1st Year Review: Lots to Learn, Lots to Do
TL;DR – 2020 and 2021 have been difficult years for everyone. In hindsight, starting a new online business may or may not have been the greatest idea. However, we here at The TenderHood have survived. We are getting stronger, and are really blessed and fortunate to be able to build something we believe in, with people we care about. We have successfully released tonnes of awesome new product features and really dug into what our customers are looking for.
Summer, Summer, Summertime
As expected, blog posts have been a bit hard to get out there as we all enjoy the last of the hot weather and the last few days before the kids go back to school (can’t come quick enough, I hear all parents say).
Poor Andy has had to sit and listen to the rest of us talking about hot sunny summer days at the beach here in beautiful Canada, although he has surprised us with some cheery weather updates from Aberdeen (I can’t remember any sun when I lived there).
I’ve been busy building a new bunkie (a shed with a bed) down at the lake, while Mo has been visiting with family. It’s been a hectic time, but super excited to get back on the saddle and build this awesome business up again as we move into our second year in business.
Covid Crush or Covid Crave?
It wasn’t our intention to build a new business during a pandemic. And unlike so many unfortunate small businesses who have vanished forever, we were lucky enough to find a window that was low risk for us because we don’t really have any overhead costs to deal with. Our software and automation are at the core of what we do, we work from home, and most of our other expenses are low. It’s part of the reason why we are able to offer our product and service at such a low price point.
We also found that small companies lucky enough to survive the pandemic were more desperate than ever to generate new business. But they didn’t always know where to find tenders, or if they could win them once they did. Our niche is working with SMEs to help them find not just any new opportunity, but the right opportunity, providing the best chance of winning that tender. Our mission really is to level the playing field for SMEs to compete more successfully.
So, as unfortunate as the pandemic has been for so many people, we’ve been lucky enough to have an opportunity to really learn about what our customers needed without the burden of going bankrupt.
Learning About Building a Team
In any startup, there are always comings and goings as people live their lives and their priorities change. We experienced our fair share of changes in the early months, but for most of our first year we’ve had a really settled team.
However several months ago, we lost Bill (aka “BillyBot”) from the business, and it was a really tough situation to navigate. Bill had been with us from the start of our journey, and will always be in our DNA. But as a company matures and changes direction, there will always be times when the fit is just not right for both sides.
This is where your company culture becomes really important, and you really have to stick to your values. At The TenderHood we believe in putting our team first, our customers second and our shareholders last. We’ve found that happy employees make happy customers. And happy customers make happy shareholders. None of us are doing this thinking we will be millionaires. We just want to build something awesome where we enjoy working together while providing a great service to small businesses. Any financial rewards will come if we are successful at those things.
On a brighter side, we have a new team member joining us in early September. Chris Berkeley, AKA BerkBot, is a senior developer at Hutch Games and will be coming on board with some awesome programming skills. He and Andy are the best developers I’ve ever worked with, so we are super lucky to have such amazing talent building our product.
Oh, and i’m no longer called “The Mayor”, it’s just silly. “Dave” will do just fine 🙂
AGM and Business Status
At the end of September we will hold our first company AGM.
We have a few big decisions to make, mainly around how we distribute shares and if we want to bring anyone else into the business at this time. Not only do we refuse to work with d**ks, but we want to surround ourselves with people who are different to each of us. It’s important to find the right balance – that’s the only way we can grow and improve. When I was in the management team at Proactis, I was the only male and the only “yellow” (my Insights personality colour) in a team of six. No wonder we were dysfunctional.
I am also a big believer in all of our team members owning a share of the business. That feeling of ownership is really important for driving the business and getting a collective feeling of accountability and reward.
I’ve experienced being at two companies when they were sold, and the second time was definitely nicer when we all got a nice cash reward for our efforts.
We also have the ongoing discussion around having investors and if this is something we wish to pursue. We’ve already rejected two significant investment opportunities because it was not the right time or the right fit. But that is not to say we will always feel that way. I do have a burning ambition to succeed at building a self-funded business and doing things our way.
Speaking of money, we have been in the fortunate position of being profitable for our first year. This is not common for new start-ups. I was always told that you make money in year 3. But we have our heads screwed on right, and we are growing our customer base at a pace that works for both us and our customers.
Listening and Learning
“Build it and they will come” – NOT
For the past six months, instead of trying to grow our customer base, we have been focusing on our current users and asking them to give us feedback on what they really want the product to do for them.
The insights we have gained from building the product this way have been incredible. At the end of the day, our customers want to save time and money, and win new business. It’s that simple. We are developing our product to make it as easy as possible for our customers to get (not find – there is a difference) the right opportunity to win new business.
We are also discovering that our customers really value the service we are offering because we actually listen to them. Going forward, our product will always be developed via a user-centric model, not one where one of us in the team just has a good idea.
AndyBot Getting Stronger
Now we find ourselves 12 months in, and we think we have cracked it with our tender matching software. AndyBot represents the intelligence behind our solution and the way we match tenders based on a customer’s behaviour.
In the early days we were getting some strange results. But after months of tweaking and changes, our results are now pretty spot on. Not only is AndyBot able to find accurate tender matches based on multiple factors like your business profile and business strategy, he is able to improve his tender searches as you teach him what it is you are looking for.
The Little Pivot
Andy once said to us at our weekly meeting – “If we don’t continue to have new ideas, we are dead”.
I love that, and he is right. At The TenderHood, we have what we call The Fridge – a list of to-dos that we prioritize every week. At the last count we had 97 items in the “ready for development” column alone. We have lots of work to do, but we need to make sure that everything is aligned with our customers and our values as a company. We can shift our priorities based on customer feedback.
The first change we are making is to tidy up our map and reduce the number of buildings on it. This is part of our shift in positioning the TenderHood as a sports complex as opposed to a town. It’s consistent with our mission to “level the playing field”. We want to focus on being the best Tender Matching Service in the world, not being average at multiple things.
Our social network is also taking on a whole new life form, but you will have to wait for that one. It’s going to be exciting.
All of these changes are how we will stay alive as a business, we have to make sure we stay nimble and resilient, and innovate to stay ahead of the game (see what I did there?), especially after Covid as described in our latest news article.
Our focus remains with SMEs, and we will be making some content changes to simplify our jargon so we are aligned with what they need.
Mistakes Along the Way
Learning from your mistakes is crucial for any small business, as you cannot afford to make that same mistake too many times. That said, making those mistakes is also crucial for your business, else how would you ever learn and improve?
One of the main mistakes we made early was launching too soon. What we are doing now – talking with a small group of customers – is how we should have done it from Day One. Flying out of the gates and trying to take on too many customers at once is a big mistake for any new product. The chances of getting everything right the first time around are very slim.
Lesson learned. It’s easy to get impatient when you have spent so long building something. But for the sake of a few weeks, we should have delayed and got our house in a little more order and done more testing!
We are Unsociable
I’m not much for being social. I hate going to parties and love spending time alone. In the same vein, don’t expect to see The TenderHood on social media in the coming months, or perhaps ever.
I’ll be discussing this in more detail in a future post, but for the time being we have decided not to use social media. I can hear some CEOs, managers, marketeers hemming and hawing and calling me all sorts.
But ask yourself this, really ask yourself honestly, what reward do you get for all of your effort? If you take all of that time and energy and invest it in your business instead – directly in your existing customers – I guarantee you will have more success.
How the hell do you get customers then? Well that is the magic question, right? But we have a strategy which is proving to be much more effective. I might share that with you in a future post some day too!
And oh, we are not bothering with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) either. That is just as big a waste of time. Yeah, he is definitely nuts, I hear you say. But honestly, think of how much time you put into SEO against the reward. Just saying…
See You on the Flip Side
I hope you have found this interesting and that is resonates given what we are going through as a young startup in the crazy world of software.
Remember, you are not alone. There are hundreds of companies going through exactly the same issues and problems that you are.
Come join The TenderHood and let’s help each other figure those problems out and grow stronger together.
DAVE THOMSON – aka Dave, is a developer for over 15 years and founder of The TenderHood. Dave has started multiple businesses, including a co-working space and his own boutique web design agency.