An Official Alpha Summary (or What We've Learned Over the Past Nine Months)

Todd Vernon October 03, 2013

Now that we are out of Alpha and officially into Beta, we thought it might be nice to touch on some of the items we learned while building the platform. Alpha customer feedback was our number one priority during development and many of the features and concepts in the product came directly from our Alpha Customers.

For reference, those customers were a variety of companies, ranging in size from pre-revenue startups to public companies with market caps of nearly $1B.  This diverse group gave us great insight, and created many internal debates on how things should work. Some of those I’ll touch on in this post and expanded posts over the next few weeks.


Our desire for Alpha was to have a product that could be used alongside a customer’s current alerting solution (such as PagerDuty or other company-made home-brewed solutions) that would perform those functions at parity while also demonstrating our wider vision of how we believe the product should work. Being a small team at the time, we knew we had to pick a subset of monitoring solutions to target for the Alpha. The goal was not to be a mediocre solution for lots of the companies but an excellent solution for few.

Some of the guiding features and behaviors we wanted to explore with our test teams were:

Symmetric access to information via totally capable mobile apps. We did not want our mobile apps to be repackaged websites, but really leverage the power of each independent mobile platform. We don’t consider VO a mobile-first  company, we consider it an everything-first company. Mobile is not an afterthought for VO. We embrace it completely and always will.

Scheduling and rotation of on-call responsibilities. This is obviously a key functionality area, but we wanted to explore additional models as well that are more “people-friendly”. On-call handoff was the key feature that early Alpha customers gravitated to because it helps being on-call suck less.

Situational awareness about the health of the company’s technical platform. About halfway through platform development, we really started to dig the vibe of a Twitter-like timeline for understanding the state of things. It seemed really natural but drove huge technical efforts to make that information real-time and accessible on any device.  We explored Chat as the communication metaphor, but ultimately gravitated to the twitter-like update metaphor which felt more correct to most Alpha customers. This evolved into # and @ mentions that will be widely innovated on in coming releases. All of these upcoming improvements were ideas from Alpha customers.

Scalable involvement of team members in problem resolution through device neutrality and easy access to information.  Rich Barton, the founder of Zillow, has a great quote that captures what we’re after here at VO…

_"I'm an evangelist for the things I believe in. My startup philosophy revolves around a power-to-the-people concept that enables people to take control of the decision-making in their lives. When people are empowered, a revolutionary disruption of an industry can then occur. That is the wellspring of most of the businesses I've created."_

Embracing other technologies that are commonly used in teams such as HipChat and Campfire. We don’t want to be an enterprise chat platform, but we understand the conversations that naturally occur inside our platform need to be bridged easily to other platforms. In other words, be a good citizen.

Whew. No big deal.

In the coming weeks I’ll provide more information on some of these items and reveal more of what we are building. We believe our platform is revolutionary for DevOps, but we are actually only on feature set number one of a five-year mission. Stay tuned!

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