In March 2005 we kicked off our original beta program. We had 100 pre-production Slingboxes painted bright orange ready for testers in the US and Canada. Our testers spent three months performing various tasks such as “try Slinging from 5 different ports to 5 different locations” and “hook up the Slingbox to every gadget you have in your home, and let us know if the IR codes work”. Our testers not only prevailed, but became absolute advocates for the company on various online communities. My friend Brian M did a great job managing the beta program, keeping the community actively engaged while managing the early version of SlingCommunity and having a baby at the same time. Also, a special shout-out to Jim D for the being #1 bug reporter of all time (you’re all in my memories, but I can’t very well list everyone’s names here now, can I?). I still wear my “I had an orange one” t-shirt with pride, and hope the rest of y’all do too.
Right in the middle of beta we had come to the point where the first production units were about ready to roll off the assembly line. I flew to Xi Xiu, China, a small town (100,000 people) near Shenzhen, and spent a week with the factory workers perfecting the appearance of the Slingbox. I learned a heck of a lot about plastics, molding, tooling, and more while there, but thankfully after 5 long (long!) days they had it perfect (okay, close). It was an odd trip for me as I spent the entire week only having one person to speak with, and not seeing a single other foreigner in the town. I was literally gawked at in the shopping center. Thanks again Kelvin for being a great host, and introducing me to delicacies like Kung Pao Frog as well as Sweet and Sour Chicken Knees. Okay, I made up the names of the dishes, but you get the picture…
Our official launch was June 30th, 2005. In all candidness, I have never ever seen a team come together more tightly than we did in those 4 weeks leading up to launch. Blake was pushing us all extremely hard, constantly raising the bar on the quality he wanted. I remember one Saturday afternoon he wanted to make sure we really were compliant with the UPnP implementations on most routers. So he went to Best Buy, Fry’s, and CompUSA and picked up every different router model he could find, and hand-tested each one. Needless to say, the bar was, shall we say “high”? But he felt that the only way a startup could really win was to make absolutely excellent products, and good just wasn’t good enough. I have to say, I may have kvetched about it at the time, but looking back there’s no question he was right. I’ve never seen the insides of Steve Jobs’ lair, but I have a hunch there’s the same pursuit of excellence. But would Jobs take you out to the local Red Robin to celebrate the launch? I don’t think so!
The last few days before launch had each team double- and triple-checking its work. We, along with the beta testers, shone the flashlights into every nook and cranny of the setup wizard, the packaging, the documentation, the Web site, the community, everything. I personally flew out to Beaverton Oregon to train our customer service representatives in those last few weeks and showed them every last detail of the way the box functioned. We talked about how to make sure the customer support experience was nothing like how “other” CE companies handled it. Again, massive attention to detail. By the way, while I’m at it – Blake, you were right about the D10.