Micropreneur Spotlight Episode 2: Design Proposal Software Bidsketch

The Micropreneur Spotlight is a look at a Micropreneur Academy member who has launched their product.

This episode’s Micropreneur is Ruben Gamez who recently launched online design proposal software Bidsketch.

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Rob: Thanks for your time today, Ruben. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ruben: First off, thanks for inviting me to be part of the Micropreneur Spotlight.

My name is Ruben Gamez and I’m a 32 year old web development manager living in south FL.

In my day job I manage a web development department; nights and weekends are spent working on my own product called Bidsketch.

Rob: Tell us about your product, including when it launched and some info the size of your user base.

Ruben: Bidsketch is a web based proposal application made for designers. It lets users quickly create proposals that win projects – winning is the key here. That was my guiding principle when building Bidsketch; it made it extremely easy to decide which features to include, and how they should be implemented.

It’s a SaaS (Software as a Service) based application that offers free and paid plans. I’ve been live now for about six weeks.

Right now I have almost 600 users. About 10% of those are paid accounts.  While it’s not enough to replace my salary at the moment, I’m ecstatic about the fast start!

Rob: When & why did you decide to build and launch your own software product?

Ruben: The decision to build my own product was somewhat of a natural progression for me. Initially when I started doing web development, I was solely focused on becoming a better developer. Soon after I felt comfortable with my skillset, I started thinking about leading a team of developers. And then after that, managing developers that manage developers (which is where I’m at now). The next step seemed obvious: running my own business.

So I decided to build my own product long before I decided to build Bidsketch. This was many years ago, and I had many failed attempts. I never actually finished and launched a product before this one.

What was my main goal? I wanted to learn how to successfully launch and market a product. Money is nice of course, but I was more interested in the learning this as a repeatable process. I’ve never been comfortable with the fact that most of my income comes from my job. It’s scary if you really think about it. A single source of income that one person can take away at any time for any number of reasons.

Rob: What inspired you to pursue this niche?

Ruben: Early in my career I used to freelance a lot and I always had a tough time with the proposal process. I soon decided to invest some time into studying up on proposal writing to ease my pain. I learned a lot during the process but I never considered writing an application for some reason.

Then, recently I was looking for a new product idea – after abandoning yet another half-written product – and a friend asked for my help in drafting up a proposal. That’s when it clicked for me. I did some research into the competition which told me there was a lot of opportunity there.

Rob: What has been the hardest part of the development and launch process?

Ruben: This is a tough question because there are so many things that are hard about developing and launching a product, that it’s tough to label something as the hardest.

Early in my development process I was excited about the product and I had a lot of energy to put into it (as usually happens with new product ideas). At that time, the toughest part was making sure I didn’t get distracted.

You can be completely focused on building your product, and still lose large amounts of time trying to perfect your architecture, or learn some new framework to use within your application. While you’re technically working on your application, you’re getting distracted by things that aren’t going to get you any closer to launching. This was a big problem for me early on.

Later in the development process, I was fighting fatigue. Juggling so many things at once for such a long period of time is tough. I had the day job and was writing code at night. But I was also doing important marketing related activities at night – building a sales website, building my email list, link building, blogging, etc. Not to mention trying to have some sort of personal life and maintaining relationships with family and friends. It’s easy to see why so many people never launch a product.

At launch time, the hardest part was finding time to properly launch my product. Through a stroke of luck I managed to acquire my main competitor right before launching. So at the time I was finalizing development, launching a product, and working through an acquisition.

Aside from that, trying to get people to write/blog about Bidsketch at launch time was hard. I emailed maybe 30 bloggers basically asking for a review. To give myself the best chance I customized parts of the emails that I sent out. Most people ignored them and never responded; I felt like giving up after the first 10. I kept pushing myself, and I eventually got 4 responses out of it. (I’m still working on this one.)

Rob: What has been the most time consuming part of the process?

Ruben: Marketing related activities have been much more time consuming than the actual development. I could have chosen to skip the marketing stuff and focus solely on development, but I probably wouldn’t have a single paid account right now if I took that approach. I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t have close to 600 users after my sixth week. That may not sound like a lot but when you’re a nobody and don’t have any connections, it’s amazingly hard to get people to pay attention to your product.

Rob: What has been the most unexpected part of the process?

Ruben: A couple of things:

  • The amount of time I’ve spent on non-development activities throughout this whole thing. It’s eye opening.
  • Getting heard over all this noise has been much harder than I envisioned.
  • The importance of a targeted email list.

Rob: Which marketing approaches have worked for you and which have not?

Ruben: The most effective by far has been building my email list. Having a targeted email list has helped me on so many levels.

This helped get me valuable feedback on things like features, pricing, and competition. I didn’t simply collect email addresses; I had to actually send them things they were interested in. This helped make it easy for them to email me questions or give feedback. Facilitating communication was key.

Another thing that worked for me was finding out what people were searching for in my niche, and making it available to them for free.

In my case, I provided people with free proposal templates. It was really a link building attempt that didn’t work out. Instead it did great things to help me bring in organic traffic. It had an awesome impact on my Google ranking for the keywords that I wanted to go after.

One thing that didn’t work for me was posting on forums and Twitter. I saw some benefit from both of those, but I didn’t like how much effort was involved for such a small return. There are smarter ways to spend my time.

That being said, I’m still trying out Twitter because I inherited 400+ followers with my recent acquisition, and I have noticed that it allows me to quickly reach a certain segment of my market. I haven’t decided whether there’s value there for me.

Rob: What are your top three tips for someone wanting to launch their own product?

Ruben:

  1. Spend the time to ensure that you’re picking the right niche and product. Try to find something that excites you enough to get you through the tough times. But make sure you do your homework and find out whether there’s a market there. Seriously, the amount of products that have no hope of ever being successful is amazing.
  2. Outsource as much as you can, as long as it positively impacts the quality of your application. You can do this by either outsourcing mundane tasks to devote your time to higher impact activities, or you can outsource very important things that you’re not so great at (like graphic/web design).
  3. Find and connect with people like yourself – people that are trying to do the same thing that you’re trying to do. Their support will be invaluable during tough times.

Rob: How has the Academy helped you get from square one to launch?

Ruben: There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve benefited from being an Academy member at every stage of developing and launching my product.

In the last 5 years I had worked on several products that never launched for many different reasons. I either got bored and moved on to something more fun, got tired of working nights and weekends, or couldn’t “find the time” to continue development.

Before the Academy came around, I had been working on Bidsketch for 8 months and I wasn’t even halfway done. After I enrolled, I decided I was going about things the wrong way, completely scrapped all of my work (every line of code), and started over again in a different language and with a strategy that had me launching the beta in 4 months.

The Academy forums have been awesome in keeping me motivated by posting the Accountability Room, and helping me connect with people that are doing the same thing

The Academy lessons helped me increase email signups, AdWords conversions, and marketing website traffic. I actually researched the statistics when I blogged my review of the Academy a couple of months ago.

Last thing I’ll mention is that coming up with a successful launch strategy would’ve been very tough without the help of the Academy. I struggled with it for a while before I asked for help. With you having successfully launched so many products it made sense for me to tap into that knowledge. I’m glad I did because it made the whole process very smooth and successful for me.

Rob: In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently or anything you wished you’d known before getting started?

Ruben: I wished I had known how valuable it is to have the support of your peers in an effort as exhausting as this one. If I had known that, I would’ve really made an effort to connect with other single person startups. Of course the Academy didn’t exist back then, so I would have looked for meetup groups in my area, or contacted people from forums and blogs.

Earlier I mentioned how I decided to build and launch a product several years ago. I wish I had launched a product sooner. I should have followed through on my earlier attempts. The kind of experience you gain through action can’t be duplicated.

Rob: Thanks again for your time today.

Ruben: Thanks for having me.

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