Tag Archives: lean-startup

My Fiasco with Creating Software that Saves Electricity

In September 2014 I decided to stop active development of Fotrel and create a new product instead. This time I wanted to build software in environmental area. I envisioned software that would help to make the Earth cleaner somehow.

I was inspired by Peachjar company. They built a software solution that helps environment by reducing amount of paper flyers that kids bring from school.

Some ideas that I have considered:

  • Software for marine biologists
  • Software that helps solar panel installers
  • Planning software for garden designers

I decided to build software that would help people to save electricity. Most of electricity is produced by coal power plants that pollute air and increase global warming.

Power plant in Belchatow

Following Lean Startup methodology I conducted a lot of client interviews. People were generally interested in saving electricity. The problem was that I wanted to create a software solution, without any hardware component.

Finally I settled on software that would monitor electricity usage by integrating with smart meters.

Also I decided to build my audience first. I have created a registration page. On that page I offered “5 Easy Tips to Save Electricity” report. People would have to enter their email address to receive it by email. This is how I would build my subscriber list of people interested in saving electricity.

I got few subscribers that way but not many. That page didn’t rank high in Google search and I couldn’t get others to share the link to my page with their list.

In April 2015 I have read an influential book “The 7 Day Startup” by Dan Norris. The main idea of the book is to launch new product or service very quickly to learn if it’s something that people would buy.

One idea from the book struck me: if you are building your first product it’s going to be very hard to create something unique and visionary. You can’t afford to be Steve Jobs, not yet. You have to wait until you launch one or two successful products.

As the first product idea it’s much better to stick to something that people already pay money for. That’s when I realized that people don’t spend money on saving electricity. So it’s going to be tough for me as a single developer to build something revolutionary in that area, something that would change people’s habit.

In the end I decided to give up on my idea. Surprisingly I experienced enormous sense of relief. I felt much better after making that decision.

Lesson learnt: make the cycle to test my ideas much shorter by launching new products very quickly. I highly recommend reading The 7 Day Startup book – it’s very short but powerful.

My First Customer Interview

I did my first customer interview recently. I met a professional photographer and talked to him for an hour!

First, this is how I arranged this meeting. I tried to call kindergarten photographers before with disastrous results. People were convinced that I was an telemarketer from India trying to sell them something.

So I changed the tactics. I asked one of my friends if she had her children photographed in kindergarten. As it turns out yes, a photographer came to day care and took photos of her son. Even better she agreed to help me to get an appointment with that photographer. Together we devised a plan.

My friend knew the head of day care centre so she called her and asked about photographer. The manager told her the photographer’s name and also gave his number. She told my friend to mention her name when talking with R. Armed with that my friend called R. and explained that we have an online service for photographers and that we need his help. And R. graciously agreed to meet me for a coffee.

R. explained to me that he mainly does preschool and kindergarten jobs. He also does lots of dance studios. He plans to expand to primary schools. He has his own printing lab. He has 5 photographers working for him.

R. has high turnover. In the last two months he processed 35,000 photos.

R. was using SmugMug but now he is transitioning to a custom WordPress website that was developed for him. SmugMug was good but didn’t let R. to sell photos and print them at his lab. It allows using their lab only. So he was using SmugMug to let people view photos. For ordering, he asked parents to write down photo numbers and send to him by email which was cumbersome.

When selling photos to parents hard copy is important. R. creates proof sheets and gives them to parents. It serves as a reminder (parents put it on the fridge). Web gallery is just an additional component. R. said that one day all sales will be digital in Australia but not now.

One year R. tried to sell photos using web gallery only. It was a disaster – only 30% percent of parents ended up buying photos. Next year he changed back to hard copy with much better results.

R. used to sell photos by printing 5×7 album and giving it parents. It worked well and most parents would buy the album to keep it. Recently though people started scanning photos and returning them back without buying.

For bank deposits it is important to reconcile payments because there are so many of them. Parents should put order number as the reference.

It would be great if each child would get an unique password but it is hard to categorise photos. R. has a custom desktop application that helps him to categorise by dragging photos from the list to children faces on the right.

R. knows a software developer that helps him. He works on facial recognition. It would help greatly for ballet photos where each child stands still facing camera and is properly lit.

R. has an idea of storing photos in the cloud. This would serve as a backup storage.

This was great, I’m going to try to get more customer interviews next.