Last week I decided to abandon my latest project. I’ve worked on it for 7 months, but I recently realized this is not the type of business I want to build, or run by myself.
The business I’m talking about is Offertebox, focused on the Dutch market, it’s a platform or marketplace for business leads. People that are looking for a service and want to easily compare price offerings can submit a Request for Quotation, and they’ll receive up to 6 quotes from interested businesses. On the other side, the businesses have an overview of all these requests, and can respond to any item they like.
While I was building the platform, I soon realized that I basically wanted to rebuild Facebook in a lot of ways. This was a mistake in itself, as I wanted to build something too big, for the time I wanted to spend on it. I want to provide as much value as possible, but without a consistent flow of qualitative leads that is impossible. I could build the most advanced platform, but nobody would use it without the leads.
The platform started out just for Web Design companies, but I was already dreaming and building for even more types like Photography, Marketing, Artists, and even Dancers and Plumbers. I finished the majority of the code within a couple of weeks, but I kept adding more tasks and features for these next steps. After I was done building an actual Minimum Viable Product, I retreated back into my head, thinking about all the things I could add to the project.
This mistake could’ve been more obvious to myself, and I even remember having these thoughts in my head: “Why am I building this, I don’t even like doing acquisition”. I knew there were several ways to generate leads, but I didn’t want to start by building debt. As I’m bootstrapping, I knew the best way to start was to find these leads myself, by contacting businesses individually. I could’ve partnered with someone to delegate that part, but I wanted this learning experience. I have no trouble communicating, but I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as working on the code.
Wikipedia: “You aren't gonna need it (acronym: YAGNI) is a principle of extreme programming that states a programmer should not add functionality until deemed necessary.” Even though I didn’t get lost in building features for the future, I did try too hard to anticipate these functionalities. I figured that people would respond to requests multiple times a day or per week, so I wanted to make this choice as easy as possible for these “power users”. I made some invoicing functionality, which in the beginning, I would just use to manually bill my users every month. I also made it really easy to accept a request, and view all the contact information. After the first request, 3 out of 4 people that responded contacted me to say they expected a “pay wall” and accepted the request by mistake. A “pay wall” would’ve been a much simpler solution, and would also have been perfect for the state of the platform.
When the first request came in, I emailed the 55 businesses that had signed up to Offertebox. Soon after, the first feedback was emailed back to me. It was clear that the budget of this lead was missing in the process, something which I had been thinking about, but never actually added to the request form. I also had several ideas for this project, like profiles and portfolios for the businesses, which could also be emailed directly after they accepted a request. Also the possibility to filter leads based on cities or a radius around their business. With an option to automatically respond to every lead within this filter. There are also several ways to make acquisition easier for businesses. By easily generating simple and clear offers to the requester, for example with a pricing list that dynamically includes the options and prices according to the request. No more worries about layout, copy-pasting or design, but being able to send a proposal with just one press of a button.
The business model was inspired by my biggest competitor; up to 6 businesses respond to anonymous requests, and the businesses pay to get all the contact information. Submitting a request is free. After some feedback I started thinking about different business models, as people said they didn’t really want to pay for this information without knowing if they’ll get the assignment. They were also unsure about how serious this lead was, so maybe I should charge the requester for the convenience the platform offers. This could’ve made Offertebox more like DesignCrowd or CrowdSpring. Those platforms only charge the winning business, so there is no risk for the companies to respond to a request. This would require a more hands-on approach, but fits perfectly with this quote from Jeff Bezos: “Above all else, align with customers. Win when they win. Win only when they win.”
I’ve also learned that it was pretty easy to get businesses to sign up, even though it was free. Most companies signed up after only a single cold email. With a conversion rate of at least 20% on this first email, and most didn’t even reply before signing up. It was also interesting to realize how I redefined my entire target group after about 40 emails. I started with contacting freelancers first, but after a while I just cold mailed some businesses, and got a much better response and potential need. For them it was mostly a matter of hooking this new lead funnel up to their existing processes, whereas freelancers more often don’t pay for leads.
When I started building Offertebox 7 months ago (24th july 2017), I set up the code in “modules”. This means that functionalities like signing up, logging in, overviews, pop-ups and more, can be easily used for other projects. This has already spawned two new projects, which I could develop in a short amount of time with my own modules.
Offertebox is not my first project, and it will definitely not be my last. Most projects have never been launched, but the ideas more often grow to actual online services. The thing that was most obvious to me with Offertebox, is that a platform with two target groups doesn’t fit with what I want to create. I want to build software that can provide 100% of its value with even one single user, like my new “Polls”-project.
The rest of this year I will launch several projects, which I’ll try to keep as small as possible. This process and these launches will be written up on my weekly blog. These posts will be more personal, and about topics like motivation, perfectionism, productivity, and tech. Subscribe to my personal email list to get an email when I post these weekly blogs.