I met with Corey over hangout during our retreat in Avignon. It's always an interesting experiment to interview customers to learn more about their business and this one felt special as it happened right in the middle of our week all together were talking about our customers was one of the principal topic.
SoFetch makes for compelling case study since it is similar in nature to a significant portion of our customer base. Agencies and consultancies get (for better or worse) to work simultaneously on multiple projects with various clients. While we do not run a similar shop ourselves, it's always interesting to learn how the best in the business do it.
Instead of the recent Q&A format I've been following, I thought I'd highlights some of the key aspects of our discussion about how he's building SoFetch into a thriving consultancy firm and turn this into something more of a case study.
Here are the some of the key aspects that came out of our discussion.
What first struck me during our call was Corey's dedication with doing things right. Not in the sense of "make no mistakes" but instead in terms of a "measure twice, cut once" approach. In other words, they are obsessed by building internal tools that will optimize the business side in the future.
Developers want to make efficient software but they often forget about the other stuff like sales, accounting, HR, or taxes. They still have to happen so why not invest the time and money iteratively and treat those things as if they were a piece of software.
They decided to tackle sales first. So before even signing their first client, Corey and team invested a great deal of time and money to nail down the sales process. On the lookout for a repeatable process that would improve both the likelihood and speed at which they could close deals, they discovered and adopted a model similar to 37Signals':
People don't want to spend $30k on a website. So we went with a model that tests the relationship and builds trust by building the applications on paper first at a high-level. It mitigates the risk and greatly reduce the stress which allows to close the deals more quickly.
And boy has it been working!
We got a phone call. Square needed us for a project that could be done quickly. We made a proposal based on this model and they bit onto it. They basically said "This sounds good, we're in!"
… and it all happened on the first sales call.
While Corey couldn't elaborate on the specifics (thanks to the NDA courtesy of Square's lawyer squad), he assured me that had it been the usual bloated proposal, it would have required much more efforts to get in the door. Moreover, the fact that they could close the deal literally overnight resides in their ability to offer them a bite-size package that enabled the two companies to get the project off the ground quickly.
The best part is that back then, they didn't even have a proper website up. Instead, a cryptic Launchrock landing page was there to welcome prospects.
Building this company is basically taking things I didn't like and make it better. We have 11 team members at this point. Everybody is their own city and it's awesome!
By now you must be aware that we're big on building a remote team and we love it. Even if it's hard a times, it has become part of our DNA and I, for one, couldn't go back. Without the physical boundaries and constraints of a fixed office there are so many ways to innovate and improve both work-life balance and the work output.
I was intrigued to see how Corey and the SoFetch team were doing it as a consultancy working remotely.
What surfaced is the leverage provided by having team members in multiple markets. Having them spread across many different cities has allowed them build the firm's reputation in the hopes to ultimately increase customer acquisition throughout the cities.
Another interesting obsession of theirs is with lubricating processes. Take referrals and introductions for example:
In our business, referrals are a big deal. Let's face it, software is still this blackbox where magic happens. Clients have ideas and money but they are cautious to hire people from the internet.
They found an interesting way to tackle this issue: they built a simple tool that allows people to make easy intros. In a nutshell, it allows the referrer to send a canned message in a few clicks to both to the potential client and SoFetch.
In the same way, building better processes in-house often requires choosing carefully the providers upon which you'll rely.
We know how to build software but there are so many things that don't work and those can easily be huge timesuckers like hosting and DNS.
Take hosting for example, they took the decision to require their client to be on Heroku in order to avoid having to deal with administration woes that became redundant other providers.
Turns out, same goes for DNS. ( yay!)
When dealing with SSL or wildcard, DNSimple is literally simple. We've told our customers "you need to get on DNSimple because we don't want to deal with [redacted] or other registrars". That makes everything much simpler for us since we can also tell them to use DNSimple one-click service to connect with Heroku.
We have great customers, work coming in and all the things that we need for now. We don't have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck. If had to pick something that WOULD keep me up at night it's definitely keeping the pipeline full. It has always been a worry but has always been covered. We have projects lined up so it's good. I think I will always worry about that.
cruising through #vanlife in a '72 VW bus.
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