Marketing for enterprise has changed dramatically from even only a few years ago. Now, many companies are making the move to social, and in this thicket of options and opportunities, while it may be unclear which solution is the best or even useful, one thing is very clear. Brands today have to connect with their customers through conversation and relationship management to accentuate their offers or branding.
That's why we were quite interested to see a new social media company arise within the Microsoft BizSpark membership.
Wattle Solutions are the developers of Wattle Social, an innovative social engagement platform that provides comprehensive social networking integration into your relationship management and marketing strategies. You can see a video demo here.
Wattle Social’s key features are:
According to David Abraham, founder of Wattle Solutions, "Wattle Social has been developed from the ground up using ASP.NET MVC 4 and makes heavy usage of the .NET framework."
"The database is Microsoft SQL server and the architecture is hosted on windows Azure leveraging Windows Server Virtual Machines. We have been very excited about using Microsoft technologies and have fully embraced the .NET stack taking the time to implement features such as the Web API and making full use of Razor (which we love!)"
David Abraham, Managing Director
Do you build for scale first, or for revenue? How are those things related in your mind?
We built for scale, the technology choices we made were made to support enormous growth and a large base of users. The reasons for this were not commercially motivated; it was simply good development practice! When developing software you should always aim to remove bottlenecks and reduce the amount of technical debt you incur, a key issue encountered within nearly every company I have worked with previously is application scalability so this is something we were very keen to avoid.
By building a scalable architecture we (in theory) have no restrictions on the revenue the application can generate, the more users we have the more revenue we generate. The scalability of our platform was a key reason why we opted to leverage a cloud based architecture and why Azure suits us so well, as our base of users grows we can scale the infrastructure around it to support that growth and the costs are known upfront which is fantastic from a planning perspective.
Do you make reasonable predictions about how you are going to achieve revenue and then test them out, or do you start with a business model and deploy it, to see if it brings in revenue?
In our case as we are a product driven business it was a case of picking a model and seeing if it will generate revenue, the business was founded around a product and a clear gap in the market. This approach is not for everyone, the decision was made with more than a decade of experience in launching and developing software products so I was confident in our approach. If I was offering advice to a new startup that might not have the same amount of experience then I would suggest they work towards rapidly deploying a working product and then regularly release following real feedback. No amount of planning can prepare you for establishing if your product is viable and the best people to tell you that are the people you will be selling it to.
What questions do you think a startup non-technical founder needs to answer when considering a cloud architecture for his or her startup, and I am thinking specifically here during the business model generation period?
The key issue to consider is your available resource; do you have the technical skills to manage a physical architecture? The additional overhead you will encounter can be offset by some hosting partners but this is rapidly becoming a very niche area. Owning physical hardware has additional capital costs and scaling the architecture has additional costs. From a business planning perspective a cloud based architecture can present you with lower overheads and reduced capital costs which make it a very attractive proposition.
What questions do you and your technical co-founder / engineering team feel are the most important to solve about the business aspects of your company?
Software licensing! Choosing a technology partner and committing to a licensing model is a key decision, we clearly opted for Microsoft Technologies and this was in part due to the BizSpark program however the other factors to consider were the growth of the company, the cost of hiring and finding applicable skills as well as factoring in the costs we would need to pass on to our customers as a result of this decision.
Where do you include technical members of your team during the building of your business plan?
As a software company the answer is right at the beginning, our business is built around a product we have created from scratch and as a result we are a technology driven company, this is evident in all planning phases, we are in a slightly unique position in that our founder is as experienced in business as he is technology!
How much of what you are building is based on leaving a legacy and how much of it is based on technical challenges, or the ability to make something just for fun? In other words, where do you fall on the seriousness scale? For fun, for profit, for life?
I believe that the best products are created by people who are passionate about what they do, people who live breath and eat technology and create something because they love the idea or the challenge, but I believe the best companies are founded by those with a clear commercial eye that have the discipline to understand when the fun has to end and the selling has to start. I hope at Wattle Solutions we have struck that balance, it is certainly what we strive for.
Wattle Social was originally a hobby project, as a Technical Director of a leading UK digital agency most of my day job was focused around strategy and management; in order to keep in touch with technology I would use hobby projects to learn the latest developments in the available frameworks. I quickly established that consuming large feeds of data from public social networking API’s was a huge technology challenge, two years later after dedicating almost every evening and weekend to solving some of those challenges I realized that I had created something that had enormous commercial potential.
I am motivated by my passion for technology that passion stems from a natural curiosity that I believe every good programmer has, I love solving technology problems! A large portion of my career has been spent working in management positions right up to board level, so while I love programming and problem solving I have a commercial eye that has been drilled into me from working within the business side of the industry. The real challenge comes at the point where a decision has to be made, is this commercial or hobby project? I put my money where my mouth is and gave up a senior position with a solid salary and founded Wattle Solutions.
When did you decide that you were “startup material”?
There are two types of people, employees and employers. Even as an employee I have always acted and worked as an employer. In the past two companies where I worked as an employee I was awarded Directorships and at one I was given 25% of the business due to my level of effort so I always knew I was not your average programmer. I personally see nothing wrong with people striking a work life balance and focusing on a stable career but during periods of my life where I have tried to do this a business challenge has always found me! I believe that some people are just born to suffer the life of an entrepreneur. It takes a certain type of relentless lunatic!
What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?
My genuine hope is that my products provide value to businesses and that someone’s day is made easier, or someone’s business earns more money because of my efforts. That is more than enough of a legacy. If I was dreaming? I would hope that I can be a key figure in changing how companies approach social media, I see enormous potential out there that so many people are missing out on, In twenty years people will look back at this time period and compare it with the 60s and television advertising – television is a marketing channel that can literally invade peoples living rooms, social media is far bigger now than television was then but even more under-utilized and far more cost effective to exploit.
What are some of the challenges you face as a founder or developer at a startup, when it comes to dealing with family life, or socially? Does working on a startup change the way you associate and interact in these areas?
You have to accept that your social life is going to suffer; your passion is not going to be everyone else’s passion so you will naturally push people away! I make a conscious effort to try and talk about things other than my business but it is a real struggle. I am lucky that my wife is very supportive as she has seen my journey over the years and understands how much effort I have put in, we sacrifice holidays and time together to work but I am aware that I am building up a debt with her that needs to be repaid in the future.
What characteristics do you possess that make you an entrepreneur? What makes your startup a startup?
I am driven, once I start something I live breath and eat it! This can be seen as a personality flaw by most people in my life but it is a trait that I think is essential in an entrepreneur. My startup is a startup in the true sense! It is a new company, created from nothing, with nothing but Visual Studio and a blank page in front of me and taken to a revenue generating business.
Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft in building your startup?
Our relationship with Microsoft has been integral, the BizSpark program enabled us to opt for Microsoft technologies when cost was an important consideration – as a self-funded project the capital outlay required would have forced me to consider alternatives but this program has enabled me to opt for technologies that I believe are robust and scalable and that I have spent most of my professional life working with.
Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?
The whole eco system behind Microsoft technologies is extensive and mature, from a business perspective resourcing a team is extremely easy and from a commercial perspective by leveraging Microsoft technologies you can create immediate trust with your clients.
Tell us about your Azure based solution.
Wattle Social is a cloud hosted multi-tenant solution hosted on Windows Azure virtual machines.
How is Azure implemented in your solution?
We use Azure for hosting the company website using the web and SQL features, and the application is deployed across Azure virtual machines.
How did you get excited about Azure?
The moment I saw the dashboard I was hooked, the ability to add or change virtual machines had me hooked from day one!
What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?
The key features for us were the ability to scale the architecture on demand, the management features and the networking features provided.
What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?
Consider the long term goals of the business and factor that into your business plans in terms of cost, the infrastructure you need now might be very different to what you need in six months so consider the cost of scaling and design your architecture to support growth when it is required.
"There are two types of people, employees and employers."
Right and Wrong - there are two types of people in the world, but they are: those who categorize others, and those who don't.
Or better yet, there are three kinds of people in the world: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who ask, "What happened?"