How not to build a Business app.
My name is Ashwin Co-founder of Airbooks App, I’m 32 and presently live in Bangalore, India. Previously I worked as a Business Manager at a fintech startup. I have been in Fintech for almost 3+ years.
Previously I had built and launched a complete web-based Accounting software called vaporinterface.com. I did not have experience building a startup and without speaking to any potential customers I spent over a year building the entire Website and working with around 12 freelancers from Upwork. We spent just around USD 2500, Which helped me save a lot of money but the process of building the product was very slow since most of the freelancers were working on multiple projects. Once we launched we had a few signups, but there was too much competition and most of the businesses preferred established software since their CA’s had advised them. We had approached some investors and they felt I needed more experience & the product lacked uniqueness. Over time I decided to take a break and go back to a job, I brought down the website due to server charges but I did not shut down the company because somewhere I felt I might go back to building another product, the entrepreneurial itch was always there in me.
After almost one year in the job, while we were conducting a market survey with almost 500-700 small businesses to understand what problems they had with payments, collection, accounting, etc, most of the small businesses said they were looking for a mobile version of an accounting app since it didn’t need many investments like purchasing a Laptop & broadband Internet connection. I got to know that these small businesses already owned a smartphone but they just needed a simple accounting & Inventory app which did not need any training on how to use the app. This idea excited me, but this time I did not want to repeat the mistake so I decided to speak to a few people, during the lunch break I had discussed this idea with my friend who was also a colleague of mine, after discussing the uniqueness of the product he liked the idea, I spoke to a few more people like CA’s and some small business owners, even liked the idea. Small businesses said they just needed some basic Accounting & Inventory features to manage their business and we took note of it. Finally, I decided to begin working on the idea.
Over time I did research and started working on the Product requirements document in the mornings from 5-8 am and again in the evenings from 9-11 pm since I was working in my previous company during the day. It was the first time I was working on a mobile app. It took me around a month to get the entire PRD ready and now it was time to hunt for a good designer.
Design & Development
While trying to find a good freelance designer my preference was anyone nearby in Bangalore, India since it was easier to meet in person and have a discussion. I tried to search on Upwork but there was no filter option to choose city so I decided to look elsewhere and found out Behance & Dribbble were good websites. I chose Behance because it didn’t have a paid subscription to contact designers and I filtered out Mobile app designers in Bangalore. After going through many design portfolios I shortlisted a few and decided to contact each one. I contacted this guy called Shreekanth who had a good portfolio, he had an eye for design & colors and he was working at Oracle at that time, I knew he was quite talented and the right person for the job. We negotiated and fixed the price for USD 270 and started with the designs. Halfway through the work, the designer’s brother had expired but he was kind enough to take just a 7-8 days break and complete the designs. I got the logo designed by myself.
Next, I had to look for a backend developer, this time I was clear not to go for a freelancer but to choose a development agency so that we can complete the work as planned. I made a job post on Upwork and got in touch with an agency from Delhi. It started well, but later over the next few months the code was messed up, the agency lacked much knowledge about app development, they did not have a project manager, and ended up with just 20-30% of work done over 6 months, I couldn’t see any progress so I canceled the contract and started to look for a different development company in Bangalore so that I could meet them often. I googled ‘app development companies in Bangalore’, spoke to almost 10 companies, and finalized one. I met them in person at Coffee day, discussed their previous experience and projects, informed them about my budget, signed an NDA, and then started the project again.
During this time while the development was going on, I read an article on yourstory.com about a 25 yr old entrepreneur who was making a fortune selling yoga mats & fitness products on Flipkart. I was impressed by the idea and felt we could self-fund our startup at the initial stage by selling something on e-commerce sites. Since we were a tech company I thought selling an inexpensive electronic product would be ideal to start with, so we thought mobile phone memory cards were the best option. I contacted a guy on Indiamart.com who was selling Samsung memory cards wholesale. I went to his office and bought a pack of 10 memory cards, I purchased a small amount just to check how selling on e-commerce works. For some unknown reasons I was not able to list it on Flipkart or amazon so I listed it on Shopclues. We were getting regular orders from the first day but the problem arrived, I spent most of my time packing and delivering the product, the profit margins we too low as well, in addition to this some of the deliveries were canceled by the customers and coming back to us because of the Pandemic. I realized it’s not something that can be done part-time, selling on e-commerce platforms needs full-time commitment and some staff as well to be profitable. I decided not to continue further on this and focus on our app development.
The development company we were working with had a good experience, they planned the work well and completed the project as I had expected. They re-coded almost 80% of the project, completed the pending work, and released the app in just 4 months. We needed a static website, so I got the website done by myself on WordPress.
Post Launch – Marketing
Since most of our target customers are micro and small businesses, we are marketing on Google ads and Facebook ads. We tried some posts on Facebook groups for a month but we did not see any response, not a single like or comment. One of my friends advised me on how to generate leads from FB groups, we tried that method with some slight changes and posted about one of our app features on a FB group, and boom we got 1100 comments with their phone numbers in 3 days wanting to try the app. We contacted them through WhatsApp and got a lot of signups.
The app is presently free for users, soon we will be charging new users on a subscription basis. We are not funded yet, once we start getting paid customers we will look for funds from Angels or VCs.
If you liked this blog about our journey please download and try the new Airbooks app, the app is for global Small businesses & Self-Employed to manage their Billing and Inventory on Mobile. You can write to us at [email protected]