Author Archives: Chris Kiser

To Cloud or not to Cloud, that is the Question

cloud

An ongoing debate has taken hold in the SaaS community over whether cloud-based or hosted tools are better for consumers of software products.

Obviously, the ultimate answer to this depends on the person, and his or her personal requirements and preferences.  However, having two well-established cloud-based products with over 200,000 users combined, we’ve had the opportunity to see the benefits of the cloud here at Drifty Co. Not to mention, since we interact personally with so many of our customers, we’ve have gotten a good grip on the benefits that our loyal bunch value the most:

You can access, build, and edit from anywhere.
Just yesterday, I built an app in Codiqa while at the office, made a few changes on my laptop at home, then later logged on with my girlfriend’s computer and added the finishing touches.  My schedule is often changing, and having the ability to access my services from any computer relieves a huge weight off my back. When using desktop software, the service is restricted to the device on which it is downloaded and licensed.  Many feel that the offline nature of hosted software makes their work more secure, but in reality…

Cloud data is constantly saved and backed up.
No Command-S to save your project on our products.  As long as you are hooked up to the internet, our cloud-based services are keeping your projects safe and saving changes with every little edit that you make.  With version control, this feature is even nicer.  Can you imagine designing the interface for three web pages, building in the navigation, then having your computer die before you can click save? I can (this actually happened), which is why i don’t use desktop software anymore if I can help it.

We can provide faster updates, bug fixes, and feature launches.
In the past month alone, our designers and developers have released over 20 new features, a ton of fixes, and launched a brand new, revamped builder for our mobile product.  All of this was done without requiring a single user to download an update.  The cloud-based nature of our tools gives us access to improve and fix things in realtime, without affecting or sacrificing the end user’s experience at all (except making it better, of course!).

Cloud-based tools allow simple collaboration and sharing.
One of the best aspects of Codiqa, our first product, is that we can allow teams to work on projects together from the same dashboard, which increases productivity and streamlining team processes at the same time.  In fact, we have a team account with over 30 projects that we build, edit, and share together.

Now, this is not to say that hosted services have no advantages; they certainly do, and there are tons of great hosted software products out there, tons.  This is just a very brief insight into the benefits of being cloud-based that we have found through our own tools, our users, and our efforts to give them the best experience possible.

Great Product Support is an Opportunity, not an Obligation

product support

At Drifty, we value product support as an integral part of our identity and our value proposition. Our average response time (including nights and weekends) is under 4 hours. We spend hours per day assisting and instructing users. Here is why:

Adding and extracting value

A support conversation is a value-heavy opportunity. When a user asks a product related question and a team member provides a useful answer, there is a value exchange happening between the two parties. For instance, the user can provide product insight (if it is a usage issue), feature suggestions, pricing feedback, and sometimes an up-selling opportunity. In return, the team member handling the question provides helpful communication, resources to assist the user, and proof that the team is invested in helping the user succeed in carrying out their goals. Being able to look at support conversations for the value that they’re providing is far more productive for all parties involved than simply viewing it as an obligation. Support is a two way street…

Making product development a two-way conversation

We pride ourselves on being a user-fueled company with user-focused products. What this means is that we fund the development of our products with our revenue, not with outside investments. To us, this form of product development gives us the best possible chance for success because every update, every feature, and every aspect of our products is specifically designed to help our users get more value from using them. There are no outside influences pushing us in different directions- just our customers.

Having great support is one of the best avenues to gaining information from our users on which direction to take. Whether it is requesting a feature, explaining a UX issue, or any other product-related question, our team is tracking and discussing these inputs, and making them an integral part of our product development conversation.

Exporting our culture

The final golden opportunity that often goes unnoticed in product support, (and one that we value the most at Drifty), is the opportunity to show users that you genuinely care about them. If you’re customer focused, how could you not?

When a Drifty team member describes our company’s mission, you’re likely to hear any version of “user-focused, customer-fueled, client-centered, etc,” but you really get to see it in action with our support. We are going to do every single thing we can to make sure that you get the most out of it. We respond to questions fast, we are conversational with our users, and we are extremely happy every time we get to solve an issue.

We do not do this because we feel like we have to, or we feel like it is best for the company (it is), we do this because it is who we are. It’s in our DNA. Our culture is open, helpful, team-oriented, and it’s reflected in the way that we handle support.

If nothing else, remember this…

Product support is not an obligation. It is not an annoying tick in your inbox that needs to be removed. Support is an opportunity to converse, it is a chance to gain and add value. It is a chance to show your users who you are and how much you care.

Learning from the Experts at Techweek Chicago 2013

learning experts

Jason Fried: Co-Founder of 37Signals, Author of Awesome Books and Blogs

One thing that we are very passionate about at Drifty is our culture and the attitude with which we approach our work every day. With this in mind, our co-founders, Ben and Max, require a bit of reading during each new employee’s onboarding process so that he or she can get a better idea of what working at Drifty means.

One piece of our book club is Rework, the masterpiece of challenging traditional business stereotypes by Jason Fried and some of his team at 37Signals.

While he may not have said anything in his talk at Techweek that I had not previously read either through his book or in his blog, hearing Jason speak in person really gave a grounded-ness to Jason’s word that had never resonated with me before:  this guy used to be right where we are, bootstrapped and just trying to create a great software product to make people’s work lives easier and faster.  That, in and of itself, was a very enlightening experience.

 Jeff Silver: CEO, Coyote Logistics

Jeff Silver, well-known logistics professional and CEO of Coyote Logistics, gave a talk on Day 1 of Techweek about how to mold Culture to positively affect your company’s bottom line.

After about five minutes of speaking: two things were abundantly clear with Jeff: First, he and his companies have been extremely successful over the years.  Second, he is an extremely avid believer in culture and how it affects success.

Jeff primarily spoke about the current setup at Coyote, where he makes a point of primarily hiring raw talent directly out of college.  Jeff believes that, at such an age (ironically, my age), that the level of passion and drive in certain young people is drastically higher than most other age brackets.   While many business structures take advantage of this desire to work harder and longer to simply exploit long-houred, low-waged labor out of employees that have far more potential than that.  Through hiring these young and fiery team members, Jeff sees a culture at Coyote that breeds excitement and success, without sacrificing any happiness.

As I will reference about many of the talks at Techweek, Jeff’s hit home for me because I consider myself largely in the group of young tech starters that he described in detail.  I love working because I love my company’s product, I love working overtime because I am passionate about our success, and I love my coworkers at Drifty because they all feel the same way.

Neal Sales-Griffin: Co-Founder and CEO, The Starter League

The Starter League has become something of a darling in the conversations many tech minded entrepreneurs in the midwest.  Similar to many rapid learning development academies that are popping up in large cities, The Starter League trains its students how to design, code, and ship products in a multitude of different foci and programs. Neal spoke on stage with Jason Fried about how to build a product from the ground up, and the successes and pitfalls he has encountered on his journey with SL.

Starter League began as a small online/remote development education service.  Over time, according to Neal, it grew along with its number of students, and the course offerings evolved as this growth occurred.  Now, it is home to six design/development programs, including a nine-month intensive training called Starter School, and has changed the lives of many young tech hopefuls.

I met a 20 year old web designer at the conference that had dropped out of college as a sophomore, attended the Starter League, and 6 months later was working full time at a cloud-based development company.  That right there completely encompasses what is so special about the product/service/institution that Neal and his team have built.

The main takeaway I gained from Neal and the Starter League is that the way you design your product, and the way you allow it/spur it to grow, is the central success driver no matter what industry.  Allowing your product to be defined by its core users and growing it in a simple and systematic manner to help provide these users more value is a very strong formula for success.

A Few Final Thoughts…

It is extremely easy to get caught up in the day to day grind of working, whether your company is big or small, software or hardware, young or old.  Everyone gets stressed, and most of us even lose our minds from time to time.  I learned very early on that I do my best work when I am thinking profoundly, when I am injecting my own personality and passion into it, and when I have my eyes on a bigger prize.  I have also found this to be true in many of my coworkers, and in many of the success stories I heard on the stages of Techweek Chicago 2013.

In my opinion, the biggest takeaways of getting to hear guys like Jason, Jeff, and Neal speak are perspective and inspiration.  I listen to these guys talk about their products, their companies, their teams, and it reminds me not only of how cool the work is that my company does, but how driven we are as a group to reach our collective goals.  Sometimes it only takes a little bit of stepping back, and a little bit of perspective, to re-realize how work can be very special.

Drifty at Techweek: A Recap

Drifty at Techweek

Last Saturday, June 29th, the Drifty team introduced hundreds of developers, designers, marketers, and entrepreneurs to Codiqa and Jetstrap at Techweek Chicago.

The event was a bit of a last-minute engagement for us, as we only decided to become involved in early June, so as one would imagine it was a very hectic process. In addition to being part of the expo, we also sponsored the Launch competition by awarding its winner, WeDeliver, with one-year free licenses of each of our products.

In a two-week span, our team designed and ordered display and marketing materials, created demo videos for displaying at the event, and planned all the logistical details.

Before the event, we all agreed that it would be a success if we could simply get as many eyes on our products as possible, and learn as much as we could in terms of how potential customers perceive our products. I would say that we definitely accomplished these goals, with a little bit of nice team-building included.

We met a ton of unbelievably smart, passionate, and fun tech lovers from every corner of the industry as well as the country. We performed demos of Codiqa and Jetstrap to many of them, learning how users with different backgrounds (coding vs. non-coding) initially react to the product, and how we may be able to leverage these reactions to better sell our software. We heard from almost everyone that our prices are unbelievably low (more on that later), and our potential unbelievable high. We made a lot of relationships that could potentially turn into very beneficial partnerships in the future.

Overall, TechWeek was a very new and very exciting experience for us. Sometimes getting to see customers getting excited over your products in person is an enlightening experience that cannot be explained unless you really feel it. Just being reminded that we, and our products, are capable of causing that excitement is enough to know that we are doing a good amount of things right on this crazy ride.

Drifty Team to Demo Products at Techweek Chicago 2013

techweek-drifty

Our team is growing…our products are growing faster…and we are going to be showing them both off at one of the biggest tech conferences in the country!  Come join us at Techweek Chicago, June 27-29 at the world famous Merchandise Mart.

What is our goal?

Show off!  We want to get our rapid HTML5 developing tools, Jetstrap and Codiqa, in front of as many users as possible.  Whether you are a developer, a designer, a product manager, or marketer, we want to show you how you can use our cloud-based drag and drop designers to rapidly accelerate and enhance your prototyping and web building activities.

What can you expect at our booth?

Demo stations, video tutorials, extremely helpful team members from all different backgrounds, and BEER!  You read it right, we are bringing the beer, and it is for you.  All you need to bring is a curious mind.  Have a conversation, try one of our tools live at our booth, we would love to learn about you and how we can use our tools to make your work easier, better, and faster.

 

Drifty Co. will be exhibiting at Techweek Chicago on June 29th from 12:00PM-6:00PM CST at the Merchandise Mart.  Can’t find us?  We are in the corner booth directly above Lounge 23.

Lean Marketing: Marketing at a Bootstrapped Company

lean marketing

From day one at Drifty, I realized that bootstrapped marketing is a whole new (and very exciting) ballgame. At a lean startup, time and dollars cannot be wasted. Mistakes have to be minimal, and every single mistake must have very valuable takeaways for the future.  How can we avoid making too many mistakes? How can we avoid wasting precious time?

Turns out, the leading school of entrepreneurial thought, The Lean Startup, can be applied to marketing strategy as well.

“BUILD, MEASURE, LEARN”

BUILD

Plan your project carefully, and with many specific goals/measures in mind:  If I am planning a social media contest I should have a goal in mind (drive users into our database to make an account), and specific measures that will tell a story about how well this goal was achieved (traffic to site, time spent on site, accounts created from traffic).  My contest should exploit the end results I want by embedding them in the design:  If I want traffic to my website, I make the goal of my contest for users to direct as many friends as possible to the Codiqa site.

MEASURE

Choose your metrics carefully, and be very well educated on what those metrics tell you about your end results.  When you want page views maximized, measuring click through rate for a blog post makes perfect sense.  If you want customers to upgrade their payment plan, then suddenly click through rate means nothing to you.

LEARN

No matter what the result, learn something (or many things) specifically from each campaign, and carry them over into the next.  If my social campaign got a ton of clicks to the site, and users were spending time on the site, then I have learned that my sign up process is either not appealing or simply too tedious to manage.  I built a project around a designated goal, measured its success, and learned a valuable takeaway of how to change this for the future.  This process is quicker, and far more efficient (in money and time).

GROW

Marketing on a tight budget seems limiting, but it’s actually an incredibly interesting challenge. Too many large companies market inefficiently. Can we change what it means to build an audience and grow a customer base using lean startup methods?

At Drifty, we are doing just that, by measuring and learning from every marketing campaign we run. By having a very detailed understanding our how our campaigns work, we can get much more value out of cheaper marketing investments.