Opportunities Are Deals and Using Intro CRM

In my last post, I talked about how I am prioritizing Opportunity Workflows for Tracking Deals in Intro CRM. I shared how Opportunities can include related things like access to capital or marketing. Then I changed my mind! This is a big shift. And I made it because of bootstrapping. Opportunities are Deals now. And they’re focused exclusively on sales. Read why, below.

Adding a Little Character

First update today is a fun one! I’ve started adding a little character to Intro CRM, starting with the index page for the app itself.

Image of the current index page for Intro CRM sales software, featuring a banner headline, registration form, and illustration of a person multi-tasking.
This is bootstrapped CRM software, so starting with a free (attribution-required) image while talking to illustrators about pricing for more work.

The Intro CRM app is on a separate page from this blog. My plan is to have it be available at a separate subdomain in the future, and have the sales and marketing site be available at the main domain (IntroCRM.com).

I haven’t looked into which convention to use for the app subdomain. For example, Basecamp uses 3.basecamp.com whereas Fathom Analytics uses app.usefathom.com. Basecamp allows users to remain on older instances and I don’t think they require users to migrate.

Do you have experience with these conventions? If so, let me know!

Meet: Deals

The big decision: I’m keeping this widget focused on sales. I am going to retain the sales-enabling activities idea, but in Tasks instead. As a result, I changed the name from Opportunities to Deals. To focus more on the sales aspect, and also because it’s a shorter, simpler word that’s easier to say. Have a look at the Overview.

Basic overview of deals in Intro CRM in the live version.

Two things to point out here:

  1. Relationships. I’m still building out the Tasks and People widgets, so relationships between things, like the person associated with a deal are not here yet. You’re going to have similarly titled deals and so having related the person and/or the company is important. It’s a time saver. That will come later.
  2. Layout. I’m struggling with how to handle Close Date. Aesthetically, it feels like it makes sense to have Close Date first (on the left). But, close dates can change easily, are often arbitrary, and is that really the most important thing to see first?

How would you handle Title and Close Date? Which do you think should come first?

Sales Forecasting

Deal Forecast visualization. Note: No Kanban!

Every early stage entrepreneur wants go from “fingers crossed” to feeling more confident about future revenue. Because y’know… Bills.

For small businesses, entrepreneurs, and freelancers, it’s really a set of basic questions: How many deals am I working on, what are they worth, how developed are they? I’m reasonably confident about how I’m answering these questions with these four graphs. This doesn’t weight for pipeline stage though, and that’s something I’ll be thinking about.

This is like looking through the front windshield of a vehicle, since you’re hurtling at uncomfortable speeds and if you hit something unexpected it can be massively problematic and injurious.

You will see there is not a Kanban-style sales pipeline visualization. I am not going to ship that feature. Instead, I’m working on a two-axis pipeline visualization—something like a heat map matrix.

Updating Deals

Updating deals is easy. Click the little icon on the right, and a pop-up allows you to edit both the main data points and additional logging for information like Notes.

Detailed view of a deal in Intro CRM, changes are automatically saved and trigger a success alert.

There are two interactive features not shown in the static image above:

Screen capture showing active hover states and successful action alerts in the Deals Detailed View.

Now, this is basic and as mentioned above, I’m going to want to inter-connect between People and Tasks. But so far, this is a good start and I don’t want it to be that much more complicated!

Using Intro CRM

With all these features in-place, it’s official. I’m tracking my own deals—right now—using Intro CRM. I haven’t made the full migration yet (as I need to build importing in), but I’m starting fresh right now.

… Data harvesting distract(s) from the real work of relationship-building with your customers.

This workflow of trialing Intro CRM before fully migrating is something that I suspect many users will experience when the product becomes available. They’ll have some other system in-place and may not make the full leap right away. Eventually, for many users it will be a simple, privacy-friendly tool that facilitates introductions to new customers. It will be built to sustain a small business with relatively low deal volume. Not all users, however.

Intro CRM will also perform as an introductory CRM for many users. As an introductory CRM for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and freelancers, it will need to be easy to use and get quick wins. Eventually, they will outgrow it and that’s a good thing.

Going through this process, it is reinforcing why I’m building this product. You really don’t need that much information about your customers. A fraction of the features in my conventional CRM are actually necessary—and in practice—they get in the way. And the prevalent sales and marketing technology practices of data harvesting distract from the real work of relationship-building with your customers.

Be the First to Know

Enjoying an inside look at building a CRM for entrepreneurs and freelancers? Be the first to know by signing up for email updates. Get emails written personally by me (Harris Kenny) without any tracking or surveillance. It’s true! I don’t know the open rates, the click-through rates, or who even opens my emails.

Success! You're on the list.

Opportunity Workflows and CRM Integration with Basecamp and Fathom Analytics

What I’m Building Right Now

As I explained a few weeks ago in Bootstrapping Intro CRM Alpha, I’m bootstrapping this business starting with building a v1 using Bubble. See screenshots below.

I’m starting with the Opportunities workflow and the scaffolding for People and Tasks. In parallel, my long-term hope is that Intro CRM will integrate with other like-minded software platforms like Basecamp and Fathom.

Oh and I officially set up Intro CRM in Basecamp for projects. So things are starting to get formal around here! This update went out first to the mailing list, so if you’re interested in following along please sign up below.

Success! You're on the list.

Opportunities, Leverage, and Priorities

CRM product managers seem to assume people will use and love the entire product they’re building. Nope. But CRMs can help manage three things:

  1. People: People who you might work with.
  2. Tasks: Activities to advance relationships.
  3. Opportunities: Deals to generate sales.

Tracking opportunities is the most important thing in the short-run. It’s where money comes from! And I’ve seen it be the part of CRMs founders use most. 

However in the long run, it is relationships with people that will create the most value for your business. 

Opportunities are the highest leverage point where Intro CRM needs to create value right away. So I’m starting building there. When opportunities close and users see value in the tool, the goal is to make managing People and Tasks easy, so users move up to the long-term relationship building work.

Here’s what that looks like so far:

Early version of the Opportunities widget. This is a working prototype.

This is the early stage of the Opportunities dashboard. There are two questions I’m asking myself. First, what would it look like to include non-sales—but growth driving—activities? Think Marketing, Partnerships, Capital.

These are in-scope for an entrepreneur. These wouldn’t make sense for a sales manager or rep. using at typical CRM.

The next question: De-emphasizing deal value?

Deal value is often made up, unknown, subject to change quickly, or only reflects initial value but not lifetime potential. It also doesn’t capture the difference between revenue, income, and cash flow.

Maybe deal value is a distraction. Maybe not.

What do you think? Would non-sales activities be distracting? Is deal value essential in an overview? Let me know in the comments below or by tagging Intro CRM on Twitter.

Basecamp and Fathom Integrations

People want CRMs to do everything, but I think there are purpose-built solutions for Accounting, Invoicing, e-Signature, and more.

I want Intro CRM to do its job well. It will be responsive, so it can scale and sit in a browser alongside other applications. As a companion app.

But if there were other applications that I wanted to integrate with, the first two at the top of my list would be Basecamp and Fathom. Since I’m new to this, it’s more complex for me and I’ve started working on this early.

Intro CRM is officially set up with a Basecamp developer account.

The biggest challenge with Basecamp will be integrating while also allowing tasks in Intro CRM to stand on their own, so that it’s optional. I can immediately see how I’d personally use this integration, so I hope to figure it out.

As it relates to Fathom, they are working on their public API and the biggest question is where that data should live.

One question I got from the MicroConf Slack group about this idea was their wondering how I’d integrate it since Fathom is privacy focused.

Fair point! I’m not going to be able to integrate like other platforms do, that use tracking of individuals. (Think Hubspot, Marketo, Pardot.)

However I do think there is potential to include referrers, popular content, maybe even goal tracking to give you a sense of the sales health of the business through it’s pipeline top of funnel.

Dashboard concept showing the Fathom data I find the most sales-informative.

In practice, my experience is that most founders don’t look at their web analytics at all because it (read: Google Analytics) is too complicated. Fathom addresses that with their simple and powerful approach.

Log in to Twitter to vote in this poll!

So assuming you’re now checking your analytics, where would you want that data presented in a CRM, if at all? I published a poll on Twitter.

Don’t feel like logging into Twitter? Reply here and let me know!

That’s all for today.

The next update will be a good one because I’ve already started using Intro CRM in my business to track Opportunities. It’s not featured enough for a full cut over yet, but it’s a start!

Bootstrapping Intro CRM Alpha

Intro CRM is an independent, bootstrapped project. I’m funding the business entirely through proceeds from my consulting business (Kenny Consulting Group, LLC) which will explain a few early decisions I’ve made about how to get this off the ground. I’ll talk through that further below and also share some open questions I’m still thinking about.

Why Start This Project

I’ve been using CRM software for over a decade, working primarily in and for small organizations. I’m building the tool I wish existed. The three main problems I want to solve for entrepreneurs are:

  1. Visualizing your potential business right now. Typically conceived of as a pipeline with Kanban-style boards, I think there’s a better way to do this. Relationships aren’t linear, they don’t go left to right.
  2. Tracking your future business. CRMs are built for salespeople, not entrepreneurs. Basic cash flow forecasting would be helpful so you can anticipate what sales activities you should do today.
  3. Getting out of the way. Most features are built into CRMs so managers can have visibility into what their employees are doing. Entrepreneurs don’t need this. Busywork tools get rightly ignored.

And as you get rolling, provide insight into what CRM is the best fit moving forward. I believe in sales, you learn by doing. Built-in templates for different sales approaches will help you conduct customer development and see what works. Then if-needed, use that knowledge to migrate to a more complex system when you’re ready to grow your team.

I’m building this tool as quickly as I can because I want to deploy it in my client work right now.

Why Start This Way?

I want to build a business that lasts and I want to build a business that supports my personal lifestyle. I believe an independent, bootstrapped company is the best fit based on the dozens of companies I’ve had close exposure in my career so far. I’m not interested taking conventional angel investments or venture capital (though I’d take a call from Indie.VC or TinySeed any day of the week).

I think this business model best aligns me with the customers I’m hoping to serve and it will give me a platform to advance privacy-conscious approaches that are rare in sales and marketing technologies.

Build a product, set a price, make it better. Rinse and repeat. Work sustainable hours, treat employees and contractors well, try to make the world a little bit of a better place. My wife and I are fortunate to be expecting our first child—a girl!—in September. I want to be around to support whatever she’s into, whether it’s soccer or playing the tuba.

I’ve wanted to build this kind of company since first seeing David Heinemeier Hansson’s talk at Y Combinator’s Startup School in 2008:

David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) created Ruby on Rails and is the CTO at Basecamp (formerly 37 Signals). They recently launched a new email product HEY.

Where We’re Starting

Here’s a quick tech stack overview:

  • Web Application: I’m using the NoCode platform Bubble to create a functional minimum viable product that I plan on deploying in my own business and to drive client work. I’m currently using the free Hobby tier to get started.
  • Web site: This is currently hosted on a basic, personal WordPress site. The only analytics I’m using right now are the ones baked in with WordPress. I’m planning on getting setup with Fathom in the future.
  • Email Newsletter: I’m setup with the free tier on MailChimp, with tracking disabled on all campaigns.
  • Project Management: I’m setup with the free tier on Basecamp, which I’ve used for many projects and is a massive inspiration for my work.
  • Entity: Intro CRM is registered as a Trade Name under Kenny Consulting Group, LLC. I’ll be relying on my current business’ infrastructure for the time being, including: accounting, email, project management, phone number, etc.

You can see a preview of what the current homepage looks like below:

Plain and simple look at the Intro CRM v0.2 homepage.

Will It Be Open Source?

Working in Open Source since 2014, I have learned there are many ways to do it. Freely licensing code and media, using open source tools and supporting those who make them, open access to data and information, and documenting how a product itself works.

To bootstrap this with the tools I’m using, I’m constrained in how much can be open source in the first place—nothing useful, right now. My first priority is getting this off the ground and serving my consulting business clients. However I’m actively thinking through all this and the best ways I can contribute to the open source community through this project.

Where We’re Going

As the app gets built, my current plan is to offer a paid version and gradually upgrade the infrastructure. If an incremental approach isn’t viable, then I’ll save more money up to do a more substantial v1 release of the product. So far, this approach seems viable. For guidance, I’ve joined Indie Hackers and am excited to learn from that community as I build.

Intro CRM will (hopefully) become a proper, cross-platform web application. Looking to HEY as inspiration, I love how they’ve supported Linux, Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, plus you can access HEY from several web browsers.

To follow along, sign up for the Intro CRM email newsletter (below) and follow Intro CRM on Twitter. We don’t track open or click-through rates, so you’ll have to reply or comment to let me know what you think.

Success! You're on the list.

Hello, World

After over ten years working with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, one thing sticks out. Whether you are introducing a new product, pursuing a new market, or starting an entirely new business: There aren’t good tools for helping with early sales—the hybrid work that spans both customer development and customer relationship management.

What was I doing for those ten years? Every level of sales work, from unpaid cold calling intern to President overseeing Sales and Marketing. Then I went out on my own as an independent consultant (my practice: Kenny Consulting Group, LLC), working alongside business owners focused on product market fit and closing early sales. I started a podcast for technical people who want to start their own business (hear here: Hello Blink Show).

Closing deals isn’t enough. In the early days, closing deals can even mislead you and be like a red herring. You want repeatability and similar customer stories to build something meaningful. The shortcomings of off-the-shelf CRM solutions (beyond spreadsheets, which is an entirely separate conversation), fall into three categories outlined below.

Unknown Unknowns

  • Path Dependency: When you pick a platform, you pick all the choices they made about how you work. You don’t know where customers will come from. Ideally you can experiment between ways of selling, like outbound, inbound, and referrals.
  • Naive Buyers: When you don’t know how you’re going to market, you will eventually learn about the differences in platform philosophies that manifest in features. When you’re ready to switch gears, it’s costly because you’re committed.
  • Integration Ignorance: Beyond core functionality of the platform, what integrations are most important? Do you want to integrate with your email inbox or accounting software? What about payment processors? You don’t know yet.

Built Too Big

  • Administrative Fatigue: Hello busywork, meant to help sales representatives stay on target and stay accountable to managers. Business owners don’t have time to update these fields. You know that you have better things to do.
  • Up-Selling and Lock-In: Because these platforms are built for teams, they spend a lot of resources trying to up-sell new and more expensive features and lock you in to their platform. What you need is guidance to migrate later, when you’re ready.
  • False Confidence: You don’t know enough to fill out fields like Close Date, Deal Value, and Industry. So you guess, do workarounds, try one thing and then try another. You don’t know enough to know these answers, yet.

Information Silos

  • Preventing Pattern Mapping: Fields and categories are compartmentalized into Contacts, Leads, and Deals. There are not tools built to help with customer development and subsequent pattern matching. It’s all far too linear.
  • Sales in Isolation: Related activities like fundraising, banking, and channel partnerships affect the financial growth of your business but aren’t taken into consideration. Sales is ultimately about cash flow and profit.
  • Business Health: The standard kanban-style pipeline boards don’t reflect what it’s really like to grow business relationships or a business. Maintaining long-term relationships and other “atypical” activities are vital to gaining early traction but get shoe-horned in.

… And?

With that ten years of frustration out, let’s talk about what’s next. Intro CRM is going to be an independent company aimed at solving these problems. This means bootstrapping and funding growth from customers. Progressively, we’ll build a more sophisticated product and solve bigger problems in better ways. I’ll outline how in the weeks to come.

This project will remain a part of Kenny Consulting Group, LLC for the foreseeable future. I’ll be building the platform out, using it myself, testing it with clients, and finding interested new users. If successful, Intro CRM will likely spin out into its own company.

I want to help people start their own companies. Working for myself has changed my life and I wish it on anyone who’s up for the challenge. Gaining early customers is the essential first step and after doing this work in a highly manual way, I hope to build a tool that makes it easy.

Curious? Sign up for updates below, or follow us on Twitter.

Harris Kenny

Success! You're on the list.