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Innovating Community Engagement through Release Notes 

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Devon Bleibtrey Next Release

Devon Bleibtrey of Next Release tells us about release notes and changelogs, status checks, reports, and analytics for every team.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?

Devon Bleibtrey: We have our health and are optimistic. We have multiple family members on the front lines helping to save lives and assist those who are the most impacted by the pandemic and couldn’t be more proud of them.

The rest of us have been doing our part by staying at home, socially distancing, and masking up. The lockdowns have been challenging, but we’re looking at them as an opportunity. We’ve leaned into engaging our family and communities virtually through video conferencing and virtual network events. We see a few aunts and uncles more now than we ever did before, which has been fantastic. 

Probably the most critical challenge the family has faced is childcare and schooling. With the pandemic closing schools, limiting daycare access, creating concerns around home health safety, and forcing travel restrictions, individual members of our family have had to take on many new roles. It has given us more time to spend with our kids, but we’re looking forward to the day it’s safe for them to be with their friends and teachers for a few hours out of the day. Our hearts go out to everyone struggling through the crisis.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Next Release.

Devon Bleibtrey: My co-founders and I founded Next Release to help communities effectively connect around changes. 

Since I was a kid, I’ve been a serial entrepreneur and have been developing software since I was 18. Building communities and the trust needed to keep them healthy through consistent connection has always been my passion. Over the last ten years, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to help teams worldwide build communities around their products and communicate changes by creating developer pipelines that keep everyone in the group informed about what they care about. 

We’ve found that understanding how changes impact a system and its users is the foundation of any community making progress towards its objectives. Whether that community is built around a tool, game, product, or governing body, they need a changelog. Knowing what changed allows you to measure how effective the change was and make informed decisions on what future modifications you should test.

To understand how changes impact a system, you have to communicate what changed to those affected. That way the change can be tested, and everyone has the same understanding of where they’re at. The most effective way to do that is through versioned release notes. That’s why we’re focused on delivering a changelog solution that gives teams the power to communicate changes and measure how each one impacts their system and those using it automatically.

How does Next Release innovate?

Devon Bleibtrey: We innovate by building a culture of safety, shared vulnerability, shared purpose, and experimentation. We utilize objectives and key results to set ambitious goals for ourselves, define experiments we believe will move the needle on our measures of success, and then document what’s been done through release notes. Our release notes allow us to track:

● Upcoming changes that enable new capabilities for other team members

● When the changes are deployed

● Who the changes are deployed to

● Measure how that release impacted our system and users

Taking this LEAN approach helps us adapt to changing conditions and rapidly try out new functionality to see if it helps or hinders our customers. Our release notes keep our customers informed about updates, create a tight feedback loop, and in doing so, enable us to learn quickly to spark new ideas.

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?

Devon Bleibtrey: New software tools are bringing teams together through the course of the pandemic as we’ve had to limit our in-person work and travel. This decentralization has created a higher demand for descriptive, useful release notes that keep teams informed on what changes have been made to the systems and products they develop and use. This demand has driven increases in our user base and daily recorded changes, which has placed new strains on our platform. 

We’re happy about the stress on the system and have made new investments in it to optimize performance and add new integrations that better support our customer’s growing requirements.

Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?

Devon Bleibtrey: Yes, we have. I know it’s said continuously but be extremely selective in who you bring onto your team. People you’re picking for your team should share your principles and purpose. Figure out what your own weaknesses are and fill those positions with people who have proven an ability to execute through past accomplishments. Ask prospects about the objectives they’ve reached and their process for accomplishing them. Understand what their goals and aspirations are. When they join your team, it’s not a one-way street, they’re going to be part of your family, and you’re going to be helping them accomplish their goals. Taking time to understand their goals will also help you figure out if their objectives align with your team’s current needs.

Once you onboard someone, engage them and be transparent with performance expectations, objectives, and measures of success. Make sure they get plugged into the team and have consistent connections. The worst experiences we’ve had are teams who bring someone on and then leave them out in the cold.

How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?

Devon Bleibtrey: Our customer relationship management started as a Google Sheet that listed who we wanted to connect with, the rationale of prioritization, and a few pieces of information about any connections we had. A simple sheet was great in our early stages because we didn’t have a specific niche target market explicitly defined and were iterating over contacts quickly. Iterating resulted in a lot of churn on the information. Limiting our overhead helped us maintain information and not get bogged down fleshing out the complete sales pipeline provided by most customer relationship management tools.

Since then, we’ve built out our sales pipeline with prospect identification, demonstrations, trials, closing, and deal management. We started updating the system focused on ease of use and price point using Pipedrive for lead management and Intercom’s startup plan for customer management. Pipedrive has limited overhead and a solid, out of the box, pipeline that is easy to jump into and allows you to import information from Google Sheets. 

Intercom has been a tool we’ve used on almost every project since their team launched it. It gives us the ability to chat in real-time with customers, provide onboarding guides, send out notifications to the community, and gather insights into how they are using the platform to generate release notes and changelogs.

As we continue to improve our interactions with our community and those we hope to join it, we’ve started to investigate moving over to Salesforce. Our applications run on Heroku, so to help data synchronization between converting leads to customers, we believe there are some benefits to using Heroku Connect with Salesforce.

Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?

Devon Bleibtrey: Nope, no government grants. Next Release is 100% bootstrapped.

Your final thoughts?

Devon Bleibtrey: The only constant in life is change, so let’s communicate it effectively. With the growing demand for engagement and community, we’re excited to be helping teams connect around the changes they’ve made. By making changes transparent, better decisions can be made and customers can know the value they’re receiving. 

Thanks to our entire Next Release community who make our changelog platform the best.

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