I first met Fernando Israel, founder of Kognoz, via Twitter. Operating out of Montevideo, Uruguay, Israel rethought the nature of invoices and came to the conclusion that they are significantly more important than many businesses give them credit for. His app, Invoices for Salesforce, reflects his belief and — with 11 five star reviews — is turning out to be a hit with customers.
Tell me about Invoices for Salesforce.
The idea behind the app is simple. Billing is a customer facing activity, as important and vital as sales, service, and marketing. It belongs in the CRM.
As Salesforce users we spend time and effort capturing all our customer and sales data in Salesforce. This data includes all the information necessary to generate our invoices. So, when it comes to raise and deliver these invoices, we should be able to do this in one click, even if we have hundreds of invoices each time.
Billing in Salesforce empowers the people who know your customers best by putting complete billing history right up front. It also drives collaboration by creating a single view of the customer right from the start.
How often do you rev your app?
It has been 10 months since the app went live, and I have constantly improved the app. Looking back, I would say that 90% of the required functionality was there when it launched, but the remaining 10% could only emerge once the app was taken for a spin. Also, the first release was part of a bigger plan that includes major enhancements I am still working on, so these and the app have to be reviewed all the time. The app has opened so many possibilities that there is enough work for years to come.
What’s been your best customer experience so far?
There are plenty of good experiences. One recent experience that has stuck in my mind is that with one of the app non-profit customers. I particularly like working with non-profits because it is one way to give back, and even more so when children are involved as in this case. When I first met them they had quite a backlog of unsent invoices to their donors and that was becoming a problem. After helping them set Invoices for Salesforce up during the free trial, the day they signed up for the app they managed to email over 600 invoices to donors in a matter of minutes. The same day they went happily to their summer holiday. When this kind of thing happens, you know you are doing something right.
What was your first exposure to salesforce.com?
My first experience with Salesforce was back in 2007 when a couple of guys I know asked me for help to start working with a partner. So we learned the platform and became the global development centre of this Salesforce partner for 2 years.
What was the first app you ever wrote for production use in a Salesforce org?
The first app I wrote was a trip planning application for a bank. The idea was to provide an easy user interface for business people to plan, have approved, print, and capture in their calendars the time, location, and client details of the meetings they would held during a business trip. The app took the form of a single page that let users enter any number of meeting details over a time period, have this approved and displayed in their calendars, and the ability to generate a PDF printout.
How many apps have you written for the platform?
We have completed over 70 projects all involving custom development. Among them, there are 2 commercial apps that use Salesforce to provide services to their clients, as well as Salesforce to manage the business. We have also developed 2 apps for clients that they offer to their own customers to integrate their services with Salesforce. In the past couple of years I have developed a procurement app for a client that is now widely used by most regional councils in England. This app is still being continuously enhanced.
Why did you decide to publish on the AppExchange?
The AppExchange is emblematic of the new order we live in. The field is leveled for everyone. You do not have to be called IBM anymore to make a difference. A one-man company with an idea that adds value can bring this idea to life and reach the world through the AppExchange. And this is good news for all because everybody wins: partners get the chance to make a difference and everyone in the community benefits.
How long did it take you to find your first paying customer for your first App?
It took 3 months to get the first paying customer
How large is your company today?
Just me for now.
Do you do more than publish apps?
I have been providing custom development services for years, and I keep doing this for now. One goal is to grow the app will generate enough revenue at some point so that I (we by then probably) can concentrate on app development only.
Why did you decide to develop your initial app?
It was a combination of things. I had a few app ideas from my experience providing development services for Salesforce users, and wanted to have a go. This was scary because of the risk involved, but the time was right. So I crossed the chasm. One of the best things I have ever done.
At what point in the development process should you start looking for a customer?
There are two schools here. One school says that one should develop what the market needs and wants. So in this school I guess that one takes the initial idea and early in the game starts looking for a customer who will provide feedback and help develop that idea. The other school says that one is free to imagine the world in a unique way, and when one builds it and it turns out to be a better world, it is a good thing to share it with everyone else. I think I feel more comfortable in this second school. I was aware that the app idea and design were going against conventional wisdom so I decided to build a quite finished prototype before looking for a customer.
What has been the most stressful time since you launched your business?
The most stressful time since I launched the business was during the app development period, which was a bit over a year. One obvious reason for that was that I stopped doing everything else, such as developing for clients, so kissed goodbye to any source of income. But I knew that the only way to do it is to focus on the app. Despite that focusing may look like saying “yes”, in practice it means being able to say “no” to anything else. There is also the fear of investing all one has and not making the way one expects. But this is natural and I think this is what forges us into what we are. In the process we learn there is no such a thing as failure, and it is all learning.
Do you code yourself or do you outsource it? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both?
I code myself, and I prefer to keep the development within my organization and not outsource development. I have to go back to the painting metaphor: can you see Van Gogh outsourcing his paintings? Of course you can’t. This is how I like to see our work. Software development is different from painting in that it offers more room for joint effort of a number of people. But to me the drive should be the same: passion for what you do, and this is not easy to find in an outsourced team, although not impossible.
When you’re developing and run into a problem that you can’t solve on your own, how do you figure it out?
It is always a combination of 2 things: ask the community, and try things out. In the Salesforce community we are particularly privileged because there is such a large group of very knowledgeable people always ready to help. And there is no substitution for experimenting.
Where do you think your biggest opportunity lies in the next 12-18 months?
Up until now it’s been about getting the app listed, and taking off. In the process there was also a lot of work to finish off the last 10% of functionality that was required and I could not know until it was in the market and taken for a spin. The next 12-18 months biggest opportunity lies in forging alliances with other partners that have created apps for different verticals, and add invoicing to these.