Patience and Persistence Can Pay Off

From the FreshBooks Blog:

usergrowth33months2.gif

In our Barenaked Apps Panel at SXSW, Ryan Carson advised anyone starting a web app to plan for 3 potential outcomes: success, limited success and failure. He’s right – you need to think those outcomes through and determine how you will respond to each scenario. I’d like to add something to this though. There are many people out there with big dreams that are building web apps in their spare time these days – it’s exciting. Unfortunately I think a lot of them are building with false expectations (a post on false expectations to follow soon). They think if their app does not take right off, they should pack it in. My thinking is – don’t.

If you have a measure of success when you launch, I bet you’ve got something. What’s the measure of success? It could be almost anything, like how many visitors from to your site or how many people trial your service. How about getting someone you don’t know to pay for your service? If a person you don’t know signs up and pays out of no where – even one person – then there is a good chance you are on to something.

If you’re on to something it’s time to hunker down and get to work. Launching does not mean you’ve arrived at easy street and you can sit back and relax – it’s your introduction to the grind. The beauty is that web businesses are a ton of fun to run, so the grind can be really enjoyable.

Not buying any of this? Maybe you will find this inspiring. When FreshBooks launched, we were called 2ndSite (we’ve since rebranded) and we did not have our first paying user until month two, but we believed in what we were doing – that fuelled us – and saw trials everyday which was exciting. So we hunkered down and that graph at the top of this post is what our growth has looked like over the past 30 months (we’ve been at it for 33, but I could not get info for the first three months).

Work hard, take care of your customers, innovate and the rest will take care of itself.

This is the second in a series of posts (here is the first) I’ll be doing over the next few days about starting a web business. If you liked this one, subscribe to our feed and stick around.

mesh Meet Up Number Two

I’m just back from SXSW (great conference) and I see this is my third post in a row about mesh…I will get off the mesh train shortly with some great posts. While still on the mesh train however, I wanted you to know we are having another mesh meet up/mixer Thursday March 28 at the Charlotte Room (King & Spadina).  *Everyone* is welcome to join us.  We had over 100 people attend the last one at the Irish Embassy and we are hoping this event will be even better attended.  You can find out some more info on the mesh blog.  Mark your calendars.

mesh 2007 Tickets Now On Sale

It is with great pleasure that Mathew, Stuart, Mark, Rob and I announce that the mesh conference 2007 is now open for business.

What’s mesh? It’s a two-day conference in Toronto that endeavors to answer the question “What’s next online?” This is our second year and we sold out last year to a crowd of 400.

We try to answer that question by talking about how the internet is disrupting four streams: media, society, marketing and business. Our way will be illuminated by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, Robert Edelman of Edelman Public Relations, Jim Buckmaster of Craig’s List, Tom Williams of GiveMeaning and Austin Hill of Gifter, all of whom will be joining us for keynote conversations. We’ll be releasing more about our other speakers and the topics and panels over the coming weeks.

A number of people have asked me to fill them in when event goes live…so I’m telling you now. I’ll add this too, we want you to be there and given the interest we have received prior to today, I’m guessing we will sell out well before the event. So please buy your tickets now if you want to come.

So, there it is. Please visit the site and come join the conversation.

On a side note, I don’t think I could have possibly imagined how much I could learn or how much fun I could have by being a part of this group. Mathew, Rob, Stuart and Mark – thank you very much. I would also like to thank our sponsors who make it possible to bring in such wonderful speakers. I can’t wait for May 30/31.

DemoCamp12 – Gonna Be A Big One

From the FreshBooks Blog:

Largely thanks to the efforts of David Crow, over the past 12 months new life has been breathed into the Toronto technology community. Popular “unconference” type events that are free to attend (such as BarCamp and DemoCamp) have drawn developers, designers, marketers and entrepreneurs out of the woodwork. I’d like to take a second and recognize some standout companies that have been born of Toronto and surrounding areas over the last 24 months.

ConceptShare – launched about three Months ago, my favourite service of 2006 is ConceptShare. It was founded by a three person team based out of Sudbury Ontario and the service is a FANTASTIC way for teams to collaborate on visual designs.

B5Media – B5 is a blog network – a new media company with over 2 million unique visitors a month. My friend Mark Evans left the National Post to pursue this opportunity as COO. I was looking at their site yesterday and they have over 14 verticals advertisers can place their content. If you are an advertiser or marketer, or if you are an aspiring blogger looking to earn some revenue, check them out.

Shopify – based in Ottawa, Shopify is an on demand shopping cart service. The technology behind the service is simple and quick to use and the layouts and designs are gorgeous. If you are looking to sell something online – or test if selling something online will work – you can get started quickly and effectively with Shopify.

Nuvvo – Ever wanted to teach a class on something, but you could not figure how to find students? Look no further than Nuvvo. You can prepare, manage and teach courses using Nuvvo – as well as collect payment. The couple behind the product are an exciting pair of technologists who I’m willing to bet you will hear from for years to come.

BubbleShare – run by serial entrepreneur Albert Lai, and recently sold for several million dollars, BubbleShare is one fantastic photo sharing service. I wrote it up here.

Next Monday is DemoCamp12 and I expect there will be 150 or more people in attendance to hear all about BubbleShare 2.0 and annual updates from several of the companies above. If you are in the area, sign up and join us.

Paranoia and Web App Design

From the FreshBooks blog:

Let me tell you a little story about a restaurant I love.

The restaurant is Churrasco Villa (beware the audio). I like them because they are fast, the quality is always good, their meals are nutritious, their facility is clean, their staff courteous and I can collect a take out dinner when I need to (usually 3-4 times per month). It’s the kind of neighborhood restaurant that always has people in the take out line and most of their seating capacity is full.

A few weeks ago I was deliriously hungry. You don’t have to spend much time around me to learn I eat every 3-4 hours and the wheels start to fall off if I have to wait much longer than that. So I called up the take out line and ordered.

When I went and picked up my food, I asked if I could sit at an unused table near the door and quickly eat my meal. The take out person said no. I then offered to tip the wait staff even though they would not be serving me – just for the quick use of that area and because I thought that might be the issue. The answer? No. And guess what? Now I’m mad.

As I quietly turned way from the counter I asked myself, “how did I turn so quickly from loving this place to being SO mad at it?” I was so mad I wanted to tell everyone what a dump it was. The trouble was I knew that was untrue…my rational mind still knew I loved the place.

So what happened? Clearly the staff at the take out window have been given some kind of policy that runs something like this: you can’t eat in if you order take out. Fair enough! The trouble is, how often do people really ask to do that? Once a month? Once a quarter? I’m willing to bet I looked awfully hungry when I collected my food, and as a regular customer, could they not cut me a break? Sure they could, the trouble is businesses fear the worst when they open the door to something like this because they fear it will be abused – the reality is they shouldn’t be afraid. Few people abuse your business and your policies and this fact is true of web applications too.

Inevitably when you are designing a web app or a website you will think of a scenario where a user can – in small way – abuse your site or game your system. It might be a really small thing like not entering a valid email address then they sign up. To prevent this you may force them to validate their email address before they can access their account. In theory you convince yourself that you are acting in your own best interest. The truth is you are not.

Trust your users and don’t worry about the small percentage of abusers – they won’t act ethically no matter what you do, so don’t invest your time trying to change them. The fact is very few people will abuse your sign up form, and invariably it takes more time to develop a form so that people can’t “trick” you. Also, designing and developing with a paranoid state of mind almost always adds a barrier to entry (i.e. “I have to check my email to get started? What a pain…forget it.”) that will get in the way of ethical users who want to use your service. These barriers will slow adoption and cost you in the long run.

Wake Up Web 2.0…and be Prepared to Spend

One of my themes on this blog has been, “You need to spend on marketing if your web app is going to succeed”. There are exceptions to every rule, and these exceptions are most often the “Success Stories” that get press. This does would-be (naive?) entrepreneurs a disservice in my opinion because it sets false expectations for people building and releasing new tools.

Ryan Carson – who is almost single handedly trying to dispell these kinds of mistruths with his Bare Naked App project – just posted a piece that describes some of his growing pains with Amigo and how he is coming to the realization that spending on marketing may be necessary. It’s a good read and the comments are interesting too.

I replied and said this:

Ryan,

Great post…I think a lot of web app developers will be wrestling with the question of “how much to spend on marketing” over the next few years and I think that is only a sign that the web app space is growing up a little…and that’s a good thing.

Here is a post I wrote a while back that touches on the fact the you need to spend:

http://www.michaelmcderment.com/2006/06/07/your-sexyunsexy-mix/

So, if you want to bootstrap and grow organically (which is a wonderful way to run your own business, it just takes a little longer than the traditional VC route of FAST, FAST, FAST), then challenge is finding your balance between spending and not spending on marketing. It’s a tough balance, but definitely something you will need to put some thought into as more and more apps are released and things get crowded.

I also touched on some of these things in a Work Happy interview here:

http://www.workhappy.net/2006/10/interview_with_.html

Probably worth a look for anyone starting a web app.

This trend is something that was inevitable and it is something I touched on a while back in my From the Web 2.0 Trenches: How to Build Real Businesses post/essay last November.