Share and Enjoy !

In 2012, we started a new venture with Plantronics that was different than any we had taken on before. They wanted to work with a partner to build an integration between their API and platforms like Jive, Salesforce, and (eventually) Microsoft. We had built integrations between all three of these platforms – the SharePoint Connector for Chatter, the Jive Connector for SharePoint and countless integrations with Microsoft’s products (especially SharePoint). The concept was simple – when you get an incoming call, Plantronics would hand off the Caller ID to our app, and we would look up all the information available about the caller.

The big difference this time was we were going to fund the development. We were used to “work for hire” project work (another example is our integration with Polycom) – the client hires us to build the product, pays us an hourly rate, and the IP gets handed over at the end of the project. This one we were footing the bill and building our first product offering. We felt optimistic doing this because Plantronics was (and is) a great Partner to work with – we were hoping to leverage their Marketing and Sales expertise to mitigate the risk of us not having big budgets, and we felt emboldened because we weren’t doing this alone.

Tommy and I didn’t enter into this lightly – focus had helped us create a lifestyle company (in our case our focus on building on SharePoint – so that with each new project our consultants have plenty of experience to pull from and not late nights trying to learn the technology of the week). This was one of the decisions that we made that could potentially be waterline (a decision that could sink the ship).

Long story short, we built a technically great product – within 6 months or so we launched a product that was web-based, had a Windows app, an Android app, an iOS app, and a Chrome extension. And it demoed really well. Problem was I wasn’t signing up paying customers – I was demoing with Sales Enablement Departments, but this was a new area and no budget set apart for this type of product. The fear of every venture occurred – we ran out of runway.

What Are the Lessons Learned and Good Things That Came From the Effort?

Here’s my list of ten things that I learned:

  1. The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. I appreciate more what product companies go through (the development isn’t the most difficult part). Most service companies want to be a product company because of the recurring revenue and multiple for business valuation. Conversely, most product companies want to be a service company because of the lure of daily bill rates and the demand from customers for a single vendor solution.
  2. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I love how we are able to help clients but the consulting business can feel like a grind where you never have enough visibility into the future. With product, you have the same challenges with customer retention.
  3. We have over 5,000 users, but this is primarily because we are named similar to the Popcorn Time app. I now know why so many apps “look” like other apps (accidental sign-ups).
  4. Expect to spend as much money on Marketing and Sales as Development. In fact, expect to spend more.
  5. Entering a new market vs an established market. Contextual intelligence is a new software area. On sales calls, I was having to define why you need this thing in the first place. As a small company, this is not something we can afford.
  6. Hire an experienced growth hacker – The Salesguy (me) was new to Product Marketing and I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
  7. Focus on releasing on one platform – even though we took a hybrid approach, it probably would have been good to just focus on one platform.
  8. We couldn’t do what we wanted on iOS (get Caller ID), but we could on Android. Android has more open APIs at this time. It’s also easier to make updates on the Play Store vs. the App Store.
  9. When changing business models, it is probably best to create a new business entity to not confuse your customers. Even though we have helped product companies build their offerings, creating one of our own can mix your message.
  10. Along the same lines, maintain a separate P&L for the product business. This helps you make better decisions about the viability of the venture.

If I had to add an eleventh good thing, I would definitely say that creating ThreeWill Labs as a part of this venture.  We need to stay ahead of the curve, and our Labs Group helps us do this.

A part of why I’m writing this article, I suppose, is for closure. We invested a lot of time, money and energy in bringing the product to market. And now we are about to move on and use parts as an asset for projects and future integrations.

Since I’m writing this during work hours – If you’re looking for a great partner to build your next product, reach out to me. I now can empathize with some of your challenges. I’d love to share more about my experiences and learn about yours over a coffee.

Share and Enjoy !

Related Content: