Thursday 18 August 2011

...and thanks for all the fish

We've sold the company!

When we started this company, we set a very clear goal; sell the company and get on with something else within three years. Well none of us could have predicted, that we'd be made an offer to sell the company in not three years, but eleven months.

That's what has happened, and after a little thought, we decided to take the offer. Some entrepreneurs may think that we've sold too soon, but I disagree. Creating a company with the express purpose of selling it for cash is not like creating an empire. It's a simple transaction where you compare what you've put in with what you get out. There are no hard and fast rules about how long a start-up has to exist, and we know that we're making a fantastic return for less than a year's work.

So, what lessons have I learnt?

I've confirmed that a start-up can be created in a controlled way where decisions are justified and made rationally, where chaos is not confused with creativity, and where clients don't dominate direction.

I'm certain that creating a software product company from scratch isn't an expensive business if you have the technical skills within the ownership of the company. If you're going to try to create a software company without the very best technology brains sitting on the board, then you're going to pay more, take longer, and incur more risk.

Be lead by the people who are passionate about the product, never forget that sales are a consequence of creating value not a goal in themselves, and know that your collective brains are your biggest asset.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

The end.

Tuesday 31 May 2011

Month 10: Set stress levels to... err, zero

Roger's amazing console-a-tron

Whooop! We're into double figure months.  Not a huge milestone I'll grant you, however a long road requires many stones (well, Roman roads do at least), and this is another one.

This month we have the admission that... erm, gosh, this is embarrassing: We are not stressing out. [Unnecessary analogy] If stress was a bucket of potatoes, then we would not being eating chips any time soon.

It seems that the software is so reliable, that Rog has so honed our systems, and that our clients are so relaxed with the product, that there's simply no stressing happening at Towers.

On a serious note, for any budding start-ups out there, I think we're a good example of having some big project technology practices during the early creation phase. We've created systems and scripts that allow us to deploy changes reliably, and we've implemented procedures that reduce the chances of live bugs. Of course, you're always reliant on good coding and good testing, but with controlled development cycles and automated deployments, we never create additional problems for ourselves.

In other news, we've finally received our own internet payment bank account. This means that we're able to extend our product to people that want to dip their toe in and try it out. Mike is working on our new trial offering this week.

We were lucky enough to have a visit from the one and only Andy Parker this month. It was great to see him back at the Towers, and to show him some of our new stuff. Also very kind of him not to lambast us for design mistakes, although I did kind of miss the abuse.

Also, we have named our development team "The Crack Eye Tees". Yes, it is not only a hilarious pun, it is true. We haven't come up with a name for Mike yet, but we're working on it.

Excitement levels:  Chillaxed [yes, I did say 'Chillaxed']
Office music this month:  Little Dragon

Friday 6 May 2011

Month 9: Early adopters versus later arrivals

Weyhay! This month's blog is a guest appearance from the head honcho himself; Mike. Now, we all know he's a little businessy, so be prepared for some straight business talkin'. To lighten the mood a little, please enjoy the lovely retro summer photo from our window at Savvy Towers, and reminisce about your long hot summers as a child playing in the streets and the local woods. Nice.


With sales having been hotting up in the last few months but still being relatively young as a business, we had an age-old dilemma regarding focussing our attention. Do we build and work to gain new clients or do we focus on support for existing users?

Our decision was the latter. The reason we think this is right for us now is that we are still building anyway and those that have made the commitment with us early deserve the best and greatest element of our attention.

Our business success is linked directly to our users success (deliberately so) so we must pay particular attention to their needs beyond anyone who might use our system if, when and maybe. In addition to this, there is no substitute for learning, changing and building based on real live usage, therefore the outcomes for these live clients are better and the knock-on is that we establish an enhanced product for future users anyway so it becomes a win-win.

Where you focus your own attention is linked to what phase you are at within your business lifecycle but is a decision you need to make. As this is about managing a start-up and that's what we still are then I would strongly advocate the route we have taken (obviously I would say that!) as your first clients and the way you treat them, learn from them and develop your product with them form the bedrock of your business.  


(told you he was businessy).

Excitement levels:  Music, festivals and debt recovery
Office music this month:  The Great Escape playlist

Thursday 31 March 2011

Month 8: Here comes the sun! Customer Care Portal

Outside the towers there is nothing but soupy gloom. The fog has laid and stayed, but the memory of those fleeting days of blue sky and sunshine are enough to lift the spirits. Well, that and the fact that our software has gone booooooooooom!

Before this month, we'd seen very good results and we'd been pretty happy with it to tell the truth. This month we uploaded some new files and they have just gone ballistic. The activity levels have been great but the commitment from the customers, their willingness to enter card details, and the conversion from promise to payment, has been way beyond our expectations. We are well and truly collecting, online and hands free, and if this continues, it's going to bode well when we get more data pushed through (still waiting for some clients to get going).

This month was the first real roll-out of the customer care portal. We're using ZenDesk software for case management and we're also using it for forums. We've created three forums so far; one for clients to give us development ideas, one for FAQs, and one as a kind of blog from our development team about what we're developing and what we're releasing.

We reckon that customer care goes way beyond setting up the software though, so we've created "Future Fridays". It's a commitment to spend every Friday afternoon reviewing the ideas the clients have given us, plus our own ideas. We respond to every one and mark it as planned, done or not planned. If the idea is planned then we add it to our long term development page that shows rough development times. It means that our clients can see the detailed description of what we are working on and also a general idea about what will come next. So far it works well.

Our tips for customer service?

  • Design your product to supports itself through intuitive design
  • Test your product well so you don't create failures
  • Provide self-help resources in up to date and searchable FAQs
  • Keep clients updated when the system changes
  • Pre-plan regular maintenance periods so clients have plenty of time to prepare
  • Answer support cases accurately and promptly and share those answers in your FAQ
  • Include clients in your development process

Excitement levels:  Off the HOOK (but holding some back for the sunshine)

Office music this month:  The Glitch Mob

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Month 7: Have principles


February has been a good month. Mike has signed up more clients, we've created a lovely case study for a trade magazine, we've launched our customer care portal (more on that soon) and we re-wrote the system. What?! Well, not exactly re-wrote, but we learnt loads of lessons from how customers were interacting with the system, and re-designed it so that it worked better.

A good example of the re-design is how loads of customers were saying that they would like to make a payment but didn't have any money right now. We added a new feature that allows them to put in their card details and then takes the payment on the date of their choice. Although we were a little sceptical whether people would want to do that, we shouldn't have worried. On the day we deployed the new feature, we had people using the new functionality. Nice.

We had some time to consider what sort of company we want to be this month. During our roadmap lunch we considered some basic principles that we think could be applied. For example,

"Thou shalt not lie"

OK, I used biblical terminology a little unnecessarily there, but try getting everyone in your company to agree to it.

  • No sales people lie 
  • No support people lie 
  • No managers lie 

You'd be surprised just how much such a simple statement affects your company. It's still work in progress, but over the next few months, we hope to create our Code, and then use it as our foundation to ensure we make a company we're proud to work in. Fun times.

Excitement levels:  Building to a frenzy

Office music this month:  Little Comets