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Velora Newsletter | Issue 15 | July, 30th 2012

Hey!

While our new web app Clear Goals is being polished to perfection before its launch, we are wrapping up our tour around the US and recording new interviews for BrightLounge. We've met some very talented and inspiring people, and we are excited to share their stories with you.

This month our newsletter interview is with Allan Branch of Less Everything. We learn about his experience, building a software company from scratch, and launching one of the most popular accounting apps we know today. Allan is a nonconventional entrepreneur, and this interview will not only put a smile on your face, but may help you find some of the answers you are looking for!

This Month's Interview:

 Allan Branch
Co-founder of Less Everything

Allan is a one of a kind entrepreneur, with a great, although unconventional, business sense. Allan and Steve have built Less Accounting, and organized the Less Conference - for developers and entrepreneurs. Follow him on Twitter @allanbranch. 

V: Hi Allan, you and Steve Bristol started Less Everything in 2007, built Less Accounting, wrote a book and organized the Less Conference and LessMoney Conference for designers and developers. That's a good deal more than what many startups accomplish. What is the vision of Less Everything?

Allan: We don't have a mission statement and we're not good about being focused on one thing, but our goal as a company is to work with great, interesting people. We recently bought a company called CoSupport, which is run by Sarah Hatter, she started the 37signal support team and she teaches people how to give good customer support for web apps. We brought her company into Less Everything, rather than outsource her for our company because we like her - she's interesting, she's fun to work with, and she's got really great opinions. So we always just meet interesting people, and we have ideas about different projects. There's really no methodology behind the things we do, it just ends up like "That would be fun, let's do that".



V: Why did you build Less Accounting?

Allan: Before Steve and I became partners in 2007, we had done contract work together. I tried to use Quickbooks and I just couldn't do it; so I tried to do bookkeeping like using excel spreadsheets and I couldn't do that either, so we just decided to build this app called Little Accounting App, although it's impossible to build a "little" accounting app, because accounting apps are huge... So it came out of necessity and need and now it's a product that makes great money, has an awesome team and support staff... I also talk to accountants, which is always interesting. We came from this little, tiny idea that had grown to a full business.


Less Accounting - all in one accounting software for small businesses

V: What we noticed in particular about your marketing strategy is that it blends with humorous, genuine messages, for example, you compare Less Accounting to other apps and say that "it sucks less". Why did you decide to have that laid back, fun approach?

Allan: Well, Steve and I are very genuine people, we give hugs and are fun to be around with. There was never a plan like that - "Oh, we should try to be funny" - it just felt natural and we do what feels natural. I'm sure some people don't like our humor or find us unprofessional or strange... It feels natural to say these things, I don't try to be someone I'm not and it bleeds over into our products... It was never some sort of master-plan -trying to be funny or create this persona of someone who appears to be silly, for our products.

Steve and Allan of Less Everything

V: As you started building Less Accounting, what were some of challenges you faced with deciding what features to include?

Allan: Building an accounting app is a different animal. I think that people who build something like Twitter apps have it easy; because for us, we have to follow certain guidelines. One thing is called double entry accounting: it was created in the 15th century. So there are all these things that we have to follow or mimic, because accountants want to see these things. But then, if you explain it to a business owner in this way, then he wouldn't understand. So it wasn't so much about what features to integrate, but about how to make both parties happy. we have people coming to us and say "My accountant told me to find this feature, a bound sheet or a way to track my loans" and we'll say "Do you really need that?" and they will say "I don't think so, I don't even know what it is!". And so, it's this weird sort of balance of being technical enough to make the accountants happy and simple enough to help business owners understand what's going on. We have all the core features of an accounting app, but we're also making everyone happy.


A comparison between Less Accounting and other accounting/invoicing apps

V: When you started building Less Accounting, Steve was mostly handling the development, while you were making decisions on how it should work, look and be marketed, so tasks were pretty well defined for both of you. With that in mind, what's the hardest way to go when it comes to building a product: as a developer, designer or as a business owner?

Allan: That's tough! If you're just a marketing person and want to build a product, you have to trust the person that builds it. Steve and I have that trust in one another. I can do something in HTML, Javascript and CSS, but I have to trust his decisions. If you are a non-tech person, you have to trust the designer and the developer who builds it, that's really the hardest way. If you're a developer, I think that's the easiest way, personally, because they don't get judged that much like designers do. As long as their code works and the app is on, it's okay. With Less Accounting, if I change the button color, I'll get 50 emails that say "You're an idiot" and other 50 emails that say "you're genius", so you get judged constantly by people that have terrible opinions. I think that overall co-founders are vital in any project and I think a developer and a marketing person probably work the best together. I've seen really beautiful apps out there, with great code, that don't get any users because they have no marketing behind them.


Download the book: Don't Let Your Business Run You

V: What it comes down to is having a co-founder...

Allan: Yeah, Steve said, six years ago, when we were not business partners, he said "Do you wanna get married?" and he talked about us. A business relationship is very much like marriage. You have fights and arguments and it's all about the way you resolve those issues, move forward, communicate... If one partner is trying to dominate the other one, it's just not going to last. we have been believers in being co-founders and business partners, so Steve and I - we work really well together.

V: There are so many entrepreneurs launching web apps and web products every day. What is that one skill that entrepreneurs need to have to differentiate themselves in a super saturated environment?

Allan: You could be saying skill and thinking of design or development skills, but I think it's more of a character trait. Maybe something like persistence is really important. It took Less Accounting 2 years to make a couple thousand dollars a month. That means two years of doing consulting work and putting money and time into this product - that's almost like failing. So basically you need to be persistent and saying to yourself "This is going to work". Some other people out there doing consultation, they're probably making more money than you because they're putting more time into that, but you're putting all this time into your idea. Maybe it's persistence or maybe a great entrepreneur has to be slightly delusional. I always feel like when Steve and I are genuine and good to other people, helpful, it's just coming back to us: you put good into the world and eventually good comes back to you. You can also be a terrible designer or developer and your project takes off. It's either that you're persistent or you're trying to do good...



V: How important is it to choose the right code framework?

Allan: Hmm... I would use whatever gets you to a paying customer the fastest, whatever language that it. Before Steve came, I was doing Rails with a couple of contractors and we moved from ASP to Rails because I felt like the ASP developers I knew were not happy, stuck in a rut, and Rails was the newest thing out there. Anyone who is learning new things is passionate about what they do and I want to meet some really passionate people, and so I started looking at Rails developers and fell in love with the community. I didn't fall in love with the code because I didn't really know Rails, but I liked the people in the community, always helping each other. So I think it's not just about picking the right framework, but also about picking the right people and taking the product to market really fast.



V: What do you think is the secret to getting to a paying customer really fast?

Allan: To get someone to pay you, you first have to get them to sign up, and to get them to sign up, you need to get them off the front page, and you have to get to know about you first. It's this whole string of little battles. What we found was that customers would come back two or three times before signing up and paying, they have to see the value you're offering. You're basically in the process of designing or creating a little bit of curiosity. They have to go to the front page and say "Ooo, I want to know a little bit more", then they go to the next page and say "I want to know a little bit more" and so on. You're basically you're getting them to nod their head all the time until they pay for the service... You're trying to create a little bit more curiosity and intrigue, and hopefully that builds up into a great product, until they trust you enough to give you their credit card details...



V: Is offering free trials a good move if you're trying to get in paying customers?

Allan: With our app we had a 30 day free trial: so you enter your credit card number first and if you don't cancel, you get charged. We lowered that to 3 days and then went back up to 7. There's all sort of metrics and articles of what works best. You're basically trying to create a little bit more trust, get them to try your application and hopefully they decide to pay for it. Also, money back guarantees are important, and together with free trials, they're all about building trust and curiosity.



Thanks for the interview Allan, surely our readers will appreciate your advice on web entrepreneurship!

Did you know we have video interviews with designers and creatives around the world? Watch BrightLounge and discover inspiring stories from different countries.

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The Velora Studios Team
 

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