Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
My name is Dave Chesson and I’m the founder of Kindlepreneur, a website devoted to help and teach authors how to self-publish, and market their books on Amazon and other online stores.
I’m also the creator of Publisher Rocket, a book marketing software that helps authors with their Amazon book keyword research, Category selection, and advertisement. The software covers the US, UK, and German markets and was recently listed by MarketWatch as one of the top 8 book marketing companies in the world.
Furthermore, in a couple of months, I will be releasing new software called Atticus, which I hope to turn into the best book writing software full of plotting, writing, collaboration, and formatting.
I’m also a 7x bestselling author and when I’m not working on the above, I’m also a consultant to multiple publishing companies and NYT bestselling authors.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ll tell you the truth, I never thought I’d be here. I grew up with dyslexia so English was never my forte. Plus I am no programmer and had zero experience working in the field.
But here I am and it all started with just writing a book.
While in the military, my wife and I had racked up a bunch of debt. So, I worked to find a side hustle that manifested into writing books and publishing them on Amazon. With each book, I learned more about the book market and so, I decided to create a website devoted to teaching others how to write and sell books on Amazon. Hence Kindepreneur was created.
For three years, I spent my mornings working on the website and helping it to grow. It was slow, but over time it kept growing and growing.
But then something amazing happened that would change the course of my business forever.
One morning, when going over my analytics and affiliate reports, I realized from one single article on book software, I was selling between 3-5 copies a day of software called Kindle Samurai.
This was a bit shocking considering the software only worked on PC and didn’t work for Mac. Furthermore, the creator didn’t speak English so there was no support and there were many bugs and features that were broken.
It was at that moment that I realized that if I could create something like Kindle Samurai, but also make some improvements, and make it work on both Mac and PC, I’d have a successful product on my hands.
Just from my article alone, I could sell between 6-10 copies a day (since mine would work on both Mac AND PC) and would get 100% of the commission instead of the half rate of my affiliate.
How did you start a software company as a non-techy?
Clearly, as someone who is working full time for the military and has no programming experience, I was not the typical software tycoon we all imagine.
I personally like the idea of having the market first and creating the right product for them. It’s so much easier than building a product first and then trying to find the market for it.
However, being armed with the knowledge that if I could just create the software, it would be successful, was a powerful motivator. All I needed was the right programmer or programmers.
I started by Googling software companies and contacting them, but most were in the hundreds of thousands dollar range. Knowing that this wouldn’t work for me, I then started looking at places like Upwork.
There, I found hundreds of programmers. The problem was, they all said they could do the project, and they would have wildly different costs. So, which one could actually do it, and who should I hire?
What rules do you use to hire programmers?
In trying to find the right programmers, I made a LOT of mistakes.
I hired someone who took some portion of the money upfront, and later told me they couldn’t finish it because they ran into a problem.
I also had one, who developed a version but it had major problems and constant bugs. Upon asking them to fix it, they charged me extra for it. They then proceeded to hold it ransom saying that I couldn’t use a different programmer because only they had access.
Needless to say, I lost a lot of money over these mistakes. So, I studied, researched, and asked a lot of software developing entrepreneurs many questions. Here is a summation of the rules I developed based on those interactions:
- Look for programmers who have worked on similar projects before and ask them for links or references to those projects.
- Use a simple wireframing tool like Balsamiq to create the layout and functionality of your tool - most programmers aren’t very good at UX and this will help with developing project scope.
- Try to have a simple programming test for them to see their capability and willingness for the job - if you don’t know what to do, ask other programmers, programming forums, and entrepreneurs.
- After presenting the project scope, it’s usually a good sign if the programmers ask for a couple of days to come back to you. Many times they need to research things before they can confirm they can do it, and what is a fair price.
- Break up the cost of the project into parts to be paid immediately, at Beta, and upon final delivery.
- Think about continued maintenance and how you want to do this. To combat this, I offered a 10% profit share, but in return, they have to keep it operating.
That last one was a lifesaver. When I offered a 10% profit share, I immediately gave them skin in the game. They’d only make extra money if the program worked and worked well. Plus, because they were on the hook to fix it, it behooved them to make the software as stable as possible.
With regards to Rocket, this was huge. To make the program work on both Mac and PC, my original programmer could have used Flash to do it. But, he knew full well that Flash was about to die and had major stability issues. However, since he had skin in the game, he recommended something else that would be more stable, but also require more work from him to get it to work.
Therefore, I highly recommend you consider giving your programmer skin in the game, especially if you’re new or this is your first project.
So, once I had the right programmer in place, it was all about managing the project and making sure it was delivered as requested. From this, I was able to build exactly what I needed - a rival software that worked on both Mac and PC.
Now it was time to launch.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Once I had a working version of Publisher Rocket, then called KDP Rocket, it was pretty simple.
I already had an email list on Kindlepreneur, and so I started by asking that list who would want to be on the waiting list for Rocket. Immediately, I had over 700 agree.
Then, when I was ready to launch, I emailed that group and had my first group of paid users. From here I had to work extra hard finding bugs, and issues that popped up.
I also needed to take feedback from the users. Apparently, things I thought would be important, turned out to not be important at all.
But, we got to work and fixed issues and changed things around. Once that was complete, it was all about updating my own articles, email autoresponder, and other media, to get the word out.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since launching Rocket, it has grown leaps and bounds over the years. But it wasn’t some magical advertisement or lucky score. Instead, I credit Rocket’s continued organic success to 2 things: Support, and constant innovation and improvement.
Having first-class support was key in building trust. I set up to have someone answer support tickets within 6 hours at the most. Furthermore, I ensured all support members were well versed in book writing and marketing and could go the extra mile with a customer’s question. This way, when someone contacts them asking about something, the support team could work to truly solve their problem, even beyond what the software could do.
We also adopted a rule: Default to generosity. Because of this, my support team knew that when in doubt, do the generous thing.
With such an incredible support team, word of mouth spread, and authors starting talking about Rocket and their experience.
The other thing that really helped us was that we never stopped adding to or improving the software. Since the launch, we added two new features and made continuous strides to add more to the existing program.
But what really endeared us to our customers was that we never charged them extra for these improvements. All upgrades were free. So, for previous buyers, it was basically the software that got better and better and kept on giving.
Coupling strong support and proven actions to make software better, while not costing your current customers is a sure-fire way to show them that you care.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Because of my experience running Publisher Rocket, I’ve kept in the software world. Just like with Rocket, I recently recognized that my article on formatting a book has constantly made affiliate sales to other book formatting software. And just like it was with Rocket, the leading affiliate software is something that only works on one type of computer operating system.
Because of this, very soon, I hope to launch Atticus. It will not only be better and cheaper than the leading competition but will also work on Mac, PC, Linux, and Chromebook.
Plus, as I mentioned above, I’ve already planned new features that we’ll add once launched to show my initial buyers that they can expect even more without extra costs.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
As you can see from the story above, I personally like the idea of having the market first and creating the right product for them. It’s so much easier than building a product first and then trying to find the market for it.
For me, I clearly knew that if I just created this specific thing, it would fit the needs of my readers. Because of that certainty, I was willing to take the risk and build software. Sure, I made a lot of mistakes, but I knew that if I kept at it and worked to deliver what they needed, it would be a success.
Without that, I probably would have quit the first time I ran into a problem with one of my first programmer hiring mistakes. But, no, I kept right at it and I’m very thankful I did.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
When it comes to software, project management is key. For this, I use Notion. It helps me to keep our SOPs and records in one spot while deploying Kanban boards and Gantt charts as well.
For communications, my team uses Slack. I was also able to use Slack for support by integrating with a plugin called MailClark. This way, when someone emails our support team or the support ticket comes from our support page, it goes into a Slack channel. Then once someone answers it in Slack, our answer is sent as an email to the customer. I chose to do our support this way because I don’t like having too many systems for communication.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Starting a new software company was extremely daunting. I started going to software conferences and listening to podcasts and, well, just about anything I could get my hands on.
However, there are three game-changing books that I’d highly recommend anyone going into software read:
The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen
Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll & Benjamin Yoskovitz
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
In the beginning, I had a full-time job with the military. However, one of the reasons all of this was a success was because while I was working that full-time job, I used my early mornings for working and growing this business over time.
I would get up at 4 am, and work on my side-hustle till 7 am every day. Because it was so early, there was never a time where life got in the way. No children were up, and no emergency emails distracted me. I had an everyday habit that would create progress for my business no matter what.
Therefore, I recommend to those starting that you truly carve a specific time every day to devote to your side-business.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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