Don’t Let The Crumbs Eat You Up

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The smallest crumb can devour us- the cost of thriftiness to online services

I want to tell you about the day I ditched the free email my hosting service provided and paid for google apps.

It was around about early March, and I got an email from my UK accountant asking about my annual report. I don’t remember what the question was, but the point was, it had totally slipped my mind that it was due. Worse than that was that I had actually signed up for email reminders from Companies House to file them in time, but had never seen a single email from them. Digging through my desktop email client, then mobile phone client, then a different desktop client, then my gmail client (where I had synced some emails to a folder), I finally found them- buried within mountains of updates and newsletters I had moved to the archive folder.

I had nearly missed my deadline but for two days notice, all because I felt that 4 euros a month was an unnecessary expense when I had free email. Compared to what I spend Adobe alone, this was illogical stinginess. I had nearly let the crumbs devour me.

We’ve all seen examples of this illogical stinginess in the non-work world:

  • Buying a flat, but not installing a fire alarm or buying insurance.
  • Training for a 20k run and eating well, but putting off getting that persistent cough or mole checked for “some other time”.
  • Opening a marine fish store, but failing to buy a backup generator in case of electrical failures. 

The crumbs are things we think are not important yet or not worth spending on after spending on bigger things, and which we forget about until the day everything we built hinges on them.

In the world of online services and SAAS, the crumbs might be:

  • Skipping on user testing at the low fidelity wireframe stage. It’s much cheaper to fix things at this stage than later on.
  • Developing a powerful product but failing to include help files and customer onboarding flows. Guess what happens if customers thinks a product is too hard? They stop using it, and stop paying for it.
  • Using dummy data or not providing data in the mockup stage. The entire usability and flow of a product changes when I use real data, like using my sometimes hyphenated surname in sign up forms. Don’t make designers guess what your data will be. If they’re good, they’ll probably need to correct those assumptions later on and that will be billed to you, but if they’re bad, your product will suffer.
  • Not being crystal clear on what steps a user needs to take to activate an account. In the website for car2go in Madrid, my partner and I waited for two weeks for his driver’s license to be validated (I am used driving on the wrong side of the road, so didn’t apply). Only after wondering why it was taking so long did we read their FAQs and realise that it wasn’t the automated process that their site promised (“simply sign up here”), but required an in-store visit after signing up online. You question the point of the website if you could save time by registering and validating in store.
  • Sending out password reminder emails or other important emails from generic department@yourbusiness.com accounts which get trapped by spam filters. Especially if you haven’t worked to build up your sender reputation for that domain.
  • Cheaping out on images in your content after design handover. Nothing ruins the look of a website or product more than overly “stock” photos. Consider that Netflix’s artwork drives their customer choices in which shows they watch and how much Netflix A/B test those artworks alone for increased user activity, and you’ll see that taking the time to source quality images and customise them professionally pays for itself.

    netflix's images drive user choices and engagement. illogical stinginess sometimes means that images used after design handover are basic stock photos.
    Netflix’s images drive user choices and engagement. Time pressed as we are, it’s always worth it to not use basic stock images.

We can get so focused on our big picture goals or the things we are chasing in life that we lose sight of the crumbs that could devour us.

We can get so focused on our goals that we lose sight of the crumbs that could devour us. Share on X 

So, my question to you is: what is it that you told yourself you ‘should really be doing differently’ but haven’t gotten around to yet?

What is not urgent enough, or too difficult, or takes too long to make a start with today?

What do you just feel you shouldn’t have to pay for and could do yourself when you get time? (you haven’t found time yet, but you will! Maybe ..next week?)

Those are your crumbs, and they are waiting for you. 

Drop me an email below and let me know what they are or were. I love hearing and learning from other people, and maybe I can help you find that first step.


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