Category: Startups & MVP’s

How a Smart Banker Turned a $2000 Investment into a Steady Revenue Stream

Orderly Shopify App

The Big Idea

This blog is a true story of how one of our first clients turned a $2000 investment in a Shopify app, into a full-time business. In fact, its repurposed from his blog published a few years back. With his consent, of course!

Back in the day, Bjorn Forsberg was leading the Product Management team of a bank, with little or no time to get into full-time product development, writing code or providing support for a an app. He had commissioned us for a princely sum of $2000, to develop a Shopify app called OrderlyPrint. He did his research thoroughly and came up with the idea of building a Shopify app for printing address labels and invoices in bulk. And he wanted a scalable Shopify app without having to invest too much time from his busy work schedule.

He set about designing the app, the mock-ups and a fully written spec, because that’s what he did at his day job. So it came naturally to him, and he enjoyed the process more, since it’s his own venture. Having shared his vision and the brief with us, he eagerly awaited the first version of the Shopify app.

The Genesis

OrderlyPrint was launched in early 2012, with a basic version but had signed up its first customer on day one. That was a good start for Bjorn and OrderlyPrint. Customers trickled in and Bjorn got some positive feedback. The app needed minimal effort from him in terms of the customer support. And it was priced at $4.99 initially, with a few iterations in terms of pricing to strike a good balance.

We continued to add more features such as bulk fulfilment – an idea that Bjorn got from the forums, which allowed him to increase the subscription fees. He continued to invest the revenues generated from the app into building new features. By the end of 2012, nine months into the launch, OrderlyPrint had 392 customers generating $1900 a month, with no marketing spends or promotions. The only promotions were customer reviews on the app store.

The Redesign

2013, the second year into the app, Bjorn believed it was time for an upgrade with new features, in fact a completely new version with enhanced features. 6 months and $15,000 later the new app was ready. By then the first version was clocking $4100 per month in revenues. However, the new version had all the bells and whistles that the client wanted.

But did it work better that the first? If he had a chance, would Bjorn do it all over again? No! Like they say, if ain’t broke don’t fix it!

A few users moved to the new app, but many stayed with the original app. So Bjorn had two apps to run now! The new app saw a few improvements since, but the simplicity of the older app made it the popular choice even in 2014.

The new Shopify app needed more time to be invested in terms of support, marketing and promotions, which required more than one person doing it part-time.

The Competition

Competition arrived with Shopify releasing a free Order Printer app and another copycat app that had every feature we built. It’s healthy competition at the end of the day, but one needs to work that much harder to get the app noticed. Bjorn did re-targeting ads and few AdWords.

Over the years Bjorn learnt to code by himself. He built the Order Printer Templates app all by himself. And Voila! The app made its first sale the day it was published! The app creates beautifully customised documents for use in Shopify’s app. Customers can create great looking documents for a one-time charge of $29 per template. So now Bjorn leverages the competition to his advantage! In the first couple of months it generated $1000 per month.

The Bottom-line

If you have a great idea, some spare time to invest in support, you should take a stab at building the product. Ofcourse one needs a good partner eco-system like the Shopify partners team that helps Bjorn feature new apps and get them off the ground. We at Idyllic are glad we could help Bjorn build his first OrderlyPrint app that continues to generate substantial revenues. Bjorn’s is an incredible success story of how an enterprising idea with a product mindset and the right partners can help you build a great business. Here’s to more such entrepreneurs and great products! If you have a product or app idea, we are always willing to help you along the startup journey.

 

The Big Man is on Campus to Delight Startup Entrepreneurs

Startup Campus London

Being a startup entrepreneur is not an easy task, you have to wear many hats at the same time. The boss, the business development executive, the operations guy and the bean counter are rolled into one at Idyllic. This week the bossman Jinesh is donning the role of sales guy on Campus London.

For the uninitiated, Campus London is the hotbed of startup activity prompted by Google as the hangout for budding entrepreneurs. Its a place where hot coffee and big ideas flow freely, with industry experts and Googlers sharing their expertise.  The perfect launchpad for entrepreneurs to start something new or meet like-minded folks and exchange ideas.

Campus London is Jinesh’s first port of call when he set out for exploring new shores, having delivered some awesome mobile apps and web experiences for clients in the US.  The new-age dev shop he started a few years back, still does business the old fashioned way, through building relationships based on trust and mutual respect. So what better place than Google’s Campus London to network and meet prospective business partners.

He’s on Campus this week, and he’s in a generous mood. Playing Santa to entrepreneurs  with design and development services virtually free of cost or at half the normal development cost.

So if you’re an aspiring startup founder with a bright idea, here’s your chance to bounce off your idea with him and start building the product. And he can be a pretty good sounding board, considering his own experience in entrepreneurship and working with a multitude of startups across industries.

Just catch him over a cup of coffee to discuss your big idea and he will give you his two-cents on how to go about building it. And if you are keen on it, he will get his team to design your brand identity, colour schemes and logos, absolutely free of cost. What’s more you could even get 50% discount on the design and development cost for building an MVP or your website. Its just his way of paying back to the startup community, while building future business.

Wondering how to reach him? Its easy to spot him, right now he must be prowling around the cafeteria looking for business/ideas. Or drop a line on jparekh@idyllic.co and he’s pretty quick to respond on mails. You could reach him on twitter @jparekh78 or call him on +44-7452 351 188.   

So contact him now, for he’s a man in a hurry. He maybe gone too soon!

How Research Killed an Uber Cool Startup Idea Part-2

Uber Research 2

Research Findings

If you’ve made it so far you must be genuinely interested in startup research or if you’ve just landed here, you should read the first part of the blog. Anyways, to pick up from where we left last week, our consumer research threw some interesting facts. While the delivery idea sounded good on paper, there were few takers on ground. When we analysed the numbers and the conversations we had with prospective customers in Pune city, here’s what we discovered:

Problem of Plenty

In Pune, most people either have a lot of time or family members helping them take care of their day to day needs. Launching an app based service that takes care of all the delivery needs for a select few who are short of time and resources would have come handy. But it would not have made much business sense since it would end up serving a small niche, with little scope to scale up. Add to the fact, there are more than a handful of app based pick- up and delivery services vying for a share of the same pie.

Customer Adoption

Pune is not ready for hyper local delivery. Even though the customer experience with an app based startup is considered to be a major factor in decision making, people would refrain from paying for the service since it’s not tangible. At the same time  they wouldn’t mind paying extra for the product if there’s a price premium for quality. In a place like Pune, which is not geographically spread out getting customers to pay for a hyperlocal delivery service is a tough ask. The customers would rather do it by themselves rather than using an app and paying for it.

Touch & Feel Experience

In a city short of entertainment options, a visit to a supermarket is considered as a sort of weekend family outing. Strange as it may sound, people enjoy the touch and feel of the things that they buy. The tactile feel factor is what people base their purchase decisions on and will find it hard to entrust it to a delivery person to take those buying decisions for them. Besides, shopping is seen as a form of weekend family activity!

The Final Nail

We made a list of occasions where the product will fit in a user’s day to day routine. What came out as the research findings and shared with the bossman took him by surprise. The interaction of the user with the product was not as much as he had anticipated initially. It would have made a little business sense to become an uber of deliveries. Since the delivery focused needs of users were fragmented and way too less to have a specialised delivery fleet to serve them.

As truth began to sink in he reluctantly gave up the idea of delivery app, at least for the time being. And I get to keep my job for now. The bottomline, however is to highlight the power of user research in product validation. Sure entrepreneurs are passionate about their ideas and are often blind-sided. Thats where research comes in, to understand consumer behaviour, analyse the market realities and validate the product idea. And to tell it like it is, good or bad. 

How Research Killed an Uber Cool Startup Idea Part-1

User Research

The Honest Confession

I must confess, it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, when the bossman comes to you flashing a million dollar smile, with what he believed was a million dollar startup idea.Sticking your neck out, putting your job on the line and suggesting we do some user research before we get into execution, much less the app development.

Well as it turned out, we took the punt with the backing of the UX head and my manager. The idea was to launch an on-demand hyper local concierge, an app based service that could pick up and deliver almost everything under the sun that the consumer needs, well almost.

The Business Model

It was supposed to be a consumer centric service akin to Uber for deliveries. Users will request riders to pick up their stuff and get it delivered to them. Riders will have a choice of selecting their deliveries. All we needed was a set of riders who were willing to ferry stuff and an uber cool app and voila we had a great startup idea!

But the idea begs the question, is there a consumer need or the market for such an app in an already overcrowded space of delivery based startups. The boss however was completely sold on the potential of his idea, after all he uses these services several times a week for various errands. So are we talking to an audience of 1? He had a strong belief in the product, well not quite a product yet but the idea. He was of the firm opinion that consumers need a way to quickly get something delivered instead of doing it themselves. Right from groceries to that late night ice-cream craving to getting the laundry from the dry-cleaners.

And the way it works is for every transaction a certain percentage is charged as convenience fees. A part of it goes toward the rider fees, who work independently just as Uber drivers do. They are free to take up the request or turn it down, but the focus remains firmly on the customer experience. After all if customers are satisfied they generate more business in the form of referrals that are critical for a startup to flourish, while keeping the User Acquisition Costs (UAC) low.

Research & Discovery

Coming back to the research, we set out on our path to discovery to uncover some consumer insights and needs, much to the chagrin of the bossman. And what we unearthed during the journey were fascinating latent insights into the consumer’s mind in the changing digital landscape. We started our user research in the small but buzzing city of Pune. If we can crack the Pune market then we could scale up the model to a bigger metropolis like Mumbai. We spoke to housewives, professionals and almost every possible demographic that would fit into the target audience.

The results took us by surprise, to say the least. From outright bizarre reactions to very nonchalant ones we had got all kinds of responses. At the end of the day we had to analyse and read between the lines to decipher the insights.

Stay tuned for more on the fascinating discoveries and insights which will published in the second part of this blog, next week. It’s worth the wait!

 

How A Smart Customer Stole Our Business


We had a customer in Canada, let’s call him Smart Alex. They had off-shored their Ruby on Rails Spree development work to us in India. They had a pressing need and we took up the project. We delivered the project on time and the customer was very happy. The testimonial he gave us after the project speaks for itself. So the next thing we felt is that we’ll get more business from the customer. I am happy to say, we got none. The reason I am happy is that it’s in the best interests of our customer’s business.

How did it happen?

Our customer realized that they could build their own team here in India and took the plunge. This is not something new that I have seen. A lot of our customers have attempted this without much success. However, this particular customer did it well and more importantly, they did it better than us when it comes to costs, I must admit.

So what did this customer do differently, and how did they succeed?

It’s the mindset, not courage

A successful business always has the money to try out a few things and see if it works. However, Smart Alex set out to make things work instead of dipping his toes in the water. This mindset has made all the difference, I strongly believe.

Do not outsource when you can DIY

Most of the previous failed attempts started by hiring the big man first. The guy who will set the team, understand the culture and get it going. But find the wrong guy and it all goes downhill. Smart Alex flew down with some secondary research and picked Bangalore as the place to be. He hired an HR person of his choice first, got this person to Canada and showed how the Company works and then with his help set up 12 interviews with developers. He flew down himself and hired 4 out of them and kept coming back every few months for fresh hiring.

Set a budget

The most astonishing fact of this whole deal is the team he hired is half as expensive as the team we have. I had the opportunity to see the standup and I can tell you that he has built a superb team. The team seemed grounded in humbleness and was talking smart. Most of our previous customers have failed because you compare the Indian Rupee to the US Dollar and feel that everything is cheap. He studied the market and set the budget right where it should be.

A diligent process and ample humility

You would think that it is hard to manage an offshore team and there won’t be enough visibility. However, the watertight discipline of standups and humility in dealings is all that was required for the developers to take ownership of the product. More so, he did not consider it as a secondary team but fostered innovation and suggestions coming from the developers.

Within a year he built a solid team of 12 developers in a humble office space which is operating in a self sufficient fashion. Now, the time is ripe for hiring a product development director for scaling the team and the product itself.

I want to personally congratulate you Smart Alex for this smart move. There are tons of things that could have gone wrong, but it is your due diligence that has gotten you this far. Kudos!

Startup Conundrum – The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

As a startup founder scouting for new business in software development, I was in Chicago last month. It is very intriguing to find the kind of challenges entrepreneurs have and how they are deadlocked working in their business. Here’s a particularly interesting meeting with a startup founder that I would like to share.

A 15-year-old company, run by a single owner — let’s call the owner Joe.

Interestingly, I met with Joe two years back. We were almost going to sign up a project when we lost the deal for reasons beyond our control. Joe was candid enough to give us the reasons, I saw his point and wished him luck.

The Good – High-Performance Team

So Joe decided to build an internal team. Now, Joe was a seasoned businessman and not a technologist. He took a leap of faith with a highly competent 6 member team and gave them a go ahead. As it turned out, the team found it challenging to meet the promised deliverables and features got backlogged each week. With a weekly sprint burn of $25K, Joe is certainly frustrated as the project is still work in progress.

The Bad – High Burn Rate

I further probed on why this is the case and what I found was amusing, to say the least. Their lead developer is an extremely competent engineer. I have in fact worked with him in my past life.  But it seems to be a case of over-engineering now. The team has made it important to maintain 98% test coverage rather than realizing that the launch date needs to be taken into consideration as well. I am not saying that the tests are not important. But you know what I mean when I say over testing is waste of time and money.

The Ugly – No End Date

The project manager is pulled in all directions and has left much to be desired in terms of guiding the team in the right direction. So Joe is stuck with a decent team which is heading aimlessly and satiating their coding fantasies more than building a business. Though the team would have a different take, I am sure. But building everything in Ruby and just one other piece in Clojure without having the right reasons makes me think it is moving south.

It is a classic case. The development team saying that software development is an evolving process and that they cannot estimate. Right now this project has no end date. The business, however always has cash and time constraints.

I was wondering if Joe would be willing to use our services for course correction on this project or on a new project. His concern is the big time zone difference as we are almost on the other side of the world. My take would be we work while you sleep well and we are awake when you need us the most!

The Solution

Joe, in my mind, needs a mix of teams — onshore and offshore and fix the team that he has in place and set a tighter process. The constraint should be time and money and everything needs to revolve around that instead of 100% test coverage.

Let us know what would you do if you were in Joe’s shoes. How would you go about solving this catch 22 situation where the team cannot be let go as the product is two years in the making now, but also there is no way to find out how much longer it will take and the burn rate is huge.

Should he hire a CTO or bring in a consulting firm from outside to manage the existing team? None seems very plausible without a long discussion and debate at the moment. Stay tuned for more such intriguing startup stories…

Why is Startup Hiring so difficult?

Ask any Startup CEO or founder, and chances there they’ll all tell you the same thing: Recruiting is hard.

Every business wants the most intelligent, dedicated, and experienced players to fill out their team. But entrepreneurs need people who are more than intelligent and experienced. They need passion. Wall Street experience and an Ivy League pedigrees aren’t as important as shared interests, ethics, and values; or people prepared to mature with your company’s own growth.

Startup’s need people who not only believe in the company’s mission but will work their butts off in a multitude of ways to fulfill it. With no bandwidth to babysit and mentor people, startup’s need people who can hit the ground running, and take ownership and run projects on their own. And they need them now. (Willing to take a 20% salary cut to work on something they can, at least, feel good about doesn’t hurt either).

Often in a startup’s infancy, hiring for a specific position in a rapidly growing business can prove challenging. Every member of that initial team must be able to perform various roles. They need to function as a Swiss Army knife of sorts; all the tools needed to build your perfect startup rolled in one. Finding people who can do that while still being experts in their domain isn’t simple.

Especially since the recruiting process, naturally, works a little bit differently than it does in established companies. For a larger business, the recruitment for individual roles has the ability to more focused and targeted. Startups don’t necessarily have the same luxury. Since you’re looking for those Jack-of-Trade types, it can be difficult simply to describe the role you’re hiring for. (Help Wanted: marketing guru with a background in graphic design, business operations, customer service, and it would be super great if were a pro at baking for office birthdays either).

So how do you choose the right people?

Well, there’s no formula to it but here at Idyllic, we don’t hire clones like most organisations do. We hire diverse people. We don’t look for people who fit in, we look for people who stand out. People who are self-assured and confident and who believe in what they do. We respect and love the fact that each and every human is unique.

Sure, we assess their skills for the role they are being hired for, but that’s just one aspect of their personality.. we’d rather focus on putting together a great team of awesome people. It’s worked really well for us and we’ve managed to build a team of extremely talented, crazy passionate people.

How do you hire? What do you do differently? We’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

5 Ways we keep our Communication Untangled

communicate

Ours is a time of technology, an era of non-verbal communication and the age of texting, tweeting, status updates and even, the now rudimentary email. Alright enough with the dramatics. But really, considering communication is almost completely not face-to-face nowadays, why does it bewilder us when we find that we have issues in communication?

In software development and even more so, in agile development, communication is key. Whether it’s communication within the team or communication with the client, it is necessary to make sure that non-communication, or worse, miscommunication is not the reason work is lagging.

When we first started out, we were just a couple of guys, two PCs, two tables and a mosaic floor (Our CTO fondly remembers the mosaic floor and I’m a sucker for tiny details like so!). At that point, communication was a non-issue. I mean, if two people couldn’t communicate, we might as well have just shut down the company and gone home. When things finally did kick off, we started growing. And now we’re a team of about 50 odd individuals, comprising development, testing, outbound marketing, content strategy and our very own Happiness officer, located at offices in three different cities.

And this is precisely why we always make it a point to be on top of our communication game. To keep up with this growth we’ve encountered, we tried several communication tools and several basic ideas as well, in an attempt to see what fitted us best. Here’s what we can’t do without in 5 succinct points-

1. Hall:

Their tagline is “Bring your team together” and that is literally what it lets us do. The basic functionality of Hall is quite fundamentally chat. It has all the regular features of a chat application like private and group chats, as well as video calls from their web app. Additionally, you just have to search for the name of any Hall user and you can chat with them directly. Client communication works great as well because you don’t need to do anything special to add a client. You look up their names, add them to your team chat and just start communicating.

2. Basecamp:

We use Basecamp primarily for requirements gathering and general discussions. Basecamp is however, primarily a project management software.A team member can log into Basecamp and get the full story of a project’s progress. Basecamp also has a dashboard, which tells you everything that has changed in a project and what is relevant to you. It doesn’t break the mold of usual project management software but we must give it a +1 for usability and compatibility with various external technologies.

3. Pivotal Tracker:

We fulfill our project management needs with Pivotal Tracker. This is possibly one of the best tools out there, that caters so well to agile development. We track user stories using this tool and once again, ease of use is a pretty significant factor for our bias towards this software. Additionally, Pivotal Tracker also provides a fairly uncomplicated method to make clients understand agile development.

4. Microsoft Excel:

Okay, don’t judge us for using just Excel. I can imagine some of you scoffing at the thought, but the truth is, at this stage, we haven’t really found the need to complicate our time tracking with a more directed tool. Perhaps, when we grow bigger, we might need a proper software to log hours, but for now, Excel works just fine.

5. Daily status updates:

We like daily status emails. At the end of the day, instead of having a meeting to find out how much is done and how much is leftover, everyone sends a daily status update that details exactly how much they got done on that day. This lets us not waste time, be aware of what everyone else has done and what we need to be on top of, the next day. Also, it doesn’t encourage micromanagement (which is by far, a curse to team morale), and allows for more transparency within the organization.

One thing we have discovered is that there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all. What one person might find confusing, another would possibly love. It would take some trial and error for you to find the right communication tools to fit your organization (Case in point: Using excel for time tracking). So don’t be afraid to try different tools and to switch from one to another. Your team and your clients will be thankful for it.

Capacity: The biggest challenge for High Growth Companies

So you’ve just gotten 3M in funding. Is that good news?

Here are the hypothetical terms of getting funding:

  1. You get your first 400K right now. That’s good news of course!
  2. You get  600K if you hit 100 paying customers in next 3 months and build 20 new features. This is bad news.
  3. You get other 1M if you hit your second milestone.

Current Situation:

Your team size is just three, two of you being the founders of the company. If you both sit and code then who will procure the 100 customers? Time to ramp up. And that is why it’s not so good news, but it’s bad news.

As a company moves from being a startup to becoming a high growth company, the first and foremost thing that sets in is hardships in hiring the right talent and keeping up the pace of development. So what do you do?

Should you hire fast?

The short answer is NO! You might end up hiring the wrong culture. You might even end up hiring way too expensive people which won’t be justifiable in the next years pay hike. You will loose time if the people you find are not the right fit.

Should you hire slow then?

Again the answer is NO! You cannot afford to not meet the deadline.

So what should you do?

Take a step back. The problem in hand is that you have to meet the deadline. You ought to hire, so open up the job posts.
The next and the most important thing to do is, look out for a consulting firm to keep the momentum going. Make sure one of you founders act as a CTO and talks to the consulting firm you’ve partnered with every single day ensuring, the work is moving forward. This will give you immediate momentum. If you can afford, hire a business analyst to cut down the right stories so that you will speed up the development avoiding the back and forth with the consulting firm. I wrote about the Dirty Secrets of a Consulting Firm and how to choose one some time back.

If you actually choose the right firm, you will easily meet the 3 month deadline. The second founder will only focus on getting those 100 paying customers.

To add to that, you would even hire a few right people in the mean while. At the end of 3 months, start to move the work to your team and getting it in house. As you ramp up internally, you could choose to continue working with the consulting firm or end the relationship based on your experience and cost analysis with them.

As you could see, outsourcing could be very handy during this time. You keep the momentum going while avoiding the pitfalls of hiring fast. Hope this article gives you a new line of thinking.

Silver Bullet – The Problem

We’re working on a very interesting scheduling application MVP which was initially focused on one of the B2C industry. As we began the work, our customer asked us to build the system so generic that it can scale to any industry.

Now this would make complete sense to anyone and you would think that it would be the right architecture to go for. However, we proposed to our customer otherwise.

We told the customer that they are aiming at a silver bullet and that can lead to a certain death for their startup. We highlighted below problems for them:

BRAND MESSAGING

Every industry has a message that resonates rightly with them. If you attempt to build a generic system, your messaging will have to be generic too. This will not strike the right chord with the customers. They won’t consider employing the system.

REDUCE COST OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING

For each new vertical you add, you double your marketing efforts. For each new industry, you have to market to the right players with the right message. This is a problem. It does not let you focus as an entrepreneur on selling. With every failure, it would solidify your thinking that this is not the right market.

LET’S STOP THE WORK AND VALIDATE THE MARKET FURTHER

We recommended that we do not build the MVP as they are not confident and believe they will be able to sell this to that particular industry. Let’s go ahead and figure out how could we take the product, without being built, to customers and try to sell it to them. Only then should we build the product?

We do not mind refunding the token you’ve given, but we need to make sure you build it for the right reasons.

THE OUTCOME

Our customer did not stop the work and now are more confident that they can take this product and sell. However, they still want to build the application as generic as possible. We’ve promised them we will build the core of it generically, but it won’t ever be a silver bullet with a silver switch to allow you to switch the industries. We wish we could pursue them to sell before they build, but we’ve to go by their gut this time as they are the core entrepreneurs and we will have to trust their judgement.

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