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, 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. 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!