You’re not entitled to scale! (And we’re launching!)

“Dude, seriously?”

That was the reaction of  a well-meaning member of the local startup community, when I walked in for a meetup & happened to show him the launchrock page of ContractIQ.

“[tweetherder]Is there really no line of code behind that launch page?[/tweetherder]”

I guess he had made a mental note to write us off. After all, if you are a startup you’ve to have a product or at least a working prototype, right?

We thought that’s the way to be. But it never felt right. Startup or not,[tweetherder] a business exists because its customers find value. They don’t care if it’s a product or service[/tweetherder]. I didn’t however realize that, many startups secretly go through the identity crisis – of whether they are a startup or a normal business. Paul Graham polarized the world with this very mathematical definition of what a startup is and the affective efforts are not going way soon.

To be, when I come to work at ContractIQ every day, all I care is, am I making sustainable change to that industry which would have done things the same old-fashioned ways, had I not brought about that change. Nothing else moves the needle in terms of satisfaction! Growth needn’t be secular. It needs to be big enough over the long term to make the impact. The din that Jobs aspired for!

After building 3 completely different versions of our product (because as they say, startups have to build products!) , we increasingly realize that product is just a means to serve our customers incrementally better, faster and cheaper. It could be that enabler that allows you to deliver on the promise of sustainable “better, faster, cheaper” experience. But then, it’s still “could be” and not “will be”!

When you put it this way, the thinking is no longer about “What feature of the product?”, “How soon to the right and up?”

It’s instead, “Which is the best approach to solving a problem or creating pleasure”?,  “Will it sustain over a longer period?” and “Will customers benefit”. I am sure my user would be happy to know that we grew 30% this year and made them succeed wildly than when we grew 200% by doing somewhat good stuff for lot of customers.

That brings me to scale – [tweetherder]Is scale a measure of impact or exit-ability?[/tweetherder]

We are not entitled to ask “Does it scale?” till all we deliver on all the promises we made to our current customers.

You scale what works at an atomic level in a consistent manner. We often pre-empt that question and lead ourselves to wrong behavior – one that often compromises on the value that we deliver for the “Tomorrow’s customer” and alienating “Today’s customer”!

Our first version was built by a moonlighter with less than 6 months work experience. It helped us keep the cost low, muster enough credibility to talk to the supply side (dev shops) about our businesses.  However, it was incredibly hard to work with a freelancer with a day job – Slipping commitments, intermittent black outs and lack of experience – All piled up to delay the project. Looking back, we need not have launched that version. We could have done well with an information website and a bunch of excel sheets. We still would have won customers and we did. The MVP on our head ( a product) was trumped by the MVP that the market embraced (a streamlined agency selection process, powered by Gmail!).

Our second version was done by a team instead of a freelancer. We had the UI kit and design ready before we wrote the first line of code. Internally that iteration failed to meet our expectations – We had a half-baked social sharing & reputation system and we did not know about it. We got it all wrong with the color schemes too. But just that ability to showcase our vendors in an organized manner, led to several conversions on the buy-side. In other words, the mundane part of the product, gave us business & credibility. The funkier parts simply did not matter.

[tweetherder]Our customers liked us in spite of the product we had put out, because we solved a real problem![/tweetherder]

We educated them about what kind of developers to expect at what price points and how the differences would play out under different stages of their startups. In many cases, we made them question their own decisions, by calling out signs of ego taking over rationale. They loved us.

But the bottom line is, we built a product that was useful in parts and the best value for the customer still came from the human touch.

In both the iterations, we thought we were building products that would help us grow. But our customers did not care while still awarding us with revenue for solving their problems. Our presence added 10% cost in the value chain (we are matchmakers between startups and dev shops). It still did not matter to the startups, as they found that we reduced their total cost by eliminating failure.

40 happy customers and 200+ vendors later, we felt stressed and extended beyond our capabilities. We had to automate. This time we are more confident because we are careful at choosing which parts to automate.

We no longer compel ourselves to build something till it affects our service deliver efficiency in the short term and scale in the medium term. Growth/Scale would still be measured every week and month – But [tweetherder]between growth and happier customers, we would choose the latter![/tweetherder]

It’s not to say that we don’t think long term or strive for the elusive hockey stick growth. We just pass our urges through the filters of

  1. Would it help us do things that we already do, better?
  2. Would it let us do a lot more of those things cheaper?

Both translate to value for our customers in the short and medium term and serve as the base for a sustainable enterprise that would just last forever.

We’re happy to announce the launch of our marketplace for global mobile & web development agencies.

It makes the customers of such agencies find them faster (through listings) and engage with them at a pace and depth that suits their style (through a workflow system). When they need, we have ContractIQ experts supporting with experience and hands-on involvement in selecting agencies.

For agencies, we are doing away with charging a success fee* of 10% that we used to charge in every transaction. Match-making, education and efficiency in vendor selection are all valuable. However there is no way to peg that value to size of the transaction. It incents wrong behavior in the community. Agencies would circumvent. We’d be tempted to do more deals, more frequently to make our own pie bigger. Customers lose.

Instead, we are making it better and cheaper for agencies to list & engage in meaningful conversations with prospective customers, for a small & predictable fee.

Give ContractIQ a spin. You’d love it!


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