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This is a guest post by Dave Rigotti who has participated in nine Startup Weekend events and is the cofounder of ApproveForMe, an easy way to create, track, and manage document reviews.

Dogfooding” is a fairly common practice in software development. Essentially, it’s when a company uses its own product as a way to test, demonstrate the capabilities, and expose scenario or feature weaknesses. We actively use our own product and it’s certainly been positive. Before we discuss it too much, it’s important to note however, that dogfooding does not replace customer feedback through their actual use.

How it helped us

Since we built ApproveForMe from scratch, there was little data to inform our decisions, so we created our own datapoints by using it ourselves. In doing so, we were able to expose critical flaws in the site and fix them before going live.

But we didn’t dogfood just to test the code. It was also important in testing the scenario and usefulness too. Just because we are a small startup doesn’t mean we need to pus things live willy nilly, especially since our personal reputations are on the line. Using ApproveForMe proved helpful in secure quick signoffs of site content, such as the about page and even this blog post.

This is a similar situation for Startup Weekend events too. You have limited time to build and test,  so having different team members try the product is super important. (Even better, have other attendees not on your team try your product without your support to see where the hangups are.)

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Not just for software

It works for products too. A famous example of this is when the Steve Jobs was using the then new iPhone a little over a month before launch. The story goes that the original iPhone was going to have a plastic screen. However, when Steve started using it and keeping it in his pocket with his keys, the screen was easily scratched. He demanded the screen be changed to glass, so spinned up a team of engineers, factory workers in China, and secured massive amounts of glass to pump out the redesigned iPhone in 6 weeks.

Things to watch out for

However, it can come with dangers as Des Traynor, COO of intercom.io, points out in a recent blog post. In short, their point is that if you’re eating too much dogfood, you may neglect basic areas of your product, including; 1) Product tour; 2) Outdated screenshots and/or documentation; 3) Crummy or broken onboarding communications. In conclusion, Des suggests making onboarding something you evaluate regularly by signing up for your product every week. I agree.

Do you “eat your own dogfood”?

Claire Topalian Claire Topalian
(@clairetopalian) Blog, Professional Writing, Communications and PR Specialist. I craft compelling, mission-driven content for companies and individuals that amplifies brand awareness, fosters community, and drives engagement. My experience includes work with tech startups, major corporations, and international non-profits. @clairetopalian