Archive | SaaS From Scratch

Upcoming Job Scheduling, Rostering and Timesheeting App

This one has been a long time in the making. Too long.

As a result of talking to over a hundred businesses, there were loads of problems with a common theme around managing multiple mobile staff. We had a few early signups before the product was built, and then spent over 6 months developing a product.

It turns out the developers were essentially lying about their ability levels, and produced awful code. So we enlisted a new developer, who kicks serious ass, to fix all of the problems. Thankfully he has done a really good job.

We’ve had one user running his local cleaning business on the app for about two months to make sure everything is running smoothly. Now, we’re putting on a few more users.

So, we’re looking for a few local businesses who run mobile staff.

That means any business where you have staff driving around all day to different jobs. Some examples would be cleaning, aged care, handymen and garden/lawn care.

If you know someone in these industries who are using job cards or some kind of paper based system, please send them my way.

It’s free to use at the moment. There’s no contracts or catches. You get a system aimed at saving you time, and we get your input on the software. That’s the deal 🙂

Check out the job scheduling, rostering and timesheeting app here.

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How networking and helping clients resulted in a product

A while back, we moved our business into the web design space. We went on to snag a few clients through networking events. Often these clients would have problems bigger than just their website.

One client asked for help in setting up a payment system where she could store her clients credit cards and charge them as she needed. But she wanted to invoice them with her cloud based accounting software, Xero.

It seemed easy enough to me. Stripe was the obvious choice for the credit card processing, simply because it is awesome. And I thought the integration should be simple enough to set up using Zapier.

After setting up Zapier to create invoices in Xero whenever a Stripe charge occurred, I ran into a problem. It turns out that you cannot create bank statement lines in Xero via the API, thus Zapier could not do it.

A little bit of research reveled a bunch of people in the Xero Community were having the exact same problem. That sounded like a good product. That day, I threw up a landing page with an email submit, and posted it in the forums and started a basic AdWords campaign. We had around 40 sign ups pretty quickly, and continued to get them over time.

Fast forward a few months, and we had a product built. For the first time, I didn’t write a single line of code. I didn’t even LOOK at a line of code. Our awesome developer (whom I also found through networking, by a referral) handled everything on that side of things.

That product is called Silver Siphon. It provides a way for businesses to set Stripe up as a bank account inside of Xero, as if it was importing a bank feed. This makes reconciliation with invoices super easy. It sounds simple, but man have we run into a load of problems.

We’ve been working with a bunch of beta users of have beaten the app to death several times, and we’ve continued to revamp it to handle large loads. These same users are now saving hours of time in data manipulation between Stripe and Xero.

The paid version of Silver Siphon launches very soon. If you’re interested in checking it out, there is a 14 day trial for you to try. Click here to check it out.

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A great book for software startups and entrepreneurs

There are a ton of books out there aimed at those of us in the early stages of business. It’s not often you find one that is as applicable to the software world as this book. It’s not surprising though, given that the authors are the software company that brought us Basecamp and invented Ruby on Rails. That’s about as spot on as it gets to our industry don’t you think?

Rework rocks for a few reasons.

  1. They’ve done a damn good job of keeping it short and to the point, while
  2. giving you heaps of ‘aha’ and ‘thank god, I actually am on the right track’ moments

rework front cover37 Signals have defied a lot of the traditional thinking when it comes to starting a a business. And the whole point of this book is “and you can too”. As an example, it encourages simplicity in products. You don’t have to create a product that does everything your competitors do and more – creating a features arms race. I sure as hell have been guilty of this. When we first released Chimp Rewriter it did so much stuff. Now each revision we’re basically pulling out features that barely anyone uses, and having it do the remaining stuff better. And with the development of Job On Time, it gives me a lot of faith in what we are doing -> crazy simple job scheduling for the non technical.

Some of my takeaways

  • Planning and forecasting based on guesswork is a joke.
  • You don’t (and shouldn’t be) working 100 hour weeks.
  • Staying small is actually a good thing.
  • Getting funding is a slippery slope which almost always results in you losing your company.
  • Pick something and do that something really well. Don’t do a million things. This includes stripping features sometimes.
  • Make decisions quickly in the early days. Every tool you use or decision you make does not have to be perfect.
  • Be passionate and have an opinion. It’s ok to say you think a competitor sucks and say why.
  • It’s cool if customers outgrow you. You can’t be everything to everyone.
  • Don’t obsess (or even think about) the competition
  • Delight customers
  • Hire good communicators, and only when you REALLY need to hire

————> Get Rework here. <------------

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The Cure for Bright Shiny Object Syndrome

Every entrepreneur (god, that word is awful) ever must go through this.

Something in your mind changes when you start your own business. The longer you’re in it the worse it gets. You start seeing ideas literally EVERYWHERE. While walking down the street, hanging out at the shops, drinking an overpriced beer at a pub, you name it. Not only that, but people will start throwing ideas at you left right and center. Before you’ve finished a couple of beers, you’ll have at least 6 apps that would be awesome for at least one person.

All of a sudden, you’ve got a brain full of potential businesses. Inevitably, most of them will be crap (read: unmarketable or unscalable) ideas, but there will be a few gems. Most of them will be in completely different directions. You will want do all of them.
bright shiny object syndrome
A common trait among successful people is at some point, they took one thing and ran with it. If it failed, they tried something else. There are of course exceptions, but I guarantee you none of them developed 10 ideas simultaneously in a bootstrapped, sole-director businesses.

How then do you decide which idea is going to be killer? This decision can be insanely painful if you are the type who struggles to make decisions on the spot.

You’re going to look everywhere for the answer. Guess what? This one is completely on you. No one else is making the decision. Not even Google.

People can offer advice, but you better make sure it is qualified advice. Your mate saying “oh yeah that’s awesome, I’d use that”, does not count as qualified advice (unless your mates are your target audience and have money). A guy who has built multiple businesses in a similar industry probably counts. Unless you’re already well networked, you’ve got some searching to do to find the latter.

A good place to start is forums, podcasts, LinkedIn groups, or anywhere you can find either a) your target audience or b) some potential mentors hanging out.

You should also be doing your own research into market size, number and size of potential competitors, and talking to people in your target audience about the problems you are going to solve. Their reactions to the problem (not solution) you describe will be a top indication. You can look at Google Adwords to see how many people are searching for specific terms to get an idea of market size. Try plugging competitors into tools like SEMRush to see how people are finding them and what ads they are running (Hint: lots of ads generally mean lots of money)

The idea is to gather as much information about each of your ideas as possible before making a decision on which idea you think is the most valuable. There will always be the risk of failure, but you can at least minimise it by making an informed decision based on real metrics. When you rush a decision like this, chances are that a year down the track after wasting huge amounts of time and maybe money, you’ll look back and think “oh man, that was dumb.”

Maybe some of your ideas will have elements that overlap with each other. If you talk to enough people in a given industry, this is pretty much guaranteed. The overlap itself could be an ever better idea for your first product, and you can expand later. MVP that shit.

Eventually, you’re just going to have to make a call and hope that it is the best based on the research you have done. For Job On Time, this took me like 5 months. WAY longer than it should have, but at least I’m feeling pretty confident.

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Ploughing over roadbloacks

Things have been way too quiet around here.

Shit kind of hit the figurative fan a few weeks back, so I’ve been busy getting my ducks in a row.

On a lazy hungover Sunday, a whole lot of stuff blew up.

  • a server failed
  • someone used our company credit card for some dodgy purchases
  • ran the the company finances, which looked grim once my wage was taken out
  • ran my own finances, which looked grim given the measly amount I pay myself
  • my laptop failed
  • uncovered some big issues in the Chimp Rewriter thesaurus algorithms (fixed now)

Literally all in one damn day. While hungover. Needless to say I wasn’t a happy chappy.

As they say, the life an entrepreneur can be a bit nuts, with a lot of road blocks to plough through. This was easily the worst day I’d had in years, but something I’ve never had to rely on kicked in and decided to get shit sorted.

A day later the thesaurus and server were fixed. Two days later I’d chased up two potential contract engineering jobs which I can fall back on if I need an out.

Three weeks later I’ve got a new laptop, have launched the web marketing arm of AkturaTech complete with new website and have a couple of clients on board. Take that shitty Sunday.

Building a SaaS is going to take a while to see any real profit. That means the current situation basically wouldn’t have changed for months. By itself this is a good enough reason to explore some other avenues, but after meeting a whole lot of ‘web marketers,’ it became pretty obvious that many of them have no clue what they are talking about. Talking to a lot of business owners, many of them were being ripped off or being fed rubbish information.

It turns out it actually excites me a lot to work on other people’s business, come up with ideas and help them make more money. There’s also the part where it is a pretty quick cashflow into the business.

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Lessons from a guy who has built three software products

Last night a group of web marketers met up at a local bar for a catch up. One guy who I had heard a lot about but never met came along. His name is John Logar, and he runs Make Every Day a Pay Day, among other things. My previous assumption was that he ran a local business consultancy and that was his core business. Turns out he has about a hundred other things going on and is absolutely crushing it.

The thing that stood out to me is the fact that he’s built 3 software products using the same idea extraction and pre selling model I am using. Here I am struggling to make $500 in pre sales (my goal) and he’s done over $25k THREE TIMES. Clearly, I’m doing something wrong.

John put me on to this video which talks about the types of questions to ask a potential customer. There’s some pretty good points in here, and it’s a good refresher on what you should and shouldn’t be asking.

Here’s a few of the things I took away from talking to John, who obviously has this shit down pat:

  • Being confident in what you are saying (even if you don’t know the answer) has got to be one of the most important things. Watching John captivate the whole table of people just by talking made this pretty obvious
  • Pulling emotion out of the customer is really important (watch video below for more)
  • If the customer isn’t saying stuff like “oh wow yeah we want something that does that like NOW”, it’s probably not the right product
  • Go after bigger guys. A lot of the companies I’ve been talking to are too small. Everything John does, even in business consulting, is big fish

I’ll follow up later with some of his ideas on where to find people which I hadn’t thought of.

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The power of actually listening

You always hear how you should be listening to people, but it’s not often you really try to apply it and get real world feedback from it.

Recently I read How To Win Friends and Influence People again. Seems like I’d forgotten about 90% of the principles in there. If you suck at networking, read this immediately.

With all the meetings and networking going on in this business, it seemed like the perfect time to really put some of it into practice.

The big things (IMO):

  • Asking questions that get the other person talking about themselves
  • Let the other person do most of the talking
  • Be genuinely interested in them and what they have to say
  • Give sincere compliments
  • Don’t freaking interrupt

This last one is a real sore spot. If someone is talking about problems they are having, the brain starts going 100 miles an hour with ways to solve it and before you know it, it’s materialised itself into some words spewing out of your mouth in the middle of someone’s sentence.

That’s REALLY shit. Just let them talk about their problems first. Write your ideas down if you have to.

Lately I’ve been squashing the hell out of this, and really paying attention to the points above. Today I had a 3 hour meeting with a crazy busy woman who runs a company with over 50 employees. On my balcony. No way did I think I’d get 3 hours. To be honest I thought she’d want to be out of here ASAP.

Towards the end she said:

The thing that is different about you is that you actually listen. And I appreciate that.

Boom, nailed it.

GenuineFakeWatches

I think the key is the genuine part. It’s a bit weird, because saying “be genuinely interested” is kind of a contradiction. How the hell do you just ‘be’ genuinely interested in someone?

The thing is, everyone has something interesting going on. If you can get that out of them by asking questions and getting them to talk about themselves, you BECOME interested in what they are saying.

By no means am I an expert in people yet, but this seems like a pretty big leap.

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Statistics on action taken so far

Time for a bit of an update with actual numbers of the action taken so far.

Cold Emails Sent: ~50
Replies to emails: 1 (2%)

Cold Phone Calls: 19
Warm Calls: 1
Positive responses: 7 (people who may be interested but didn’t set up or ask for a meeting)
Meetings from the above: 0, but 3 scheduled (15%)

Networking events attended: 8
Meetings from the above: 3 (37%)

As far as conversion rate goes, it’s pretty clear that networking is the winner. But if you look at the effort involved, there are a hell of a lot more hours in networking than there is in sending an email to somebody.

That said, a lot more can come from networking compared with cold calling from the comfort of your lounge room.

  1. You develop a network (duh). People you can ask questions, or services, or whatever
  2. You become known as someone that people can trust, and refer others to you
  3. Ideas are often thrown at you, and you have to try really hard not to chase everything

On top of this, as a result of one of the networking events, I’ve had multiple meetings with a new potential business partner. We’re looking at building an entirely separate product in an entirely different niche, of course following the same validation process and exploring the underlying pain a bit more.

Reflection

You’re probably thinking that’s nowhere near enough emails. According to Yesware, only about 10 emails of the 50 I’ve sent have even been opened. I really thought this would be higher, which has turned me off it a bit. On top of this, two different business owners specifically call the email “spam”. This makes me think that sending the email in the first place may do more harm than good, and it could be better to simply just call outright.

More testing is probably required here. But it sounds like I could already be onto a winner. Tomorrow is the first meeting I’m having with a product interface sketched up to get some feedback.

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A software entrepreneur community by a guy who’s been there done that

Listening to James Schramko’s podcast the other day, he had the best interview I’ve heard yet. At least from the point of view of a software guy.

The interviewee was Paul Clifford. Paul’s a guy who has built multiple SaaS businesses, one which was sold for $38 million. Can’t complain about that, right? It also means he’s been there done that, which is a big plus.

He’s about to launch a community and mastermind for people in the software development/SaaS industry. If you sign up at his site, you’ll get access to the first 5 modules. They are fairly short, but there’s a pretty solid chunk on info in there including picking a market, choosing a business model, designing the initial concept, hiring developers (he prefers offshore outsourcing) and handling the things that can go wrong.

While I don’t know a whole lot about it yet, it looks like it could be pretty promising and it’s worth keeping an eye on. It launches on March 12 2014.

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