How did the journey begin?
Jason worked at Amazon, this is when the seeds for Fieldbook started getting planted. It was surprising to him that companies dedicated so much time developing internal tools. Amazon focussed on building a system that helped track their internal recruiting. Years later, Jason joined a startup where he built internal tools for them too which was a data collection workflow tracking system. The problem with spreadsheets is that very quickly you end up using the system for things like project tracking, inventory and CRM, when in reality spreadsheets are more specifically for those in finance.
What did you learn from startups and what was instrumental to your learning when you were first starting out?
Jason always wanted to start his own company, but over the years the motivation changed. Initially he didn’t want to work for anybody else, but as he matured he realised there’s a lot of people he could learn from. For Jason, running a company was the ultimate challenge. From companies like Amazon, he learnt a lot about processes and vision. After Amazon, the startup in Seattle called: “Pelago” was a location based social network pre-iPhone. While working at the startup, he wrote software for feature phones like the Motorola Razor.
A lot of lessons from this, this was right around the time the lean startup movement was getting off the ground in 2008, Jason realised the value that Eric Ries was bringing and some of the lessons were really working well for Jason including doing weekly iterations of softwares instead of monthly.
What is Fieldbook? Fieldbook is a simple online database that anyone can use as a spreadsheet. Fieldbook is a better solution for those use cases where you may be logging inventory, project management and using spreadsheets as a CRM.
How did you validate the business case for Fieldbook?
Validation goal is not something that happens once, it’s an ongoing process. It’s constant testing against users in the market. Before they had a demo or prototype, he went around asking people to show him their spreadsheets. Asked a number of questions that identified what people did with it, problems, what they used it for, etc.
After initial conversations, make a quick demo that shows people the concept that gets better feedback. What are the problems that people need to solve. Get people to try it.
Start well before you think the product is ready, but start with your closest friends and family. Show it to people who know you the best and will forgive you how bad it is.
There’s a couple of perspectives on this, Reid Hoffman says that if you’re not embarrassed with the first prototype then you left it too late, others say well why would you ever try and get feedback on a half baked product, but it’s important to remember both of these arguments are based around “launch time”, there’s really not a particular launch time because you’re constantly getting feedback.
Your immediate network will give you your first 100 users. Then you go can go to BETA List which a platform specifically for products in BETA phase. When you have something a little more substantial you can launch your product on Product Hunt. There’s all sorts of ways to get people in, keep trying new things out and keep testing it.
At what point do you stop testing and you get ready for that launch?
Look at both qualitative and quantitative metrics. Ask smart questions like: are people sticking with your product? Are people paying for your product? etc.
The data you look at depends on your platform. For example, a SaaS platform you look at conversions, paying customers etc. For a social network you look at engagement, virality etc.
Andy Johns: Sustainable Growth = Top of Funnel (getting people on the product) + Magic Moment (when people see value in your product) + Core Product Value (on going value you deliver that keeps people retained).
You want to start by proving Core Product Value before Top of Funnel and you’re not great at Magic Moment, because this teaches people what you’re doing will be worth it.
Initially you’ll have to hand hold people through the process, at this point it doesn’t matter if things scale or not because you’re just proving core product value.
A lot of Entrepreneurs see the big launches that people are doing and go for big fancy launches but this results in premature launches, which means that people go into a leaky bucket.
How did you find investors?
Finding investors is a lot like creating a product. Jason has raised a few early stage funding rounds now. It’s about starting with people you know, put together a pitch and show it to your closest friends and family. When you do this you’ll get great feedback on the opportunity, holes, and areas you need to work. Eventually you’ll be in a place where you’ve asked a lot of people and you’ve filled many of the loop holes that are present.
Then reach out to people in your immediate network, this may be angel investors or people that know angel investors. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind spending some time to review your pitch, if they are happy with it, they will pass it to others in their network or better yet, invest themselves.
Remember, if you can convince angel investors, you can convince larger venture capital companies.
What makes a successful pitch?
Cover the basics, you need explain what you do clearly, quickly and concisely. Investors need to be able to tell what you’re doing very fast for them to be interested. Other things you want to consider include: explain the opportunity, explain the market, compare yourself and your alternatives and even compare yourself against those that aren’t competition but alternative solutions.
It’s important to know who your target market is and how they are solving the problem today. There’s always going to be different pitches for different businesses so don’t be too formulaic about it.
How did you get onto the App Sumo Platform?
App Sumo actually approached Fieldbook. The deal they offered was very above board, they ensured that they aligned the incentives and it was scheduled months in advance. App Sumo understands what would be a good deal, and they write the copy once you provide them with screenshots, demo videos etc.
What are some of the pitfalls you would avoid if you had to start the process again?
At some points they got distracted and lost sight of the original vision, you often do this as a you’re looking for a silver bullet, and then you realise there’s no silver bullet, there’s only a tonne of lead bullets!
Success lies in the ability to do day to day execution, and staying true to the vision. As Jeff Bezos says: stay stubborn to the vision and flexible on the details. Make progress and incrementally through daily execution.
How do you continue to get feedback now that the product is launched?
Fieldbook built a waitlist and then got people off the waitlist if they agreed to do a user test. This worked better than usertesting.com because had an incentive to do the user test which in turn gave them invaluable feedback.
This is a great opportunity to ask a lot of questions. When users are using your product for the first time sign up, be the silent observer don’t help them because then you’ll understand how a user interacts with your product.
There’s a catch 22 between Marketing and Building Product. What do you focus on and when?
It’s an iterative process, as you iterate you’re going to capture more people who are going to be your user testers. At one point, nobody was even interested in testing the product and that’s when they realised that they are not pitching an interesting concept, so they needed to change the way they market the product. They iterated their way to a demo video to get people excited and then they built a product around what excited people.
Some people create a landing page like a one page site, but you can always use platforms like Product Hunt and a section called upcoming where you can use it to collect user subscriptions. It’s also important to start with a community, this could be a blog or a Facebook Group.
When people weren’t receiving the product well, how did you know it wasn’t the product but it was the marketing instead?
Honestly, it’s about your vision. Some products start from a tech trigger.
In the success business, you need a market, a technology that enables the product, price point the market is willing to pay and the right channels to reach the correct people.
You don’t need to start in one place you just need to ensure it comes together in the end
It’s like seeing a mountain so far in the distance you don’t know how you’re going to get there, but at the same time it’s so huge that you don’t need to worry about the small details on how you’re going to get there
Seeing that mountain in the distance and having the drive is what get you there
You talk about everything coming together as a symphony, but how do know which area of the symphony isn’t working?
There’s no formulaic approach to this. There can be all sorts of problems that could occur and it can be very difficult to find out where the issue is. You need to work on keep going to a deeper level, i.e. if your ad copy is not working, try change this, if there’s no results go to a deeper level and choose a new channel, see how things progress, if there’s no change here then question the market. Whatever you do, just keep going deeper.
What have you seen that is best practice when it comes to creating a SAAS product?
Your Marketing is your promise to the users and you win if you deliver on that promise. Just ensure you ask people what they are hoping to get out of the product or service. Success is getting people to that magic moment.
An interesting talk is about Josh Elman is that Twitter actually increased the number of steps it takes to complete your profile but it was successful because it was clearer and more intuitive. Twitter found that more steps actually led to higher conversions, so it’s important to be very clear in the steps when creating a SAAS Platform.
Everyone needs to learn different lessons, but the top three takeaways are:
- Have the closest possible connection to the users
- Be data driven and be qualitative. Ensure there’s weekly iterations to the products.
- Keep the momentum going and have a strong vision