The Start of Something…The Story of a New Company (Part 1)
Welcome to the first in a series of publications primarily focused on a new business venture in which I am involved. Over coming months I will share with you our journey from an idea to (hopefully!) the creation of a new trading company.
This series of blogs will look to describe our challenges, our moments of realisation, our frustrations, models/tools used and actions we take to maintain the onward momentum of starting a new business. This will be reported from a business leader/management perspective; however, I am hoping that I can convince one of my colleagues to take on the task of providing a technical blog that will report on the challenges experienced during the process of building our products. This is real life in action, so expect the unexpected…
A Journey – Part 1
As you may already be aware, some colleagues and I have set about forming a new start-up software company called ‘Freeform Software’. Now, although we are veteran in running service organisations both in the UK and Europe and in building software for process management and internal client use, we are not directly experienced in selling software commercially via the web. However, this does not faze us in the slightest, as we have extensive knowledge in the given field to draw upon, have built a similar system previously (albeit in old money) and know the initial roll-out market quite well.
The plan is to leverage this perspective and create something truly disruptive to a routine driven industry ‘That of deploying and managing remote teams’. In essence, our aim is to create a new category.
A brief introduction to the Freeform Software team
Our team is diverse and talented with extensive experience in software development, deployment and customer utilisation. A brief introduction to the team members:
We have David, who I see as the architect of the project, a person who designs, builds and also supervises its construction; he is Mr Detail. We have Debbie, a usability specialist with a PhD in Human-Computer Integration; we have Jenny, a talented Data and Reporting specialist with extensive experience in running software development and IT departments; we have Chris, an exceptional programmer and all-round development talent; we also have Mr X (has to remain unnamed at this time) an enterprise services specialist with outstanding customer management and honed project management skills, and we have me (!) a versatile business leader with an extensive track record in successfully running organisations.
At this time, all members are giving their time free of charge in-order to move the project forward.
‘At the back-end of last year the decision was made to create a company in-order to build software solutions.’
Over previous years many of those mentioned above have built, used or maintained a system that we developed back in the early 2000s. This system was developed with the purpose of giving a service based company, which we owned and previously worked-in, the competitive advantage. The system was exceptional at managing process, collecting data and delivering tailored reports to clients. However, as time went on the system was in need of a complete update.
After rigorous assessment, it was apparent that for the software to be truly viable it needed a significant update to incorporate new features and use new platforms. This would require a large capital investment from the company and some time to implement. Discussion ensued and debate was had. The primary concern from the management team was that re-developing a new software solution was expensive and that it no longer appeared to be a competitive advantage for the organisation.
This position was supported by the concern that the company was not good at charging sufficient rates for the software, choosing to give it away as a value add; a bit of a paradox when you think about it, a system that was so good that clients came to the organisation was given away for free to others. This is not ideal, but when you are in the middle of the 2008 credit crash needs must…
The decision was arrived at, that the only way to make the software solution work was to create a standalone company who would take over full responsibility for the software and charge appropriately. This was something that the management team felt was not possible within the current business, as the future strategy could not incorporate it.
So, the decision was made by David and I to form a company and build new software leveraging our experience and talent; Freeform Software was born.
Since January 2016 a group of like-minded professionals have been meeting to discuss the formation of Freeform Software and its initial roll-out offering. The idea was to create a software solution which will manage multiple service sectors all in one place; making it easier for people running field based teams to productively manage its resource.
Now, we aren’t looking to duplicate what is already out there, we are all agreed that this would be pointless, we are looking to develop a new solution ahead of the curve; but I am getting ahead of myself…this comes later…
The Business Model Canvas
For those of you not familiar with the Business Model Canvas it is an idea formulated in a book written by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur called ‘The Business Model Generation’; simply put, it is an approach to pictorially presenting the business model of your organisation, created in collaboration, and easily allows you to explore new ways of doing business. As our business model canvas picture (below) demonstrates, you build a picture of your organisation by describing business actions in the 9 basic building blocks.
The website Strategyzer describes ‘The Business Model Canvas’ as ‘a strategic management and entrepreneurial tool. It allows you to describe, design, challenge, invent, and pivot your business model.’
Quite simply it allows you to investigate how your business will trade, who with, how, where revenue will come from, what your cost base will be etc. with the conversation in its creation allowing you to explore new ideas and align the business model to need.
Our Initial Business Model Canvas meetings
During initial meetings we took on the task of creating a business model canvas for the organisation. It was apparent that even though we had the same idea, it took very different shape and form in each of our minds. The process of working through a business model canvas would aid all of us in creating common understanding. This would primarily be achieved by us discussing high level aspects of the business in a more formal manner, recording them on the canvas and testing their validity.
Preparation for the business canvas meeting involved each team member preparing their thoughts for discussion and creating their first draft canvas for consideration.
We met with our pre-prepared business model canvas and set about discussing each aspect. A great deal of time was spent focusing on each building block with the overall aim of understanding each other’s point of view. This was then compared to examples of organisations already trading in a similar market place, such as Salesforce (readily available on-line), to ensure we hadn’t missed anything during the process.
This process led to in-depth assessment of our proposed idea. We meticulously examined each building block assessing how the business will operate, who might be our target market etc. This led to a quite exhausting process of assessment and reassessment, but it was very fulfilling. The fact that we were spending time talking improved our understanding of how the business will function and how the Unique Selling Points (USPs) of our product might be deployed.
As is commonly voiced in the world of entrepreneurship, businesses started with one sole owner are less likely to succeed than those started with two. The ability to discuss, debate, challenge and be proven wrong is of absolute importance when venturing into unknown territory. As they say, it isn’t the plan that is important, but the journey of creating the plan that is…never was this truer than in creating our Business Model Canvas.
The WOW Moment…
Whilst we were reviewing the ‘Value Proposition’ block, which is best described as ‘the bundle of products and services that create value for a specific customer segment’, we had the Eureka moment (or at least I did!) that the entire user journey through the website/software would need to be an exceptional one, one which will make the user actively want to reuse the website because it makes a significant difference to their business life; Simple to say, but not so easy to deliver.
So what does this mean?
It will need to learn from the user, understand their need and recommend changes to future tasks intuitively. It will need to make suggestions based on the tacit knowledge and experience we have developed over the last 15 years of running a similar system. It would need to have a form of Artificial Intelligence (AI)!
The realisation that AI integrated into the system would create an improved User Experience (UX) led our conversation in another direction. We were no longer product focused, but customer led in the true sense of the meaning. We began to explore how this might work and allocated the workload accordingly, looking to conduct research to facilitate better understanding of the business model.
In this short moment, we changed the perspective of the product development from ‘this is what we are going to deliver’ to ‘it’s all about the UX’; a massive shift, but one which has already increased productivity in subsequent planning meetings.
The Business Model Canvas is a great tool, without doubt. It facilitated our conversation, gave us a structure in which to discuss possible outcomes and aided idea generation. It then allowed people with very different perspectives to find common ground and agreement in next steps.
In simple terms, it created clarity and focus.
In part two, I will look to describe the process we went through to create Freeform Software’s Vision and Mission.
Further information on The Business Model Canvas can be found at: http://www.businessmodelgeneration.com/canvas/bmc
*All comments are based on my personal experiences and given freely. That said, you need to make your own choices. I can’t and won’t accept liability for you employing any recommendations. Business is all about risk. It’s your choice.
Nigel stone has, over the last fifteen years, started, led, consulted and nurtured both UK and European businesses to achieve quite outstanding results. please feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org