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EXECUTION elevate | progress

Discussion in 'Progress/Execution Threads' started by elevate, Feb 20, 2019.

  1. elevate
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    elevate New Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED

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    My intro: INTRO - What the deal is

    The Beginning

    Months 1-10


    During the first 10 months of my business I completed the following:

    Set up an S Corp
    This was a great idea (I had never though of it until reading TMF). I had been doing side work for my dad, as I mentioned in my intro, and had been getting screwed by the self employment tax for the longest time.

    Domain research
    I had no clue about this industry prior to starting this project. Fortunately, I had access to industry expertise to get me started. Between asking the right questions to my dad's contact and a lot of internet searching I was able to gain a solid understanding of what I would need to do to develop a product that would solve the problem I was working on. Despite learning enough to get started, I still had a lot to learn.

    Software design
    I have done this so many times it is routine. I created a list of features and storied them out. I then selected the additional technologies I was going to use to. I always use the same web technologies, so the payment processor integration took the bulk of that time. I actually started using one and then ended up going with another integration prior to launch. I'm glad I did.

    Branding
    It didn't take me a long time to come up with a name for my product. It actually came to me immediately. It ended up being very search friendly, which might result in being found in a happy accident type of scenario.

    I did some research and found a logo company with some examples that I liked. I hired them and got my logo in a couple weeks (after quite a few revisions). The total cost of that was $399. I'm not sure I would use them again. The majority of the alternate designs were not that great. Fortunately for me, one was kind of what I was looking for. I ended up buying Illustrator and making some modifications to it myself. I am pretty happy with what I have now. Going through the logo process helped me develop a matching color scheme. I use an online tool called coolors for this. Sure there are a number of tools like this, but I like coolors.

    Trademark
    I had a credit on my account with LegalZoom so I used them to submit a trademark application for my product name. I think it ended up costing about $300 with the credit. In hindsight I should have probably spent a little more and went with a trademark attorney, but I didn't know better. Now I do. Essentially I did not have a problem with LegalZoom. They correctly submitted my application, but they didn't really discuss with me what I was in for.

    For everyone's edification here are some things I learned:
    1. If your trademark is too descriptive...you will have problems. Mine was very descriptive, hence I received office actions. Things have evolved in the trademark world as time has passed. Think American Airlines. This is the epitome of descriptive. It is indeed a trademark on the principal register, however, if they had applied for a trademark for it today it would not fly (haha see what I did there).

    2. There are TWO registers. Principal and supplemental. Think of principal as varsity and supplemental as junior varsity. Obviously you want to get on the principal register. It offers the most protection. The supplemental register also offers protection, but not as much. When someone does a trademark search on USPTO all trademarks look equal unless you dig a little deeper. If you get on the supplemental register it is not the end of the world. You can in time petition to promote your trademark to the principal register by proving that your trademark is recognizable in your industry. This is how you can get a descriptive trademark published and on the principal register (eventually). I am not a trademark expert, so for more information Google is your friend.

    I was actually surprised to get an office action several months after my application was submitted. My trademark was not registered, and therefore I thought it would sail through. See descriptive above. I did not have money to pay an attorney to deal with the office actions, so I put on my trademark attorney hat and did it myself. I got rejected twice. Basically, the first time they wanted clarification on the wording, and the second they said it was descriptive (which my first response proved...doh). I thought I was screwed, but then I did some reading and found out there was another register. I submitted a statement of use and a request to have my application be considered for the supplemental register. It was approved. This took many months to complete, but I started it in the first few months, so that is why I included it here.

    The rest of the months were spent coding. Lots of coding.

    I did all of this while holding down a 9-5 time trade, being a new parent, and buying a home. Crazy looking back on it. At the end of these ten months I was close to having an MVP. Month 11 is when my time trade ended and I started working full time on the business.

    More to come...
     
    Dramolion, Sheens and David 964 like this.
  2. elevate
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    elevate New Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED

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    Months 11-17

    Early on in month eleven my time trade came to an end. It was kind of funny because the company I was placed at was actually interested in hiring me full time (this always happens). They had met with me a couple months prior and we negotiated terms of employment. They actually offered me a higher salary than I had ever had. My thought at that time was I can stay on here until I get the business off the ground. It was shortly after this that I discovered Unscripted and when I finished that...well...all bets were off on staying. The company had dragged their feet on putting the paperwork through, so I was still just a contractor. I spoke with the head of the department and told him that I did not wish to go full time with them. He asked me why and I told him that I was starting a business. He was a really cool guy and said a lot of nice things about me. I came to find out that he left the company shortly after I did. It wasn't just me that didn't like the decisions that the company was making (which was also a factor in me not staying (among others)). I don't want to say I started a trend there, but perhaps I did.

    I still remember how I felt walking out the door on my last day. It was a mixture of excitement and apprehension about the future. I was now the master of my destiny. It was all on me. It felt really f-ing good.

    It was not an easy decision, and it caused some relationship strife in the beginning, but my partner eventually realized that I was dead serious about this after seeing my work ethic over the coming months. You see, my partner also started a business (slowlane for sure), and I am the sole provider. So with me uncertain about income (despite the small loan I got) it was very scary to her (and me, but I had a plan).

    I worked really hard over the next couple months and was able to finish the MVP. I spoke with my dad and he set up a meeting with a couple industry guys to have them check the software out.

    Here is what I accomplished during months thirteen through seventeen:

    Provisional patent
    After a lot of searching I was unable to find a similar product in the industry. I reached out to an acquaintance of mine who happened to be a patent attorney. I told him about the software and we determined that I had a shot at a utility patent. I told him that I had a meeting set up to get some feedback on the software, so he suggested I do a provisional patent so that I could disclose (or sell) the software if I wanted to. I would have a year from the date to file the utility patent application. It was pricey, but I pulled the trigger on it. I may have been able to go somewhere else cheaper (he even suggested that), but I went with him because I had some level of trust that he had my best interest in mind. I'm glad I went that route. I obtained a provisional patent for my software.

    Phone system
    I found an internet-based phone system I liked and got an 800 number for the business. I have telecomm experience, so setting it up was easy.

    Hosting
    I used a resource I have known for a while whose uncle started a datacenter. I get a pretty decent deal for my own dedicated server. I have been working with web servers for years so this was easy.

    The meetings
    I got on a plane and met my dad at the airport. We ended up meeting with two guys. The first guy understood the concept, but said it wouldn't be for him based on the type of work he did. One of the first things the guy asked is how do you do X with it. I replied that X was going to be included in a future release. He looked concerned about that. I ended up picking both his and his partner’s brains and got some solid input. Not exactly the feedback I was looking for, but it definitely was a good use of my time. I was actually kind of bummed about the experience.

    During the drive to the next location I made the executive decision to implement X prior to the launch. It sucked because I was planning on releasing after this trip, but now I would have at least three to four months of work to implement X, because X was a complicated feature. In hindsight I'm glad I made the decision to implement X before launch, because the upgrade path would have been a nightmare. Also, with feature X available from the date of launch I could ask a higher price and have a "complete" product.

    The next meeting was a waste of time. The guy was complacent and only interested in doing his job the way he did it. I didn't get a lot of good feedback, which was a bummer. The only good thing about going there was we walked out with a good amount of programming work for me, which increased the length of my very short runway.

    Preparing for launch
    When I returned from the trip I started planning feature X. I also had some other features planned for the next release, but I was able to roll them into this one considering I would already be doing a lot of rework. I spent about two weeks in the planning phase before I was happy with the design. I knew that I would have to do some serious speed coding, so I decided to make it work and then make it work well later. This additional development was risky because there are certain seasons to this industry that make it incredibly difficult to get ahold of the customers. I was going to be launching really close to this point. I was worried. It ended up taking me five months to complete the work and all the related testing. There was a LOT of testing.

    During this time I did the following:
    - Set up a sales/marketing agreement with my dad's company (I am a hardcore introvert and have zero selling experience) -- I will talk about this more later
    - Built the public-facing (sales) portion of the website (it wasn't that awesome and I really needed a graphic artist) and wrote some marketing copy
    - Worked on a mini-magazine to send to the list of prospects my dad was building
    - Got my payment processor account approved and finished testing the integration

    These months were so difficult. So much going on and I felt like a walking zombie through a lot of it. Working on this is literally all I did. If it wasn't the business (or my family) I didn't care about it.

    Up next...The release
     
    Sheens likes this.
  3. elevate
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    elevate New Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED

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    Months 18-20

    The Release...All Systems Go

    After roughly one and a half years of hard work the moment had finally arrived. I was all systems go for release. The market mind will determine my fate. Here we go...

    I gave the word to have the mini-magazine sent out. And...wait...

    It was at this time that I had to switch gears to complete the work I picked up on my trip. It was honestly good to work on something else for a change, plus I desperately needed the rest of the cash, and I couldn't put it off any longer. Fortunately there were several issues on the client's end, so I had time to finish my software and get it out there first.

    At the end of month eighteen...I got my first sale!!! I was so excited I almost started crying. It was validation that all of the hard work and sacrifice had paid off. I had a customer. But where did they come from? It turns out that it was a referral from my dad's contact. He was talking to the guy about another matter and he had the guy take a look at the mini-mag. The guy called his partner and told him to buy it immediately. Just like that. I admit that although having a customer felt fantastic, I was also very nervous. Will the software work? Will they find some crazy bug and get totally pissed? Will they cancel after a month? I didn't know.

    It was then radio silence for a while, but at the end of month nineteen bam...another sale. Now I have two customers. This one was another referral from the guy. I was starting to think at this point that things were starting off pretty well. Two sales in two months on a brand new product with minimal advertising. Yes please. Customer one stayed on for the following month despite not using the software that much.

    We started sending out launch emails and the response was pretty good. I had people spending a good amount of time at the site and I even got a few inquiries on my contact form. One guy asked a technical question which I quickly answered, and another asked for a demo. Perfect! Unfortunately, my dad (the sales guy) went abroad for personal reasons (definitely not the best timing), but I said I would take the demo.

    The demo did not go well. I was incredibly nervous and stumbled with my words. Not my best effort, but as I mentioned I need work on social interactions of this nature. The guy was really looking for a different type of software anyway, so he was a lost cause. He said he wasn't interested and that was that.

    Then it got quiet. Really quiet.

    I started spending my time finding potential clients that were not on our list and harvesting their emails. I put together a pretty good intro email and started to send it to the groups of contacts I was creating. The emails did pretty well at driving traffic to the site, but the conversions were not coming. Ok. Perhaps it is the website?

    I spent a good amount of time looking at other people's websites to see what the big guys were doing. I found a couple I liked and tried to emulate the wording style/layout they were using, but tailoring it to my message. I also took some time and learned how to create a demo video so that people could see the software in action. I was hoping this would alleviate the need for sales demos. Either they like it or they don't. I got a good amount of watches on it, but despite the site redesign and updated marketing copy (which was definitely better than before) the conversions didn't come.

    After a couple of months my dad finally returned and agreed that the calls needed to start ASAP. It was at this point that I found out that the "season" is real. Needless to say that the calls did not go anywhere. It was literally impossible to get a hold of customers. The season seems to last around seven months. Not good.

    It was at this point that I was quickly running out of money. The business was actually costing me money due to expenses vs revenue. I was on the verge of a financial collapse. I needed to eject.

    I called my job guy and picked up another contract. After ten months of awesomeness I was headed back to the time trade.

    To be continued...
     
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  4. elevate
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    elevate New Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED

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    Month 21 - Present

    Just before heading back to the time trade we got another demo request. This was a guy my dad was actually able to reach via phone. I sat in on the demo and acted as the driver (and answerer of technical questions) and my dad did the majority of the talking. It went really well. After the demo I was recapping when an email showed up from the guy. He said he was sold!...But...he would need it to do X before he would buy it. We let him know that the price was going to be going up in a couple months and if he got in now he would pay $50/month less, and we were committed to feature X. No reply. Bummer.

    I have a policy about doing features on the promise of purchase. I have seen numerous companies burned by this. All that work and then the customer doesn't buy. In this circumstance I had already planned on doing this feature (not the first echo related to this). I decided that I would suck it up and work to get it implemented right before the price increase. I quickly planned and added the feature. It took about a month and a half of hard work at night, but it got done, tested, and out the door.

    I put together an email about the new feature and blasted it out. To my surprise (or not surprise) the guy actually became a customer. He wrote a very nice email to us and said that the feature was implemented in a way that was better than he had imagined. It is times like these that make all the struggle worth it.

    This was the last customer to date.

    Here is where things stand:
    - 3 customers (yes including the first guy who never uses it)
    - 2 customers at the original price and 1 paying $50 more
    - 2 of the customers use it all the time. I literally never hear a peep. They just do their thing. I did get a support call once, but it was more of a feature request
    - Still need around 2 more customers for the business to pay its own bills
    - Learned that the market for this product is far smaller than I had suspected
    - Experimented with a free trial, but that has not been successful. Got a couple but they were just looky loos. I googled them and they don't fit the customer profile, so I wasn't surprised.

    I actually stepped away from working on the software for a few months. I needed a break. So frustrating :)

    After my break I decided that it is time for another release. I compiled the features I have heard the customers mention (really only one) and more that I had already planned. I am polishing the UI and generally making it work much more smoothly. No price increase. I am also implementing multiple packages. There is currently one right now, but I am going to go with three. I am cancelling the free trial. I am also considering hiring a copywriter to rewrite my marketing copy. Not sure.

    Here are my next steps after the release:
    - I plan to take the customer list and cull it, applying what we have learned about who the target customer is.
    - I am currently reading The only sales guide you'll ever need and 80/20 sales and marketing
    - Use the book information to put together a sales framework (yes, something I can train myself to do without having to get nervous thinking about it)
    - I need to get involved in the sales process. I am very not comfortable with it, but it is an essential skill for me to build in order to be a successful entrepreneur
    - Look into alternative forms of marketing. AdWords is not good for this product. I'm thinking I will give FB marketing a chance.
    - Need to create more social media content on the business FB page (for above)

    I plan on posting here at least once a month to go over what has been done and what I am planning to do.
     
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  5. elevate
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    elevate New Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED

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    Well it's been a while. I've been hard at work trying to fix my current situation. Here is what I did:

    - Finished The Only Sales Guide You'll Ever Need: It was decent and I gained some things from it, but I'm not really sure I liked it all that much

    - Finished 80/20 Sales and Marketing: Loved it. Such a drastic contrast between that book and the above. I prefer 80/20.

    I put the lighter version of my software on the back burner to work on other projects that produce cash now. I also decided that I needed to set up a website for my company to get software projects instead of working contracts. I think this is vitally important for me because it will allow me to prioritize my time between work that pays the bills and Fastlane work that will provide the situation I want.

    I am currently learning AdWords and working on outsourcing tasks that I can. The outsourcing bit was one of the takeaways from the 80/20 book.

    Until next time…
     

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