Getting started with the App
In 2013 John came to Australia and started off with building a business around Salesforce consulting services. He identified an opportunity when engaging with his customers to provide integration solutions between Salesforce and Xero. In 2014, after delivering various custom solutions for customers, John and his team laid the seed for the SFX integration app.
John observed an increasing demand for integrations between Salesforce and Xero. Initially, these were custom solutions tailored to each client. However, seeing other apps’ success stories on the platform, an idea germinated and made progress to the app format.
“Over a decade, we’ve built a lot of custom solutions for customers and received amazing feedback… Eventually, we thought, this can be an app.”
They built the product and released it on the AppExchange. It was a free app when it was launched. Then covid hit and that’s when they got a lot of time and opportunity to build more complex functionality within the product. With a strong team
in place, time on their hands and the passion to see the app recognised as top of its class, John and his team put all energy and focus in the app.
Setting the Foundation
When John first ventured into the app side of the business, he aimed for excellence in a particular area before expanding his focus. His methodology was simple yet profound.
“My primary focus was to build the product to a certain level that’s acceptable in the market. Once it’s accepted, that’s when you can think about the next steps – marketing it and investing in its promotion. Plus you have your clients talking great things about your app through their reviews.”
The Insurance Challenge
Navigating the insurance aspect proved challenging, especially given the app’s financial involvement. John highlighted the significance of getting it right from the onset. “When you sell a product that involves finance and numbers, having the right insurance is a crucial factor.” Australia’s fragmented insurance landscape complicated things. Every state had its own premium structure, intensifying the intricacy for a financial product. Moving beyond Australian shores introduced another layer of complexity. Ensuring coverage in multiple international markets became paramount.
“Getting insurance to cover a global market is challenging, but it’s a necessary step to ensure you’re protected.”
Managing two businesses…
Managing an established consulting business while pioneering a new app isn’t a task for the faint-hearted. For John, the past year marked a significant shift in focus. John is spending more than 50% of his time on the App with development, customer engagements and marketing activities.
In the App business, John has a focused team of two developers working towards various enhancements of the app’s features. Although their primary focus is development, given the in depth knowledge they have built over the years, one of them also acts as a product owner and assists with sales and support, to meet the challenging demands of customers in different time zones from North America, Europe to Africa.
The Day to Day…
The life of an entrepreneur, especially one with global customers and his team spread across Australia and India, is challenging. For John Fernandes, the clock doesn’t dictate when work starts or ends.
“I’m at my desk, answering emails from eight in the morning, and it sometimes extends till midnight, especially when coordinating with my offshore team. Sometimes, when there is a demo scheduled for a customer, if there’s a demo, I’ve stayed up as late as 1 AM or even 5 AM to accommodate client’s time zones.”
John starts the morning with scanning through his emails, checking for new leads and customer inquiries. He follows his set schedule of work but also makes time to respond to the emails. He feels it is important to connect with customers and sends personal emails instead of sending automated mails to keep a personal touch. Then his next priority is addressing any queries received from existing customers, reviewing the customers in the pipeline and determining how to move them forward or what the next action is, booking a demo or arranging customer support.
Getting the Word Out…
John’s day doesn’t just revolve around emails and lead generation. He’s also deeply involved in marketing, be it through content creation in blogs, social media, LinkedIn or steering the direction of the company’s messaging. The last year was about visiting events but going forward they aim to create a presence at events, not just as visitors but showcasing the brand at Salesforce or Xero events.
John is a big believer in the partnership ecosystem. Salesforce and its partners create a space where consulting organizations recommend products, and they are collaborating with several partners in Australia and the UK. John believes expanding their partner base is a key growth strategy.
Salesforce account exces also offer great assistance, but he notes like any relationship, there’s a strategic decision-making process involved in how we engage and promote with Salesforce. “
Fortunately, we’ve forged strong ties with several account execs, who have been invaluable in product promotion.”
Beyond the collaboration in the Salesforce ecosystem, they are partners with Xero and on the Xero marketplace as well. They also see value in broadening their reach by listing the app on platforms like Capterra, where apps are compared and reviewed.
Free or Paid?
In a world where everyone wants a taste before the purchase, the freemium model, which offers basic services for free while charging for advanced features, seems like a win-win. But is it always the right path for app developers? On the SFX App Exchange listing, it is listed as ‘Never Requires Payment’, yet the website offers both free and paid versions. The discrepancy seems to have thrown some users off as seen in their reviews.
John acknowledged, “Yes, that’s been a challenge. Our primary focus was building the product, so it started as a free application. However, as we incorporated advanced functionality, the need to monetize became evident.”
“I believe in the idea of offering free apps for users to try and then providing the option to upgrade for more extensive features.”
A lot of time needs to be put in to build an AppExchange product, or for that matter, a Xero marketplace product. John suggest that a product can be built probably within six months, but to ensure that you comply with the platform features and security reviews it needs time and focus to ensure that it is ready.
Advice before you get building
John’s advice, “One of the primary things to discern is your app’s market positioning. Are you competitive? Have you conducted a comprehensive market analysis prior to the launch? This is crucial. It’s also vital to understand your differentiating factor—what makes you stand out? And of course, the subsequent step is your marketing strategy and pricing. Price determination is pivotal to your success.”
“Do your homework—market research, product analysis, and chalk out a solid strategy. Always research before building.”
John encourages innovation, but cautions it’s essential to be aware of the sacrifices—time, money, and immense hard work. But suggests the potential is there.
“It’s possible to carve out a niche and generate significant income, provided you’re committed and equipped with the right strategy.”