The art of product making – seven lessons I learnt while making Bizmica

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Back to the blog after long time. I feel really relaxed after rolling out Bizmica. On a Sunday morning I get some time to reflect back on the journey that led me to this destination. So cutting the nonsense, here I am putting a few lessons I learnt from my own work:

1. No effort is useless

We built Anatag earlier. It was an advertising platform using QR Codes. However it didn’t quite strike the market because of several reasons which I will line up in another post. Though we got to realize the potential of QR Codes in industrial systems, in traditional line-of-business applications. Then we got an inquiry from a client who wanted to put QR Codes on their products for inventory management. We started the project in September 2012; it was supposed to be integrated in a separate software that was being developed by the existing developer. However, the developer quit the project later on, and the client asked if we could finish his part as well. It was a business management system.

I took the bid. And then Bizmica was born in October 2012. But all of the credit goes to Anatag.

2. Prototype first. Code later.

At that point of time Pratikar was working with interns or freelancer. However, experiences weren’t really good – freelancers delay tasks while interns disappear quickly. In this time I was spending time interacting with the client, daily for 60-90 minutes which included mostly the clients’ team members shouting at each other in the room while I prepared some screen layouts on paper.

In November 2012, Avinash joined, and he used Visual Studio Lightswitch to build a prototype of Bizmica according to the screen layouts. We gave the prototype to the client. Every weekend the client would test the prototype and add more requirements. This continued for three months. We refined the requirements, delivered the new prototype and waited for feedback till next weekend.

At one point, client’s requirements became too complex to be handled by Lightswitch. Then, we switched to code.

3. Write scalable, modular code.

We were ready with basic set of requirements, a prototype was there as a template, and finances were okay okay. Now it was a time to make it real. I felt we needed a senior developer for writing good code. After a few rounds of interviews we were hopeless – due to several reasons. I didn’t know how to go ahead. So we changed the plan – Kunj Patel was doing his internship with us and I thought he’d be company to Avinash for writing code in a few weeks.

So I and Avinash started working on the basic diagrams, flowcharts, database, etc. We divided the system into modules that could be “plugged in” when needed. We also wrote our own libraries of code for optimum performance. Since I was the senior most in the team, I took the lead, and then passed on the templates to Avinash who was later accompanied by Kunj. In a  month or so, the system was ready for the client.

4. Clients are your biggest investors.

Our client tried Bizmica and started getting crazier ideas. Every week he started suggesting more and more features. For a month we continued coding, but then money matters made us worry. I frankly told them that we can’t continue developing since we have already given what was committed in the cost. To our surprise the client agreed to pay more. May be they trusted our skills. They then paid more money than anticipated and we were happier – we coded at double speed.

But apart from money the real investment from the clients’ end was the time that they spent with us. How would three science students build a business management system? Apart from a few lectures of MIS that I had attended during college, I had no idea of a business process. But frequent interaction and feedback from client helped us understand the system better than ever. I believe that was the biggest investment.

5. Failure is NOT an option.

We had literally sunk all of our money in Bizmica. Now we couldn’t even ask for payment from the client. All doors were closed. Suddenly a new window of opportunity appeared. On 3rd June 2012 I got a call that we have been shortlisted for Microsoft’s BizSpark Startup challenge. The prize money was huge and we needed that. So we made a presentation and pitch and were expecting to be in the top three.

But we didn’t win the prize. That too, after knowing that we were more deserving than the winners. I talked to the panel members in networking lunch and they told me that “We see a sustainable 10 year business in your product but you need to focus on acquiring customers and support”.

There was a silver lining – sustainable 10 year business!

We didn’t win the prize. But we got to know that our efforts were in correct direction. It was time to gear up. I and Avinash went to Himalaya mall, sat on a bench and did some planning on my laptop. We were determined like never before; we didn’t want to be failures.

6. Family and friends, best backup!

The fickle reality of life is that it sucks when you have best intentions. We were again out of money. Sandwiches were substituted with Parle G and cold drinks were substituted by water. I cycled to office to save petrol. In fact many days there was no petrol.

But we needed money desperately. I had already taken a lot from dad and didn’t want to make my parents aware of the struggle, so I turned to friends. I found that your best friends really believe in you, and they will help you when you need. Jalpesh Vadgama and Krinal Mehta provided financial help. Kaveri Singh and Darshan Patani helped us pay our server bill. I am sure we will repay them real soon.

7. Criticism is your best motivation

Yash Saxena kept complaining about our UI, saying that it’s “not an international-class product”. However I am used to turning a blind eye to critics so I ignored him. But one fine day I was there at a client meeting, showing the demo on my touch screen laptop. Incidentally while “tapping” on the screen I looked at it twice to see if I had “clicked the button”. The client gave a shabby reaction. He then told they would rather buy foreign software since Indian companies lack the “quality”. It was a Saturday, I am used to depressing weekends by now. But then I realized what both of these guys wanted.

I tried to re visualize the entire user interface from a “touch” perspective and I spent the Sunday designing the new layout. Fortunately Pooja joined us the next day and all four of us worked for a week, consistently, on building the new UI which is you can see now. We are proud of our work.

 

There has been a lot more learning than just these seven points. However, our journey has just begun and I am going to post interesting things about everything you’d want to know. Till then, feel free to leave a comment!

 

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