years, the company has gained several insights into build high-quality platforms.

In this talk, he distills three lessons the company has learned about building such platforms, and what other companies can do to implement those same lessons.

What are the challenges when building high-quality platforms?

Russell says platform building comes with four nearly universal quality challenges:

  • Releasing too many bugs into production.
  • Balancing shipping speed with quality.
  • Finding ways to objectively measure and communicate quality.
  • Using metrics that link quality to the business.

High quality manages to balance the risks that come with product development and release. These include managing product quality, supporting customer satisfaction and controlling revenue impact.

Initially, many companies can keep pace with releases. As growth takes off, however, quality assurance may turn to putting out fires instead of proactively improving quality. The QA team becomes unable to bridge the gap, and products are shipped despite the team’s lack of confidence in them.

What is a high-quality platform?

Quality is subjective and personal. While each company needs a way to measure quality, those measurements must focus on what quality means to that company.

Due to its subjectivity, quality is almost never measured well. Without good measurements, a platform’s quality can’t be improved.

3 lessons for high-quality platforms

  • Time kills all deals. When release or updates are slow, more things can go wrong. For instance, a buyer may find another solution, or the platform provider may lose a key employee. As a result, Rainforest QA focuses on how to prove value faster. The quicker value can be proved, the easier it is to capture customers’ interest and close the deal.
  • Understand your customer stack. What is the customer’s workflow? What do they want to do, and how do they envision your platform helping them to do that? Also, ask what’s changing within the company in order to stay on top of trends.
  • Look around. What do customers experience on other platforms? What tools are already being used in this space? Context can help you understand the problem.

3 best practices for high-quality platforms

Based on Rainforest QA’s experience, Russell recommends three best practices for high-quality platforms.

  • GTM matters. Focus on making platforms that help your customers succeed. Ease of understanding, support for partner and customer goals, and market knowledge are essential.
  • APIs matter. APIs should be easy to try out, simple to debug and well-documented. Tight integration helps your customers use your platform more easily.  While there’s no one right way to version an API, says Russell, consistency matters. Choose a single method that works for your platform and stick with it. That way, customers don’t have to repeat integrations.
  • Document changes. Docs, changelogs and information on sunsetting can all make platforms easier for customers to use.

These best practices have helped Rainforest QA succeed. Used thoughtfully, they can transform a SaaS company’s platform and customer relationships.