Tuesday 14 December 2010

We're going monthly

Run! When the alien cloud invaded Brighton
Is it lazy? Possibly, but I like to think that it's just us settling into a more stable routine. Either way, I'm moving this blog to monthly, and I'll post at the end of each month with a more info-packed update and all the excitement of ClearSavvy.com towers.

Friday 3 December 2010

Week 18: Action Reaction

YakTrax Rule

What happens after the high of go-live? Well, I guess the low of unfulfilled expectations. Well, yes in some respects, but a massive NO in others.

We watched the payments coming in, but they didn't hit the volumes we were hoping for. As we analysed the data, we saw that there was a big 80% black hole where people were looking at our offers and then leaving. What were they doing? Didn't they understand our calendar?

We changed the design of the calendar a little, simplified it, made it more obvious, but there was only a small uplift. In the end we decided to chance our arm and implement a quick "So, what's the reason you don't want to take our offer" feature, not holding out much hope for feedback.

Incredibly, as soon as it went live, it was like the lights being turned on. Not in just one room, but a whole town of lights. Each person telling us their current situation, what they could and couldn't pay. Information was streaming in and with that information came new ideas, new opportunities, and new solutions. We've immediately switched development to solving these problems, answering our users' needs, and giving them a route to solve their situation without any human contact.

This week has reinforced not just the power of a well-designed system, more importantly it's shown all of us that people don't just tolerate managing their lives online; they actually prefer it. That's all the motivation we need to continue making great software. We helped people this week; a lot of people.

Excitement levels:  Information is binary gold
Office music this week: Panpipe version of Aha?

Friday 26 November 2010

Week 17: BOOM!

"I am pleased to advise New MID ####### has been added and is now ready for use on vTID: #######"

These words might not mean much to you, but this Friday morning, those words lifted our spirits and sparked the ClearSavvy.com machine into action. With these words, we knew the banking configuration was complete, and we were ready to roll.

Let me take you back 17 weeks to 1st August 2010. Our goal was to "get a trial product ready for 1st November 2010". Well, we did that and then we did a whole hell of a lot more. With the help of a willing and adventurous early adopter, we went from nothing to a trial system in just nine weeks, and set the new goal of getting our system to make collections online.

Over the last 17 weeks, we've all learnt new skills, quelled the concern that this might not actually work, and stuck together in a single, team-held belief that you can collect debt completely online. It's not just been about software either, we've struggled with banks, scratched our heads over security regulations, learnt lessons about building a team, and tussled with the mountain of administration that stands in front of all new businesses.

Back to today.

With everything primed, everything set, and everything tested we pointed our system at our customers and waited. The time was 13:05. As the minutes passed, we watched customers opening emails, authenticating, considering, but none biting. Then, at exactly 1 hour 36 minutes and 16 seconds later, our first customer completed a card payment. Proof at last, that people are willing to negotiate and settle, outstanding amounts online.  The excitement was fantastic, and it continued, as another three payments came in quick succession.

This is only the start, only hours into our first collections process. The future can only hold more excitement, more success. We want to bottle it.

Next week, we'll take a moment to reflect and thank the people that have made this awesome development possible.

Excitement levels:  OMG!
Office music this week: Muchuu sweetness

Friday 19 November 2010

Week 16: Bunch of bankers

I'm not going to complain about banks. We got confirmation through from them today, so next week should be the second attempt at a triumphant launch. Still, I did get bogged down in the vagaries of writing the new bank payment security protocol called 3D secure this week. You know it. It's the one where you're asked to verify by Visa or Mastercard secure. You get to the site, forget your password, reset your password, scratch your head, then pay anyway. That one. Thankfully though, it looks like we overcame that little hurdle, so all systems ready.

Rog has been valiantly plugging away at the remaining 2-3 million security rules, but thankfully that is now finished. Just a few more documentation issues to go through and I reckon Rog will have PCI DSS completely done and dusted. We are one very secure shop.

Mike has had a bummer of a week. Not to put too much meat on the bones, but just consider a 10 hour round trip drive for a meeting that is cancelled on arrival. Now add to that listening to the horror that is Radio 1 for those 10 hours and I think you can see that we're lucky he came back at all.

We've received some great feedback recently and made a couple of tweaks to the application that provide a huge amount of benefit to the clients. Now we're just hoping that this really is the last week of waiting.

Excitement levels:  Dear Santa, please let us go live next week.

Office music this week: Headphones... Marnie Stern featured heavily.

Friday 12 November 2010

Week 15: Cranking up the calls

Listen to Gold Panda

So another week has passed and we're still waiting for the bank to sort out their stuff. I wonder how it's possible that such important parts of the economy can work so slowly. Humphing about it won't speed it up though, that's for sure.

This week has been a wrangle of office updates. Rog has been battening down every single security hatch he can find.  It won't be long until we need face recognition software just to get into the office.  Your data is safe with us.

I've been working on our payment page.  It now looks much much better and the user experience is cleaner and easier.  Unfortunately though, I have now moved onto incorporating 3D secure.  That's the Verified by Visa and Mastercard Secure features. It's so incredibly complicated and convoluted that it's a real struggle to protect the user from issues.  It'll take our very best efforts to prevent confusing users when the inevitable password errors happen.  I think we can do it though.

Mike has moved into overdrive now. We've realised that the quickest and easiest way to ensure everyone understands and wants what we have to offer is to get in front of them and offer it to them. The more feedback we get the better we'll be able to resolve any concerns. Easy hey (glad it's not my job).

Excitement levels:  Waiting waiting waiting.

Office music this week: Gold Panda (due to a gig)

Friday 5 November 2010

Week 14: False start

I guess it’s almost expected to happen, but the Savvy team were prepared, tested and ready to rock but we couldn’t launch our first paying campaign. Why? Believe it or not, we had a banking set-up issue with our client that nobody had expected, and so we couldn’t take payments.  They got straight onto the issue to fix it, but our lumbering banking system once again is moving very slowly and it couldn’t get resolved all week.

We found it hard to adjust our plan after expecting to be monitoring live action all week, so we each retreated into our own comfort zones; Mike into sales activity (long drive to Cardiff and email marketing), Roger into PCI DSS compliance (he will grow to love it one day) and me into coding (rebuilt the payment page and all the CSS).

Our attention is now changing to our next development sprint, only we know that we could be asked to go live at any time. Now that’s a difficult balance to strike.

Last thing, we've discovered that we can't actually take the nasty decorative 'art' off the office walls, they appear to be held on by black magic. I have to prop my lovely Jack Hudson print on my desk. Still, nice and close to look at when day dreaming.

Excitement levels:  Rollercoastering.

Office music this week: None (possibly should have used eighties classics to pick us up)

Friday 29 October 2010

Week 13: Countdown to collection

Our beautiful offer calendar

Most of this week has been spent testing.  We've had some useful assistance from our payment processor, Datacash and especially Kieran (lady) who spotted a problem with our testing and helped us fix it without us even asking. Nice.

If we were having competitions with who draws the shortest straw, then I'd say Mike had it clearly in the early weeks with having stacks of forms to fill out.  This week though, it's firmly in Roger's hand.  He's working through a spreadsheet of 215 PCI DSS security compliance questions. We completely agree with the need for standards, but there is a sense that the "one size fits all" approach creates a few anomalies. Still, better safe than sorry.

We had yet another great session with Andy this week.  It feels great having time to spend looking at the completed application, loving the workflow and tweaking the design to improve the experience.  Now that's how software development should be. It shouldn't be a race to the finish where important principles are abandoned to meet an arbitrary deadline. Oh no. [Firmly dismounting now from my high horse].

So, we wait; ready to launch. What's more, this isn't just new for us and our client, this is new in the market, and what happens with us could change that market for everyone.

Excitement levels:  Wound like a spring. Expect sparks.

Friday 22 October 2010

Week 12: Our first customer

It's not hard to wake up with this view

In our twelfth week as a company we have our first customer. It's a great lift for us at Savvy towers, not least because it helps assure us we aren't just three deluded geeks sitting in a room. What's more, becoming a ClearSavvy.com customer isn't a one off thing, it's an on-going relationship, and we can't wait to reward our first customer with the joys of using our application.

As far as the software itself goes, we've completed the first phase features and next week is for testing and for tweaking the user journey.  When we develop, we have to sometimes skip over little bumps so that we can keep momentum.  What we don't want to do is leave those bumps in there for our customers to trip up on. I think we might need the services of our trusty UX sandpaper (Andy).

We've been monitoring the tea rounds recently, and there has been a distinct shift from one morning and one afternoon round up to two rounds morning and afternoon.  This may seem like a little thing to you, but I felt it might be sensible to record it here in case it later turns out to be significant. You never know.

Keep it in your diaries: we go live proper, 1st November. It will be an exciting day.

Excitement levels:  It feels like the calm before the storm

Thursday 14 October 2010

Week 11: Tonsillitis and trade shows

ClearSavvy.com resident baby gull 'screech' and mom.

Ok, well I guess I deserve the first calls of "sick note" for the company. With one tonsil the size of a small peach, I was confined to sick bay all of Monday. Still, with Roger never taking a sick day in his entire life, and Mike not showing any outward signs of human physiology, I suppose it was destined that I would be the first to show signs of weakness. Thankfully, I was rescued by penicillin and hot Ribena, and was back at the coal face the next day. Joy.

The day I returned, Mike was off at our first trade show. It was a specific event for technology in the debt recovery industry; pretty much the perfect event for us. So much so, we were discussing attending the event before ClearSavvy.com was no more than a few scribbled notes and some garish PowerPoint slides. We couldn't have dreamt we would have already run our product with live data, already have sales collateral, a website, some prospective clients (real ones) and an office. I think this has been our first "look how far we've come" moment. I'm sure we'll have many more in the future.

As for the trade show itself, Mike pounded the floors and listened to our competitors' pitches like an undercover spook, and the feedback is, we have nothing to worry about. I can't wait until next year's event, we'll have some serious reality to show those guys and it'll look beautiful.

Inside the (slightly sick but not too bad) office, we've plugged in our payment provider, so our customers will be able to actually pay through the system. Still a lot of testing and design work to complete, but I'm already excited about converting the great engagement rates we achieved in our test run into cold hard cash.

Next week the whole payment process will have a lovely (Aegir designed) face and it'll be great.

Excitement levels:  That graphical calendar is going to look sweeeeet!

Thursday 7 October 2010

Week 10: Website, pricing and futures

Our new website with the alternative phone version
It's been an important week at the ClearSavvy.com residence; we've put our marketing website live, worked out our pricing model and discussed our future.

At the end of last week we were putting the finishing touches to our website.  We've designed the site to achieve goals for two clearly defined user profiles.  I love that the site we've come out with doesn't look anything like the standard sites. I guess either they have different user profiles to us, or they just don't care about the user experience.  Can you explain why every single item on your website is on the page? We can, and that makes me smile.

The next big thing we tackled this week was pricing.  We'd kind of avoided it as long as possible, because it's scary.  In the end, we decided that no price list is ever going to be perfect, but we can at least make sure it's simple to understand.  I'd say we've achieved that with ours.  We had a weird, "what, so that's it?" moment when we came up with it, but it feels good to make it simple.

Another big development has been about our futures.  We've all kind of trundled along knowing that at some point we needed to formally agree what we each get from the company at the end.  It's really clear we should have had these conversations much earlier, and waiting was a bad move.  Thankfully we're now much clearer on everything and it's a big lesson learned for a new start-up - get it sorted early.

Finally, progress in both sales and development has been rocketing along this week.  We're deliberately keeping Mike honest; "If it ain't signed it don't count".  Rog and I are claiming we're one up because we delivered a working application. Mike prefers the analogy that it's 1-1 at half time, but Rog and I have had more of the ball. You can take an analogy too far!

Excitement levels:  What, another deadline smashed?

Thursday 30 September 2010

Week 9: Smile please

What a week this has been, probably the first week that has felt properly (and I mean ouch) like we're going fast.  If you've ever snowboarded in a whiteout, then you'll know that feeling of just losing your balance slightly and realising you're going like a rocket but didn't know it.

So enough rockets and snow, what have we actually done?  Well to start with we had to give in to the gods of PR and get some photos done.  We called on the mighty Andy Parker to make it happen.  Since Mike is the glamorous one, he got to go first. I just hung around taking snaps and generally getting in Andy's way.   Of course, I knew that several years of watching America's Next Top Model (not my fault) gave me all the skills necessary to hit a great pose fast.  I'm sure Tyra Banks will be on the line as soon as the photos are live.

Next up was the first live data. It's hard to explain what it feels like launching your own software on real people for the first time.  Roger and I were a little nervous, but mostly I was stressed to make sure it went perfectly.  All the preparation paid off, we made no mistakes, and what's more, the system worked like a dream, and much more effectively than we could have hoped.   All the sending is done now, we're just compiling the reports and then we're on to stage two of our development.

Mike has been busy hanging around the IoD in London having one meeting after the next. It looks like we're gaining some traction with almost no marketing and no advertising.  Mike's optimistic of getting customers ready for the 1st November when we launch the full system, and that means revenue.

Finally, we've almost finished our website.  We couldn't get our normal designer to do the work because he was busy.  So with some fast track lessons on CSS, some serious copying of talent from our application design, and (of course) the ever present Andy Parker telling me what to do, we got a site put together.  It should be live tomorrow and we're all very happy with it.  I should say now, it's been built with a purpose, not a template, and for that we're all very proud of it.

Excitement levels:  We rock!

Thursday 23 September 2010

Week 8: Banks hate us

Mike's happy face

Another eventful week passed, and much of it has been focussed on getting the software and sales pitch ready for our first proper sales meeting.  That meeting was today, and we hope it went well.  Time will tell. We just need to get Mike to talk less. That might take longer than writing the software, but we will persist.

The most pressing issue for us has been trying to set-up a merchant services agreement and to open a business bank account.  We didn't want to borrow money, we just wanted to pay money into it, and yet the banks either rejected us or made us jump through hoops.  Thankfully HSBC at least wanted our business, and now it's almost done.  I'd love to get Vince Cable down here and show him how hard it is as a new business.

Now (apparently) the most exciting thing that has happened this week is that we received our consumer credit licence.  This came from the office of fair trading, and allows us to do the work we want to do. I think Mike wanted us to jump up and down a bit, but Roger and I still struggle to get excited by paperwork.  Still, to be fair to Mike, here's a little hooray. Hooray! ...and I gave it top spot with today's photo.

The software has rocked this week.  We used Litmus to test our email and landing page content across 30+ browsers and email clients.  My previous dealings with Litmus hadn't been good, but this time the software and service was great. We've also managed to test a 60,000 email send with our automated testing tool and that worked a treat.  I'm worried that Roger is getting a bit too excited about his automated testing system... lucky he has a long weekend and some time away from it.

Next week, we send some real emails.

Excitement levels:  Gimme me real data... Gimme!

Thursday 16 September 2010

Week 7: First application designs in

Top secret designs

This week was an exciting week because we received the graphic designs for our application interface from Aegir.  We gave him a pretty tough task of making it look modern, secure and exciting but at the same time making it able to have any client's branding applied and work on any platform.  He didn't disappoint.  In fact I was so happy when I saw the designs I texted Mike.  It was a Sunday.

Since then we've reviewed the designs and agreed a few changes to soften it up a bit.  We're all very happy so far, and I can't tell you how good it feels to see our little (albeit still beta) application get a face and a personality.

In other news, we've decided to build our own marketing site rather than use Wordpress or others.  We worked out that it was quicker to deploy a website on our own servers than to install another application.  Also, we've given our website a strict time frame until December.  After that we'll consider changing it or adding to it.  Hopefully we'll have the site designed by next week and live not long after. More patience is required.

The final business basics have also been sorted out.  We now have bank accounts, an extension on our lovely home @CECBrighton and all the legal policies and documents that you'd expect to find in a business these days.  The only down side is that Mike has spent so long filling in the necessary forms, he is considering a job in the public sector.

So just a few days to go before the end of our first sprint, but we still found time for our roadmap lunch today.  As a result of said lunch, I am now very full (of spicy thai food) and won't be moving from this chair until late this evening.

Excitement levels:  I’m too full to be excited.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Week 6: Our first sprint deadline

This week has flown by, possibly because I had Monday off work to see my South African aunt and uncle who were over on a fleeting visit.  My uncle is an entrepreneur and is currently running his second mining services company.  It feels good talking to him about ClearSavvy.com, because it's ours, and we're making it happen.

Progress has been quick in terms of development this week.  We're at the point of needing the graphical design.  I should have taken my own advice and got it going last week because it has slowed us up slightly.  It's now in good hands with Aegir and we hope to get the designs by Monday. We're all looking forward to getting a pretty face to the application.  It makes it look real.

The rest of the application work is going well.  We have been wrangling with security certificates and mobile phones.  It's really important for us that as many people as possible can access our system securely on their mobiles, but it's trickier than you'd think.  In the end we've decided to get our certificate from Trustico, it's good value but also widely accepted on both phones and websites.

On the commercial side Mike's been generating some good interest.  So much so that we've brought our deadlines forward so we can service a possible client.  We now hope to have a working and tested application by 20th September.  I've declared a "sprint" so we're all focussed on that date and we're confident that we'll make it.

Finally, I should mention that we now have a white board. If one item declares to the world that "we're here to make decisions, and make them right" then it is a white board. Ours looks more like a bit of modern art suspended from chains.  I've possibly cheapened the effect by sticking a Virgin Media card on it, but I liked the sentiment.

Excitement levels: Where did that deadline come from?

Thursday 2 September 2010

Week 5: Product punch-ups

Roger pays extra for a keyboard
 without writing on it! For fun! Seriously!

"Consolidation?". That was the answer Roger gave me when I asked him what we'd done this week.  If I was feeling corporate, I'd probably settle with that; always good to consolidate. It's the grown-up equivalent of tidying your folders at university. Feels like working but without actually err… working.

No, week five hasn't been consolidation. It has been a series of conversations, trying to understand something. Problem was, we didn't quite know what we were trying to understand.  Until yesterday.

ClearSavvy.com has been two distinct movements; one of software development, and one of sales and marketing.  These two movements bounce into each other every now and again and it feels a bit strange, but then life carries on. Think "movie where a guy and a girl meet, feel weird, not sure why, turns out they're brother and sister but didn't know it".

This week, we've bumped these two movements several times, and finally we get it.  We've realised we can't just develop the most successful software in a logical order because it won't capture the imagination of our early adopters. They won't need maximised results as much as they need a demonstration of the breadth of possibilities.  Equally, we realise we can't treat sales and marketing like a private conversation with Mike and our prospects.  To make development decisions we need to be right in it. Involved in all the sales and marketing thinking so we can change and adapt what we're making.

In short, week 5 has been about how everything we're doing is tightly interconnected. We've still got an idea for a great product that our prospects will love. Only now, we know we can deliver it in the order that will excite them and we understand the decisions we're going to be faced with along the way.

Excitement levels: I get it, you get it, we get it!

Thursday 26 August 2010

Week 4: We are….

We finally have a face and a name. For anyone that has read my previous posts, you'll know we had a real struggle with creating a logo.  Luckily, we were able to locate a great local designer called Aegir (http://aegir.me/).  We chose him because he has excellent web application design skills, but he is also a font nerd; and that is apparently a good thing for logos.

We found that having a big sheet of similar logos all together made it really hard to choose one.  Once we cut them out and looked at them in isolation, it was much easier.  We also dropped them individually into a sheet of logos from other companies in our industry, and it looks more modern and more technical; which is just what we wanted. We hope you like it, but if you don't, please be gentle.

Once we had the logo, we could create our holding page for the (still to be built) website.  Mike had his heart set on Wordpress so I gave it a shot for him.  We installed it OK, but once I tried to make a simple holding page, I realised it was total overkill. You should never have to work harder to create something simpler.  We've given up on Wordpress for now, and reverted to good old HTML/PHP.

Other progress this week has been in the software development.  We've made great progress and it's looking good. Of course, the easy bit is writing it, the hard bit is making it secure, robust, and fast. That's still to come.

So what do we do? Well, that's something I'll leave to our site to explain in the coming weeks.  Chances are that our product won't be for you, but hopefully you'll still like us and be interested to see if we succeed or not.

Excitement levels: Surely it can't be this easy?

Thursday 19 August 2010

Week 3: Keep it simple and choose who we compete with

We've settled into a routine here at start-up towers but that doesn't mean we've been getting complacent.  Last Thursdays we dragged our user interface guru; Andy, up to the office to do our first user experience session.  That's where we sit in front of mock-ups of our application and decide whether it's any good or not.  Lucky for us, Andy isn't shy when it comes to telling us we've missed a trick, and we were quickly looking for ways to improve the user journey.  After an hour or so of bouncing ideas, we got to a completely different way of creating the journey and I reckon the users' are going to love it.  You know when something is right, and we were buzzing all the next day about what we'd created.  Thank you Andy, you're a legend.

In other developments, Rog and I have put our heads down and coded away at the basics of the system.  With my new framework, and our new way of under-complicating everything, we've made great progress.  Funny, we're finding that everything can be made simpler, and I think when it comes to a start-up, keeping it simple is so important.  We've got to make it past the first few months yet, so no point worrying about whether a decision now will affect us in year two.

The final news is we've just finished our latest roadmap lunch.  The outcome was really interesting.  Firstly, don't order fish finger sandwiches from the Fountain Head (under-whelming), second we really have to focus on what we want to sell.  With software it's so easy to think "we'll add this bit on here and that bit on there" and before you know it, you've got an application suite on your hands.  We don't want that, we want to be the best at one thing, and be indispensible and seamless at providing that one thing to our clients.  If we keep focussed on that, and justify our product choices that way, then I'm confident that we'll get to our destination as quickly and inexpensively as is possible.

Excitement levels: Look at the size of our database!

Thursday 12 August 2010

Week 2: Home sweet home

We're in! I kind of expected an office to be a "nice to have".  I didn't expect it to be something we'd sort out in the second official week.  We've only committed for three months, and it isn't using up too much of our precious cash, so it feels like a good move.  Thanks to Nerys and Charlotte at CECOffices.com for getting us in so quickly.

In other developments, we've been using MockFlow.com to create the mock-ups for our software.  So far the experience has been more positive than negative, and at just $59 for the year, it is certainly great value for money.  We have our first usability review tonight, and if it goes well then it's a big step towards understanding how our software will actually feel when using it.

After our unhappy experience with 99Designs.com we took a different approach to find a designer.  We decided to only look at freelancers, because we felt you get more for your money and we decided to only look at people in Brighton and Hove because we wanted to be able to meet them easily.  So we got onto WiredSussex.com, searched the directories, and then we went through all the websites reviewing their portfolios.  It is incredible to me why a freelance designer wouldn't have a decent website.  If any of you are reading this, here are my tips as a potential client: get a website, make it usable not an art project, put your contact details, oh and make it clear you want me to call you no matter what project it is.

We had a meet-up with the designer we found, he's a great guy and we're kicking things off straight away. A good designer is another thing we've decided we can't scrimp on.  If the software doesn't make the users feel the way we want them to then it'll fail, and that really would be a waste of money.

Finally, today is our first roadmap lunch.  We wanted a way to let Mike explore the excitement he has for the future without being an interruption to our development.  Development needs momentum, and interruptions are a killer.  Of course, Mike's imagination and excitement is what made this company possible, so we don't want that lost either. So, we have a designated lunch hour each week, Mike runs it, and we don't get stressed that we should be coding. Should be fun.

Excitement levels:  Can't talk... coding.

Thursday 5 August 2010

Week 1: Go!

So, here we are; a company. At least, we will be when we get our certificates of incorporation, but every day it feels as if "the company" becomes more real, more tangible than the day before.

Our sales strategy is to get a trial product ready for 1st November 2010. That's just three months from now, and we started officially on Monday.   Of course, it's not like a development cycle at Pure360. There we would be starting fresh every few months.  Here we have an accumulated history or thinking, waiting and planning. For me it's a few months, for Mike you can count it in years. So are we ready? Hell yes.

Three months to develop a brand new software product and not a bad start this week.  We've signed off a project scope, and I've decided to try something different with the specification process; we're creating a "functional workflow". I'm not sure I'm using the right phrase, but we've worked out what data is needed at what points without thinking about the user experience. This'll form the "restrictions" for when we design the user experience. I'm hoping that by doing it this way, we'll catch more functional issues so we don't get so many re-designs later in the development. It's a hunch, but I don't believe in blindly following someone else's system.

The advantage of having developed software for so long is that I know if my development team has the right skills. Our team was light on user experience knowledge and interface development skills. Roger and I can ace the rest, but get to building an interface and we don't shine. We went looking and were lucky enough to find the right man for the job.  He's a user experience don, an interface whizz, and just the right amount of crazy to want to help us in his spare time. We'll have more on him in the future.

It's easy to think that all we have to do is write software, but I'd say it's like we're juggling with one hand but we're also trying to catch balls with the other; there's companies house, setting up a bank, investigating payment systems, getting a logo, sales and cost forecasting, not to mention that little thing called sales. For us, it was a simple choice; Mike is the company, Roger and I are the tech. Mike has beavered away in the time he has available and we're making good progress in catching those balls (note to self, avoid "balls" analogies).

Last thing, we've decided to get an office for the period of the trial development (and probably beyond). We think the investment will pay back in improved efficiency. I think that as a collective that'll probably hold true. Thanks to twitter, we hooked up with the lovely people @CECBrighton and hopefully we can sort something out with them pretty soon. If we do, then expect a 'moving in' pic next week.

Excitement levels: We can do this.

Thursday 29 July 2010

The pros and cons of crowds

Mike and I decided to get a logo.  We realised that without one we couldn’t create sales collateral and that would hold us back.  Mike found a site called 99designs.  It’s a crowd-sourcing website that allows you to submit your design requirements and ‘prize’, and then individual designers submit their designs to win.

We submitted the requirement with a prize of $310, and we sat back and waited.  To our amazement, we quickly got designs to look at, and we thought they looked good.  We liked a blue design, gave it a star rating, and made requests for some changes.  This was a mistake.  By making it known that we liked a design, the other designers started to mimic the colour and style of the design we said we liked.  Before we knew it, all of the designs were turning blue. To stop this we asked for different colours and styles, but the designers simply followed our comments and didn’t innovate.

We wanted to get control again, so we went through each design and rated them against the four words we wanted the logo to communicate; modern, technology, secure, professional.  After we had rated each design we had a ‘winner’.

Neither of us was absolutely certain about our choice, so we thought we would ask the twittersphere to help.  We created a questionnaire on wufoo and sent it off to the twitter community.

Over 200 people viewed the survey and 17 people were kind enough to complete it.  From the feedback we received we knew the logo was no good.  It made us realise that just because we have personal tastes, doesn’t make us qualified to design a logo.  We needed a professional to understand us, know the context of our choices, and then design a logo iteratively by working with us.

We’ve learnt a valuable lesson about the power of the crowd.  It provides broad and varied perspectives and innovative suggestions and support.  It’s a perfect starting point when you need to make a decision.  However, when you need depth of thought and focus, the crowd can’t replace a small, close team that understands and learns through the process, together.

Excitement levels: OMG full time development from Monday!

A special thank you to @Davery1979, @fiftydigital, @mashupash, @specialad (and those who didn’t leave your names) for completing our questionnaire.  Your input has saved us from making a really, really poor decision.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Preparation is the key to success (at least when cooking Chinese food)

The problem with working for yourself and at home is that there is a continual sense of guilt that you should be doing something else.  Remember when you were at college and you knew you had an essay to write but were at the pub or doing the food shop at low-cost, well it feels a little like that.

I’ve been in this position before, and I knew that as soon as we started the company, there would be an unspoken pressure that anything other than writing the software would be a bad use of time.  That’s all well and good, but this is a team of three people, and before we all start working with our heads down, we need to have a plan, and we need to make sure that we’re all working as effectively as we can.

In my last company, we never made those preparations, the product was being developed and we had to attempt to create a working structure and a plan as we went along.  Not this time.  This time we’ve created a “start” date; 1st August 2010.  That’s the official, birthday of the new company.  All the time up until then is preparation, and all the preparation is about making sure the team of people will be as effective as possible from the start.  Here are some of the things we’ve been working on this week in preparation:

How we communicate with each other (see my other blog)
Setting up our hosting provider, security and systems
Choosing and setting up a CRM, mail etc 
Establishing a task list and priorities
Sourcing a logo designer (really time consuming)
Incorporation forms and banking services
Writing a new software framework (it’s called “Flow” and it’s cool)

I know that if we had tried to start building the software before we’d done these things, then all of them would have been really stressful because they would have felt like they were taking time away from the product. Equally, we know you can’t prepare forever, and we‘re all looking forward to when we do start the product proper.

Excitement levels: Rising

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Business: Art or science?

Hi, I’m Mark (far right in the pic) and the other two are my business partner, Mike (left) and my trusty tech guru, Roger (middle).  We’re embarking on a new company venture.  We’re going to write some software, sell some software, make people happy, and then sell the company.  Sounds easy.  It sounds even easier when I tell you I’ve just finished seven years at Pure360.com; a company I helped to start, where we wrote some software, sold some software, made (some) people happy, and then sold the company (twice).

If the job of creating new companies is more a science than an art, then it would seem pretty safe to assume that, having done it once, I should find it easier to do it again.  Mind you, if it’s more an art than a science, maybe the mix of people, timing and choices were just right at Pure360.com and I have no way of using that to replicate it.

In this blog, I’ll be recording the events as the weeks unfold and explaining the choices we make.  I intend to make choices based on logic and experience and see where that takes us.  Along the way, I’ll be hoping to put the full force of my management philosophy into action, and you can read more about that specifically at www.manageasmile.com.

So, deep breath, and here goes.