From Consultants to Salesforce App Innovators
Bram and Erol initially worked as Salesforce consultants and met at a client project. They were working on a solution which they thought would not be only useful for that particular organization, but it could be beneficial to different organizations. Then they got a similar requirement, from a different customer related to managing approval requests. Basically, the ability to mass approve, or reject multiple approved requests in one go, something that was available in Salesforce classic but not in Lightning.
Seeing its potential and the gap it filled in the market, Bram created a free simple version of the app and pitched the idea to Erol. He believed that together, they could refine it, expand its functionalities, and potentially transition to a paid version. Erol, seeing the potential and recalling the past need from different clients, was quick to jump aboard.
The Balance of Partnership
With a lean team of just two, defining and dividing roles becomes crucial. Bram and Erol, while working part-time, dedicate one day a week to their mutual business. Their roles, though not strictly defined, have areas of specialization.
“For instance, when it comes to areas like service, finance, accountancy, or marketing, we have indicated domains where one takes the lead,” says Erol.
Yet, the essence of their partnership shines in their collaboration. Both possess a knack for design solutions and development. This shared skill set allows them to wear multiple hats and distribute tasks flexibly.
Bram adds, “We both like to think about solutions for design and can handle development. Our joint sessions, at least once a week, help us stay aligned and focused on achieving our goals.”
Navigating Initial Challenges
Setting up wasn’t entirely smooth. Both founders had to wade through unfamiliar territory. While Salesforce was a supportive platform, its support system wasn’t always prompt.We had to figure out a lot of stuff ourselves. Salesforce gave some advice but when we run into problems, we submitted cases however it could take weeks before we get a response. Bram recalls the frustrations with subscription management and their integration woes with Stripe.
The partner community, meant for mutual support and assistance, often felt like navigating through a noisy chatter feed where solutions are elusive and you just have to look and hope that you’ll find something or you’ll ask questions that other people already asked, so it doesn’t always work.
Navigating the Security Review
The security review, a crucial phase for any app entering the Appexchange, presented a mixed bag of experiences for Bram and Erol. Their first app faced initial rejection. However, the setback was minor, requiring just a slight tweak before getting the green light. Their pro version, in contrast, breezed through the security review without a hitch.
“We do regular checks ensure that our product remains in sync with the security review’s standards.”
A Typical Day
For Bram and Erol, a typical day dedicated to their business begins promptly at 8:30 am. Working from their home offices, they screen share to discuss and go over events from the preceding days. To optimize efficiency, they’ve created an algorithm designed to automatically allocate leads and cases between them. They discuss cases they’ve tackled, brainstorm potential solutions and discuss fresh requirements emerging from the backlog.
To streamline their workflow, they use Trello boards. Here, cards are meticulously organized for their apps alongside other operational tasks like marketing endeavors. Trello’s interface allows them to prioritize tasks and enforce deadlines. By mid-morning, they have usually charted their plan of action. Tasks range from working on a new feature to working on non-development projects, perhaps a catchy promotional video.
Even though Bram and Erol handle a lot of similar tasks, their strategy is straightforward — divide and conquer, based on who feels more drawn to a particular assignment. Their collaboration exudes a mutual understanding and a shared passion to drive their vision forward.
The Vision of the Business
Simple intuitive apps, that solve a problem that a lot of organizations are dealing with and not necessarily related to a particular industry, the approval management app is a good example of that.
Apps that don’t send any data off the platform, that are completely native. Ideally apps that are already tied to an existing problem on the Idea Exchange. It helps when there are votes on the IdeaExchange for a particular requirement and they can present a solution a link to the Appexchange listing. That worked well for them and that reduces the time spent on selling and app marketing.
A Change in Direction
Two years ago, a call came in that would change the trajectory of their AppExchange development journey. On the other end of the line was Alex Edelstein from Salesforce. As the mind behind many of Salesforce’s automation tools, such as Flow and Orchestrator, Edelstein’s reputation preceded him. Alex suggested that they consider opportunities for building an app on top of Orchestrator.
And so, they took the plunge, seizing the opportunity with both hands. They were granted early access to Orchestrator and set their sights on building a wizard. The wizard would echo the familiar simplicity of traditional approval processes. Users could select an object, define entry criteria, and choose an approver type. With this wizard as a foundation, the app would harness the Metadata API to generate XML files for Orchestration and Flows, providing a springboard for administrators to further customize their approval processes.
The demand for the innovative app was uncertain. They invested a year in development, grappling with challenges and uncertainties along the way. One particular concern was the cost associated with the Orchestrator runs. Approval processes typically involved handling numerous approval requests simultaneously, and the costs could quickly add up.
Going Full Time
Ideally they would like to scale up. They would both love to spend more time on the business, but they also like to do consultancy and be client facing. Helping customers with their specific needs is always interesting, but they find it more satisfying to build apps, that can bring that to customers all over the world.
Consulting vs a Product Business
There are a lot more sides to app development than it is to consulting. Indeed, both of our backgrounds are quite similar, it’s more technical or a bit functional, but marketing, or sales, Is not particularly something that we are really good at and when you start business like this, you soon get to understand that you actually need also other expertise. So we also looked at maybe having some other expertise on board and we probably will in the future.
I guess that’s also why we mentioned we’re trying to already solve a problem that exists at this point in time because it makes it easier to get your product sold without the necessity for a lot of marketing and sales.
If you look at, for example, our free app, and it gets a lot of traction, right there are a lot of people using our free app. And then it’s a small step to promote them to a paid version of up where they can have more benefits to streamline their processes.
How many hours a week do you work and spend on your business?
We typically work on our business on a Friday for 9 hours, weekdays some hours in the evening. Most of our customers are based in the US, so during the day, we can work on our consultancy business. In total approximately 15 hours a week.
We try to make our apps self explanatory and easy to install, we have good manuals. There should not be a lot of support necessary for our current apps at this point of time. So it saves us a lot of time delivering support at the moment.
What marketing strategies do you utilize?
Most of our customers get to us via the Appexchange via the idea exchange using basically the Salesforce Channels. We have also tried some posts on LinkedIn but didn’t see a lot of traction there.
I’ve also been in contact with consulting companies and I know quite a couple of smaller consultancy partners in the Netherlands. We’ve had a couple of calls with them, giving them a demo, showing the value of the app and we are even willing to do revenue sharing, but so far that hasn’t taken off yet. The challenge with implementation partners is that they are hired by organizations to help with an implementation. With a simple app, it’s just installation by an Admin, so an implementation partner is not required.
What skills and knowledge do you need to become a successful Salesforce app ISV partner?
Firstly you need the development skills. There are different kinds of expertise required to run such a business. There is a lot of time going to spend on support, you are providing a solution and you have to help customers with the implementation of that solution.
We also had to figure out a lot out and how the Appexchange works and the integration with Stripe. We also did all the Trailheads related to ISV businesses.
But most of all, there is a lot of effort required for marketing in sales. Usually, that’s not the typical experience that a developer. We’ve seen other people like us starting in an ISV business, and I see that over and over again, that’s the most difficult part. Having a great solution is awesome, but then you need to be able to and sell it to the world.
Replacing the Income of a Job
Bram and Erol would like to spend more time on the business instead of consultancy but they can’t at the moment because the amounts that they earn from the development doesn’t sustain them not being a consultant anymore. It depends on how you market your app and the earning model, however if you would get paid per license or per organization is like a subscription, you will get continuous revenue out of it until people decide to stop using your app.
The revenue is kind of constant over time, as long as your customers and can only grow if you add more customers to that. So, theoretically in time you would be able to earn more and more and more to maybe one day, stop doing your consultancy.
What advice would you give someone that’s interested in starting this type of business?
People should definitely do what they believe in. So always follow your dream or if you have a good idea just and if you’re committed to making it a success, go for it. On the other hand, don’t think that everything will come by itself, because there is a lot of competition on the Appexchange. There are a lot of apps so people may have difficulties finding your solution. We know another ISV very well and indeed his app I think it’s awesome but he is not that visible on the Appexchange and that makes it very difficult. So go for it, but don’t have the illusion that everything will come by itself.
What gave us comfort to do this is that we do it in at least as a side business. I mean, I wouldn’t do this if I were completely financially dependent on it, even if our apps weren’t a success and I would still survive basically, with the income from freelancing.
Also, find people to do it together with doesn’t have to be at the same level or something but do this with some other people who have other experiences than you preferably and that will make it easier for your business to succeed I guess.
Working Alone or with Others
Bram and Erol are equal partners in the business. They suggest it doesn’t have to be like that if you don’t want to share your business with somebody else. You can have consulting people around you that can feed you with ideas and to make your business more successful. So if you are alone, it’s difficult because you are limited with the skills that you have. You can, but it’s hard to do it on your own.
The Risks and Rewards of Development
Their third app has been developed very closely with Salesforce. They made the app to adopt the new technology of flow and orchestrator to promote that for Salesforce. and of course, there is a possibility that one day, their solution will become part of the standard Salesforce functionality.
When you search on the IdeaExchange, it lists whether Salesforce is working on it and that definitely should be taken into account. For example, with their approval management app they were afraid that at some point, Salesforce will say the whole model for approval requests will disappear and then the apps are gone.
Although, if you look at the IdeaExchange, there are plenty of ideas that have sat there for years and years and years and have not been implemented in a Salesforce release. That’s actually the use case for Enhanced Approval Requests Pro. Bram and Erol knew that Salesforce would never really solve that issue because it’s old technology that’s not being updated anymore for many many years, as Salesforce is moving towards more process automation through flow and orchestrator. So that’s going to be the future.
That was the opportunity for them to dive into it immediately.