Skedsheet Blog

Where we talk about the product, calendars, organization, and business

Archive for March 2009

Building a buyer persona

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mannequins in lima After reading World Wide Rave, and The Inmates are Running the Asylum, I got interested in trying to build a “persona” of the person who would use, purchase, and share skedsheet.  This is a short description of our customer – who they are, what their job is, and how they might use our software.

There’s probably not just one buyer persona for us… but it’s important to figure out what our possible customers look like in order to get a good idea of how they would hear about us, what they care about.

We even need to think about what features they’re going to be excited about – to share skedsheet with their friends and co-workers.  Trying to make this specific is interesting, because if forces you to really think through your customers.  Here’s my first attempt.

Mike:

40-year old owner of a countertop installation company that has 5 employees, and does a little over $600K in annual sales.  Mike co-owns the business with his wife, Diane.  He is responsible for managing the two fabricators in the shop and two installers.  Mike goes into the field to measure customer’s’ countertops and he occasionally helps install them.  Diane is the primary salesperson, and they also have an admin assistant who answers the phones and does some sales work, too.

Mike plans to grow the business, and has invested a bit in technology – high end routers and a nice edge-profile machine, but most of the CNC saws are a bit too expensive and he doesn’t have the production volume at this point to justify them.  In addition to his own Ford 350 truck that the business occasionally uses for installations, he also has a box truck that the installers use daily.

Because being a small-business owner in a niche construction trade is a little unusual, Mike spends at least a few nights per week looking at online forums where a community of other countertop business owners exchange ideas about business, technical details of what they’re doing, and talk about the latest tools.

Mike has spent some time building spreadsheets to help with a few of the daily tasks around the office, including a spreadsheet that Diane uses to make estimates for customers, a spreadsheet of details of the jobs they have scheduled.  They also use an outlook calendar to keep track of the measure and installation appointments.  Though he’d never admit to being a “computer guy”, he likes using his iphone and has considered buying a Macintosh to make a nice website and online photo gallery of his work.

The only software that Mike has ever bought for his business are Quickbooks, and the CAD software he uses to draw out the designs that they’re going to build.  Mike feels some pain because of the way they’re managing their schedule now, but there’s no way that he would spend thousands of dollars on an ERP system.  Maybe when his business is doing $2M in sales it will be time to look at that.

Written by Harry Hollander

March 25, 2009 at 6:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Coming up with an elevator pitch

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elevators by Penningtron - http://www.flickr.com/photos/byebyeempire/80889416/ Skedsheet needs a really concise, clear and compelling explanation – an elevator pitch – to answer “what is skedsheet?”. 

It’s called an elevator pitch because you’re supposed to imagine what you’d say if you got into an elevator with a prospective customer. And you only had that time of the ride up to give the other person an idea of what you do, why it’s interesting, and why they might care.

Maybe that’s 30 seconds, but probably even less.

For JobTracker, we’ve come up with a decent answer. 

JobTracker is scheduling and job-management software that helps businesses eliminate the time they waste scheduling and looking for folders every day.

 

It’s kind of a mouthful, but it gets all of the concepts across, mostly in a way that someone who knows nothing about the software gets an idea of what JobTracker is all about.

Since skedsheet is a re-imagined, stripped-down, simplified version of JobTracker in some ways, maybe that description is a decent place to start.  But, just on the face of it, I don’t think that skedsheet is “job management” software.

Skedsheet is scheduling software that helps businesses eliminate the time they waste scheduling and looking for folders every day.

 

But skedsheet isn’t going to be purely targeted toward businesses.  One of the big differences is that skedsheet is going to be useful for even a single person in a business, replacing their own spreadsheet and calendar. 

Skedsheet is scheduling software that helps people eliminate the time they waste scheduling and managing spreadsheets in the office every day.

 

Well, it’s starting to sound a little goofy – scheduling software that eliminates the time you waste scheduling.  It actually won’t eliminate the time you waste scheduling – instead it combine the spreadsheet and the calendar you’re already using today and copies details from one to the other.  I also hope that you could use a skedsheet for a personal schedule in some situations

Skedsheet is scheduling software that replaces the calendars and spreadsheets that people use to manage their business and personal schedules.

 

Also, it’s going to make it easy to collaborate when you’re planning things that involve both a calendar and a spreadsheet.  Oh heck, I’m going to use two sentences. 

Skedsheet is scheduling software that replaces the calendars and spreadsheets that people use to manage their business and personal schedules.  Skedsheet makes it easy to share your schedules with your friends and coworkers online.

 

It’s still not very satisfying, but I’m not sure what’s missing – maybe the fact that we don’t really talk about who those people, or maybe it’s that I don’t know.  I think before I get too clever trying to describe what it is in a very generic way, I need nail down the specifics of who our users will be.

Written by Harry Hollander

March 24, 2009 at 6:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The real cost of servers

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monopoly by peeper - http://www.flickr.com/photos/sybot/907482858/ Ever since we decided to offer online services instead of just traditional installed software, we keep investing more and more in our servers.  Originally, our server was sitting in Ted’s closet

Then we moved up to a low-cost datacenter.  After a few problems with low-cost service and reliability, our servers are now in a data center that provides what we need – great service and connectivity.

Servers aren’t free, though.  For us there are two types of cost: time and money.  How we draw the line keeps changing, but until we find an IT expert perfectionist who works for free, we’ll keep spending both.

Money

  1. Computers.  For a “real server”, you need reliable hardware.  For us, the limitations are RAM and disk access, so we get lots of memory and fast drives.  We also have RAID drives – we don’t want a single hard-drive to bring down a whole server.  To top it off, servers get crusty pretty quickly, so we replace our computers every few years.
  2. Internet access.  We don’t want our end of the pipeline to slow people down or worse…to not be available.  To get good internet access, you need to have your computers in a data center.  If you go with a high-end data center you get multiple high-bandwidth connections to the internet.  Even if a back-hoe runs over one of the internet connections there’s still access to your servers.
  3. Backups.  Even though we’ve been really happy with the data center, there’s a chance that it will blow up and our servers will go along with it.  We don’t want to rely on any one location, so we make sure that we have both on and offsite backups.  When you’re dealing with lots of data, the cost of moving and storing it adds up.

Time

  1. Maintaining.  We spend time just making sure that everything’s running like it should.  This includes monitoring the server for performance problems and errors, making sure the backups are working properly, installing operating system and other software updates, and rolling out upgrades to our own software.
  2. Fixing stuff.  Face it, computers break down.  Because we take lots of precautions by spending money and maintaining what we have, it’s rare that our hardware breaks.  But it happens, and it takes time to make sure that we fix or replace things in a way that minimizes the impact to our customers.
  3. Answering questions about our servers.  We get a wide variety of questions…I’ve been asked if we have video surveillance, whether we have Intel or AMD processors, and even what material the data center building is made out of.  I guess each question comes from someone being burned by a specific problem in the past, but they’re entertaining anyway.

While the cost of our servers keeps growing, on the whole it’s still better for everyone than the alternative – forcing our non-technical customers to spend their own money to do a worse job of buying, maintaining, and fixing their own servers.

Written by Harry Hollander

March 23, 2009 at 6:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Selling in spite of yourself

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We want skedsheet to “sell itself”, and we’ll work like crazy to make that happen  What that means is that we want to put our efforts into things that don’t vanish after a sale – having a great product, a well-designed website, and interesting stories that can last forever, thanks to the web. 

We’ve gotten lots of good advice and learned the hard way that selling is always a conversation.  In the past, when we thought we were selling, we actually just got lucky and provided a valuable tool to the people who were looking for a solution to their scheduling nightmares.

Our demo-based sale worked out fine for a while, until we actually had to convince people to buy our software.  Here’s what that looked like:

how-we-used-to-sell

We were selling despite our sales pitch, by being in the right place at the right time.  But, it turns out that we forgot to ask a key question: “Do you care?”.  We weren’t asking our prospective customers whether they had a problem to solve

Instead of talking about our software, we now try to ask questions about how people are managing their schedules today – although it’s tough to avoid trying to dazzle people with our demo.  Even if I think I know the answer, I still need to ask.  It’s all about the conversation.

The reason skedsheet is special isn’t just the collection of buttons and text on the screen – it’s the unique way we want solve a problem.  The best way to understand our approach is to know our perspective on why we’re doing it and how we deal with other problems.  Hopefully by putting it all out there, we can get lots of conversations going so we can understand more and sell despite ourselves.

Written by Harry Hollander

March 17, 2009 at 7:09 am

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Vacation travel planning the organized way

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Tevie's Termite Taxi by Qole Pejorian -http://www.flickr.com/photos/qole/246971844/ I’m on a road trip, and a big part of the enjoyment is knowing that I don’t need to plan anything…because my wife has it all taken care of. 

I put in my two cents worth – “It’d be cool to go to San Diego for a week, then Tahoe for a week”, and the trip magically comes together.  Part of the planning usually involves a detailed itinerary with some key info that we both need to know, and share with friends or family:

  1. Date – In general, it’s good to have every day accounted for – if we’re going to be more than one place, it’s that much more important that we know every day’s plan.
  2. Day – because it’s not a calendar, but we still want to know what day of the week we’re going to be in certain places.  Most of the people we know have 9-5 jobs, so we need to be a little considerate about when we show up.
  3. Location – Lately, we’ve been doing road trips that tie in multiple locations, so we need to have an idea of what city we’re going to be in every night.
  4. Hours in car– With two toddlers in the car, we don’t want any travel day to be too long.  Our limit is about six hours, but the toddlers mean that we can’t just have six uninterrupted hours of traveling.  Usually we stop for a long lunch and run-around-like-crazy time.  FYI, my kids are angels and would never act like the ones on YouTube.
  5. Accommodation – before we had kids, we were pretty footloose and fancy-free, so we’d travel and not sweat the details of worrying about where we should stay.  Now we’ve either booked the hotel in advance or have friends to crash with.
  6. Friends/Family – Because we’ve lived all over the place, we have a pretty extensive network of family, friends, and acquaintances scattered around the US, and the world.  It’s handy to know who’s around a particular city to meet up for fun.
  7. Contact Info – because we want folks to be able to reach us while we’re traveling, we also include some phone numbers and addresses.  It’s rarely necessary, because cell phones and internet access make us very accessible.

For short trips, the itinerary is just a list in an email.  For longer trips, it turns into a spreadsheet like this:

Family trip

Even though I don’t get much excitement in making the plans, I have personal experience with someone who doesn’t like surprises – so planning is good for everyone.  And it looks like there are plenty of other folks who get a kick out of planning for a trip.

Written by Harry Hollander

March 16, 2009 at 7:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Getting paid for software

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getting paidWhen we first started Moraware, the biggest mystery for me was how to convince people to give you money for your software. At the time, I assumed getting companies to part with cash was similar to getting me personally to part with cash (hint: it involves my cold dead hand.)

My thinking was distorted by the experience at my previous company which was backed by venture capital. In that world, we focused our effort on designing and building a product to get VC’s to give us millions of dollars. Once we secured an obscene amount of money from the VC’s, we hired a bunch of salespeople, and tried to sell it to customers. But they didn’t buy! Even though our VC’s (and our management consultant investors, our news reporting investors, and our oil company investors) all thought this was a great product, we couldn’t get Fortune 500 companies to part with a few hundred thousand dollars to purchase our awesome software.

With Moraware we took a completely different approach. The first version of JobTracker was built to solve a problem for a single customer. At the time I didn’t know if there ever would be a second customer.

After they were successfully using it, I looked in the yellow pages for another company that looked like they did the same thing as the first one, and picked the one that was the shortest drive away. I walked in the office and said “I’m building this product that solves this problem for another company like yours. Do you have the same problem?” They said yes, and a short while later they gave us a check and were our second customer.

A few months later we went to our first trade show. It was a pretty small show, but we talked to a few more companies that were also very similar. The next week we got an order over the phone from someone we didn’t know. Turns out they were at the show, and either didn’t tell us their name, or maybe just looked at the demo over someone’s shoulder. This was customer #3 and marked the turning point when we started getting sales on a regular basis.

What I didn’t understand at the beginning was that companies are in the business of spending money to make more money. We ourselves spend tons of money on employees, products, consultants, and services that all help us better support our customers and improve our productivity. But companies don’t spend time looking for what’s available to purchase, sorted by ROI. They are looking to solve specific problems they are facing today, and when they find such a solution, ROI is simply a determining factor on whether it makes sense to purchase or not.

Although it took me more than a year to figure it out, I soon learned the real challenge is not how to get people to buy software, but how to do it at a profit.

Written by Ted Pitts

March 12, 2009 at 7:15 am

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When our computers came out of the closet

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Closet[Day11]* by  Chaparral [Kendra] - http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaparral/354306238/ We spend lots of time and money on our servers.  It wasn’t always that way. 

When we were first getting started with JobTracker, the server was sitting in the closet of Ted’s office/guestroom at home.  I have fond memories of being lulled to sleep by the soothing hum of the fans.  It was cheap, easy, and for the most part – it worked.

At that time, we never expected that offering scheduling software as an online service would work for small businesses.  Based our first few customers, it didn’t seem like cheap, reliable, broadband internet access was going to be a common thing for a while.  So it was okay for the server to be sitting in the closet – nobody would run their business on it for long – just until they got the CD we mailed them.

Even then, we were doing more to maintain and protect the server and data than most people, but we’re nerds and we generally understand how to do this stuff.  Most of the people who use our software don’t really have any idea.

Then, something weird happened.  Even though we tried kicking people off of the server gently, it turned out that they wanted to stay on.  We didn’t want the risk of the server crashing and our customers getting screwed, so it was time for beefier hardware, direct internet connections, and a data center. 

Fast forward a few years, and now most people feel comfortable running their lives and businesses online.  We expect that we’ll have lots of people using skedsheet, and we’ll do everything we can to provide fast, reliable access.  The servers are out of the closet, and everyone’s better off for it.

Written by Harry Hollander

March 11, 2009 at 7:19 am

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