Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! My name is Dennis Wiemer and I’m the founder of a small SaaS boutique based in Breda, The Netherlands. Really love to build digital products which help all sorts of businesses.
Currently, we focus on one product which is an online business proposal software. At its core, the combination of rich design possibilities with extended process automation is what sets us apart from the competition.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
In 2001 I started Dvotion, an online web design and app development company with a strong focus on motion, 3D, and interactivity.
Staying in motion and trying out things is better than doing nothing. There were times I didn’t do as much as I could have because of too much research on the proper direction.
Offorte was born out of personal frustrations with the proposal creation process. We were always working for a long time to make a good proposal, because most of the proposals we made consist of more than two pages where texts are reused, but also a lot of customization specifically for the prospect is needed.
Finding a previously written piece of text was not an easy task in all those old Word documents. Interactivity and rich media in the proposal were also completely lacking. Logically we started looking for a solution online, but we didn't find anything that met all our wishes. Most online solutions back in 2010 mainly made static simple proposals that look more like an invoice than a consultancy-like proposal. Truly scratch your own itch.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Offorte started as our pet internal project, something we could apply new techniques to, was fun to work on and it also solved something important. So we developed the first version, went live, and started improving based on our vision and of course also on customer feedback.
At that time the single-page application approach was relatively new and powerful frameworks like React didn’t exist back then. Lots of nice challenges to be solved which we love to do. One of the items which were more of a pain is the pdf generation. Back then the ode needed to be converted to pdf formatting which was a real pain to do if you wanted consistency between the online view and pdf version.
Describe the process of launching the business.
In the beginning, we bootstrapped Offorte out of our consultancy and development work. In the first years, we didn’t do a lot of marketing as it was very difficult to gain traction. Clearly, it was too early for proposal software, people were not yet ready for it.
Those early years were slow to grow and kept working on it as a side project. After a while, Offorte became the main show for us and got 100% focus as it started growing slowly. Unfortunately, no hockey stick growth curves driven by hard sales and VC inflation, but a nice consistent organic growth based on product quality.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We tried so many things, from partnerships to sales partners, to affiliate campaigns, referral, social media, etc. The works so the speak. At the end of the day, we see that SEO and SEA are the main marketing channels that work.
Though the biggest growth factor is happy customers who feel appreciated and being listened to. As Offorte is a small company, we continuously apply the learnings from support into our development roadmap. This really works well and results in a super low churn and customers promoting the tool to their clients.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today Offorte is still growing with a mature product. We’re also developing a brand new proposal editor from scratch so that it supports our future ambitions and wishes.
Furthermore, we started to expand into Europe. In previous years the focus was mainly on Dutch and Belgium customers. Since this year we’re starting to focus more on international customers. It’s still early and we keep learning every day what works and what doesn’t.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Staying in motion and trying out things is better than doing nothing. There were times I didn’t do as much as I could have because of too much research on the proper direction. In hindsight, it was better to just execute instead of overanalyzing everything. Making mistakes and learning from them is what brought me here.
I think it was Bezos (?) who said: “It should be a hell, yes, otherwise don’t do it”. That pretty much sums up how I approach what to do. When in doubt, I don’t do it and focus all my efforts on stuff I truly believe in. Sometimes a topic keeps coming back and after some simmering it grows into a hell yes.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I’m a big fan of Digital Ocean and Amazon AWS. The way DO can deliver complex products in a minimalistic, super user-friendly way is so impressive. This is clearly visible if you look at AWS and all its complexity. On the other hand, the possibilities of AWS are almost limitless. Combining both is a perfect match.
For getting insights into how users are using your product I can highly recommend Fullstory. And for your marketing website, the combination of Sanity.io and Gatsby works like a breeze.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Pretty much all the books are written by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried. Also really liked the Elon Musk book by Ashlee Vance.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Getting to a product/market fit is one of the most important things. A great idea is worthless without customers. Quickly validate your idea with the least effort possible and try to actually sell it to your first customers. Then build your product and start iterating until you reach that fit. It’s a hard road and will take more time than you probably expect it to take.
When hiring as a small starting business it’s more difficult to find the right people. My experience is that it’s better to first start with more experienced senior-level talents as opposed to hiring juniors and training them on the job. First build up a good solid experienced group as they will truly help you shape your company, avoid mistakes and get your hands free to grow the company. Later when you have a more solid base you can add medior and junior level people.
Building your business can be quite an emotional ride for a founder. Don’t let your daily stuff cloud your long-term focus and vision. If you're impulsive, make it a rule to take your big decisions on a date in the future and make notes of all your thoughts leading up to it.
It should be fun to run a company. So if you don’t experience that, go do something else or add items to your week so you regain the proper balance. Maybe introduce a fun Friday where you have all the freedom to do whatever you want. Although you might have the idea you don’t have the time for it, giving yourself headspace and motivation will greatly enhance your productivity, efficiency and will lead you to new ideas and solutions.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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