How We Built A Resource Scheduling App to $2.1M ARR

$177,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
12
Employees
product
Resource Guru
from London
started May 2011
$177,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
12
Employees
67.6K
alexa rank
903
followers
65
subs

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, I’m Andrew Rogoff, one of the founders of Resource Guru, an online team calendar. Our software is used by around 20,000 people in 88 countries around the world to help them manage their team’s time.

Our customers include Apple, NASA, Uber, Saatchi & Saatchi, Cisco and AT&T (as well as a whole load of smaller ones). They use Resource Guru to keep track of who’s working on what and how busy their employees are. This means they can manage workloads efficiently and ensure that no-one is either overworked or getting bored because they don’t have enough to do.

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

My cofounder, Percy, and I decided to build it while we were working in marketing agencies where we experienced the headaches of resource scheduling. In almost every agency we worked in, people were using ugly spreadsheets to schedule their teams.

Starting out wasn’t easy. We had to figure out how to survive without our existing jobs and neither of us had any savings. I realized that, if I became a freelancer, I could earn more money in 7 months than I normally made in a year.

I’m from an entrepreneurial family. Both my grandfather and my father ran their own businesses and I was really keen to follow suit. There’s something about watching company profits going into other people’s hands when I’m working my ass off that I find really hard to take. So, when Percy made the suggestion to start our own company, it was an immediate “yes”.

Starting out wasn’t easy. We had to figure out how to survive without our existing jobs and neither of us had any savings. I realized that, if I became a freelancer, I could earn the same amount of money in 7 months than I normally made in a year.

And that would give me 5 months in a year to work on our startup. Percy followed me sometime later but he worked for the company on an unpaid basis for a long time and accumulated a lot of debt. That turned out to be pretty painful for him further down the line.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping the software.

I’m someone who likes a degree of certainty before I embark on something that’s going to completely consume my life.

Of course, any startup involves huge risk but there are ways to gain some confidence in your idea. What we wanted to build didn’t exist at the time so I knew that we had to create a clickable prototype and demonstrate it to our target audience.

When you're starting out, you will meet negative people. People who tell you that your idea will never work. Listen carefully to their advice but, in the end, it is only you that should make the judgement call on whether your idea is a good one or not.

Luckily I had a background as a digital producer and project manager so I knew a lot of people who could help validate our idea. We built a clickable prototype in Axure and then ran usability tests with people while recording it on video. Here, you can see one of the early, ugly prototypes along with video recording in the bottom right.

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This process was absolutely invaluable. It gave us some great feedback which helped shape the product but it also helped validate our idea because we were also asking people if they would pay for what they’d seen.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Neither of us were programmers so we had to raise money to fund the development. This meant putting a business plan together and having lots and lots of investor meetings. Not something that either of us relished.

One thing that became clear quite quickly is that professional investors typically don’t invest in ideas. They want to see some sort of working product. And, preferably, one that’s got some sort of customer validation. Anyway, after a marathon round of nail biting meetings, we managed to raise £165,000 from friends and family - enough to fund the first release.

One of the first things we did was to start accumulating email addresses from people who wanted to be notified when we launched. So, we created a teaser website which announced that we were building a team scheduling tool and asked people to enter their email addresses to hear when we went live. We also threw in an incentive to win an iPad (which was a big deal at the time).

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We found a great company called Platform45 in South Africa to help build the first version. We did all the design at our end and they did the development work. We launched the app in May 2012 and, after more nail biting, we landed our first customer within a few days of sending our announcement email.

Apart from being a huge relief that people would actually pay for our software, we were over the moon that it was a UX/UI design company called Fresh Tilled Soil. It literally couldn’t have been more perfect validation of our product.

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

Since we launched, we’ve continued to pick up incredible customers. We’re just amazed by the calibre of customer that comes through our door. We’ve obviously hit the nail on the head for a lot of people and we’re proud to be providing them with something that’s making their lives easier.

In the early days, we focused on SEO and used my experience of building a previous business which was an SEO success. I learned a lot from websites like Moz. We used Google Search Console and Google Adwords to research the right keywords to target with our marketing site. Then, when we built the site, we did our best to optimize it according to SEO best practices. Like, ensuring you have the right keywords in the titles, ensuring you have good internal linking etc. We also set about trying to get good quality external links, which is never easy. While SEO is still vital for us, things have changed quite a bit since then. We now have a lot more competitors and we’re struggling to maintain our marketing site due to our primary focus on our product. This is gradually changing as we hire more people but, as with a lot of software development, progress is much slower than we would like.

Right now, we acquire new leads through a mix of organic, paid and existing customer referrals. The successful paid channels are primarily software websites. Like many others, we have struggled to make Google Adwords work. The ROI just isn’t great and it’s easy to waste a lot of money (I’ve found that Google is usually the ultimate winner). We tried a referral scheme using Referral SaaSquatch but it was a complete disaster. It cost us a lot of money and a lot of time and yielded hardly any results. We’re not sure why it failed because we really did try to make it work. I suspect it’s much more successful with BtoC than BtoB. We eventually binned it and it’s probably our biggest marketing regret. However, customer word of mouth continues to benefit us.

Once on our site, we encourage people to start a free trial of our product and use our onboarding messaging to guide them towards taking the primary actions that show them the problems our product solves and the value it can offer.

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

Today, we are profitable with the 12-person team that we’ve got. But profitability is not one of our goals - growth is. So, any profits we make go straight towards growing the team and business.

Our current ARR (annual run rate) is $2.1m. ARPA (average revenue per account) is $112 pm. LTV (lifetime value) is $3,333. We’re not doing too badly but we would like our growth to be a lot higher than it is. We know that one of the keys to unlocking this is faster development and we’re in the process of trying to speed it up.

Customers love the simple user experience that we offer and they continue to subscribe without much hand-holding or any sales pitches. So, we’re incredibly optimistic about our future as long as we can speed our development process up.

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

I’ve realised that starting and running a business is the result of literally thousands of decisions. You’ll never get them all right but, as long as you get the most important ones right, you have a good chance. Don’t beat yourself up too much if you make mistakes. It’s completely normal.

Do some research. Create a prototype or some designs and get opinions from your target market. Would they use it? Most importantly - would they pay for it and how much?

With hindsight, I would like to have hired much faster than we did. We had limited funds so it was tricky but I think we could have done a much better job there if we’d pushed ourselves. That helps to free up time for the directors who can focus more on the strategic direction and further hiring.

As a software startup, I think hiring a QA team early on can make a huge difference. If you’re doing QA yourself, you should get that onto someone else’s plat as soon as possible as it’s extremely time-consuming.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

  • Clubhouse - we use this for tracking all the development work going through our pipeline. We went from Pivotal Tracker to Trello and now Clubhouse. It’s brilliant.
  • Recurly - our payment processing and subscription billing system. This is not something that we wanted to spend time building ourselves so it’s been a huge timesaver. Not cheap though.
  • Chartmogul - metrics on our revenue and customers. This is really well-designed software but, again, not cheap.
  • Slack - as a remote team, we live in Slack all day. It’s not perfect but it gets the job done.
  • Google Gsuite - company email, docs etc. We love the collaboration functionality and the fact that it’s just rock-solid.
  • Workable - one of the best applicant tracking systems for recruitment.
  • Front - we just started using this for customer service and it’s working out pretty well.
  • Axure - I use this for prototyping. It’s slightly old fashioned and a little ugly but it still does things that more modern tools like Figma can’t.
  • Capdesk - we now use this for all our stock tracking and stock options. Wish we’d started out using something like this - it’s a much better way to keep track of things.
  • Xero - good accounting software.
  • Intercom - in app messages and important email announcements. We have a love/hate relationship with it.
  • There’s a lot more but that will have to do for now!

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

These days I’m so short on time that I struggle to listen to podcasts or read very much. But, up until now, I’ve been very influenced by Jason Fried at Basecamp.

I listened to Seth Godin’s Startup School podcast in the early days and found that really interesting. I also have a long list of podcasts that I’m subscribed to including Mixergy, Boagworld and the SaaS Revolution Show.

And I dip into articles that come onto my radar on a frequent basis. There’s so much good stuff out there. Just don’t spend all your time reading it otherwise you’ll never get anything done!

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

Fairly early on I realised how grateful I was that I wasn’t doing it on my own. Two heads are better than one when you're starting a company and moral support will be incredibly important as you go through the highs and lows. Also, if you plan to raise money, Angels/VCs don't generally like mavericks.

When you're starting out, you will meet negative people. People who tell you that your idea will never work. Listen carefully to their advice but, in the end, it is only you that should make the judgement call on whether your idea is a good one or not.

My last bit of advice is - do some research. Create a prototype or some designs and get opinions from your target market. Would they use it? Most importantly - would they pay for it and how much?

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re currently looking for a Senior UX/UI Designer with impressive experience in SaaS or similar. And pretty soon we will be looking for an Engineering Manager.

Where can we go to learn more?

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

-  
Andrew Rogoff,   Founder of Resource Guru

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