Today, important paper almost always generates the need for quick digital action.
Actionable and oftentimes sensitive information is trapped in stacks of paper, buried in cluttered file cabinets, or lost through erroneous manual entry or indexing. One study reported that employees spend at least 10 hrs per week looking for information in hardcopy documents. Businesses need paper transformed into digital information and the ability to quickly search, retrieve, and take action on it – without the labor-intensive process of scanning in-house.
That’s why we’re excited to announce FileRoom, a service that enables customers to get paper out of their offices and into their digital workflows. With FileRoom, we can now do for all physical documents what we have been doing for mail for over 15 years – digitizing important paper and making it actionable.
Last summer, we introduced enhanced functionality to MailRoom (our core, mail-only offering) that gave our customers the ability to manage their office mail like email. Since then, thousands of digitized documents have been forwarded to others through our interface. In developing FileRoom, we set out to accomplish the same goal for all physical documents – to make interacting with paper as simple, fast, and familiar as managing email.
We make both mail and paper as powerful as email.
Why email? Email is more than a means of communication. It has evolved into a platform for prioritizing, organizing, and even automating work. With FileRoom, like MailRoom, important paper becomes as powerful as email by enabling customers to: view, search, tag, organize, forward to colleagues, download, archive, and/or integrate with cloud storage platforms.
FileRoom is a natural progression in the evolution of our business, which began digitizing mail in 2004. We’ve expanded our services beyond mail to include receipt processing (powered by our acquisition of Shoeboxed), remote check depositing, and custom integrations with customers’ proprietary software.
FileRoom is the perfect solution for businesses inundated with important paper.
For example, personal injury lawyers who use MailRoom today when collecting medical records and other discovery documents can start using FileRoom for digitizing backlogs of case files and ongoing practice management. Insurers who commonly use MailRoom for payment processing can start using FileRoom for claims management. And, property managers using MailRoom today for processing rent payments can use FileRoom to digitize legal contracts like leases and other important paperwork.
While most document management software allows users to upload and organize files, they leave the heavy lifting of paper intake, sorting, and scanning to the customer. Scanning services convert paper to digital format (usually delivered on outdated media formats like DVD), but may not power documents with full-text search and more importantly, they do not make physical paper instantly actionable. Further, these solutions are often lacking HIPAA-level security, an important consideration for many businesses.
Easily send us your paper documents for free with the Magic Label, log-in and request a prepaid shipping label and we’ll digitize and organize your documents using filing classifications and naming conventions designed by you.
Organize documents according to your specific business model or department and related workflows. You can create cabinets for organizing documents. Inside of cabinets, drawers may be created for more precise filing. Individual documents can be tagged with identifiers.
All scanned documents are fully searchable. You can search by keyword, date, invoice number, or other criteria to quickly and easily find what you’re looking for in seconds.
Take action on paper documents like email: send digital copies via E-mail, send to other cloud storage devices, move to, and download. You can take additional action on paper such as store, shred, ship and more.
With MailRoom and FileRoom, Earth Class Mail now offers the only laborless digital mail and paper solution that makes physical paper instantly actionable. We’re leveraging what we built and refined for handling postal mail – a foundation that has processed over 19 million pieces of paper.
The enhancements made to MailRoom last summer were, in large part, a result of customer feedback and what we learned about how they want to interact with their mail. We realize, as we have seen with mail, that not every business will work with their important paper in exactly the same way.
We will continue to learn and innovate to meet the needs of our customers and to make it possible to do more than ever with their paper with features like: multiple intake options, advanced automation rules, and key data extraction.
“What’s new at Earth Class Mail?” is a question I’m asked frequently and I’m thrilled to finally be able to share some exciting developments with you! The last time you heard from me was when I joined the company as its new CEO. And while I wasn’t able to get into any specifics about what was in store for 2018, I’m proud to say, since then, we’ve been working feverishly to make significant upgrades to our product.
First, let’s have a quick look back at this year so far. We’ve:
Processed approximately 1.5 million physical mail actions (like scanning, shipping, depositing checks) for you since January, which is on track to double the previous year’s activity.
Deposited over $1 Billion in checks for our customers to date, and close to $120 Million this year alone.
Processed 87.49 tons of mail items in 2017, and so far 49 tons to date this year (includes packages)
Thank you for allowing us to serve you!
Over the past six months, we’ve been laser-focused on learning what is most important to our customers as well as prospects considering our services in order to determine how we could create the greatest value for their businesses.
One of the first things we learned is that we would need to provide more than just an updated look for our app and that we would have to build a more thoroughly updated user experience with more functional and efficient ways to use the service we provide to both individuals and businesses.
To help us collect your valuable feedback and turn it into the effortless experience we’re committed to delivering, we brought in our new Director of Product, Nicole Hairston. Under Nicole’s leadership, thousands of customers were invited to engage with us in one way or another to share their experience and use cases. She challenged our team to look at our (now former) product roadmap with a critical eye to ensure that all that we planned to do aligned with both what customers asked for and what we, as experts in the industry, know they’ll want and need in the future.
We’ve completely revamped the Earth Class Mail interface then added a number of improvements and new capabilities.
Nicole explains the new improvements in detail below.
Thanks, Jess! Many of you have expressed to us that you need a modernized, friendly and easy-to-navigate interface to manage your personal and business mail, so that’s exactly what we set out to provide.
Here are some of the new improvements we’ve delivered so far that make it easier to digitally organize, share, automate and integrate physical mail into your back-office workflows. When you log in today, this is just some of what you’ll see, but by no means are we done:
Share Mail Content via Email – Sending important mail to your team and contacts just got easier. Our new email share feature allows you to send mail contents as a searchable PDF attachment to one or more email addresses!
Organizewith Custom Tags – You can now create and add one or multiple custom tags to any mail item for quick reference. Click on any of your custom tag(s) to quickly view a filtered list of the items you’re looking for.
Filter your Account View – If you have Admin or Inbox access, you can now view all mail items at the account level in one consolidated view. We’ve provided improved visibility into the list of recipients on your account so you can then quickly and more easily filter your inbox by Recipient when needed.
Access Multiple Accounts – If you have multiple Earth Class Mail accounts, you can now quickly view and access each one from a new Accounts dashboard view.
Integrate Payments Received – We’ve added new integrations for Xero and Quickbooks Online to help you manage the payments you receive in your mail. After connecting security to one of these accounting services from your Earth Class Mail account, you can record payments to Xero or Quickbooks Online invoices with the click of a button.
Paired with our CheckStream service, which allows you to request check deposits directly from your account, these accounting integrations can save you time and help avoid the hassle of having to track multi-check deposits in a spreadsheet or in an isolated application.
Search and Find More – We’ve always had a search feature, but it was somewhat limiting in its results, only finding items with a specific status. Our updated search feature has fewer status restrictions and searches for content by any alphanumeric term across any scanned mail item in your Inbox. You can still search by Sender or Recipient, and we’ve added the ability to search by custom tag as well.
Brand New Look and Feel – We gave the new customer interface a fresh color scheme makeover and added easy access to available actions you can request for your mail.
Our goal is to continually improve and simplify your experience so that it keeps getting easier and faster to use Earth Class Mail, in more ways, and with increasing value. The best part is that we’re just getting started!
As we get additional feedback from you and learn more about what works and what doesn’t, we will continue to iterate and improve. There are Support and Feedback links in your Inbox menu so that you can reach out when you need assistance and let us know what you think about the new Earth Class Mail experience.
We look forward to continuing to build a paper transformation platform that enables you to turn your mail and office paper clutter into the first step of more efficient, digital and automated workflows!
Jess Garza, CEO
Nicole Hairston, Director of Product
Header Image Credit: Steve Roe
Doug Breaker here, CEO of EarthClassMail.com. Writing billing code is hard. Really hard. If you’re wrong by a penny, you’re all wrong.
I used to write billing code as a young developer. I once made a mistake that cost a client $1,200,000! Oops, not my best day.
Any business not in the business of writing billing code should not write billing code. Outsource it instead.
I guarantee it will save you time, make your other development faster, and save your sanity. Spend time building your competitive advantage, not wasting it writing billing code.
At Earth Class Mail, we use Chargify(Full disclosure: Scaleworks owns both Chargify and Earth Class Mail. We used Chargify well before Scaleworks bought them).
When I ran HomeFinder, we used Recurly and liked it. Stripe’s subscription functionality offers a ton of time savings and robust tool set. Check them all out, all offer immense developer time savings vs. developing your own billing system.
Repeat after me ten times, “we will not have developers spend time on billing code!”
CRITICAL TIP: before you choose, ask yourself, “will we ever want to charge for something like ‘get 20 widgets for free on our $99 plan, and 40 widgets for free on our $149 plan and charge for widgets over those amounts?'”
If you answer “yes”, then keep reading for a MASSIVE difference between Chargify/Stripe/Recurly. This one tip can save you months of developer time, make you more money, and launch your products faster.
Let me explain with two real world examples, one using Recurly, and one using Chargify.
Consumers can even get a free pizza on their move day if they find a mover through the site. Who doesn’t love pizza on their move day?
(Quick backstory: Before I took over as CEO of Earth Class Mail, I was CEO of HomeFinder. While at HomeFinder, we launched MovingCompanyReviews.com as an internal startup. After I left, Placester bought HomeFinder about 6 months later. Placester didn’t want MovingCompanyReviews.com, so we bought it from them.)
We offer a product to moving companies called “Review Advantage“. For that product we email prior customers of moving companies and collect reviews on behalf of the moving companies.
We offer the first bunch of customers to write a review per month a free Starbucks coffee. The product used to be manual, but we just launched an automated version. We set out to offer different plans with different number of free coffees:
$19 per month includes 3 free customer coffees
$99 per month includes 15 free customer coffees
$299 per month includes 50 free customer coffees
After we hit the free coffee limit, we wanted to charge the moving company a certain amount per coffee. Here’s how it looks to our movers:
Here’s how we set that up on Recurly:
Set up a “Measured Unit” for free coffees
Set up the pricing plans, including a billable add-on for the extra coffees. Here’s the $19 plan.
Write a bunch of custom billing code to do the following:
Keep track of how many free coffees we’ve given in a billing period
Report any coffees over that the free limit to Recurly
Reset the counter when a customer’s billing period renews
That’s not easy code to write! We did it, but it took our developer about three weeks of hardcore coding time to get it correct, get automated tests in place, and get fully confident that it worked.
Recurly gives us a ton of benefit, and we enjoy using it. Unfortunately their metered component functionality still required us to write complex billing code in order to give away a different number of free coffees by plan price point.
We made the investment because it was worth it. However, we’d much rather spend our coding time helping consumers find great moving companies.
Example 2: Offering Free Usage on Chargify
Here at Earth Class mail, we just launched a killer new check deposit/lockbox product on Earth Class Mail called CheckStream.
If you’re a business that gets checks, it can revolutionize the way you deposit them and record payments in Xero or QuickBooks Online.
You can deposit any sized check into any bank in the US without going through any application process, or worrying about per check credit limits.
Once you deposit the check, you can record payments to customers & invoices right from our app into Xero & Quickbooks online.
We launched with three pricing plans, each with a different number of checks included.
$99 per month includes 30 check deposits
$249 per month includes 125 check deposits
$499 per month includes 265 check deposits
If customers pass those limits, we charge $2 per check deposit on the first two plans, and $1.90 per check on the $499 plan.
Check out how easy Chargify made it to set this up:
Set up our 3 plans, here’s the $99 plan.
Set up our metered “check deposit” component, with the three different price points.
Configure each price point to include the correct number of free check deposits, see screenshot below.
When someone signs up for a plan, set the correct price point on their subscription (we do this in our ordering code, but you can do it via the user interface as well).
Ship it! That’s it! Since our app already tracks which plan a customer is on and reports check deposits to Chargify, we didn’t have to do anything else.
Notice the step we didn’t have to do? Write complex billing code! Magic!
Chargify saved us weeks or months of development & testing time. Instead of spending weeks or months coding & testing, we launched the new plans in days.
So do you and your company a favor, don’t write billing code! After having hands-on experience with various billing solutions, Chargify has been the clear winner for Earth Class Mail’s needs, but I encourage you to check out all the options before committing to a provider.
Going with any will save you development time and future tears when your custom billing code breaks.
However, make sure you bump your current and future billing scenarios against each provider to make sure you don’t get sucked back into the swampy quagmire of billing code development.
Lastly, if you’re a business that gets check in the mail, check out our new check deposit service, it’ll save you bunch of time, get money in your bank account faster, and save you from keying in payments in Xero and Quickbooks Online.
In our last post we learned that people will potentially pay to file their health care claim forms online, enough to support a business at least. Wahoo!
Now we build everything, right? Absolutely not. Hold your horses, buckaroo, and put that hammer down.
The data told us that a good number of people want this problem solved, and will pay enough to make it worthwhile for us. Now we need to make sure a real product can be built to support this business.
In other words, I want to know: Is our core idea technically possible?
WARNING – PLEASE don’t skip validating if a product and service can actually be built to solve the core problem. I made this mistake a few times in the past, and wasted months and years of time and money as a result.
ClaimSender.com requires a few things to work, some business related, some technical
Business items to confirm:
We need to make sure that insurance companies will accept our claim forms when we fax them in.
Since we’ll be storing health information, we need to make sure our hosting is compliant and affordable.
Our app will fax in claim forms, and that process needs to be HIPAA compliant and affordable.
Technical items to confirm:
The main value proposition of the product is speed and convenience, so we need to collect information from user, and write it onto an existing claim form – then deliver it as a complete PDF.
We will also need to collect a digital signature from the end user, then write it onto an existing claim form PDF.
Let’s walk through these issues one by one, and answer them with the least amount of time and cost.
Issue: Will insurance companies accept faxed in claim forms with a digitally-created signature?
So I called up my healthcare company and asked if I could fax my claim form in. They said yes, and gave me their fax number.
With that in hand, I headed over to HelloFax.com. I uploaded the claim form PDF, filled in the claim info, and signed electronically.
I faxed the form in and held my breath. Ok, I didn’t hold my breath, because claims can take 7 days to make it through the insurance companies’ claims department.
A few days after faxing my claim in I logged into my email and saw a “New claim processed” email from my insurance company. Boom! Success. Total cost? $0. Time spent? 20 minutes.
To make sure the digital signature would count as a legal signature, I pinged Earth Class Mail’s Chairman, Jonathan Siegel. He founded RightSignature, an electronic signature company, so he knows the space well. He gave a big thumbs up.
If you don’t know any experts in the space, UpCounsel.com can serve as a good resource. VALIDATE.
On to the next issue…
Issue: Do cost effective HIPAA web hosting solutions exist?
Storing people’s health information requires the utmost security and care. This requires ClaimSender be HIPAA compliant. I won’t bore you with the details of HIPAA compliance.
In general it means you follow a bunch of strict guideliness on storing and transmitting health information.
A few hours of web searching turned up a few options, including HealthCareBlocks.com, which isn’t too expensive. That works, on to the next issue.
Issue: Can we find a HIPAA compliant fax API?
ClaimSender will fax in healthcare claim forms. Healthcare claim forms contain a lot of of sensitive personal information. We need to make sure our fax provider sends this information securely.
A few more hours of web searching revealed a few candidates, including Phaxio.com. After some back and forth with their excellent support crew, they confirmed their service can pass HIPAA muster when set up correctly.
Their pricing pleases too, so consider this answer a “yes”.
Issue: Can we collect information from users, and write it onto an existing claim form PDF?
I wrote code in a former life, and still fancy myself a developer. A “pretend” coder if you will. Real developers won’t call my code pretty, but I can code enough to test a concept.
To answer this question, I wrote a simple ruby script (I love rails) to see if I could write fields onto a PDF. I tried a few different ruby gems, and landed on the prawn and combine_pdf gem.
I kept the script as simple as possible, just coding enough to confirm I could place text onto an existing PDF. After an hour or so, my script gave me the “yes” I hoped for.
Before we move on, notice what I didn’t do…. I skipped creating a new rails project. I left data design for a later day. I bypassed everything except validating my core question.
My natural tendency is to start building the end app at this stage. After years of learning the hard way, I finally learned to focus on just answering the core question.
Issue: Can we collect a digital signature from the end user and write it onto an existing claim form PDF?
This question proved beyond my meager coding skills. To answer it, I created a small project on Upwork. Upwork runs a freelancer marketplace, and provides a great tool for one off tasks.
They have a ton of developers, which made getting this question answered quick and cheap (< $50).
Do research before posting your project so you can specify as much detail as possible. For our project, I made sure I captured our key requirements before posting the job on upwork:
I knew the solution should use prawn and/or combine_pdf for the PDF manipulation.
A little research led me to this github project to accept the end user’s signature – https://github.com/szimek/signature_pad.
Using what I learned above, I wrote a specific job description with as much detail as possible.
I prefer to post my small projects as a set fee, instead of hourly. That gives me confidence on how much I will pay.
After posting our project, I read the reviews and explored the work history of any applicants.
I can’t stress this enough – READ THE REVIEWS.
If someone doesn’t have reviews yet, proceed with caution. I like working with individual developers instead of companies. I find I pay less and get stuff done faster.
I often ask applicants to write a tiny bit of code using the language & tools asked for in the job to make sure they know what they’re doing.
This also shows you how responsive they are, and how they communicate. Make this something tiny, so you don’t waste their time. I posted my project, chose a freelancer a day later, and within a few hours he delivered validation that things would work.
Boom! That makes us five for five on our questions.
Now what? How can we find out if people will really buy this? Great question. Let’s dive into that with our next post.
Simply put, a demand test is an experiment you run to see if there is anyone in the market for your product or service.
It can take many shapes, but for our purposes we focused on setting up a simple lead funnel by buying ads on Google AdWords and pointing those users to a landing page with a lead form.
This type of test is great because:
You can simply buy exposure to users likely to be interested in your product, very inexpensively. That means you don’t need to organically build an audience and you don’t need to have a product, just a pitch.
You can use the landing pages to funnel users through the various value points of your product, from a high-level pitch down to pricing. That means you can gain insights into what exactly is drawing people in or turning them away.
Most importantly, it’s really easy to setup. A focus group or even a basic functioning product are way more expensive and time consuming.
Step 3 – Did Any Customers Show Up?
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you ran some ads to a landing page. Now let’s dig in to the results.
To refresh your memory, we want to answer a few simple questions to better understand if our business idea will be a success:
Question: How many potential customers exist looking for a solution to this problem?
Answer: Ad impressions
Question: How well does your business solve the problem for potential customers?
Answer: Ad click-through-rate (CTR)
Question: How many potential customers can you get to your front door?
Answer: Ad clicks
Question: How many potential customers are interested in pricing for your product?
Answer: Landing page CTR
Question: How many potential customers indicated they would pay you money?
Answer: Pricing button clicks
Question: How many potential customers are ready to buy now?
Answer: Email leads collected
Question: Can your business be profitable? How profitable?
Answer: The metrics from your demand test will help build an initial forecast
Let’s dive into our data to see what it tells us.
The very first question is probably the most important, how many potential customers exist looking for an answer to this problem?
In our test this data is easily accessible, and there’s good news for the future of ClaimSender. Google AdWords shows that there are thousands of daily searches related to healthcare claim forms.
We dig in a bit more and find that our $50/day budget produced 48 clicks/day, with an average CPC of $1.08 (this data is for one day, but it’s representative of the other days in our test).
Our limited keyword test produced a solid number of impressions. A bunch more search volume likely exists for a few reasons:
We set our daily budget at $50, and hit that somewhat early in the day.
Adwords budget alerts told us we could double our budget to get double the clicks at the same cost per click.
We can expand our keyword set to include other health care companies and more niche terms.
This is good news. It means we have plenty of room to grow through paid acquisition.
A quick trip to Google Trends tells us there’s perhaps at least double the volume if we include other healthcare companies besides United and Aetna.
Adding Cigna alone would produce a lot more volume, and a bevy of others exist – Humana, Centene, HealthNet, WellCare, Molina, Magellan, etc.
So the answer to our question is: “enough to keep learning”. No red flags on this step, let’s keep moving.
How well does your business solve the problem for potential customers?
I’ve seen click through rates from 0.01% up to 8% for AdWords campaigns. Our ads clocked in at a robust ~2.9%, a great result for a first attempt.
Hitting nearly 3% on our initial go shows that our ads appealed to people searching for a remedy to their health care claim filing pain.
We struck a nerve!
You can always improve on your first attempt, so the answer here is two strong thumbs up.
How many potential customers can you get to your front door?
Don’t sugarcoat this number. Is it enough to support a business if we convert a reasonable percentage of tire-kickers into customers?
Our ads delivered ~50 clicks per day.
However, our budget and keyword set constrained us. If we cranked our budget up and expanded our keyword set to include other healthcare companies, we could likely make that 50 turn into 150-200 per day.
Pencil in a conversion rate of 0.5% – 2% (some rule of thumb averages, your mileage may vary) and you have your likely customers per day.
If we get 200 interested people to the site, and convert a handful to paying customers, will that be enough to build a business? Perhaps, but let’s cover that in the spreadsheet section. Stay tuned.
How many potential customers showed interest in seeing how much your service cost?
Here’s what they saw after clicking an ad and landing at http://try.claimsender.com/
26.67% clicked the “Get Started” button, one-in-four is not bad at all.
How many potential customers indicated they would pay you money?
As the saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding” and it’s pudding time. We’ll measure this by looking at two things:
Unique users clicking on one of the sign up buttons
The specific sign up button they clicked
These actions tell us the person showed interest in signing up, but you can’t count your money yet. The best thing to do here is to apply a reasonable conversion percentage to calculate signups.
More importantly, looking at which pricing plans people clicked on tells you a bit about what they would pay.
Using the data from Unbounce, we can see that 24% of people that hit the pricing page clicked one of our pricing buttons. Nice!
Diving into Google Analytics to look at the events reveals which pricing tiers prospects clicked on. Most clicked on our free plan (some free will convert to paid when they hit usage limits), a few clicked on the $29/mo option, and one clicked on the $9/mo plan.
The clicks on the paid plans are encouraging. The data lacks enough volume to be valid, but even this amount of data is enough to show that we have something worth further investigation.
How many potential customers are ready to buy now?
These prospects display the strongest interest in your product. Three of the nine people who clicked on the pricing buttons left their contact info for us. Not bad at all.
Even better, it gives you a list of prospects to email so you can rack up some easy signups when you launch.
One thing did surprise me – two of the leads were from 10-25 person healthcare companies. Perhaps there’s a business-to-business product here?
Can your business be profitable? How profitable?
Time to break out the spreadsheets. I’ve created a simplistic one here for you to look at. Our example is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) based business that charges people a recurring fee per month.
For this type of business, we want to model the following numbers:
What we plan to spend on ads
How many customers we can acquire for that cost
How much each customer pays us per month
How many customers leave us each month
The resulting numbers give you the money you’ll be left with to pay for everything else. Those things include every other cost of running the business – per unit costs (if any), all provider costs (hosting, email, rent, software, support tools, etc.), taxes, compensation . . . you get the idea.
By playing with the assumptions in the spreadsheet, we get a sense of how profitable the business can be, and what it takes to make it so.
If we use monthly ad spend of $1,500, a CPC of $1, 1% conversion, an average of $12 per month per customer, and 3% churn, we break even in month 10 and generate a positive $337 in month 12.
If we use monthly ad spend of $6,000, a CPC of $1, 1.5% conversion, and 2% churn, we break even in month 5 and generate a positive $7,563 in month 12.
Results vary DRAMATICALLY with changes to each of those numbers. It’s impossible to know what they will be at this point, but we can use this template to get a sense of what’s possible, and what it will take to make that happen.
Let’s Drop Everything and Build Our Site! Right Now!
No Larry, hold your horses. It’s not time to build yet. Stay strong, and FIGHT THE URGE TO BUILD, BUILD, BUILD. Let me repeat myself, DO NOT BUILD ANYTHING YET.
Let’s dig into the data to deduce our most intelligent next step
Here’s what we learned:
We can buy plenty of clicks at a reasonable cost.
A lot more keywords, forms, categories (dental, vision, pharmacy) and providers exist than we tested.
The strong CTR on the homepage and pricing buttons show demand lurks, ready to turn into signups.
That’s a solid foundation to build on. Let’s make an action item to research how much more search volume exists, and note that optimization can improve our conversion rates significantly over time with testing.
Our financial model gives us a sense of how big this can be. On the low end it appears to deliver a few thousand dollars a month after many months of ramping up.
A more generous interpretation of AdWords demand and conversion rates gives us a nice solo lifestyle business.
Getting leads from small healthcare companies surprised me. Perhaps these types of companies need a solution? Mark down another research item.
This data told us that a good number of people want this problem solved, and will pay enough to make it worthwhile for us to solve.
To paraphrase my good friend and investor in Earth Class Mail, Jonathan Siegel, “the best investments have little risk and high return”.
If we channel our inner Jonathan, what questions do we need to ask to reduce the risk and build confidence in a profitable business?
I want to know:
Is our core idea technically possible?
Is our core idea legally possible?
Will people really buy this? For real? For really real?
How can I get those questions answered most simply?
That’s it for today, but stay tuned for our next post where we dive into the questions above.
You’re minding your own business when BAM, the-best-idea-ever-created slams into your brain. You’ve got it! You’re rich! Step 1 is the idea. Congratulations, you’ve reached the point almost everyone on earth has.
I hate to break it to you, but your idea is worth a lukewarm cup of coffee. Now let’s talk about what to do with that idea.
Before we jump into the how, you’re probably wondering what grand inspiration slammed into our heads. Well…
I loathe how insurance companies force you to print out their forms, write out every detail in pen, sign them, and mail (gasp!) their claim forms to get reimbursed.
Do you like health and dental insurance companies? I don’t. I rank them right up there with putrid cabbage and elevator farts.
Hmm…I wonder if they make that process painful on purpose? I harbor a sneaking suspicion that they make it just annoying enough so a certain number of people won’t file claims.
Do I have proof? Nope. Am I annoyed enough for my inner developer to want to build an app and stick it to them? You bet!
Here’s my idea: a website that makes it super easy to submit your medical and dental claims online.
Why print out the form, fill it out by hand, stuff it in an envelope, find a stamp, and drop it in the mailbox? That’s a huge hassle.
Often you can’t find stamps, your printer’s out of ink, or you decide to watch Turd Ferguson videos on Hulu instead, and as a result you never file your claims.
What if you could enter your information just once, and make a few clicks to file new claims? I’m betting you would file your claims faster, file more of them, and appreciate it when you get reimbursed faster.
Wait, it gets better. Did you know that most insurance companies accept claims by fax? Perfect, because we can send faxes online so you can submit your claim forms immediately, nothing to mail.
So that’s the idea, let’s fix insurance claims and make people’s lives better.
Finding The First Customers
Enough about us, let’s get back to you. What do you do right after your idea hits? Do NOT do any of the following (I am guilty of all):
Start building anything
File a patent
Spend weeks talking to potential partners
Write a business plan and begin courting investors
No no no, do not do anything on that list. You’re wasting time and indulging yourself if you do.
Instead, your sole mission is to find out if customers will pay you for what you’re offering.
Setting Up Your Test
The ONLY way to find out if your idea has any demand is to let potential customers tell you. The fastest, cheapest, and easiest way I know to do that is to throw up a landing page, point some ads to it, and see how prospects respond.
Go online and do some research
You want to answer a few questions in this step:
How many people search on terms related to your idea (i.e. market size)?
How many of those people can you convince to visit your page (i.e. does your product solve the problem)?
How much do you have to spend to get them to visit your page (i.e. what will it cost to acquire leads)?
How many of them convert (i.e. show interest by submitting their contact info)?
This isn’t an exact science, but it gives you enough data to get a sense of the interest and appetite for your idea.
Once you’re logged in to the account, navigate to Tools > Keyword Planner. Think of every possible search term people could type into Google. Better yet, do a couple searches yourself and see what comes up in the auto-complete recommendations for even more ideas.
Once you have your search terms set go to the “Get search volume data and trends” section in the Keyword Planner, then drop in all those search terms and submit. Here’s our example:
Take a look at the projected search volumes and suggested bids. Keep brainstorming to clean up the terms until you get a good set that maximizes searches, and minimizes your suggested bids.
I recommend forcing yourself to modify your list at least 5 times. Try ultra specific terms. Try wacky terms. The point is, keep trying until you get a good set of terms.
If you can’t find a grouping of search terms that generates at least a few hundred searches per month, you may want to stop and reconsider. It is important to note that the volume in here is not exact, and usually underestimates searches by some multiple.
Building a landing page
Great, you’ve done some research and there is demand. Don’t go measuring for blinds in your new mansion yet! Your next step is creating a landing page for your idea.
You need to be able to sell your idea in one page. Distill everything you imagine it being down to a single value proposition that you can verbalize simply and succinctly.
If you can’t explain it easily, you can’t sell it easily.
Get a domain name that prospects will believe. Services like InstantDomainSearch.com can help you find a reasonable domain for your idea. We aren’t affiliated in any way, they just have a great product.
Don’t stress about the exact domain at this point, just grab something reasonable. Whatever you do, DO NOT buy an expensive domain yet.
Find an available one and shell out the $12. WARNING – I recommend you register your domain somewhere other than Google Domains, as you’ll need domain forwarding to setup the page properly. I tend to use GoDaddy and NameCheap a lot.
Sign up for a free trial at Unbounce.com, choose a responsive template, and whip up your masterpiece of a landing page. Channel your inner Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross and sell, sell, sell!
I recommend creating two separate pages: 1) a primary landing page, and 2) a pricing page. The aim with this strategy is to test both low-friction demand, and early-adopter demand in one experiment.
The primary landing page should be the main sales page, and what you’re looking for here is how many visitors click through to the pricing page. You can track that directly in Unbounce, and the results are considered your low-friction demand as these visitors show interest when the barrier to learn more is low.
On the pricing page, you will want to embed a lead form that collects visitor information. This is how you measure the early-adopter demand since they are willing to give you contact information, with a higher level of friction it’s likely these leads could become customers.
A few tips:
Your page should pass the “eye test” – meaning a regular joe should be reasonably convinced it’s for a real company. It’s not a high bar to clear.
Force yourself to set pricing. This gives two benefits: 1) it forces you to think of what to charge, and 2) it gives you more valid results.
Ask a few people to look at your landing pages and explain their interpretation of the product to you. This will put a check on your messaging and help you catch any glaring issues that you’ve become numb to.
Make sure your root domain and subdomain work, or Google may not let your ads run.
Google may ask you to put a business address on your landing page. Luckily, I know just the company to recommend for that.
Done is better than perfect. The point is to test your idea with real people vs. obsessing over minutia.
Once your landing page gets to the “it’s not completely horrible” state, STOP working on it.
Now that you’re armed with a good terms list and shiny new landing page it’s time to create some ads!
Go back to that search terms list you built and save your keywords to a new campaign. Set your default bid and daily budget, create a new ad group and click “Create new ads for your ad group“.
Bids, budgets, and AdWords campaign structure are a nuanced field with no shortage of opinions on the topic. This is not an AdWords tutorial, but AdWords is one of the best documented platforms on the planet so there are plenty of resources.
You will want to let your ads run for at least a week to allow for any day-of-week fluctuations, so set your daily budget appropriately. Make sure you understand how AdWords budgets work too.
Channel your inner Don Draper and whip up some ads! Create at least a handful, trying out different headlines and different ad text. You want to find out the terms and hooks your target audience responds to.
A great place to start for this is to look at ads from competitors on similar terms. If your idea is so unique that there’s no ad competition, search for terms that will bring up ads for big brands and see how they do it.
Save your ads and wait for Google to approve everything.
Verify Tracking and Wait
While Google takes its time approving your ads, run through your landing page and make sure all of your tracking works. You may have done this already, but do it now if you haven’t. Make sure the following works:
Unbounce visit & conversion tracking (go to your live page, click the CTAs, submit some leads)
Unbounce lead tracking (submit some leads)
Once you’ve confirmed that all the tracking works, sit back and be patient. In our next post we’ll talk about how to evaluate the data and what to do next. For now grab a coffee, pull up a chair, and watch the show!
Doug Breaker here, CEO of Earth Class Mail. One of my favorite video clips is a South Park episode where a few entrepreneurial gnomes come up with the next great startup idea. Their plan goes something like this: Step 1. Collect underpants, Step 2. ?, Step 3. Profit!
I love this because it illustrates really plainly the most common pitfall budding entrepreneurs make, that is how they’re actually going to make money. I’d find this funnier except that almost every entrepreneur and founder I know has fallen prey to this.
I know I did, multiple times, stubbornness is both a strength and a weakness.
The pattern goes like this:
Inspiration hits, “Wow, I’ve got it!”.
The soon-to-be-rich-and-famous founder jumps immediately into building, planning, strategizing, and daydreaming. Big funding rounds and massive success here we come!
Months or years later the business launches, woohoo! They’ll shout “My creation is alive!”, “Revel in its beauty!”, “Kneel down to its glory!”. Then some time passes…a week, a month, maybe a few go by.
In that time some customers trickle in, just a few, if at all. “Where are all the customers?”, asks the founder. Oops! Sounds like someone forgot Step 2.
What is Step 2?
I’ve personally had to survive more than five failed product launches: a monthly pickle service, an accent training service, a moving company website, and I could go on. It took those failures and more for me to break this habit and finally focus on Step 2.
So again, what is Step 2? It’s customers! More specifically, it’s finding a lot of customers at a profit. That is Step 2.
The goal of any for profit business is to collect more money than you spend. To collect that money you have to find customers that will pay you money. Let me hammer that point home…
You. Have. To. Find. Customers. That. Will. Pay. You. Money.
Your business must find enough customers that pay enough to cover everything your business needs to operate in the black, i.e. above breakeven. That is salaries, benefits, technology, the costs of goods sold, taxes, rent, and etc.
It’s also important to remember that it costs money to find those customers. You must figure out how to find enough customers at a cheap enough cost so that the money those customers pay is more than all the other costs to run the business. Sounds pretty simple right?
To understand Step 2, ask yourself:
How many customers can I get to buy my product or service?
How much will it cost me to do that?
Will the money left over be enough to run and grow the company?
Only AFTER you understand that should you start building. Put those daydreams on hold, and let Dr. Math tell you what your idea is worth.
Great smartypants, so how do I do that?
Ah! Great question. I love the internet. It’s the perfect tool to answer Step 2 cheaply, quickly, and confidently. You can get your answer for less than a $1000, a few hours of work, and few weeks of testing. Which option sounds better to find out if your idea works?
Spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and months or years
Spending less than a thousand dollars and a few weeks
I am going to save the specifics for my next post, so I can get to the point of this one.
What the heck does this have to do with Earth Class Mail?
As CEO of Earth Class Mail I own ultimate responsibility for how awesome our product and service is, and how much value our customers get from it. We want to make SMBs, startups, independent entrepreneurs, and digital nomads more amazing.
We especially want to knock it out of the park for our business customers who crave efficiency and reliability. We want them to spend more time growing their business, not stressing about mail.
The best way I know to do that is to walk in their shoes and use Earth Class Mail ourselves. We already use Earth Class Mail for all our inbound company mail, but I want us to really feel what our customers feel. I want us to experience their joy, and their pain.
To make all that happen we’re going to go through a real world example of starting a business, from idea to launch. We’ll start with testing if our idea can attract enough customers, and share all the things we learn along the way.
Then we’ll walk through everything from the techie things like creating a website and the actual service, to the mundane like registering a corporation and setting up a bank account.
Along the way we’ll dig deep into the Earth Class Mail service, and the ways it can make running a business easier.
Hopefully this process will help a few entrepreneurs launch more successful businesses. I can’t wait to see how it helps us build a better service for our customers.
Our last customer spotlight highlighted a long time Earth Class Mail customer. This time around we chat with one of our newest customers. I am thrilled to introduce you to Claire Lew, CEO of KnowYourCompany.com. KnowYourCompany.com is a killer software tool that helps CEOs with 25 to 75 employees overcome growing pains. I used when I was CEO of HomeFinder.com, and we’re implementing at Earth Class Mail this week.
Thanks for so much for sharing your story Claire, Can you tell us a bit about yourself and KnowYourCompany.com? What does KnowYourCompany.com do, and what sets you apart?
Sure thing! I’m Claire Lew, the CEO of Know Your Company. We’re a simple software tool that helps business owners with 25 to 75 employees overcome growing pains. The software was originally built by Basecamp (formerly 37signals). Since then, Know Your Company has helped over 8,000 people at companies like Airbnb and Kickstarter.
What do I mean by “growing pains”? As the founder of your company, you start with 5 or 10 people. But then you hit 30, 40, 50 employees. As you grow, it gets harder and harder to know what your employees think about the company, and how they think things could be better. Sustaining a good company culture is tough to do. You just don’t feel as “in tune” with your company anymore.
That’s where Know Your Company comes in. Every week, you’re guaranteed to learn something new about your company you never knew before. You’ll learn what folks are working on, you’ll learn how people feel about employee benefits, the vision of the company, etc. And you’ll learn more about your employees, and feel more connected to them as people.
How did you get started and why?
We were actually originally a software product built by Basecamp (formerly 37signals). In December 2013, they spun it out Know Your Company as it’s own separate company and asked me to run Know Your Company as its CEO (you can read more about the spin-off here).
How did I get involved in all of this, to begin with? A few years ago, I was an unhappy employee. I was working at an early stage ecommerce company. As an employee, I would have ideas and suggestions that I wanted to voice to our CEO – but I didn’t feel comfortable doing so. I felt that I couldn’t give open and honest feedback at work.
So I decided to quit my job and dedicate myself to solving this problem. I founded ClarityBox, a consulting practice for CEOs, to help CEOs uncover what their employees really thought about the company, and to help employees feel more connected to their company, as well.
Basecamp (then called 37signals) was my first official client. Coincidentally, Basecamp also happened to be focused on solving the same problem. They were building a software product…called Know Your Company. The rest is history from there!
Do you have an incredible customer success story you can share?
Ah, yes! We’re lucky to have quite a few customer success stories. One story that always sticks out to me is about one of our customers, Paul Bellow, co-CEO of Yellow Pencil, a web consultancy based in Canada. He told me that they actually changed their target market as a company because of suggestions that employees gave through Know Your Company. Without Know Your Company, Yellow Pencil never would’ve learned that valuable insight and made that important shift in their business.
What’s the best business decision you made in the last year?
By far, the best business decision I made in the last year is to hire our programmer, Matt. He absolutely kicks butt. Plus, we’re a small company too – two people, in fact 🙂 We support over 8,000 people who use our product. So choosing Employee #2 was critical. It goes to show how the right hire can really make all the difference. Matt, thank you for everything you do for us!
Can you share a tip, trick, hack, tool or service with our readers that makes you better, or makes your days more effective?
One tip I try to live by is “focus”. Sure, it’s common to hear, “You need to have focus in your business.” But practicing that on a daily basis requires real disciple.
For us, as a small company, we have to stay focused in order to survive. And it’s paid huge dividends.
To force ourselves to be focused, we’ll pick one thing to focus for a month – and only one thing – and throw all of our energy behind it. For instance, one month our focus might be to redesign our blog. Another month, it might be to improve our Icebreakers feature.
By only choosing to focus on one thing at a time, we’re able to execute on that one thing much better.
Why did you choose to become a EarthClassMail customer?
So checking our mail regularly can be a real obstacle. I loved the fact that EarthClassMail takes all the hassle out of it. Now, I no longer have to worry, “Oh is a client’s check arriving soon, and will I have time to cash it?” Or, “Am I going to miss an important insurance notice because I’m out on the road the next month?”
EarthClassMail saves me all that time and stress. Signing up for the service was a no-brainer for us.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today, any parting words or advice for our readers?
Thanks so much for having me here! Was fun to share a bit about ourselves, and hopefully, it was useful to learn about us too. If you’re business owner who’s felt those growing pains I mentioned earlier, definitely feel free to reach out to me directly at [email protected], or check us out at http://knowyourcompany.com. I’d love to see if we could help.