Why Eating Your Own Dog Food is a Good Idea
In the software and startup world the practice of using your own products is known as eating your own dog food or dogfooding, based on the supposed origin in the dog food business, where employees' dogs were the first to try a new product. Many company routinely test their products in this way.
Not everyone can eat their own dog food but when you can it can be a very persuasive argument to customers, investors, the media and pretty much everybody else. If you don't think your own product is worth using why should anyone else use it?
One of the best examples of this I have seen recently is a new app called Lunchback, that brings together people for mentoring lunches, an app that emerged from a Stockholm Startup Weekend. Mentors post lunches -- dates and times when they will be available. Anyone else can then request a lunch with the mentor, effectively buying their time for the price of a lunch. Some people also use it to arrange networking lunches.
When I signed up for Lunchback one of the very earliest lunches I had was with founder Jimmy Zhao, who uses his own app to learn more about the user experience and other insights that might make a better product,
Another example is the social media monitoring tool, Mention. A few months back I just tweeted that I was writing an article about social media monitoring and looking for interesting new services. Mention caught this with their own monitoring tools and got in touch with me. They were mentioned in the article. Other social media monitoring startups that were not so good at monitoring Twitter missed this opportunity.
Eating your own dog food is more than a persuasive sales argument. It is also a powerful quality control tool because it means that you usually discover product shortcomings much sooner when you are using it yourself every day. When employees are using the product in their everyday work you soon identify bugs and also poor design choices.
You don't find all the flaws because developers don't always use products the way other users do, but at least you find the obvious issues before the customers do. And simply by using your own product you reassure send a clear message to stakeholders that you believe in it yourself.
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