This is the story of “three guys who spend our free time drinking beer, playing golf and coding awesome projects.” For the past two years, Brandon Medenwald, Justin Kalvoda, and Bill Burgess have held down full-time jobs while also launching their company, Simply Made Apps.
Their only product is an app called Simple In/Out, which solves a problem that drove Brandon crazy. He explains, “In my fulltime job as a web programmer, we had an old magnetic in/out board like they use in sales offices to keep track of who is in the office and who isn’t. Five or six years ago, they transitioned to a Web-based version.
“I was constantly frustrated with it, because some of the roughly 40 people in our firm wouldn’t use it. The board became extremely out of date. For years, I was joking that I could write a better piece of software in a weekend, but then over beers in a bar with two friends, it dawned on me we could solve this problem by using the GPS chips in cell phones.”
It happened that the three were an Android, iPhone and Web developer, so without moving from the bar table they had the skills necessary to build the app. In February of last year, they devoted a weekend to building the basic framework of the app, and they’ve been refining it ever since. But ever since April 2011, their refinements have been based on customer suggestions.
Simple In/Out is based on the practice of GeoFencing, which means drawing a circle around a location (i.e. the company’s office) and then tracking when each employee enters or leaves that boundary. Making it easier, they say, means that more people use the system and the company has a far better sense of who is coming and going.
For the first four months, the app was free. Last September, they introduced pricing that was based on the number of people being tracked on the company’s board. Prices start at $5 per month for 4 to 10 users, and gradually step up to $160 a month for 250 to 1,000 users.
Although the trio are far better programmers than they are marketers, today they have over 1,600 registered companies. More importantly, they have something they love so much that they occasionally use their vacations to devote extra time to their “nights and weekends” startup.
None of them hate their real jobs. None are eager to quit. They come across as smart, patient people who want to solve interesting problems that other companies aren’t solving.
In the old days, say five years ago, people like these had a long road ahead of them. There were no apps, and no apps stores. There was no distribution system for software that people invented on nights and weekends.
Today, hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs have attracted customers without raising a penny in venture capital, and without jumping through the hoops that used to drive tech entrepreneurs crazy.
“We are extremely dangerous people”
I asked Brandon what he might say to two groups of people: executives at large established companies, and individuals considering pursuing an entrepreneurial venture in technology.
“In a big corporation,” says Brandon, “I’d be fearful of the little people out there doing something that they are passionate about, because, passion trumps money.” He and his partners love what they do, and feel fortunate to be able to solve interesting problems.
Even though the company is turning a modest profit, he says, “Because we love what we do, we don’t have to be concerned about turning a profit, which means we are extremely dangerous people when it comes to our dedication to improving services.”
In other words, large companies that can’t get past their own inertia will look worse and worse compared to the army of entrepreneurs headed their way.
Brandon tells potential entrepreneurs, “It’s absolutely worth going for it. The barriers between nothing and a viable product has never been lower. We got everything accomplished for an investment of $100 each to get a one-year runway. That paid for licenses, a Web domain, a ‘doing business as” name, etc.
“It’s hard to relate that to people who think you need a team of warriors and a 401K. You don’t need any of that if you set your expectations correctly. There are tons of stories like our. Success is slowly snowballing, very slowly. Our costs are so low, and revenues are growing.”
Bruce Kasanoff is a speaker, author and innovation strategist who tracks sensor-driven innovation at Sense of the Future. Kasanoff and co-author Michael Hinshaw teamed up to explore more of the opportunities unearthed by disruptive forces in Smart Customers, Stupid Companies.