A serial entrepreneur, one of our
He started his first company
at the age of 18.
A genuine marketer, a pilot,
and a CEO of several
He came to us to develop
a SaaS product, Turbine,
back in 2010.
And we are still cooperating.
IF I WAS GOING TO START A NEW APP, I WOULD PICK A PARTICULAR ONE THING AND I WOULD JUST KEEP WORKING ON IT UNTIL MY APP WAS THE BEST APP IN THE WORLD FOR THAT THING.
Matthew, your businesses are mostly about marketing and content, and against that background, Turbine stands out a lot that is mostly about streamlining purchasing for business. How did you come up with that idea?
We have to go back in time to 1999 when I was 18. I used to run a computer games company called Intelligent Games. And in 1999, another company nearly bought my business. And I was thinking, what would I do if I sold my company?
As a business owner, I faced all kinds of administration - paperwork, bureaucracy, time-off requests, expense claims, et cetera. Lots of paperwork. And I thought, “Wouldn't it be good if there was an application where I could sign up and do all of that online?” It's not an unusual idea for today. It's very common, right? Whatever you want to do today, there's an app for it but in 1999 there was nothing.
Still, to make it real then, I would have needed to hire 20 or 30 people, to have my own data center, as I was going to build a really big, complicated software project. And I put that idea on the shelf and went away.
In the end, I sold Intelligent Games and took a sabbatical to become a journalist and a pilot, and then I started a copywriting agency. In 2008- 2009 my business was under some pressure. At that time, I thought, I need to do something else to make money from, I need to diversify. And I remembered the idea that I had had in 1999. And at this point 10 years later, there were more applications out there with the idea I had, for instance, Salesforce.
But also, and this is the important difference at that time - you didn't have to build a credit card processing system, you could get Stripe or PayPal. You didn’t need your own data center, you could go to Digital Ocean and get servers in the cloud. You didn’t need to hire an in-house dev team, you could also go to Elance and find freelance developers. And 10 years later, I realized I could do it. So, the two things met - the possibilities and the original idea.
And here we are. 10 years later and we've built my app together with Anadea. It's not the world's biggest app.com thing, but it's growing and it's profitable and I enjoy it. We did what I wanted it to do, and it's another source of income.
What were the most exciting project
moments? Critical ones? What role did
Anadea play in them?
The first launch was terribly exciting because it took about a year to get it ready. I remember when we launched the app the first time in the first few days people were signing up for it and signing up for trials. I was very excited. And we kept on working on the app and on the marketing.
The next big memorable moment for me was when we launched the new user interface and the sort of effective version 2.0 of Turbine.
The other journey, where I play a very important role, is constant app improvement. You know, when we find a bug, report and we fix it when we work on performance.
There are some of the stories in the tracker that have hundreds of hours against optimizing the database. Users don't notice it because we make a page load a second quicker, right? But it's still important, as we had some clients who were putting 10,000 purchase orders a month through the system.
On how to build a SaaS product people will love
How did you manage to highlight
Turbine among competitors?
I think the challenge now for buyers is choice, right? If you go to one of these app directories and you type in time-off request apps, there'll be 30 or 40. So, what do you have to do to highlight your app? I think you need good marketing. I see it, as I'm a marketer.
So I guess, what you need is to focus very hard on the thing that adds value for the customer and be very good at 1 or 2 things. Be good deep, not wide. I learned this years later, from my own experience.
When I started developing Turbine with Anadea, the idea was originally wide - time off expenses, appraisals, HR record keeping, etc.
We were going to add modules so that you could do your whole business in Turbine. We were adding a new thing every 6 months! We had all kinds of things in Turbine, but we took them out. So, that’s about focusing on a thing that you do well, where you have a niche. This is what I've been trying to do with Turbine. There's still time off expenses, purchase orders, and a bit of HR record-keeping. I think if I was starting today, I would just do one of these things, as they have proved to be the most effective.
So, we see most of the new clients coming to Turbine for the purchase orders feature. What we see as a trend is that people come in for one thing and then they start using the other functionality.
The other thing I wanted to tell you about is a redesign of the user interface we did together in 2017.
I think the user expectation now is for something that's very fast, modern-looking, attractive, easy to use. And you did a very good job with the redesign. I think the current version still looks like it's modern. Also, over the last year or two, we've been doing together a lot more work on performance. Although the user doesn't see that it doesn't look different, the app is much faster today. And that's hard work. That requires you all to be very clever and technical and know how to make web databases faster.
What’s the recipe for success?
I've learned a couple of things about app development. I think the first thing as I already said is “do less, but better”. Do one thing really well, rather than five things adequately.
The second thing was learned from a really painful lesson. Every client wants your app to do exactly their thing, solve their problem. They say: “I love your app, I like the price, I love that it's easy to use, but in our business, we do this unusual thing about expenses or time-off or purchases. If only you could do this one thing that we need, we would use your app.” And for a long time, I listened to them. So, I was always adding extra features like budgets, or multi-stage approvals, multi-currency, etc.
But what happens is the application gets more and more complicated, and there are more things on the settings page. And that makes it harder for people to get started.
The reality is that there are enough customers to use the basic functionality that you build. You don't need to add every single feature request.
What I needed to do was to make this easier to use, to set up faster, to understand faster, and only for those people who use basic functionality. I mean, millions of customers, I don't need them. I just need to do a really good job for these people.
And I can think of so many things that we have added to Turbine that I have paid for. You know, one company uses the feature. It’s like $10,000 of software development for one client company. And then six months later they go and sign up for Microsoft Dynamics ERP because they say: ”We need this other stuff.” In fact, if I had my time over again, I would take all those requests, and I would say no. And I would look at my app, and I'd make it better. And I have got to stop while I've learned this lesson.
If I was going to add one thing to Turbine now, probably I'd have a native app. I think people want to have something that you can download and install.
In your opinion, What important things are out of focus when you first start developing a product, and which only become apparent after a long time.
I think when I started working with you all those years ago, I was in software development, but I didn't realize how much work was just constant polishing and fixing. There are bug fixes and performance improvements, and most users never see that, but that work is really, really important. And it's constant.
I respect this, and I'm very grateful for it when I get those bug reports from people, or when we get a performance outage, or when the SSL certificates expire, or some crisis, or emergency - you get right on it and you fix it. And I value that a lot. It's very good for me to know that you're there and you're ready to support me if something comes up.
Mind who you are creating SaaS product with
What would you advise those
who are at the stage of choosing
an outsourcing company?
I think when somebody is considering outsourcing offshore software development, important things are responsiveness in an emergency, constant improvement, dev ops, attention to optimization, quality control, and continuous integration, testing. This is all very unglamorous. It's not very exciting, not very sexy. It's not a few new features.
But you need to do it because you know that anyone can build a good-looking app quickly, but it's all that other stuff that is about the quality of the experience for users.
And I know from experience, if you have an app that crashes, you can actually see customers canceling. So, that's critically important for me, for any business. It's really important, so don't overlook it.
How can you describe
Anadea Team, in 3 words?
Today what I experience is professionalism, good communication, and a kind of grown-up, mature.
I rely on you to make Turbine work and keep it working. That's not a trivial or an amateur thing. It needs people who know what they're doing and you know what you're doing. So, I've worked with a lot of people, and there's always been continuity.
I say this because I've worked with you for a long time. When there's been a handover from one person to the next person, you've done that handover very well. So, I've never really been concerned when I see a new face or a new name because I always think, I'll hand it over and I'll get continuity. And that's also important because haven't met you. I have to rely on your ability to find good people and bring them up to speed and put them on my project and hand it over properly.
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