Why I'm proud to eat dog food

February 9, 2019

Kevin writes …

A few weeks ago at the end of a meeting with an investor, they asked “so, if untied is so simple at doing your tax return, are you using it?”.

I was a little surprised by the question. Of course I was. It seemed natural to me. Who would build something that solves a big problem for a lot of people, and not use it to save time for themselves?

I try to always be in the mindset of the user. Usually I do it as me. And at other times taking on one of the personas we’ve adopted and think what would they want to be doing at that point. We know we then need to test it with those users, and we’re doing more to put that in place. But I’d found there is something very very different about taking on an identity or testing, and actually using the product in real life which I wrote about here.

untied’s cofounder Marcus said “you’ve been eating dog food. You’re dogfooding”. I’d not heard the expression, but Googling around found an odd collection of articles from the person who tried a week of dog food as a cheaper version of her paleo diet (the stuff she liked turned out to be more expensive, but did help her blood sugar levels) and the predictable YouTube dare clip rabbit hole, before emerging in Wikipedia. Here I found out that dogfooding means using your own product; if only there was a more yummy name for it.

I liked it so much I bought the company

There are various origins of the term, my favourite being the story of the Kal Kan dog food president eating a can in every shareholder meeting. Kal Kan was another mystery to me, but it turns out that it was acquired by Mars and its products ended up as Pedigree and Whiskas. (I’d planned this sort of public demonstration too by filing my actual tax return as a reveal at the end of a three minute demo to a bank. In this time I’d show the end to end process from gathering data, categorising income and expenditure through to filing, and say “by the way that was real”. In the end, the venue’s wifi was dodgy and it was more a case of a “reel” submission as we fell back to a pre-recorded demo. Best laid plans of dogs etc …)

Victor Kiam’s “I liked the shaver so much I bought the company” is a great example of dogfooding.

Do suppliers eat dog food?

I hadn’t realised but I also care that people who work at suppliers eat their dog food and actually know what their product does.

I think it’s essential to maintain a strong link between the purpose of a product, and how it is built.

It drives me mad when I speak to a relationship manager about a simple issue, but they don’t know how their software works. Because it usually means that by the time I get through to the engineer who does know the software, they’ve got no interest in why I’m using it and what I’m looking to achieve. This disconnect is frustrating for me as a customer, and often results in a bad experience.

Other dog food is available

But what if we only eat our own dog food? As a buyer, I ask “what do you admire about your competitors’ offerings?” It’s surprising that the typical answer is “I don’t know I haven’t ever seen it”.

So we also try to play with other products on the market. Not just eating my own dog food, but eating others’ dog food as well. Now what’s for dinner?

(If you want to try our dog food, untied is building a waiting list and inviting beta users here)

Thanks to Charles PH / Unsplash for the photo. And the dog.