Recently I’ve been calling a couple of customers per-week to chat about their Scout experience. One of the questions I’ve been asking comes out of left field: ”What would you pay another $100/mo for?” I’ll ask the question first to see if they have any suggestions, then run a small selection of ideas by them.
Besides asking my future wife to marry me, it’s the best question I’ve asked in years.
Like a bug zapper on a Midwestern summer evening, our company phone number attracted lots of annoying visitors: partnership offers from the Middle East, RFP requests for the wrong product, support inquires for a dating service, etc. In fact, I can only recall a handful of calls from real-life customers.
Did we have a phone number because it solved a problem or because we thought businesses – serious ones – are supposed to have one?
For now, we’ve stopped displaying the phone number on our website. While I don’t think this makes sense for every business, for a developer-focused business like Scout I’m betting it won’t be an issue.
When Pixar was working on their first film, Toy Story, the original draft closely followed a checklist of required elements provided by Disney. Disney has been producing animated films since 1923. Lion King, released a year before Toy Story, won two Academy Awards and grossed $783 million.
Then, why was the checklist-driven draft of Toy Story so terrible that Disney shut down production?
Pixar was writing a story they didn’t own. One of the checklist items: edgy characters. Applying that edge to Woody, the main character, resulted in an unwatchable jerk.
Pixar’s crew, led by John Lasseter, rewrote the film in their own voice:
We went back to what we wanted, and that was: the characters liked each other. Because we like each other.
Focusing on telling a great story instead of a checklist worked: in the eight years since the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature was created, a Pixar film has won it six times.
Each of their 11 films are among the 50 highest grossing films of all time.
One of the things I was most curious about before starting Scout was what my day-to-day life would look like as a business owner versus life as a developer. How much time would I spend writing code? Answering emails? Handling the business bits? Would I work more?
Three years after launching Scout, I’d like to help answer that question. I used RescueTime to track activity on my computer. Since almost all of my work is from my laptop, it’s an easy way to get a breakdown.
We started Scout to make monitoring server infrastructure easier. With our heads deep in code, it took us a while to realize that monitoring our business was just as important. Here’s a look at the financial dashboard we created (as you’ll guess, the data isn’t real):
Activity by Day – This shows signups, cancellations, and subscription changes for the past two weeks.
Activity by Week – This is similar to the daily activity table but provides a weekly rollup of the data. It adds the projected monthly revenue and revenue change.
Paying Activity by Month – This rolls up data by month, adding in churn, average revenue per-account, and lifetime value. It also forecasts the next month’s activity.