For those entrepreneurial types out there, do you ever look at a successful company and get a little intimidated? Maybe you think “Wow, look at all they’ve accomplished! That’s way beyond what I could ever do”. Success IS intimidating but remember, you’re looking at the company the way it is now, not the way it started. Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit, tells a story of when they ran their first QuickBooks ad. It was a half-page, professionally-created ad, in an accounting magazine with a one-million readership:
I LOVE this story because I can relate to it. I envision Scott sitting there in his little office, listening to some ad guy’s marketing ideas and Scott saying “Uh… okay!” I KNOW that feeling. Sometimes, whether it’s Marketing, Development, who to hire, what direction to go, etc., you just don’t know what the answer is, so you give it a shot and see what happens. You can’t be so afraid of a bad decision that you are unwilling to make the call. In this case, Scott gave it a shot, realized it didn’t work, (pretty easy with only 4 calls), and kept trying new things until something did. He then went after it, learned from the mistakes, made improvements along the way, listened to his customers and kept moving forward. Intuit is the result. (That’s a pretty condensed version, but good enough for my purposes.)
So today I want to talk about some of the odd-events, screw-ups, and misguided sales/marketing/development efforts in Fishbowl’s history, not to cry over spilled milk, but to let everyone know that, in the time-honored tradition of successful businesses, we’ve had our growing pains, too.
NEAR MISSES: The Early Years or Gotta Sell Somethin’!
It’s easy to look at Fishbowl now and say well, duh, OBVIOUSLY you should have gone after the QuickBooks market. Remember, in 2002, there was no QB-integrated market because the QB SDK wasn’t even released until late in 2002 and THEN we had to start development on the integration. So what do you do when you have no official product to sell and only a HOPE of something that MAY be available some time the following year? You get creative and try things out:
Eve: The Event Manager. Don’t know what that means? OK, how about “The chunk of code that provides the communication between the client and the server”. Still don’t know what that means? Well, that’s too bad because that’s about where I tapped out. Our Head of Development at the time was so proud of Eve he thought we could sell it to other companies that had heavy database issues to deal with (and Fishbowl w/QB integration wasn’t ready yet). I didn’t think so, but I called “The eBay Store”, Overstock.com, and Disney’s Imagineering (I think he knew someone, who knew someone, etc.), to see what they had to say. They said no.
Grocery Guys: Sold a $45k contract to a local grocery delivery business to modify Fishbowl to take and pick orders for them. Development was originally on board with the idea, but we all lost interest as soon as Fishbowl w/QB integration was ready to go. We moved on.
Medical Rental Module: Sold a $35k contract to develop rental capabilities within Fishbowl for a local medical equipment rental company. We built a beta version of it, which at the time probably consisted of our beta version of Fishbowl with “Rental Version” written in italics. We might have pulled it off, too, but the customer apparently purchased the wrong server and couldn’t get Fishbowl to run at all.
Direct Competitor to Mass90: Our original founder planned to build a product to directly compete with Mass90 by selling individual modules from $10k-$60k each.
Fishbowl Multi-user as a separate package
Note: I’m glad none of these worked or we would be an entirely different company today or, more likely, unemployed.
MARKETING: How do you like my new logo?
It takes a while to figure the branding out. Company name, logo, tag lines, whatever. Some directions we took were really bad. We were originally called Eventronix. I don’t know how the original founder arrived at the name, (or the logo for that matter) other than it sounds and looks vaguely tech-ish.
Beautifully done. Conveys, at a glance what we do and is easily remembered… I’m kidding. It sucked.
OK, be honest. Does this remind you of a fishbowl ‘cause that’s what it was supposed to do! I thought it was obvious, but apparently no one told our customers. Three years after we started using it I thought it might be a good idea to ask them. Only two got it right.
As much as I hated the Eventronix name and logo it took years to clean it out of all our marketing. Even now, in the dark recesses of our company archives, you can find it moldering away on some long-forgotten file.
This is where my bloodshot eyes come from. Blurry white letters on bright yellow. Ouch:
STOCHASTICITY – the quality of lacking any predictable order or plan (kind of like this blog post) Random things happen in business, some good, some bad and you can’t really plan for them. The best you can hope for is to get more random good than bad or, at least, mitigate the bad.
Paid the BYU MBA dept. $10k to figure out which features QuickBooks users needed. Here’s what they said. (In retrospect we probably could have figured this out on our own by making a few phone calls):
- Full-scale inventory control for QuickBooks
- Unlimited items and users
- Technical support (did we have any then?)
- Labor tracking
- Bar coding
- An MRP system
- Bids and estimates
- RMAs and outsource repair tracking
From 2001 to 2004 we moved 4 times
SWIM(Shop, Warehouse and Inventory Manager): This was supposed to be a barcoding system that would work within Fishbowl. It was developed by the original founder of Fishbowl. When Dave Williams, our current CEO, came on in 2004, we talked him into paying the original founder of Fishbowl $50k for it. He did. It didn’t work.
CAN I GET MY $250 BACK???
In 2002 when we released Fishbowl 1.0 we had almost no money. So when a door-to-door salesman came by selling a $250 ad space for one of those coupon books that they mail out once a month I figured we could at least reach some people here in Utah. We got ONE call from the mailer. That was to Backyard Adventures, a high-end playground equipment retailer. We ended up selling around $50k to them and their franchisees around the country and hired away the following six employees:
Head of Development: Kevin Batchelor
Executive VP of Sales: John David King
VP of Customer Satisfaction: John Erickson
Director of Fishbowl Developer Network: Matt Sharp
Developer: Taylor Burton
FYI: So what ad got six smart and capable guys to give us a call? Here you go:
And that’s the way it went. Trying things. Finding our way. Making mistakes. Avoiding the REALLY big mistakes and moving forward.
Till next time!