Startup Grind Chicago kicked off at 1871 last week. Startup Grind is active in more than 30 cities around the world, and after my initial meeting I’m a fan. You should find one and go. Tom Denison is the local leader here in Chicago and the special guest was Ross Kimbarovsky, part of the duo that brought crowdSPRING to the world. Denison prompted Kimbarovsky with questions about his experiences launching crowdSPRING, and after about 45 minutes the audience took over.
I’ll share some of my favorite takeaways in a minute, but first, a shameless plug: I help developers start businesses on the AppExchange. If you’re thinking about it, I’d love to talk with you. Email me. And, if you haven’t already, you should read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Yes, it really is as good as everyone says. Finally, if you happen to be in Minnesota next week, I’ll be at the November 7th November “HOT” Force.com Developer Meetup and it would be great to meet you.
OK, back to the show. crowdSPRING connects buyers and sellers of creative services. Kimbarovsky states that they have 14 employees, 7 local and 7 remote, and manage a community of around 200,000. They are #2 in their market. crowdSPRING raised an initial round of funding from friends and family, about $3m, but run a very lean ship and haven’t taken additional investment since that time. They have been profitable for about the last year.
My personal favorite annecdotes were about the initial crowdSPRING app and how they went from minimum viable product to the service they are today. “Your first product is going to look like shit and probably not work very well,” he stated. Also, at the beginning “we were overly fixated on stupid things.” And just in case you didn’t get that, “The things we were wasting 90% of our time on didn’t matter.”
Having said all that, Kimbarovsky also noted that if he had to do it over again, he would pay more attention to the initial product. “Product matters a lot because word of mouth is such a powerful marketing force.” Marketing and sales matter, he said, but if you have a crappy product, they can only get you so far.
So, how do you decide what features are really required for your MVP? There’s no easy answer. However, Kimbarovsky did state, “You can’t measure your product by your competitor’s. Yours might be better, but it could still be shit.” You have to see the product from the customer’s point of view, and you have to design it for your customer’s real needs.
Kimbarovsky shared other stories as well. The time he had to take over site management for six months while the dev team re-architected the site for a second time. Weekends spend restarting servers in sequence — dozens of times — in order to ensure customers were up and running. A couple of bad hires, and the importance of understanding the real jobs he was hiring people for. “We do every job ourselves before we hire someone,” he said. “My partner and I handled all customer service for six months. When we hired someone, we knew the job inside and out.”
Overall it was a great conversation. I especially appreciated Kimbarovsky’s refusal to sugarcoat the amount of work it’s been getting the business to where it is today. But, when he says, “I’m very passionate about solving this particular problem,” you can tell he means it.