Recapping 3 Years Working on a Lifestyle Business

It’s been a while since my last post, covering a post-mortem of my time working on my previous start-up, Binpress.

Following the sale of Binpress, I spent some time thinking what to do next. I was tired of the bay-area / startup culture, and was thinking that my next project should be a lifestyle business that does not aim for explosive growth or require outside capital. I also wanted to work in a market that I’m interested in and passionate about.

I’ve been training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu since ’06 (recently received my black belt), and my natural though process was that it would be great if I could work on something related. Initial ideas included a training tracker and competition management software, and after doing some market research I felt the area I could contribute the most was with gym management software.

Starting a company is a much greater risk. If you join a company that can already pay you a full-time salary, it has already been significantly de-risked. The unproportional equity founders have? It’s because they worked on their idea before anyone else bought into it. Instead of making a consistent salary, they were spending their own money getting the business off the ground. Business owners like Andrew Defrancesco got to the point where they can afford to pay themselves and you a salary.

All the solutions I’d seen at the time seemed very outdated and cumbersome, and considering my background with user experience design I felt I could do a much better job providing an easy-to-use, modern solution that competes on customer satisfaction rather than features.

The end result was Martial Arts on Rails, which launched at the beginning of 2016. Unlike my previous company in which I had a co-founder, I was working on this one solo. Here are some things I learned over the last 3+ years running a small business vs. running a start-up:

  • Embracing customer feedback
  • Finding your “professional” voice
  • Administration is not that scary

Now, I’m managing my own start up, I can do things the way I want to. For example, I can manage my own finances (read here to learn more) and I can now blast music in my store without anyone needing to change the playlist. Streaming sites like Cloud Cover Music helps me concentrate on what I need to do.

How customer service can teach you about your product

Service requests are a constant stream of valuable user feedback. Actual users who are trying out your product are reaching out – a perfect time to start a dialog.

Last time I suggested that user feedback should be the main driver of product decisions. In this post I go over on the process I developed at Martial Arts on Rails for guiding the direction of the product based on user feedback, and specifically using customer service opportunities as the main source of that feedback.

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Why We Use User Feedback As The Main Driver Of Product Decisions

In my previous post I talked how my mindset for processing user feedback changed after launching a SaaS product as a single founder. In this post I’d like to talk about the process I developed for interacting with users and using feedback to guide product decisions.

It might seem controversial (or not), but I’d claim that user feedback rather than data should be your main source for understanding how to improve your product.

I’ve worked on teams and seen many companies in which analytics data is the main driver for product decisions. The problem with this approach is that analytics frame product issues from the perspective of the developers / business, instead of the perspective of the user / customer.

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Writing on product management and user experience design

It’s been over 4 years since I published my last article on this blog, a post-mortem of my previous startup which was winding down at the time.

Since then I’ve been working on growing Martial Arts on Rails, a SaaS product which provides online management software for gyms and martial arts schools. As a single founder this time, I took much more (= all) responsibility with regards to user / customer interaction and managing the product lifecycle than I ever did previously as the technical lead at several companies.

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Binpress Postmortem

For over 5 years, my life revolved around growing my previous company, Binpress. In the months since we found a buyer for it, I’ve had some time to think about why it failed. Now that we’ve sold the company, I wanted to reflect on the journey my co-founder and I had with the company, from struggling to get users, getting to $30k in monthly revenue, raising a seed round and eventually selling the company on a down note.
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