A simple business plan

19 01 2010

Unless you want your startup to die, you need to have laser-like focus on your goals.  For some the issue is developing the focus, but for most (like me) the issue is defining clear goals.

I came across a simple one page business plan from Daniel Harkavy recently, and thought I’d put it to the test.  The plan is described in Daniel’s article above, and consists of three parts: outcomes, disciples, and improvements.

Outcomes are the specific and measurable goals for the coming year.  For ClimbPoint, my goals are to sell 10 licenses (2 by mid-February) and contact every university climbing wall in the US (at least 60 by mid-February).

To achieve these outcomes, there are certain disciplines, or behaviors/tasks I’ll need to repeat over and over (note that disciplines are not goals).  For me that means making 15 calls per week (at least one per day), allocating one hour per week to business development, and doing a weekly sales review.

Along the way my efforts will be helped by a few specific improvements, or one-time projects.  So far my list includes creating a master list of all potential customers, drafting a brief survey for these customers (so I can better understand my market), and compiling tips for climbing wall risk management that I can give away as a free resource.

My plan is mainly a sales plan, and is inspired by The Ultimate Sales Machine. To be honest, I am terrified to put this plan into action, because I know that 90% of the people I contact will not be actively thinking about buying what I’m selling.

Hopefully though the next few weeks will be an experiment in which I’ll learn about sales and gain a better understanding of the state of university climbing wall management.

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Wisdom applied to starting up

3 08 2009

As I write this, I am right in the middle — man am I ever in the middle — of a huge push to release the next version of ClimbPoint, which will blow people away and remove all sorts of reasons people have had not to shell out the cash for the product (pie in the sky rah rah pitch courtesy of the FogBugz 7 vision statement).

Last month I decided that I would apply a little wisdom in releasing the new version (Dicey at Best) by August 15.  I’ve been reading Proverbs lately, and that’s one source of my idea for a development sprint (also inspired by fellow entrepreneur Tim Haughton).

Proverbs 14:23 – All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

I’ve also been inspired by the ideas of Earl Nightengale in Lead the Field, where he talks about reward being in proportion to a person’s service to others.  So in laying out the features I’d include in the next version I’ve picked the ones that I think will serve the greatest number of potential customers (kind of a no-brainer, huh?).

Anyway, in completing my development sprint I’m focusing on just two keys for success:

Work every day

Every day I’m aiming for only 30 minutes of focused work.  On most days I’ll end up working for a few hours, but none of that can happen without those first 30 minutes.  I find 30 minutes manageable, especially on those days when I feel swamped with other responsibilities.  I picked up this idea from Neil Fiore’s excellent book The Now  Habit.

Focus on starting

So my one goal each day is to start at least once.  I find that if I can keep my momentum moving forward, I’ll tend to use my mental free time to think about problems that are holding me up.  I also try to “leave a little in the tank” each day by stopping before I feel I’m stuck and by making a note of the very next thing I need to do when I come back to the project.  This tactic has really helped draw me toward work rather than repel me from it, so thanks to Twyla Tharp and The Creative Habit for that one.

Those are the two main keys, but there are many other ideas that I’ve gleaned from the books mentioned above.  I highly recommend all of them, especially Lead the Field.





Thoughts from my third summit

5 05 2009

This past weekend I attended the third annual Climbing Wall Association summit in Boulder, Colorado.  My third summit was substantially different from the first two — this time I arrived in Boulder with a company, a product, and a purpose.

I officially formed ClimbPoint, LLC back in January, and there are now about eight universities using ClimbPoint at their climbing wall check-in desks.  My purpose for coming to Boulder this year was to pursue connections with others in the industry who could help me get the word out about easy gym management software for universities and rec centers.

In the past I’ve come to the summit hoping to please everyone, including all sorts of commercial climbing gyms.  This year though, I resolved to disappoint commercial gym owners by letting them know I wanted to totally nail the university market first before adding features useful for their facilities.  I was pleasantly surprised by the reception I received.

It’s too early to tell whether many of the connections that I made this past weekend will result in loads of sales, but I’m psyched that I got in touch with everyone on my list, including various climbing wall manufacturers, hold manufacturers, and key CWA staff members.

To top it off, I met 5 or 6 people from Indiana (?!), two of whom are opening climbing gyms at their universities within the next year.  Should make for a very interesting summer!

 

As always, I’m reluctant to share all the details of my interactions and my strategy going forward — I hope the lack of detail doesn’t sap my updates of any intrigue they might have had, and I will say that I’m considering a more open approach to blogging.  More soon…





An LLC is born…

4 03 2009

Early on the morning of January 16 I became the proud parent of a brand new LLC.  Spurred on by a couple more sales early in the month, I decided to take the plunge and register ClimbPoint, LLC with the State of Indiana.

Once I decided to move on it, the entire process was seamless and done in less than a day — who knew you could register a business in Indiana online?  My next steps are to register for an employer identification number and complete a BT-1 form so I can charge tax on in-state sales.

Throughout the entire process, NOLO’s Quick LLC has been a great resource.  And for those who aren’t as interested in learning the ins and outs of an LLC, NOLO offers an LLC Maker that promises to get the job done faster.

So for those who have wondered what I’ve been up to this winter (and it’s been a long winter), forming an LLC was at the top of the list, right below traveling to India for a friend’s wedding.

For now it’s back to working on the next couple versions of ClimbPoint, which will definitely be out in time for the CWA Summit in Boulder.





New round of beta testing

12 09 2008

Since starting my sales initiative that I posted about earlier this week I’ve been thinking about ways I could expand the reach of ClimbPoint and increase the size of my market.

I’ve known for awhile that ClimbPoint would probably work really well in community recreation centers but haven’t yet tested it in any of those facilities.  So, starting this week I’ve begun contacting community rec centers with climbing walls about participating in a no obligation beta test of ClimbPoint.

The general terms of the beta test are below, and my primary concern is that I’m being too generous and should be charging some kind of fee to the testers up front.  My rationale for keeping everything no-cost/low commitment is that I need users to attest that the software is in fact awesome and super easy to use.  I also need feedback on what works well and what doesn’t.

The terms

  • I’ll send out a full version of the latest release of ClimbPoint. Beta testers agree to install the program and use it to keep track of climbers at their facility for three months.
  • Testers agree to record their thoughts and suggestions for the software, and every 2-3 weeks we’ll have a brief phone conversation so I can understand how well ClimbPoint fits into the way they work there. As a result of our conversations, I may send out updated versions of the software to install and use at the wall.
  • At the end of the three month testing period Testers are free to continue using the version of ClimbPoint that is currently installed, with no requirement to purchase a full license. They’ll have the option of purchasing a full license at a 20% discount. Purchasing a license will allow them to receive software updates (which add new features), and receive email support.

Well, am I being too generous?  Should I charge a small fee up front for participation?  Will anyone respond?  Thoughts and suggestions are welcome.





The state of software for climbing gyms

15 08 2008

When I started blogging about software for indoor rock climbing gyms back in 2006, there wasn’t much available in the arena of rock gym software. Just two short years later I’m amazed at how much has changed — a number of existing companies have spun off their health club management software into more specialized climbing gym applications, and I’m sure more are on the way.

As someone who has been developing and selling software for climbing gyms for over a year, this is very encouraging for me — contrary to what one might think, competition is good…it means that there’s actually a market for the product or service.

Signs of Growth

My first clue that this was a market searching for a viable product came at the first annual Climbing Wall Association Summit in 2007. During the summit, Vertical Relief Enterprises led a workshop on using their software to manage a rock climbing gym. The eye opening part for me occurred during the Q&A session — I couldn’t believe how many climbing gym managers were dissatisfied, even disgusted, with the software they were using.

Just one year later, at the 2008 Climbing Wall Summit, there was some great constructive discussion among climbing wall managers and representatives from three software companies about the real needs in climbing gym software.

So where do we stand now?

Well, it appears that climbing gym managers now have a few viable options when choosing software to help them manage billing, memberships, check-ins, and wall activity.

The newest entry for commercial climbing gyms is Rock Gym Pro, created by Andy Laakmann from Wyoming. I met Andy at the CWA Summit, and he seems like he has a great no-nonsense mindset about how software should work. I haven’t tried RGP, but I would bet it’s worth a look if you run a decently-sized commercial gym.

The best option for recreation centers and university climbing gyms is ClimbPoint. As the creator, I may be a little biased when gushing about how simple and intuitive it is to use, but others seem to agree.

There are also a number of health club management solutions that some climbing gyms seem to be working with. Among them are Club Sentry, Gym Assistant and Check Free / Aphelion. FirmPOS was also in this boat just a couple years ago, but now seems to have a special version tailored to climbing gyms.

The future

While there are a number of offerings available now, I believe we’ve only scratched the surface in truly streamlining climbing wall management. I expect that ClimbPoint will be on the cutting edge in developing creative solutions for climbing walls, and with the increase in players in this market, I’m hopeful that the real winner will be climbers and climbing wall managers.





Market-driven product development

15 06 2008

Over the past six weeks I’ve done more to connect with potential customers and understand the market needs than ever, and it’s beginning to pay dividends in my motivation for product development.

My re-entry into the world of climbing wall management began last month with a trip to Boulder, Colorado for the second annual Climbing Wall Summit. It was there that I began to recognize the growing desire for climbing gym management software. As one conference participant put it, “there is a national unspoken need in our industry for someone to do this [software] right.”

As part of my effort to understand that need I’ve begun following a few climbing blogs, news sites, and forums (see the climbing news in the sidebar). Even the Climbing Wall Association recently opened up an online forum, which I’m hoping will be a valuable resource in connecting with others in the climbing community. The CWA is also planning to form a committee on the development of climbing wall management software, and I’ve thrown my name in the hat as a potential member of that committee.

In addition to establishing connections with potential customers and gaining exposure to real market needs, these sorts of interactions have helped make what I’m doing relevant. As a software developer it can be easy to become isolated from the users of the software and the market it serves. When that happens for me I tend to lose a little motivation, so I’m beginning to see the need for balance between product development and connecting with the market.

As a result of this renewed connection with the industry I’ve begun working on the next version of ClimbPoint, which I’ll document over on the ClimbPoint blog. Included in version 0.7 are a few features requested by my beta testers, and down the road I plan to take action on some suggestions I received while at the Summit.

Even with the launch of ClimbPoint I’m still learning a lot about starting up. I’ll continue to blog here about entrepreneurship and starting an ISV, but product-related news and information will be posted on the ClimbPoint blog.