On Growing A Maintenance Management Software With 200K Users

Ryan Chan
Founder, UpKeep
from Los Angeles, California, USA
started January 2018
alexa rank
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time to build
210 days
growth channels
Direct sales
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Side project
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39 Pros & Cons
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi! My name is Ryan Chan and I’m the founder and CEO of UpKeep, a mobile-first solution for maintenance management that lets technicians access all their work orders out in the field. UpKeep has now been deployed to over 30,000 businesses and is a leader in mobile-first maintenance management software, with over 200,000 users.

UpKeep is the software for manufacturing facilities. When some part of the equipment breaks down, facility workers can use UpKeep to snap a picture, create a work order, and send it to the maintenance department for repair -- all from their mobile devices. Managers can prioritize the backlogs and pass them to the technician teams asking for the solution. UpKeep was created to alleviate all of the pain points that many facilities face, whether it’s reducing equipment downtime or saving costs through implementing a preventive maintenance program.

Our goal isn’t to automate the blue-collar worker’s job through AI, machine learning, or big data; it’s to empower maintenance teams to become twice as productive and allow them to receive recognition for the meaningful work they do that is often lost in a paper trail. Broadly, there is a problem with technology today such that the most user-friendly software is often built and targeted to the most tech-savvy people in the world. And they’re not the ones who need it the most. At UpKeep, we are giving the people who are typically forced to use the most difficult-to-use software something different.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I started UpKeep three years ago while working as a process development engineer at a membrane manufacturing plant. Regardless of whether it was a broken piece of equipment on the manufacturing line, a busted door lock, or a simple filter replacement, maintenance work orders would create stacks of papers that were easily lost. I’d see our team have to move back and forth from the production facility to the office, only to retype their notes back into a desktop application.

Start now there is no better time. There is never a perfect time.

At my company, I grew frustrated with the way employees had to collect and re-enter data several times over throughout the workflow. All of the software we used was desktop-based, even though every employee carried their phone with them in their pocket. I saw the potential for a mobile solution and created UpKeep with the end-users in mind. I got into this industry because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to do something where I could keep learning and challenging myself.

I figured that with modern cloud and smartphone technology, there had to be a better way. So, I set out on a mission of improving the productivity of maintenance teams.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Initially, I started from scratch and didn’t have financial backing. I started working on UpKeep by learning how to code after work and on weekends. I took a community college class on iOS and web development that would go from 6 PM-10 PM, 3 times a week. At the end of the semester, I took the next major leap: I quit my job as a process development engineer to work on UpKeep – but not full-time. Instead, I got a junior-level position as an iOS developer to continue improving my skills as a software engineer and kept working on UpKeep on nights and weekends. I knew from day one that I wanted to have full control of building the vision I saw for UpKeep and knew, very practically, that I couldn’t financially afford to just quit my job.

As the application and user base grew, the next step I took was committing to UpKeep monetarily. I started to take my monthly salary as an iOS developer and funnel it towards paying for server costs, and to hiring out developing UpKeep for the web and for Android.

When I look back now, I realize how far we’ve come by taking small steps towards our mission every single day. Truly the most exciting thing for me is imagining where we’ll be tomorrow as we continue taking these small steps towards transforming this industry.

Describe the process of launching the business.

We wanted a mobile-first solution for asset management with transparent pricing. A tool for managers to communicate with technicians who are in the field. A portal for technicians to respond to urgent issues without having to shuffle through the paperwork. A modern, intuitive, and efficient maintenance management system that is proven to simplify the workflow process.

I launched the product as a 100% free app, so I had thousands and thousands of users who used the product. It was cool to see all of those people using it, but was it some explosive growth? No, it wasn’t.

It took me a couple of months to build the first version of the product. After I made the big release, on day one, my mom was the only user. On the second day, it was my brother. It was moving very slowly. Over the next 2 years of working from 7 PM-1 AM in the morning, we continued to grow as a completely free product and amassed over 20,000 users on UpKeep. I would say that the “Aha moment” was a casual day when I looked back and realized how far we’d already come and that we had the potential to revolutionize this industry and make a difference. That day, I quit my job as an iOS developer and embarked on the journey to fully commit to UpKeep.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

A startup that succeeds is one that prioritizes customers over profit. Celebrating our customers and being truly customer-focused is core to our mission at UpKeep. We try as many things out as possible to see what the customer benefits from most, and then we stick with what works. We celebrate and appreciate the wins of our customers, whether it is successfully deploying UpKeep at their facilities, or even milestones in their personal lives. It’s pretty common to see us writing hand-written notes of gratitude to our customers on special occasions. Our team at UpKeep back in June launched a campaign to show appreciation for maintenance heroes who sustain and support our world. In addition to taking over the NASDAQ tower in Times Square with a massive billboard featuring the accomplishments of UpKeep customers, we are constantly appreciating our customers by sharing their stories of impact each week on our company's blog.

It’s not about finding that one solution that can solve every one of your problems, it is about finding that one biggest pain point and creating a better solution for that use case. Startups often fail because they either only focus on profit or they don’t have a relentless focus and they try to do too much with too few resources. Focus on the needs of customers first and foremost. Find one source of friction that customers are facing and determine how you can best address their needs. You will see results and that’s when you know your idea is working.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today, I’m fortunate to say that UpKeep has 3,000 paid customers, 30,000 businesses that rely on us, 200,000 users, millions of work orders created, and hundreds of companies signing up for UpKeep every single day.

And to be clear, it hasn’t always been that way! Even when I look back, I’m astounded at how far we’ve come! We got here, not by focusing on fabricating artificial growth, but by listening to our customers, iterating, and improving inch-by-inch and day-by-day.

It was never about growth hacking or PR, it was always all about listening to what our customers had to say and solving a specific pain point they were dealing with in their daily work lives. I think we, as a team, can confidently say that we’ve achieved this artificial milestone of finding product-market fit.

And now our goal, which has shifted from trying to find product-market fit, is to take the product that was seeded a few years back to bring maximum value to the industry. We’re also shifting on an adoption curve as well, moving from the innovators and early adopters into the early majority and beyond.

This past month, we launched UpKeep sensors for predictive maintenance. UpKeep Sensors is the ultimate platform for IoT and predictive maintenance. It’s designed for reliability engineers who need a robust platform to monitor asset health, track downtime, and facility health in real-time.

We’ve gone from a small team, to now what I consider a mid-sized team as we approach 100 employees with folks distributed around the world. We are beginning to hire specialists instead of generalists in a few core parts of the business. Everyone’s role is becoming more specialized at what they excel at. But the important point here is that as our roles become more specialized, the impact that each role now brings to business is amplified. Instead of doing product, sales, support, and marketing at a mediocre level, we now have functional specialists that will help us become extraordinary in each. We’re growing at an unnatural rate, one that many define as hyper-growth. As we go through this growth period, we are all growing with the business, as well.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

A challenge, in the beginning, was knowing who to hire. For a very long time, up until our Series A, I was very focused on just building the best product for our customers and was hesitant to hire anyone in sales because our product sold itself. We had tons of free customers or free users to sign up for our free platform. During our Series A, our investors recommended hiring one or two salespeople. After taking their advice, we started seeing our revenue increase. I was entrenched in my own idea of how I purchase software that I got confused about how the rest of the world purchases software, especially in a blue-collar workforce environment. Bringing on a sales team was something that really allowed us to get to where we are today because that’s when we started seeing tremendous growth.

When I first started UpKeep, it was a completely free product. It wasn’t until after I quit my job and was in the industry full-time that I realized you can’t have a sustainable business off a completely free product. I was on this mission to democratize B2B software and make it free for everyone because I was looking at it through a consumer lens. I had to switch perspectives and start thinking about UpKeep as an entrepreneur and not as a user. Thousands of people were using the software for free, so I had to learn how we were going to make money as a company. I realized I could still revolutionize CMMS and B2B software, but I had to do it as a business.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

A tool we use that I recommend is Google Tasks. Google Tasks allows me to do all of my emails and keep track of tasks all in one single place. It’s kind of a secret in the Google Suite/Chrome Extensions world. People don’t really know about google tasks, but it’s totally life-changing.

We are also using technology at UpKeep to grow our pipeline of customers. We generate leads through organic social media channels, SEO, Google Adwords, and Capterra reviews. Salesforce helps us the model and interpret our sales data to make decisions for our company to optimize engagement with our customers.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I highly recommend Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. It’s beautiful. It displays and explains my philosophy on testing, experimenting, iterating, and honing in. It’s one of the best books out there for entrepreneurs. The most difficult part of starting a business is gaining traction. Once you’ve got your feet on the ground, you’re ready to go.

I also recommend attending the SaaStr Annual Conference, if you can go. It’s grown tremendously over the last few years and it serves as a place for all executives to learn about the ever-changing world of software and technology. You learn from the brightest in the industry and meet some incredible business-to-business software-as-a-service founders who share insights on how to scale your business faster.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

  • Start now there is no better time. There is never a perfect time.
  • Startups are all about the ability for you to iterate and learn quickly.
  • Build a safety net so that the worst case you either learn or you succeed.
  • Learn. There’s nothing you can’t do if you set your mind to it. Prioritize what the things you want to accomplish are, and go out and do them.
  • Get as much customer feedback as you can, as quickly and often as you can.
  • In the early days, do things that don’t scale to prove that people want what you’re making.

Launch quickly and start today. Set a goal for yourself to have something concrete in the shortest possible time because, again, it’s better to have something than nothing. It’s easy to put things off, but I cannot recommend enough how important it was for me to get started quickly. The sooner you can really get to work, the sooner you can learn and get better.

Additionally, in the early days, it’s important to do things that don’t scale to prove that people want the product you are building. At the very beginning of UpKeep, we were manually contacting different people and experts in our industries. Asking for people to try our product and give us feedback to improve. That allowed us to grow quickly.

Startups are all about the ability for you to iterate and continuously improve. Sometimes, our projects don’t always go as planned, but that’s all part of the process of growth. I try to reframe failure as a motivator and as a learning opportunity so that I can continuously improve and champion the needs of UpKeep’s users. Get as much customer feedback as you can, as quickly and as often as you can.

Nothing stops us from getting where we want to be. In the startup world, everything is about building, iterating, testing, gathering feedback and then building again.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yes! We are definitely looking to hire across all of our departments right now and are looking for talent in Los Angeles and San Francisco! We’re adding more and more roles every day on our Sales, Customer Success, Engineering, Marketing, Finance, and Operations Teams. Apply for open roles by visiting our website.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

Ryan Chan, Founder of UpKeep
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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