Product Development and a Strong Vision

March 13, 2010

At VendAsta we have been working for the better part of a year and a half on  projects that fall under our http://www.SocialConnections.com umbrella.  VendAsta has a team of world class software developers, but building  software products from scratch is difficult. Period.   You need more than a great team and a good idea.  If a product  is to have any chance of success it must have a clear and compelling Vision and it must be needed.  It must serve some need or  solve a  problem- business or otherwise.

For various reasons both internal and external, the vision for our http://www.SocialConnection.com products  hasn’t always been clear or consistent and at end of the day this is the responsibility of the executive and leadership .  Building, sharing and articulating a company’s vision is extremely important, but is easier said than done. Initially the vision for our products were not as strong as I personally would have liked them to be.  However, in the fall of 2009 a lot of what we had learned in the preceding year started to make sense and strong visions for StepRep and Mashedin emerged.

Having a strong vision is one thing, sharing it with the world is another.  As Mashedin and StepRep come together we will redoubling our efforts to share their vision.

To this end I recently sent an email to all our StepRep beta users explaining how we started, where we have come from, and where we are going.   Also I described our vision, which is to make StepRep the premier Reputation Intelligence and Social Engagement tool for small and medium businesses.

Here is the letter:

Subject: An Open Letter to StepRep Users

From: Brendan King, CEO

Hello {insert name here},

Please let me take this opportunity to thank you for using StepRep. We have been making a lot of changes and many of you have asked “What the heck is going on?”. Some of these changes are part of a larger development cycle and results in features that don’t work as expected and/or loss of  functionality. I want to thank you for hanging in there and bearing with us. The changes are all part of a larger plan.

In order to best explain what we are trying to achieve I thought it prudent to tell you where we came from and how we got to where we are.

Originally StepRep was part of MyFrontSteps, a solution to connect home owners with home service providers (real estate agents, plumbers, carpenters, landscapers, etc.). StepRep was envisioned as a personal Reputation Alert tool (much like Google Alerts) to allow these service providers to monitor what was being said about them online. It would also
help them to build their reputation by allowing them to place the positive stories on a widget which they could promote in various places. StepRep would also be the place where these small business people would be exposed and interact with questions from potential customers. Remember the “Asks” tab?

Along the way we discovered that we vastly underestimated the need for Reputation Intelligence and social engagement tools. We have found that small and medium business have a growing appetite and tremendous demand for these tools.

Our vision and goal is to make StepRep the premier Reputation Intelligence and Social Engagement tool for small and medium businesses. We want to do much more than provide alerts for key word terms. We want StepRep to give you information you can use to make your real world business better. This is a simplistic example but, imagine your business is a restaurant and people are saying “your lunch special is awesome but your bathrooms are dirty”, we want you to know. This way you can market your lunch special and clean up your bathrooms. We also want you to help you engage your customers where they are talking. Our Social publishing tool is designed to help you take advantage of Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. We intend to add Google Buzz and other places where consumers are talking. Lastly we want to make sure
your business can be found. Our business listing will help you get your business listed online in places like Google Local business center all the way down to small local directories.

To this end we have been doing a lot of work “under the hood” and some of our recent work is not complete. Again I want to reiterate my sincere apologies if these changes have inconvenienced you. I hope you will hang in there. We want StepRep to be the best Reputation Intelligence and social engagement tool available. We understand that in the short term the changes might be frustrating, especially when it is not clear how you can accomplish the tasks with which you are familiar. For instance, we are introducing automated sentiment detection (Positive, Neutral, Negative) so that you
don’t have to do all the work yourself. To do this we have had to temporarily disable your ability to set sentiment manually but your ability to assign sentiment will return very soon.

Over the 2nd quarter of 2010 you will notice many changes and improvements and we hope that you will enjoy them. If you have a feature request or are unsure about how to use our product please make suggestions or ask questions.

You may have also noticed that we have a new support system in place. Please feel free to email suggestions or questions to support@steprep.com

Thanks so much for your patience.

Brendan King

CEO

www.StepRep.com

I am looking forward to sharing the vision for our product www.Mashedin.com and hope to do that withing the next couple of weeks. Till then please feel free to check it out yourself and let us know what you think.


Sneak Preview of our New “Caves and Commons” Office Space

October 2, 2008

So we just moved into our new office this week.  lots of offices, lots of common space and lots of designated scrum space.  Huge paint on white boards.  Fun people. What more could you ask for?   I have a much longer and comprehensive post coming on office space, but for now check out some of the photos here.

 


VendAsta Raises 3M for MyFrontSteps

August 9, 2008
Last week we closed our first round of VC financing for MyFrontSteps and I have been too busy to blog!  The release hit the press Thursday and we were very fortunate to have it picked up by many publishers.
 
Here is an example on the the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch .  Inman news did their own version of the release here
Our local news paper the Star Phoenix also ran a story on VendAsta.  I have also done interviews for CBC radio and the Dow Jones Venture Wire.  No links for those yet.  
 
Thanks very much to the many people that helped along the way, you know who you are. 

Saskatoon’s Fledgling Tech Community

July 11, 2008
I have been meaning to post about Saskatoon and the tech sector for some time but Ginger Koolick beat me too it with this great post aptly titled “Tech Community in Saskaboom, SK” .  I have been involved in the tech community in Saskatoon for some time.  I founded Delron in 1989, CompuSmart in 1995, moved on to Point2 in  2000 and now in 2008 am a  founder of VendAsta and MyFrontSteps.
 
At Point2 over 90% of our customers and almost all of our business development work was done south of the border.   Having traveled extensively on business in the United States, I can tell you first hand that Saskatoon has a lot going for it. Saskatoon is a great place to live. It is a place you can afford (and want) to  raise a family.  Most of us can drive to work in the span of one or two songs. You can’t really even call that a commute. I have been to San Fransisco, New York, Atlanta, Phoenix and the like, and I can tell you that I appreciate the two extra hours a day I can spend with my family rather than strangers on a train or a jammed freeway.
 
However, the greatest thing Saskatoon has going for it, plain and simple,  is it’s great people.  Intelligent hard working people.   It is true that a lot of young people leave Saskatoon but those that remain are here for a reason. From the perspective of a business owner this is great news. Like the priest in California Dreaming you know they are going to stay.  That said, their personal motivation for staying need not be a ball and chain that prevents them from enjoying the same benefits of those living in the Valley.
 
What do I mean by that you might ask?   Well, I find it surprising how large a factor physical location plays in business development given how “connected’ the world has become.  When visiting other tech meccas it always amazes me how exciting and symbiotic their ecosystems are. Having a nucleus of companies and people sharing common work, interests and goals makes for  an exciting ecosystem.  The energy from the individual entities is stored by the ecosystem and resonates within; truly making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.  This is just starting to happen in Saskatoon .  We have only just begun to feel and understand the value this ecosystem can bring to all involved.  How fast and far we advance with this idea is up to us. If you are in the the industry don’t be afraid to share and interact with others.  Guys like my Neighbour, Ryan Lejbak a founder and owner of Zu have it got it right – you get by giving. He is making a great start by driving things like the Saskatoon Bar Camp.  If we work together we can build a thriving tech community right here in Saskatoon. 
 

AOL Buys Bebo

March 14, 2008
So AOL purchases Bebo for 850 Million - cash.  For those of you that don’t know Bebo is the number 4 social networking site in the world.  Bebo is huge in Europe and has a big base of users in California.  Not to long ago Microsoft purchased a tiny stake in Facebook with a 240 Million dollar investment. 
For sake of comparison AOL purchased Bebo for $21 dollars per member.  Microsoft’s investment in Facebook valued members at $204 dollars each.  Newscorp paid about $26 per member when it acquired MySpace. 
Why all the fuss about social networks?  Because, simply put,  Social Networking is going to an integral part of the “next big thing”.  More to come from VendAsta in the very near future.

Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business

March 11, 2008
We are heavy users of Google Docs and other free services. but the fact is we don’t use them because they are free – we use them because they are the best choice for us.  I have always believed that “Free”, in the right context, makes sense. Chris Anderson, author of the Long Tail and editor of Wired thinks so too.  Check out his latest cover story on Wired.” Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business
                         
You may not agree with all his statements but ultimately the ideas he espouses are dead on.  There are some particularly insightful statements such as “Technology is giving companies greater flexibility in how broadly they can define their markets, allowing them more freedom to give away products or services to one set of customers while selling to another set.”   
                         
Any provider of an online service should take note.  I know we will. 

I’m a Mac and I’m a PC

February 8, 2008

What more can I say about this.

I’m a PC and I’m a Mac


Freedom Potential

January 30, 2008
Starting a new company is both challenging and rewarding but most of all it is refreshing. Imagine, for a second, that you could walk away from whatever it is you are doing for a living.  Really walk away.  Not just take a holiday, but walk away for good from all the day to day triviality.  Walk away from the phone calls to return, the full inbox, reporting requirements, and the ever present pressure of management responsibilities.    
             
Just imagine what you could imagine. :)  Essentially this is exactly what I, along with 7 of the smartest guys I have had the great fortune to cross paths with have done.  It is amazing at what a great group of people, instilled with persistence and determination can conceive and create when given the environment, opportunity and time.      
                  
Just a few short months ago the 8 of us were bogged down with daily responsibilities and duties. Dreams and visions seemed hard to achieve. Product development felt like it was mired in molasses.  The list of bugs, maintenance and improvement tasks counted in the thousands.  This doesn’t just happen in individual companies. It seems it can affect entire industries as one of the really smart guys, Michael Wurzer points out in this blog post.
                      
But, for now at least, we are free to huddle up here in far away Saskatoon Saskatchewan free from the melee of meetings, inboxes and telephone calls. We are free to hire the brightest minds and build the greatest software. We will make the most of this refreshing opportunity, and we will try, for as long as we can to stave off the weight of daily duties and responsibilities. Ironically, success itself will  take its toll on our new found freedom and ensure a return to duties and responsibilities of daily life.  But with a little luck, and a ton of persistence, determination and effort we will create a company that sustains and encourages this creative culture no matter our size or success.

The New Foosball Tables Arrived Today!

January 30, 2008

Two brand new T2000 Stainless Steel Tornado Foosball tables arrived yesterday.  I want to put down a challenge right here and now.  If anyone comes and visits us and beats us on these tables we will pay for you’re flights and hotel.   Russ Caper, if your reading this practice up!  Russ was my foos partner at the GooglePlex party at Inman New York. You can see the tables in action here.


Think Different

January 29, 2008

Sometimes you have to think different to understand things.  The video below illustrates this point. I really believe the real estate industry is poised for significant change and that change can be good.  More about that here.


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