This week

Well, this week has been a bit quieter. I've finished (99%) the project i was working on for another company, and so after tuesday, the whole week opened up in front of me like a yawning chasm. I had 'blank-sheet-itis' bad: what do i do with all this spare time?

So here's what i've been up to: I researched Jekyll, the static site generator; and Bootstrap, Twitter's CSS template; and used my blog as practice. So now my blog has been re-done using Jekyll and hosted on S3, you can see it here: splinter.com.au. I'm happy with how it's turned out, which is great. I hope to use Jekyll a lot in future.

Next up, time to get some of my more interesting ideas and make landing pages out of them. I've done that for two ideas so far. which you can see here: Server Scope and ScrumFox. The idea was to make a third landing page for one of my app ideas aimed at teachers, but after consulting with a teacher friend i've scrapped that idea for now.

I've started an AdSense campaign to send people to those sites, which have got MailChimp email forms on to collect people's email addresses if they're interested, and i'm hoping that this'll be a good way to gauge which idea is better. So far i've spend ~$40 and collected 2 email addresses (1 each page). Not brilliant, unfortunately. I'm led to believe that another way to pull people in is to start a niche-specific blog on those landing page sites, with a call-to-aciton at the end of each blog post asking for them to sign up to the mailing list. I'll do that once i've figured out which idea is going to get more traction.

I also went on a sydney-based it-guy forum looking for feedback on my landing pages. Lets just say that a very bruised ego later, i'm very shy about talking on forums again! Trolls...

What's next

Next up, i'm going to start reading up on Rails, as i'm sure it's changed a lot from years ago when i used to work on it. And i'll hopefully be able to clearly decide which of those apps i'll continue with.

I'm thinking of starting a blog about the local business park, and reviewing local businesses as a way of making contacts. I've still got to work up the guts to start meeting people face to face, networking and all that, to get ideas. I'll get there eventually. Maybe next week :)

Featured project

Last week, I asked people on the mailing list to send in any details of a SaaS app they're working on, to share the promo-love around. So here's an app by a champ called Shawn Arnwine, described in his own words below. Please check it out to support a fellow entrepreneur! And email me if you want to be featured, i love celebrating with people who are doing the same kinda thing :)

TranscriptionSPARK by Shawn Arnwine

For the longest time my co-founder and I forced ourselves to look for ideas that could translate into a SaaS business/app. They often say the best way is to build a business based on a problem you have or something you are passionate it... this is harder than it looks, especially when it seems as though most ideas we came up with, having followed those principles, were already in existence.

Looking back, this forcing of ideas was probably predicated on the fact that we weren’t (aren’t) keen on our fulltime jobs, so we had delusions of grandeur that in no time, we’d be the next bootstrapped/ 37signals to build something that would allow us to walk away from our current jobs and focus fulltime on our efforts. We aren’t there yet, but are headed in the right direction.

With the threat of sounding philosophical, it wasn’t until I took a bit of a break from trying to force ideas that I began to notice there was opportunity all around, even right next door to me. For years I would see a truck pull up to my neighbor’s house and drop off an envelope, which I knew contained an audio CD, as my neighbor was a freelancer transcription who worked from home. I thought to myself, given that DropBox and other file sharing applications exist, why weren’t they using them? This led to a conversation with my neighbor, which ultimately led to a bigger issue at hand, workflow management.

Not knowing anything about the transcription industry we began to reach out to those that we could my neighbor could introduce us to and we could find on forums, blogs, etc. to validate if workflow management was an issue and how we might be able to help it. We took a lean approach to customer development and created surveys with questions based primarily on assumptions and what little information we had, that we then asked the transcription forum communities to complete for us. From the responses we confirmed that there was a need, as most still use Excel/Google Docs or in some cases paper/pen to manage their workload, send invoices, assign work, etc.

From these surveys we were also able to establish an initial base of potential customers, whom we continue to interact with as we’ve worked hard to build something useful based on the feedback we receive. Initially we put together mockups to get feedback, and over time this grew into a testing environment…every time we’ve gotten great responses. We’ll continue to leverage this process as we roll out new features.

When it came time to build it, that took a bit longer than anticipated. As previously mentioned, we both work full time jobs, and are married, so free time is in short supply. Add to that that my co-founder isn’t technical, he’s doing our marketing, but doesn’t have direct experience in it and while I am technical, I hadn’t done serious coding for quite some time, so we had that working against us. I leveraged relationships I had with a designer and a developer to help offset some of the work, but this proved to have its own challenges.

Initially I chose to build the app in PHP, having just helped some friends a little with a previous PHP project, I felt most comfortable with this. But two months into it my developer suggested that PHP wasn’t the right route to go and that by using Ruby on Rails we could have most of this done in a weekend. I was extremely hesitant at first, as I had just invested what little time I had into a PHP version, but after some research and assurances from him, we set off on the RoR to route.

This quickly became a situation of “building a ship in the middle of the ocean”, where I was doing all I could to ramp up on RoR while trying to ensure the project moved forward. Two weeks into this new route, the developer jumps ship and I’m left with nothing resembling what I was told we could have done in a weekend. People often talk about entrepreneurship as a roller coaster and this was definitely a time when I felt we were at the bottom staring up a huge hill, but I was able to push through my sudden lack of confidence about the project getting completed and pressed on.

I reached out to our local RoR Meetup group and was able to get connected with a great developer who helped me fix a couple of my immediate sticking points. I then went onto ODesk and found a RoR developer to come on and help with some of the more difficult items while I continued to focus on coordinating all of the pieces (design, infrastructure, etc) and smaller development tasks.

As for marketing the application, we are looking at building relationships to help facilitate growth. It is important for us that we provide a top-notch experience for users, especially from a customer service perspective, so that people understand that we are committed to making this a product that they can derive maximum value from using. Because the freelance transcription business is fragmented, and most aren’t actively searching for a workflow solution it’s difficult to target folks with Adwords or Facebook. It isn’t until they see ours that they then realize how this could help them.

After six months of working on this on the side, we finally launched on Tuesday. It’s a great feeling to have the initial version complete, but there is so much more that we are going to tweak/add in coming releases.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, please feel free to email me: shawn at transcriptionspark.com

Thanks for reading! And if you want to get in touch, I'd love to hear from you: chris.hulbert at gmail.