3 things we learned at Microconf 2012

May 3, 2012 | Business

At the beginning of May, we went to Microconf – a conference for people building software companies with their own time, money, and real customers. Thanks again, Rob & Mike, for organizing! It was awesome, and we’re looking forward to next year.

Right after the conference, we hashed out the key items we’re going to work on. Part of this is juggling our priorities, and some was just working out the details based on what we learned. Here’s what we’re doing:

Plan your customers’ first 5 minutes

…like the battle of Normandy. Monday night, Dan Martell talked to Ted about how he’s trying to reduce the time between a customer signing up and the “Aha moment” for his latest product. He thinks it’s been critical for every company he’s built. Then on Tuesday, Patrick McKenzie underscored the importance – the first 5 minutes are the opportunity to really shine and make a huge impact on how much your software gets used.

So, for CounterGo, we mapped out the initial experience. It turns out it was pretty awful, involving lots of trips between various screens and almost no context on how to navigate. So we concentrated on how you go from saying “yes, I’ll buy it” to actually being able to produce a valuable countertop drawing and quote.

We questioned everything that took time or was confusing and ended up changing the user experience pretty radically to achieve a much easier first experience. While we were at it, we cleaned up lots of other small details that were adding to our support cost and frustrating customers.

Hire with care, but hire.

One of the main questions we’d hoped to answer at Microconf was how to get more done and continue to build our company. We came in with an open mind – our hypothesis was that we need to hire another developer who’s as awesome as Derek (the guy who does most of the development at Moraware).

Rob and Mike talked about how they use outsourced developers, and virtual assistants. I was really hoping to get an epiphany about how we could do that, but I don’t think it’s the right model for us.

I quizzed Peldi and Hiten about how they get great employees. They’ve already got an audience of developers, so they can find folks. But even for them, it’s a grueling process. They both run distributed teams, so they’re have some of the constraints we do – we need someone who’s experienced, trustworthy, motivated, and able to work without a central office or day-to-day supervision. Also, having them match our “company culture” is a big deal.

I have a feeling we’re also going to be tapping our network of friends in the software business (Rob, Mike, Justin, Jason, Patrick… I mean you) to help us get the word out so we can find an awesome developer.

Build more systems

We’ve been notoriously slow at building efficiency into our own systems. For the whole history of Moraware, we’ve spent our development on building customer features. And although we’ve made some small investments in automating our internal systems, it’s really hard to pull time away from things your customers are asking for.

One of the first things that helps our own efficiency is the 1st 5 minutes of the CounterGo experience that I talked about before. In addition to making our customers happier faster, it also means we make our jobs easier, too. We’re also going to deal with billing in a more automated way. And especially after hearing Adii’s story – getting hacked – we’re going to continue to invest in our servers. Even though we’re already obsessive about it, we’re going to kick it up a notch.

Thanks again to Mike & Rob for planning Microconf, all of the sponsors who helped make it possible, and all of the other attendees – having 2 days of non-stop business conversations is an awesome learning experience!

Want to know more? At Moraware, we make software for countertop fabricators. CounterGo lets you draw, estimate, and layout countertops in just minutes. JobTracker is scheduling software that helps you eliminate the time you waste looking for job folders. RemnantSwap is a free place to buy and sell stone remnants with fabricators near you.