Remember that documentation company without docs?

    There’s a few ways you could phrase this one. But the punchline is that the company is us.

    Check this out. This is what our documentation looked like at the time of writing.

    docs-from-long-ago

    Okay. That’s not particularly thorough.

    I’m grateful for people pointing this out this week. I had a few community visits where this came up in conversation and it signals a good time for us to address this.

    I’ll get to the primary reason why we didn’t update our documentation much during the beta and early product release stages in a second. But first, this is pretty timely too.

    I was just listening to a great podcast on the way to the coworking space I’m using in San Francisco today. It’s called Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman, and this week’s episode is called Let Fires Burn.

    You might see where I’m going with this. Here’s an extract of the episode summary.

    If you try to put out every fire, you’ll only burn yourself out. The best entrepreneurs? They let fires burn. Knowing which problems not to solve is just as critical as knowing which problems must be solved.

    Reid continues.

    You won’t have time to sit down and assess every blaze burning around you… you have to conserve energy for the biggest blazes, and learn how to sleep easy while other fires smolder around you. That means you can ignore emails, tolerate buggy code, risk server outages and even ignore customers until their complaints hit fever pitch.

    Or… focus on product over documentation.

    One of the interesting things I like to share about our journey is that the Corilla you use now is not the one we began with. In fact, the original intention was to build a better version of the PressGang CCMS project we had built inside of Red Hat.

    In other words we spun out with the intention of creating a CCMS based on DocBook XML 😬. And one that relied heavily on the ideas and architecture of DITA 🤖.

    That’s the benefit of going through an accelerator like NUMA. We took the time to step outside of our enterprise technical writing experience and really listen to the wider community.

    That led to the Corilla alpha release. Do you remember that? It was a really barebones Markdown editor with version control and a super basic HTML renderer. Basically our MVP.

    And then for the Corilla beta release, we redesigned the writing workflow and began to optimise the most heavily trafficked part of the product.

    At each stage of this development methodology we’ve worked really closely with our early adopters. Coming from an enterprise software background I can’t tell you how satisfying that is. Being able to ship that day based on feedback from users is just the best feeling.

    As the product matured and we rolled out paid accounts we’ve worked harder at being even more available on support. We’ve explored how quickly we can respond to in-app pings on Intercom, and experimented with using Bonjoro videos for half of the new users signing up.

    And meanwhile… 🔥🔥🔥

    So about those docs?

    Per the example that Reid Hoffman gives we’ve let the documentation burn. And here’s why.

    In those early phases we didn’t need documentation as a knowledge base. We were pretty much side-by-side with those early adopters. We needed docs as a collaborative knowledge tool for multiple people to contribute to. And we needed it version controlled. So we built that into Corilla.

    And then in the beta phases we needed an improved workflow for private team content. So we built that into Corilla too.

    But now we’ve been rolling out paid accounts it’s definitely time to put this fire out. And per the example that AirBnb’s Brian Chesky gives in the podcast, we can actually put a number of fires out together.

    I’ll be doing a documentation triage over the next couple of days. And joining me will be Ton Ha, our new Head Of Design, who is working with me on a full review of our entire end-to-end discovery, signup and onboarding process. As part of that iteration we will also advertise for a content strategist and technical writer to join the team. I imagine this role not only owning our Corilla documentation, but working alongside our new users. More on that later.

    So about those docs now?

    Yeah they are on fire. And I can tell you that I’m incredibly excited as a technical writer myself to not only get the chance to start working on them… but the really amazing feeling that this product is exactly the right tool for the job. And that’s all because of you — the community that has not only worked with us to co-create this incredible writing and publishing product, but supported us as we’ve focused on putting out the biggest fires first.

    Thank you.

    David Ryan

    David Ryan

    Managing Director and cofounder of Corilla, a publishing tool for technical writers. An alumnus of the NUMA accelerator and Red Hat.

    Paris and London and San Francisco http://www.corilla.com