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From $5K, chutzpah and cluelessness to a business management software app

From $5K, chutzpah and cluelessness to a business management software app We just launched our new, super-simple, online business and project management software in March 2012 – Planning Pod – but the story behind this starts back in 2006 with these fateful words: “Hell, we could do a lot better…”

From $5K, chutzpah and cluelessness to a business management software app

Jeff Kear

The Half-Cocked Idea
Back then, my business partner (Steven Feingertz) and I (Jeff Kear) were running a small branding and marketing firm in Denver, CO, and we were using a convoluted enterprise online software to manage our business details, including our calendars, projects and finances. It was cumbersome, not intuitive and took a good month or two to learn. Definitely not what two already-busy small business owners wanted from something that was supposed to save us time.

One day, as we were both bitching and moaning about the cluster of a business management software tool we had committed our company to, my business partner said, “We can program stuff, and we know what a small business needs to be more efficient. Hell, we could do a lot better than this piece of crap. We should build it ourselves.” And so the seed was planted.

The Crazy and Circuitous Route
The problem was that, although we knew a lot about running a small business, we knew very little about what it took to run an online business. We had started an online logo design company in the early 2000s but found it was a customer support nightmare and trashed it before we sunk more money into it.

So we started building small online apps for smaller niche audiences – first an online app for planning weddings, next professional event and project management software for event planners. And we did all this ourselves, building what we could and funding what we couldn’t build out of our own pockets.

And along the way we learned some painful lessons. Like our first experiment with Ad Words when we spent $3,823 in one week and got back about $600 in revenues (lesson: don’t dive into the pool without testing the water first). Or building a fairly static application that is a huge pain to make major navigational or functional changes to down the road (lesson: you will always be tweaking your product, so make the basic architecture as flexible and open as possible).

Then, finally in 2011, we decided to finally build the product we always wanted to build for ourselves – a simple tool that pulls together the best of business management software and project management software.

The Mind-Bending Buildout
The smartest thing we did was to establish a driving motive for our development: whatever we built, it had to be simple. Simple to learn, simple to use, easy on the eyes, intuitive.

Then, we drew up a fairly open scope of work that stated generally what the functions of what our business management software would do. We had learned in the past not to restrict ourselves to too narrow a scope because some of the best ideas and some of the best features are generated while you are developing, and you don’t want to create a structure that keeps you from building something better.

So then we built a task manager. Then a contact manager. Then a calendar that integrates with other popular e-calendars. Then tools for sharing messages, notes, questionnaires, files, documents, images. Then tools for tracking time, budgets, guest lists and itineraries. And now we’re working on tools for managing contracts and e-signatures, proposals and invoices. And our mobile app is on the near horizon.

And all four of us in the company have been building and working on Planning Pod while working other jobs, meaning that we’ve paid nothing for labor and set aside $5,000 for startup admin, server and advertising costs.

The Launch
We were about two months off our anticipated launch of Planning Pod, which isn’t bad in the world of business management software development. And now we have a tool that is built specifically for small businesses so they don’t have to store their information in 27 different places and so they don’t have to buy or “rent” 27 different pieces of software.

Oh, and since we’re design freaks, we also built Planning Pod so it’s easily customizable (meaning you can upload your logo and your own backgrounds plus change the system logos and create reusable templates for task lists, budgets, etc.).

It also plays well with other tools in that you can download calendars and contacts from many popular applications (like Google Gmail and Facebook), and we are working on synching with Google Calendar as well as Google Docs.

And, of course, we built it so any level of computer user can set it up within 10 minutes and be working on their first project in the next 10.

The Early Returns
A bit more than 100 people have signed up in the first 90 days (thanks so some pre-marketing we did to some lists of event planners), and right now we are madly collecting feedback to see how we can improve the app and make it even more useful and intuitive. We’re also doing tons of A-B testing with the marketing site and with our AdWords campaigns to see what messages resonate with people.

Needless to say, it’s been a long and sometimes difficult but never boring path, and we look forward to helping out lots of small businesses like ours who want a better, more efficient way to run their shop.

So if you’re a savvy small business owner who wants to be more productive, check out our app at http://www.PlanningPod.com and register for a 30-day free trial.

P.S. You can also connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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