My first business gave my competition more sales, and I was too dumb (young) to see it.

ContentApp isn’t my first attempt at business, and as with many other developers, my first side business was a complete failure.

If you rewind 6 or so years, mobile websites were a new thing (at least in the recruitment industry!) and companies were slow to move. Most were blissfully unaware that their website was losing them candidates on a daily basis or that Google was about to put them down the search rankings significantly.

At the time, a popular solution was to create a mobile website on a separate subdomain, such as m.recruitmentwebsite.com rather than a responsive site. I quickly realised that this was an opportunity and set to work creating a solution. I spent most of my evenings coding for at least 5 months, during which time I neglected my wife, friends and health – I was fixated that this idea was going to make me a millionaire! I’d already planned how to spend the money.

The solution was simple, I would give clients a small snippet of code to insert into their existing website that would detect when someone was on a mobile device. Mobile visitors were then automatically redirected to a mobile version of the website that was powered by myself. The mobile website would be fully branded, and have powerful job search / application methods that would dramatically increase application rates (That’s ROI right there!). The system would automatically synchronise jobs from the desktop site, meaning the client didn’t have to change their workflow whatsoever. It was perfect, and I’d built it.

To recap, I had identified a problem with a large customer base, I had built a solution that gives the customer a very clear, measurable ROI and it only involved them adding a small code snippet to their website once. I was onto a winner…until I wasn’t.

In the weeks that followed the launch, I quickly realised my target customers were not technically savvy, at least not enough to put a small snippet of code onto their website. While this might seem trivial to a developer, this is a BIG ask of a customer who works in a different domain.

At the time of the launch, I called a LOT of potential clients and made them realise they had an issue; they needed a mobile website. They were bought into the system and the new application methods, they were hungry for the additional applicants it was going to deliver, and they were ready to pay to make that happen. I’d done the hard part, I had found a problem and sold a solution.

The final part of implementation was simple, they just had to implement the now infamous code snippet and they did that by emailing it to their current website developers. The people they were already paying money to, had a relationship with, trusted and more importantly, the people who were in control.

Rather than implement my code snippet, they sold them their own mobile solution. I lost every opportunity I created and the competition got the easiest up-sell they ever had, as I had already done the hard part. Months of my life wasted.

This lesson was a valuable one for me, albeit obvious now, you need to retain control over the adoption of your product. I also realised that while I understood the technical aspects incredibly well, I needed to learn more around commercials and product. For example, if I had got the client to sign a contract before they approached their developers, they would have continued to adopt my solution in parallel to their existing website provider.

If you’re a developer reading this, remember to build something very simple to start and get customer feedback early. Try and sell it at every stage. Finishing that additional feature, making the infrastructure scale are all excuses you’re making to yourself because you’re scared of failure and believe me, it hurts a lot more when you’ve wasted months and fail anyway. I plead with you to put the product out there as early as possible so you fail early, or hopefully find obstacles in your delivery process and can plan how to overcome them.

For the next 5 years of my career, I decided to learn every single day. This attitude paid off and I reached CTO of a global recruitment software company before the age of 30 (More on that another time) which gives me the foundations to ensure ContentApp is a success; and the early signs are positive, with over 50 clients in the space of 3 months, a 6 month product roadmap that is solely based on client needs and we’ve had incredible feedback.

I’m so excited to see people loving our minimum viable product and know that the features we’re delivering over the next few months will add fuel to the fire. If you’d like to learn more about ContentApp for your recruitment business, or think I can help you with anything, please get in touch – I’d love to help.

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