by Tim Jahn on January 18, 2011
Jared Goralnick used to run his own software efficiency training firm that helped companies become more productive with basic software tools. He noticed many of his clients were spending more then half their day dealing with communication tools like email and sacrificing productivity.
His solution is Awayfind, a website that lets you get your work done during the day and only alerts you to the really important emails. I interviewed Jared to learn about how he measures the impact he’s creating and what it’s like to switch from a service based business to a product based business.
Tim Jahn: So obvious first question, what’s Awayfind?
Jared Goralnick: Awayfind is a web application. It monitors your email or urgent messages. So when someone receives an urgent message, it will send them a text or call them. The idea being that we get interrupted all day long or we occasionally even miss things. So what if you can only get interrupted and notified of the things that are timely, that really demand your attention right away.
Tim Jahn: So were you at some point in your previous company getting interrupted all day long with messages and you decided this needed to stop or was it a different reason?
Jared Goralnick: Yeah, it was a combination of my own personal needs and also my previous company, what we did. So my previous business was productivity training. The goal was always to save to people half an hour or more per day. We kind of focused on Microsoft Office. So a little bit on the technical side.
But what was particularly — we really saw with our customers who were pretty large organizations like FBI or communication schools or even just law firms of 100 people, we were finding that they were spending more than half of their day in communications tools, but that wasn’t really what they were paid to do. So as much as it was my personal needs, I also really saw in my client that they were just getting overwhelmed and they didn’t — you know, they sort of knew what the best workflow was but they couldn’t pull themselves away from their inboxes.
Tim Jahn: Gotcha. When you say communication schools, they were going to school to learn how to be more productive or to communicate better you mean?
Jared Goralnick: Oh no I mean, so they were businesses and I was providing training and we also developed the schools.
Tim Jahn: Oh you were providing the schools.
Jared Goralnick: Yes.
Tim Jahn: Gotcha. Okay. And that was your previous business.
Jared Goralnick: Yeah, it was called SET Consulting. It was for software efficiency training just as a context for what I mean by that. Yeah.
Tim Jahn: What made you start that business? That’s an interesting niche that I don’t meet a lot of people in.
Jared Goralnick: Well, probably like many people you’ve spoken to, I was sort of a software engineer by training and I actually, I worked at a technology company, I worked at several startups, and I also worked for the federal government when I was in the DC area. And what I found was that even though people that I worked with were particularly technical, they weren’t particularly adept at the seemingly basic tools like Microsoft Word and Outlook and all of that.
And yet, they were using those tools a significant amount of their day and even more so, people that were less technical were using those tools practically all day long between Outlook and Word, or Outlook and Excel or even PowerPoint that was really consuming most people’s day.
So I had this sort of thesis that if technical people aren’t really great with these tools, what about people who aren’t really technical? I bet they could really use some help and most training at that time and even today is focused on very specific topics and not on the things that are less sexy but that are actually used all day long. And I really believe that the things that you do most are the things where you can gain the most.
If you have a five minute trip to work everyday, learning a shortcut isn’t going to really help you to, it’s going to cut off one minute. Whereas if you have a two hour commute then another route or public transit is actually worth considering. And that was actually kind of the thesis was we could really save them time with the tools they use all day long even though they don’t really know they need that training, it’s going to really help them.
Tim Jahn: So when you realized that your clients were having trouble, this being interrupted and not being as productive and then you yourself a little bit, what actually made you act on the idea and then create a product for this?
Jared Goralnick: So the transition to product. Well I really found that you know for me probably again like many of the folks you’re talking to I kind of had this dream of impact. To me, I, my goal in life has always been to be able to sort of change the world in some way, shape or form. And when you have a service oriented company, the only way to really make an impact on a lot of people is to just grow your company in terms of team size, just have lots and lots more people.
But then, in a consulting business if you have a large team or just in general, if the people who can afford you can pay hundreds of dollars an hour and I really wanted to make a larger impact to reach more people and I realized the only way you can really reach lots and lots of people and not have a team of 100 people — two things that I didn’t want at least then was to build a product.
And I figured maybe there’s some way that I can build a tool that will accomplish the goals that I’ve always had along which is basically to help people use technology as a vehicle rather than an obstacle to getting things done. And also I thought it would be a really interesting challenge because I sort of got to the point where my business was sort of a lifestyle business.
You know, I was able to make money from it, I did enjoy my clients but I wasn’t growing anything much bigger. And yeah, I was enjoying travel and stuff for it but that, I mean, I was in my 20′s and I was just there is something bigger or better and I’d like to try something new, I’ve been doing this for eight years.
Tim Jahn: What was the biggest challenge in switching from a service based business to a product based business? I imagine that wasn’t the easiest transition at first if you were focused on service and you were used to that.
Jared Goralnick: Well, I mean you have very different — I mean there’s, the hardest thing of course is learning just how the mechanics of a different model works. You know, the actual like are there different people you need to know, are there different metrics you need to follow? How do you build a business that doesn’t have revenue is of course a real big challenge. So for me, my process at least for SET Consulting my previous company was sort of get involved in the community, and get to know lots of people and network and that so eventually there’s enough business coming to you.
But that doesn’t really work at least on its own in the product — I mean, if you’re selling $100,000.00 product then that would work just fine. But if you’re selling a product that’s five, ten, $15.00 a month or something, you know, you can’t just network to the end but you can at least start running from people who have done that before. So for me it was a matter of meeting different kinds of people, learning different kinds of things and then figuring out what it is that I need to pay attention to, and also understanding the process of again how you can build something that doesn’t have revenue at least initially and stay alive and all that other kind of stuff.
Tim Jahn: How focused on revenue were you from the beginning? Was it more of an impact and revenue later type of situation or were you under the mind frame that you needed to get to get some revenue going as quickly as possible to support the impact?
Jared Goralnick: Well, you know, and like I said I was in a comfortable position and you know, I had revenue coming in from my other business because I was doing them simultaneously for two years. So I wasn’t just focused on revenue although I was curious about it. To me impact is the most important thing. If I had had 100,000 people using it and I wasn’t making money off of it, I suppose I would try to make money like I do with most of my endeavors.
But money wasn’t necessarily the goal. It was more that I wanted to try something completely different and just sort of learn about it. And in retrospect of course I — there was no such thing even when I started it, this whole being startup mantra that everybody’s talking about. And I didn’t know get revenue early or any of this stuff. I mean, now I’m very familiar with it.
So I think the in the process of building a Awayfind, this second business I learned all those methodology both from people and from reading and from what’s being popular at the time. So I’d like to say I had some sort of specifically planned out approach for Awayfind. But really it was just this little side project like many people are. And now while I might not be an expert, I’m certainly coherent and clear and under — I certainly understand the business model with my current business and how one generally runs a startup. But at the time, it was just a big experiment.
Tim Jahn: I wonder what — I lost my train of thought. I completely lost my train of thought.
Jared Goralnick: No problem.
Tim Jahn: No problem at all. What — how, I want to go back to the — oh I know what I was going to say. You were talking about you were focused on impact. How much impact would you say you’ve made right now? I mean, how do you measure impact for yourself? Is it in users, is it probably not revenue then. You know, how do you measure impact and how much impact have you made?
Jared Goralnick: Well, revenue certainly does play a role but we haven’t charged enough to really know that, we haven’t made enough to pay for one month of my team, you know, at least not with the current charging because we just started charging last week. But for me it’s a combination of users and what those users share. You know, there’s a lot of people who have written in and said, “This is amazing, this changes me.”
There’s a lot of things that have come out of this that are not just the product itself where I’ve had the opportunity to speak or to talk to groups that I wouldn’t have reached. And they found it, whether it be Awayfind or sort of the mission that’s come around Awayfind has been very helpful to them. So I think impact can –
Tim Jahn: Yeah, it looks like we lost you. I might have to call you back. That’s okay, it looks like we — the connection dropped but it looks like we’re back now.
Jared Goralnick: Great.
Tim Jahn: Didn’t mean to interrupt you there.
Jared Goralnick: Oh, no, no I’m not sure where you lost me.
Tim Jahn: I lost you when you were talking about the impact. If you — maybe you just start again with impact in terms of –
Jared Goralnick: Sure. You know, I feel like there’s two ways to measure impact. One is in terms of people, and two is in terms of what the people say. In other words there’s a numbers thing and there’s a qualitative component to it as well. And for me, you know, I’m still on the path of climbing in terms of numbers and all those other things. So I wouldn’t say that I’m done. I wouldn’t say that if I stopped right now, I’d be super happy.
But from a qualitative perspective, yes, I’ve heard from a lot of people just how incredibly useful what I built has been and also just in traveling and speaking about it and the things related to it. Because when you build a product, you really learn the subtleties of the thing you’re exploring much more so than when you, than when you’re just trying to teach something or when you’re just learning about something.
Because you really, really dive deeply into things and you have a lot more numbers to analyze things, things become a lot more objective. So as a consequence, not only has the product helped people, but I think I’ve been able to understand the problem better and the solution better when I’m trying or helping people just face to face or over the phone or things like that.
Tim Jahn: Do you get a lot of feedback in terms of emails or messages from users? Are they pretty receptive in terms of communicating?
Jared Goralnick: Yeah, no I get a lot of feedback. And it’s wonderful to hear people — one of the interesting things is is the more your product “just works” the less often people are, you’re likely to be in conversation with them because there’s no reason to engage. Whereas when there’s issues which we have a lot more earlier in the days, you know there was a lot of back and forth between myself or my team and our customers.
And then at the end of it they were always just so incredibly thankful for how the tool was helping. So now as things are much more smooth, we actually get fewer messages from customers. But whenever we talk to them, it’s always, it’s just — it really — some people have reduced their email intact by a factor of four, 25% of the messages now. And things like that just are really thrilling to hear about.
Tim Jahn: That’s awesome. That’s really funny that when things work, you don’t really hear from them at all. Which is true. And I guess that’s the way you want it, right?
Jared Goralnick: Yeah, you want. I mean, everybody wants self service. You inject the human element because you learn a lot more when you start talking to people and also theoretically you can do more when you’re able to actually talk to them as apposed to — you know, technology’s only going to ever go so far whereas I can listen to your problem and respond to it very quickly. But hopefully you use that information to build something that again can scale even more on its own. Because I couldn’t talk to all of our customer’s everyday, I couldn’t talk to even that many of them everyday or I’d never get work done.
Tim Jahn: You mentioned that you recently implemented pricing to generate revenue. How did you — I think pricing is such a tough with any product based, even service based business, just pricing in general is such a tough beast to tackle. How did you decide on the pricing that you guys currently have?
Jared Goralnick: Well, you know, I’ll find out soon how good my guessing was. But the process we used was a combination. So Awayfind right now is actually a different product than what I had built as a little side project a couple of years ago. And that project we actually charged for. So we had some information about what people were willing to pay for to solve the problem if you will.
And then we also did a number of surveys where we talked to people, we had some back and forth about price points that they would be interested in. There are tools that are probably better for it than what I used, in the sense that I used just straight up surveys. Whereas some tools like KISSinsights actually have pricing calculations built in where they ask different questions and they do tiering and come up with optimal pricing. I didn’t do that. But I also, you know, I also just looked at the consumer marketplace or the business marketplace in terms of what products are sort of like ours in a sense that you know they’re trying to free up peoples time, they’re not 100% essential per say.
But they have a clear productivity value or they have this value of getting something through to you that you might otherwise miss. And I looked at that kind of pricing. And I — you know we sort of put those things together. It wasn’t like we were going to charge $100.00 a month for a consumer. There were certainly some pretty obvious constraints. But you know whether to charge $5.00 a month or $25.00 a month; there definitely was a lot of room in there and we just, we had to just talk to a lot of people. But right now we’re in the experimenting stage because we have, it’s known as couponing which is the idea of you have some discounts and you see how those things work and you sort of go back and forth and it might ultimately change our price from what we have right now. But I’m just not sure; we’ll see what the market can bear and what people feel about the value.
Tim Jahn: Yeah, I noticed you guys have a free plan. You know, the traditional web freemium model. What — I mean, I’m curious, what made you implement a free plan as apposed to going 100% paid?
Jared Goralnick: Well, again it goes back to impact. It goes back to what I kind of want to accomplish. So I feel like there’s this higher level philosophical reason to have that not to mention the fact that we have well over 10,000 users that we don’t want to just cut off. I mean, if we did only have a free plan, we would certainly make more money right away when we — excuse me, if we only had a pay plan then all those free users, more of them would be likely to pay. We’d also you know certainly be dealing with a storm out there in terms of people hating us.
But you know, we could pretty quickly be making five figures. But its just not the kind of business that I, I want this to be able to reach a lot of people and I don’t think you can do that if you have just straight paids. But you have to consider, where is it that you want to make your money and my business is very much, we’re in it for the long haul and I believe that businesses is where we’re going to make our money. So we have freemium for individual users. We haven’t released a paid version of our group program yet. But there most likely will not be a free version of our group plan.
So for companies there won’t be — no, maybe there will be like enough for profit thing or something. But generally speaking, a business that’s using multiple seats is not going to have a freemium model. So that’s where we want to make our money. And that’s where we believe most of our paid customers will come from. In my perfect world, we could have a completely free individual product that does everything the pro one does right now; we could make all of our money from businesses. But I’m not, I don’t have that kind of luxury.
Tim Jahn: Gotcha. What’s one piece of advice you have for an entrepreneur like yourself, a creative entrepreneur who sees a problem and wants to jump on it and fix that problem?
Jared Goralnick: Well the question — I guess my first bit of advice is is how passionate are you at trying to solve that particular problem? Is it the kind of thing that you want to make your life’s work or is it the kind of thing where you’re just like, you know, nobody else is doing this? I have a lot of friends that do eight month projects that area really, really good at it and some how or another they can pull that off. I think 99.9% of people particularly if it’s the first product oriented problem they’re solving, in other words, it’s not like they’re just talking to somebody to help them out but they’re actually trying to build something.
I think in almost all cases, those things take years. And if you’re going to take years of something and pull in all your friends and really try to build a community and a customer base around something, that better be something you really want to be doing for the long haul. And it can’t just be some little meat in the market, and yeah some people can do that. But generally speaking it should be the kind of thing that you feel is your life’s work.
I really feel like you can do a lot better that way. I don’t know how some people do — at least me personally, I don’t know how some people jump into things that they’re just like, “Oh I was at the supermarket the other and I saw, there was this big line and maybe it would be cool if you could like jump over the” — you know some think like some random problem. It’s cute. But you know, it’s nice when you can understand that this is something I’m going to really feel amazing about. It doesn’t matter if it’s in games or if it’s in technology or if it’s social services or whatever. It’s just something that you’re willing to put at least years of your life behind because it’s not going to be several months like some people think it is.
Tim Jahn: How did you know that Awayfind would be something that you were willing to put years of your life into? Like was there a point where you had to like ask yourself that and like okay, if it’s yes, we’re going forward, if it’s no, you know, move onto the next thing? How did you know or do you know?
Jared Goralnick: Well I do know. My last business and this business are both the same in the sense that I used that little phrase I like to throw which is that it’s about technology, excuse me, technology as a vehicle rather than an obstacle for getting people to where they want to be and how they want to live their lives. And to the extent that I can make technology useful for people and again not a burden, that really is, that is kind of my goal in life.
And I think attention management in particular since it’s something that I’ve always had to build systems around because I struggled to be able to focus. I think I do a good job, but it was definitely a long process for me to put tools in place and systems in place. So things that I can do to help people with that are things that really, I really enjoy. And I’ve been doing it at my previous business through service so to do it with a product right now, and to involve education and that as well, that’s just very rewarding for me.
Check out all our interviews with entrepreneurs!