Posts tagged BizSpark

Microsoft BizSpark Retrospective

In October of this year Resgrid graduated form the Microsoft BizSpark program after 3 years. In those 3 years I’ve had the chance to experience a number of things the program offered and want to give a retrospective on the program as a whole.

startup-pirates-119-876fb79e0905b58bf21f-For the uninitiated the BizSpark program is a way startups can leverage Microsoft technologies or services at zero (or low cost) for 3 years. There program also features outreach support, partners with Incubators and Accelerators and much more.

 

It’s a WIN-WIN for Microsoft and for Startups. The startup gets access to Microsoft tech, products and services for free or at reasonable rates and Microsoft has a chance to enable a long term relationship.

The Good

The good parts of the BizSpark program are the access to Microsoft products and services. With BizSpark you get an MSDN Ultimate license, which gives you licenses to a large number of products. Plus you get $150/mo Azure credit, perfect for testing and development.

Microsoft helps your startups visibility as well. They have a Featured Startup section that is shown to a broad audience. There were other options put forward in front of us, some mention in blog articles and a podcast (although that never materialized).

The Bad

If your startup is hardware dependent (i.e. Surface devices) there is limited help from Microsoft in that area, see the section below. Support and/or offers for your company could be based on the current marketing priorities for Microsoft. For example when Resgrid was going through the BizSpark program the priority was Open Source, if your software or service was built on no open source during that time frame, no additional support or offers for you.

The Ugly

I only had a point of contact with Microsoft for about a week and he was based out of the East Coast. I live about a 45 minute drive from MSLI’s offices, yet there was no one in my area apparently. I’m also unclear if he was an MVP, Evangelist, Advisor or what. Past that I had no contact with Microsoft and received no help in sourcing hardware (trying to rent or buy Surface devices for development of our software in Police, Fire, EMS vehicles).

Also if your not in a major metro area or one of the coasts you can almost forget about BizSpark Plus. Incubators I looked at would not accept distant startups and some of them didn’t exist or their online presence didn’t exist. This is a shame, as there are entrepreneurs and startups all over the country and the world, but if your not lucky to live in the Bay Area, Seattle, NYC, well no plus for you.

Conclusion

Microsoft’s BizSpark is a great program and I recommend it to everyone I talk to thinking about starting up. But to get the full benefit you’re startup needs to be located in certain areas and be aligned with Microsoft’s current marking priorities. It also doesn’t hurt if your startup is targeting other businesses (B2B software) as they will receive a fair amount of the BizSpark program communications that you may be a part of.

It would be nice for Microsoft to have more Reps or Advisors around to help guide startups through the program and make the most of it. I would also hope that in the future Microsoft finds a way to open up BizSpark Plus to more areas either through expanding it’s partners or in this age using the Internet.

Resgrid is a SaaS product utilizing Microsoft Azure, providing logistics, management and communication tools to first responder organizations like volunteer fire departments, career fire departments, EMS, search and rescue, CERT, public safety, disaster relief organizations, etc. It was founded in late 2012 by myself and Jason Jarrett (staxmanade).

Resgrid is a Featured Microsoft Startup

Today Resgrid is being featured by Microsoft as their featured BizSpark startup. Resgrid is a SaaS product deployed on Microsoft Azure, providing logistics, management and communication tools to first responder organizations like volunteer fire, career fire, EMS, search and rescue, public safety, disaster relief organizations, etc. It was founded in late 2012 by myself and Jason Jarrett (staxmanade).

BizSpark_Startup-940x456For me this is a big deal. I’m sure Microsoft is getting tons of companies applying to be featured and they picked us, pretty cool. But I’m also excited because Resgrid currently is a very niche service, we are geared toward first responders. Most large companies, VC’s, investors, PR companies, writers, etc all want the consumer product story, the next Facebook or Twitter, startups like us don’t get much love.

Serving first responders is a very unique, challenging and rewarding niche to be in. I’m a volunteer firefighter and EMT and love the fire service. But there aren’t a lot of technology companies out there that serve the fire service or first responders. Sure there are some big guys out there with CAD systems, onboard computers, HUD’s, etc. But these technologies cost millions of dollars to implement, install and maintain.

There aren’t many “Web 2.0” technology companies out there serving this market, especially in countries other then the United States. Resgrid is one of a very small number of vendors serving the non-US markets for first responders. We’ve done this in such a short time span by building our solution in a cloud/Azure first mentality.

This is just the start for Resgrid, we are looking forward to expanding our service to more first responder organizations the world over, ensuing that they all get a great service. We are this far already because of our partnership with Microsoft and the Bizspark program. As we look to the future we are excited with the features and capabilities Microsoft and Azure give us, allowing us to continue to serve our existing customers and grow.

Check out Microsoft TechNet write up on Resgrid then check out Azure and the BizSpark program.

Forcing yourself to launch your product

So you’ve spent all this time building a product or service, when do you finally launch it for money? This can be one of the more difficult decisions that you have to make. As a developer we are hard wired to be passionate about our craft, especially when it’s our baby. Even the most detached developer gets that glimmer in the eye when it’s about the code they wrote for that critical process. When it’s your own product or service and a direct representation of you sending it out into the wild, and asking money for it, prepare for an internal tug of war like you cannot imagine.

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Besides naming your company or product one of the most important emotional decisions that you will have to make is when to launch your startups product and asking people to use it and more importantly pay for it.

Some history, this is from my experiences with Resgrid which is a cloud service company, SaaS deployed on Microsoft Azure, providing logistics and management tools to first responder organizations like volunteer fire, career fire, EMS, search and rescue, public safety, disaster relief organizations, etc. It was founded in 2012 by myself and Jason Jarrett (staxmanade) and we launched it as a paid product in 2014.

The Resgrid SaaS runs on Microsoft’s Azure and was up there at the end of June 2012. We started charging for the service January 2014. That’s a year and half we had the product up there for free. Even with a year and a half of development and work, asking people to pay for it was a very difficult decision. There was more to add, more to fix, more to test, more to improve. it never ended.

So how can you force yourself to launch your product?

1.) Have a partner/s or a sounding board

Having someone with knowledge of the product or service, with experience in launching or good baseline knowledge I think is important to forcing you to think critically about your baby. An different perspective is incredibly valuable when internally your conflicted about a decision. Even if you don’t want partners in your endeavor then find someone who will listen and give advise. What you don’t want is someone who will blindly agree with you.

2.) Have a MVP spec and stick to it

At some point early in the process determine what your minimum viable product is, what would be the baseline someone would pay for? It can be one feature, or a set of features. But your not talking full on double rainbow, just the bare minimum feature set. Your MVP is important, it’s the baseline of what people will use, find useful and possibly pay for. But it gets it into their hands early. Resgrid launched on 6/22/2012 with a MVP (allow first responder personnel to denote if they are responding or not). Our mobile apps were dead simple:

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Oh yea, now that’s an MVP. A lot of what we’ve added to Resgrid over the two years has been feedback from our customers, or as Jeff Atwood would say, Complaint Driven Development. This is something that I pride myself on and as a company Resgrid prides itself on, quickly responding to our customers feedback. But if we didn’t start with an MVP and get it into the hands of our users, we most likely would be a completely different product.

3.) Get rid of friction

Before you launch, get your development and deployment stories sorted. Think of this as softening the beach before the invasion. This gets rid of the excuse of “it’s too time consuming or costly to get it out there” (especially for SaaS products). At Resgrid we use Microsoft’s Azure coupled with BizSpark this lowered our cost and allowed us to iterate very quickly.

Remove all the friction that prevents you from focusing on your product. Use cloud providers, like Azure, to deploy your product to for getting it in front of your customers, even if you eventually expect to house it yourself in house.

4.) It’s good enough

Launching will never be easy, it will never go flawlessly, there will always be problems and people that hate it. That’s just the way it is. We iterated on Resgrid for a year and a half, pushing weekly updates and getting feedback. But it was still a difficult decision. There are still parts of the app that need more QA, more work, help and insight for the users, documentation, etc. But those elements and issues will always be there.

You will never polish every edge case, every combination or usage pattern. Instead of tying to fix all of those, focus on your “Happy Path” and ensure that works well. Then respond to customer feedback and fix the edge cases you didn’t think of or didn’t test.

5.) Set a date and stick to it, no matter what

I’m not a fan of hard dates for delivering features. I feel that this can cause a business to be less nimble in response to issues, customer requests or changing market conditions. But for your launch you need to just set a date and make sure the product is MVP complete about two months before that. Spending the remaining time fine tuning, testing, fixing critical bugs and preparing your marketing collateral.

Don’t neglect your public presence like blogs, twitter, Facebook, public site, etc. Unless you have a built in audience or are well known it can be hard getting the first user, even if the MVP is a free alpha. The goal with your launch is to get users on it as quickly as possible, get feedback and iterate as fast as you can.

Don’t worry about complaints, issues or other negatives

This is going to be tough, and I didn’t put a number on it because it’s not a ‘thing’ to try and get you to launch. No launch goes smooth, there will be issues and probably a lot of your early adopters will probably leave and never come back. Don’t dwell on the negatives, you need to push on and keep iterating.

Launching something is a rollercoaster, from major emotional highs (getting signups, paying customers and compliments) to some serious lows (crashes, unsatisfied customers and no signups). As the adage goes, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Don’t fear the negatives, learn from them and move on.

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