Shifting Tides Reveal Opportunity
Having been in the web design industry since 1995, Matt Certo, co-founder of WebSolvers (a 12 person Orlando web design firm), has seen the technology landscape evolve dramatically. Back in the early days of his company, most Websites were built from scratch using Notepad. If a WebSolvers client wanted a website, it was built in pure HTML and content update requests were sent via Fax machine.
As time went on, content management systems, dynamic Web applications, and API feeds broadened the landscape dramatically. Clients wanted it faster, cheaper, and more powerful than ever. As Certo explains it, “we began to see a portion of our prospects asking for the functionality of a $25,000 Website with only a $2,500 budget. They needed the time of our best folks, but were turning to less expensive alternatives and settling for a lesser result.” As it turned out, that was both a problem and an opportunity.
Conceiving a Product
Among all of those shifts, Certo and the team at WebSolvers saw an opportunity to build a product. “We wanted to figure out a way to meet that client need in a way that made financial sense for them and us,” he explains. They crafted Consulto, a Web design platform for professional firms (i.e. law firms, accounting firms, and general consultants), the segment of clients with which they had experienced this common set of demands.
The crew set out to build a product that met its most common requests from prospects who all seemed to want:
- a professional design and layout
- custom colors and fonts
- control over content updates
- the ability to associate news releases, service areas, and biographies dynamically
- integration with social media tools
- the whole thing finished quickly and inexpensively
They ended up with Consulto, a tool that would enable everything their prospects were looking for, packaged in a Web app / Software as a Service fashion. Instead of building these sites for clients over several months, they could simply “turn them on” for them. As Matt explains it, “we are now able to deliver a commonly requested project without incremental labor costs.”
Not Trying to be All Things to All People
While the team at WebSolvers was excited and ambitious, they were careful not to try to be all things to all people. “We didn’t want to build another broad content management system that works for any industry. There are plenty of general platforms that can be used from one industry to the next,” Certo explains. Instead, the team focused on building Consulto in a way that addressed the deeper needs of the target market. In turn, this freed them from worrying about the needs of every other industry.
Could We Really Take This On?
As president of WebSolvers, Matt already had a successful company. Like other entrepreneurs, Matt had conflicting feelings about maintaining focus on the core business while trying to do something new. “There is a fine line between being innovative and straying from the things you do best,” he explains.
There were also logistical questions. Big ones. How will we budget for this project? How can we free up the right personnel? How can we do this right without losing focus from our core clients? How are we going to tackle billing and cancellations? (This is where Chargify came in.) Thirteen years ago he tried to put a product like this out on the market, but never made it to the finish line because of some of these questions. “We kept saying we would get to it soon but we never did,” he explains.
Matt reconciled many of these questions, thanks in part to the book Linchpin by Seth Godin, which happened to come out during the development process. “Godin’s book helped me to look at creativity and innovation in a new way. Product development is really art and it requires your focus and your energy to ship it out the door.” In order to maintain focus on both WebSolvers and Consulto, Certo pursued it primarily on nights and weekends. “It sounds like a real drag to spend your weekends working on software, but I really enjoyed it. Shipping became a personal and professional challenge to me, Certo explains.”
This is a really great point for existing companies trying to launch another company or get a new product off the ground. Without pursuing a hard date, it’s easy to get side tracked and put your product or company on the back burner. Setting a hard date holds you accountable. It takes a lot of personal will to get to the finish line, and treating Consulto like a client, with a deadline helped ensure the product made it out the door in just over a year.
One of the cool things that came out of Consulto was an entirely separate product. Certo credits the book Rework for helping him identify what author Jason Fried calls byproducts, separate products that might spin out of things you’re already working on. “We were working on a component of Consulto called the marketing dashboard, a roll-up of different performance APIs that would help site owners visualize their site performance. We thought, ‘why not make this available to other sites as well?’” From that, the product MetricPulse was born. The Web app and iPhone app are available at http://www.metricpulse.com. It was also another chance for WebSolvers to put Chargify to work!
Consulto is a software product from the team at WebSolvers whose goal is to help professional services firms quickly and easily create websites. Consulto puts the content of the sites in the hands of their users and helps them help themselves. Consulto gives users the same functionality as a website but without the cost and hassle. Consulto gives professional services what they need, right out of the box and without as they say on their website, a “120 day project to suffer through.”