How Developing An Internal Solution Led To Building A $21K/Month Project Management System
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there, I am Nikolay Mihaylov, 23 years old and I am one of the founders of Ora PM.
Ora, our main product, is a feature-rich project management system that offers a great UX. Our customers vary from people that use our tool for personal tasks management, to big companies that manage huge projects with thousands of tasks.
Our revenue varies each month because we offer monthly and annual pricing plans, but on average, we make around 21K USD per month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
In 2015, I joined Vasil Enchev and Nikolay Yanev, the other two co-founders as a co-worker at a company called Codemotion. They were creating iOS applications at the time and were managing the work with Trello and Slack. However, after I joined, we met the need for a more sophisticated system with time tracking. We tried all of the existing systems back then, and nothing met our needs. That’s why we decided to create our own, internally, just for us.
Don’t rush in production. Do it gently. Give access to a few people at first, then more and more, until you are sure your product is bug-free and your servers are stable.
I was 18 years old back then, everything looked extremely easy to me and I was already used to sleep 3-4 hours a day. I thought, “Yeah, we can do that in two-three months”. It actually took around 6 months to get to the point of something functional. At this time, we decided to share the idea with some friends, and they encouraged us to make this available to everyone, not just us. Then we validated the idea by creating a landing page, with some screenshots and a simple subscribe form.
In a one-month period, without any marketing, we got 1k subscribers. That made us believe we were on the right path. We polished things, added a couple of more features, implemented advanced reports, and released the product. It took us around 600 days, from creating the repository to making the product publicly available. Until this time, we made some external projects just to make enough for pizza and coffee, two things every programmer can’t live without.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Since our thought was to create something beautiful and easy to use for internal use, we initially made a list with all of the features we may need to manage our work. We wanted to cover our own use case, and we did.
The first user interface had nothing in common with the one the application now has. Just for example, in the one-year period that passed between the first working demo, and the production product, the interface changed drastically at least twice. Since the product was planned for internal use at first, we were missing a lot of important features every project management system needs. We lacked scrum support for example.
The interface evolved with every new feature we decided to add. Even now, five years later, we need to re-think the interface almost every year, because it is starting to become complicated, or we just need space for some ‘more buttons and selectors’.
However, when you reach the point when you are satisfied with the product, you will hit another bar. Making it legal. Depending on your country, you will have different types of problems. Simple things like accepting PayPal payments and issuing invoices may become a nightmare. I remember that back then, I was extremely surprised by how expensive it was to accept American Express cards.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Normally people remember their launches with big parties and bottles of champagne. That was not our case. When we felt we were ready to launch, we just made the product public. We started a Product Hunt campaign and somebody published about us in Hacker News. These two things happened on the same day. That led to huge traffic to our website, which was running on a simple two-core server. You can imagine what followed.
We fixed the server, then, Bugs. All of the early adopters were reporting bugs, imperfections, feature suggestions. When we were not bug fixing, we were responding to emails, when we were not responding to emails, we were fixing bugs. It took a while until we reached a stable point.
That is something I advise all of the future product owners. Don’t rush in production. Do it gently. Give access to a few people at first, then more and more, until you are sure your product is bug-free and your servers are stable.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since launch, we have done exactly nothing about marketing. All of our results are based on organic growth. What we are trying to do is provide value to our customers and hope they will share it with a friend. We also have a blog where we publish some helpful articles from time to time. So, at the moment I can say the product markets itself.
Validate your idea! There is nothing more important than that. You need to know if your idea is worth investing time and money in.
We are now trying to speed up the process by increasing the free users count. We believe that will lead to more people using the product and more people sharing about it. We will see how this will end up.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today we are working harder than the day we launched. The product is now available on the web, desktop, and mobile. The interface is also available in more than ten languages, including German, Spanish and French. We are making new features, and covering more and more use cases.
Our revenue is growing each quarter and our customers are getting happier with each new release.
I can say that the future looks bright.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Maybe the saddest thing I learned is that making a good product is not enough. This is even maybe the easiest part. After you make the product, you have to launch it, settle things legally, create relationships with your customers, handle the issues that will appear, expand your user base, etc.
What I can say is that to go through this period successfully, you need to be calm, informed, and dedicated. You are also gonna need good advisors and friends around you.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Let's start with the project management tool, haha. Yes, we use Ora from the day it was stable. Before that, we used Trello.
The customer support solution we use is HelpScout. We are using this platform for more than 4 years now, and I can say we are more than satisfied with it. We like the UX and the available integrations.
For documents, we use Quip, and I am not sure I can recommend this tool to anybody at this point.
Slack was our team chat solution until we added chat to Ora. It is a good tool with a lot of integrations (including one with Ora).
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
There are a lot of books and podcasts to get you motivated, and they may work for me, but not for you. Everybody finds motivation under a different rock. That's why I am not going to recommend any books on this topic.
What I can recommend is a book that helped me understand the process from having an idea to making a successful company. It is called The art of the start and is written by Guy Kawasaki. The name of the author speaks for itself, so don’t hesitate, this is a book worth reading.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Validate your idea! There is nothing more important than that. You need to know if your idea is worth investing time and money in. This is an error most startups make. They just assume their product will succeed. Another important thing even before starting is to research the market and the competition your future product will have.
The second step is to find the money for making the product real. I can recommend you start with a loan or investment. It is not a good idea to start a business using your own money. That will lead to you being worried and impatient.
And the last thing I think you need to secure before starting is the people around you. First, make a list of all of the qualities your partners should have, and then look for people that have these qualities. Don’t start doing business with someone just because he is a good friend.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are currently looking for a Junior Frontend Developer and a Salesman.
What we need are young and motivated people that want to learn and grow.
What we offer is a competitive salary and experienced people they may learn from.
They can contact us at [email protected].
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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