Apps

Flexible work goes mobile – @Workible

Clare Loewenthal

Clare Loewenthal

Clare Loewenthal was the founding editor of Dynamic Small Business magazine which she launched from her home in Sydney growing it to become the largest circulation small business magazine in Australia.

She has interviewed hundreds of successful entrepreneurs, fearless start-ups are her greatest inspiration and fuel a passion for small business, which is channeled through her role as Editor and Advisory Board Member for DSBN. Clare has written or published 8 books including Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained and Risky Business and spends most of her time writing books on successful businesses.

Flexible work goes mobile

When serial entrepreneur Fiona Anson realised a mobile app would turn her business into a serious contender, she didn’t hesitate. Although Fiona and partner, Allison Baker, had limited experience in the tech space, they quickly attracted the funding required to develop their app, and Workible was launched in record time.

Fiona and Alli started HireMeUp in 2011. An online jobs board for the part time, casual, contract and temporary workforce, the business reflected the changing nature of the Australian workforce and was quickly embraced by both employers and people looking for flexible work arrangements.

But when Fiona and Alli won a 2012 TiECON pitching competition, the resultant trip to Silicon Valley confirmed that to deliver a solution offering employers not just flexibility but speed, the business model required three new components; it needed to be mobile, social and incorporate video.

“Social media is important because flexible work opportunities have traditionally been communicated through word of mouth, and social media is the new way to do this,” explains Fiona. “Video shortcuts the selection process and mobile is vital because future is mobile.”

Fiona and Alli’s learning curve was steep but they were unfazed by entering a new industry that moves at a dazzling speed.

“Business is business,” says Fiona. “In fact, I think being an outsider can be an advantage because you don’t automatically do things the way they have always been done.”

Funding & Capital Raising

Fiona and Alli bootstrapped the original business, but developing the app required external funding. And so began a process that Fiona cheekily calls the “100 cups of coffee method”. They simply met with as many people as possible and told them their story.

“The tech community is a tight one,” says Fiona. “Having gone through the process of obtaining seed funding here in Australia, my best advice is to find investors that fit not just with your requirements and skill sets, but also with the values of your business. The investor needs to see the problem you are solving and needs to be confident investing in you.”

Their first investor committed in September 2012, and after two investors were on board, the development of the app began. Today Workible has five outside investors, with Alli and Fiona retaining 80 per cent of the company.

The initial round closed in August 2013 and Workible will need another $500K to enter the lucrative US market, followed by a Series A of $5 million.

There is much to be learnt from how Alli and Fiona view the relationship with their investors. “I treat them the way I would want to be treated if I was investing in someone’s business,” explains Fiona.

No new investor is brought on board unless all existing shareholders feel that the new investor is a good personal fit.  Investors are provided with constant feedback on what is happening with the business and client wins. Initially this was through a weekly update but more recently it has occurred via Yammer.

How it works

Workible.com.au

Workible.com.au

The response to the launch has been overwhelmingly positive; little surprise to those who know the recruitment industry and understand the challenges inherent in finding quality temporary staff quickly. The app allows job seekers to create profile that showcase their industry skills, experience, references and availability, as well as joining company-based, skill based or industry-based shortlists. Employers can then tap into these pools of job seekers when they need to find staff fast.

Corporate clients use Workible on a subscription basis but for balance, Fiona intends to build an e-commerce facility, so they can launch to SMEs.

“SMEs are harder to access and not traditionally early adopters of new technology, but they make decisions quickly and can provide us with steady cash flow,” says Fiona. “Corporates can contribute on a larger scale and investors love them, but they take a long time to make a decision. We need both.”

Whats Next?

Fiona and Alli will set up a US operation early in 2014, probably via a co-working space, and will then start knocking on doors looking for the next round of funding. Speed is important as there is currently no direct competition and so they have the first mover advantage. But Fiona says they have a healthy dose of paranoia about how quickly a competitor could emerge.

Despite their passion for what they have created, like most tech businesses, Fiona and Alli are looking at a two to three year exit. “We don’t want to die with the business, which keeps us very focused on our goals and on how they are going to be met,” she says.

Lean Startup Tools and Processes Im using

Eric Ries - The Lean Startup, London Edition

Eric Ries – The Lean Startup, London Edition (Photo credit: betsyweber)

Lean Startup Book Cover - Credit - Eric Ries

Lean Startup Book Cover – Credit – Eric Ries

Over the last few weeks I have launched a prototyping project, its high profile, technically difficult, experimental and needs to be done quickly.

Normally in a big corporate you would spend a year on this, an academic might study it for 2-3 years, I hope to condense it to a few months and produce a working prototype.

I have listened to Lean Startup a few times now over the last year (well most of it) and started looking for tools to facilitate building a lean startup (within a multinational split over 4-5 timezones).

Funnily enough when I launched my first business nearly 14 years ago I didn’t spend much time planning, I just made a best guestimate of what we should do, the 3-5 big goals that would change my world, listed the tasks needed to achieve each goal and executed hard, measured the results and adjusted as I went, I would review the priorities every day and set new weekly goals based on a quarterly plan (but no more than that).

Everything was an experiment unless proven otherwise (I got this experimental approach from Seth Godin’s book “Survival is not enough” long before Lean Startup was a movement) and I ran lots of experiments, more than 25 different ways to get the message out (and more than 150,000 mail drops to Sydney Businesses with about 20 messaging variations)

Here is the list of tools that I have come across and tried/used so far in my process.

Please add any you think we should have to the comments and I will put them into the list.

http://leanstack.com/ has a multiuser Lean Canvas – Works well when you are working with an international team, simple but easy way to get the critical data to make a product and a decision down on one page.

Leanstack.com Canvas App

Leanstack.com Canvas App

http://leanstartupmachine.com/validationboard/  A Google Docs Validation Board template

Similar but more manual and works on Google Docs

123D Design – Free 3D drawing software, there is a desktop version (which crashed a lot for me) and a web version (which is not as capable as the desktop version). Despite these problems I still recommend it as it is very capable software and amazing given its free.

123D Design

123D Design

Tinkercad.com  Very good if you are aiming to build models for 3D printing but I found it lacking for more complex object contruction (or it could be my lack of skill) Also free

Tinkercad - Credit Tinkercad.com

Tinkercad – Credit Tinkercad.com

Autodesk Inventor – This is what you will probably use if you need more than 123D. Easy enough to use, but you really need 8Gb ram and Win 64, it too will crash on 4gb. Extremely capable. Not free but a demo is available.

Autodesk-Inventor - Credit Autodesk & www.synergissoftware.com

Autodesk-Inventor – Credit Autodesk & www.synergissoftware.com

Google Docs – Because enterprise collaboration tools will arrive in your company 2 years after you need them.

 

 

LeanProduction.com  Excellent explanation of the 25 lean tools for manufacturing

Strikingly.com for building a great landing page, ever wondered who builds those beautiful one page sites that explain everything you need to know about a product or service and nothing else? Strikingly.com does.

http://pollenizer.com/tools Check out Phil and Micks collection of tools, these guys are experts in the space.

https://trello.com to create a shared workboard so that you can collaborate rather than email everything – Freemium

http://www.targetprocess.com Agile Project Management Software – Freemium

https://www.circuitlab.com/ This is a great App for desiging circuit schematics and then running them in a simulator – Freemium

CircuitLab.com

CircuitLab.com

https://www.fluidui.com/editor/live/ Available in your Chrome Browser for designing App mockups – Freemium

Fluid - Chrome Based Mockup App

Fluid – Chrome Based Mockup App

What did we miss? Add your preferred Lean Tool in the Comments.

 

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Pocketbook hits #2 Finance App on Australian App store

Pocketbook-web

Pocketbook-web

I met Bosco Tan at Peter Coopers Sydstart last year. At the time he looked like he was in for a long hard road to get users to give up access to their bank accounts and to get any support from the banks.

Well persistence pays, because it looks like they are really getting some traction. The Pocketbook web and Iphone app is Australia’s equivalent of Mint.com (which doesn’t work outside the USA), it allows you to sync all of your different bank accounts, credit cards and then automagically reviews your transactions and automatically catergorises most of them and tracks recurring bills and payments and puts these into a budget and bill schedule so you get a reminder when it due.
Pocketbook gives you one view of all of your accounts which is pretty handy.

I found the whole signup routine very slick, it was clear a lot of User Interface effort has been put into ensuring users could get logged in and their accounts setup very quickly.

I asked founders Bosco Tan and Alvin Singh a few questions about the journey so far.
Bosco Tan & Alvin Singh

Bosco Tan & Alvin Singh

What been the hardest thing?

The absolute hardest thing and the thing that we continually focus on is building something that people want and care about. Everything we do is focused on that.
Finance is not a ‘sexy’ topic for the average person and so we try to build something the cuts through the status quo and delights our users. Every feature, every item that goes into Pocketbook is critiqued and we are the biggest critics of ourselves. More often than not features are sidelined because it doesn’t fit in with the vision we have for Pocketbook.

What surprised you?

What continues to surprise us is the diversity of users that email us and tell us how they are using Pocketbook. And it’s across the whole spectrum. We have CEOs of ASX listed companies, 65 year old retirees, high school students, stay at home mums to young professionals contact us. We are constantly talking to our users which help us guide our compass – it’s one of the more important things we do.

Can you tell us how many users or at least a growth factor?

We’ve had a huge response from the Australian community. We’re growing at over 10% month on month.

Have you got any good startup war stories?

Thats a timely question because we just launched our iPhone app and we had a couple of sleepless nights.
Pocketbook Iphone App

Pocketbook Iphone App

It’s always hard to estimate demand of something when your not sure how people will take to it and how they will use it. So when we launched our iPhone we immediately hit the top 10 apps in finance and continued the climb to number 2 – beating apps such as Paypal, all the banking apps from CBA, Westpac etc., Kaching. This had a huge impact on server traffic and that morning we watched our server hitting max usage for a few hours.
Immediately we went into red-alert because we wanted everyone trying Pocketbook app for the first time to have a delightful experience and not have to experience slow response times. Luckily we are with a great hosting provider and can scale at will – adding extra CPUs and RAM to our servers. In a couple of hours we had scaled up and were humming along.
Lesson – have your finger on the scale button as needed and be ready for it.

Are you at the point where you need to think about scaling and architecture issues?

Yep – war story! Alvin was a senior architect at News Ltd in his corporate life so he has experience working on systems handling hundreds of millions of records and a huge amount of traffic. So all those learnings have been built into Pocketbook.

What mistakes have you made?

We don’t feel like we’ve made many big mistakes to date. It’s been pretty smooth.

We debate a lot – pros and cons about features, what platforms to be on, which banks to support etc. We let our users guide us a lot of the time. We get about 50-80 bits of email on a daily basis with great feedback and suggestions, we created a voting page for banks our users want added – https://getpocketbook.com/addmybank, and finally it’s always great to run into our users at events and take feedback in person.

What have you really done well?

We think we’ve done well to capture usability. Alvin and I are pretty average consumers – we hate having to do accounting and we both value our spare time – these things we suspect are pretty universal for most Australians. With this, we designed the product for people just like us. The web interface is for quick planning on the couch or the kitchen table, and the mobile app is for on the run – those couple of minutes at the supermarket or that morning train ride to work.

What we found was that most current personal finance products out there fall into two camps – they’re either for the sophisticated amateur accountant, or they require too much manual entry. So we set out to be different, if you know how to check your friend’s status updates on Facebook or if you know how to check your balance on internet banking, you should be able to budget with Pocketbook.

Whats your next big milestones?

We got a few exciting things coming up. From a product perspective, we just launched our mobile app on iPhone to an amazing response . We’re working on the next big request – an app for Android. It’s tax season, and we’re working on something to simply the process of doing tax returns – in fact, that’s where the product originated. Some info here – https://getpocketbook.com/features/tax-returns-2013

 

Aside from product, we’re closing our round of funding so we can move even faster. We’re also competing in the finals of the SWIFT Innotribe 2013 Startup Competition in Dubai this September. SWIFT is a financial messaging cooperative between 15,000+ banks globally. Think “SWIFT Code” whenever you transfer money overseas. So this is recognition at the highest level in our sector. Of the 9 companies competing, we are one of 3 representing Asia-Pac and the only company from Australia. You can read more here: http://innotribe.com/2013-grand-finale/